One-Minute Book Reviews

July 15, 2008

Four ‘Classic’ Graphic Novels

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Graphic novels — which have been called “comic books on steroids” — aren’t always novels but include many kinds of book-length stories, memoirs among them. As a group, they’ve come into their own recently enough it’s too soon to call any of them classics. But four books are candidates for that status, a panel sponsored by the New York chapter of the Women’s National Book Association suggested:

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Mariner, 232 pp., $13.95, paperback), by Alison Bechdel. The creator of “Dykes to Watch Out for” comic strip writes about growing up in the 1960s and 1970s in rural Pennsylvania, where she realized that she was a lesbian and her troubled father was www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=689441.

La Perdida (Pantheon, 288 pp., $14.95, paperback), by Jessica Abel. A young American moves to Mexico City hoping to learn about her estranged father’s country in a book in which much of the dialogue is written in Spanish and translated or explained in a glossary www.jessicaabel.com/laperdida/?s=intro.

Maus (Pantheon, 106, $14.95, paperback), by Art Spiegelman. No graphic novel has earned more praise than this Pulitzer winner. Nazis are cats and Jews are mice in Spiegelman’s meditation on the experiences that shaped his father, a Jewish Holocaust survivor lambiek.net/artists/s/spiegelman.htm.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Pantheon, 160 pp., $10.95, paperback), by Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi uses small black-and-while panels similar to those of Persian miniatures to describe the often frightening experience of growing up in Iran just after the overthrow of the Shah www.randomhouse.com/pantheon/graphicnovels/satrapi2.html.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 31, 2008

More on ‘Pale Male,’ One of the Year’s Best Children’s Books

You can never predict the behavior of those wacky Caldecott judges at the American Library Association www.ala.org. These are the people who never gave a medal to Dr. Seuss! And instead insulted him with three Honor Book citations! What were those librarians thinking when they passed over Horton Hatches the Egg and so many other wonderful picture books? I have no idea and a lot of other critics don’t, either.

Even so, I went out on a limb a couple of weeks ago and predicted that the Caldecott committee will give serious consideration to Janet Schulman and Meilo So’s new picture book Pale Male (Knopf, $16.99), the true story of a red-tailed hawk that with its mate built a nest atop a luxury co-op building on Fifth Avenue www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/05/10/. The hawk had inspired a two earlier children’s books, Jeanette Winter’s The Tale of Pale Male: A True Story. (Harcourt, 2007) and Meghan McCarthy’s City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male (Simon & Schuster, 2007). Because I hadn’t seen them, I couldn’t discuss them in my review.

But John Schwartz read the earlier books before reviewing Pale Male for tomorrow’s New York Times Book Review. And he says that the 2007 books are intended for younger readers than the 6-to-9-year-olds who may enjoy Schulman and So’s work. He also says that while both have their pleasures, “Schulman tells the story of the city’s most popular predator since Michael Milken with more detail and verbal grace.”

Schwartz’s review has a much larger reproduction of one of So’s beautiful watercolors than I could show on this site, so if you’re on the fence about the book, you may want to read the review here www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/books/review/Schwartz-t.html?ref=books.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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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.

February 27, 2008

Does the Cover of ‘A Long Way’ Gone Show a Soldier in Niger or Another African Country Instead of Sierra Leone? Why Isn’t the Location Identified?

Filed under: Book Covers — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:50 pm
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Seeing red on the dust jacket of Ishmael Beah’s controversial book

Does anything strike you as odd about the photo on the cover of A Long Way Gone, the book that Ishmael Beah bills as a memoir of his years as a child solider in Sierra Leone? For months the picture puzzled me: Why was the young solider wearing a T-shirt in a shade of orange-red so bright, it would make him an easy target for an enemy?

The book says only that the picture was taken by Michael Kamber www.kamberphoto.com and came from the Polaris image bank www.polarisimages.com. And at first I suspected that an art director had changed the original color of the T-shirt to a bright orange-red so the cover would stand out more at stores.

But the more I looked at the cover, the more questions I had: Why hasn’t the young man’s T-shirt faded when his flip-flops are so tattered? Where was the picture taken? If it shows Sierra Leone, why doesn’t the cover say so?

It occurred to me that the soldier might be wearing an orange-red T-shirt for the same nationalistic reasons that the Marines wear their blue, white and red dress uniforms. But the colors of Sierra Leone flag don’t include orange or red – they’re blue, green and white. And the colors of another West African country, Niger, are the colors of the young soldier’s T-shirt and flip-flops – dark orange and green. Soldiers in Niger seized control of the government in 1996 after the ouster of the president Mahamane Ousmane, and Human Rights Watch has called on both government and rebel forces to end abuses against civilians that have occurred in a more recent conflict www.hrw.org/english/docs/2007/12/19/niger17623.htm.

