One-Minute Book Reviews

February 25, 2010

2010 Delete Key Awards Honorable Mention – ‘Mennonite in a Little Black Dress’ by Rhoda Janzen

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:46 am
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From Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home (Holt):

“Al’s enrollment at St. Veronica’s had not been a shoe-in, but Phil and Hannah had decided that Christian guilt was better than bad math.”


“With a pattern of dodgy behavior already established, I was a shoe-in for further scrutiny.”


“Aaron sang close harmonies in a madrigal group, his rich-timbered baritone blending like butter.”

You could argue using “shoe-in” for shoo-in and “timber” for “timbre” ought to have won Janzen an automatic spot on the shortlist. But copyeditors typically catch such mistakes and may have caught similar errors in the books of the other finalists. So Janzen gets only an honorable mention to avoid penalizing her for lapses by an editor.

Read the full review of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.

You can also read about the 10 Delete Key Awards finalists on Janice Harayda’s page on Twitter (@janiceharayda). The winner and runners-up will be announced on March 15 on One-Minute Book Reviews and Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 24, 2010

Finalists for the Delete Key Awards for Bad Writing in Books — Tomorrow Starting at 10 a.m. ET

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:35 pm
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How badly can you write and still get a book published in America? Find out tomorrow when the shortlist for the Fourth Annual Delete Key Awards for bad writing in books is announced on One-Minute Book Reviews starting at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. These literary booby prizes do not honor the year’s worst books but badly written sentences, paragraphs or passages, which will be posted with the shortlist. The awards recognize defects such as clichés, bad grammar, psychobabble, redundancy, pomposity, dumbing-down or overall inanity.

The Delete Key Awards grand-prize winner and runners up will be announced on March 15, and until then, you may vote for or against candidates leaving comments on their nomination on this site. You can also read about the awards at @janiceharayda on Twitter.

February 18, 2010

Delete Key Awards Finalists — A Week From Today

Filed under: Delete Key Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:04 pm
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So you think Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol had the worst writing you read in a 2009 novel? Wait until you read the passages nominated for the  Fourth Annual Delete Key Awards for bad writing in books of fiction and nonfiction for adults or children. The finalists will be announced on this site beginning at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25.

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.

January 30, 2010

A Review of the 2010 Newbery Medal Winner, ‘When You Reach Me': Enjoyable? Yes. The Year’s ‘Most Distinguished’? Maybe Not.

A 12-year-old girl tries to figure out who’s sending her mysterious notes in a novel that pays homage to Madeleine L’Engle

When You Reach Me. By Rebecca Stead, 197 pp., Wendy Lamb/Random House, $15.99. Ages 9–12.

By Janice Harayda

When You Reach Me won the American Library Association’s latest John Newbery Medal, and it’s certainly an enjoyable and well-written book. But is it the year’s “most distinguished contribution” to children’s literature?

Maybe it depends on how you define “distinguished.” By my lights, the ALA citation implies: “a book that will seem as great decades from now.” And I’m not convinced that When You Reach Me passes that test, or that Rebecca Stead will hold her own against Newbery winners like Russell Freedman (Lincoln: A Photobiography) and Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia, Jacob I Have Loved).

Stead tells a cleverly plotted story about a bright 12-year-old named Miranda, who tries to decipher a series of mysterious and slightly ominous notes from an unknown sender in 1978–1979. The sender — whose knowledge of events seems to transcend the laws of time and space — may or may not live near the apartment Miranda shares with her mother on the Upper West Side of New York.

Miranda’s favorite book is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, a novel about time-traveling children. And like that 1963 Newbery winner, When You Reach Me raises the question: Is time travel possible? Stead handles the issue well, offering enough science to keep her story plausible without turning it into a treatise.

But When You Reach Me deals with less complex questions than – and appears derivative in comparison to – L’Engle’s modern classic. Like most suspense novels, this one gets much of its appeal from its quick pace and ability to keep you guessing, not from its depth of characterization. Miranda’s mother has a boyfriend, “who is German but not strict or awful,” and whose German-ness resides mainly in his Aryan looks: You never understand why Stead made him German instead of another nationality.

