One-Minute Book Reviews

April 15, 2008

James Marcus’s Memoir of His Years at Amazon.com, the Most Entertaining Book About a Business Since ‘Liar’s Poker’

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First, you sign a paper saying that you won’t sue if you go crazy on the job

I ran into the critic James Marcus at a National Book Critics Circle event last month, and he said that he’d launched a literary blog. James has great taste, so I headed to his House of Mirth housemirth.blogspot.com. I learned from it that after he and I served on the NBCC board together, he wrote a memoir of his time as a senior editor at Amazon.com, Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot-Com Juggernaut (New Press, 2004).

James worked for the online bookseller in its infancy, when job descriptions had greater fluidity, so he did more than write reviews for the Amazon site. He wrapped books and pitched in on customer service by answering e-mail queries from shoppers:

I saw a book on television last week, I would read. The one with the red cover. Can you tell me what it’s called?”

James writes from the perspective of a self-described “token humanist” at Amazon, not an MBA who itched to see his picture on the cover of Wired. But Amazonia is still the most entertaining book about a business that I’ve read since Liar’s Poker.

You think the forms you get from your HR department are bad? Before going to work Amazon, James had to sign a 10-page work agreement and, in Amazonia, quotes from its section on job-related stress. “Strip away the legalese and what remains is a fairly colorful stipulation,” he writes. “Namely: if you go crazy on the job, the company won’t pay to patch you up.”
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 29, 2008

2008 Delete Key Awards Finalists — The Complete Shortlist

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Here’s the complete list of 10 finalists for the 2008 Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. The passages that qualified these books for the shortlist were posted in 10 separate posts on Feb. 29, 2008 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/02/29/.

1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

2. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

3. Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen

4. The Intellectual Devotional: Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Roam Confidently With the Cultured Class by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim.

5. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

6. The Alphabet from A to Y … With Bonus Letter Z! by Steve Martin and Roz Chast

7. The Manny by Holly Peterson

8. The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

9.  A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

10. Unholy Grail by D. L. Wilson

The winners will be announced on March 15, 2008.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 28, 2008

Tomorrow – Finalists for the Delete Key Awards for the Worst Writing in Books

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Can’t get enough of clichés, psychobabble and bad grammar? You’ll find them all on the shortlist for the second annual Delete Key Awards, which recognize authors who aren’t using their delete keys enough. The ten finalists for the 2008 prizes will be announced in separate posts starting at 10 a.m. Eastern Time that will include samples of their bad writing. The full shortlist will appear by the end of the workday.

After that, you’ll have two weeks to comment on the finalists. The winners will be announced on March 15 because Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March and the honored books include writing that assassinates the English language. The Delete Key Awards do not recognize the “worst books” but the worst writing in books (typically, individual lines or paragraphs). The prizes honor the books published in the U.S. in hardcover or paperback in the preceding year, and some titles may be grandfathered in if they appeared too late in 2006 to gain traction until 2007.

Strong arguments by visitors may affect who wins on March 15. Please check back tomorrow or bookmark this site to find out if your favorite authors made the shortlist.

Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

For more information about Delete Key Awards, see the Feb. 24, 2008, post “Questions and Answers about the 2008 Delete Key Awards for the Year’s Worst Writing in Books” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/02/24/.

– Jan Harayda

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 28, 2008

No. 1 Reviewer on Amazon Has Posted More Than 15,000 Reviews — How Is This Possible? Quote of the Day (Harriet Klausner)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:13 am
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[Update, Jan. 4, 2010: Harriet Klausner's Amazon profile now says he has posted 20,970 reviews.]

And you thought Joyce Carol Oates was “prolific”

Harriet Klausner, the most prolific reviewer on Amazon.com, has posted 15,584 reviews, according to her profile on the online bookseller’s site. How does she do it? Klausner says:

“I am a speed reader (a gift I was born with) and read two books a day.”

Harriet Klausner in her Amazon.com profile www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/AFVQZQ8PW0L/ref=cm_aya_bb_pdp. A Wall Street Journal profile of Klausner reported in March 2005 that she had posted 8,649 reviews and read four or five books a day, not two www.opinionjournal.com/la/?id=110006483. And a 2006 Time article said she read “four to six” books a day www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1570726,00.html. If those articles were accurate and she’s reading only two books a day now, she’s cut back. But how could she have cut back when she’s nearly doubled her number of reviews since 2005 (from 8,649 to 15,584 on January 20, 2008)? If she read two books a day, she would have added 2,190 reviews in three years, or increased her total from 8,649 to 10,839. But she’s added about 5,000 more than that. Unless I’m missing something, in order to have reached 15,584 she would have to be reading closer to three or four books a day than two.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 30, 2007

Nominate Your Candidates for the 2008 Delete Key Awards for the Year’s Worst Writing in Books

Which of the authors you’ve read this year didn’t use their delete keys enough?

