One-Minute Book Reviews

December 14, 2013

What I’m Reading … James Wolcott’s Comic Novel, ‘The Catsitters’

Filed under: Humor,Novels,What I'm Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:40 pm
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“What I’m Reading” is a series that describes books I’m reading that I may or may not review on this blog

What I’m reading: The Catsitters (HarperPerennial, 2002), the first novel by James Wolcott, the longtime cultural sharpshooter at Vanity Fair.

What it is: A light comedy about the romantic misadventures of an unmarried man in Manhattan before the hookup culture rolled in. Narrator Johnny Downs is a mild-mannered bartending actor who tries a desperate approach to finding love after being dropped by his latest his-and-run girlfriend: He takes advice by telephone from a friend in Georgia who, after spending her teenage years in New Jersey, blends “a Southern belle’s feminine wiles with a Northerner’s no-nonsense direct aim.” The title of the novel has a double meaning: It refers to the caretakers for Johnny’s beloved cat and to the women who eddy around a “cat” — as the Beats might have said — who hopes to turn himself into plausible husband material.

Why I’m reading it: I enjoyed Wolcott’s new Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs (Doubleday, 2013), a showcase for the virtues that have distinguished his work since his early days at the Village Voice: wit, moral courage, and a high style. That collection drew me back to this novel.

Quotes from the book: A priest describes an artistic sensibility he has observed in New York: “These days, any time I attend something cultural, I dread what might be in store. I don’t mind shock effects as much as I resent the notion that they’re  for my own good, to roust me out of my moral slumber. One thing I learned from my work as a military chaplain is that in real life, shock numbs people, and the worse the shock, the deeper the numbness. After a while, your response system shuts down.”

Furthermore: The Catsitters is, in some ways, Seinfeld-ian: It involves a nice New York man caught up in day-to-day mini-dramas — not turbo-charged conflicts — and abounds with witty one-liners and repartee, such as:

“I can’t picture the men of Decatur, Georgia, handing out understated cream business cards.” “You’re right, they don’t. Most men down here introduce themselves by honking at intersections.”
“You’re fretting about the cost of dinner and flowers? You’re not adopting a pet from the animal shelter, Johnny, you’re in training to find a fiancée and future wife.”
“I don’t think I could handle a threesome.” “You’re not ready to handle a twosome yet.”
“Would you mind if I took off my shoes? My feet are about to cry.”
“We continued chatting, and by the time the train pulled into Baltimore I knew enough about her life to produce a documentary.”

Jan is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour and the book editor of the Plain Dealer. You can follow her on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button on this page.

© 2013 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved
www.janiceharayda.com

February 22, 2013

‘Being Dead Is No Excuse’: An Irreverent Guide to Southern Funerals

Filed under: How to,Humor,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:30 pm
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A witty guide to avoiding gaffes like letting people sing “Now Thank We All Our God” as your casket rolls in

Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral. By Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hayes. Miramax, 243, $19.95.

By Janice Harayda

A certain kind of Southern woman would rather die than not have tomato aspic at her funeral. She tolerates churches that don’t allow eulogies because she believes God “doesn’t need to be reminded” of the deceased.  And she knows that next to the aspic, it is the hymns that make or break a Southern funeral: You can’t miss with a “stately and wistful” chart topper like “Oh, God, Our Help in Ages Past,” but nobody wants to go out to “Now Thank We All Our God.”

Any self-respecting Southern woman knows that being dead is no excuse for bad form, and this sparkling guide boldly takes on delicate issues such as: Is it proper to use the euphemism “loved one” in a death notice? (No, it’s “tacky.”) What flowers should you avoid? (“A ‘designer arrangement’ that turns out to be a floral clock with the hands stopped at the time of death.”) Should you adopt recent innovations such as having pallbearers file past the coffin, putting their boutonnières on it? (“Funerals are emotional enough to begin with – why do something that is contrived to tug at the heart?”)

More than an irreverent etiquette guide, Being Dead Is No Excuse abounds with tips on keeping a “death-ready” pantry and with recipes for Southern funeral staples such stuffed eggs, pimiento cheese, chicken salad, caramel cake and pecan tassies. But noncooks needn’t fear that this book has nothing for them. It’s comforting that if Northern funerals increasingly resemble New Year’s Eve parties with balloons and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” die-hard Southerners treat death with respect. For all its wit, this book develops a theme that  transcends geography. You may have no strong feelings for the deceased, the authors say, but you can still have grace: “A funeral reception is not a cocktail party. We want people to feel comfortable, but we want them to remember that they’re there because someone has died.”

