One-Minute Book Reviews

March 7, 2008

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.

February 6, 2008

A Super Bowl Moment We’re Glad We Didn’t See on Sunday

Filed under: Memoirs — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:35 am
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Marv Albert has covered Super Bowls for NBC and Westwood One radio in a broadcasting career that has spanned four decades. He recalls some of the singular moments from those and other games in his memoir I’d Love to but I Have a Game: 27 Years Without a Life (Doubleday, 1990).

One such moment occurred when Richard Dent of the Chicago Bears received a new car from Sport magazine after he was named the most valuable player of Super Bowl XX. Albert handed him the keys, and the defensive end stepped up to the microphone and said, “I just want to thank the Sporting News for this brand-new car.”

“Other than that,” Albert writes, “it went perfectly.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

January 28, 2008

Coming Tomorrow — John Gunther’s Classic Memoir of His Son’s Death From a Brain Tumor, ‘Death Be Not Pround’

Many school reading lists include John Gunther‘s classic memoir of his 17-year-old son’s fight to survive a deadly brain tumor, Death Be Not Proud. And perhaps for that reason, some people have come to see it as a book for teenagers. But the book was an adult bestseller in its day and popular among many ages. What does it offer to readers today? One-Minute Book Reviews will consider the reasons for the enduring appeal of the book tomorrow.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 18, 2007

Why Does ‘A Christmas Carol’ Work So Well As a Holiday Story? Quote of the Day (Jane Smiley)

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol — a sentimental novella about the redemption of a miser — could easily have turned to drivel. Why didn’t it? Here’s an answer from the novelist Jane Smiley:

A Christmas Carol, like Martin Chuzzlewit, concerns itself with the social ramifications of selfishness, but the characters of young Martin and old Martin are combined in that of Ebenezer Scrooge, and his moral journey, which takes place in three acts in one night, has the force of a revelation rather than the tedium of a lengthy trek by ox-drawn wagon. Some of the narrative had its origins in one of Dickens’s own vivid dreams, and surely the idea of of using dreams as a structural device had its origins there as well …

“But what makes A Christmas Carol work — what makes it so appealing a novella that William Makepeace Thackeray, Dickens’s most self-conscious literary rival, called it ‘a national benefit’ — is the lightness of Dickens’s touch. Instead of hammering his points home, as he does in Martin Chuzzlewit, he is content (or more content) to let his images speak for themselves.”

Jane Smiley in Charles Dickens: A Penguin Life (Viking/Lipper, $19.95) www.penguinputnam.com. Smiley’s novels include A Thousand Acres www.randomhouse.com, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

For more on Dickens, visit the site for the Dickens Fellowship www.dickensfellowship.org, a 105-year-old organization based at the Charles Dickens Museum in London, which has chapters throughout the U.S. and world.

The “Christmas Carol” in the title of Dickens’s novella is “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” which mentioned in the story. To listen to it, click here http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/g/o/godrest.htm.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 19, 2007

Understatement of the Century About Barry Bonds – Quote of the Day (Jim Brock via Terri Dougherty)

Jim Brock, who coached Barry Bonds at Arizona State University, says this about the ballplayer in Terri Dougherty’s Barry Bonds: Jam Session Series (ABDO, 2002) www.abdopub.com, a picture-book biography for roughly ages 6-9:

“I don’t think he ever figured out what to do to get people to like him.”

© 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 31, 2007

Reconsidering Azar Nafisi’s ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’

I’m severely computer-deprived this week and posting from the library, so some reviews may omit a few things you typically see at the end, such as the best and worst lines in the book.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. By Azar Nafisi. Random House, 384 pp., $14.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

This overrated memoir is the kind of book that critics tend to love, a reminder that literature can glow in the darkest of regimes — in this case, that of the Islamic Republic of Iran, where Azar Nafisi taught a secret class in the Western clasics to seven female students. But Nafisi is right when she writes in this overrated memoir that she is at times “too much of an academic”: “I have written too many papers and articles to be able to turn my experiences and ideas into narratives without pontificating.” As she describes her students’ responses to novels such as Pride and Prejudice and The Great Gatsby, Nafisi slips into cliches and vapid acdemic locutions such as, “It is not an accident that …” Like a scholarly Nostradamus, she informs us that “it is not an accident that” the heroine of Washington Square wore a red satin dress at her first meeting with a dishonorable suitor, as though such a detail were ever an accident in Henry James’s novels.

