One-Minute Book Reviews

August 26, 2009

Before Ted Kennedy’s Brain Tumor, There Was Johnny Gunther’s

Filed under: Classics,Memoirs,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:40 am
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Malignant brain tumors such as that of Sen. Ted Kennedy (1932-2009) are uncommon enough that they have received less attention in books than many other types of cancer. One exception to the pattern is Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther’s eloquent memoir of the death of his 17-year-old son, Johnny, from a fatal glioma diagnosed when he was in high school. American views of cancer have undergone a sea-change since the book was first published in 1949. But this modern classic remains one of the finest accounts we have of the physical and emotional toll that a malignant brain tumor takes on patients, even those who might seem to have all the advantages. This post first appeared in 2008.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

April 16, 2009

In the Land of the Jane Fonda Urinal Target — ‘What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America’

[You can find some of my comments on the 2009 Pulitzer Prizes for books, which will be announced Monday, at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.]

How ignoring the economy and lifting up wedge issues got us into a mess

What’s the Matter With Kansas? By Thomas Frank. How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Holt, 336 pp., $16, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Why did the Republican Party for years attract so many Americans who recently have lost their homes, jobs or life savings to its policies? How did the GOP recast itself as the party of working-class voters, who for generations had lined up behind the Democrats?

Thomas Frank gives bracing and witty answers in What’s the Matter With Kansas?, a former New York Times bestseller that is still one of the best books on the political roots of the current fiscal mess. Frank argues that for decades, Republicans have been eroding the traditional Democratic base by focusing on wedge issues such as abortion, gun control, and “filth” in the media, not on the economic policies that separate the parties. And since the Clinton administration, the Democratic Leadership Council has played into their hands by promoting “triangulation,” a business-friendly stance that downplays its differences with the GOP.

The result: The line between the parties blurred, and year after year Americans elected Republicans whose laissez-faire economic policies eventually would wipe out their 401(k)s.

Frank refracts the changes through his native Kansas, once a hotbed of progressive ideals, a state that has paid a scalper’s price for its march to the right. A portent of the American economic meltdown occurred when the attacks of Sept. 11 halted the orders to the Boeing, a mainstay of the Wichita economy. The aircraft manufacturer laid off many union workers and said that, this time, their jobs wouldn’t be coming back.

“In the summer of 2003, unemployment in Wichita passed 7 percent and foreclosures on homes spiked as these disasters reverberated through the local economy,” Frank writes.

But Kansans didn’t seem blame the Republican union-busting policies exemplified by Ronald Reagan’s decision to fire striking air traffic controllers. The state went for George Bush in 2004. And Frank’s pessimism about its political climate seems well-founded, if not prophetic, given the economic free fall that has occurred since the publication of his book. Even as the recession was spreading around the world, Kansas voted Republican in the 2008 presidential election.

Best line: At Kansas Vietnam Veterans reunion in 2002, trinket vendors sold “such items as the Jane Fonda urinal target.

Worst line: Frank describes how the national swerve to the right affected his hometown, the affluent Mission Hills, Kansas, and says you “can observe the same changes” in Shaker Heights, Ohio. No, you can’t. Parts of Shaker Heights — where I lived for 11 of the years when those changes supposed to be occurring — may look like Mission Hills with its castellated stone fortresses. But the Cleveland suburb is 10 times the size of Mission Hills, has a far more diverse population, and for other reasons does not fit the pattern he describes. Shaker Heights has lost enough of its cachet in the past several decades that the elite suburbs now lie farther to the east. Those suburbs include Hunting Valley, which more closely resembles his hometown.

Editor: Sara Bershtel

Published: June 2004 (hardcover), April 2005 (paperback).

Furthermore: Frank’s latest book is The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and former book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 20, 2009

Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address Is Written at an 8th Grade Reading Level

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:21 pm
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Barack Obama’s inaugural address is written at an 8th grade reading level – specifically, Grade 8.3. This is an excellent showing compared with the reading levels of the novels of bestselling authors such as Mitch Albom (Grade 3.4) and Stephenie Meyer (Grade 4). But the level of Obama’s address isn’t as high as that of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (Grade 10.9) or Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech (Grade 11.2).

