One-Minute Book Reviews

February 28, 2007

Delete Key Awards Finalist #6: ‘Find the One You Want – Fix the One You Got’ by Dr. Phil McGraw

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:22 pm

“Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?”

Love Smart (Free Press) is one of those relationship guides for women THAT GIVES ADVICE IN LARGE TYPE BECAUSE YOU MIGHT OTHERWISE NOT GET WHAT IT’S SAYING. It also has lots of exclamation points! More than two dozen in the first seven pages alone! But the main problem with this book isn’t punctuation. It’s the patronizing mush dispensed by talk-show host Dr. Phil McGraw, who hands out cliché after cliché, as in: “Now it seems time to step up and close the deal, get ‘the fish in the boat,’ walk down the aisle, tie the knot … you want to get to the next level.”

Writing sample:
McGraw suggests that women hold sex “in reserve” until a man has made “the ultimate commitment,” because many men still think: “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?” Has it occurred to McGraw that, in the age of a female Speaker of the House, a lot of women might not like being compared to cows?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

[The 10 Delete Key Awards finalists are being announced in random order throughout the day and numbered only for convenience.]

Delete Key Awards Finalist #7: ‘Toxic Bachelors’ by Danielle Steel

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:29 pm

“ ‘Yes,’ he said succinctly.”

Nobody expects social realism from Danielle Steel, but it’s still shocking to find Jews portrayed as monsters in Toxic Bachelors (Dell). The novel involves three single men from different backgrounds who try to avoid marriage while cruising the Mediterranean. Each man represents a spiritual as well as social “type”: Charlie is WASP-y, Gray makes a religion of art, and Adam is Jewish. Guess which one has an ineffectual father, a mother who is “a nagging bitch,” and a spoiled sister? If you said, “Adam,” you’re right. While Charlie’s dead parents were saintly and Gray’s were irresponsible but not malicious, Adam’s are cruel enough to make the Portnoys look like candidates for a lifetime achievement award from Parents’ magazine. Adam sees his parents as “freaks” no better than a sister who committed the ultimate sin: “She had never done anything with her life except get married and have two children.”

Writing sample:
“He was well built and good-looking in an exotic, ethnic way.” In other words, he’s Jewish. Steel doesn’t do better with her other characters. A line about one of them: “Yes,’ he said succinctly.” Is there another way to say “Yes”?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

[The Delete Key Awards finalists are being posted in random order throughout the day. They are numbered only for convenience.]

Delete Key Awards Finalist #8: ‘The Confession’ by James McGreevey with David France

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:27 pm

“Our first few times burned so fiercely in my mind I could hardly recall them even as we were still lying together.”

Critics have not been kind to the red, white, and purple prose in this memoir by the New Jersey “Luv Guv” who resigned after outing himself as a “gay American.” Alas, they have a point. Those of us who live in New Jersey had hoped that while in office, McGreevey would keep his mind on big questions like: Why do we have the highest property tax rates in the nation? But we learn from The Confession (HarperCollins/Regan) that he kept getting distracted by thoughts like: “He greeted me in his briefs. ‘Did anybody see you?’ he asked, closing the door quickly” … “We undressed and he kissed me. It was the first time in my life that a kiss meant what it was supposed to mean – it sent me through the roof” … “I pulled him to the bed and we made love like I’d always dreamed … boastful, passionate, whispering …” Lines like these suggest that if McGreevey has no future in politics, he may yet have a career as the gay romance novelist.

Writing sample:
“Our first few times burned so fiercely in my mind I could hardly recall them even as we were still lying together. “ Get out the fire hoses when politicians try to write about hot sex. If those trysts burned “fiercely” in McGreevey’s mind, doesn’t that mean he would remember them, not forget them?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

[The 10 Delete Key Awards finalists are being announced in random order throughout the day and numbered only for convenience.]


 

 

Delete Key Awards Finalist # 9: ‘The Power of Nice’ by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:58 am

“It’s no coincidence that ‘Thou shalt not lie’ is one of the Ten Commandments.”