Published: 2003 www.randomhouse.com

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

October 25, 2007

Why Does This Picture-Book Cover Work? Elizabeth Matthews’s ‘Different Like Coco’

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

By Janice Harayda

The covers of children’s books often fail for the same reasons that the covers of adult books do: They’re dull, clichéd or too pallid to stand out at a bookstore or library. Or they tell you too little about a book or, worse, aggressively misrepresent the contents. And if they’re about people – instead of one of those riveting topics like Let’s Read and Find Out About Flypaper or My First Book About Dandruff – they may stereotype their subjects as nakedly as all those pink covers on novels marketed to women in their 20s and 30s.

Elizabeth Matthews avoids all those problems on the cover of Different Like Coco (Candlewick, $16.99, ages 4 and up) www.candlewick.com, which combines a pen-and-ink drawing with the artful use of watercolors. This picture-book biography of the fashion designer Coco Chanel sports a witty illustration of its subject in a brown-black dress on a yellow background with the title in an interesting copper-colored script. And it works beautifully for several reasons:

1. It has real “pop.” Put Different Like Coco on any bookstore or library shelf and it will stand out among its shelf-mates because of its strong design. It doesn’t need the special effects that make so many books look more like toys – lots of glitter, metallic images and overengineering in the form of punched-out or see-through spaces.

2. The image of Coco Chanel points to the right, or to the pages instead of the spine. This is so basic that no critic should have to mention it. In most cases you want to focus children’s attention where it will encourage them to open a book (though there are some notable exceptions that succeed). But a striking number of picture books ignore such fundamental design principles.

3. The cover represents both the book and its subject accurately and nonstereotypically (without a sea of pink). Chanel designed simple, unfussy clothes with flair. This is a simple, unfussy cover with flair. Matthews’ art reflects the spirit of Chanel’s designs so well that you might guess the subject of her book before you read the title. But the cover isn’t so sophisticated that it will appeal to adults more than children. The comic exaggeration (and that dog) will take care of that.

Some people might argue that Chanel’s arms look anorexic. But in the context of the book, the pencil-slim arms are clearly intended as a stylistic exaggeration and also appear on women with bodies of operatic proportions.

The only other thing might strike you as odd about this cover is that Matthews’s name appears in a much smaller font than you usually see for authors of her caliber. That’s because this is her first book. The general rule in publishing is: The bigger the author, the larger the font for his or her name relative to the font for the title (though less so for children’s books than others). Stephen King’s name, for example, appears on his covers in a larger font than the title of the book. It’s a safe bet that as Matthews’s reputation increases, the size of her name on the cover will, too.

The original review of Different Like Coco appeared on Oct. 21, 2007, www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/21/. You may also want to read a comment in yesterday’s post (Oct. 23) by lisamm, who says perceptive things about this cover, including the Chanel has her head held high.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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 21, 2007

Max McGee on Vince Lombardi (Quote of the Day)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:38 pm
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Max McGee, the former Green Bay Packers receiver who died yesterday, remembers Vince Lombardi in Lombardi and Me: Players, Coaches, and Colleagues Talk About the Man and the Myth (Triumph, $14.95) by Paul Horning with Billy Reed:

“Vince wanted to embarrass you in front of all your teammates. He did me, because he knew that hurt me worse than anything …

“But Vince was about as smart as anybody who ever put on a coaching hat. One time before a big game, he told us that if anybody was caught sneaking out before the game it would cost him $5,000. And he looked at me and said, ‘McGee, let me tell you something — if you find somebody worth $5,000, let me me know — I want to go with you.’ That broke the tension. He could get you so wired before a game you almost couldn’t play …

“I announced that I was retiring after the first Super Bowl, and Vince came to me and said, ‘Maxie, I want you to come back next year. If a we get a young guy that we’re going to keep, I’ll keep you on as a coach.’ So the reason I came back is that I was going to be there one way or the other, either as a player or a coach.”

Lombardi and Me, reviewed on Nov. 28 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/11/28/, was published in 2006 and has just been released in paperback www.triumphbooks.com.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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