One-Minute Book Reviews

January 28, 2011

Foreign Correspondent Megan K. Stack on Hosni Mubarak, Islamists and the Future of Egypt / Quote of the Day

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:35 pm
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As a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, Megan K. Stack saw the government of Hosni Mubarak steal an election from the rival Muslim Brotherhood party,  a force in this week’s uprising in Egypt. Stack describes the event in “The Earthquake Nobody Felt,” a chapter in her 2010 National Book Award finalist, Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War (Doubleday, 2010). Her book includes this comment:

“There was only one source of serious political opposition to the Egyptian autocracy, a single party strong enough to unseat the government – and that was the Muslim Brotherhood, a nonviolent Islamist movement with deep roots across Egypt. Officially, the Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed, but the reality was nuanced. The government would pass through bouts of tolerance, then round up activists and raid party offices in crackdowns. Nobody stood to gain more from democratic reform than the Brotherhood, because no other force in Egypt had its legitimate popularity, the grass roots credibility, the air of moral authority.”

A review of Every Man in This Village Is a Liar appeared on this site in September.

May 21, 2009

Kate Kelly’s ‘Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, the Toughest Firm on Wall Street’

As a rule, the business of business books is anything but good writing. But the Wall Street Journal ran an excerpt from a new book by one of its reporters, Kate Kelly’s Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, the Toughest Firm on Wall Street (Portfolio, 256 pp., $26.95), that had sprightlier writing than most in the category. And Tim Rutten quotes a telling paragraph from this hour-by-hour account of the last days of the Bear Stearns investment bank in his Los Angeles Times review:

“Regulators may never know what really happened [to cause Bear Stearns to collapse in 2008]. But one thing is clear: Once confidence in a company falls away on such a grand scale, it can never recover. Bear started that week with more than $18 billion in capital, its largest cash position ever. Three days later, negative headlines, a stock drop, lender reticence and big withdrawals from client accounts had cut those capital levels in half. Eight hours later, it was nearly dead.”

The first sentence of that paragraph, Rutten rightly notes, is chilling: “Regulators may never know what really happened.” He adds:

“ … this was a situation so threatening to the fabric and substance of global finance that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would subsequently insist that, absent government intervention to essentially force the deal with JPMorgan, Bear would have gone into bankruptcy, causing a ‘chaotic unwinding’ of investments in all the American markets.

“Yet regulators may never know what really happened.

“That’s the intolerable fact of public policy on which this whole mess turns, along with all the pain it set rippling through the nation’s human economy, the one where ordinary people struggle to pay the deceptive mortgages that backed all those derivatives and where women and men who’ve lost jobs as a consequence of this calamity now scratch to find new livings.

“There are timeless human failings to ponder anew in Kelly’s artful narrative journalism — ego, hubris, venality and folly, the whole sad crew. They, unfortunately, will always be with us, consequences of our fallen nature. What we need not tolerate is a federal regulatory structure that is blind to the operations of those who wheel and deal at the very center of the global economy and federal officials who are so uncertain of their aims and prerogatives that they fumble in the face of crisis.”

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

May 8, 2009

May 8, 1945 — VE Day in New York — When Broadway Was Ten Inches Deep In Fabric Thrown by Garment Workers

Filed under: History,News,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:26 am
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My father was an English-German interpreter in prisoner-of-war camps during World War II, and two of the questions I most regret not asking him were, “How did you celebrate the end of the war? And how did the prisoners?” Historian David Stafford tells how some Americans reacted to the German surrender in his Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II (Little, Brown, 2007), an account of the final days of the war and its immediate aftermath. He notes that New Yorkers started celebrating the day before Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945, because news of the surrender leaked before the official announcement:

“Office workers deluged the streets with tons of ticker tape, scrap paper, old telephone books, playing cards and anything else they could find. They were joined by the garment trade, whose workers threw not paper but bales and bolts of cloth of all kinds into the streets. The New York Times reported that ‘every possible remnant in every possible shade and hue turned and squirmed in the thin morning sunlight’ until Broadway was ten inches deep in fabric.’ Boats on the East River sounded their whistles while on land the cabbies honked madly.”

[Page364]

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

October 8, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Why Isn’t John Updike on the Odds-Makers Lists of Favorites for the Nobel?

A mystifying aspect of the lists of bookies’ favorites for the Nobel Prize in literature: Why isn’t John Updike’s name on any that I’ve seen?

Yes, the requirements for the prize specify that it should go to a writer whose work has an “idealistic tendency” or promotes the good of humanity. And that standard might not favor Updike’s novels about the lascivious Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. But that test also wouldn’t favor a lot of the work of Philip Roth and Don De Lillo, whose names appear often on lists of bookies’ favorites. And Updike is much more elegant writer than Joyce Carol Oates, though she has given so much support to other writers – especially female writers – that she may come closer to meeting the test of idealism.

