One-Minute Book Reviews

September 30, 2009

Going to the Doctor in Japan – Please Don’t Tip the Proctologist – From T. R. Reid’s ‘The Healing of America’

Filed under: News,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:53 pm
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Another memorable quote from T. R. Reid’s elegant indictment of health care in the U.S., The Healing of America (Penguin, 277 pp., $25.95), this one dealing with the high regard that the Japanese have for doctors:

“The high esteem for doctors is reflected in a traditional cultural practice in Japan that is officially frowned on these days but still seems to exist: Patients tend to bring a present for their doctor, ranging from a box of golf balls to a magnum of sake to a tasteful white envelope with the physician’s name brushed on the outside and a packet of cash inside. In the better stationery stores, you can buy a special envelope for this purpose, in soft, thick paper the color of heavy cream with ‘the honorable physician’ written on them in elaborate calligraphy. The tradition dates back to premodern times, when a physician in China or Japan had a Confucian obligation to use his skills to treat people and was not expected to demand a fee. To express their gratitude, patients provided a more-or-less voluntary gratuity. …

“In my doctor’s office in Tokyo, there was a sign on the wall clearly stating that the doctor’s fee for each treatment, and the share of the fee that I had to co-pay, were set by law: HONORABLE PATIENTS ARE RESPECTFULLY REQUESTED TO PAY NO MORE THAN THE FEE, it said. But I sometimes did see a patient, particularly an older one, carrying one of those cream-colored envelopes into the doctor’s office.”

September 29, 2009

Is ‘The Lost Symbol’ Is ‘Offensive’ to Christianity?

Crosses and other religious symbols help to drive the plot of The Lost Symbol. Are the images used in an offensive way? Philip Hensher writes in a review of The Lost Symbol in the Spectator:

“The plot, naturally, is all to do with the concealment of wisdom within sacred texts, and as it unfolds, it becomes first moronic and then somewhat offensive. Moronic, because it seems to believe that wisdom and knowledge are things which are acquired by placing a bit of gold on top of a bit of stone, and then wiping off some wax. Brown’s heroes remind me of Hardy’s Jude, who thought that you could understand Greek if you cracked a simple code in the dons’ safekeeping:

“Don’t you see? These [Biblical phrases] are code words, Robert. ‘Temple’ is code for body. ‘Heaven’ is code for mind. ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ is your spine. And ‘Manna’ is this rare brain secretion.

“Not just moronic, but offensive, because the whole historical point of Christianity was that it celebrated its rites entirely openly, unlike any other religion to that point. The huge enlightenment to come, trailed by Brown, doesn’t convince, because he can’t really imagine what it would be, apart from some previously secret beliefs being made generally available. What that would mean, apart from people saying ‘With my temple, I thee worship’ at wedding ceremonies, Brown cannot limn.

“This is taking a bit of fluff all too seriously, but tales of conspiracy are worrying when they become as massively popular as Brown’s stories have done. God knows how many of his readers think there might be some truth in any of this. But even if there were none, it is depressing to see the point to which the bestseller as a form has sunk. Vintage have recently reissued all of Nevil Shute, and to read a hugely popular book of 50 years ago next to The Lost Symbol is to witness a painful decline in quality and sheer class. A novelist like Brown would never risk an extended set-piece like the motor race in On the Beach, or the details of capital investment in A Town Called Alice. Or, come to that, the thrillingly extended card game in the first part of Ian Fleming’s Moonraker. These are novels which, though aiming at popularity, respected their readers and were possessed of a decent level of craft. Nowadays, we are reduced in our thrill-seeking endeavours to listening to Dan Brown, whose idea of giving a reader a good time is droning:

“Franklin Square is located in the northwest quadrant of downtown Washington, bordered by K and Thirteenth streets. It is home to many historic buildings.”

