One-Minute Book Reviews

June 22, 2012

Good Paperbacks for $16 or Less – Books for Your Economic Recovery

Filed under: Fiction,Nonfiction,Paperbacks — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:10 pm
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Get sand in your shoes, not in the gears of your Nook or Kindle, at the beach this summer

By Janice Harayda

Have you noticed that many of this year’s summer reading lists sound as though they were written for the economic boom times of the Reagan era? Some of the most prominent round-ups have consisted only or mainly of new hardcovers with $25–$30 price tags. Yes, those books may have had $9.99 digital editions. But do you want to drip suntan oil onto — or get sand in the gears of — a Nook or Kindle? If not, here are some of the best recent paperbacks that you can buy for $16 or less.

Fiction
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Random House Trade Paperbacks, $15, 2012), by Deborah Moggach. A group of spirited British men and men women move to a retirement home in India in a comic novel that has a thicker plot and sharper wit than the 2012 movie based loosely on its story.

Drawing Conclusions (Penguin Trade Paperbacks, $15, 2012), by Donna Leon. The humane Venice police investigator Guido Brunetti makes his 20th appearance in a mystery about the murder of a widow whose art works have disappeared, a book that Library Journal called “literary crime fiction at its best.”

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl (Random House Trade Paperbacks, $15, 2011), by Yiyun Li. Intelligent Chinese men and women maintain hope against the odds while trapped by circumstances fostered by a repressive Beijing government (“Souvenir”) or difficult upbringings (“Gold Boy, Emerald Girl”) in a collection of nine elegant short stories.

The Imperfectionists (Dial Trade Paperbacks, $15, 2011) by Tom Rachman. Staff members at an English-language newspaper in Rome face the decline of their publication in a collection of tragicomic parables about the human illusions that lie at the intersection of love and work in a digital age. Their grief doesn’t keep them from writing headlines such as “WORLD’S OLDEST LIAR DIES AT 126.”

Nonfiction
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History (Scribner paperbacks, $16, 2011), by S.C. Gwynne. With journalistic balance and novelistic flair, S.C. Gwynne tells the story of the fall of the Comanches in a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. He filters their decline through the lives Quanah Parker, their last great chief; Quanah’s white mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, kidnapped by the tribe as a 9-year-old and removed from it against her will 24 years later by Texas Rangers; and Ranald Mackenzie, a brilliant Indian fighter who attended West Point with Gen. George Armstrong Custer.

Lost in Shangri-la: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Misson of World War II (HarperPerennial paperbacks, $15.99, 2012), by Mitchell Zuckoff. Never mind that the “most incredible rescue mission” of World War II took place on the beaches of Dunkirk. Mitchell Zuckoff has written an exciting and fast-paced account of how in the last days of World War II, the U.S. Army rescued service members stranded when their military plane crashed into a mountainous rainforest in New Guinea, where pythons grew to 15 feet and the natives were believed to practice cannibalism.

Mr Tibbits’s Catholic School (Slightly Foxed paperbacks, £15, 2011), by Ysenda Maxtone Graham. An English biographer has written a captivating history of a London boys’ school that thrived despite an eccentric headmaster and a staff of largely untrained teachers. Yes, £15 is slightly more than $16, but this book has had too little attention in the U.S. It deserves a break.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Spiegel & Grau paperbacks, $16, 2012), by Barbara Demick. A Los Angeles Times reporter won the Samuel Johnson Prize for nonfiction for this remarkable portrait of North Korean defectors and the lives they had led under Kim Il-sung and his son, Kim Jong-il. Demick shows the catastrophic effects of one of the world’s most repressive regimes as she tells the stories of six people who escaped to South Korea by dint of forged passports, bribed border guards, or other cloak-and-dagger efforts.

You can follow Jan on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button at right.

