One-Minute Book Reviews

February 10, 2010

Last Call for Nominations for the 2010 Delete Key Awards for Bad Writing in Books

Filed under: Delete Key Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:43 pm
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Which recent books should appear a TV show called CSI: Grammar Cop? Or Law & Order: Psychobabble Unit? Finalists for the Fourth Annual Delete Key Awards for bad writing in books will be announced on Feb. 25, 2010, on One-Minute Book Reviews and on Jan Harayda’s Twitter page (@janiceharayda). The prizes recognize literary sins such as clichés, dumbing-down, bad grammar, pomposity and overall incoherence.

To nominate one or more lines from a book published in hardcover or paperback in 2009, please leave a comment by Feb. 17, or send an e-mail message to the address on the “Contact” page. You can learn more about the prizes from Questions and Answers about the Delete Key Awards. To read past winners, click on “Delete Key Awards” at the top of this post.

December 8, 2009

At Last, Someone Is Naming the WORST Books of the Decade

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:06 pm
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Which Mitch Albom novel are YOU going to nominate?: The Guardian is asking for suggestions for the worst books of decade. If you need ideas, you might want to look at the lists of the winners of the Delete Key Awards given out annually on One-Minute Book Reviews.

November 30, 2009

Jonathan Littell Wins 2009 Bad Sex in Fiction Award — Read All the Shortlisted Passages Here

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Is it a coincidence that the winner of annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award is typically named in England at about the time Americans are thinking of turkeys? If so, the judges aren’t saying, but the Literary Review in the U.K. announced today that Jonathan Littell has taken top honors this year for a passage from The Kindly Ones, which defeated work by Philip Roth, Paul Theroux, Amos Oz and others. You can read Littell’s winner and all the shortlisted passages here.

November 22, 2009

Does Sarah Palin Deserve a Delete Key Award for Bad Writing for ‘Going Rogue’?

Filed under: Delete Key Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:57 pm
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The Delete Key Awards have shown through finalists James McGreevey and Newt Gingrich that neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on bad writing. Should a politician make the 2010 shortlist due out in February? I haven’t read Going Rogue, but reviews suggest that it could be a candidate. Does Sarah Palin deserve to become a finalist for a Delete Key Award for bad writing in books? If you’d like to nominate a line from Going Rogue or another book by a politician, please use the address on the “Contact” page on this site or send an message on Twitter to @janiceharayda that includes the sentence or keywords from it.

November 18, 2009

Philips Roth Makes 2009 Bad Sex Award Shortlist for ‘The Humbling’ – Jonathan Lethem’s ‘Chronic City’ Is Spared

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An aging actor converts a lesbian to heterosexuality in a finalist by the author of Portnoy’s Complaint

An “eye-watering” scene that involves a green dildo won Philip Roth a spot on the shortlist for the 2009 Bad Sex in fiction award, given by Great Britain’s Literary Review. The prize is intended to draw attention to and discourage “the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description” in books other than pornography and erotica.

A Guardian story about the shortlist said:

“The Pulitzer prize-winning Roth makes the line-up for The Humbling, in which the ageing actor Simon converts Pegeen, a lesbian, to heterosexuality. The Literary Review singled out a scene in which Simon and Pegeen pick up a girl from a bar and convince her to take part in a threesome. Simon looks on as Pegeen uses her green dildo to great effect.”

The Guardian story has the names of all the finalists, who include Paul Theroux for A Dead Hand and Amos Oz for Rhyming Life and Death. Oz is an Israeli novelist who was widely seen as a frontrunner for the 2009 Nobel Prize. The judges spared the latest novel by Jonathan Lethem, the subject of an earlier post (“Is Jonathan Lethem Courting a 2009 Bad Sex Award With These Lines From Chronic City?“). The winner of the prize will be announced on Nov. 30 at London’s In & Out Club.

October 12, 2009

A Review of Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’ – The Copycat Cover Isn’t The Only Thing It Has in Common With ‘The Secret’

Filed under: Mysteries and Thrillers,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:09 am
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Spoiler Warning! Please stop here if you don’t want to read about the ending of this novel or to hear more about the “massive sex organ” mentioned in yesterday’s post.

