One-Minute Book Reviews

November 14, 2011

Cozy Relationships Among National Book Awards Poetry Judges

Filed under: National Book Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:41 am
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This is the first of two posts on conflicts of interest of the appearance of them among 2011 National Book Awards judges. The second will deal with the fiction and nonfiction juries.

By Janice Harayda

You might think the National Book Awards couldn’t look worse than they did last month when their sponsor shortlisted the wrong book and, instead of taking full responsibility for the error, pressured the erroneously named finalist to drop out. But that acidic fruit may not hang lower on the tree of ethics than an apparent conflict of interest on the poetry jury that casts a shadow over the prize ceremony to be held Wednesday.

Each National Book Awards jury normally has five judges, including one who serves as the panel chair. This year the poetry jury has as its chair Elizabeth Alexander, a Yale professor who is also one of 20 faculty members at the Cave Canem writers’ program, according to the website for the organization.  Two of the five finalists are among Alexander’s 19 colleagues on the Cave Canem faculty, the site says: Nikky Finney  and Yusef Komunyakaa (with whom she also shares the title of honorary director of the program).

Were 40 percent of the year’s best poetry books written by people who teach with the panel chair? It’s possible: Phillips was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award and Komunyakaa won Pulitzer Prize, and Finney, if less honored, is widely respected. And you might think that Alexander alone couldn’t have pulled her two colleagues onto the shortlist, given that the award has five judges. The truth is that she could have done it if the other four judges split 2–2 over a finalist and she cast the swing vote.

Many awards programs have a clear policies for handling apparent conflicts like Alexander’s, often posted on their websites: They require such judges to abstain from the discussing or voting for the winner or both. The National Book Foundation, the sponsor of the awards, doesn’t post its policy. And statements by its staff suggest that its way of dealing with conflicts is more subjective and less comprehensive than that of other major literary prize-givers. The foundation “forbids anyone that has a blood family, current business or romantic relationship” from judging the finalists, its executive director told Motoko Rich of the New York Times.

Is it a “business relationship” if you serve on a faculty with 19 others? You might think so. And Alexander may have recused herself from judging her colleagues. But that would leave the award, in effect, with only four judges, because she couldn’t judge most of the candidates. At the same time, her failure to recuse herself would lead to a worse situation: It would taint the 2011 prize and do further harm to the reputation of a foundation lowered by its tawdry handling of the young-people’s-literature prize.

No matter what happens Wednesday, the obvious management failures by the sponsor have the damaged the credibility of the National Book Awards. This year has brought new books from former poet laureate Robert Pinsky, Pulitzer Prize winner Rae Armantrout, National Book Award winners Robert Bly and Charles Wright, and other acclaimed poets passed over by the jury that chose two faculty members who teach with its chair in a relatively small program.

The problem with all of this does not involve the integrity of Alexander or her colleagues at Cave Canem. Nor does it relate to whether she can be an “objective” jury member. Every literary-awards judge brings tastes and biases to his or her task. The issue is that a shortlist long on people Alexander teaches with raises questions of fairness to the other finalists and to all the worthy poets snubbed by her panel. If one of Alexander’s colleagues wins, how will the losers and nonstarters know that her support didn’t make the difference that deprived them of the most coveted honors in American literature?

[Note: This post has been updated. An earlier version listed Carl Phillips as a third National Book Awards poetry finalist who serves on the Cave Canem faculty with jury chair Elizabeth Alexander. Phillips says his time as a teacher at Cave Canem has never overlapped with that of Alexander, although the website for the writing program lists them both as faculty members.]

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic who has been book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle. You may also want to read her post on why the National Book Awards are broken and 7 ways to fix them, which deals with the uproar after the botched young-people’s-literature nomination.

You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter, where she has posted further comments on the National Book Awards, by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.

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

October 18, 2011

How the Does the National Book Foundation Spend Its Money? The Cost of the National Book Awards Fiasco

Filed under: National Book Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:51 am
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What do you get when you donate to the nonprofit National Book Foundation, the sponsor of the National Book Awards? This week the answer is, “A financial stake in a fiasco.”

First the foundation mistakenly announced that it had selected Lauren Myracle’s young-adult novel Shine as a finalist for a 2011 National Book Award. Then the organization said that the book would remain on the shortlist despite the error. Now the foundation has reversed itself and persuaded Myracle to withdraw and accept the consolation prize of a $5,000 donation to a charity that she supports.

All of which raises the question: Can’t the foundation afford to hire staff members who can do better than this? You might think so from its budget. As a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization, the National Book Foundation must by law make its federal income-tax returns available to the public. And its figures show that it paid executive director Harold Augenbraum $196,964 plus $8,464 in additional compensation in 2009, the latest year for which its return appears to be available for free online. The median salary for a foundation director in the New York City area is $144,948 (and $122,113 nationwide), according to a survey by Salary.com. So Augenbraum earns at least $50,000 more than a typical peer even if he received no raise in 2010. The foundation also has a generous travel budget: It claimed $40,455 in travel expenses although its marquee events take place in Manhattan.

For that kind of money, the National Book Awards ought to be able to hire a director who can steer the program away from turbulence, not directly into its path. If the trustees of the organization don’t do this on their own, donors should demand it. The foundation must stop sending the message that with friends like the National Book Awards, authors like Lauren Myracle don’t need enemies.

