One-Minute Book Reviews

February 10, 2010

Last Call for Nominations for the 2010 Delete Key Awards for Bad Writing in Books

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Which recent books should appear a TV show called CSI: Grammar Cop? Or Law & Order: Psychobabble Unit? Finalists for the Fourth Annual Delete Key Awards for bad writing in books will be announced on Feb. 25, 2010, on One-Minute Book Reviews and on Jan Harayda’s Twitter page (@janiceharayda). The prizes recognize literary sins such as clichés, dumbing-down, bad grammar, pomposity and overall incoherence.

To nominate one or more lines from a book published in hardcover or paperback in 2009, please leave a comment by Feb. 17, or send an e-mail message to the address on the “Contact” page. You can learn more about the prizes from Questions and Answers about the Delete Key Awards. To read past winners, click on “Delete Key Awards” at the top of this post.

November 22, 2009

Does Sarah Palin Deserve a Delete Key Award for Bad Writing for ‘Going Rogue’?

Filed under: Delete Key Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:57 pm
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The Delete Key Awards have shown through finalists James McGreevey and Newt Gingrich that neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on bad writing. Should a politician make the 2010 shortlist due out in February? I haven’t read Going Rogue, but reviews suggest that it could be a candidate. Does Sarah Palin deserve to become a finalist for a Delete Key Award for bad writing in books? If you’d like to nominate a line from Going Rogue or another book by a politician, please use the address on the “Contact” page on this site or send an message on Twitter to @janiceharayda that includes the sentence or keywords from it.

August 20, 2009

Dr. Phil Admits, ‘I May Not Be the Sharpest Pencil in the Box’ in ‘Love Smart: Find the One You Want — Fix the One You Got’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:15 am
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Love Smart was one of 10 finalists in the 2007 Delete Key Awards contest, which recognizes the year’s worst writing in books. Dr. Phil lost to Danielle Steel (grand-prize winner), Mitch Albom (first runner-up) and Claire Messud (second runner-up). This review appeared in February 2007.

Love Smart: Find the One You Want – Fix the One You Got. By Dr. Phil McGraw. Free Press, 283 pp., $15, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Help me, please, with the math in Dr. Phil McGraw’s relationship guide for women. First the talk-show host says that to attract a worthy man, you need to feel confident enough to take your “fair share of time in most conversations – 50 percent in a twosome, 33 percent in a threesome, and so forth.” Then he says that when you’re dating: “Self-disclosure should be used only 25 percent of the time. The other 75 percent should be listening.” So which is it? Should you be talking 50 percent of the time or 25 percent?

I have no idea, because McGraw doesn’t say how he got those figures, and his book is full of mush like this. Love Smart is one of those self-help guides that has LOTS OF LARGE TYPE. It also has exclamation points! More than two dozen in the first seven pages! That doesn’t count the one in the first paragraph of the acknowledgments! But I’ll say this for McGraw: He is equally patronizing to women and men. He reduces them both 1950s stereotypes given a 21st-century gloss with advice on Internet dating and quotes from celebrities like Dave Barry and Rita Rudner.

Much of his advice retools the kind of messages Bridget Jones got from her mother. First, stop being so picky. Of course, McGraw doesn’t use that word. He urges you to settle for “Mr. 80 Percent.” Then forget what you may have heard from other experts about how there are more differences between any one man and woman than between the sexes as a whole.

“I’ve got news for you: Men and women are different,” McGraw says. A lot of men have a “caveman” mentality that requires a “bag’em, tag’em, bring’em home” approach. This method includes more of the kind of advice your mother – or maybe grandmother – gave you. McGraw doesn’t come right out and say you should “save yourself for your husband.” But he does suggest you hold sex “in reserve” until a man has made “the ultimate commitment”: “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?” It doesn’t seem to have occurred to McGraw that some women might not appreciate being compared to cows.

The most bizarre section of Love Smart consists of its list of the “top 31 places” to meet men. No. 1 and 2 on the list are “your church or temple” and “batting cages.” You might meet men at those batting cages. But the U.S. Congregational Life Survey found that the typical American churchgoer is a 50-year old married female. So what are the criteria here? Sheer numbers of the other sex? Or compatibility with your values? The list makes no more sense than most of the other material in Love Smart. Earlier in the book, McGraw begins an account of a disagreement with his wife by saying, “Now I may not be the sharpest pencil in the box …” Why didn’t somebody tell Oprah?