Best line: No. 1: ““You practically have to be on the list for your second liver transplant before a Southern Episcopalian notices that you’ve drunk too much. They’re not called Whiskypalians for nothing.” No. 2: “Pimiento cheese might just be the most Southern dish on earth. Pimiento cheese has been dubbed ‘the paste that holds the South together.’”

Worst line: “We always say how much we admire her because she always holds her head up high, even though her mother ran away with the lion tamer in a traveling circus.” That sentence didn’t need more than one “always.” And is anyone today old enough to have a parent who even remembers traveling circuses with lion tamers?

Published: 2005

Furthermore: Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hayes have spent much of their lives in the Mississippi Delta. They also wrote Someday You’ll Thank Me for This: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Being a Perfect Mother (Hyperion, 2009).

Jan and Kevin Smokler will be cohost a Twitter chat on Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar today, Feb. 22, at 4 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. GMT. Please join us at the hashtag #classicschat on the last Friday of each month.

© 2013 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved
www.janiceharayda.com

May 21, 2012

Literary Jokes and Quotes From the British Library – Scrambled Eggs and Hamlet

Filed under: Holiday Gift Books,Humor — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:17 am
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The book that has the answer to: How many librarians does it take to change a light bulb?

Booklover’s Book of Jokes, Quips & Quotes. Compiled by David Wilkerson. The British Library, 96 pp., $12.95.

By Janice Harayda

Some literary joke books could make you weep. They brim with misquoted, unattributed, or plagiarized lines that seem to mock only copyright laws. This book has a trustworthy provenance: It comes from the British Library and includes the assurance that “every endeavor has been made to correctly attribute or seek permission” to use its material.

The Booklover’s Book of Jokes, Quips & Quotes also transcends geography with many forms of high and low literary comedy: puns; mangled book titles; knock, knock and light bulb jokes; insults from Shakespeare; aphorisms from Oscar Wilde, and much more. It’s a fine host gift for a bookish host who enjoys brain-teasers like: “What is Shakespeare’s favorite meal? Scrambled eggs and Hamlet.” And it’s small enough to fit into the Christmas stocking of anyone who believes that holiday cheer can take many forms, including: “How many librarians does it take to change a light bulb? No idea, but I know where you can look it up!”

Best line: “There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.” Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist 

Worst line: The charms of a page of “Yorkshire humor” may be lost on Americans.

Published: November 2011

Furthermore: Wilkerson is head of retail for the British Library.

You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

March 3, 2012

Talk Back to Bizarre Book Titles on Twitter at #talkbacktobooktitles

Filed under: Humor,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:58 pm
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Ever wonder what publishers were thinking when they came up with book titles like Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter or Strip & Knit With Style? My former colleague Michael Heaton did when he saw the books in the reject pile of the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and he’s written an amusing riff on their titles for the Cleveland newspaper. Perfect Death, he muses? “Thanks, I’ll pass.” Before the End, After the Beginning? “Make up your mind.” Simon: The Genius in My Basement? “Please let him out.” I’ve started a hashtag on Twitter #talkbacktobooktitles that you can add to tweets that list your responses to odd book titles. (Any takers for Cooking with Poo?) If you send a copy to @janiceharayda, I’ll try to retweet the most entertaining. Please don’t wait until I’m one of The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Provided I get there.

August 31, 2011

More Publishing Buzzwords Decoded With Wit on Twitter

Filed under: Humor,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:09 am
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“Haunting.” “Powerful.” “Wake-up call.” Why do we keep seeing words like these recycled over and over in book reviews and on dust jackets? Whether it’s because book sections are shrinking or some writers don’t recognize a cliché, such overused terms often amount to spin or doubletalk.

Not long ago editor Marian Lizzi wrote that in publishing circles the phrase “labor of love” often means “the advance orders are disappointing.” Inspired by her comment, I asked industry veterans to decode other euphemisms and to attach the hashtag #pubcode on Twitter. I collected 40 of their answers, and others poured in afterward. And if many responses were tongue-in-cheek, they also pointed to a truth. Novelist Mat Johnson was right, for example, when he said that “nominated for the Pulitzer” means only that a publisher paid the $50 entry fee, though the prize sponsor discourages such uses of the word.

Here are more explanations of terms that editors, publishers and critics use when describing books.