A report by NPR has more on the debacle. I can’t link to the tax return mentioned above, but you can find it on websites that rate and provide free information on charities (search them for “National Book Foundation” and click on links to financial details). You may also request the return from the NBF or the Internal Revenue Service.  The compensation figures cited come from the  tax Form 990 filed by the NBF for 2009. You may be able to get the 2010 return by paying a fee.

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.

April 18, 2011

‘The Great Gatsby’ and Other Books That Didn’t Win the Pulitzer

Filed under: Book Awards,News,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:22 am
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Perhaps the most perversely elite club in American literature consists of the great novels that didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Among the members: Main Street, The Great Gatsby and For Whom the Bell Tolls. A list of other losers and the books that defeated them appears here. The winners of the 2011 Pulitzers will be announced today at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. Using the statistical technique of regression analysis, a research scientist and book collector have predicted that Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad will win the fiction prize, finishing just ahead of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule. A list of their 16 books most likely to receive the award appears at PPrize.com.

January 10, 2011

2011 Caldecott Goes to ‘A Sick Day for Amos McGee,’ Newbery to ‘Moon Over Manifest’ — Full List of ALA Winners

Filed under: Book Awards,Children's Books,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:07 pm
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A Sick Day for Amos McGee (Roaring Brook, 2010) has won the 2011 Caldecott Medal for the year’s most distinguished picture book. Erin Stead illustrated and Philip Stead wrote the book, which the New York Times Book Review called “gently absurd comedy.” Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest (Delacorte, 2010) has won the Newbery Medal for the most distinguished work of literature for children. The American Library also named other winners today.

November 18, 2010

Jonathan Franzen’s ‘Freedom’ Makes Shortlist for Bad Sex Award

Filed under: Book Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:36 pm
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Freedom has made the shortlist for the annual Bad Sex in fiction award, always one of year’s most entertaining literary prizes. The Guardian has more on the dubious honor for Jonathan Franzen’s novel, which landed its author on the cover of Time but not on the dais at last night’s National Book Awards ceremony. Given by the U.K.-based Literary Review, the Bad Sex award went last year to Jonathan Littell, who defeated Philip Roth, Paul Theroux and others.

September 27, 2010

2011 Newbery and Caldecott Winners to Be Announced on Jan. 10 at 7:30 a.m. – National Book Awards Winners on Nov. 17

The American Library Association will announce the winners of 2011 Newbery and Caldecott medals for distinguished American children’s books beginning at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, January 10, 2011. The ALA site has more information on those and other prizes awarded by the organization.

Other dates for major book awards:

The winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize for fiction will be named on Oct. 12, 2010, and the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature in mid-October at a date to be determined by the Swedish Academy. Michael Orthofer over at the Literary Saloon, a veteran observer of Nobel Prize politics, thinks the annoucement could come on Oct. 7 but that Oct. 14 is more likely.

The finalists for the 2010 National Book Awards for fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature will be announced on Oct. 13, 2010. The winners will be named on Nov. 17.

The shortlist for the National Book Critics Circle Awards in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, criticism, biography and autobiography or memoir will be announced on Jan. 22, 2011, and the winners on March 10, 2011.

Jan Harayda (@janiceharayda) often comments on book awards, including those listed above, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.


March 15, 2010

Grand Prize Winner in the 2010 Delete Key Awards for Bad Writing in Books — Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News,Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:33 pm
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Yes, the hero teaches courses in the nonexistent field of “symbology” at Harvard University. But too many lines in The Lost Symbol (Doubleday)  flunk English, logic, history, or other subjects. Dan Brown wins the Grand Prize in the 2010 Delete Key awards for these lines:

“The only wrinkle was the bloody black-clad heap in the foyer with a screwdriver protruding from his neck.”

Yes, a screwdriver sticking out of your neck is always something of a wrinkle.

“It was no coincidence that Christians were taught that Jesus was crucified at age thirty-three …”
Just as it’s no coincidence that people were taught that Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors.

“Thankfully, this particular crypt contained no bodies. … The entourage hurried through, without even a glance at the four-pointed marble compass in the center of the floor where the Eternal Flame had once burned.”
As opposed to one of those three-pointed compasses you usually see.

“His hips and abdomen were the archways of mystical power. Hanging beneath the archway [sic], his massive sex organ bore the tattooed symbols of his destiny. In another life, this heavy shaft of flesh had been his source of carnal pleasure. But no longer.”
That “archways of mystical power” helps to make this passage read like a cross between The Secret and recruitment brochure for McDonald’s.

“According to Nola’s spec sheet, the UH-60 had a chassis-mounted, laser-sighted, six-gigahertz magnetron with a fifty-dB-gain horn that yielded a ten-gigawatt pulse.”
Did Tom Clancy send in a play from the sidelines here?

Tom Chivers of the Telegraph collected 20 of the worst lines from Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and other books.

Read the shortlisted passages from all the finalists here.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

First Runner-Up in the 2010 Delete Key Awards for Bad Writing in Books — Seth Grahame-Smith’s ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:39 pm
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Elizabeth Bennet’s best friend turns into a Regency zombie and appears to channel Mammy in Gone With the Wind in a passage from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk), the second runner-up in the 2010 Delete Key Awards for bad writing in books. Jane Austen weeps as author Seth Grahame-Smith has Charlotte Lucas say:

“‘What can be da meaning of dis?’ howled Charlotte, as soon as he was gone. ‘Mah dear Ewiza, he muss be love you, aw he never wuh have called in dis famiwiar way.’”

Read all the shortlisted passages from all the finalists here. You can also follow Janice Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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