One-Minute Book Reviews

December 30, 2012

Backscratching in Our Time — Jami Attenberg and Julie Orringer

The latest in a series of posts on authors who praise each other’s work

Jami Attenberg on Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge, which she listed as one of the “5 Best Things” she had “read recently” in Impose magazine: 

“I just cracked open Julie Orringer’s latest book this morning; a very wise and literary friend gave me a galley of it and promised I would love it. It’s gorgeous so far, master-craftsman-next-level kind of writing.”

Julie Orringer on Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins in the New York Times Book Review:

“There’s a touching paradox in the first chapter of Jami Attenberg’s caustic, entertaining and bighearted new novel, The Middlesteins….The burning question, which Attenberg explores with patience and sensitivity, is why Edie has embarked on her self-destructive path. The answers themselves aren’t surprising: Edie married too early, felt ambivalent about parenthood, became disillusioned with her career. What’s remarkable is the unfailing emotional accuracy and specificity with which Attenberg renders Edie’s despair….largely brilliant.”

Read about other logrolling authors in the “Backscratching in Our Time” series.

You can follow Jan on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button on this page.

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 10, 2012

Backscratching in Our Time: Denis Johnson and Michael Cunningham

Filed under: Backscratching in Our Time,Book Awards,Pulitzer Prizes — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:53 pm
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The latest in a series of posts on authors who praise each other’s books

Michael Cunningham says that he and the two other jurors for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for fiction found it “upsetting” that the board that oversees the awards rejected all three of the books they nominated, including Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams. Here’s what others might find upsetting: In a 5,000-word post on the controversy for the Page-Turner blog for the New Yorker, Cunningham doesn’t mention a conflict of interest: As I noted in April, Johnson helped to launch Cunningham’s career by providing a blurb for his first book and did him another favor by allowing him to reprint his work in an anthology. Some people would argue that, given these conflicts, Cunningham should have recused himself from judging Johnson’s work for the Pulitzer. His New Yorker post makes clear that he participated actively in the process.

Here’s what the two writers say about each other:

Denis Johnson on Michael Cunningham’s Golden States:
“Michael Cunningham writes with wisdom, humor, and style about a difficult part of any life.”

Michael Cunningham on Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams:
“Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams had been written ten years earlier and been published as a long short story in The Paris Review. It was, however, magnificently written, stylistically innovative, and—in its exhilarating, magical depiction of ordinary life in the much romanticized Wild West—a profoundly American book.”

Read other posts in the “Backscratching in Our Time” series. You can follow Jan on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.

As noted on the “About This Blog” page on this site, comments on posts must relate directly to their content,  must contain no more than 250 words, and must  have a civil tone.  They must also include a name, a photo avatar, or a link to a site what includes these, unless their author is known to the moderator of One-Minute Book Reviews. 

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

May 21, 2012

Ethics Go on Vacation in Nancy Pearl’s ‘Great Summer Reads’ for NPR

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:15 pm
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[Update, May 24: After this post appeared, NPR acknowledged Nancy Pearl's conflict of interest in a note that appears at the top of her post at http://bit.ly/NPRconf.]

A librarian doesn’t tell listeners about her financial ties to one of her “great summer reads”

By Janice Harayda

You expect some objectivity when you tune into a report on books by a regular commentator on NPR. You know that authors who appear on a broadcast are usually there to promote their work and gain financial benefits. But you assume that an experienced host or commentator will provide the professional distance needed to maintain credibility for the nationwide network of radio stations.

Think again. The latest meltdown of ethics at NPR involves the librarian Nancy Pearl, the author of Book Lust and a regular commentator for the network. In January Pearl drew fire from independent booksellers when she said she had signed a deal with Amazon to write the introductions and other material for about six novels a year in series called “Book Lust Rediscoveries.” She just made that situation worse.

Today Pearl released on the NPR website and on its “Morning Edition” a list of seven “great summer reads” from among the thousands of books that will appear this spring or summer. And – you guessed it – one of her favorites is the first book in the series from which she stands to make money under her Amazon deal. Equally disturbing is her failure to spell out her conflict of interest clearly. Pearl says coyly on the NPR site that A Gay and Melancholy Sound is “the first book brought back into print as part of the Book Lust Rediscoveries series.” She doesn’t mention her financial link to it.

This lack of disclosure betrays the trust of the millions of people who tune in to “Morning Edition” and other NPR shows. It may also violate Federal Trade Commission disclosure rules. The FTC rules say that bloggers or online endorsers must disclose “the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.” Pearl appears to have a “material connection” to Amazon (“the seller of the product” she endorsed) that she did not disclose. And it’s hard not to wonder if that isn’t exactly what the online retailer was hoping for when it signed her to a deal.

