One-Minute Book Reviews

February 4, 2008

The OTHER Book About Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone

Did you love Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone so much that you want to read something else like it no matter how many questions have been raised about parts of the book by people like me? Or would you just like to read more about child soldiers in Sierra Leone? You can.

A discussion about Beah’s memoir on Speakeasy/The Australian Writer’s Marketplace has a fascinating comment by Detmar Stone about Delia Jarrett-Macauley’s novel about child soldiers in Sierra Leone, Moses, Citizen and Me (Granta, 2005), which won the Orwell Prize for political writing. Stone had a sense of déjà vu after reading Beah’s book:

“ … the Jarrett [novel] had a Shakespeare-spouting and performing field guerrilla commander in it and when I then read the Ishmael Beah there’s what looks like exactly the same character! I mean how many Shakespeare-performing guerrillas were there out there in the wars then, let alone guerrillas performing the same plays to child soldiers….. SPOOKY or what?”

I haven’t read Moses, Citizen and Me, but the publisher says this about the novel:

“When Julia flies in to war-scarred Sierra Leone from London, she is apprehensive about seeing her uncle Moses for the first time in twenty years. But nothing could have prepared her for her encounter with her eight-year-old cousin, Citizen, a former child soldier, and for the shocking truth of what he has done.

“Driven by a desire to understand Citizen, Julia takes the disturbed child into the rainforest, where to her surprise, she encounters him amongst other child soldiers, along with a mysterious storyteller … He alone in the heart of the rainforest can heal the rift between the cultures of war and peace, Europe and Africa. But who would think he’d use Shakespeare to do it?”

There’s more about Moses, Citizen and Me on the site for Granta www.granta.com and on that of Jarrett-Macauley deliajarrettmacauley.com, who lives in England and is the daughter of Sierra Leonean parents. You can read an interview with her on Bookslut at www.bookslut.com/features/2007_09_011638.php. And here’s where you’ll find Stone’s comments on Speakeasy blog.awmonline.com.au/2008/01/22/ishmael-beahs-memoir-a-long-way-gone-not-factually-correct/.

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

February 2, 2008

Newly Found Records Show That Ishmael Beah Was in School for Part of the Time When He Says He Was a Soldier, Australian Newspaper Reports

The Australian says that records recently found in a remote Sierra Leone schoolhouse show that Ishmael Beah was in school for part of the time when he says he was a soldier. Peter Wilson, a reporter for the newspaper, writes in an article dated Feb. 2, 2008:

“The school results for March 1993 showed the popular author attended the Centennial Secondary School throughout the January-March term, a time when he claimed in his heartrending book A Long Way Gone that he was already roaming the countryside as a child refugee.

“Beah, his New York publisher Sarah Crichton Books and his Australian co-publisher HarperCollins have furiously denied reports by The Weekend Australian in recent weeks that have undermined the credibility of his highly profitable book …

“Beah, now 27, did spend some time as a child soldier during his country’s civil war, but it appears likely to have been a few months around the age of 15 rather than two years from the age of 13 that he vividly describes in his book.”

Read the rest of story here www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23147571-601,00.html.

In response to earlier questions about his memoir, Beah said: “I am right about my story. This is not something one gets wrong. … Sad to say, my story is all true” www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6524214.html%5E. The Australian disputed this in a statement posted by Publishers Weekly www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6525128.html. This week Beah stood by his story again in an interview with Hillel Italie of the Associated Press.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

http://www.janiceharayda.com

January 8, 2008

Backscratching in Our Time — Gina Kolata and Jerome Groopman

The latest in a series of posts on authors who praise each other’s work in a way that may have financial benefits for both

 

I usually post these examples of backscratching without comment, but this one is bad on so many levels, I’d like explain why. A pillar of journalistic ethics says that reporters should avoid not just conflicts of interest but the appearance of conflicts. Gina Kolata is a science writer for the New York Times who has used Groopman, a professor at Harvard Medical School and a bestselling author, as a source. As the comments below make clear, she accepted a favor from Groopman — the blurb for Rethinking Thin — that could put money in her pocket if, say, you bought the book based on his recommendation or if a paperback or overseas publisher paid more for the reprint rights because of the quote (and quotes can affect the amount offered). Kolata has compounded the problem by selecting one of Groopman’s essays for Best American Science Writing 2007, a decision that has almost certainly put money in his pocket, given that contributors to anthologies typically receive an up-front fee or a percentage of the royalties or both. She also used on the cover of the paperback edition of her earlier Flu a quote from Groopman that appeared in the Boston Globe, which is owned by the New York Times. It gives me no pleasure to say any of this because I enjoy Kolata’s work for the Times and regard it as far superior to that of her colleague Jane Brody, who writes the Personal Health column. I also admired much about Flu, Rethinking Thin and Groopman’s How Doctors Think www.oneminutebookreivews.wordpress.com/2007/12/28/.