The Lost Symbol: A Novel. By Dan Brown. Doubleday, 509 pp., $29.95.

By Janice Harayda

Were the publishers of The Lost Symbol so worried about its sales that they tried to steal some of the thunder of The Secret, the bestselling nonfiction book of 2007? The covers of both books show lit-from-behind crimson wax seals against a background that looks like parchment with cryptic markings. And the similarities don’t end there.

Dan Brown’s first novel since The Da Vinci Code is the book we might get if Rhonda Byrne turned to fiction, a mishmash of New Age mysticism and scientific half-truths. Both The Lost Symbol and The Secret hinge on the idea that ancient secrets can transform the lives of people who are enlightened enough to hear them. Byrne calls her “secret” the “law of attraction,” the theory that your thoughts can manipulate physical reality: diseases, lottery tickets, your bank account. She quotes the “personal empowerment advocate” Lisa Nichols: “When you think of the things you want, and you focus on them with all of your intention, then the law of attraction will give you exactly what you want, every time.”

Brown doesn’t mention the “law of attraction” in The Lost Symbol but draws on noetic theory — which he calls noetic “science” — a realm of metaphysics that deals with forms of consciousness typically ignored by mainstream science. And the characters in the novel often sound like Byrne. The plot involves efforts by Harvard professor Robert Langdon to find the wealthy Peter Solomon, a kidnapped Washington, D.C., Mason who speaks of “secrets that transcend your wildest imagination.”

But no one sounds more like Byrne than Peter’s sister, Katherine, who plays Lois Lane to Langdon’s Clark Kent. Brown says that Katherine’s research had proved “that ‘focused thought’ could affect literally anything” — the growth rate of plants, the direction in which fish swam. “Katherine had created beautifully symmetrical ice crystals by sending loving thoughts to a glass of water as it froze.” Katherine agrees. “I have witnessed people transform cancer cells into healthy cells simply by thinking about them,” she says. And: “Our brains, if used correctly, can call forth powers that are quite literally superhuman.” Langdon realizes as he listens to Katherine: “Human thought can literally transform the world.”

All of this has at least one problem that The Secret does: The writing might make you think warmly of Jacqueline Susann, Harold Robbins and all other writers who, bad as they were, at least didn’t italicize every passage written in the free indirect style.  Brown says of the man who has kidnapped Peter Solomon and chopped off his hand:

“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 had been his source of carnal pleasure. But no longer.”

Let’s leave aside that the first sentence in that passage says there were two “archways” and second says that there was one. Let’s also ignore that unless the man had no scrotum, more than one sex organ was hanging beneath his “archways of mystical power.” And let’s overlook that this passage is as purple as – well, do you need to be told? Apart from all of it, the mention of that “heavy shaft” is one of those “gratuitous” sexual details that actually is gratuitous instead of just offensive to some tastes: The size of that “massive sex organ” has nothing to do with the plot. The man never uses for its intended purposes, and if it had once been his “source of carnal pleasure,” it would also have been his “source of carnal pleasure” if it had been smaller.

The Secret has writing that, in its own way, is as bad. But The Lost Symbol has another problem that relates to its function as a potboiler. Thrillers often begin slowly and gain speed as the bodies pile up. The Lost Symbol has the opposite problem: It starts briskly but loses momentum and crawls through its last third. The slowdown occurs in part because Brown has the literary equivalent of a stutter: He can’t stop repeating himself. It also occurs because he’s cross-purposes with himself: He can’t decide whether he’s writing a thriller, a lecture, a homily, a defense of Freemasonry, or a tourist brochure.

Brown gives you hundreds of pages about codes, ciphers, symbols, cryptograms, pictographs, and New Age arcana that you expect ultimately to snap into place like the solid colors on the faces of a Rubik’s cube. But the ending washes out. The Lost Symbol doesn’t build toward an ingenious final twist – as good thrillers typically do – but to a message you might hear from a football player pointing toward the sky in the moments after his team won the Super Bowl. On the next-to-last page, Brown writes, “Nothing is hidden that will not be made known; nothing is secret that will not come to light.” Rhonda Byrne couldn’t have said it better.

Best line: “’Google’ is not a synonym for ‘research.’”

