One-Minute Book Reviews

February 28, 2007

List of Finalists for the 2007 Delete Key Awards for the Year’s Worst Writing in Books

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,News,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:00 pm

Here’a complete list of finalists for the 2007 Delete Key Awards, which recognize the worst writing in hardcover or paperback books published in the U.S. in the preceding year. The short list appeared Feb. 28 on One-Minute Book Reviews, an independent book-review blog created by Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com.

One-Minute Book Reviews will announce the winner of the 2007 Delete Key Awards on March 15, a date chosen because Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March and some of the finalists are trying to assassinate the English language. Visitors to the site may comment on the short list, and some of the best comments will be posted in March 15. Each finalist received a separate post on Feb. 28 that included examples of his or her writing (a total of 10 posts on Feb. 28 in addition to a Feb. 27 post with facts about the Delete Key Awards). You’ll find other information in the original review of each finalist’s book, archived in the category in parentheses on the following list.

For One More Day. By Mitch Albom. Hyperion. (Novels)

The Handmaid and the Carpenter. By Elizabeth Berg. Random House. (Novels)

Hannibal Rising. By Thomas Harris. Delacorte. (Novels)

The Book Club Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to the Reading Group Experience. By Diana Loevy. Berkley. (How to)

Love Smart: Find the One You Want — Fix the One You Got. By Dr. Phil McGraw. Free Press. (How to)

The Confession. By James McGreevey With David France. HarperCollins/Regan. (Memoirs)

The Interruption of Everything. By Terry McMillan. Signet. (Novels)

The Emperor’s Children. By Claire Messud. Knopf. (Novels)

Toxic Bachelors. By Danielle Steel. Dell. (Novels)

The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness. By Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. (How to)

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Delete Key Awards Finalist #1: ‘For One More Day’ by Mitch Albom

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:59 pm

“A funeral is no place for secrets.”

No post on this site has drawn more visitors – and, dare I say, enthusiasm? – than my Nov. 16 review mentioning my discovery that Mitch Albom is writing at a third-grade level in For One More Day (Hyperion). I made that discovery because the novel struck me as so dumbed-down – even for Albom – that it fell below the level of the sixth-grade books I once edited for a test-prep company. So I typed a couple of paragraphs from the book into my computer and ran the Microsoft Word spelling and grammar checker, which gives you the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Statistics at the bottom. Albom, it showed, writes at the level of Grade 2.8. This was startling enough that I wondered if the paragraphs I had used, from page 24, were atypical. So I typed in the full text of pages 24 and 25 and found that they were atypical. Albom actually writes at a third-grade level, Grade 3.4, according to Flesch-Kincaid. What can a critic say after this? Perhaps only that inside Albom, there’s a children’s author who is struggling to get out and, in this book, did.

Writing sample:
“A funeral is no place for secrets.” This kind of pseudoprofundity is a hallmark of Albom’s writing. At no time do secrets have a more respected – and needed — place than at funerals. Would any of us want someone to reveal our darkest secrets at our funeral? Funerals are perhaps the only occasion on which it is universally acknowledged that – however much we value the “truth” – common decency requires us to withhold it to avoid causing pain to mourners. Even the gangsters on The Sopranos had the wit to try to comfort Tony at Livia Soprano’s funeral with the cliché, “At least she didn’t suffer.”

The original review of For One More Day is archived in the “Novels” category on this site and includes the grade levels of the writing by many others, including Stephen King, Nora Ephron, and Jesus. To read the review click on this link www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/11/16/.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Delete Key Awards Finalist #2: ‘The Handmaid and the Carpenter’ by Elizabeth Berg

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:22 pm

“I am in agony, and I must ride endlessly on a donkey in search of something we cannot find!”

– What Mary said to Joseph as envisioned by Elizabeth Berg

What made Elizabeth Berg think it would be a good idea to write a novel about the courtship of Mary and Joseph? Jospeh Bottum was right when he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that The Handmaid and the Carpenter (Random House) “gushes with treacle” until Berg is delivering “truly mind-numbing goop.” The novel says that young Joseph “felt a stirring in his loins” when he thought of Mary. And Mary comes across as the Holy Land equivalent of a hot ticket: Berg casts her as a “flirtatious” girl who wasn’t above putting moves on Joseph: She had “brazenly put her hand on his knee long before it was time for such things.” Apart from any religious or historical issues all of this raises, this novel seemed more dumbed-down than any since Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, which is written at a third-grade level, according to the Microsoft Word readability statistics. So I entered few sections from The Handmaid and the Carpenter into my computer, ran the stats for them, and got grade levels of 3.8, 4.0, and 5.3, which averaged out to Grade 4.3. Maybe Berg should have called this novel For One More Day in Bethlehem?

Writing sample:
As Berg imagines it, Mary’s labor pains sped up while she and Joseph were looking for an inn. This causes Mary to screech at Joseph, “I am in agony, and I must ride endlessly on a donkey in search of something we cannot find!” As for the scene in which Mary and Joseph are in bed, let’s draw a veil over it. Suffice it to say that, by the time Joseph dies, we know that Mary was not a woman who was always saying, “Not tonight, Joseph, I have a headache.”