 

Jerome Groopman on Gina Kolata

“Kolata is a seasoned reporter, and knows how to craft a riveting tale … a masterly recounting of medical history.”

Groopman in a review of Kolata’s Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic (Touchtone, $15, paperback) in the Boston Globe, Dec. 12. 1999. “A masterly recounting of medical history” appears on the cover of the paperback edition of Flu.

 

“An incisive, thought-provoking examination of a subject that concerns us all. This book will educate and illuminate those seeking solid information about the struggle to lose weight.”

Groopman in a blurb on the cover of Kolata’s new Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss — and the Myths and Realities of Dieting (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24)

Gina Kolata on Jerome Groopman

“I also liked Jerome Groopman’s New Yorker article, ‘Being There.’ It raises an issue I had never considered, and in an unforgettable way …”

Gina Kolata on why she choose Groopman’s article as one of the best of the year, in her introduction to Best American Science Writing 2007 (HarperPerennial, $14.95, paperback), edited by Kolata and Jesse Cohen.

One-Minute Book Reviews welcomes suggestions about authors should be in “Backscratching in Our Time,” a series in inspired by “Logrolling in Our Time” in the old Spy magazine.

© 200X Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 18, 2007

Novels by Junot Díaz and Alice Sebold Rank Among the Best and Worst of 2007, the Editors of New York Magazine Say in Year-End Wrap-Up

What’s the best novel of 2007? It’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz‘s tale of “a monstrously fat, occasionally suicidal Dominican-American ‘ghetto nerd,'” the editors of New York magazine say in a Dec. 17 article written by Sam Anderson. I haven’t read the novel, but there’s room for a bit of caution here: Last year the editors’ choices included Claire Messud‘s The Emperor’s Children, second runner-up in the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. But New York got it right that Alice Sebold‘s The Almost Moon stands out for badness even in a year in which “lots of big names underwhelmed us … Amis, DeLillo, Roth, Rowling.” Anderson faults the novel’s voice, pacing and characterization. He didn’t mention the fourth-grade reading level and almost comically off-key lines like: “This was not the first time I’d been face-to-face with my mother’s genitalia” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/12/03/.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 3, 2007

Alice Sebold’s Ghastly Scenes, Written at a Fourth-Grade Reading Level, Infest ‘The Almost Moon’

A woman with “control issues” murders her mother fantasizes about stuffing her in a freezer — “I should have stayed in therapy,” she admits – And you thought you had “control issues” because you alphabetize your CDs

The Almost Moon: A Novel. By Alice Sebold. Little, Brown, 291 pp., $24.99.

By Janice Harayda

Novelist Charlotte Moore eviscerated The Almost Moon in a review I recently quoted at length and agree with in most particulars. Yet even that review — brilliant as it was – didn’t suggest all the distasteful aspects of this novel about a 49-year-old woman who murders her mother and fantasizes about stuffing her in a freezer.

Moore rightly warned that “nasty revelations occur about once every ten pages, like the sex scenes in the Harold Robbins novels we used to pass round at boarding school.” But “nasty” may be a euphemism for the thoughts Helen Knightly has while cleaning her mother’s excrement-smeared corpse: “And there it was, the hole that had given birth to me.… This was not the first time I’d been face-to-face with my mother’s genitalia.” “Face-to-face” doesn’t seem quite the right phrase for those body parts, does it?

The Almost Moon reads like a Mitch Albom novel in reverse. Albom writes a third-grade reading level and Sebold at a fourth-grade level, according to the readability statistics on Microsoft Word. The difference is that The Almost Moon serves up grim pseudoprofundities instead of the saccharine ones in For One More Day. “It was a bitter truth – my discovery – that daughters were not made in cookie-cutter patterns from the genes of their mothers alone,” Sebold writes. Apart from the clunky phrasing and clichés in that line, it is hardly news that daughters differ from their mothers. Such observations are what pass for wisdom or originality in The Almost Moon.

Novels infested with ghastly scenes can succeed in either of two ways: by entertaining you, as good mystery and horror novelists do, or by offering insights that make the ghoulishness worthwhile. The Almost Moon brims instead with banalities like this one from last chapter: “There are secret rooms inside us.” Close the door, please.

Best Line: None.

Worst line: The “worsts” fall into several categories. First, the cringe-inducing, like that line about being “face-to-face” with “genitalia.” Second, the pop-psychological. After murdering her mother, Helen explains that she has “control issues” and that “I should have stayed in therapy.” Third, the padded, redundant or clichéd: “When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.” “I had prepacked a bag for the hospital before Sarah was born.” “I like to think, when I think about it, that by that time she was busy taking in the scent of her garden, feeling the late-afternoon sun on her face, and that somehow in the moments that had elapsed since she’d last spoken, she’d forgotten that she ever had a child and that, for so many years now, she’d had to pretend she loved it.”