Worst line: See the Sept. 24 post “Dan Brown’s 5 Worst Lines From ‘The Lost Symbol” and the Oct. 6 post on “The Dan Brown Chuckle Meter”. A few more worst lines: No. 1: “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.” No. 2: “Wearing only a silken loincloth wrapped around his buttocks and neutered sex organ, Mal’akh began his preparations.” No. 3: “Twelve are the signs of the zodiac. Twelve are the hours of the day.” No. 4: “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.”

Editor: Jason Kaufman

Published: September 15, 2009

Furthermore: You may also want to read the Sept. 29 post, “Is The Lost Symbol ‘Offensive’ to Christianity?”

About the author: Brown’s other Robert Langdon novels are Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

September 24, 2009

Dan Brown’s 5 Worst Lines From ‘The Lost Symbol’

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The critic stood with her arms folded, her eyes locked skeptically on the librarian at the checkout desk as she processed what he had just told her. “Somebody called and said he didn’t want the copy of The Lost Symbol that he had reserved? So I moved mysteriously to the top of the waiting list … as if by an unseen power?”

The librarian shrugged weakly as he handed her a copy of the novel that had sold two million copies in a week. The critic realized that others would have to wait a day or two for her review of a 508-page book to have its measurable effect on the physical world.

Still, her eye fell on a few lines that struck her as suspicious. With force that startled even herself, she couldn’t help but play a very dangerous game and formulate her responses:

1. Chapter 16, page 84: “The OS director’s voice was unmistakable – like gravel grating on a chalkboard.”

How did the gravel get on the chalkboard? Did somebody throw the gravel at it?  Or pave it?

2. Chapter 16, page 65: “He looked more like someone Anderson would expect to find hearthside in some Ivy League library reading Dostoyevsky.”

Hey, kids! Be sure to ask to see the fireplaces in the Harvard and Yale libraries on those campus tours! Soot is great for all those rare books.

3. Chapter 89, page 332: “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.

4. Chapter 96, page 357: 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.

5. Chapter 28, page 119: “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 compass you see in some crypts.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 22, 2009

Dan Brown’s Worst Lines — 20 Bad Sentences From ‘The Lost Symbol,’ ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Angels and Demons’

Do critics unfairly malign Dan Brown’s writing? You’ll be able to judge for yourself when I list the best and worst lines from The Lost Symbol in my forthcoming review, which will appear after my name makes it to the top the reserve list at the library. In the meantime Tom Chivers selected the 20 worst lines from Dan Brown’s novels for a story for the Telegraph in England.

Yes, Chivers found a qualifying sentence from The Lost Symbol. But his two best choices appear below. The lines from Brown’s books are italicized and Chivers’s comments follow in a Roman font.

Angels and Demons, chapter 100: Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers glorified the four major rivers of the Old World – The Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio Plata.

“The Rio de la Plata. Between Argentina and Uruguay. One of the major rivers of the Old World. Apparently.

“The Da Vinci Code, chapter 5: Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop’s ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué.

“A keen eye indeed.”

Will lines like these qualify Brown for one of the 2010 Delete Key Awards for bad writing in books, given annually to authors who don’t use their delete keys enough? Find out in late Feburary when the shortlist will appear and on March 15, 2010, when this site will announce the winners.

September 6, 2009

5 Ways Not to Begin a Blog Post — ‘Loser Leads’ Nobody Needs

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Nobody dumps Gatorade on the writing coaches at newspapers who try to help reporters turn out sparkling prose as the apocalypse looms. But Jack Hart, a former managing editor at the Oregonian, seems to have deserved that treatment.

Hart drew on decades of working with reporters for his exemplary A Writer’s Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Work (Anchor, 304 pp., $13.95, paper), a book that seeks to demystify a dozen aspects of good writing — clarity, brevity, voice, color, structure, rhythm and more. And some of his advice would have no less value for bloggers, novelists and corporate memo-writers.

Take Hart’s section on “loser leads,” soporific first sentences that risk turning an entire story into a cliché. Dick Thein, a copyediting expert, compiled list of offenders, or emaciated beginnings that won’t help a post or short story or any more than a newspaper article.

Hart quotes some of them:

The ‘good news, bad news’ lead:
“The good news is that online classes have begun. The bad news is that most students don’t have computers.