The grade levels of other authors appea in a review of Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, appeared on Nov. 16 and is archived with the November posts and also in the “Novels” category on this site. The review tells how to use the Microsoft Word spell-checker to find the grade level of any text.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

[The 10 Delete Key Awards finalists are being announced in random order and numbered only for convenience. This is the next to last finalist.The last should be announced by 5 p.m. Eastern time, or maybe 5 p.m. Central time if I get a little backed up.]

Delete Key Awards Finalist #3: ‘The Book Club Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to the Reading Group Experience’ by Diana Loevy

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:43 pm

“A selection of the Wisteria Lane Book Club, at least desperate housewife found it ‘inspirational.’” Diana Loevy’s tip on what you could say to a book club members who balk at the idea of reading Madame Bovary

Looking for a way to revitalize your book club? How about reading Isabel Allende’s Zorro and having members dress up in capes or serapes? Yes, it could lead to swordfights over the guacamole. But such ideas abound in Diana Loevy’s loopy The Book Club Companion (Berkley), which brims with recipes, etiquette rules, pet-care tips, decorating ideas, and fashion advice, all wrapped around reading lists full of descriptions of books that might have been written by their authors’ mothers. In her several sections on four-footed intruders, she stops just short of suggesting that you shoot Fido with tranquilizing darts before your book group shows up at your place. And if you think product placement in the movies is out of control, wait until you see all her plugs for titles from the Penguin Group in this book from an imprint of – that’s right — the Penguin Group. If Loevy knows the meaning of “conflict of interest,” you see no evidence of it in this book.

Writing sample:
Loevy has a tip for groups that balk at reading Flaubert. “Selling Madame Bovary to the club: A selection of the Wisteria Lane Book Club, at least desperate housewife found it ‘inspirational.’” Now there’s an unbeatable endorsement for you. (You aren’t going to complain just because it’s ungrammatical, are you?) Elsewhere Loevy’s advice is often as patrontizing as it is off the wall. She sounds almost apologetic about suggesting that book clubs may want to read Moby-Dick. “Don’t you be rolling your eyes,” she warns, because the novel is “brimming with meaning.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

[The 10 Delete Key Awards finalists are being announced in random order throughout the day and numbered only for convenience.]

Delete Key Awards Finalist #4: ‘The Emperor’s Children’ by Claire Messud

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:43 pm

“It filled her with despair, a literal leadening of her limbs, a glazing of the eyes, so that she could barely lift the sheets of paper around her, and certainly couldn’t decipher what was written upon them.”

Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children (Knopf) may be the most overrated novel of the century. Yes, it centers on a New York journalist in the months before Sept. 11, and journalists enjoy reading about their own kind and may attach a special gravity to books that invoke the terrorist attacks. And, yes, it comes from John Updike’s publisher. But that still doesn’t explain the praise heaped on this slow-moving and overwritten novel full of lines of dialogue like: “Think about it: there’s nothing worse than pretension, and false pretension is the bottom of the barrel.” Think about it: Isn’t pretension always false?

Writing sample:
Julius “never knew in life whether to be Pierre or Natasha, the solitary, brooding loner or the vivacious social butterfly.” As opposed to a loner who isn’t solitary? Then there’s: “It filled her with despair, a literal leadening of her limbs, a glazing of the eyes, so that she could barely lift the sheets of paper around her, and certainly couldn’t decipher what was written upon them.” Where do the problems with that line begin? With that “leadening” that wasn’t literal but metaphorical? Or with all the clichés?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

[The 10 Delete Key Awards finalists are being announced in random order throughout the day and numbered only for convenience.]

Delete Key Awards Finalist #5: ‘The Interruption of Everything’ by Terry McMillan

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:17 pm

“We tried you on your cell but you didn’t pick up so we got a little worried since we didn’t know where your appointment was and we tried calling Leon at work … ”

Terry McMillan has turned into a romance novelist with a sense of humor and that would be okay except for a few things and one is that in The Interruption of Everything (Signet) she strings together lots of independent clauses without punctuation the way Nobel laureates like Ernest Hemingway do and also her characters sometimes say things like “Dang” and “Whoa” that for some reason remind you of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western although maybe this is because we just saw him at the Academy Awards. Plus she sets up a subplot that goes nowhere involving her perimenopausal heroine’s former soul mate who just happens to move move nearby after she decides to leave her husband and would your favorite romance novelist do that?

Writing sample:
“We tried you on your cell but you didn’t pick up so we got a little worried since we didn’t know where your appointment was and we tried calling Leon at work but his assistant said he left early to pick up his son at the airport and against our better judgment we tried your house and Hail Mary Full of Grace answered and after she deposed us, I asked if she knew your doctor’s number and she said she had to think for a few minutes and while she was thinking I started thinking who else we could call and that’s when I remembered your GYN’s name was a hotel: Hilton!” Where have all the commas gone? The sentence reads like the winner of a Bad Hemingway Parody Contest.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

[The 10 Delete Key Awards finalists are being announced in random order throughout the day and numbered only for convenience.]