Reading levels of other presidents’ writing appeared in the 2007 Presidents’ Day post “Bizarre But True: GWB Writes at a Higher Level Than Thomas Jefferson.” And the levels of other authors were listed in the Nov. 16, 2006, post, “Does Mitch Albom Think He’s Jesus?,” which also tells how to find the reading level of a text using any recent version of Microsoft Word.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 15, 2008

Woman Says She Traded ‘Sexual Favors’ for Vote for Bush (Quote of the Day / Nancy Huff in ‘The Necklace’)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:44 pm
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Nancy Huff makes this comment about her husband, Wayne, in The Necklace, a bestseller that tells the true story of 13 women, including Huff, who chipped in to buy a $15,000 diamond tennis necklace:

“I told Wayne, ‘I’ll make a deal with you. If you vote for Bush I’ll give you sexual favors.’ I live with a Democrat. What else could I do? Men are distracted by their little brain, as we call it.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 6, 2008

‘Speaker Pelosi, I Named My Dog After You’ And Other Things Nancy Pelosi Has Heard in More than 20 Years in Politics

How do you become the highest-ranking elected female official in the U.S.? Pelosi didn’t iron her husband’s shirts

Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters. By Nancy Pelosi with Amy Hill Hearth. Doubleday, 180 pp., $23.95.

By Janice Harayda

This book has inspired toxic comments on Amazon, apparently coming both from Republicans opposed to Nancy Pelosi’s liberal politics and Democrats enraged by her refusal to support impeachment proceedings against George W. Bush. Those diatribes may be too harsh. How bad can a book be when it includes an admission by the nation’s highest-ranking elected female official that she got where she is partly by declining to ironing her husband’s shirts?

Know Your Power isn’t a definitive autobiography but a brief memoir that its publisher optimistically but rightly categorizes as “motivational.” And it would be welcome if only because it offers an alternate model to any woman who thinks she could never meet Sarah Palin’s standard of running for high office as the mother of an infant and four other children. An implicit message of Know Your Power is: You don’t have to.

In this book Pelosi describes how she found her rewards sequentially. She got her start in politics when the mayor of San Francisco appointed her to the Library Commission while she was a full-time wife, mother, and volunteer who had given birth to five children in six years. But she didn’t become Speaker of the House until decades later. After becoming a Congresswoman, Pelosi seems to have accepted that she could never be the perfect wife envisioned by some of the women’s magazines: She has represented her California district since 1987, and her husband has never lived in Washington. A cornerstone of her philosophy of life is, “Organize, don’t agonize.”

Pelosi gives a strong sense of the rewards of a life in politics, some learned from her father, a Congressman from Maryland and mayor of Baltimore. She also sees the comic absurdities faced by elected officials of both sexes. One fan told her, “Speaker Pelosi, I named my dog after you.” One of the strongest sections of the book deals with her remarkable mother, who raised seven children — one of whom died at the age of three — and made sacrifices that indirectly underscore the need for elected female officials of both parties.

“My mother was a wonderful wife and parent, and she was also an entrepreneur and visionary,” Pelosi writes. “She started law school but had to stop when three of her sons had whooping cough at the same time. She made astute investments, but Daddy would not sign off on them (which, sadly, would have been necessary at the time). She had a patent on the first device to apply steam to the face, called Velex – Beauty by Vapor. It was her brainchild, and she had customers throughout the United States, but Daddy wanted her close to home.”

Amid such reminiscences, Pelosi offers advice to anyone who aspires to career in public service. “Don’t overstate what you will deliver, and always complete the task agreed to.” “Quality childcare is the missing link in the chain of progress for women and families.” Then there’s the advice she got from Lindy Boggs, former Congresswoman from Louisiana: “Never fight a fight as if it’s your last one.”

