One-Minute Book Reviews

April 14, 2008

Maybe New York Magazine Should Have Called This Article ‘Books That Are Essential to Men’ — ‘Fear of Flying’ Doesn’t Fly With Sam Anderson

Filed under: Magazines — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:10 am
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Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying doesn’t make New York’s list of essential books about the city published in the past 40 years. But D. Keith Mano’s Take Five – what, you’ve forgotten it, already? – does make it.

Some writers are said to suffer from the curse of the Nobel. Sam Anderson may suffer from the curse of the Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, which he received last month from the National Book Critics Circle. Anderson has written wonderful reviews in his current post as the book critic for New York. But if his byline has appeared on a less edifying article than a new list of 26 essential books about New York published the past 40 years, I haven’t seen it.

Anderson said he looked for two traits in books he considered for the list in New York‘s 40th anniversary issue, dated April 14: “all-around literary merit” and what he calls “New Yorkitude” nymag.com/anniversary/40th/culture/45763/. And nobody could fault his choice of books such as Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities or Robert Caro’s The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, both modern classics.

But the birth of New York coincided with the emergence a new generation of female writers whose work indelibly stamped the literature of the city. And you would never know it from Anderson’s list, which has only six books by women.

Anderson chose Charles Mingus’s Beneath the Underdog, D. Keith Mano’s Take Five and Luc Santé’s Low Life but not Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, Mary Cantwell’s Manhattan, When I Was Young, Nora Ephron’s Heartburn and other acclaimed books by women that reek of “New Yorkitude.”

Questions of literary merit and attitude are subjective. But anyone who wants to give Anderson’s list a reality test might reread John Updike’s review of Fear of Flying for The New Yorker, which said in part:“Fear of Flying not only stands as a notably luxuriant and glowing bloom in the sometimes thistly garden of ‘raised’ feminine consciousness but belongs to, and hilarious extends, the tradition of Catcher in the Rye and Portnoy’s Complaint — that of the New York voice on the couch, the smart kid’s lament.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

March 24, 2008

The Year’s Best Book-Related New Yorker Cartoon

Filed under: Magazines — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:36 pm
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This week’s New Yorker has a great piece of book-related art that you might want to pick up if your refrigerator or bulletin board has been looking a little peaked lately. It’s an illustration by Barry Blitt for Jill Lepore’s essay on the link between history and fiction, but it would have worked just as well as a stand-alone cartoon.

It shows a woman shelving books in bookstore that has the following sections: “Fiction … Made Up Memoirs … Out and Out Conjecture … Bull … Fanciful Speculation … Little More Than Guessing.”

You can see it and read Lepore’s essay here: www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2008/03/24/080324crat_atlarge_lepore.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 19, 2007

Just When You Thought Books Couldn’t Get Worse Than Those of Mitch Albom and Dr. Phil … Here Comes ‘The Secret’

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,How to,Magazines,News,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:38 pm

Jerry Adler had a brilliant evisceration of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret in the March 5 issue of Newsweek. He devotes five pages to some of the more bizarre claims in this bestseller by a former television producer, who purports to explain how you can get everything you want in life by using a “law of attraction.” The law, Adler writes, is scientifically “preposterous.” (Sample advice: If you want to lose weight, stop looking at fat people.) The Newsweek article says in part:

“You’d think the last thing Americans need is more excuses for self-absorption and acquisitiveness. But our inexhaustible appetite for ‘affirmation’ and ‘inspiration’ and ‘motivation’ has finally outstripped the combined efforts of Wayne Dyer, Anthony Robbins, Dr. Phil and Mitch Albom. We have actually begun importing self-help — and from Australia, of all places, that citadel of tough-minded individualism, where just a couple of years ago, Byrne was a divorced mother in her 50s who had hit a rocky patch in her business and personal lives. It was in that moment of despair, when she ‘wept and wept and wept’ (as she recounted to Oprah on the first of two broadcasts devoted to her work), that she discovered a long-neglected book dating from 1910 called The Science of Getting Rich. In it she found how to let your thoughts and feelings get you everything you want, and determined to share it with the word. She called it The Secret …”

Obviously — obviously — I will report back to you soon on whether we have a frontrunner here for the 2008 Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. Until then I’d like to offer a modest defense of Australian imports by reminding you of my reviews of two of my favorite children’s picture books, Cat and Fish (Feb. 17, 2007) and The Nativity (Dec. 8, 2006), both award-winners from Down Under. Please read these posts before you conclude, on the basis of the Newsweek article, that Australia is shipping us only baloney by the pound.

A further defense of Australia: The Delete Key Awards have had links from blogs on at least three continents. Some of the most delightful comments came from the Australian writer Sean Lindsay on his blog 101 Reasons to Stop Writing http://101reasonstostopwriting.blogspot.com/, where he suggested that the Delete Key Awards should be televised and winners forced to donate some of their royalties to literacy programs. What a brilliant idea! Maybe the awards should be televised on Oprah’s show because at least one finalist, Elizabeth Berg, owes some of her success to having had an earlier book selected by its book club …

Thanks also to Bill Peshel at Reader’s Almanac www.planetpeschel.com, a font of reviews of the reviews of mysteries and thrillers too often neglected in this space.

How to find the takedown of The Secret in Newsweek: If you can’t get the following direct link to work (which I can’t), the quickest way to find the article is to Google “Adler + Newsweek + The Secret.” Link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17314883/site/newsweek/

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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