Far more complex characterizations appear in Deborah Heiligman’s 2009 National Book Award finalist, Charles and Emma, which won a nonfiction award from the ALA. And Phillip Hoose tells a more powerful story in his Newbery Honor Book, the biography Claudette Colvin. Those books seem more likely to be important decades from now. If I had to assign grades, I’d give Charles and Emma and Claudette Colvin each an A or A-minus and When You Reach Me a B.

So why did the novel win the Newbery? Hard to say. It can’t have hurt that Stead’s novel subtly flatters the ALA by ratifying its choice for 1963 Newbery, or that its allusions to A Wrinkle in Time are a bonanza for teachers who love to assign compare-and-contrast exercises. Nor can it have hurt that, like the 1991 winner, Maniac Magee, the latest testifies to the joy of reading. When You Reach Me was also popular — a bestseller on Amazon — before it won, so it was a safe choice. And I’ve read few of the fiction candidates for the 2010 Newbery: If the judges wanted to honor a novel, though they didn’t have to, Stead’s may have been the best. So When You Reach Me gets a qualified endorsement: Amble to your library or bookstore for it if you’re inclined, and save your sprint for National Book Award winner Claudette Colvin.

Best line: Miranda has proprietary feelings about A Wrinkle in Time: “The truth is that I hate to think about other people reading my book.”

Worst line: “At the meetings, during which Mr. Nunzi has usually burned a new hole in our couch with his cigarette …” Doesn’t ring true. Most sofas sold in the U.S. contain polyurethane foam stuffing, which is highly flammable, and one cigarette burn can send them up in flames.

Art notes: The cover of this book does not serve it well. It shows greenish-gray grid that looks like a patchwork of lawns and suggests that the action takes place in a northern New Jersey suburb that faces New York skyline when, in fact, it’s set in Manhattan. And the book as a whole begged for illustrations.

Published: July 2009

Furthermore: Two reviews of When You Reach Me by librarians: Amanda Pape’s on her blog Bookin’ It and Elizabeth Bird’s on the School Library Journal blog.

Janice Harayda is a novelist who has been the book editor of the Plain Dealer and the book columnist for Glamour. You can also follow her on Twitter www.twitter.com/janiceharayda. She satirizes American literary culture and the publishing industry at www.twitter.com/fakebooknews.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 20, 2009

Gift Ideas for Kids — The Winners of 2009 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards for Excellence in Children’s Literature

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:17 am
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We won’t know the next winners of American Library Association’s Newbery and Caldecott medals until Jan. 18. But if you’re looking for ideas for children’s gifts before then, you might want to print and save this list of books that won the most recent Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards for excellence in children’s literature. Only American authors are eligible for ALA honors. But the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards are open to anyone who has had a book published in the U.S., so they can show more diversity than the librarians’ awards. Two examples: The latest winners include Nation, the British Terry Pratchett’s young-adult novel about two 19th-century children who create a society from scratch, and Bubble Trouble, by the New Zealander Margaret Mahy, illustrated by England’s Polly Dunbar. And this month the Horn Book posted its list of the best books of 2009 for children and teenagers, which also includes Bubble Trouble.

November 30, 2009

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

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:17 pm
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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

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:54 pm
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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.

‘Even the National Book Awards Can Generate a Judging Scandal’

Filed under: News,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:48 pm
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Interesting reactions to my post yesterday on an apparent conflict of interest on the judging panel for the 2009 National Book Award for young people’s literature. An article by Motoko Rich for the New York Times ArtsBeat blog, in which I am quoted, begins: “It’s not Olympic figure skating, but even the National Book Awards can generate a judging scandal.” And Elizabeth Bird weighs in on the School Library Journal blog, where she wonders: “What should technically be considered a conflict of interest?” The winners of the awards will be announced tonight beginning at about 8 p.m. EST, and the results should appear almost instantaneously on Twitter (@nationalbook) at www.twitter.com/nationalbook. I may have comments about them after 10 p.m. on “Late Night With Jan Harayda.”

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