Updike’s novels vary tremendously in quality. But he is the best all-around writer in America – not just one of our leading novelists but a great story story writer, a good poet and an elegant critic. Do bettors discount him because his short stories are perhaps his best work and he wrote many of them decades ago? Or because they don’t count his criticism and poetry? What role does the unofficial geographic distribution requirement — and that the U.S. has more novelists than most countries – play in all of this? If Updike lived in Greenland, he would have had the Nobel Prize decades ago.

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

London Bookies’ Favorites for the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature — Odds-Makers Give Edge to Magris and Oz But Also Rate Chances of Roth, Oates, McEwan, and DeLillo

Filed under: Book Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:20 pm
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Ladbrokes calls Italy’s Claudio Magris the favorite to win, but Unibet gives the edge to Israel’s Amos Oz

Italy’s Claudio Magris is the favorite to get the 2008 Nobel Prize in literature when the Swedish Academy names the recipient tomorrow, the Man Booker Prize site reports. Magris has 3–1 odds at the Ladbrokes betting agency. Just behind him are Syrian poet Adonis, Israel’s Amos Oz, and American novelist Joyce Carol Oates. The Man Booker site added:

“Booker Prize winners Margaret Atwood, John Banville, A.S. Byatt, Peter Carey, Ian McEwan, Michael Ondaatje and Salman Rushdie have also been given odds” www.themanbookerprize.com/news/stories/1141.

The English novelist Doris Lessing won the 2007 Nobel in literature, so McEwan probably has no chance. But the appearance of his name on the Ladbrokes list raises the tantalizing possibility that the Nobel could go to the novelist whose On Chesil Beach was longlisted for the 2007 Bad Sex Award.

Earth Times reports that Ladbrokes’ odds differ from those of Unibet, which has named Israeli author Amos Oz as the frontrunner with 4-1 odds to win the Nobel Prize nobelprize.org/:

“Both online bettings sites had Syrian-born poet Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said Asbar) in second place ….

“Ladbrokes had US authors Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth in third place this year along with Oz at 6 to 1, while American writer Don DeLillo was on 8 to 1”
www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/235985,bets-are-on-for-nobel-literature-prize–feature.html.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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

July 27, 2008

Frances Richey’s Poetry Collection ‘The Warrior: A Mother’s Story of a Son at War’

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:51 pm
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Internal and external conflicts intersect in a collection of 28 poems

The Warrior: A Mother’s Story of a Son at War. By Frances Richey. Viking, 84 pp., $21.95.

By Janice Harayda

Not long ago, I went to an American Ballet Theater production of Sleeping Beauty with a companion who called it, with some justification, “a walking ballet.” The choreography may delight crowds, but you don’t go to this one for aerial special effects such as long sequences of dazzling grand jêtés.

The Warrior is a collection of walking poetry, billed by its publisher as “a memoir in verse.” Frances Richey, a yoga teacher, began to write its 28 poems when her son, a West Point graduate and Green Beret, went on the first of his two tours of duty in Iraq. Her book is about the distances – physical and emotional – that war puts between a parent and child.

Richey is earnest and at times pedestrian writer who works mostly in unrhymed, variable-length free verse with the occasional hint of an internal or end-rhyme or both (“and since my son was the only one / who’d never hunted”). In a poem called “The Book of Secrets,” she recalls her son’s early years: “ … Mornings, / when I left him with the sitter, / I had to close my heart, // or else obsess he was crossing / Oak alone.” You don’t doubt the sincerity of her words, but they read less like poetry than stenography, a literal transcription from life without the alchemy of a great poem. In some of the other poems, no thought seems too obvious to avoid making explicit. “I can’t protect him,” she tells us in one. “Will he come back?” she wonders in another. “ On learning that Iraq can be cold, she reflects, “I was always asking if he was warm enough. / Put a sweater on, I’d say. Your jacket …”

Other poems are less prosaic, and two are particularly good. In “The Aztec Empire” Richey considers artifacts of human sacrifice that she sees in an exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum and links them elegantly to the sacrifice of human lives in Iraq. And in “Kill School” she describes a combat training program that teaches a soldier how to kill by having him rock a rabbit “like a baby in his arms, / faster and faster,” then smash its head against a tree. Richey doesn’t call her book a collection of antiwar poems, but these two poems speak for themselves. And their direction, like that of the other poems in The Warrior, is no less clear because they walk instead of soaring toward their destination.

Best line: From “Kill School”: “The trainer showed him / how to rock the rabbit / / like a baby in his arms, / faster and faster, // until every sinew surrendered / and he smashed its head into a tree.”