Best line: The comedian Rita Rudner says, “To attract men I wear a perfume called New Car Interior.” Love Smart also has some zingers that women have used to insult men, such as, “He has delusions of adequacy.”

Worst line: McGraw never uses one cliché when he can use three or four, 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.”

Editor: Dominick Anfuso

Published: December 2006

To read more about the Delete Key Awards, click on the “Delete Key Awards” tag at the top of this post or the “Delete Key Awards” category at right. To read more about the creator of the awards, click on “About Janice Harayda.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 4, 2009

Burned by a Beach Book? Nominate It for a Delete Key Award for Bad Writing

Filed under: Delete Key Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:11 pm
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Burned by beach book? If you’d like to keep others from getting scorched, you can nominate the book for a Delete Key Award for bad writing by sending an e-mail message to the address on the “Contact” page. Please put “Delete Key” in the heading.

March 16, 2009

2009 Delete Key Awards Grand Prize Winner — Stephenie Meyer’s ‘The Host’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:02 am
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Stephenie Meyer’s The Host is the grand prize winner in the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books.

Meyer’s novels exemplify the trend that Roy Strong, the former director of the of the Victoria and Albert Museum, called “the rise of the trashocracy.” The teenage vampire-romance series that began with Twilight led the 2008 bestseller lists. And next to Meyer, Mitch Albom almost looks like Isaiah Berlin.

It’s true that Albom’s For One More Day is written at a third-grade reading level while Meyer’s adult science-fiction novel, The Host, has a fourth-grade (9-year-old) reading level, according to the readability statistics that are part of the spell-checker on Microsoft Word. But if both books are dumbed-down, Albom can’t match the spectacular array inanities that have won the grand prize for The Host. Meyer’s unintentionally comic missteps range from mind-numbing redundancies (“It’s a voluntary choice”) to deeply purple prose and dialogue that might have come from television series called The Beverly Hillbillies in Outer Space. If this year’s Delete Key Awards were the Belmont Stakes, The Host would be Secretariat, winning by 31 lengths.

The Host has won the 2009 Delete Key Awards grand prize for lines like:
“It’s a voluntary choice.”

and

“He nuzzled his face against mine until he found my lips, then he kissed me, slow and gentle, the flow of molten rock swelling languidly in the dark at the center of the earth, until my shaking slowed.”

and

“ ‘Well, for Pete’s sake!’ Jeb exclaimed. ‘Can’t nobody keep a secret around this place for more’n 24 hours? Gol’ durn, this burns me up!’”

Other posts about the Delete Key Awards appear on www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

2009 Delete Key Awards First Runner-Up — James Frey’s ‘Bright Shiny Morning’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:33 am
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The 2009 Delete Key Awards first runner-up is James Frey’s novel of Los Angeles, Bright Shiny Morning (Harper).

All the controversy about A Million Little Pieces may have left some people with the mistaken idea that James Frey is great writer who went astray. In fact, Frey is an average – and often much worse than average – writer whose perceived sins won him a fame he might never achieved on the strength of his writing alone. His Bright Shiny Morning reads at times like an entry in a Bad Hemingway Parody contest.

Bright Shiny Morning is the Delete Key Awards first runner-up for many lines like:

“He said she would have a better life the sun shining every day more free time less stress she said she would feel like she had wasted a decade trying to get to the major leagues only to demote herself once she got into them.”

The Delete Key Awards recognize the year’s worst writing in books. They are given annually on March 15 or the nearest weekday to it. Other posts about the awards appear on www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

2009 Delete Key Awards Second Runner-Up — Jiang Rong’s ‘Wolf Totem’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:55 am
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The 2009 Delete Key Awards second runner-up is Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem (Penguin), translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt.

This turgid novel about life on the Mongolian grasslands won the Man Asian Literary Prize for the best Asian novel unpublished in English. What can the competition have been if the award went to a book that abounds with lines that read like excerpts from a report by the General Accountability Office? Perhaps better than any international prize-winner published in the U.S. last year, Wolf Totem is a reminder that a medallion on the cover doesn’t guarantee superior — or even good — writing.