Suppose you were writing about how to succeed in business by being nice and wanted to back up your ideas by giving examples of some famously “nice” celebrities. Would the first name that came to mind here be “Donald Trump”? No? You’ll find other bizarre examples like this one The Power of Nice (Doubleday), a dish of treacle from the advertising executives who created the Aflac duck. Although this is supposed to be a business book, you’ll also find breathless platitudes that wander far from the office like “call your grandmother, for goodness’ sake – she’s dying to hear from you!”

Writing sample:
Kaplan Thaler and Koval report: “It’s no coincidence that ‘Thou shalt not lie’ is one of the Ten Commandments.” So did God send them a text message explaining this? Or a fax? And are we to assume that other things in the Ten Commandments are a “coincidence”?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Delete Key Awards Finalist #10: ‘Hannibal Rising’ by Thomas Harris

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:07 am

“Our family, we are somewhat unusual people, Hannibal.”

Nobody sold out his fans more ruthlessly in 2006 than did Thomas Harris, author of The Silence of the Lambs and other books about the cannibalistic sociopath Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal’s depravity has always defied explanation. And Harris’s attempt to rationalize it in Hannibal Rising (Delacorte) was like trying to explain the actions King Kong by describing what happened to him when he was a baby gorilla.

Writing sample:
An uncle tells young Hannibal: “Our family, we are somewhat unusual people, Hannibal.” So that explains why Hannibal cut off a human face and used it to escape in The Silence of the Lambs. Better call your Uncle Ed – fast! — and find about the “unusual people” in your family before your cousin in med school makes a shish kabob of human flesh the way Hannibal does in Hannibal Rising. Another example of the ludicrously stilted prose turns up when Harris writes, “Hannibal walked Lady Murasaki to her very chamber door …” As opposed to her “not very” chamber door?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

[Hannibal Rising is the first of 10 Delete Key Awards finalists being announced today. The finalists are being posted in random order and numbered only for convenience.]

 

February 27, 2007

The Year’s Worst Writing in Books — About the Finalists for the 2007 Delete Key Awards, To Be Announced Tomorrow

Filed under: Book Awards,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:32 pm

One-Minute Book Reviews will announce the finalists 2007 Delete Key Awards tomorrow morning, Wednesday, Feb. 28. The first book to make the short list will be named at about 10 a.m. with other titles released throughout the day. The full list of finalists will be posted by 5 p.m. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS to avoid missing the list, and forward this post to others who may be interested.

Questions and Answers About the Delete Key Awards for the Year’s Worst Writing in Books

Why do we need the Delete Key Awards?
When you go bed with a book, you should be able to respect yourself in the morning. Unfortunately, too many publishers don’t realize this.

Who is eligible for a Delete Key Award?
Anybody who has had a book published in hardcover or paperback in the U.S. in 2006, including reprints. One-Minute Book Reviews is the sole judge of when a book was published if there’s a conflict between the official publication date, the on-sale date, the date listed on Amazon.com, or the date when Janice Harayda first saw it in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. That’s the beauty of the Delete Key Awards. They’re completely arbitrary.

Why are the awards for “the worst writing in books” instead of “the worst books”?
The overall quality of a book can involve matters of taste and judgment. The Delete Key Awards recognize bad writing that doesn’t involve those questions. They call attention to such things as clichés, bad grammar, or writing at an elementary-school level according to the readability statistics on Microsoft Word. The listing for each finalist will give an example of the bad writing in the book and explain what’s wrong with it.

How did you select the finalists?
At the end of each review on One-Minute Book Reviews, you’ll find the best and worst lines in the book. The finalists came from the “worst” lines. But all of the selected examples of bad writing are typical of what you’ll find in the book that made the short list. No author became a finalist because of one or two bad lines.

Why are you picking on struggling authors?
First, “struggling authors” is a cliché. Strike it from your vocabulary. Second, I’m not picking on those people. Most of the Delete Key Awards finalists are rich. If they’re not rich, they’re influential.