© 2102 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved

March 6, 2009

Curtis Sittenfeld’s ‘American Wife’ – Now in Paperback

Filed under: Novels,Paperbacks — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:02 am
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For months I looked forward to the unintentionally hilarious sex scenes in American Wife (Random House, 592 pp., $15, paperback) that Sam Anderson had mentioned in his New York magazine review of this novel about a stand-in for Laura Bush. But when my card number came up at the library, I found those passages to be something less than thigh-slappers. (Memo to Curtis Sittenfeld: For an example of how to write unintentionally hilarious sex scenes, see Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, longlisted for the Bad Sex in fiction award from the Literary Review.) I read about a third of American Wife, thinking: Why am I reading this? What I read said little new about Laura Bush or first ladies. So I quit with the sense that the book wasn’t good enough to deserve much of the praise it had received or bad enough to qualify for a Delete Key Award. But lots of people disagree with me on this one. Among them: Joyce Carol Oates, who called it an entertaining “parable of America in the years of the second Bush presidency” in the New York Times Book Review.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 15, 2008

Laurence Bergreen’s ‘Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu’ (Books I Didn’t Finish)

Filed under: Biography,Paperbacks — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:36 pm
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The latest in an occasional series of posts on books I didn’t finish and why I didn’t finish them

Title: Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu. By Laurence Bergreen. Vintage, 432 pp., $16.95, paperback.

What it is: A biography the 13th-century Venetian explorer who became the world’s first adventure traveler. Marco Polo was named one of the Top 10 Biographies of the year by the American Library Association’s Booklist magazine.

How much I read: About 75 pages (the first and last chapters and parts of others).

Why I stopped reading: Marco had too much competition from holiday parties. I liked the book a lot and would probably have finished it if I’d started it in June.

Best line in what I read: “In disgrace, Andrea Dandolo lashed himself to his flagship’s mast and beat his head against it until he died of a fractured skull, thus depriving the Genoese of the satisfaction of executing him.” Dandolo led a Venetian fleet of 96 ships defeated by the Genoese in the Battle of Curzola. Marco Polo has many lines as memorable as this one.

Worst line in what I read: “ … although he was done with his book, it was not done with him.” Bergreen means “finished.”

Comments: A strange thing happened as I was thinking about the best books I’d read in 2008: I realized that none was a new biography when, in a typical year, I read several or more. So I picked up Marco Polo, an acclaimed 2007 biography that recently came out in paperback. A blurb from Simon Winchester calls Bergreen “America’s liveliest biographer,” and to judge by what I read, he’s at least one of the liveliest.

Bergreen has a flair for storytelling that includes an ability to evoke people and places in a few lines. He can also sum up broad historical forces lucidly. Here’s the first paragraph of his brief explanation of the cause of the Crusades:

“The Crusades began with a simple goal: to permit Christians to continue to make pilgrimages to the Holy Sepulcher, the tomb in Jerusalem in which the body of the crucified Jesus was believed to be laid to rest. Christians had been visiting this holiest of Christian shrines at least since the eighth century AD. Matters changed dramatically in 1009 when Hakim, the Fatimid caliph – that is, the Muslim ruler – of Cairo, called for the Holy Sepulcher’s destruction. Afterward, unlucky Christians and Jews who found themselves in Jerusalem were likely to be persecuted, and the city’s Christian quarter was surrounded by a forbidding wall that controlled access. Within five years, thousands of churches had been burned or ransacked.”

Try to rewrite that paragraph and say as much in fewer words, and you’ll see how good Bergreen is. Would that all of our history professors had been so concise!

Recommendation? Marco Polo is much longer than Longitude but may appeal to its fans. Like Dava Sobel’s bestseller, Bergreen’s book tells well-written story that involves the history of exploration.

Read an excerpt and more at www.laurencebergreen.com.

About the author: Bergreen also wrote Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe, As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin, and other books.

