One-Minute Book Reviews

June 6, 2011

In Defense of Meghan Cox Gurdon, Children’s Book Reviewer

Does a reviewer have a right to say that books for adolescents are “ever-more-appalling”?

By Janice Harayda

For years Meghan Cox Gurdon has been reviewing books for children and teenagers for the Wall Street Journal – at first biweekly and, since the launch of the paper’s book review section in late 2010, weekly. Her reviews are consistently intelligent and well-written and almost always favorable.

Cox Gurdon clearly has made it her mission to look for and call attention to high-quality books for children and teenagers on many topics and in a variety of genres. She has praised books as different as Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which won the 2008 Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association, and Ruth Krauss’s reissued classic The Backward Day.

Over the weekend the Wall Street Journal published “Darkness Too Visible,” one of the rare articles by Cox Gurdon that faulted a major trend — the burgeoning array of novels for adolescents that involve violence, abuse or other bleak topics. For this she has been pilloried in blogs and on Twitter at the hashtag #YASaves, which was created  in response her story and has generated more than 15,000 responses, according to the trade newsletter ShelfAwareness. Cox Gurdon has been called “biased” (@KelliTrapnell), “idiotic” (@fvanhorne), “a right-wing nut” (@annejumps), full of “ugliness” (@AprilHenryBooks), and “brittle, ignorant, shrewish” (@Breznian).

What did Cox Gurdon do to earn this torrent of vitriol? She did what critics are supposed to do – to look beyond plot and characterization and consider the deeper themes and issues raised by novels. In “Darkness Too Visible,” she questioned the effects of books like Jackie Morse Kessler’s Rage, a “gruesome but inventive” 2011 book about a girl whose secret practice of cutting herself “turns nightmarish after a sadistic sexual prank.” Cox Gurdon quotes a passage from the novel that says: “She had sliced her arms to ribbons, but the badness remained, staining her insides like cancer. She had gouged her belly until it was a mess of meat and blood, but she still couldn’t breathe.”

It is entirely legitimate for a reviewer to ask, as Cox Gurdon does, how this might affect a vulnerable child or teenager:

“The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. If a teen has been abused, the logic follows, reading about another teen in the same straits will be comforting. If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife.

“Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.”

Anyone who writes about children’s books regularly knows that Cox Gurdon hasn’t made up this trend: Books, like movies, keep getting more lurid. Or, as she puts it, the publishing industry is serving up “ever-more-appalling offerings for adolescent readers.” If this issue might not concern all adults, it would surely concern some, given how many buy books as gifts for children without having time to look at much more than the cover and flap copy. And Cox Gurdon isn’t saying: Never read young-adult books. She’s saying: Know what’s in those books, and use judgment, as you would with movies.

Contemporary child-rearing experts urge parents to protect their children in ways that would have been unthinkable a couple of generations ago, when psychologists warned of about the dangers of “overprotectiveness.” This shift has resulted from social changes that require more caution, and Cox Gurdon has encouraged adults to apply to their children’s reading the level of care that they bring to all other areas of their lives. Is this so terrible? Thousands of people on Twitter have said, “Yes.” Anyone who believes that adolescents’ reading habits matter as much as their viewing habits may disagree. In her latest article and others, Cox Gurdon has paid young people’s literature the highest compliment:  She has given children’s books the close scrutiny that, in an age of shrinking book-review sections, typically goes only to those for adults. For that, she deserves gratitude.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning journalist who has been the book editor of the Plain Dealer, the book columnist for Glamour, and vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. She has written for the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and many other publications Since 2006 she has edited One-Minute Book Reviews, named one of New Jersey’s best blogs in the April 2011 issue of New Jersey Monthly. You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

(c) 2011 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 9, 2008

Gifts for Cooks – ‘Best of the Best: The Best Recipes From the 25 Best Cookbooks of the Year’ From the Editors of Food & Wine

Filed under: Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:37 am
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What can you give somebody who loves to cook but has a lot of cookbooks you don’t want to duplicate? Maybe Best of the Best: The Best Recipes From the 25 Best Cookbooks of the Year: Vol. 11 (Food & Wine Books, 287 pp., $29.95) www.foodandwine.com/books, edited by Dana Cowin and Kate Heddings.