“affecting” = “I felt something. Could’ve been the book. Could’ve been my lunch.” @jenniferweiner Jennifer Weiner, novelist (Then Came You) and television producer (State of Georgia)

“a book for the ages” = “no need to read it now” @MarkKohut Mark Kohut, writer and publisher of Redburn Press

“brilliant debut collection” = “yet another friggin’ MFA thesis” @ajsomerset A.J. Somerset, novelist (Combat Camera) and photographer

“dazzling” = “We hope you’ll find the prose so gorgeous that you won’t really notice that nothing happens” @autsentwit “Miss Bennet,” editor

“dedicated fan base” = “Mom and spouse” @mat_johnson Mat Johnson, novelist (Pym)

“endearing” = “heavy on the treacle” @lolacalifornia Edie Meidav, novelist (Lola, California)

“game-changer” = “the Betamax of print” @glossaria, librarian

“ground breaking romantic comedy” = “heroine hit by a car at the end. By a man.” @PhillipaAshley Phillipa Ashley, novelist (Wish You Were Here and Fever Cure)

“haunting” = “Sat unfinished on my nightstand for months while I read other stuff.” @saraeckel Sara Eckel, a freelance writer for the New York Times and other publications

“heartwarming” = “major character is a dog, an old guy, or both” @kathapollitt Katha Pollitt, poet and columnist for the Nation

“historical” novel = “American = dust, prairies & drab clothing; Italian = poison & plots; English = sex, beautiful clothes & beheadings.” @JVNLA Jennifer Weltz, literary agent at Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency .

“Hemingwayesque” = “Hemingwayesque = short sentences. Faulkneresque = long sentences. Fitzgeraldesque = regret, longing, rich people.” @arthurphillips Arthur Phillips, novelist (The Tragedy of Arthur)

“it grabs you by the throat and won’t let go” = “it’s gonna hurt” @hangingnoodles Jag Bhalla, author of I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears 

“national besteller” = “made list in Buffalo & Fresno. International bestseller = made list in Irkutsk” @BloomsburyPress Peter Ginna, publisher, Bloomsbury Press

“nominated for the Pulitzer” = “publisher paid $50 application fee.” @mat_johnson Mat Johnson, novelist (Pym)

“powerful” = “all plot, with attitude” @MarkKohut MarkKohut, writer and president of Redburn Press

“reminiscent of Ellison and Baldwin” = “black guy” @mat_johnson Mat Johnson, novelist, Pym

“quirky” = “about half the length you’d expect and/or no capital letters” @tamarapaulin Tamara Paulin, writer and former CBC Radio One co-host

“Shakespearean” = “everyone dies, uh, like HamletMark Kohut, writer and publisher of Redburn Press

“She divides her time between New York City and The Ozarks” = “She lives in Manhattan, submits fellowship apps from Arkansas.” @saraeckel Sara Eckel, a freelance writer for the New York Times and other publications. Also: “got the second home in the divorce” @janiceharayda Jan Harayda, novelist and editor of One-Minute Book Reviews

“a stirring commentary on the human condition” = “a book about feelings written by a man. @saraeckel Sara Eckel, a freelance writer for the New York Times and other publications

“sweeping family saga” = “your mother might like this” @MarkKohut Mark Kohut, writer and publisher of Redburn Press

“a wake-up call for America” = “a bad-tempered diatribe by a member of the previous administration” @garykrist Gary Krist, journalist and author of the forthcoming City of Scoundrels. Also: “a delusional rant by a conspiracy theorist” @DianeFarr Diane Farr, novelist (Fair Game and Duel of Hearts)

“uneven” = “feel free to skip and skim” @patebooks Nancy Pate, former book editor of the Orlando Sentinel and co-author of the Caroline Cousins mystery series patebooks.wordpress.com/.

Jan Harayda is a novelist and award-winning journalist. You can follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda. One-Minute Book Reviews was named one of New Jersey’s best blogs in the April 2011 issue of New Jersey Monthly.