One-Minute Book Reviews will announce the finalists for the 2008 Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books on February 29, 2008. So it’s not too early to nominate your candidates for these prizes, given to authors who don’t use their delete keys enough.

The Delete Key Awards recognize the worst lines or passages in hardcover or paperback books published in the United States. The grand prize winner and runners-up will be named on March 15, the date of Julius Caesar’s assassination, because all the finalists assassinate the English language with weapons such as clichés, jargon, bad grammar, dumbing down or pomposity.

All books that contain bad writing are eligible for the awards, except for those in the categories listed at the end of this post. But the prizes are intended especially for established authors who have been overpraised or granted unmerited immunity by critics. The 2007 winners were: grand prize, Danielle Steel’s Toxic Bachelors; first runner-up, Mitch Albom’s For One More Day; and second runner-up, Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children.

To inspire your nominations, here’s a complete list of last year’s finalists. You can read their offending passages by clicking on the “Delete Key Awards” tag at the top of this post or going to the “Delete Key Awards” category at right.

Finalists for the 2007 Delete Key Awards:

For One More Day by Mitch Albom

The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg

Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris

The Book Club Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to the Reading Group Experience by Diana Loevy

Love Smart: Find the One You Want — Fix the One You Got by Dr. Phil McGraw

The Confession by James McGreevey with David France

The Interruption of Everything by Terry McMillan

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud

Toxic Bachelors by Danielle Steel

The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

Janice Harayda is the sole judge of the Delete Key Awards but enthusastically considers suggestions from visitors to One-Minute Book Reviews. She is a novelist and award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle.

Jan does not accept free books from publishers and excludes from consideration for the Delete Key Awards any books that would present a conflict of interest or the appearance of such a conflict. The ineligible books include those published by her current publisher, represented by her literary agent, or written by her friends or enemies. Unfortunately, the publishing axiom is right: You don’t know who your enemies are until you review their books. Or give them a Delete Key Award.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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 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.

November 11, 2007

My First Bestseller? ‘A Year in Cleveland’ Is #17 in the Humor Category on Amazon Shorts

Filed under: Humor — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:46 am
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Bizarre but true! Cleveland loses the pennant race but wins on Amazon

Were you on vacation in August when I wrote about a program on Amazon that for 49 cents lets you download short works of fiction and nonfiction by authors with books for sale on that site? Just in case, I’m pasting in below the original post about Amazon Shorts. And here’s an update for any writers who are thinking of joining the program:

As I’d mentioned, I didn’t know that Amazon Shorts existed until a friend suggested that I consider it for some of my own work. I sent in “A Year in Cleveland,” a parody of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, and it just sat there for a while. But in the past few weeks it’s started to move and, as of Nov. 11, ranks #17 in the Humor category on Amazon Shorts. You can see all the categories and short works by clicking on “Digital Downloads” on the Amazon home page www.amazon.com. How can Cleveland be a loser in the pennant race and a winner on Amazon? I have no idea — unless all the copies are being bought by sadistic Red Sox fans who want a few more laughs at Cleveland’s expense — but this is the closest I’ve had to a bestseller.

Here’s my original August 5 post about Amazon Shorts:

Fed up with the alpine cost of books? Amazon.com sells previously unpublished short stories, essays and other works for 49¢ through its Amazon Shorts program. The online bookseller requires that all sellers have at least one book for sale on Amazon. And some of the authors who have posted their work may surprise you, including actor John Lithgow, journalist Melissa Fay Greene and mystery novelist James Lee Burke.

But you could easily miss hearing about the program, because it isn’t listed on the home page for www.amazon.com. You have to use the search bar to look “Amazon Shorts” or go to the pull-down menu that says, “See All 41 Product Categories.” [Note: The preceding has changed since I posted this. There's now a "Digital Downloads" category on the Amazon home page.] I knew nothing of the program until a writer friend persuaded me to post my “A Year in Cleveland,” a parody of A Year in Provence, there. So you may want to check this section of the Amazon site if you enjoy short fiction, nonfiction and poetry. You can read the shorts by downloading them, having them e-mailed to you, or following an HTML link.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 10, 2007

New! Reviews of Forthcoming Books — Starting Next Week on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Forthcoming Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 6:09 pm
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An easy way to learn about some books before they’ve reached stores

Does your book group sometimes have to plan meetings long before the reviews have appeared for books you might like to read? Or would you like to dazzle your friends by being able to talk intelligently about books before others have read about them in The New York Times Book Review or elsewhere?

Now you can. Starting next week, One-Minute Book Reviews will occasionally review forthcoming books well as those that have reached stores.

For years there have been two main sources of reviews of books that haven’t yet appeared: Publishers Weekly www.publishersweekly.com and Kirkus Reviews www.kirkusreviews.com. But both were created for people other than you, the general reader — they were launched to provide reviews of forthcoming books for publishers, librarians, booksellers and others. And to some extent their Web sites still reflect this. The PW site has lots of publishing-industry news that might not interest most people, and Kirkus charges a fee for full access to its content.

