One-Minute Book Reviews

October 8, 2008

Which Is Worse — The Stock Market or the Writing in This Year’s Books? Handicapping the 2009 Delete Key Awards for the Year’s Worst Writing in Books

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:15 am
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Okay, I’ve learned my lesson: Never put up your favorite posts in the middle of the summer when everybody is on vacation. My posts on possible candidates for the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books typically attract a lot of comment, but this one that appeared in July raised the frightening possibility that the writing in this year’s books is so bad, the lines below weren’t bad enough to impress you. So I’m reposting my midterm report on the Delete Key Awards to test that theory. If you’ve read worse, you can nominate your candidates for the 2009 Delete Key Awards by leaving a comment. Jan

How bad is the worst of the drivel that publishers have flung at us in 2008? Does it just brim with clichés, psychobabble and grammatical errors? Or is it also crass, tasteless and full of needless – if unintentionally comical – sex? You be the judge.

The midterm scouting report below lists passages have a chance to make the finals for the Delete Key Awards, the Internet literary prizes handed out every March 15 to authors who don’t use their delete keys enough. Keep in mind that the race for the Delete Key Awards has a staggered start. Any book published by Dec. 31 is eligible and stronger candidates may emerge. You can help to keep your candidate in the race by leaving a comment that supports a deserving passages.

No callback for this sentence
“Just before the ax fell, lightning struck and my life changed, never to be the same again.”
From Audition: A Memoir (Knopf, 624 pp., $29.95), Barbara Walters. Quote via a review by Kyle Smith in the Wall Street Journal
online.wsj.com/article/SB121038380585382137.html?mod=todays_us_weekend_journal.

Seinfeld was never like this
“Not that Jesus wasn’t a really cool guy – great teacher, excellent speaker, yadda yadda yadda. But … Son of God? Where’s the proof?”

“You don’t think it’s possible that Mr. Smythe was … well … resurrected?”
From Change of Heart: A Novel (Simon & Schuster/Atria, 447 pp., $26.95), by Jodi Picoult. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/07/21.

Deep Frey’d
“He eats most of it with his hands when he’s done he licks the plate clean he has another does the same thing.”
From Bright Shiny Morning (HarperCollins, 501 pp., 26.95), by James Frey. Quote via a review by Walter Kirn in the New York Times Book Review, July 6, 2008 www.nytimes.com/2008/07/06/books/review/Kirn-t.html.

Was something lost in translation?
“Now he understood how the great, unlettered military genius Genghis Khan, as well as the illiterate or semiliterate military leaders of peoples such as the Quanrong, the Huns, the Tungus, the Turks, the Mongols, and the Jurchens, were able to bring the Chinese (whose great military sage Sun-tzu had produced his universally acclaimed treatise The Art of War) to their knees, to run roughshod over their territory, and to interrupt their dynastic cycles.”

“Heaven and man do not easily come to together, but the wolf and the grassland merge like water and milk.”

“I nearly peed my pants [sic].”
From Wolf Totem (Penguin, 527 pp., $29.95), Jiang Rong. Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/05/27.

Whoops
“whoops-musicale (sei tu m’ami) ahhahahahaha / loopy di looploop.”
From a poem in Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara (Knopf, 265 pp., $30), edited by Mark Ford. Quote via a review by William Logan in the New York Times Book Review, June 29, 2008 www.nytimes.com/2008/06/29/books/review/Logan-t.html?ref=review.

Be glad they didn’t! Name your children!
“I say, ‘The library is a boring place! All I will meet there are stinky pages.’”
and
“Miss Toadskin thinks she can gross us out with her science experiments. But I live for that stuff!”
From Read All About It! (HarperCollins, 32 pp., $17.99, ages 4–6), by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush, illustrated by Denise Brunkus. www.nytimes.com/2008/05/11/books/review/Sutton-t.html?ref=authors

Department of overexplanation
A line of dialogue from An Incomplete Revenge: “So, despite Ramsay MacDonald being pressed to form a National Government to get us through this mess, and well-founded talk of Britain going off the gold standard any day now, there’s still room for optimism – and I want to move ahead soon.”

Then there’s passage in which the heroine tells her father, “Dad, I’ve been thinking about Nana,” and he replies, “Your mother’s mother?”
From An Incomplete Revenge: A Maisie Dobbs Novel (Holt, 303 pp., $24), by Jacqueline Winspear. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/04/29.

The literal truth
“I literally held Grace day and night for the first year of her life.”
From Comfort: A Journey Through Grief (Norton, 188 pp., $19.95), by Ann Hood.