August 21, 2011

40 Publishing Buzzwords, Clichés and Euphemisms Decoded

Filed under: Humor,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:36 am
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Ever wonder what editors, publishers and critics mean when they describe books as “lyrical,” “provocative” or “ripped from the headlines”? Let industry veterans explain it to you. I asked experts on Twitter to decode common publishing terms and attach the hashtag #pubcode. Here are some of their answers:

“absorbing”: “makes a great coaster” @DonLinn Don Linn, publishing consultant

“accessible”: “not too many big words” @MarkKohut Mark Kohut, writer and consultant

“acclaimed”: “poorly selling” @BloomsburyPress Peter Ginna, publisher, Bloomsbury Press

breakout book”: “Hail Mary pass” @BookFlack Larry Hughes, associate director of publicity, the Free Press at Simon & Schuster

brilliantly defies categorization”: “even the author has no clue what he’s turned in” @james_meader James Meader, publicity director of Picador USA

“captures the times we live in”: “captures the times we were living in two years ago” @mathitak Mark Athitakis, critic

“classroom-friendly”: “kids won’t read it unless they have to” @LindaWonder, Linda White, book promoter at Wonder Communications

“continues in the proud tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien”: “this book has a dwarf in it” @jasonpinter Jason Pinter, author of the Zeke Bartholomew series for young readers

“definitive”: “could have used an editor” @kalenski, “Book Babe Extraordinaire”

“an eBook original”: “still no proofreading and bad formatting” @mikecane Mike Cane, writer and digital book advocate

“edgy”: “contains no adult voices of reason” @wmpreston William Preston, English teacher

“epic”: “very long” @sheilaoflanagan Sheila O’Flanagan, novelist (Stand by Me)

“erotic”: “porn” @BloomsburyPress Peter Ginna, publisher, Bloomsbury Press

“ethnic literature”: “stuff written by nonwhite people” @elprofe316 Rich Villar, executive director of Acentos

“frothy romp”: “funny book by lady” “Funny = funny book by a man” @jenniferweiner Jennifer Weiner, novelist (Then Came You) and television producer (State of Georgia)

“gripping”: “I turned the pages fast but didn’t read them” @sarahw Sarah Weinman, news editor of Publishers Marketplace

“gritty street tale”: “Black author from the hood. Run.” @DuchessCadbury, graduate student in literature

“I’ve been a fan of Author X for a long time”: “I slept with them regrettably, in MFA school.” @Weegee Kevin Smokler, vice-president of marketing for Byliner.

“lapidary prose”: “I did not know what half of these words meant” @jenniferweiner Jennifer Weiner, novelist (Then Came You) and television producer (State of Georgia)

“literary”: “plotless” @MarkKohut Mark Kohut, writer and consultant

“long-awaited”: “late” @janiceharayda Jan Harayda, novelist and editor of One-Minute Book Reviews

“luminous” or “lyrical”: “not much happens” @BloomsburyPress Peter Ginna, publisher, Bloomsbury Press

“magisterial”: “long” @BloomsburyPress Peter Ginna, publisher, Bloomsbury Press

“meticulously researched”: “overloaded with footnotes” @BookFlack Larry Hughes, associate director of publicity, the Free Press at Simon & Schuster

“memoir”: “nonfiction until proven otherwise” @BookFlack Larry Hughes, associate director of publicity, the Free Press at Simon & Schuster

“the next Elmore Leonard”: “This book has criminals or Detroit or maybe Florida in it” @bryonq Bryon Quertermous, fiction writer

novella”: “short story with large font” @BookFlack Larry Hughes, associate director of publicity, the Free Press at Simon & Schuster

“a real tear-jerker”: “writing so bad it makes you cry” @DrewSGoodman Drew Goodman, writer and social media analyst

“ripped from the headlines”: “no original plot line” @jdeval Jacqueline Deval, author (Publicize Your Book!) and book publicist

“rollicking”: “chaotic” @BloomsburyPress Peter Ginna, publisher, Bloomsbury Press

“sensual”: “soft porn” @BloomsburyPress Peter Ginna, publisher, Bloomsbury Press

“stunning”: “major character dies” @mathitak Mark Athitakis, critic

“provocative”: “about race/religion” @mathitak Mark Athitakis, critic

“promising debut”: “many flaws, but not unforgivably bad” @mathitak Mark Athitakis, critic

“unflinching”: “has a lot of bad words” @isabelkaplan Isabel Kaplan, novelist (Hancock Park)

“visionary”: “can’t be proved wrong yet” @IsabelAnders Isabel Anders, author (Blessings and Prayers for Married Couples)

voice of a generation”: “instantly dated” @MarkKohut Mark Kohut, writer and consultant

“weighty”: “I had to lug this dense historical monster all over town and I still can’t bring myself to finish it” @emilynussbaum Emily Nussbaum, writer for New York magazine and other publicatons

“wildly imaginative”: “wrote book high on mescaline” @simonm223 Simon McNeil, novelist

“a writer to watch”: “as opposed to one you are actually going to want to read” @janiceharayda Jan Harayda, novelist and editor of One-Minute Book Reviews

You’ll find more publishing buzzwords decoded in the sequel to this post at http://bit.ly/pubcode2.

