Is there anything more darkly satisfying than an impeccably written scathing review? The bright chorus of well-read, sharply intelligent people fighting? The singular, succulent voice of just one intelligent person mocking another?
Omnivore’s Hatchet Job of the Year Prize, which seeks to recognize “the writer of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past twelve months,” solicited my deepest appreciation and applause. And it got me wondering how else, besides the prize, the literary community could both celebrate and sex up the art of book reviewering.
Is there some way, now that the publishing world is a bit of a mess and in some ways we are now free to do what we want with it, that we could transplant book reviews into a fresher format? I would never hope to replace publications like the Times Literary Supplement or Harper’s; no, what I’m envisioning is more of a marketing platform from which such publications might allow book reviewers to become more visible.
My first ideas were unsurprisingly juvenile. They involved mud-wrestling and physical combat with comically sized props. Televised. Probably on cable. A show called Critical Takedown, where prominent literary critics could face off with best-selling authors, and snubbed writers could challenge the critics who ignored their work. Who gets the last word now, bitch? I don’t know how this could fail.
Then I thought the publishers themselves might throw critics a bone with an invention I like to call "The Sticker." What would happen is that every book that gets put on a shelf now has to bear a particular Sticker noting what a prominent critic has thought of it. Different reviewers could be identified by different colors: people would start identifying the yellow stickered books as loathed by Dale Peck (you know what they say about "all press"), bright pink means New York Magazine thinks it’s hot, etc. Stickers. We could even get that pixelly square thing to connect to full reviews on shoppers' smartphones. This idea sells itself and would never go horribly wrong.
The Omnivore’s doing a pretty stellar job of rounding up criticism, but we can do so much more. Bake sales? T-shirts with Kakutani caricatures screened on the chest? A calendar called "Authors and Kittens" and another "Go Fetch with Critics"? Maybe I am not so good at marketing. But I do think we're at a time in publishing when something great could happen. Imagine a search engine that would incorporate all lit-related web content and organize it, with the power and ease of Google, but exclusively books and uncomfortable social networking icons that intentionally degrade its users!
It could be so exciting!