© 2008 All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

September 23, 2008

New in Paperback — Katha Pollitt’s ‘Learning to Drive’

Filed under: Essays and Reviews,Nonfiction,Paperbacks — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:37 am
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Katha Pollitt regrets that there are no good words to describe her time of life. “‘Older’ raises the question of ‘older than whom?’,” she writes in Learning to Drive (Random House, 224 pp., $14). “Midlife is the upbeat new euphemism – there you are, in the thick of it! – but a 55-year-old person is in the middle of his life only if he’s going to live to 110. ‘Middle-aged’ sounds tired and plodding, almost as bad as ‘aging’ – and ‘aging’ is sad and pitiful, an insult even though it’s actually universally applicable. A 50-year-old is aging at the same rate as a baby or a tree or a bottle of wine, exactly one second per second.”

As that observation suggests, Learning to Drive in some ways resembles Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck. But there’s more bite and depth to this collection of elegant and often witty essays by Pollitt kathapollitt.blogspot.com, whose topics include motherhood, learning to drive, and her discovery that she was living with a man who might have been allowed to donate his zipper to a hall of fame for philanderers. And the book has just come out in a paperback edition with a sparkling new cover that should make it easier to find at bookstores www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/16/.

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

September 17, 2008

Graphic ‘Novels’ — Actually, Memoirs — for People Who Don’t Read Graphic Novels — Marjane Satrapi’s Tales of Life Under Islamic Fundamentalism

Not long ago, the nether parts of Hurricane Gustav hit my town and trapped me in a coffee shop just after I’d left a bookstore with Persepolis and Persepolis 2, Marjane Satrapi’s tragicomic memoirs in comic strips of her childhood and early adulthood in fundamentalist Iran. What a welcome diversion the books made as rain pelted the plate glass. Both have enough to offer teenagers — assuming there are any left who haven’t read these bestsellers — that I hope to review them on a Saturday soon. Until then Persepolis could be a good choice for adult book clubs that want to try a graphic novel, the industry term that’s a misnomer for nonfiction. Both memoirs are much more engaging than — but would make a fine complement to — the pontifical Reading Lolita in Tehran, a book club staple. You’ll find more on Satrapi’s work at www.randomhouse.com/pantheon/graphicnovels/catalog/author.pperl?authorid=43801. If you like the genre, you may want to explore other comic-books pages at Pantheon www.randomhouse.com/pantheon/graphicnovels/, the Tiffany’s of graphic-novel publishers.

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

September 1, 2008

In ‘Late for Work,’ Poet David Tucker Finds the Life in Deadlines

Filed under: Newspapers,Paperbacks,Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:42 am
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[I'm off today. This repost of a review of one of my favorite books of poetry that appeared on this site in 2006.]

A newspaper editor writes about work and makes it work

Late for Work. Poems by David Tucker. Foreword by Philip Levine. Mariner, 53 pp., $12, paperback.

It’s odd, when you think about it, that more journalists don’t write poetry. Newspapers stack their headlines like verse – couplets, tercets, or quatrains – set flush left or stepped. Their stories have a form, the inverted pyramid, that can be as rigid as that of a sestina. And the work of great reporters has, if not meter, a subtle rhythm and an emotional impact comparable to that of a well-made poem.

David Tucker moves to close the gap in Late for Work, winner 2005 Katharine Bakeless Nason Prize for poetry awarded by the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference. Calvin Trillin may call himself a “deadline poet” because he writes his brief, witty poems for The Nation in response to breaking news. But Tucker comes closer to the spirit of the phrase in this wonderful collection of 45 of poems about newspapers and other topics, inspired partly by his work as an assistant managing editor of the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

Tucker has little in common with the modern poets who pack their work so densely with opaque symbols and allusions that you need to read them with The Golden Bough in one hand and the Wikipedia URL in the other. He meets you halfway, whether he’s writing about a great-grandfather you haven’t met or a newsroom you haven’t visited. Sometimes he does this by moving gracefully from tragedy to comedy and back again, so that we stand poised between them in his poems as in life. In “Morning Edition,” a journalist leaving work for the day considers the stories in the next edition:

For tomorrow we offer a photo of bloody hands
passing a coffin over a crowd in Baghdad,
and a photo of the President grinning
like a boy who ate a grasshopper,
and the jubilation of the bowling team that won the lottery.