You can follow Jan on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

January 19, 2011

Joyce Dennys’s ‘Henrietta’s War’ – The Other Battle of Britain

Filed under: Classics,Humor — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:52 am
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Henrietta’s War: News From the Home Front 1939–1942. By Joyce Dennys. Bloomsbury USA, 176 pp., $14, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

During World War II, Joyce Dennys expressed her frustrations as the wife of a small-town doctor in Devon by writing a series of light, amusing sketches for a British tabloid. Her pieces took the form of fictionalized letters to a childhood friend, a middle-aged colonel on duty in France, and became so popular that a publisher collected some of them in Henrietta’s War and its sequel, Henrietta Sees It Through.

Bloomsbury USA reissued the first of the two volumes last year, and its timing couldn’t have been better. Henrietta’s War helps to satisfy an American hunger for epistolary tales fostered by The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s 2008 bestseller. Dennys’s book also reflects the influence of E. M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady, a modern classic that has had a modest revival since The New Yorker published an appreciation of its author in 2005.

But Henrietta’s War has a tone all its own, less sentimental than that of Shaffer and Barrows but gentler than the astringent Delafield’s. Dennys finds her alter ego in Henrietta Brown, the wife of a popular GP on a part of the English coast that is bracing for an expected German invasion by sea. As enemy bombers ply the skies, Devonians acquire gas masks, join air raid drills, and cope with meat and margarine rationing, all the while keeping up cherished rituals – jumble sales, garden parties, and drinking tea while listening to the click of croquet balls at the tennis club.

Henrietta and Charles have a son and daughter who are away helping with the war effort and appear occasionally, once when Bill returns unhurt from Dunkirk. In the children’s absence, the couple care for their eccentric dog, Perry: “A firm believer in warmth and a hater of fresh air, he sleeps, winter and summer, with a rug over his head.” The couple also live with the behavior of neighbors like Faith, the town siren, who insists on being vaccinated in response to the rumor that “the Germans are going to fly at great height over England and release thousands of minute parachutes laden with bacilli.”

Early on, Henrietta suggests the theme and tone of the book when she observes, “This is a belligerent community to make up for the extreme peacefulness of our surroundings, I suppose.” She is perceptive enough to notice her neighbors’ absurdities but too kind and cheerful to condemn them for it. Henrietta writes, after meat rationing begins:

“Mrs. Savernack, that woman of action, took out a gun-license. If she can’t get meat at the butcher’s, she will go out and shoot it. The rabbits which for years gambolled happily in the fields at the back of the Savernacks’ house have received a rude awakening, and Mrs. Savernack, flushed with success, has begun to turn her thoughts to bigger game. Farmer Barnes, wisely perhaps, has moved his cows to another field.”

Henrietta’s War brims passages that, if light-hearted and at times disjointed, give a piquant flavor to a time when the British were urged to stay “Bright, Brave and Confident.” Henrietta laments the underuse of the skills of her female neighbors, expected to aid the war through such unheroic tasks as making marmalade with saccharine instead of the rationed sugar. Men could join the Home Defense Corps, but “we married women still feel the part we have to play in this war is mundane, unromantic and monotonous.”

Henrietta doesn’t allow herself a stronger complaint, and her “musn’t grumble” approach is part of her appeal. Her lack of cynicism and self-pity may seem as far removed from the present as the sewing bees at which women make flannel hot-water–bottle warmers for soldiers. And yet, by the end of the book, Henrietta has revealed enough that you what she means when she says of a Christmas celebration: “We decided that we wouldn’t try to be too gay, because if we did, we would all end by being depressed.”

Best line: It’s a rare English book in which the heroine dares to say, even with tongue in cheek, that “gardening simply corrodes the character.”

Worst line: Henrietta’s War reflects common wartime ethnic stereotypes that would today be considered slurs.

Recommendation? My fellow worshippers at the Shrine of E. M. Delafield, this is for you. Also highly recommended to book clubs that liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, though Henrietta’s War is a better book.

Published: April 2010

About the author: Dennys studied at the Exeter College of Art and illustrated Henrietta’s Warwith witty line drawings in a style reminiscent of those of the New Yorker cartoonist Helen Hokinson. An unsigned introduction to the book says that Dennys invented all the characters except Henrietta and her husband, her daughter, and her dog.