The ‘that’s what’ lead:
“Some leads are easier to write than others. That’s what 15 reporters participating in an online seminar said Monday.

The ‘thanks-to’ lead:
“Thanks to Bug Pagel, the supermarket chain considers customer convenience first and sales second.

The one-word lead (variation of ‘that’s what’):
“Cynical.
“That’s what most people think journalists are.

“The ‘I fooled you’ lead:
“Sex, drugs, and booze. That’s not what you’ll find in newsrooms today, said Kent Clark, managing editor of the Metropolis Daily Planet.

A Writer’s Coach has ten pages on loser and other leads, and the rest of the book is similarly direct and useful. An excerpt from the introduction appears on the Anchor Books site.

What lead would you like to see journalists and bloggers lose?

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda and www.janiceharayda.com

August 20, 2009

Dr. Phil Admits, ‘I May Not Be the Sharpest Pencil in the Box’ in ‘Love Smart: Find the One You Want — Fix the One You Got’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:15 am
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Love Smart was one of 10 finalists in the 2007 Delete Key Awards contest, which recognizes the year’s worst writing in books. Dr. Phil lost to Danielle Steel (grand-prize winner), Mitch Albom (first runner-up) and Claire Messud (second runner-up). This review appeared in February 2007.

Love Smart: Find the One You Want – Fix the One You Got. By Dr. Phil McGraw. Free Press, 283 pp., $15, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Help me, please, with the math in Dr. Phil McGraw’s relationship guide for women. First the talk-show host says that to attract a worthy man, you need to feel confident enough to take your “fair share of time in most conversations – 50 percent in a twosome, 33 percent in a threesome, and so forth.” Then he says that when you’re dating: “Self-disclosure should be used only 25 percent of the time. The other 75 percent should be listening.” So which is it? Should you be talking 50 percent of the time or 25 percent?

I have no idea, because McGraw doesn’t say how he got those figures, and his book is full of mush like this. Love Smart is one of those self-help guides that has LOTS OF LARGE TYPE. It also has exclamation points! More than two dozen in the first seven pages! That doesn’t count the one in the first paragraph of the acknowledgments! But I’ll say this for McGraw: He is equally patronizing to women and men. He reduces them both 1950s stereotypes given a 21st-century gloss with advice on Internet dating and quotes from celebrities like Dave Barry and Rita Rudner.

Much of his advice retools the kind of messages Bridget Jones got from her mother. First, stop being so picky. Of course, McGraw doesn’t use that word. He urges you to settle for “Mr. 80 Percent.” Then forget what you may have heard from other experts about how there are more differences between any one man and woman than between the sexes as a whole.

“I’ve got news for you: Men and women are different,” McGraw says. A lot of men have a “caveman” mentality that requires a “bag’em, tag’em, bring’em home” approach. This method includes more of the kind of advice your mother – or maybe grandmother – gave you. McGraw doesn’t come right out and say you should “save yourself for your husband.” But he does suggest you hold sex “in reserve” until a man has made “the ultimate commitment”: “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?” It doesn’t seem to have occurred to McGraw that some women might not appreciate being compared to cows.

The most bizarre section of Love Smart consists of its list of the “top 31 places” to meet men. No. 1 and 2 on the list are “your church or temple” and “batting cages.” You might meet men at those batting cages. But the U.S. Congregational Life Survey found that the typical American churchgoer is a 50-year old married female. So what are the criteria here? Sheer numbers of the other sex? Or compatibility with your values? The list makes no more sense than most of the other material in Love Smart. Earlier in the book, McGraw begins an account of a disagreement with his wife by saying, “Now I may not be the sharpest pencil in the box …” Why didn’t somebody tell Oprah?

Best line: The comedian Rita Rudner says, “To attract men I wear a perfume called New Car Interior.” Love Smart also has some zingers that women have used to insult men, such as, “He has delusions of adequacy.”

Worst line: McGraw never uses one cliché when he can use three or four, 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.”

Editor: Dominick Anfuso

Published: December 2006

To read more about the Delete Key Awards, click on the “Delete Key Awards” tag at the top of this post or the “Delete Key Awards” category at right. To read more about the creator of the awards, click on “About Janice Harayda.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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