One-Minute Book Reviews

October 26, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Literary Halloween Costumes for Children

Bandicoot-Lapin Lancelot

Not long ago the New York Times ran a story that described a $156 French-made Lancelot costume that you could buy for a baby and hang as a decoration until a future Halloween. My first reaction to the article was: A three-figure outfit for trick-or-treating? During a worldwide financial crisis? The idea might make some people want to impale the author of the Times story on Excalibur.

Then I started thinking about what children tend to own instead: superhero gear. Some parents clearly have spent far more than $156 on, say, Spider-man toys, games, sheets, pillowcases, T-shirts and more. And didn’t the greatest Knight of the Round Table en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancelot deserve as much respect as Spidey? Something to think about, isn’t it? The costumes are made by Banticoot-Lapin web.tiscali.it/bandicootlapinparis/english/indexuk.htm and sold at John Derian in New York (which inexplicably has mislabed Lancelot’s hood and suit as a Camen outfit on its site www.johnderian.com/index_home.html). Bandicoot-Lapin makes more than a dozen other costumes based on fairy-tale or mythological characters, so its site could inspire your homemade literary costumes, too.

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

October 22, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda — America’s Most Famous French Bookstore, the Librairie de France, Will Close in 2009

America’s most famous French bookstore will close in 2009. The Librairie de France in Rockefeller Center apparently has fallen victim to rising rents, online book sales and a declining interest in foreign languages.

The New York Times reported last year that the bookstore would shut its doors, but I missed the article and learned of the closing during a recent visit to the shop. A staff member was handing out flyers that said that its lease expires in September 2009:

“Because of overwhelming New York City retail rents, especially on Fifth Avenue – almost $1,800 a square foot, and projected even higher in 2009 – we will have to close our store at that time. Our mail order services, however, will continue from a yet-to-be-determined location.”

Alex Mindlin’s article in the Times noted that, in its prime, the Librairie was an institution. The bookstore was one of the first retail tenants of Rockefeller Center in 1935:

“During World War II, its publishing arm printed the works of many writers who had emigrated from Vichy France, including Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The shop thrived throughout the 1960s, importing two tons of books a week and holding autograph sessions for French celebrities like the singer Charles Aznavour.” www.nytimes.com/2007/07/15/nyregion/thecity/15fren.html

The Librairie de France operates today on two floors on the Promenade at Rockefeller Center: a ground-level space that sells souvenirs and other items popular with tourists, such as Tricolor keychains, “Little Prince” dolls and French translations of Goodnight Moon and the Harry Potter novels. An underground room below it sells antique and rare books and prints. A mail-order catalog appears on its Web site www.frencheuropean.com.

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

October 21, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda — The Complete 2008 National Book Awards Shortlist for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry and Young People’s Literature

Amid the hoopla over the Nobel, I didn’t have a chance to post a link to the list of the recently announced finalists for the National Book Awards for fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature. If you missed the list, you can find it here www.nationalbook.org/nba2008.html.

Some years none of National Book Awards finalists seems a strong candidate for the prize. But the 2008 nonfiction shortlist alone has two worthy books: Jim Sheeler’s Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives and Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. No complaints from here if either wins, though I haven’t seen the other nonfiction finalists, which may be equally good.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 16, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Three Books That Bombed at Bookstores – ‘Thirteen Moons’ and Other ‘Legendary Flops’

Most books don’t earn back their advances, but some go deeper into the tank than others. Boris Kachka listed three notorious flops in a recent survey of the state of the publishing industry for New York: Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games (HarperCollins, 2007), Charlies Frazier’s Thirteen Moons (Random House, 2008) and James Frey’s Bright Shiny Morning (HarperCollins. Kachka suggests why these novels bombed at
nymag.com/news/media/50279/index7.html.

Thirteen Moons earned an honorable mention in the 2007 Delete Key Awards competition for the year’s worst writing in books www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/02 for reasons suggested by its review www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/01/17/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 12, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Video on All Wikipedia Pages Next Year?

Filed under: Late Night With Jan Harayda,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:19 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

More notes from WordPress’s Oct. 5 New York WordCamp 2008 …

After lunch we heard an interesting talk by Shay David, co-founder of Kaltura corp.kaltura.com/, the first free open-source platform for video creation. David said that Kaltura has joined forces with Wikipedia and that, next year, we’ll see video on every Wikipedia page. Kaltura had announced the partnership with Wikipedia in January, and Craig Rubens reported then on NewTeeVee:

“Following Wikipedia’s original idea of having the world co-edit the most comprehensive encyclopedia, Kaltura will move those textually two-dimensional pages into the video-enhanced age of rich social media. In other words, the wisdom of the masses just got a webcam and everyone gets final cut
newteevee.com/2008/01/17/wikipedia-to-get-its-video-on/.”

Rubens added that you’ll be able to contribute to Wikipedia by clicking on “edit this video” or “add to this video,” and nothing in David’s WordCamp speech contradicted this earlier report. You can download Kaltura for free now corp.kaltura.com/download.

Kaltura is also working with the New York Public Library to make available the library’s database of more than 600,000 historical images corp.kaltura.com/press/the-new-york-public-library-and-kaltura-team-to-enhance-online-collaborative-rich-media.

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

October 10, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Why Did the Swedish Academy Announce the Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature on Yom Kippur? Cultural Insensitivity in Stockholm

Did you look at the lists of the bookies’ favorites for the 2008 Nobel Prize in literature and think, “There’s no way Philip Roth or Amos Oz is going to get the award this year”? I did for an obvious reason: The Swedish Academy said it was going to announce the winner on Yom Kippur. And I couldn’t believe the Academy would be so religiously tone-deaf as to ask a Jewish writer to take a call from the judges — and face the ensuing media onslaught — on a high holy day. The judges would have looked like cretins even if the winner had been too overjoyed to object. In naming the day of the prize, the Academy all but told Roth and Oz to forget it.