September 28, 2009

Excuses Used by Aetna, Prudential and Blue Shield to Deny Health-Insurance Claims — From T. R. Reid’s ‘The Healing of America’

I was going to read The Lost Symbol over the weekend but picked up T. R. Reid’s elegant indictment of health care in the U.S., The Healing of America (Penguin, 277 pp., $25.95). And I was hooked after the first sentence: “If Nikki White had been a resident of any other rich country, she would be alive today.”

Reid had his bad shoulder examined by doctors in other well-off democracies that included France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan and Canada. And he uses the results as a springboard for exposing flaws in arguments made by insurers and others against adopting practices that work overseas: “It’s all socialized medicine over there,” “They ration care with waiting lists and limited choice,” “Those systems are too foreign to work in the United States,” and more.

Until I can review The Healing of America, here’s a brief excerpt from the book about the excuses used by major insurers to reject claims:

“In other developed countries, insurers are required to pay every claim. But U.S. insurance companies deny about 30 percent of all claims, although some of these are eventually paid through an appeal process. The reasons cited for denying valid claims can be ingenious. When our family lived in Japan, the friendly adjusters at Prudential used to deny our claims for medical or dental care on the grounds that the bills we submitted were denominated in yen. Somebody at Prudential had determined that the Japanese yen was a foreign currency; that violated the rules. My company later switched our health insurance to Aetna, which employed a similar dodge: The adjuster said she couldn’t pay our claims because she couldn’t call the doctor’s office to verify the bills. It seems that Aetna had a phone system for its adjusters that didn’t allow international calls, so our claims had to be denied.

“The most maddening of all the profit-maximizing mechanisms in the U.S. health insurance industry is the practice known as ‘rescission,’ a legal term that means ‘We’re canceling your coverage.’ This occurs when an injured person who has been paying premiums for months or years has a serious accident or contracts a serious disease, which can mean serious bills for the insurance company to pay. At that point, the insurer’s Rescission Department digs through all the records, looking for a reason to cancel the sick person’s coverage. For example, Steven Hailey, a machinist in Cypress, California, paid his health insurance premium every month. Then he was hit by a truck. He was still being treated for his injuries when Blue Shield of California wrote to tell him that his coverage had been canceled because his weight was too high. He would have to pay the hospital bills himself – about $450,000 worth of bills.”

September 27, 2009

Barbara Walters: William Safire Gave Me a Sheer Black Shorty Nightgown and Lace Panties at an Office Christmas Party

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:58 pm
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Barbara Walters remembers in her recent memoir, Audition, when her co-worker William Safire (1929-2009) gave her a sheer black shorty nightgown and matching lace panties at an office Christmas party.

September 25, 2009

Backscratching in Our Time – Lisa Kleypas and Candy Tan

The latest in an occasional series of posts on authors who praise each other’s work

Lisa Kleypas on Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan’s Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels:

“A high-octane, hilarious, and revelatory look at the romance genre … This sparkling book is required reading. It’s too much fun to be missed!”

Candy Tan on the hero of Lisa Kleypas’s Only With Your Love, in Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels:

“Justin is my favorite guilty pleasure. … He’s my ultimate fantasy hero, and by that I mean he’s someone I desire strictly as a fantasy.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

September 24, 2009

Dan Brown’s 5 Worst Lines From ‘The Lost Symbol’

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:56 am
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The critic stood with her arms folded, her eyes locked skeptically on the librarian at the checkout desk as she processed what he had just told her. “Somebody called and said he didn’t want the copy of The Lost Symbol that he had reserved? So I moved mysteriously to the top of the waiting list … as if by an unseen power?”

The librarian shrugged weakly as he handed her a copy of the novel that had sold two million copies in a week. The critic realized that others would have to wait a day or two for her review of a 508-page book to have its measurable effect on the physical world.