Pearl’s failure to tell the full story of her involvement with A Gay and Melancholy Sound seems also to flout NPR ethics codes. Those guidelines note that “partial truths can inflict great damage on our credibility, and stories delivered without the context to fully understand them are incomplete.” Pearl has told NPR listeners a partial truth about her “great summer reads,” and NPR should respond by amending its website and broadcasting a correction about her financial tie to a product she enthusiastically recommended. NPR can foster only cynicism about its work by asking people to believe that from among the thousands of books Pearl could have chosen, one her seven favorites is the one most likely to put money in her pocket.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist and former book editor the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

April 19, 2012

Pulitzer Nominee Helped a Juror Who Chose Him as a 2012 Finalist

Filed under: Book Awards,News,Pulitzer Prizes — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:33 pm
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Pulitzer juror Michael Cunningham received help at least twice in his career from Denis Johnson, a novelist he helped select as a 2012 fiction nominee (the term the awards sponsor prefers to “finalist”). Details appear in this update to yesterday’s post defending the Pulitzer Prize Board’s controversial decision to give no fiction award this year.

February 3, 2012

Backscratching in Our Time / Andrew Roberts and Simon Sebag Montefiore

Filed under: Backscratching in Our Time — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:53 am
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The latest in an occasional series of posts on authors who praise each other’s books in reviews, blurbs or elsewhere

Historian Andrew Roberts on Simon Sebag Montefiore (on his website):
“The answers to these and a myriad other fascinating questions can be found in The Art of War: Great Commanders of the Modern World, a sumptuous chronological survey of the greatest commanders of the last four centuries. Compiled by an exceptionally distinguished team of historians (including such eminent names as Lady Antonia Fraser, Sir Martin Gilbert, Sir Alistair Horne, Michael Burleigh, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Richard Overy).”

Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore on Andrew Roberts (in the Wall Street Journal):
“My books of the year are Andrew Roberts’s The Storm of War, the best full history of World War II yet written …”

Read about other authors who are logrolling in our time.

December 27, 2011

Backscratching in Our Time — Lev Grossman and George R.R. Martin

Filed under: Backscratching in Our Time — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:33 am
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The latest in a series of posts on authors who praise each other’s books in blurbs, reviews or elsewhere:

Lev Grossman on George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, which he ranked No. 1 on his list of the Top 10 Fiction Books of 2011 for Time magazine:

“The artistry and savagery of Martin’s storytelling are at their finest: he has seized hold of epic fantasy and is radically refashioning it for our complex and jaded era, and the results are magnificent. … in the realm of epic fantasy, there is only one true king, and it’s Martin.”

George R.R. Martin in a blurb he provided for Lev Grossman’s The Magicians before Grossman named him to the Time 10 Top Fiction Books list:

“These days any novel about young sorcerers at wizard school inevitably invites comparison to Harry Potter. Lev Grossman meets the challenge head on … and very successfully. The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea.

Via Ed Champion (@drmabuse) on Twitter.

One-Minute Book Reviews welcomes nominations for its “Backscratching in Our Time” series, which has included other prominent authors.

October 10, 2010

Backscratching in Our Time: Edwidge Danticat and Amy Wilentz

Filed under: Backscratching in Our Time — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:25 pm
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Edwidge Danticat recommends Amy Wilentz’s The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier (Simon & Schuster, 1990)  on the Wall Street Journal’s “Speakeasy” blog on Jan. 14, 2010, calling it a book “which blends current events with cultural history” and “seeks to detail the society beyond the headlines.”

Amy Wilentz recommends Edwidge Danticat’s Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work (Princeton University Press, 2010) in the New York Times Book Review on Oct. 10, 2010:
“It’s a miracle, the way she captures the textures of a reality she was a part of for only the first 12 years of her life. The section in which she and her cousin and uncle climb a mountain and visit an aunt in a remote village is filled with small wonders.”

December 18, 2009

Backscratching in Our Time — Jonathan Lethem and Laura Miller

Filed under: Backscratching in Our Time,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:40 pm
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The latest in a series of occasional posts on authors who praise each other’s books.

Jonathan Lethem on Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book:

“Conversational, embracing, and casually erudite, Laura Miller’s superb long essay is the kind that comes along too rarely, a foray into the garden of one book that opens to the whole world of reading, becoming in the process a subtle reader’s memoir, and manifesto.”

Laura Miller in naming Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City one of the five best works of fiction of 2009 in Salon:

“A great New York novel should aim for the universal by way of the parochial. The Manhattanites in Lethem’s near-future/alternative-now metropolis experience all the crises and travails of 21st-century life in a slightly more concentrated form. (It takes a novelist of exceptional talent and nerve to make you believe that matters of moment can hang on the outcome of an eBay auction.) … On this you can count: Chronic City is the real thing.”

