One-Minute Book Reviews

March 7, 2008

National Book Critics Circle Award Reality Check: ‘Brother, I’m Dying’

Filed under: African American,Book Awards,Memoirs — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 6:53 pm
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Do literary prizes always go to deserving authors? One-Minute Book Reviews considers the question in “Reality Check,” a series of occasional posts on books shortlisted for high-profile awards. A recent installment considered Edwidge Danticat’s memoir of an uncle who died while in custody of U.S. immigration officials, Brother, I’m Dying www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/01/02/. then a finalist for a 2007 National Book Award. The book has since won the National Book Critics Circle award for autobiography www.bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com. A “Reality Check” post on the NBCC poetry winner, Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy, will appear next week.

(c) Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Junot Díaz Wins NBCC Fiction Award – Danticat Gets Autobiography Prize – Other Winners Are Ross, Bang, Jeal and Washington

Filed under: Book Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:38 am
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Junot Díaz has won the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction for his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead). Other books that won prizes in the March 6 ceremony in Manhattan are: General nonfiction, Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present (Doubleday); Biography, Tim Jeal’s Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer (Yale University Press); Autobiography, Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying (Knopf); Poetry, Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy (Graywolf); and Criticism, Alex Ross’s The Rest Is Noise (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).The NBCC awards are one of the top three literary honors in the U.S. along with the National Book Awards and the Pulitzer Prizes. They are given annually by the 800-member association of American book critics.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto’s Memoir, ‘Daughter of Destiny’

Benazir Bhutto’s Daughter of Destiny (Simon & Schuster, 1989) was one of the most remarkable memoirs I reviewed An Autobiographyduring my 11 years as the book editor of the Plain Dealer. I was especially struck by how calmly Bhutto speaks in the book of being tortured by the regime of Zia ul-Haq, which kept her at first under house arrest and then imprisoned. Among the methods of torture she endured: She was strung up by her feet and beaten until she lost consciousness (and writes in the book about what a blessed relief it was finally to black out).

Many people may have wondered how Bhutto could have returned to Pakistan from her recent exile when the situation was so dangerous for her. Anyone who has read Daughter of Destiny knows part of the answer, if not all of it: It is not just that she had extraordinary courage but that, in a sense, she had endured worse than death.

My Plain Dealer review of Daughter of Destiny isn’t online, so I can’t link to it. But here’s a brief but fair review of the book that I agree with:

http://www.foreignaffairs.org/19890601fabook7586/benazir-bhutto/daughter-of-destiny.html

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 4, 2007

Pascal Khoo Thwe’s Award-Winning Memoir of Terror in Myanmar, ‘From the Land of Green Ghosts’

A remarkable memoir in the spirit of Infidel and A Long Way Gone

From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey. By Pascal Khoo Thwe. Foreword by John Casey. HarperPerennial, 304 pp., $13.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Pascal Khoo Thwe once hoped to become “the first Burmese saint.” Instead he took up arms against a military regime that murdered his girlfriend, then tried to kill him. With government agents on his trail, he fled into the jungle and escaped with the help of John Casey, a professor at Cambridge University whom he had met by chance at a restaurant in Mandalay where he worked as a waiter. It is hard to say which is the greater miracle — that he survived such terrors or that he has written such an eloquent memoir about them. Atheists may find their lack of belief tested by this award-winning book, an astounding story of courage and faith in a divine providence that ultimately seemed fully justified.

From the Land of Green Ghosts in some ways resembles Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel. But it is a better book than either, because it raises fewer questions about its author’s memory or credibility. First published in 2002, Khoo Thwe’s story has gained fresh interest since mass demonstrations against the military dictatorship in Myanmar began in August and thrust the country’s human-rights abuses back into the news. HarperCollins has posted a reading group guide to the book, an outstanding choice for reading groups, at www.harpercollins.com.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 24, 2007

Winners on the Field, Losers in Hardcover — Why Are So Many Books by Star Athletes So Awful? Quote of the Day (Jane Leavy)

Why do so many bad books come from good athletes? Jane Leavy, left, a former sportswriter for the Washington Post, says:

“Sports autobiography is a peculiar genre: ghostwritten fiction masquerading as fact. In the literature of sports, truth has always been easier to tell in fiction – Peter Gent’s North Dallas Forty and Dan Jenkins’s Semi-Tough are among the best examples. It wasn’t until Jim Brosnan’s The Long Season and Jim Bouton’s Ball Four that a semirealistic view of the baseball locker room emerged between hard covers. The authorized life stories of America’s greatest athletes form an oeuvre of mythology. What are myths if not as-told-to stories?”

