One-Minute Book Reviews

March 25, 2008

Has Jodi Picoult Taken an Early Lead in the 2009 Delete Key Awards Competition for Bad Writing in Books?

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:08 am
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I haven’t read Jodi Picoult’s new Change of Heart (Atria, $26.95) www.jodipicoult.com but a review in yesterday’s New York Times made me wonder if the novel had jumped to an early lead in the 2009 Delete Key Awards contest. Janet Maslin said that Picoult “seems to have written her latest tear-jerker on authorial autopilot.” And she quoted lines like this one from a condemned prisoner known as “the Death Row Messiah” who is a central figure in the book:

“Not that Jesus wasn’t a really cool guy – great teacher, excellent speaker, yadda yadda yadda. But … Son of God? Where’s the proof?”

Sort of makes you wonder if this guy is going to have his last meal catered by the Soup Nazi, doesn’t it?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

March 24, 2008

The Year’s Best Book-Related New Yorker Cartoon

Filed under: Magazines — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:36 pm
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This week’s New Yorker has a great piece of book-related art that you might want to pick up if your refrigerator or bulletin board has been looking a little peaked lately. It’s an illustration by Barry Blitt for Jill Lepore’s essay on the link between history and fiction, but it would have worked just as well as a stand-alone cartoon.

It shows a woman shelving books in bookstore that has the following sections: “Fiction … Made Up Memoirs … Out and Out Conjecture … Bull … Fanciful Speculation … Little More Than Guessing.”

You can see it and read Lepore’s essay here: www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2008/03/24/080324crat_atlarge_lepore.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 23, 2008

Easter at Cawdor Kirk – Quote of the Day From Liza Campbell’s ‘A Charmed Life: Growing Up in Macbeth’s Castle’

Filed under: Memoirs,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:23 pm
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Liza Campbell, daughter of the 25th Thane of Cawdor, writes of living with the ghosts of Banquo and others in her engaging memoir A Charmed Life: Growing Up in Macbeth’s Castle (St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $24.95) www.thomasdunnebooks.com. In this passage she describes attending Sunday services at Cawdor Kirk, a stone church built by the 12th Thane, with her family:

“The minister’s sermon was as unedited as it was stern, typically commencing, ‘This week I was inspired to put pen to paper on the subject of babbling fools …’ followed by a pause as he glowered at us all over the top of his spectacles. A reading would follow that was most likely about Lot’s wife, or Job and his malignant ulcers. The Presbyterian God was a dour one who must have thought up the rainbows while he had a temperature and was not feeling quite himself. The songs we sang were all willfully obscure works from forgotten backwaters of the hymn book….

“In keeping with Presbyterian tradition, communion was taken once a year only, at Easter, when we could look forward to a hunk of real bread and some port. The service would finish off with the congregation stumbling through that cheery foot-tapper ‘By the Light of burrrning Martyrs, Christ thy bloody steps we trace’, with my father singing it in a basso profundo that sounded like heavy furniture being dragged across the floor. In a pew at right angles to ours, Mrs. King from the laundry at Cawdor would make no effort to sing. Ever. She would wave to us gaily while popping a succession of hard-boiled sweets into her mouth and spend the rest of her time flattening out and folding up the cellophane wrappers – as if she could never fully relax from her laundress’s habits.”

Some of my ancestors are buried in the kirkyard of Cawdor Kirk, shown in a picture that does not come from A Charmed Life. Campbell was the last person born at Cawdor Castle.

© 2008 Janice Harayda (text and church photo). All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

March 22, 2008

Tasha Tudor’s Classic Easter Story About a Young Girl’s Holiday Dream

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:17 am
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[This is a repost of a 2007 post.]

A young girl dreams of a magical journey on the back of a fawn in a picture book that’s been a holiday favorite for more than 60 years

A Tale for Easter. By Tasha Tudor. Aladdin, 32 pp., $5.99, paperback. Ages 4–8.

By Janice Harayda

This classic picture book is a kind of Easter counterpart to The Polar Express, though it has a smaller format than Chris Van Allsburg’s Christmas fable. Generations preschoolers and other young children have delighted in Tasha Tudor’s sentimental tale of a girl who, on the night before the holiday, dreams of taking a magical journey on the back of a “wee fawn” that shows her “rabbits smoothing their sleek coats,” lambs “in fields of buttercups” and other gentle creatures of the season.

A two-time Caldecott Honor artist, Tudor uses second-person narration and soft watercolors to show Easter through the eyes of girl who lived at around the time of the Civil War, to judge by her Little Women-ish dresses and bonnet. Tudor sets the tone early: “You never can tell what might happen on Easter. You’re not always sure when it is coming, even though you go to Sunday school … it is only when Good Friday comes, and you have hot cross buns for tea that you know for certain Easter will be the day after tomorrow.” And while a story this sweet won’t appeal to everybody, Tudor has following among all ages, including many adults. And A Tale for Easter is so widely available that you may be able to find in bookstores and libraries at the last minute.