When will you announce the winner or winners of the Delete Key Awards?
Visitors to One-Minute Book Reviews will be able to comment on the finalists for two weeks, and the winner or winners will be named on March 15. I’m announcing the winner or winners on the Ides of March because Julius Caesar was assassinated then, and some of the finalists have assassinated the English language. I hope to post the best comments from visitors when I announce the winner(s).

Why are you announcing the finalists one at a time instead of all at once?
It will provide more entertainment for people who are bored at work. And there are so many bad writers in the U.S., my site my crash if they all rushed over at once to see if I’d recognized their contributions to American literature.

Why are you qualified to pick the winner of the Delete Key Awards?
One-Minute Book Reviews doesn’t accept free books or other promotional materials from editors, publishers, literary agents, or authors whose books may be reviewed on the site. So the reviews aren’t affected by the marketing considerations that sometimes affect the decisions of others.

I also received more than 400 books a week during my 11 years as the book editor of The Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper. These included Knitting With Dog Hair, which is still in print. Critics laughed when the book was published. But Knitting With Dog Hair looks like Madame Bovary compared with some of the book on the list of finalists.

I’m fed up with bad writing in books. How can I support the Delete Key Awards?
First, send a link to this post to people who might like to have it, especially bloggers and media and publishing types. Second, keep visiting my site throughout the day tomorrow, Feb. 28, to see names of new finalists. This could help One-Minute Book Reviews make it onto the list of the “Blogs of the Day” on WordPress, so even more people will see it. The last time I made the list I wrote in a review of For One More Day about my discovery that Mitch Albom is writing at a third-grade level. [Note for overseas visitors: Third-graders in the U.S. are typically eight years old.] That post is archived in the “Novels” category on this site. I’d like to see if I could make it into the WordPress Top 10 on my own without so much help from Mitch.

So is Mitch Albom is a finalist?
You’ll have to check back tomorrow for the answer to that one.

Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

One-Minute Book Reviews is an independent book-review blog created by Janice Harayda, an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor and critic for The Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. Please visit www.janiceharayda.com for information about her comedies of manners The Accidental Bride (St. Martin’s, 1999) and Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, 2004).

February 15, 2007

The Best Things I Never Wrote: Quote of the Day #8 … On Pompous Writing

Filed under: Quotes of the Day,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:31 pm

R.L. Trask on pompous writing …

“There is a certain style of writing that never uses a plain word if a fancier word can be found. In such writing, every teacher is an educator, every doctor is a physician, every weatherman is a meteorologist, people don’t write books but author them, people don’t buy things but purchase them, people don’t use things but utilize them, people don’t eat things but consume them, people don’t talk but communicate, things are never different but always disparate, people are never poor but only underprivileged or disadvantaged, and nobody ever has a mere life or career, but only an odyssey. This kind of writing is pompous, and it is wearisome to read.”

R.L. Trask in Mind the Gaffe: A Troubleshooter’s Guide to English Style and Usage (Harper, 2006), a pithy, alphabetically arranged handbook that tells how to avoid common language pitfalls. The paragraph above appears under “Pomposity.”

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Comment by Janice Harayda:

Trask’s book is an excellent guide for people who have a good basic command of grammar but sometimes have trouble with individual words or phrases such as “lay” and “lie,” “ensure” and “insure” or “may” and “might.” Because of the alphabetical arrangement of entries, you can dip into it at random whenever you have a few minutes. Dare I say, as I did in my recent review of Schott’s Almanac, that this is a book you may want to keep in that bathroom if not on your desk?

February 10, 2007

Bizarre But True: GWB Writes at a Higher Level Than Thomas Jefferson … An Exposé of the Writing Levels of U.S. Presidents

Filed under: Books,Memoirs,News,Politics,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:41 pm

Who wrote at a higher level, Ronald Reagan or Abraham Lincoln? Check the results of a One-Minute Book Reviews survey that calculated their grade levels using the spell-checker on Microsoft Word.