Every year the editors of Food & Wine produce a coffee-table book of more than 100 recipes from the 25 cookbooks they regard as the year’s best. The 11th volume honors a couple of books by internationally known superstars: Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges. But Best of the Best also has recipes from Sweet Myrtle & Bitter Honey, a Sardinian cookbook by the Texas restaurateur Efisio Farris, and Crescent City Cooking, the first cookbook by the New Orleans chef Susan Spicer. Then there’s Pure Dessert, by the California baker Alice Medrich, who favors “pure” desserts (without glazes, fillings or frostings) and whose treats sound like a license to indulge: “Her Dried Fruit & Nut Cake, for instance, loaded with dried pears and plums, dates and walnuts, is as delicious with a wedge of Camembert as a cup of tea.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 17, 2008

8 Things You Find Only on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Blogging,Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:40 am
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Delete Key Awards – Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides – Backscratching in Our Time – Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing – Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read – Books I Didn’t Finish – Book Awards Reality Checks – Jan the Hungarian Predicts

1. Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. One-Minute Book Reviews gives these prizes annually on March 15 to authors who aren’t using their delete keys enough.
oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/category/delete-key-awards/. The blog for Powell’s books calls these awards “arguably the second-best online literary award after the TOB’s Rooster [co-sponsored by Powell’s].” www.powells.com/blog/?author=20.

2. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides. These guides encourage you to consider both the strengths and weakness of books (not just the strengths, as publishers’ guides do). They also have elements you won’t find in publishers’ guides – for example, they often quote from negative reviews.
oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/category/totally-unauthorized-reading-group-guides/.

3. Backscratching in Our Time. Inspired by “Logrolling in Our Time” in the old Spy magazine, this category calls attention to authors who have praised each others’ books, often in blurbs. oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/category/backscratching-in-our-time/.

4. Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing. These awards recognize over-the-top praise in book reviews. They appear on Fridays unless no review was too out-of-control to qualify that week. oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/category/gusher-awards/.

5. Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read. Reviews of books for children and adults appear every Saturday and sometimes include an installment in the “Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read” series. oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/07/classic-picture-books-every-child-should-read-jeff-brown-and-tomi-ungerers-flat-stanley/

6. Books I Didn’t Finish. Book critics typically tell you why they liked or disliked book, not why they decided to not to review certain books all. This series tells you why one critic gave up on some books. books.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/category/books-i-didnt-finish/.

7. Book Awards Reality Checks. This series considers whether books that have won major awards, such as a Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award, deserved their honors. oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/05/27/man-asian-literary-prize-reality-check-%E2%80%93-jiang-rong%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98wolf-totem%E2%80%99/

8. Jan the Hungarian Predicts One-Minute Book Reviews predicts the winners of major book awards in the newest series on the site, added in June 2008.

One-Minute Book Reviews was the sixth-ranked book review site in the world on the Google Directory of “Top Arts and Literature” blogs as of May 30, 2008:

www.google.com/Top/Arts/Literature/Reviews_and_Criticism/. It has ranked among the Top 10 since the fall of 2007.

If you like any of these aspects of the site, I’d be so grateful if you’d link to them or post them on sites such as Digg. I use a free WordPress template that doesn’t allow me to show widgets for Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon and similar sites, and I’ve compiled the list partly for that reason. A thousand thanks to all the visitors who have put One-Minute Book Reviews on those sites regardless.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org. Jan was named one of “25 Women Bloggers to Watch in 2008″by the site Virtual Woman’s Day virtualwomansday.blogspot.com/2008/01/women-bloggers-to-watch-in-2008.html.

One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept books, catalogs, advance reading copies, print or electronic press releases or other promotional materials from editors, publishers, agents, or authors whose books may be reviewed on this site.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

May 8, 2008

‘Librarians Need Two Book Reviews to Justify Book Purchases for Libraries’ (Quote of the Day / Jane Ciabattari)

Media coverage of the decline of book-review sections has focused on the effect of the trend on authors, readers, and publishers. Jane Ciabattari, president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org, raises a frequently overlooked issue in the Winter 2008 issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin (“Book Reviews: In Print, Online, and In Decline?”) when she says that “librarians need two reviews to justify book purchases for libraries.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 6, 2008

Were Melvil Dewey and Other Famous Librarians All ‘Elitist Wimps’?

Filed under: Books,Libraries — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:31 am
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Scott Douglas says in his new Quiet, Please: Dispatches From a Public Librarian that the creator of the Dewey Decimal system and several other famous librarians had one thing in common: “they were all elitist wimps.” One-Minute Book Reviews will review the book tomorrow.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 29, 2007

What Makes a Novel “Good”? Quote of the Day (Tom Wolfe)

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Novels,Quotes of the Day,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:37 pm

What makes a novel “good”? Tom Wolfe once gave this answer:

“To me, it’s a novel that pulls you inside the central nervous system of the characters … and makes you feel in your bones their motivations as affected by the society of which they are a part. It is folly to believe that you can bring the psychology of an individual to light without putting him very firmly in a social setting.”