Still, her eye fell on a few lines that struck her as suspicious. With force that startled even herself, she couldn’t help but play a very dangerous game and formulate her responses:

1. Chapter 16, page 84: “The OS director’s voice was unmistakable – like gravel grating on a chalkboard.”

How did the gravel get on the chalkboard? Did somebody throw the gravel at it?  Or pave it?

2. Chapter 16, page 65: “He looked more like someone Anderson would expect to find hearthside in some Ivy League library reading Dostoyevsky.”

Hey, kids! Be sure to ask to see the fireplaces in the Harvard and Yale libraries on those campus tours! Soot is great for all those rare books.

3. Chapter 89, page 332: “It was no coincidence that Christians were taught that Jesus was crucified at age thirty-three …”

Just as it’s no coincidence that people were taught that Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors.

4. Chapter 96, page 357: The only wrinkle was the bloody black-clad heap in the foyer with a screwdriver protruding from his neck.”

Yes, a screwdriver sticking out of your neck is always something of a wrinkle.

5. Chapter 28, page 119: “Thankfully, this particular crypt contained no bodies. …The entourage hurried through, without even a glance at the four-pointed marble compass in the center of the floor where the Eternal Flame had once burned.”

As opposed to one of those three-pointed compass you see in some crypts.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 22, 2009

A Review of ‘Brother, I’m Dying’ by MacArthur Grant Winner Edwidge Danticat

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:48 pm
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Edwidge Danticat has won a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation grant for her books about Haitian immigrants and others in the United States. One-Minute Book Reviews has posted a review of one of those books, Brother I’m Dying.

Dan Brown’s Worst Lines — 20 Bad Sentences From ‘The Lost Symbol,’ ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Angels and Demons’

Do critics unfairly malign Dan Brown’s writing? You’ll be able to judge for yourself when I list the best and worst lines from The Lost Symbol in my forthcoming review, which will appear after my name makes it to the top the reserve list at the library. In the meantime Tom Chivers selected the 20 worst lines from Dan Brown’s novels for a story for the Telegraph in England.

Yes, Chivers found a qualifying sentence from The Lost Symbol. But his two best choices appear below. The lines from Brown’s books are italicized and Chivers’s comments follow in a Roman font.

Angels and Demons, chapter 100: Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers glorified the four major rivers of the Old World – The Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio Plata.

“The Rio de la Plata. Between Argentina and Uruguay. One of the major rivers of the Old World. Apparently.

“The Da Vinci Code, chapter 5: Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop’s ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué.

“A keen eye indeed.”

Will lines like these qualify Brown for one of the 2010 Delete Key Awards for bad writing in books, given annually to authors who don’t use their delete keys enough? Find out in late Feburary when the shortlist will appear and on March 15, 2010, when this site will announce the winners.

September 21, 2009

‘Why We Make Mistakes’ – A Provocative Look at the Causes of Human Error, or Why There’s a 1-in-5 Chance That a Doctor Will Misdiagnose Your Final Illness

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:17 am
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If you drink while studying for a test, hope the exam will be held in a bar

Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average. By Joseph T. Hallinan. Broadway, 283 pp., $24.95.

By Janice Harayda

A few days before Halloween in a small town in Delaware, a 42-year-old woman hanged herself from a tree across from a moderately busy road. Her body dangled about 15 feet above the ground and could easily be seen from passing cars, but no one called the police for more than 12 hours.

“They thought it was a Halloween decoration,” the mayor’s wife said as a crowd gathered at the scene in 2005.

Joseph Hallinan uses the tragedy to make a point: Context affects our perceptions of events more than we imagine. Its importance helps to explain why we often can’t quite place somebody we’ve run into: Is he a barista at the local Starbucks? A volunteer at the library? It’s easier to recall who a person is when you know where he belongs. And context involves more than time and place, Hallinan says in Why We Make Mistakes, a fascinating survey the causes of human error. One study found that people who learned while slightly drunk remembered better if they were tested while tipsy.

