One-Minute Book Reviews

June 16, 2008

Tina Brown’s ‘The Diana Chronicles’: Now in Paperback

Diana Spencer was nine years old when her father sent her to a boarding school where she won “perhaps the most endearing airhead award ever: the prize for best-kept guinea pig.” With such sharp observations, Tina Brown comes close to pulling a rabbit out of a diamond tiara in The Diana Chronicles (Broadway, 576 pp., $15.95, paperback). Brown tells us little that hasn’t been said by others about Diana’s character and motivations. And what she says often comes from sources that are unnamed or so dubious that they might not have made it past the fact-checkers at Vanity Fair or The New Yorker, magazines she used to edit. But The Diana Chronicles is far better than earlier biographies by Andrew Morton, Lady Colin Campbell and others – not just because it is livelier and more comprehensive but because Brown finds the middle ground between axe-grinding and hagiography. Click here to read a full review of the book oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/09/.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.Janiceharayda.com

May 7, 2008

How to Talk With Successful People – A Tip From Barbara Walters’s Other Book

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I haven’t seen Barbara Walters’s new memoir, Audition. But when I was starting out in journalism and looking for ideas on how to get hard-shelled sources to open up, I read her self-help book, How to Talk With Practically Anybody About Practically Anything. Walters offered this tip on talking with all the intimidatingly successful people you meet at parties or elsewhere: Ask them to tell you about their first job. I’ve taken that advice many times, and it usually works. The more successful people are, the more they seem to love to talk about their modest beginnings — as though the contrast between the past and present might make their achievements appear all the more impressive.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 29, 2008

Delete Key Awards Finalist #1 – Steve Martin and Roz Chast’s ‘The Alphabet from A to Y: With Bonus Letter Z!’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:55 pm
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Delete Key Awards Finalist #1 – From The Alphabet From At to Y: With Bonus Letter Z!’ by Steve Martin and Roz Chast:

“Henrietta the hare wore a habit in heaven, / Her hairdo hid hunchbacks: one hundred and seven.”

And special mention to Chast for a drawing that may leave thousands of children with the idea that the plural of “Inca” is “Incans”

Hey, kids! You’re never too young to make fun of people who are different from you! That’s an implicit message of the shortlisted lines from this demented bestseller by the actor and cartoonist. Yes, American publishers have brought out far too many dreary children’s books that are longer on ideological correctness than good writing. But do we really need books that encourage 2-to-4-year-olds – the usual audience for alphabet books – to laugh at people with disabilities? In this book the joke isn’t on fictional hunchbacks like Quasimodo but on those who look like your Uncle Ed. It doesn’t help that one of Chast’s drawings gives the plural of “Inca” as “Incans” instead of “Incas” or “Inca.”

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

O. J. Simpson and Ishmael Beah Books Disqualified From Delete Key Awards

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:16 am
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Two of the most controversial books of 2007 have been ejected from the competition

O. J. Simpson’s If I Did It might be the most loathsome book in the history of publishing, but it’s been disqualified from the 2008 Delete Key Awards contest, which recognizes the year’s worst writing in books. One-Minute Book Reviews said last weekend that the book had been ruled ineligible because it would be cruel to the other finalists to mention them in the same breath with this purportedly “hypothetical” account of the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.

Another controversial book, Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, was disqualified today for different reasons. The Delete Key Awards don’t recognize the “worst books” of the year but specific examples of bad writing, such as cliché-infested sentences or paragraphs. And the Australian, the Australian national newspaper, has raised such serious questions about the credibility of Beah’s entire account that to single out one or two sentences would distract attention from those larger issues. A Long Way Gone doesn’t need a Delete Key Award – it needs a segment on Sixty Minutes.

The first Delete Key finalist will be named by 10 a.m. today with others announced throughout the day.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 20, 2008

Children’s Books to Be Eligible for the Delete Key Awards for the First Time, One-Minute Book Reviews Annouces

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:59 pm
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

‘WORST WRITING’ PRIZES TO RECOGNIZE CHILDREN’S BOOKS IN 2008

NEW JERSEY, USA — Janice Harayda, editor-in-chief of One-Minute Book Reviews, announced today that children’s books would be eligible for the first time for the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books.

