One-Minute Book Reviews

April 9, 2009

This Week’s Gusher Award – A Literary Relay Gone Haywire

Filed under: Gusher Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:19 am
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This winner of this week’s Gusher Award exemplifies one of the most popular forms of overheated praise, the literary relay gone haywire. It comes from a recent review of Yu Hua’s novel Brothers in the New York Times Book Review:

“Imagine a novel written by William Dean Howells together with D.H. Lawrence, updated by Tom Wolfe and then filmed by Baz Luhrmann, and you’ll have some idea of what Brothers would be like, had it originated in the West.”

The reviewer doesn’t stop with linking a Chinese author to Howells, one of the most influential American writers of the 19th century. He also invokes a fine early 20th-century English author, a bestselling New York novelist, and the Sydney-born director of Australia (after having said that Brothers has a presumably French-influenced “Cyrano de Bergerac-style struggle”). Instead of being helpful, all of these comparisons have the opposite effect: The more of them the critic piles on, the less clearly you see the book.

On a more practical note: Some research has shown that readers start to have trouble grasping statistics when more than three numbers appear in a sentence, and I suspect that a similar principle applies to comparisons. After this critic throws in that fourth name, Baz Luhrmann, he’s lost you.

Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing appear on One-Minute Book Reviews on Fridays unless, as happened this week, I hit “publish” when I meant to hit “save” so that one of them is announced earlier.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 26, 2009

2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist #4 — Jiang Rong’s ‘Wolf Totem’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:03 pm
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Delete Key Awards Finalist #4 comes from Jiang Rong’s novel, Wolf Totem (Penguin, 527 pp., $29.95), translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt:

“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.”

Now we understand how a line in a prize-winning Chinese novel can read like an excerpt from a report by the Government Accountability Office.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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