One-Minute Book Reviews

December 11, 2008

And Today’s Gusher Award for Hyperbole in Reviewing Goes to …

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:19 pm
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Clive James in the essay “Little Low Heavens” in the September 2008 issue of Poetry:

“ … think of ‘Spring,’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Everyone knows the first line because everyone knows the poem. ‘Nothing is so beautiful as Spring’ is a line that hundreds of poets could have written, and was probably designed to sound that way: designed, that is, to be merely unexceptionable, or even flat. Only two lines further on, however, we get ‘Thrush’s eggs look like little low heavens’ and we are electrified. I can confidently say ‘we’ because nobody capable of reading poetry at all could read those few words and not feel the wattage.”

and

“Previously in this magazine I mentioned the Amy Clampitt poem with the exquisite few lines about the cheetah whose coat, when she ran, turned from a petalled garden into a sandstorm. Nobody who has ever read that poem can possibly have forgotten that moment.”

Clive James www.clivejames.com is a wonderful critic whose many sparkling reviews include a much-anthologized evisceration of Judith Krantz’s Princess Daisy that remains a model of its form nearly 30 years after its publication. And “Little Low Heavens” makes the worthy argument that the structure of a poem matters.

But James loses it in “Everyone knows the first line because everyone knows the poem,” “nobody capable of reading poetry at all could read those few words and not feel the wattage,” and “Nobody who has ever read that poem can possibly have forgotten that moment.” These lines are just gush. It’s pure snobbery to say that if you can’t “feel the wattage” of Hopkins’s words you’re not “capable of reading poetry at all.” People respond to poetry on different levels.

As for James’s comment that nobody “can possibly have forgotten” the Clampitt line: I mentioned earlier this week that I had forgotten seven lines from Hamlet, a work I revere above all others in English literature. Alas, poor Clampitt, I could forget hers, too.

Read James’s essay here www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/feature.html?id=182120.

Previous winners of Gusher Awards include Jonathan Franzen and Claire Messud www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/13/. Enter the word Gusher (without quotation marks) in the Search box at right to find others.

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

October 31, 2008

And Today’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole Goes to …

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:03 am
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And today’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing goes to …

Frances Kiernan for a line in a Wall Street Journal column earlier this year in which she named The Bonfire of the Vanities one of the five best books about New York society:

“Few New Yorkers cross the Triborough Bridge without recalling Sherman McCoy’s disastrous detour into the South Bronx.”

Actually, few New Yorkers cross the Triborough without a) praying that they’ll get to the airport on time, b) hoping they have the five dollars for the toll, or c) wondering if the bicyclists are closing in on mental instability.

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

September 12, 2008

And Today’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing Goes to …

Filed under: Gusher Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:35 am
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The winner of this week’s Gusher Award is:

“Brilliant: Unwritten law requires reviewers to use this word at least once about every Garry Wills book. How much truer this is of Lincoln at Gettysburg.”

Lexington Herald-Leader review of Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America (Simon & Schuster, 1992)

Gusher Awards typically go to reviews of more recent books than this Pulitzer Prize–winner, but the Herald-Leader’s unintentionally comic line was irresistible. And it suggests what’s wrong with literary hype: Many scholars and critics regard Wills’s study of the Gettysburg Address — the greatest speech in American political history — as one of the finest Civil War books of the past two decades. But this review goes so far over the top that many of us might tune out the praise.

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

September 5, 2008

And Today’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing Goes to …

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:08 am
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The Gusher Awards are back after a summer hiatus of a couple of weeks. This week’s award goes to …

“The Great American Novel is something like a unicorn – rare and wonderful, and maybe no more of a notion. Yet every few years or so, we trip across some semblance of one. Oof! What’s this? Why, it’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (Ecco), a sprawling skein of a yarn about a farm nestled up against the forest primeval …”
June 2008, Elle

Unicorns are not “rare and wonderful” and “maybe no more of a notion” — they are mythical and there’s no “maybe” about whether they are “a notion.” Mixing the simile in the first sentence with that metaphor of “a sprawling skein of a yarn” makes it worse, and “Great American Novel” and “forest primeval” are clichés. There’s been a lot of talk this year about the decline of book reviewing in newspapers, and women’s magazines aren’t helping with prose like this.

Gusher Awards appear on Fridays on One-Minute Book Reviews unless no praise went far enough over the top that week to qualify. For a different view of David Wroblewski’s Hamlet-influenced first novel, see the review of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle written in iambic trimeter verse that appeared on this site on Aug. 28 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/. A reading group guide to the novel was posted on Sept. 3 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/09/03/.

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

August 31, 2008

Another Gusher Award for Hyperbole in Book Reviewing – Coming Friday

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:51 pm
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Did a book review in your favorite magazine or newspaper go over the top this week? Why not nominate it for a Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing? Send the comment and, if possible, a link to the e-mail address on the Contact page for this site.

To read previous winners, click on the “Gusher Awards” tag at the top of this post or on the category with that title at right. Another winner will be named on Friday.

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

July 25, 2008

When Are Critics Going to Stop Congratulating Novelists for Being Good-Looking or Having Other Traits Unrelated to Their Books? This Week’s Gusher

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:47 am
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Would any critic write, “Be jealous. Veteran writer Philip Roth has lost the hair, but he’s still got the talent”?

And this week’s Gusher Award goes to …

“Be jealous. First-time writer Marisha Pessl is more than a triple threat. She’s young – only 28 years old – pretty, and immensely talented. She has already dabbled in modeling, acting and financial consulting. Her debut novel is another notch on her belt. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, a literary mystery novel, has come out with truckloads of buzz.”