What comforting words would she have for fourth-degree burn victims?
“The death of your parents can be the best thing that ever happens to you.”
The first line of Death Benefits: How Losing a Parent Can Change an Adult’s Life – For the Better (Basic Books, 226 pp., $26.95), by psychotherapist Jeanne Safer. www.perseusbooksgroup.com/basic/book_detail.jsp?isbn=0465072119

How green was my chakra
“… Green: / color of the fourth chakra, / Anahata; it means unstuck — / the heart center — / the color of his fatigues.”
From The Warrior: A Mother’s Story of a Son at War (Viking, 84 pp., $21.95), by Frances Richey. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/07/27.

Hasn’t everyone at times found a suitcase stuffed with $60,000 in cash in the attic?
“Gene claimed that his father had given him $60,000 in cash, which he’d kept in a suitcase in his mother’s attic. He said that his father had told him not to put it in the bank, so Margo figured his father had never reported it to the IRS, and this was his way of protecting Gene, who said he would take the old bills to the bank and exchange them for new ones so that no one would question any transaction or track the income.

“At the time, Margo took Gene at his word.”

From Twisted Triangle: A Famous Crime Writer, a Lesbian Love Affair, and the FBI Husband’s Violent Revenge (Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 281 pp., $26.95), by Caitlin Rother with John Hess. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/07/10.

What’s being spouted here?

“Can I describe the joy of a spouting blow hole?”

From a letter written in 1939 by a dolphin-loving character in David Ebershoff’s new novel, The 19th Wife (Random House, 514 pp., $26, as quoted by Janet Maslin in the New York Times www.nytimes.com/2008/08/04/books/04masl.html.

And finally a moment of silence for …

Clichés that will live forever
“I liked my students to win one for the Gipper, to go out an execute, to keep the drive alive, to march down the field, to avoid costly turnovers and to win games in the trenches even if they were gonna feel it on Monday.”
From The Last Lecture (Hyperion, 224, $21.95, by Randy Pasuch. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/05/30.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

October 7, 2008

Drinking in a Family’s History: Tom Gjelten’s ‘Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba’ (Books I Didn’t Finish)

Filed under: History,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:44 pm
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The latest in a series of occasional posts on books I didn’t finish and why I didn’t finish them

Title: Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause. By Tom Gjelten. Viking, 413 pp., $27.95.

What it is: A history of the Bacardi rum family, intertwined with that of Cuba, from its founding in 1862 through Fidel Castro’s resignation and his brother Raúl’s succession in February 2008.

How much I read: About 40 pages: the preface, last chapter, acknowledgments, and other parts, including those about Ernest Hemingway and the Bay of Pigs disaster.

Why I stopped reading: Not many books about successful businesses give a rich social, historical and human context for the stories they tell. Gjelten aims to do that in Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba. And he succeeded in the sections I read: They were interesting and well-written and may help to nudge this book onto some “best of the year” lists. I didn’t have enough interest in rum and Cuba to spend eight or nine hours with the story, the amount of time it might take me to read 400 pages. But I’d consider giving this book as a gift to a fan of serious, thoughtful nonfiction about recent history or international affairs.

Best line in what I read: The first: “A bottle of white Bacardi rum sold in the United States bears a small logo – mysteriously, a bat – and a label that says ‘Established 1862.’ Just above the dates are the words ‘PUERTO RICAN RUM.’ There is no mention of Cuba.
“The Bacardi distillery in San Juan is the largest in the world, but the Bacardis are not from Puerto Rico. This family company for nearly a century was Cuban, cubanissima in fact – Cuban to the n th degree.”

Worst line in what I read: Gjelten says that when Fidel Castro collapsed at an outdoor rally in June 2001, the Cuban foreign minister shouted to the crowd, “¡Calma y valor!” He translates this as, “Stay calm and be brave!” Why not just “Calm and brave!”? And Gjelten ends by commenting on a Bacardi family member’s 1907 view that Cuba needed a leader “who is just and truly loves his country”: “A century later, Cuba needed that leader more than ever.” “More than ever” is a cliché that’s fine in everyday conversation but weakens the ending of a book. And the problem with most dictators isn’t that they don’t love their countries – it’s that they love them too much and value them above other things that are equally important, including human rights.

Editor: Wendy Wolf

Published: September 2008 www.amazon.com/Bacardi-Long-Fight-Cuba-Biography/dp/067001978X.

Furthermore: Gjelten is a correspondent for National Public Radio and panelist on Washington Week. He also wrote Sarajevo Daily.

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

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