How to find the reading level of a text: Enter the text into a computer and run the spell-checker on Microsoft Word. If you have Word 2004, you will see the words “Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level” at the bottom of the window that opens when the check is finished. This tells you reading level. [If you don't see a list of "Readability Statistics" after you complete a spell check, search Word Help for "readbility statistics," then choose "Display Readability Statistics" from the list of options you see.] The first six pages of The Almost Moon had a reading level of Grade 5.5. To see if this was too low, I entered three 300-word passages from pages 23–24, 123–124 and 223–224. The reading levels for these passages averaged out to Grade 4.3. If you average 5.5 and 4.3, you get an overall fourth-grade level, 4.7, for all the passages. The text of this review (from the word “Novelist” through “please”) has a reading level of Grade 10.8.

Published: October 2007 www.HachetteBookGroupUSA.com

Furthermore: I quoted from Charlotte Moore’s review in the Spectator www.spectator.co.uk in a Nov. 14 post www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/14/ and wrote about the first four chapters of The Almost Moon Nov. 23 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/23/. Sebold, who lives in California, also wrote the novel The Lovely Bones and the memoir, Lucky www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Sebold.

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

December 2, 2007

You Thought the Writing of the ‘Bad Sex Award’ Finalists Was Bad? Coming Monday, a Review of Alice Sebold’s ‘The Almost Moon’

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Did the writing of the Bad Sex Award finalists make you cringe (“Read All the Passages Shortlisted for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award Here” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/28/)? The nominees get competition after the fact from Alice Sebold’s novel The Almost Moon, which will be reviewed tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 28, 2007

Read All the Passages Shortlisted for the 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Award Here

Just found a link to all the passages shortlisted for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the U.K-based Literary Review, won Tuesday by Norman Mailer‘s The Castle in the Forest, which defeated books by Ian McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and others. The Guardian (formerly the Manchester Guardian) has them here: http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,2217735,00.htm

That link will take you to them, but if it doesn’t work for you, just Google “Guardian + Bad Sex Awaard Shortlisted Passages.” Still haven’t found a YouTube upload of the reading of the offending lines that preceded the announcement of the winner. The finalists included Gary Shteyngart‘s Absurdistan, shown here.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 27, 2007

Carol Saline and Sharon Wohlmuth’s ‘Sisters,’ a Holiday Gift for Women Who Think That Having a Sister Is ‘Like a Marriage Without the Sex’

Sisters of many ages talk about what they give to and get from each other

By Janice Harayda

“It’s like a marriage without the sex,” the folksinger Anna McGarrigle says of her relationship with her sisters, Kate and Jane. If you know a woman who has similar feelings, your search for an ideal holiday gift book might begin with Sisters: The Tenth Anniversary Edition (Running Press, 164 pp., $29.95) www.sistersbook.com.

Since 1994 more than a million people have bought this attractive coffee-table book that has 36 brief essays by the award-winning journalist Carol Saline www.carolsaline.com and wonderful black-and-white photos by Sharon J. Wohlmuth, who shared a Pulitzer Prize at the Philadelphia Inquirer. What accounts for its staying power? In part, an inspired mix of sisters – pairs, trios and a quintet — who talk about their relationship. Some are celebrities — Chris Evert, Melba Moore, Gail Sheehy, Dixie Carter, Barbara Mandrell, Christy Turlington, Coretta Scott King, Wendy Wasserstein. But the most memorable essays involve women unlikely to appear in “Got Milk?” ads – a Vietnamese refugee, a pair of nuns, a trio of police officers, and a 7-year-old girl who tries to comfort an 11-year-old sister with AIDS.

The tone of Sisters is warm but not cloying. And Wolmuth’s photos often have a low-keyed wit, as in a picture of three sisters in their 80s who relax at a pool in what appears to be a Miami retirement complex. One member of the trio, in a Betty Ford hairdo, stands in chest-high water and lights a cigarette. What are ashes in the pool, the picture seems to ask, when you’ve got love like this?

Caveat lector: This review was based in the first edition. The 10th anniversary edition has some new material, including updates on sisters in the first edtion.

Furthermore: The authors also wrote Best Friends and . Mothers & Daughters, which have a similar format.

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

November 25, 2007

Airport Grammar Delays Affect Thousands of Travelers As Logan Sends Message to Visitors to the U.S.: Welcome to America, Land of the Free and the Home of the Sub-Literate

 

The grammatically challenged Boston airport needs help from Patricia O’Conner’s bestseller

By Janice Harayda

Airports had record delays this year, and their grammar isn’t doing well, either.