Hallinan focuses on cognitive or perceptual errors that affect behavior, or factors such as change blindness (an inability to notice shifts in what we see) and overconfidence (a trait that shows up more in men than women and influences the mistakes of each sex). But he writes at times about behavior that affects perceptions, such as not getting enough sleep. And this dilutes slightly the focus of his book, which draws on research in psychology, economics, and other fields. Why deal with fatigue but not with such physical conditions as chronic pain or stress that can also cause errors?

A larger issue is whom the “we” in the title of the book refers to. Hallinan seems to draw mainly on the work of American researchers, and this raises questions when he deals with a topic such as overconfidence. He makes a strong case that “we” are overconfident. But that’s what Europeans have said for decades about Americans, and it makes you wonder if his conclusions would have differed if he’d drawn on more studies of, say, Scots or Hungarians. You don’t know whether this is a book about why people make mistakes or about why Americans make mistakes.

Even so, Why We Make Mistakes is as sobering – and potentially helpful — as it is lively. If you can’t decide whether to get a second opinion about a recommended medical treatment, here’s a fact that could help you make up your mind: Studies of autopsies have shown that “doctors seriously misdiagnose fatal illnesses about 20 percent of the time.”

Best line: No. 1: “Memory, it turns out, is often more of a reconstruction than a reproduction.” No. 2: “Wrong-site surgery continues to afflict untold numbers of patients each year. … One recent survey, for instance, asked hand surgeons about operating on the wrong place; 20 percent of them revealed that they had operated on the wrong site at least once in their careers.”

Worst line: “On the kinds of sophisticated tasks that economists are most interested in, like trading in markets or choosing among gambles, the overwhelming finding it that increased incentives to do not change average behavior substantially. Generally, what incentives do is prolong deliberation or attention to a problem. People who are offered them will work harder on a given problem … though they will not necessarily work any smarter.” This passage seems self-contradictory and an oversimplification of the effect of incentives. If people work harder on a problem, isn’t that a change in their “average behavior”?

Recommendation? Why We Make Mistakes may appeal to fans of the books of Malcolm Gladwell, though there’s some overlap of information with them.

Published: February 2009

Editor: Kris Puopolo

About the author: Hallinan is a Pulitzer Prize–winner and former Wall Street Journal reporter. He lives in Chicago.

One-Minute Book Reviews posts short reviews by Janice Harayda, former book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. The site is also the home of the “Backscratching in Our Time” series that calls attention to authors who praise each other’s books. The next installment in the series will appear Friday.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

September 20, 2009

Another Installment of ‘Backscratching in Our Time’ Coming Friday

Filed under: Backscratching in Our Time,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:23 am
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On Friday I’ll have another post in my “Backscratching in Our Time” series, which calls attention to authors who praise each other’s books. In the meantime, I found an interesting comment on this sort of logrolling on the site for literary agent Nathan Bransford.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted wrote a lively guest post for Bransford about dust-jacket blurbs that dealt in part with the question: Whom should you ask for these? She advised against putting an all-points-bulletin on your Web site* seeking people who might like to compare you to Lord Byron or Joan Didion, then added:

“I’ve also seen novices offer publicly, ‘Hey, if anyone wants to blurb my book, I’ll blurb theirs!’ Again, please don’t do this. It’s unprofessional in so many ways. For starters, there’s already an unpleasant impression in some circles that blurbing is a corrupt process involving log-rolling and political back-scratching and every other awful name you can think up for it. Don’t help perpetuate that negative perception. Further, let’s say Ian McEwan or Nora Roberts – or why not both? – are the sort of authors you’re going after. No offense, but do you really think it’s going to influence their decision, the promise that you’ll gladly blurb them in return?”

If you’re wondering why it’s unprofessional, the simplest answer is: It’s a conflict of interest — or the appearance of one — and as such could damage your credibility and that of the other party to the horse-trading.

*I agree with this only under some circumstances, but Baratz-Logsted made a good case for her view.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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