– The first lines of a review of Special Topics in Calamity Physics in the Star-Ledger of Newark on Aug. 27, 2006

The Award Citation:

Is this a book review or a teaser for an episode of The Bachelorette?

This week’s winner involves no hyperbole — the reviewer apparently intends for us to take her words literally. But the quote illustrates a trend that’s just as bad: Critics are using their review space to congratulate novelists for being good-looking or having other traits unrelated to their fiction. Would any critic write, “Be jealous. Veteran writer Philip Roth has lost the hair, but he’s still got the talent”? So why do we so often see equivalent comments in reviews of younger authors’ novels?

Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing appear on Fridays except in weeks when no praise went far enough over the top to qualify.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

June 27, 2008

Avoiding This Cliché ‘Should Be Required for All Americans’

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:31 am
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And This Week’s Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing Go to …

“Sheeler’s book is a devastating account of the sacrifices military families make and should be required reading for all Americans.”
From a review of Jim Sheeler’s Final Salute in Publishers Weekly, March 31, 2008 www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6545566.html

The Long Road Home “should be required reading for all Americans so that we will all understand the consequences of our votes, no matter what they’re for or against.”
From a review of Martha Raddatz’s The Long Road Home in Publishers Weekly, March 26, 2007 www.publishersweekly.com/blog/670000267/post/490007849.html

“It should be required reading for every American; yes, it is that good.”
From a review of Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower in The Christian Science Monitor, Sept. 5, 2006 www.csmonitor.com/2006/0905/p14s03-bogn.html

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 13, 2008

Franzen and Messud Win This Week’s Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing

Messud becomes first Delete Key Awards finalist to win a Gusher

Two well-known novelists have tied for this week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing: Jonathan Franzen, who won a 2001 National Book Award for The Corrections, and Claire Messud, who took second place in the 2007 Delete Key Awards contest.

Both authors won for comments that appeared in their reviews of Alice Munro’s 2004 short-story collection, Runaway (Vintage, 352 pp., $14.95, paperback):

“Basically, Runaway is so good that I don’t want to talk about it here. Quotation can’t do the book justice, and neither can synopsis. The way to do it justice is to read it.”
Jonathan Franzen in “Alice’s Wonderland: Runaway,” the New York Times Book Review, Nov. 14, 2004

“ … to any reader broaching Munro’s work for the first time, no list of adjectives will suffice to convey what that work is, or its effects: She is one of those few living writers who, in the way of the greats, must simply be read.”
Claire Messud in “Our Chekhov, Our Flaubert,” the Globe and Mail, Sept. 25, 2004

Comment:

Neither of these quotes meets a strict definition of hyperbole, or exaggeration for effect: Franzen and Messud appear to mean exactly what they say. But both comments are examples of overheated praise in book reviews, which the Gusher Awards recognize on Fridays.

Franzen and Messud may believe that “Quotation can’t do the book justice” and “no list of adjectives will suffice” for Runaway. But you could say as much about any of our greatest books and many of the worst. (Aren’t some books so bad that they seem to defeat description? Can any list of adjectives truly do justice to Mitch Albom?) So what do we learn from these comments on Munro?

Their words may not be a clichés, but the idea behind each is a cliché – “words can’t do it justice.” This kind of writing is often necessary in casual forms of communication such as e-mail. We might all be prostrate by noon each day if we made a grail of originality in every off-the-cuff note to a co-worker. But shouldn’t expect more from major reviews in the leading newspapers in the U.S. and Canada?

The shortlisted passages for the 2007 Delete Key Awards, including Messud’s, were posted as 10 separate posts on Feb. 28, 2007 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/28/. A passage from her The Emperor’s Children took second place when the winners were announced on March 15, 2007 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/15/.

To see all posts about the Gusher and Delete Key Awards, click on those tags at the top of this post (after “Filed Under”).

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 12, 2008

A Delete Key Awards Finalist Wins a Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing … Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,Gusher Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:22 pm
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Many well-known authors moonlight as book reviewers. But until now none has won recognition in both the annual Delete Key Awards competition for the year’s worst writing in books and the weekly Gusher Awards contest for hyperbole in book reviewing. Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews, a Delete Key finalist goes home with Gusher for the first time.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 15, 2008

And Today’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole Goes to …

I came across the following praise for Junot Díaz’s first book, Drown, while doing research on his The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It appeared in a Newsweek article that named Díaz one of the “New Faces of 1996” www.newsweek.com/id/101264/output/print. The article said that before receiving a six-figure, two-book advance, he was “just another 27-year-old fiction writer with an MFA”:

“Now he’s the latest overnight literary sensation. But luck had nothing to do with Diaz’s success. He earned it with his talent. … Talent this big will always make noise.”

Let’s leave aside that “overnight literary sensation” isn’t just hyperbole but a cliché. If big talent will “always make noise,” why couldn’t Herman Melville get an advance for Moby-Dick? (His publisher claimed he hadn’t earned back the money he received for his last book.) Why have so many other great writers died broke and neglected by readers?

To say that luck has nothing to do with literary success is an example of the American denial of luck, a romantic myth. Díaz has talent, a lot of it. But he was also lucky. He came along when doors were opening to groups – including women, blacks and Dominican-Americans like Díaz – whose voices traditionally had been suppressed. This change is the most important – and welcome – to occur in publishing in my lifetime.

But to say that even today talent “will always make noise” is to imply that publishing is an unfailing meritocracy and injustices no longer exist. This is untrue. The authors who are certain to “make noise” today aren’t those with the most talent – they’re the ones with the best chance of sharing a sofa with Oprah.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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