Publishers don’t have to tell you more about stock photos than Beah’s book does. Still, wouldn’t you like know how this one found its way onto the cover of A Long Way Gone?

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

February 26, 2008

Rating the Cover of ‘A Long Way Gone’ – Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Book Covers — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:24 pm
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Update, 5 p.m. Yes, I still plan to rate the cover today, Wednesday. The post should be up in an hour or so. Thanks for your patience. Jan

You could argue that the cover of A Long Way Gone doesn’t matter, given all the other concerns that have been raised about the credibility of this book by a man who claims to have spent two years as a child soldier in Africa. But book covers always matter in the sense that what you wear on a job interview matters. They’re part of what’s become known in the age of Facebook as “impression management.” So tomorrow One-Minute Book Reviews will consider the cover of A Long Way Gone in the next of its occasional series of posts that rate book covers on their artistry and accuracy in representing the text. You’ll find other posts in the “Book Covers” category at right. This site welcomes comments from booksellers, librarians, graphic designers and others whose perspectives on book covers may differ from those of literary critics.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 11, 2007

Gifts for Readers — Hobbit Poster From the Bodleian Library at Oxford

[I’m tossing in a few extra posts this week with suggested gifts for readers. Again, no kickbacks from their sellers. These are just gifts that I like and help to support libraries or other friends of books. Today’s review appears in the post below this one.]

Most book posters are artless enough to appeal only to fans of the titles they promote. Not this handsome poster published by the Bodleian Library at Oxford University for an exhibit marking the 50th anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in 1987. The poster shows one of Tolkien’s drawings for the first edition of the novel, depicting the scene “Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves.” It has the dates of the exhibit and sells for 5.95 pounds (about $12) at Bodleian Library Shop Online shop.bodley.ox.ac.uk/acatalog/index.html. The shop has other Hobbit posters and literary gifts, including cards imprinted with quotations from Shakespeare or reproductions of the covers of Victorian gardening books owned by the library. A related gift: The Hobbit: 70th Anniversary Edition (Houghton Mifflin, $25) www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com, just published in the U.S., which has Tolkien’s original drawings and an introduction by Christopher Tolkien.

Drawing: (c) The Trustees of the Tolkien Estate 2005.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 4, 2007

No Salute for the Cover of ‘Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say’

The latest in a series of occasional posts that rate the covers of books reviewed on this site

By Janice Harayda

One of the delights of the syndicated Miss Manners etiquette column is that it has always had a distinctive voice – a bit arch and Victorian yet also witty and commonsensical. You would never know it from the covers of some of its companion books.

Martin’s advice finds a deft balance between the ideals of two eras – the years before and after the upheavals of the 1960s, which swept away many traditional etiquette rules. You see that trait clearly in the cover of Miss Manners’ Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium (Fireside, 1990), which shows of a photo of a fountain pen next to a personal digital assistant. The title floats above them in the John Hancock-ish script that is Martin’s trademark. And the harmonious coexistence of the quasi-archaic font and sleek PDA reflects her style perfectly.

You can’t say that for the cover of the more recent Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say (Crown, 1998), part of her “Basic Training” series. The regimental stripes seem intended to carry out the mild joke in the title – Martin as a drill sergeant sending you to the boot camp. This is too clever and clashes with her tone. Martin isn’t the John Wayne of etiquette so much as its strict but benevolent headmistress. Worse, the colors of the cover – especially that stop-sign yellow – are shrill, which she isn’t. And on a lunch-hour dash through Borders, who would stop to read a nine-line subtitle in white-on-navy-blue reverse type?

Why does a writer with such a steady voice come across on her covers as a teenager who doesn’t know whether she wants to wear a lemon-meringue prom dress or a flak jacket to the party? Well into her career as an author, Martin moved from Simon & Schuster to the Crown imprint of Random House, which gave her a new look. The mismatch may have extended beyond her covers. Martin’s latest book, Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated, written with Gloria Kamen, was published by Norton www.wwnorton.com.

If you’re interested in book covers, check out Rekya’s Bookshelf www.rekya.blogspot.com, a site that focuses book design. It has a great blogroll with links to many good book-design sites and designers’ portfolios.

The review of Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say appeared on Nov. 21, 2007, before a second post on Cyber Hymnal that appeared the same day. To read it, click here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/21/.