Ms. Harayda said that she had opened the annual awards to children’s books to in the interests of diversity. She said the change would allow the Delete Key Awards to represent better the full range of literary bottom-feeders.

“It isn’t fair to suggest that adult-book publishers are the only ones shoveling junk at us,” she said. “Not when we have everything from cheesy knock-offs of The Velveteen Rabbit, which was inadvertently allowed to go out of copyright, to Steve Martin making fun of people with disabilities in an alphabet book for 2-to-4-year-olds.”

Ms. Harayda said she hoped that the decision to include children’s books would make the prizes fairer and also encourage Martin to stick to making movies “unless they were like Sgt. Bilko.” She noted that some people might see the change as a technicality given that the 2007 first runner-up, Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, is written at a third-grade reading level, according to the Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics that are part of the spell-checker on Microsoft Word.

The finalists for the Delete Key Awards will be announced beginning at noon on Friday, Feb. 29, and the winners on March 15. Anybody may nominate a candidate for one of the awards by leaving a comment on the site or sending an e-mail message to the address on the contact form.

Ms. Harayda reminded people that she does not accept free books from publishers even if they would send them to her “which, let’s face it, no same publisher would.” She is an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour and book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio.

One-Minute Book Reviews is a site for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. It is the eighth-ranked book-review site in the world on the Google Directory of top arts and literature sites
www.google.com/Top/Arts/Literature/Reviews_and_Criticism/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
http://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

October 26, 2007

Steve Martin and Roz Chast Make Fun of Religious, Cultural and Physical Differences in a New Alphabet Book for Preschoolers — Is Your Two-Year-Old Ready for Ethnic Humor?

Maybe they should have called it “S” Is for Sucker

The Alphabet From A to Y: With Bonus Letter Z! Words by Steve Martin. Pictures by Roz Chast. Doubleday/Flying Dolphin, 64 pp., $17.95. Suggested ages: “Young Children” (Doubleday), “Baby/Preschool” (Powell’s), 9-to-12 (Amazon).

By Janice Harayda

Hey, kids! You’re never too young to laugh at people who are different from you! And if you’re an adult who wants to help, Steve Martin and Roz Chast are there for you! They use rhyming couplets to show 2-to-4-year-olds – the usual audience for alphabet books — just how easy it is to make fun of religious, cultural and physical differences!

Looking for the perfect Hannukah gift for a toddler? How about a book that explains the letter “K” by showing an ape-like woman (“King Kong’s aunt Frances”) saying, “Kids! Kome Back! Have Some Kosher Kasha!” Or need something to wrap up for Diwali? Why not a book that shows a funny-looking guy in a turban staring at a woman “indecent in her undies”? Those 2-year-olds have to learn about perverts sometime! And what could be better for kids celebrating the Day of the Dead than a book that introduces the letter “I” with a poster of “The Incans”? (Will those kids ever be surprised to learn that the plural of “Inca” is “Incans” and not “Inca” or “Incas”!) Martin and Chast even show how simple it can be to make fun of disabilities! And nuns! The “H” page says: “Henrietta the hare wore a habit in heaven, / Her hairdo hid hunchbacks: one hundred and seven.” And Martin and Chast aren’t talking about Quasimodo but people who look just like your Uncle Ed except with disabilities! Yes, they could easily have said “halfbacks” instead of “hunchbacks”! But they must have decided that people with disabilities are funnier than athletes!