Later the journalist recalls other stories in the next day’s paper:

The governor lying about the lie he told
the day before, the state senator from Bergen
calling his committee into secret session.
Killer Tree in Rahway, roots weakened
by rain, this rain, toppling on a doctor and his wife
as they sped for the Rahway exist, late for dinner.

Tucker flirts with classic forms like the sonnet and, in “The Woman in the Faraway House,” terza rima (while avoiding its overlapping rhymes):

She always has one more thing to say
about the argument
we had yesterday

But if he nods to Dante and later poets like Jane Kenyon, Tucker makes his subjects his own. One of his themes is that we have the capacity for hope even when hope has let us down — or we have let it down – many times. This idea comes into its fullest flower in “Detective Story,” which begins:

Happiness is a stubborn old detective who won’t give up on us
though we have been missing a long, long time,
who stops in towns where we once lived and asks about us
in a grocery where we shopped ten years ago …

Philip Levine chose Late for Work for the Bakeless Prize and has written an introduction that, though more self-indulgent and less helpful than it might have been, is right in one respect. This book suggests that life, for all its disappointments, can still be “warm and satisfying.”

Best line: From “Detective Story”: “A breeze smelling of the river enters the room though/ no river is near; the house is quiet and calm for no reason;/ the search does end, the detective finally does sleep, far away/ from anything he imagined, his dusty shoes still on.”

Worst line: From “Downsizing”: Tucker writes of bosses whispering “at the water cooler” and “junior executives” going to lunch. Most companies no longer have a “water cooler” or “junior executives” – everybody’s a “manager” now – and both of these fixtures of corporate life had disappeared by the time the word “downsizing” entered the language, so imagery here isn’t just clichéd but internally inconsistent.

Recommended if … you’d love to read contemporary poetry that you can understand without having a graduate degree in English.

Published: April 2006

To read one of David Tucker’s poems, click here www.poets.org/search.php/fs/1/prmAuthor/Tucker/.

To hear Tucker read from Late for Work, click on this link:
http://www.nytimes.com/packages/khtml/2006/04/05/books/20060405_TUCKER_AUDIOSS.html

Posted by Janice Harayda

(c) 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 8, 2008

Modern-Day Slavery on Long Island, in Florida and Elsewhere

Filed under: News,Nonfiction,Paperbacks — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:06 pm
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Last month a federal judge sentenced an upper-middle-class Long Island woman to 11 years in prison after immigration officials found that she and her husband had kept two Indonesian housekeepers as virtual slaves in their home. The victims testified that they had been “beaten with brooms and umbrellas, slashed with knives and forced to climb stairs and take freezing showers as punishment,” the Associated Press said www.nytimes.com/2008/06/27/nyregion/27slave.html?ref=nyregion.

The judge called it “eye-opening, to say the least – that things like that go on in our country.” John Bowe makes clear in Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy (Random House, 336 pp., $15, paperback) that such brutality is far from unique. Nobodies is an uneven book that blends strong reporting on the abuse of migrant and other workers with a weaker analysis of why it has occurred. But there is real power in its first section, “Florida,” which deals with the plight of Mexican and Central American orange- and tomato-pickers in Immokalee, Florida, parts of which first appeared in different form in The New Yorker www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/01/22/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 20, 2008

Great Low- or No-Cost Outdoor Activities You Can Do With a Child

Filed under: How to,Nonfiction,Paperbacks — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:31 pm
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365 Outdoor Activities You Can Do With Your Child. By Steve and Ruth Bennett. Adams Media, 430 pp., $7.95, paperback.

365 TV-Free Activities You Can Do With Your Child: Plus 50 All-New Bonus Activities. By Steven J. Bennett and Ruth Bennett. Adams Media, 512 pp, $8.95 paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Want to keep a child away from the television set this summer and involved in activities that are stimulating and fun? Steve and Ruth Bennett are your friends. Maybe — depending on how desperate you are — your best friends.