Worst line: You may need to assume a lotus pose to appreciate: “… Green: / color of the fourth chakra, / Anahata; it means unstuck — / the heart center — / the color of his fatigues.”

Editor: Paul Slovak

Published: April 2008 www.francesrichey.com

You may also want to read: Robert Hass’s Time and Materials: Poems, 1997–2005, winner of the 2007 National Book Award for poetry, which has several poems critical of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, including “Bush’s War. ” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/15/

Furthermore: Richey also wrote the poetry collection The Burning Point. She lives in New York City.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org.

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

May 22, 2008

Why Do Suicide Bombers Do It? Lessons From Kamikazes

Why have so many suicide bombers been willing to sacrifice their lives in the Middle East and elsewhere? Similar questions were raised about Japanese kamikaze pilots who crashed their planes into American aircraft carriers and other ships in the last months of World War II. Max Hastings, the British journalist, notes his new Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944–45 (Knopf, $35) that the attacks began when traditional Japanese air forces were being overwhelmed by the Americans:

“Suicide attack offered a prospect of redressing the balance of forces, circumventing the fact that Japanese pilots were no longer capable of challenging their American counterparts on conventional terms. Instead, their astonishing willingness for self-sacrifice might be exploited. Here was a concept which struck a chord in the Japanese psyche, and caught the Imperial Navy’s mood of the moment. Officers cherished a saying: ‘When a commander is uncertain whether to steer to port or starboard, he should steer towards death.’ An alternative aphorism held that ‘One should take care to make one’s own dying as meaningful as possible.’ The suicide concept appeared to satisfy both requirements.”

Hastings adds that one kamikaze pilot had married just three months earlier. Before leaving on his final mission, instead of saying that he was sacrificing himself for his country, he told reporters he was doing it for his beloved wife:

“To a Western mind, self-immolation in such circumstances is incomprehensible. To some Japanese of the time, however, it seemed intensely romantic.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 11, 2008

Sex Scenes We Don’t Want to See in Eliot Spitzer’s Memoirs — From ‘The Confession’ by the Former New Jersey ‘Luv Guv’ James McGreevey

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 6:47 pm
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What we don’t want to read if the the former governor of New York gets a book deal out of the accusation that he met with prostitutes

“What is it with those Democrats in the East?” a liberal friend in Seattle asked on the phone today. “First Jim McGreevey. Now Eliot Spitzer. Before that, Bill Clinton. The Democrats can’t keep their flies zipped.” And publishers can’t seem to keep their checkbooks closed when it happens.

So here are some sex scenes we don’t want to see in the book we may get from Eliot Spitzer, accused by law-enforcement officials of having met with a high-priced call girl in a Washington hotel.

All of the following lines come from The Confession, a memoir by the former New Jersey governor James E. McGreevey, who stepped down in 2004 after outing himself as a “gay American”:

“I stretched out on the couch and placed my legs out over his knees … I then leaned forward and hugged him, and kissed his neck. His response was immediate and loving, just what I’d fantasized about since we first locked eyes.”

“I pulled him to the bed and we made love like I’d always dreamed … boastful, passionate, whispering … “

“We undressed and he kissed me. It was the first time in my life that a kiss meant what it was supposed to mean – it sent me through the roof.”

“Our first few times burned so fiercely in my mind I could hardly recall them even as we were still lying together. “

“‘I love you … You make me so happy…. I’ve never, you know …’”

“He greeted me in his briefs. ‘Did anybody see you?’ he asked, closing the door quickly.”

You can read more about The Confession (Regan, 2006) www.harpercollins.com, by McGreevey and David France, in “Who Writes Better Sex Scenes, Danielle Steel or Jim McGreevey?” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/01/08/).

Coming Friday on One-Minute Book Reviews: The winners of the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. The Confession was a finalist in 2007 but lost to the grand prize winner Danielle Steel and runners-up Mitch Albom and Claire Messud.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

‘There’s No Such Thing As a Private Conversation’ in New Jersey Politics — Quote of the Day From James McGreevey’s ‘The Confession’

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:02 pm
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From one governor to another …

“One of the cardinal rules of New Jersey politics is, there’s no such thing as a private conversation. Governor [Brendan] Byrne once told me this, as though imparting a philosophical truth from the ages. ‘Somewhere along the line,’ he said, ‘you are going to be taped by someone wearing a wire.’ This is who so many political meetings start with a big bear hug – a New Jersey pat down among friends.”

From The Confession (Regan, 2006) by James E. McGreevey, the former New Jersey governor who resigned his post after outing himself as a “gay American,” in a memoir written with David France www.harpercollins.com.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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