I wrote an extra post over the weekend about the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, so I was going to take the day off today. But I realized that I was looking at a literary emergency when I got to the baggage claim section at Logan International Airport yesterday and saw these lines on large, permanent signs above a carousel:

“Many bags look alike, compare your claim stubs with the tag on your bag.”

“Oversize items and pets may be claimed at the Baggage claim.”

The first line is a run-on sentence — specifically, a comma splice or comma fault, which joins two independent clauses with a comma. And the structure isn’t parallel, because if you had “stubs,” you’d have “bags.”

The second line is scarcely better. Does the line mean that you can claim oversize items and oversize pets at the “Baggage claim”? If so, where do you claim the regular-sized pets? Wouldn’t it have been clearer to say, “Pets and oversized items …”? Why is the “B” in “baggage claim” capitalized? When did “Baggage” become a proper noun? And, yes, that “oversize” in the second line should be “oversized,” too.

My first instinct was to blame Continental Airlines for these examples of turbulence hitting the English language. But the baggage carousel Newark Airport got it right: “Many bags look alike. Please match the claim number on your ticket to the tag on your bag.” That “please” was nice, too.

So problem lies not with Continental but with the Massachusetts Port Authority www.massport.com, which runs Logan, and, I guess, its executive director, Thomas J. Kinton, Jr., who hasn’t sent a posse to clean up the mess. A book that could help is Patricia T. O’Conner’s Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English (Riverhead, $14, paperback) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/12/30/. A former editor of the New York Times Book Review, O’Conner www.grammarphobia.com also wrote the new Woe Is I Jr. (Putnam, $16.99, ages 9–12), illustrated by Tom Stiglich. It offers “jargon-free explanations and entertaining examples (Shrek, Count Olaf, Garfield, and Harry Potter all put in appearances,” School Library Journal said.

I haven’t read Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Gotham, $11, paperback), but that might do the trick, too. Truss www.lynnetruss.com has also written a children’s book on punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Matter! (Putnam, $15.99, ages 4–8).

Why not leave a comment if you see airport or other signs that show millions of people – many of them arriving the country for the first time — that America is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Sub-Literate?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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November 23, 2007

Ian McEwan Makes Longlist for Bad Sex in Fiction Award As Expected, Along With Norman Mailer and Jeanette Winterson

Read the list of the nominees for the 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Award and the lines that may have qualified On Chesil Beach for it

By Janice Harayda

Call me Nostradamus.

Back in August, when a lot of people couldn’t stop praising Ian McEwan’s overrated On Chesil Beach, I wrote that “McEwan aggressively courts a Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the Literary Review” with the novel www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/10/. I raised the possibility of the Bad Sex Award again when McEwan made the shortlist for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction (“Does Ian McEwan Deserve the Man Booker Prize or a Bad Sex Award for Writing Like This? You Be the Judge”) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/07/.

The Literary Review has just announced the longlist for the 2007 Bad Sex Award, meant to “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description … and to discourage it” in modern literary novels (not pornograhy or erotica). And who’s on it? McEwan, along with Norman Mailer, Jeanette Winterson and others. Here’s the longlist:

Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods

Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach

Richard Milward’s Apples

Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy

Maria Peura’s At the Edge of Light

James Delingpole’s Coward on the Beach

David Thewlis’s The Late Hector Kipling

Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest

Quim Monzo’s The Enormity of the Tragedy

Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan

Christopher Rush’s Will

Claire Clark’s The Nature of Monsters

Nobody seems yet to have a list of the passages that won their authors a spot on the longlist for the award, the winner of which will be named on Nov. 27. But these lines from On Chesil Beach (Doubleday/Nan Talese, $22) quoted in my August 10 post, should have qualified McEwan easily (page 24 in the first U.S. edition):

“Like most young men of his time, or any time, without an easy manner, or means to sexual expression, he indulged constantly in what one enlightened authority was now calling ‘self-pleasuring’ … How extraordinary it was, that a self-made spoonful, leaping clear of his body, should instantly free his mind to confront afresh Nelson’s decisiveness at Aboukir Bay.”

Thanks to the Nov. 23 Literary Saloon www.complete-review.com/saloon/ for a link to a post on the Bookseller www.thebookseller.com that had the list. When is the Literary Review www.literaryreview.co.uk going to post the qualifying passages?

By the way, you can’t use the “Search Inside This Book” tool on Amazon www.amazon.com to find those lines from On Chesil Beach that I quoted, because the people at Doubleday/Nan Talese haven’t enabled it for the book. Those spoilsports.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and a vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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