So for a long time, I’ve wanted to create on this site another channel for reviews of forthcoming books. And starting next week, you’ll be able to read some full reviews — just like the others on this site — of books that will appear in the next few months.

First up: A review of Anne Easter Smith’s Daughter of York www.anneeastersmith.com, a historical novel about Margaret of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, which Simon & Schuster will publish in February 2008. In each case I’ll give you a link you can copy or bookmark if a book interests you. And I’ll mention the book at least in passing after it’s reached stores to remind you of it.

Since its launch in late 2007, One-Minute Book Reviews has kept adding new features to keep the site fresh, including original reading group guides (saved in the Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides category at right) and the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books, announced annually on March 15. To avoid missing any of these, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

This site does not accept free books, advance reading copies or other promotional materials from editors, publishers, authors or agents, and all reviews offer an independent evaluation that is not influenced by marketing concerns.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

October 17, 2007

When Bad Covers Happen to Good Books: Rating the Cover of Katha Pollitt’s ‘Learning to Drive’

Royce M. BeckerWhat was Random House thinking? Katha Pollitt handed the firm a gift-wrapped successor to Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, the white-hot bestseller from its Knopf imprint, in Learning to Drive. Her book, like Ephron’s, is a stylish essay collection about being a wife, mother, girlfriend, daughter, New Yorker and writer.

Faced with this chance to strike gold again, Random House has – so far – blown it with Learning to Drive. Let’s leave aside the things the firm didn’t do for the book, such as publish a reading-group guide – Knopf didn’t at first post one for I Feel Bad About My Neck, either – and focus on what it did do: namely, give the book a cover likely to do nothing to help it gain the high bestsellerdom within its reach. Among the problems:

1. Visually the design doesn’t “pop,” industry jargon for “jump out at you.” It is way too dark and ambiguous. Except for the road sign, it looks a colorized mammogram. (Just what women want! A book that reminds subliminally them of cancer!) If you lean a few feet back from your computer, you may not even be able to read the title of the book (especially if you’re using laptop like mine, which isn’t brand-new and and has a relatively small screen). It just fades away. And that’s what it will also do at a bookstore or library where it’s surrounded by covers that do pop.

2. The gloomy cover, though a problem, might at least be defensible if reflected the tone of the book – if it appeared on, say, another paranoid Don De Lillo novel. But Learning to Drive teems with life as seen by a woman who is passionately involved with it. It is also entertaining. So where are the women, or even the people? Where is the wit? Yes, the cover shows a road, and the road is a classic symbol of life in literature. So you could argue that, theoretically, it fits the book. But marketing surveys have shown that a cover has 4-to-7 seconds to grab you. In those few seconds, how many people will make the symbolic connection?

3. Above all, the cover of Learning to Drive doesn’t suggest what is unique about the book. Its image of a road could fit anything from Richard Ford’s short stories to Claudia Emerson’s poetry. The cover of I Feel Bad About My Neck showed a jar of skin cream with the title of the book on the label and would have suited no other book. That’s part of what makes it a great cover.

I’m not asking for a copy of Ephron’s cover. And I’m certainly not asking for pink. But there’s a middle ground between stereotyping women and denying that a book has anything to do with them. The cover of Learning to Drive renders women invisible, and – oh, irony of ironies! – that is what Pollitt has spent her entire career opposing.

Cover design for Learning to Drive: Royce M. Becker

Links: Learning to Drive www.randomhouse.com and www.kathapollitt.blogspot.com. I Feel Bad About My Neck www.aaknopf.com.

Why I chose Learning to Drive for this occasional series on book covers: This is case in which the publisher clearly could have done better. Many small firms can’t afford to hire great art directors (who oversee book design) and graphic designers (who often develop or execute the cover concepts). Random House can afford it. And some books have little chance of becoming bestsellers even with great covers. Others come from authors whose books will make the New York Times list if they look like dog food. Learning to Drive doesn’t fall into either category. With this book, Pollitt had the best chance of her career to “break out” — more jargon — and find her way to many more readers. She may still do it. But it would have been easier for her if her book had a cover that helped booksellers and others understand its uniqueness and position it correctly. Finally, this was a case in which a protest by Pollitt and her literary agent might have helped. Most authors have little or no control over their covers. Often their agents don’t have much clout, either, or won’t use it for fear of offending publishers. Pollitt has a strong following and one of New York’s best agents. There’s little doubt that Random House would have tried to accommodate them if they said, “This cover is unacceptable.”

Note: A thousand thanks to Sean Lindsay, the host of the site 101 Reasons to Stop Writing, for a) noticing my comment that I didn’t know how to add images and b) e-mailing me instructions for finding and inserting images. Without Sean, you wouldn’t be looking at the image of Pollitt’s book but reading a description. If you’d like to see a blog by someone who really knows how to pull one together, visit his informative and entertaining 101 Reasons to Stop Writing www.101reasonstostopwriting.com.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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