The Bennetts have written two terrific books packed with ideas so simple you may wonder why you didn’t think of them on your own: 365 Outdoor Activities You Can Do With Your Child and 365 TV-Free Activities You Can Do With Your Child www.adamsmediastore.com/product/814/16. The second book is easier to find than the first, but both are widely available in libraries. And each describes hundreds of no- or low-cost, TV-free activities for ages 3 and up in a paperback small enough to fit into a purse or glove compartment.

Part of the appeal of these books is that they describe many activities that would appeal to a variety of ages (including, in some cases, teenagers). Their “Acorn Toss,” for example, is a variation on horseshoes, scaled down so that all ages can enjoy taking part.

Here are three suggestions from 365 Outdoor Activities You Can Do With Your Child that will give you an idea of the kinds of diversions the Bennetts recommend in both books:

Acorn Toss. Can’t take children’s favorite games with you on a trip? Use acorns, walnuts or pine cones for sports games, the Bennetts suggest. One of the easiest games begins with gathering a handful of acorns or nuts: “One person tosses his or her acorn from an official throwing point, marked by a line in the ground or a stick. The other players then toss their acorns, trying to come as close as possible without touching the acorn.”

Invent a Constellation. On a starry night, ask children what they see in the way of people, animals, objects, and more. Make up alternate names for constellations — “Meatball Minor,” “Pancake Major,” “Aunt Jane’s Earlobe” — and tell stories about them. “Sound silly?” the Bennetts ask. “Remember, they actually did name one galaxy the Milky Way.”

Water Writing. Write with “disappearing ink” – water – on a sidewalk, driveway, or patio. Fill a bucket or pan with water, and “write” with a paintbrush, roller or broom. The Bennetts recommend that you tailor your writing to a child’s age For prereaders, paint letters, numbers or shapes of familiar objects. For readers, write words or messages. “On a hot sunny day, the object is for your child to guess the picture or message before the water evaporates.” To conserve save, use “waste water” from a wading pool or rainwater collected in a bucket.

As these activities suggest, the Bennetts’ books could inspire not just parents but for grandparents or aunts and uncles who expect visits from children soon.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 18, 2008

Holly Peterson’s Bad Sex Scenes Are Back in the New Paperback Edition of ‘The Manny’

How bad are the sex scenes in Holly Peterson’s The Manny? Let’s just say that one begins with “Now she was on her knees …” and ends with “like a fire hose in her expensive mouth.” What if you’re tempted to buy The Manny (Dial, 368 pp., $12), anyway, now that the novel is out in paperback? Maybe you know it involves a Park Avenue mother who hires a male nanny for her 9-year-old son. And you think: With that catchy premise, how bad could it be? Here’s a sample line of dialogue: “We’re in the modern era, baby, you spoiled, Jurassic, archaic, Waspy piece of petrified wood!” (And, yes, that comes from a character we’re supposed to like.) Lines like that one earned the novel a spot on the shortlist for the 2008 Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. You’ll find others in a review and Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to The Manny, published in separate posts on June 26, 2007 oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/26/.

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

June 16, 2008

Tina Brown’s ‘The Diana Chronicles': Now in Paperback

Diana Spencer was nine years old when her father sent her to a boarding school where she won “perhaps the most endearing airhead award ever: the prize for best-kept guinea pig.” With such sharp observations, Tina Brown comes close to pulling a rabbit out of a diamond tiara in The Diana Chronicles (Broadway, 576 pp., $15.95, paperback). Brown tells us little that hasn’t been said by others about Diana’s character and motivations. And what she says often comes from sources that are unnamed or so dubious that they might not have made it past the fact-checkers at Vanity Fair or The New Yorker, magazines she used to edit. But The Diana Chronicles is far better than earlier biographies by Andrew Morton, Lady Colin Campbell and others – not just because it is livelier and more comprehensive but because Brown finds the middle ground between axe-grinding and hagiography. Click here to read a full review of the book oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/09/.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.Janiceharayda.com

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