The question is: Why did the Academy decide to announce the winner on Yom Kippur in the first place? To my knowledge no important literary prizes are awarded on major religious holidays. That timing may reflect a literary reality as much as a respect for people’s spirituality: Writers get so few prizes that they deserve to be able enjoy them when they do.

To much of the world, the Nobel Prize in literature represents high culture and Hollywood stands for low. But even the Academy Awards presenters don’t hand out the Oscars on Easter. By deciding to award the literature prize on Yom Kippur, the Swedish Academy has made Hollywood look like a pillar of good taste.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 8, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Why Isn’t John Updike on the Odds-Makers Lists of Favorites for the Nobel?

A mystifying aspect of the lists of bookies’ favorites for the Nobel Prize in literature: Why isn’t John Updike’s name on any that I’ve seen?

Yes, the requirements for the prize specify that it should go to a writer whose work has an “idealistic tendency” or promotes the good of humanity. And that standard might not favor Updike’s novels about the lascivious Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. But that test also wouldn’t favor a lot of the work of Philip Roth and Don De Lillo, whose names appear often on lists of bookies’ favorites. And Updike is much more elegant writer than Joyce Carol Oates, though she has given so much support to other writers – especially female writers – that she may come closer to meeting the test of idealism.

Updike’s novels vary tremendously in quality. But he is the best all-around writer in America – not just one of our leading novelists but a great story story writer, a good poet and an elegant critic. Do bettors discount him because his short stories are perhaps his best work and he wrote many of them decades ago? Or because they don’t count his criticism and poetry? What role does the unofficial geographic distribution requirement — and that the U.S. has more novelists than most countries – play in all of this? If Updike lived in Greenland, he would have had the Nobel Prize decades ago.

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

September 25, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Babbittry at the Cleveland Orchestra?

A music critic’s demotion brings to mind Sinclair Lewsis’s great comic novel

Not many Americans still use the word babbittry, that wonderful term for naive boosterism similar to that of the title character of Babbitt. But babbittry may help to explain the plight of my former colleague Donald Rosenberg, who was demoted last week to an arts-and-entertainment reporter from his longtime post as the senior classical music critic at the Plain Dealer. His reassignment inspired a story in today’s New York Times and a cascade of comments on blogs, including posts at The New Yorker www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/goingson/?xrail and the Baltimore Sun weblogs.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/classicalmusic/2008/09/critic_who_dared_criticize_cle.html.

Much of the evidence suggests that this was a sad case of a critic punished for being — well, critical. Or, more specifically, for writing reviews of the work of conductor Franz Welser-Möst that weren’t boosterish enough for the orchestra management. And a Sept. 25 valentine to Welser-Möst www.cleveland.com/arts/ by Rosenberg’s successor, Zachary Lewis, strengthens that impression. No less startling than the timing of Lewis’s article was a line in it suggesting that the orchestra paid the bill for the lunch at which he interviewed Welser-Möst for the story. I took many authors to lunch in my 11 years as the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and if I had allowed any of those sources to pick up the check, I would have expected not to have a job the next day. Lewis apparently permitted it and got promoted. Many newspapers consider it unethical for reporters to allow sources to pay for meals, so even those that allow the practice tend not to advertise the freeloading as Lewis did. And unless his comment about the lunch was misleading, you have to wonder if the demotion wasn’t symptomatic of something larger.

I have no inisde knowledge of why the reassignment occurred, but I admired the intelligence and professionalism Don brought to his work at the Plain Dealer, where he reviewed occasional books for me. So this is a reminder that if he’s lost his beat, you can still read his writing about the orchestra in a book: Don wrote the definitive history of the Cleveland Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra Story: “Second to None” (Gray, 752 pp., $40).

Late Night With Jan Harayda is a series of occasional posts that appear after 10 p.m. Eastern Time and comment on literary or related events but do include reviews, which appear in the morning or afternoon.

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

http://www.janiceharayda.com

September 24, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Is Curtis Sittenfeld Courting a Bad Sex in Fiction Award?

Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep held my attention, but the best thing about the novel may have that picture of a pink grosgrain belt on the dust jacket, one of the most effective cover images of the decade. So I was in no rush to read Sittenfeld’s fictionalization of the life of Laura Bush, American Wife.

Then I read this line in Sam Anderson’s review of the book in New York magazine: “While the novel is occasionally funny (and sometimes, in its sex scenes, unintentionally hilarious), it is far from political satire” nymag.com/arts/books/reviews/49930/.

Sounds as though Sittenfeld is courting one of those delightful Bad Sex in Fiction Awards from the Literary Review, doesn’t it? And do I want to miss a contender for one of the few literary prizes that I regard as a true service to humanity? Let’s just say: I put my name on the waiting list at the library.

The editors of the Literary Review www.literaryreview.co.uk will announce the 2008 Bad Sex longlist in November, and if you can’t wait, you can read about the 2007 longlist (which included Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach) here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/23/. You’ll find a link to all the passages that eventually made the shortlist here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/28/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

September 16, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – How Book Coverage Works These Days

Mark Sarvas explains why he put Netherland on a standing list of recommended books on his blog, the Elegant Variation: “The way book coverage works these days, everyone talks about the same book for about two or three weeks, and then they move on and the book is more or less forgotten” marksarvas.blogs.com/. Exactly. After the first two or three weeks, books tend to come back only if they win awards or otherwise become unexpectedly successful – Oprah picks them, a movie version comes out. That’s partly why One-Minute Book Reviews reivews a mix of new and seasoned books, with the older ones often chosen because the critics bypassed them during that brief first flowering.

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

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