Lethem also appeared in the “Backscratching in Our Time” on Oct. 30, 2009. The series was inspired by “Logrolling in Our Time” in the late Spy magazine. You can nominate authors for it by using the e-mail address on the “Contact” page on this site.

November 17, 2009

A Conflict of Interest Among Judges of the 2009 National Book Awards in the Young People’s Literature Category?

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:02 pm
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The winners of the 2009 National Book Awards will be announced tomorrow night. Will the results in the category of young people’s literature be affected by the sponsor’s decision to allow one judge to judge the work of her illustrator?

This year’s shortlist for the National Book Award for young people’s literature is unusually strong but may be tainted by an apparent conflict of interest on the judging panel. The five finalists include Stitches, David Small’s graphic memoir of his youthful experience of throat cancer. One of the five judges for that award is Kathi Appelt, the author of a 2008 National Book Award finalist that Small illustrated, The Underneath.

No one could have known that Stitches would make the shortlist when the National Book Foundation, the sponsor of the prize, tapped Appelt as judge. Appelt may have been selected long before any books were nominated. But now that Small’s memoir is a finalist, she should recuse herself or be replaced to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

When Atheneum paired Appelt with Small, he had won the most prestigious honor in the picture-book field, the American Library Association’s Caldecott Medal, for his So You Want to Be President?. Appelt had received many honors but had not earned one of the ALA’s top awards. So Small’s willingness to illustrate her book could be considered a favor, however much he was paid for it: It was comparable a Wimbledon winner’s agreeing to be the doubles partner of a someone who had never made the finals of the tournament. Since the publication of The Underneath, Appelt’s career has soared. And Appelt has acknowledged Small’s contributions to her novel. Asked about its characters, she said: “He brought them to life in a million ways.” Small has also praised Appelt. “I was amazed by the twists and turns of the story,” he has said of The Underneath, “by the range of characters, both animal and human, and by the tone of mournful, nostalgic poetry in the prose.”

Does such a connection mean there’s a conflict? Some past National Book Awards judges may have voted for or against books important to people to whom they had close ties – for example, books edited by their editors. But the relationship between an author and illustrator is unique. Judging a book by someone who illustrated your book – and whose work may have had a direct effect on your sales — is different from judging a book edited by your editor and from which you can’t benefit financially.

The issue here has nothing to do with the integrity of Appelt, Small, or the National Book Foundation. Nor does it involve whether Appelt can be “objective.” Perhaps she can be. The issue is that Appelt’s ties to Small raise questions of fairness to the other four finalists: Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and Emma (Holt), Phillip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin (FSG), Rita Williams-Garcia’s Jumped (HarperTeen), and Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch: Three Times (Scholastic). If Stitches wins, how will the losers know that Appelt’s support for her illustrator didn’t make a vital difference?

Winning – or losing – a National Book Award may be the most important event in the professional life of a finalist. Apart from the money it brings, it has the power to transform careers. All finalists have a right to know that the decision was made fairly. The best way to ensure that literary justice prevails is for judges to avoid not just conflicts of interest but the sort of appearance of a conflict of interest that exists this year.

– Janice Harayda

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist and former book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland who has been a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. You can also follow her (@janiceharayda) on Twitter www.twitter.com/janiceharayda, where she has posted other comments on the 2009 National Book Awards.

October 30, 2009

Backscratching in Our Time – Jonathan Lethem and David Shields

Filed under: Backscratching in Our Time — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:10 am
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The latest in a series of occasional posts on authors who praise each other’s books

Jonathan Lethem on David Shields’s Reality Hunger: A Manifesto:
“I’ve just finished reading Reality Hunger: A Manifesto and I’m lit up by it—astonished, intoxicated, ecstatic, overwhelmed. It’s a pane that’s also a mirror: as a result of reading it, I can’t stop looking into myself and interrogating my own artistic intentions. It will be published to wild fanfare, because it really is an urgent book: a piece of art-making itself, a sublime, exciting, outrageous, visionary volume.”

David Shields on Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City (back cover of the hardcover edition):
“I’m reminded of the well-rubbed Kafka line: A book must be the axe to break the frozen sea within us. Lethem’s book, with incredible fury, aspires to do little less. It’s almost certainly his best novel. It’s genuinely great.”

“Backscratching in Our Time” was inspired by “Logrolling in Our Time” in the old Spy Magazine. Posts in the series appear on Fridays when examples of reciprocal blurbs are available. If you’d like to nominate authors, please use the e-mail address on the “Contact” page. You’ll find more examples of horse-trading in the “Backscratching in Our Time” category.

You can follow Jan Harayda on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

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