Need a reason to feel good about the direction our country is taking on Presidents’ Day? Try this: George W. Bush can write at a higher level than Thomas Jefferson.

Not long ago, I found that novelist Mitch Albom writes at a third-grade level when I typed part of For One More Day into my computer, then ran the Microsoft Word spell-checker (Nov. 16, 2006, One-Minute Book Reviews). When you do this, you see the Flesch-Kincaid grade level at the bottom of the column of numbers that appears on your screen.

So I wondered: Could any of our presidents write at a higher level than a No. 1 best-selling novelist? I used Microsoft Word to calculate the reading levels of the presidents’ books, if these were easily available, and their best-known speeches if not. Here are the results:

John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage Grade 12
Jimmy Carter, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid Grade 12
Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Four Freedoms” Speech Grade 11.2
Ronald Reagan, An American Life Grade 11.1
Dwight Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe Grade 11.1
Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address Grade 10.9
George W. Bush, A Charge to Keep Grade 10.8
Bill Clinton, My Life Grade 8.2
Gerald Ford, A Time to Heal Grade 8.1
Lyndon B. Johnson “Why Are We in Vietnam?” Speech Grade 7.3
Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Abigail Adams,
July 1, 1787 Grade 5.3

I entered 305 words from each book, beginning on page 24, for reasons explained in the review of For One More Day, archived in the “Novels” category on this blog: The first chapter of a book often doesn’t represent the whole. A typical book chapter has about 20 pages, so I started on page 24. And because a paragraph or two may not represent the whole, either, I entered 305 words, or more than a page, which usually has about 250–300 words. When I used a speech, I entered the whole speech.

This survey showed that George Bush wrote in A Charge to Keep – what, you’ve forgotten it already? — at a higher level than Thomas Jefferson did in a letter to Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams. Bush also wrote at higher level than Bill Clinton did in My Life and LBJ did in his “Why Are We in Vietnam?” speech at Johns Hopkins University. But Jefferson comes out ahead if you give him credit for writing the Declaration if Independence single-handledly. It’s written at the level of Grade 12.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 29, 2007

The Best Things I Never Wrote: Quote of the Day, #4

Filed under: Quotes of the Day,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:28 pm

Donald M. Murray on the importance of a writer’s voice …

“Voice allows the reader to hear an individual human being speak from the page. Good writing always has a strong and appropriate voice. Voice is the quality, more than any other, that allows us to recognize exceptional potential in a beginning writer; voice is the quality, more than any other, that allows us to recognize excellent writing. We respond to voice when we hear it. Voice gives the text individuality, energy, concern.

“Voice is, of course, closely allied to style or tone, but I prefer the term ‘voice’ for it seems more accurate and more helpful for the beginner. However we discuss style, it seems to get related to fashion. Style sounds like something you buy off the shelf. It is made by someone else and changes with the season. The term ‘style’ encourages the misconception that writing is inherently dishonest, that the writer has to say what someone else wants the writer to say in manner appropriate to someone else. But good writing is honest – honest in what is said and how it is said.”

Donald M. Murray in A Writer Teaches Writing: Revised Second Edition (Heinle, 2004). An appreciation of Murray, who died in December, was posted on this blog on January 1, 2007, and is archived with the posts for that month.

January 27, 2007

The Best Things I Never Wrote: Quote of the Day, #3

Filed under: Books,Classics,Essays and Reviews,Quotes of the Day,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:03 pm

Anatole Broyard on nostalgia in American literature …

“It is one of the paradoxes of American literature that our writers are forever looking back with love and nostalgia at lives they couldn’t wait to leave.”

Anatole Broyard in “Mulchpile to Megalopolis,” which appeared in Aroused by Books (New York: Random House, 1974), a collection of book reviews that originally appeared in the New York Times from 1971–1973 when he was a staff critic.

Comment by Janice Harayda:

Broyard wrote this before the boom in what Joyce Carol Oates has called “pathography,” or biography and autobiography that focus on the sordid. Do you think his comment is still true of some American writers? If so, whom?

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