Wolf Totem is the second-runner up for this and other lines:

“Now he understood how the great, unlettered military genius Genghis Khan, as well as the illiterate or semiliterate military leaders of peoples such as the Quanrong, the Huns, the Tungus, the Turks, the Mongols, and the Jurchens, were able to bring the Chinese (whose great military sage Sun-tzu had produced his universally acclaimed treatise The Art of War) to their knees, to run roughshod over their territory, and to interrupt their dynastic cycles.”

The Delete Key Awards recognize the year’s worst writing in books. They are given annually on March 15 or the nearest weekday to it. Other posts about the awards appear on www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

Last year’s winners were named in separate posts on March 14, 2008, which include samples of the writing that earned them their awards.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 14, 2009

Delete Key Award Winners to Be Announced Monday

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One-Minute Book Reviews will announce the winners of the Third Annual Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry on Monday, March 16, beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. The finalists for the prizes were announced on February 26. The three winners will be announced on One-Minute Book Reviews (with the the full citations) and on Twitter www.twitter.com/janiceharayda (with the winner’s name only) in this order: second runner-up, first runner-up, grand prize winner.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda.

March 13, 2009

Should One of These Children’s Books Win a Delete Key Award for Bad Writing? Who Deserves It More – Kathi Appelt or Laura Bush and Jenna Bush?

Two children’s books have made the shortlist for the 2009 Delete Key Awards, which recognize authors who don’t use their delete keys enough. Should either win a prize on Monday?

Laura Bush and Jenna Bush are finalists for these lines from Read All About It!, a picture book in which exclamation points run amok:

“I say, ‘The library is a boring place! All I will meet there are stinky pages.’”

and

“Miss Toadskin thinks she can gross us out with her science experiments. But I live for that stuff!”

Kathi Appelt is a finalist for this redundancy from The Underneath, a runner-up for the most recent Newbery Medal and National Book Award for young people’s literature:

“The pain she felt was palpable.”

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

March 12, 2009

Battle of the Jawbreakers — 2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist ‘Wolf Totem’ Versus 2007 Second Runner-Up ‘The Emperor’s Children’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:16 pm

Think of it as a Great Leap Backward from clarity, written by a former member of the Red Guards. Jiang Rong made the 2009 Delete Key Awards shortlist for this passage from his novel Wolf Totem, the winner of he Man Asian Literary Prize and the first Delete Key finalist from China:

“Now he understood how the great, unlettered military genius Genghis Khan, as well as the illiterate or semiliterate military leaders of peoples such as the Quanrong, the Huns, the Tungus, the Turks, the Mongols, and the Jurchens, were able to bring the Chinese (whose great military sage Sun-tzu had produced his universally acclaimed treatise The Art of War) to their knees, to run roughshod over their territory, and to interrupt their dynastic cycles.”

Is that passage convoluted enough to win a Delete Key Award for the year’s worst writing in books? Consider the kind of writing that has won in the past.

A couple of days ago, I posted two lines from Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, the second-runner up in 2007. And after naming her a finalist two years ago, I came across a quote on Amazon that might have been even worthier of an award. Reader-reviewer Gary Malone of Australia said on the bookselling site on March 5, 2007:

“You’ve really got to worry about a novel when a *favourable* reviewer describes the plot’s two main set pieces and one of them is when the cat dies. [The Economist, 19 Aug 2006.] Before getting into that, however, try this sample sentence for size:

‘He remembered his father’s telling him – his father, small as he was himself tall, with sloping shoulders off which Murray feared, as a child, the braces might slip, a bow-tied little man with an almost Hitlerian mustache, softened from menace by its grayness, and by the softness, insidious softness, of his quiet voice, a softness that belied his rigidity and tireless industry, his humorless and ultimately charmless ‘goodness’ (Why had she married him? She’d been so beautiful, and such fun) – telling him, as he deliberated on his path at Harvard, to choose accounting, or economics, saying, with that dreaded certainty, ‘You see, Murray, I know you want to go out and write books or something like that. But only geniuses can be writers, Murray, and frankly son …’ [p. 124]

Is Wolf Totem, translated by Howard Goldblatt, as worthy of an award as The Emperor’s Children? If you’d like to try to tamper with the jury, you have until Saturday. After living with some of the finalists for a year, I have a couple of favorites. But just as I thought that Amazon reviewer’s quote might have been worthier than mine, your arguments might worthier than mine, too.

(c)2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

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