Furthermore: A sequel, Henrietta Sees It Through: More News From the Home Front 1942–1945, is due out from Bloomsbury USA on Feb. 1, 2011. Both books are part of the publisher’s stylish “Bloomsbury Group” series that revives light and entertaining 20th-century British books.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic and journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour and the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. You can follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2011 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

January 12, 2010

Fake Book News #2 — National Book Critics Circle

Filed under: Fake Book News,Humor,Late Night With Jan Harayda,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:32 pm
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National Book Critics Circle changes its name to National Association of Unemployed Former Book Editors.

Fake Book News is new category on this site that satirizes American literary culture, including the publishing industry, in posts after 10 p.m. Eastern Time. All posts consist of made-up news items that are intended to be entertaining — not taken seriously — and many will also appear on the FakeBookNews page (@fakebooknews) on Twitter (www.twitter.com/fakebooknews). Some Fake Book News may appear on One-Minute Book Reviews but not on Twitter and vice versa.

January 8, 2010

Fake Book News #1 — Don De Lillo Says He Will Give Up Writing Novels Because ‘Paranoia Is Overdone’

Filed under: Fake Book News,Humor,Late Night With Jan Harayda — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:00 am
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Don De Lillo says he will give up writing novels because “paranoia is overdone.”

Fake Book News is new category on this site that satirizes American literary culture, including the publishing industry, in posts after 10 p.m. Eastern Time. All posts consist of made-up news items that are intended to be entertaining — not taken seriously — and many will also appear on the FakeBookNews page (@fakebooknews) on Twitter (www.twitter.com/fakebooknews). Some Fake Book News may appear on One-Minute Book Reviews but not on Twitter and vice versa.



August 5, 2009

‘GIRL WITH EVERYTHING ASKS FOR MOOR’ — Witty Summaries of ‘Othello’ and Other Classics, Edited by E. O. Parrott

Filed under: Classics,Humor — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:40 pm
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Classic works of lit / Reduced quite a bit / In poems and prose / As fun overflows.

How to Become Ridiculously Well-Read in One Evening: A Collection of Literary Encapsulations. Compiled and Edited by E.O. Parrott. Penguin, 188 pp., varied prices.

By Janice Harayda

One of the most popular posts on this site is a review of E. O. Parrott’s How to Be Well-Versed in Poetry, which illustrates the different types of poetry though amusing and self-descriptive verse. No less delightful is Parrott’s How to Become Ridiculously Well-Read in One Evening, a collection of 150 brief and witty summaries of classic novels, plays and poems.

In this tongue-in-cheek volume, Tim Hopkins gives you Othello in 10 tabloid headline parodies, including GIRL WITH EVERYTHING ASKS FOR MOOR. And Basil Ransome-Davies shows how an overeager publicist might have promoted The Bostonians: “He’s done it again! Our guess is that’s what you’ll be saying to yourself when you read Henry James’s latest exposé of upper-crust Boston …”

But most of the 31 contributors turn the classics into verse. V. Ernest Cox sums up The Old Man and the Sea in a limerick that begins:

There was an old man of the sea,
Who for eight-four days went fish-free,
But he rowed out next day,
And almost straightaway
Struck gold – piscatorially …

Paul Griffin describes A Christmas Carol in a clerihew that has as its first quatrain:

Ebenezer Scrooge
Was nobody’s stooge;
It drove him into one of his rages
When somebody asked for more wages …

And Peter Norman gives you The Great Gatsby in iambic tetrameter:

Nick Carraway and Gatsby (Jay)
Are next-door neighbors; every day
The enigmatic Gatsby gazes
Towards a distant green light (Daisy’s).

Apart from their entertainment value, these light-hearted verses could work well as teaching aids. Anybody want to guess what novel inspired W.S. Brownlie’s: “A captain with an idée fixe / Chased a whale for weeks and weeks”?

Best line: Some of the literary encapsulations take the form of song parodies, such as Cox’s: “The animals stage a coup d’état, / Hurrah! Hurrah! /And from the farm all humans bar, / Hurrah! Hurrah!”

Worst line: The copyright line, which suggests that this book is overdue for a reprint.

Caveat lector: The third and fourth lines of the Hemingway limerick should be indented four spaces, but I couldn’t make it happen.

Published: 1985

Furthermore: I’d like to link to a short online biography of the British writer and editor E. O. Parrott but couldn’t find one. If you can suggest one, I’d appreciate it.

This is a re-post of a review that first appeared in August 2007. I am off today.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

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