Sure, you might see all of this as tasteless — not to mention, a little mature for kids who may be poring over Once Upon a Potty. So why didn’t the people at Doubleday pitch this book to the group who would enjoy it most, the adult fans of Chast’s New Yorker cartoons? Could it be that they figured out that they could make more money by selling it as a children’s book? Maybe they should have called it “S” Is for Sucker.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 22, 2007

‘Looking for Class,’ Bruce Feiler’s Memoir of Cambridge University

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction,Travel — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:13 am
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The host of a popular PBS series remembers his jolly good time in graduate school

Bruce Feiler earned a master’s degree at Cambridge University before becoming the host of the popular PBS series Walking the Bible. He recalls his studies into the engaging memoir, Looking for Class: Days and Nights at Oxford and Cambridge (Harper Perennial, $13.95, paperback), which explores the clash between tradition and modernity at England’s second-oldest university in the early 1990s. (Oxford has little role in the book except as the other half of the pair of school known as “Oxbridge.”) At Cambridge Feiler ate doner kebabs, rowed in a boat race, went to the May Ball and spoke for the “yea” side in a Cambridge Union debate about whether it was “better to be young, free, and American” than British. He’s generally less acerbic than Bill Bryson and tends to view English idiosyncracies with wry affection instead of scorn. But Feiler www.brucefeiler.com still made people laugh at the Cambridge Union debate by asking a question that suggests the tone of his memoir: Was it true, he asked, “that the Brits keep a stiff upper lip in order to hide their teeth”?

Furthermore: Ever wonder how I choose some of these books? In this case, a young Scottish friend of mine got into Cambridge last week after acing four exams, one in something called, mystifyingly, “further maths.” I read this book and enjoyed it a few years ago and thought about it again after the good news arrived.

© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

One-Minute Book Reviews is an independent literary blog created by Janice Harayda, who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org. Please visit www.janiceharayda.com for information about her comic novels The Accidental Bride and Manhattan on the Rocks.

March 26, 2007

Robin McGraw’s Faith in Herself

Dr. Phil’s wife writes about her $50,000 Mercedes, her crystal chandeliers, and those tabloid rumors

[Note: I picked up Inside My Heart along with Love Smart, reviewed on this site on Feb. 8, planning to do a dual review. The books were so different I decided to do this one separately.]

Inside My Heart: Choosing to Live With Passion and Purpose. By Robin McGraw. Nelson, 223 pp., $24.99.

By Janice Harayda

Robin McGraw devotes four pages of Inside My Heart to a vasectomy reversal that her husband had without telling her – an incident that included, as she puts it, “fabricating” a cover story for his whereabouts during the surgery. This is by far the most revealing anecdote in her memoir of her marriage to Dr. Phil McGraw. What would her husband say if a man on his talk show confessed to doing the same thing?

McGraw says that she wrote Inside My Heart to get female readers excited about becoming “the woman that God created you to be,” a process that involves learning to stand up for themselves as she says she has done. Presumably to help them get “excited,” she writes about her $50,000 Mercedes, her “Italian Renaissance style” home with its “mosaic floors and crystal chandeliers” and her “black suede bomber jacket” that her husband gave her for Christmas. She says little about her day-to-day spiritual practices and struggles beyond that she gives thanks each morning for how “God has blessed” her.

Although Inside My Heart comes from a publisher of Christian books, God comes across in it as a generic figure with a goody bag that always has something for McGraw. So it’s hard to say who the target audience is. Inside My Heart may offend evangelicals with its glib materialism and lack of references to Jesus and the Bible. But it’s so shallow it has little to offer others, including people who enjoy good celebrity memoirs. Perhaps it’s is aimed partly at all those tabloid readers who wonder if there’s truth to the rumors that its author has been so lonely in Los Angeles, she went door-to-door trying to find someone to play bunco with her? If so, let the record show that McGraw says the stories about the dice game are false. “I had never even heard of it,” she says, “let alone played it.”

Best line: McGraw was startled when she first learned of her husband’s vasectomy reversal: “And then I took a good look at him and saw that he had a bulge under his trousers from a bandage and icepack.”

Worst line: At times McGraw slips into her husband’s nasty, hectoring tone. An example occurs when she urges people to have colonoscopies: “If you’re over fifty and haven’t had one done because you’re too squeamish to deal with it, stop acting like a baby and go have one.”

Consider reading instead: Firstlight: The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd, by Sue Monk Kidd. A review is archived in the “Essays and Reviews” category on this site.

Published: September 2006

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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