Recommended if … you’re looking for a picture book that evokes the magic of a season of rebirth without getting into Christian theology. A Tale for Easter may especially appeal to a child who sees herself as a “girly-girl.”

Published: 1941 (first edition), January 2004 (Aladdin paperback reprint).

A new review of a book or books for children or teenagers appears every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. One-Minute Book Reviews is a noncommercial site that does not accept advertising or free books or promotional materials from publishers and provides an independent evaluation of books by an award-winning critic.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 20, 2008

Martín Espada Wears His Causes on His Sleeve in ‘The Republic of Poetry’

A visit to Chile helped to inspire a collection that includes anti-war poems

The Republic of Poetry: Poems. By Martín Espada. Norton, 63 pp., $23.95.

By Janice Harayda

Martín Espada wears his causes on his sleeve, and it’s a heavy sleeve. Many of his poems read like editorials in verse, but without the surprise endorsements that most newspapers serve up occasionally. His politics are as predictable as an incumbent’s stump speech. He opposes torture, apartheid, dictatorship, police brutality and, apparently, war in general and the war in Iraq in particular. (Two of the poems in this book appeared on the site Poets Against War www.poetsagainstwar.net.) He supports poets and poetry.

Espada visited Chile in 2004 for the centenary of the birth of the Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, and his trip inspired a dozen poems that form the core of The Republic of Poetry. In “City of Glass” he writes of the ransacking of Neruda’s home by soldiers loyal to Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who had overthrown the elected Salvador Allende. The opening lines set the tone for a poem that turns the fragility of glass into a graceful metaphor for the fragility of democracy in Chile:

The poet’s house was a city of glass:
cranberry glass, milk glass, carnival glass,
red and green goblets row after row,
black luster of wine in bottles …

Elsewhere Espada reaches frequently for images that are banal or strained. On a visit to his childhood home in Brooklyn, he recalls a youthful injury with the mawkish line: “Blood leaked on the floor like oil from the engine of me.” In a bar he has a vision of a wooden figure he saw in Neruda’s home: “He likes for me to be still, / she grinned …” That “she grinned” isn’t bad poetry so much as hack writing in general; it would be as bad in your local newspaper as in a book. Espada can do better – and sometimes he does – but he clearly has the spirit of Chilean poets who once protested their oppression by bombing the national palace with bookmarks imprinted with poetry. In his way, he’s bombing you, too.

Best line: All of “City of Glass,” one of two poems in the book first published in The New Yorker.

Worst line: In “Black Islands” Espada writes of a meeting the Chilean father of a five-year-old: “ Son, the father said, this is a poet, / like Pablo Neruda.” That “like Pablo Neruda” could mean two things: “a poet, as was Pablo Neruda” or “a poet similar to Pablo Neruda.” Either way, this is unappetizing self-congratulation. You wonder what Neruda would have thought of that self-congratulatory “like Pablo Neruda” in “Black Islands.”

Published: October 2006. Paperback due out from Norton in April 2008.

Furthermore: Espada www.martinespada.net was born in Brooklyn, New York, and teaches at the University of Massachusetts. He has written seven other poetry collections, including Imagine the Angels of Bread, which won American Book Award.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org. She would like to expand One-Minute Book Reviews to include podcasts, broadcasts and other services, such as online book discussion groups or forums in “real time,” and is looking for a home for this blog that would make it possible to provide these.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

March 19, 2008

Ishmael Beah’s Story ‘Threatens to Blow Into a Million Little Pieces,’ Cover Story in the Village Voice Says

Filed under: News,Newspapers — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:53 pm
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Graham Rayman has a wonderful cover story in the new issue of the Village Voice on the escalating controversy about the credibility of A Long Way Gone. Rayman’s article is by far the best by an American reporter on the bestseller by Ishmael Beah, who claims to have been a boy soldier in Sierra Leone for more than two years www.villagevoice.com/news/0812,boy_soldier,381308,1.html.

The Voice story (in which I am quoted) includes a fascinating interview with Neil Boothby, an expert on children and war at Columbia University who has worked with young refugees in Darfur, Rwanda and elsewhere.

Boothby told Rayman that he had avoided commenting on A Long Way Gone because he saw Beah as a courageous spokesman and didn’t want to undermine any “human-rights momentum” the book generated. Nonetheless, Boothby said:

“I think what [Beah] has done is meet with UNICEF, journalists, and others, and he told stories, and people responded to certain stories enthusiastically. That has encouraged him to come out with an account that has sensationalism, a bit of bravado, and some inaccuracies. To me, the key question is whether there’s enough accuracy to make the story credible.”

Boothby also said:

“My take on this from the beginning was: There was some kind of exaggeration. I’ve seen it over and over. Whether by psychologists or journalists, they are encouraged to tell the sensational stories. It’s not surprising that that could be the case here.