All cover reviews on this site consider not just aesthetics but how well the cover reflects the contents of the book. That’s why the cover reviews don’t appear until after the review has been posted (or, if I have only a line or two to say, in the section of extra material that follows the review, not in the body of the review). These reviews aren’t just about design but about truth in publishing.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 5, 2007

A Closer Look at a Florentine Treasure, Ghiberti’s Glorious Baptistery Doors — In a New Book and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Filed under: Art,Coffee Table Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:43 pm
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A great exhibit comes with a handsome companion volume

By Janice Harayda

On, joy and rapture unforeseen! On Saturday I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the new show of bronze reliefs from the doors for the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence, created by Lorenzo Ghiberti over a 27-year period in the mid-15th century. And when I’m counting my cultural blessings for the year, I can stop right there with a profit.

The exhibit displays only 3 of the 10 bronze reliefs from the doors that depict Old Testament scenes, a jewel of the Renaissance. But the show is so rich — in beauty and interpretation — that it might change your view of one or two of the subjects of the reliefs: Adam and Eve, Jacob and Esau, and David and Goliath. Did you remember that David beheaded Goliath after he smote him with his slingshot? You’re unlike to forget it if you view the panel about them. The New York Times‘s critic was right when she said in a recent review that this show almost makes you feel sorry for Goliath.

One of the remarkable aspects of the exhibit is that Ghiberti’s craftsmanship is so precise, you can see the use of high, middle and low relief in the same panel — a technique I haven’t seen shown as clearly anywhere else. You may be able to get a sense of this if you enlarge the book cover at right, which shows a detail from the Adam and Eve panel. At the bottom center you see God (looking like many artistic representations of Jesus) creating Eve from Adam’s rib in middle relief. At the top center you see another image of God — in a hat, looking down on Creation — surrounded by angels in low relief. Another scene in the Adam and Eve panel, which you can’t see, shows God in high relief.

I couldn’t afford the handsome companion volume to the show that the Met was selling, The Gates of Paradise: Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Renaissance Masterpiece/High Museum of Art Series (Yale University Press, 184 pp., $45) www.yale.edu/yup/, edited by Gary M. Radke, a professor of humanities at Syracuse University. But this is a book to check out at your local bookstore or an online retailer if your holiday gift list includes a lover of art, architecture, Italy or the Renaissance. Better still, go to the Met www.metmuseum.org and take a look at the book after you’ve seen the show, also called “The Gates of Paradise.” You have until January 13.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 24, 2007

Is This a Good Book Cover or Bad? A Review of the Cover of ‘Different Like Coco’ Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews

You see hundreds or thousands of book covers — at least in your peripheral vision — every time you enter a bookstore or library, and they probably influence what you pick up and maybe buy or take to the checkout desk. But how much do you really know about why they work or don’t work?

Last week I wrote about why Katha Pollitt’s new essay collection, Learning to Drive, is a good book with a cover that doesn’t serve it well (Oct. 16 and 17). Tomorrow I’ll consider the cover of Elizabeth Matthews’s picture book about Coco Chanel for ages 4 and up, Different Like Coco, which I reviewed on Oct. 21 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/21/ and also liked. This book is undoubtedly one that the judges for the 2008 Caldecott Medal will look at when they meet to select the winners in January, partly because there are so few good picture-book biographies for children under age 9 that the American Library Association www.ala.org rarely has a chance to honor them. What might the Caldecott committee say? Good cover or bad? Can you give three reasons why the cover works or doesn’t? Check back tomorrow to see if your reasons agree with mine.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 14, 2007

What’s in a Book Cover? New on One-Minute Book Reviews

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When critics get together, they never say, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” If you get more than 500 books a week from publishers — as the editors of major book-review sections do – you know that a cover can tell you a lot. It can tell you whether a book technothriller (look for the metallic Stealth bomber) or a romance novel (look for the bare-chested man with hair longer than yours) and whether a book is a Library of America edition of a classic (black and white) or a “Complete Idiot’s Guide” to the Bible or Tantric sex (orange and white). And covers are becoming more important as the publishing industry becomes ever-more market-driven.

So there’s a new section called “Cover Story” at the end of some reviews on One-Minute Book Reviews that comments on especially strong or weak covers. The first dealt with the cover of Rebecca Gowers’s first novel, When to Walk www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/02/. These occasional remarks follow the reviews — instead of appearing in the text — because authors typically have little or no control over their covers. If the writers are lucky, publishers will listen to their views about them. But often they are unlucky. Do you think that the authors of books marketed to women really like those pink covers that publishers put on so many of them?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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