Tom Wolfe, author of The Bonfire of the Vanities and other novels, in an interview with George Plimpton in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews: Ninth Series (Viking 1992). Edited by George Plimpton. Introduction by William Styron. Reprinted from the Spring 1991 issue of the Paris Review. You can read more from this and other interviews in this acclaimed series at www.parisreview.com.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

August 5, 2007

Authors for 49¢ on Amazon: John Lithgow, James Lee Burke, Melissa Fay Greene and Others

Filed under: Books,Essays and Reviews,Fiction,Humor,Mysteries and Thrillers,News,Nonfiction,Poetry,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:34 pm

Fed up with the alpine cost of books? Amazon.com sells previously unpublished short stories, essays and other works for 49¢ through its Amazon Shorts program. The online bookseller requires that all sellers have at least one book for sale on Amazon. And some of the authors who have posted their work may surprise you, including actor John Lithgow, journalist Melissa Fay Greene and mystery novelist James Lee Burke.

But you could easily miss hearing about the program, because it isn’t listed on the home page for www.amazon.com. You have to use the search bar to look “Amazon Shorts” or go to the pull-down menu that says, “See All 41 Product Categories.” I knew nothing of the program until a writer friend persuaded me to post my “A Year in Cleveland,” a parody of A Year in Provence, there. So you may want to check this section of the Amazon site if you enjoy short fiction, nonfiction and poetry. You can read the shorts by downloading them, having them e-mailed to you, or following an HTML link.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

July 13, 2007

Backscratching in Our Time, Jeffrey Eugenides and Jonathan Safran Foer

Filed under: Backscratching in Our Time,Books,Novels,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:11 am

Jeffrey Eugenides on Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated: “Great humor, sympathy, charm and daring … Every page is illuminated.” Jeffrey Eugenides on the dust jacket of the hardcover edition of Everything Is Illuminated

Jonathan Safran Foer on Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex: “Whatever you might be expecting, Middlesex will surprise you … a roiling epic … the kind of book that urges to be read in one day, then reread.” Jonathan Safran Foer in Bomb www.bombsite.com/eugenides/eugenides.html
and quoted in the front matter of the paperback edition of Middlesex

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 5, 2007

Backscratching in Our Time, Tina Brown and Holly Peterson

Filed under: Backscratching in Our Time,Books,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:05 am

Tina Brown on Holly Peterson: “Holly Peterson writes about the rich with acute understanding and a drop-dead eye for detail. The funniest, sexist ride in the limo lane since the The Bonfire of the Vanities.” — Tina Brown on Peterson’s The Manny on the dust jacket the novel

Brown also offers “thanks and appreciation” to Peterson, among many others, in the acknowledgments of her new biography, The Diana Chronicles (page xv).

Holly Peterson on Tina Brown: “I read mostly non-fiction books. My all-time favorite is Tina Brown’s new book on Princess Diana called the Diana Chronicles … She was my boss.” — Peterson on Brown’s The Diana Chronicles on her My Space page http://www.myspace.com/hollypetersonthemanny. I can’t get the direct link to work but you can find the blurb by going to www.myspace.com and searching for “hollypetersonthemanny.”

Peterson also writes in the acknowledgments to The Manny: “Thank you to those who assisted in the delivery room in various forms and reincarnations of this whole concept, including Tina Brown … ” (page 356).

For more examples of authors who love each other’s books, click on “Backscratching in Our Time” under “Categories” on this site. If you know of other candidates for this continuing feature, please use the e-mail address on the “Contact” page of One-Minute Book Reviews to submit their blurbs.

A review of The Manny appeared on this site on June 26, 2007 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/26/. Page numbers for bad sex scenes in The Manny appeared on this site on June, 27, 2007 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/27/. The Diana Chronicles is scheduled to be reviewed on this site during the week of July 8.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 2, 2007

I Can’t GIVE Holly Peterson’s ‘The Manny’ Away

Filed under: Books,Contests,Novels,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:20 pm

Did I make the book sound THAT bad? Or should I have said that if you win it I won’t publish your name and tell people you actually wanted to read its bad sex scenes?

On Saturday I announced the rules for a contest that would let you win Holly Peterson’s novel about a male nanny, The Manny, and nobody has claimed the prize. I can’t say I blame you. But this book probably won’t be out in paperback until 2008. So if you’re worried that you’ve been reading too much high-toned intellectual material lately, here again are the rules: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/30/.

Here are the links to the review www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/26/ and to the page numbers for some of the worst sex scenes in the book www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/27/.

I’ll be having more contests that let you win bestsellers and other books this summer, announced between 5 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday if there’s a contest that week. So check back then if you’re interested. You can see some of the books offered in past contests by clicking on the “Contests” link at right.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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