“The system is set up to reward sensational stories. We all need to look at why does something have to be so horrific before we open our eyes and ears and hearts?”

Beah has maintained that there is no exaggeration and his story is “all true.”

Rayman’s article has many other thought-provoking comments like Boothby’s and, for its intelligence and clarity of vision, surpasses anything on Beah that has appeared in the New York Times and other daily newspapers. Don’t miss the Voice story if you’re confused about the claims and counter-claims for the book or if you belong to a reading group that’s considering it.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 18, 2008

The Impact of Arthur C. Clarke (1917–2008) Recalled by Three-Time Caldecott Medal Winner David Wiesner

Filed under: Science Fiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:36 pm
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Arthur C. Clarke, who has died at the age of 90 www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23697230/, got little respect from some literary critics, who dismissed him as a writer of futuristic potboilers. But his science-fiction influenced some of the most respected authors of our time. They include David Wiesner, who honored Clarke’s best-known novel in The Art of Reading: 40 Illustrators Celebrate RIF’s 40th Anniversary, in which popular artists re-envision a scene from a favorite book. Wiesner chose to re-imagine one from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a book that had captivated him in his youth: He’d seen Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie version, and when he saw the novel in a book-club catalog, he had to have it.

“The book turned out to be as fantastic and absorbing as the movie, and I couldn’t put it down,” he says in The Art of Reading. He was “fascinated by the way the same idea had been presented in two different mediums, one visual and one literary.” He’s still fascinated by such links: In 2007 Wiesner, one of America’s most admired children’s authors, won his third Caldecott Medal for Flotsam, a picture book about a boy who finds a magical camera.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

March 17, 2008

Why Is ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’ Such an Important Novel? (Quote of the Day / Doris Lessing)

Filed under: Classics,Novels,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:55 pm
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Alan Paton never won a Nobel Prize for Cry, the Beloved Country, his landmark 1948 novel about a Zulu minister who learns that his son has murdered the son of a white man. But his book may have had a greater impact on the struggle for racial justice in South Africa than any by Nadine Gordimer, who did win. And it has had a strong readership in the U.S. for six decades, bolstered by two movie versions and its selection for Oprah’s Book Club in 2003.

Why was Cry, the Beloved Country so important? Here’s an answer from Doris Lessing, the novelist and 2007 Nobel laureate in literature, who was born in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and wrote another book critical of South Africa, The Grass Is Singing, that appeared soon after Paton’s:

“What you have to remember is that the whole of southern Africa was seen as a very happy, fun place full of satisfied blacks…. Cry, the Beloved Country destroyed that vision. Then along came The Grass Is Singing, which helped to break it down even more.”

Doris Lessing as quoted by Emily Parker in “Provocateur” in the Weekend Interview with Doris Lessing, The Wall Street Journal, March 15-16, 2008.

Read a biography of Paton at
www.litweb.net/biography/142/Alan_Paton.html.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

A Colorful Irish Politician Gets Another Hurrah in a Fine Biography

Filed under: Biography — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:59 pm
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Many people know the flamboyant Irish politician James Michael Curley only through Edwin O’Connor’s novel The Last Hurrah or its excellent film version, which starred Spencer Tracy in one of his greatest roles. But the four-time Boston mayor (who spent part of his last term in jail) has also inspired a fine biography, Jack Beatty’s The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1874–1958) (DaCapo, $22.50). Did people really sing “Vote often and early for Curley” as in John Ford’s film? Beatty deals with this and other provocative questions in a lively and well-paced account that holds its own against the many good books about Irish politicians who are better-known, including the Kennedys. Any mayor who is leading a parade today would be lucky if, several decades from now, a biographer as conscientious as Beatty decided to start looking into some of the myths about his or her life.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 16, 2008

No Blarney From Irish Novelist Anne Enright

Filed under: Book Awards Reality Check,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:06 pm
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Hold the green beer, and pass the good writing

Maybe it’s because I see so much tackiness masquerading as art in books. But I love the honest, exuberant tackiness of St. Patrick’s Day parades – the green moustaches, the wash-off shamrock tattoos and the toddlers in leprechaun suits perched on their parents’ shoulders. So don’t expect me to lift a digital shillelagh today and cudgel all those books that sentimentalize Ireland (which — let’s face it — at times seem to outnumber the world population of step-dancers).

But if you think the parades are so much blarney, the Irish novelist Anne Enright offers an antidote in The Gathering (Grove Atlantic, 261 pp., $14, paperback). You won’t find a whiff of green beer coming from this novel, which rightly defeated On Chesil Beach and Mister Pip for the most recent Man Booker Prize www.themanbookerprize.com. But you will find a strong, dark, well-crafted tale of eight siblings who gather in Dublin for the funeral of a brother who committed suicide. As their story unfolds, it appears that Liam’s death may have its roots in an incident in his grandparents’ era, the 1920s, when lay Catholics tried to save the city’s prostitutes by shutting down brothels.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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