Delete Key Awards Finalist #6: ‘Find the One You Want – Fix the One You Got’ by Dr. Phil McGraw

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:22 pm

“Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?”

Love Smart (Free Press) is one of those relationship guides for women THAT GIVES ADVICE IN LARGE TYPE BECAUSE YOU MIGHT OTHERWISE NOT GET WHAT IT’S SAYING. It also has lots of exclamation points! More than two dozen in the first seven pages alone! But the main problem with this book isn’t punctuation. It’s the patronizing mush dispensed by talk-show host Dr. Phil McGraw, who hands out cliché after cliché, as in: “Now it seems time to step up and close the deal, get ‘the fish in the boat,’ walk down the aisle, tie the knot … you want to get to the next level.”

Writing sample:
McGraw suggests that women hold sex “in reserve” until a man has made “the ultimate commitment,” because many men still think: “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?” Has it occurred to McGraw that, in the age of a female Speaker of the House, a lot of women might not like being compared to cows?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

[The 10 Delete Key Awards finalists are being announced in random order throughout the day and numbered only for convenience.]

Delete Key Awards Finalist #7: ‘Toxic Bachelors’ by Danielle Steel

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:29 pm

“ ‘Yes,’ he said succinctly.”

Nobody expects social realism from Danielle Steel, but it’s still shocking to find Jews portrayed as monsters in Toxic Bachelors (Dell). The novel involves three single men from different backgrounds who try to avoid marriage while cruising the Mediterranean. Each man represents a spiritual as well as social “type”: Charlie is WASP-y, Gray makes a religion of art, and Adam is Jewish. Guess which one has an ineffectual father, a mother who is “a nagging bitch,” and a spoiled sister? If you said, “Adam,” you’re right. While Charlie’s dead parents were saintly and Gray’s were irresponsible but not malicious, Adam’s are cruel enough to make the Portnoys look like candidates for a lifetime achievement award from Parents’ magazine. Adam sees his parents as “freaks” no better than a sister who committed the ultimate sin: “She had never done anything with her life except get married and have two children.”

Writing sample:
“He was well built and good-looking in an exotic, ethnic way.” In other words, he’s Jewish. Steel doesn’t do better with her other characters. A line about one of them: “Yes,’ he said succinctly.” Is there another way to say “Yes”?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

[The Delete Key Awards finalists are being posted in random order throughout the day. They are numbered only for convenience.]

Delete Key Awards Finalist #8: ‘The Confession’ by James McGreevey with David France

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:27 pm

“Our first few times burned so fiercely in my mind I could hardly recall them even as we were still lying together.”

Critics have not been kind to the red, white, and purple prose in this memoir by the New Jersey “Luv Guv” who resigned after outing himself as a “gay American.” Alas, they have a point. Those of us who live in New Jersey had hoped that while in office, McGreevey would keep his mind on big questions like: Why do we have the highest property tax rates in the nation? But we learn from The Confession (HarperCollins/Regan) that he kept getting distracted by thoughts like: “He greeted me in his briefs. ‘Did anybody see you?’ he asked, closing the door quickly” … “We undressed and he kissed me. It was the first time in my life that a kiss meant what it was supposed to mean – it sent me through the roof” … “I pulled him to the bed and we made love like I’d always dreamed … boastful, passionate, whispering …” Lines like these suggest that if McGreevey has no future in politics, he may yet have a career as the gay romance novelist.

Writing sample:
“Our first few times burned so fiercely in my mind I could hardly recall them even as we were still lying together. “ Get out the fire hoses when politicians try to write about hot sex. If those trysts burned “fiercely” in McGreevey’s mind, doesn’t that mean he would remember them, not forget them?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

[The 10 Delete Key Awards finalists are being announced in random order throughout the day and numbered only for convenience.]


 

 

Delete Key Awards Finalist # 9: ‘The Power of Nice’ by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:58 am

“It’s no coincidence that ‘Thou shalt not lie’ is one of the Ten Commandments.”

Suppose you were writing about how to succeed in business by being nice and wanted to back up your ideas by giving examples of some famously “nice” celebrities. Would the first name that came to mind here be “Donald Trump”? No? You’ll find other bizarre examples like this one The Power of Nice (Doubleday), a dish of treacle from the advertising executives who created the Aflac duck. Although this is supposed to be a business book, you’ll also find breathless platitudes that wander far from the office like “call your grandmother, for goodness’ sake – she’s dying to hear from you!”

Writing sample:
Kaplan Thaler and Koval report: “It’s no coincidence that ‘Thou shalt not lie’ is one of the Ten Commandments.” So did God send them a text message explaining this? Or a fax? And are we to assume that other things in the Ten Commandments are a “coincidence”?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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