Jane Leavy in Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy (HarperCollins, 2002) www.harpercollins.com. Sandy Koufax, the great pitcher for the Dodgers, earned a second fame when he refused to pitch the opening game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. Far more than many contemporary stars, he is a worthy hero for young athletes, and Leavy’s book is a good starting point for teenagers and others who want to know more about him.

Comment:
Leavy is right that sports memoirs are a cesspool of journalism. But the reasons for it are changing in the era of what Joyce Carol Oates has called “pathography,” or biography that focuses on the pathological. Mickey Mantle and other vanished titans might have nodded in their memoirs to old idea that hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue. But more recent stars, like Lawrence Taylor and Dennis Rodman, have used their books to flaunt their vices until you might welcome a little hypocrisy. The fashionable theme in sports memoirs today is, “Yo, virtue! You’re history.”

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

October 5, 2007

One-Sentence Reviews of Nonfiction Recently Featured on This Site

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:26 am
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No time to plow through David Halberstam’s 736-page book the Korean War? Or even Alan Greenspan’s 544-page justification of his economic policies? Here are one-sentence reviews of other nonfiction books recently featured on this site. A link to the full review follows each description. Click on the “Books in a Sentence” category at right for one-line reviews of fiction and poetry.

Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland. By Mark Kreidler. One of the year’s best sports books brings unexpected drama and poignancy to an Iowa state high school wrestling championship and its emotional impact on two favored competitors and their families, coaches, teammates and fans. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/07/.

Fowl Weather (Books I Didn’t Finish). By Bob Tarte. A Michigan writer’s memoir of life with 39 birds, ducks, geese, rabbits, cats, rabbits and other creatures, which didn’t live up to its billing as a book with a “Dave Barry on a farm” sensibility. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/28/.

Here’s the Bright Side: Of Failure, Fear, Cancer, Divorce, and Other Bum Raps. By Betty Rollin. Illustrations by Jules Feiffer. Saccharine-sweetened mush from a former NBC correspondent who argues that “within each form of misery” there is “a hidden prize waiting to be found” but draws so few distinctions between, say, the pain of someone rejected by Harvard and a fourth-degree burn victim that it would be cruel to give this book to some people who are in physical or emotional pain. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/21/.

How to Become Ridiculously Well-Read in One Evening: A Collection of Literary Encapsulations. Compiled and Edited by E.O. Parrott. Classic works of lit / Reduced quite a bit / In poems and prose / As fun overflows. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/20/.

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. By Barbara Brown Taylor. An Episcopal priest tells why she left the parish ministry in a book that offers a rare portrait of the day-to-day challenges the clergy (including, in this case, a request from a woman who called to say: “Martha is sitting on the toilet and we are out of toilet paper. If I came over right now, could you write me a check to the grocery store so she can get up?”). www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/10/.

Looking for Class: Days and Nights at Oxford and Cambridge. By Bruce Feiler. The host of the popular PBS series Walking the Bible remembers his jolly good time in graduate school at Cambridge University in the 1990s (which, despite his title, gets far more space than Oxford). (Briefly noted.) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/22/.

Love You, Mean It. A True Story of Love, Loss, and Friendship. By Patricia Carrington, Julia Collins, Claudia Gerbasi, and Ann Haynes with Eve Charles. Sept. 11 anniversary re-post of an earlier review of a memoir by four 9/11 widows, who talk about the coping in the aftermath of tragedy. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/11/.

The Scorpion’s Sweet Venom: The Diary of a Brazilian Call Girl. By Bruna Surfistinha/Raquel Pacheco. Interviewed by Jorge Tarquini. Translated by Alison Entrekin. Raquel Pacheco writes about as well as Henry James would have run a brothel in this memoir of her experiences as teenage prostitute who became notorious for blogging about her clients. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/26/.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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