Some of the nastiness in politics today clearly results from the problem noted by Boggs, that many elected officials fight every fight as if it were their last. It’s easier to take an end-justifies-the-means view if you think you’ll never face your opponent — or American voters — again. Partly for that reason, if Know Your Power is billed as a book for “America’s Daughters,” it has a message for American’s sons, too.

Best line: On why she majored in history at Trinity College in Washington. D.C.: “I had intended to major in political science, but at Trinity at that time you had to major in history in order to study political science. Our teachers often quoted the great English historian J.R. Seeley’s aphorism: History without political science has no fruit. Political science without history has no root.” As someone who majored in political science major, I think Trinity had it right here. I had good poli sci professors but almost no history courses, which left me with an inadequate context for some of their lessons. If I had it to do over, I would major in history or English, which might have required me to take a few Shakespeare courses. I thought I had enough Shakespeare partly because I’d had a wonderful introduction to his greatest plays in high school. Wrong. You never have enough Shakespeare, especially if you’re a writer.

Worst lines: “This is an historic moment …” “This was a historic day in our house.” Pelosi apparently can’t decide whether its “an historic” or “a historic” and is hedging her bets. “A historic” is correct. To oversimplify: “An historic” dates to the early English settlers of our continent, many of whom dropped the “h” at the beginning of words, and the construction perpetuates the outdated language.

Recommendation? Know Your Power has crossover appeal. Doubleday has packaged it as a book for adults, and in bookstores and libraries, you’ll find it with the new adult nonfiction. But this book may especially appeal to teenage girls, including college students, who are hoping to go into public service.

Reading group guide: Doubleday has posted one at doubleday.com/2008/07/28/know-your-power-by-nancy-pelosi/, but this is a guide that’s almost worse than none. Sample questions: ” What roles do women occupy, or have they occupied, in your family? Did you have older female relatives who worked while raising a family?” These questions do not engage the serious issues Pelosi raises. You could ask them about almost any book by any female author from Edith Wharton to Toni Morrison.

Published: July 2008

Furthermore: Pelosi represents California’s 8th Congressional District, which includes much of San Francisco. She became Speaker of the House in January 2007 www.house.gov/pelosi/biography/bio.html.

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

September 28, 2008

Paul Newman (1925 — 2008 ) on What He DOESN’T Want on His Gravestone (Quote of the Day via Eric Lax’s ‘Newman’)

Filed under: News,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:53 pm
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Paul Newman risked losing fans and roles by campaigning in 1968 for the Democratic candidate for president, Sen. Eugene McCarthy, who opposed the Vietnam War. Eric Lax explains why in his Newman: Paul Newman: Biography (Turner, 1996):

“Newman was one of the earliest backers of McCarthy, and his support came at a time when most people considered those who opposed the war to be cowards or even traitors. Newman’s appearance always brought out the news media. He presented himself to audiences not as a celebrity but as a parent, concerned about the future and believing that McCarthy offered the most hope.

“‘I am indifferent to your political persuasion,’ he would begin. ‘I am not a public speaker. I am not a politician. I’m not here because I’m an actor. I’m here because I’ve got six kids. I don’t want it written on my gravestone, ‘He was not part of his times.’ The times are too critical to be dissenting in your own bathroom.’”

The quote first appeared in the New York Times on April 22, 1968.

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

September 4, 2008

Pundit Hart Seely Lampoons McCain and Obama in Verse in ‘Mrs. Goose Goes to Washington: Nursery Rhymes for the Political Barnyard’

Filed under: Humor,Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:44 pm
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Last year Hart Seely tweaked John McCain, Barak Obama and others in Mrs. Goose Goes to Washington: Nursery Rhymes for the Political Barnyard (Free Press, 128 pp., $12.95), a tart collection of parodies that may be due for a sales spike. His “Old John McCain” begins:

Old John McCain
Had a very fine brain
What a very fine brain had he,
He went to ’Nam,
Then he came back home,
And he ran with the GOP.
He reached for the sky,
And then faced the lie,
That a little bit nutty was he, was he …

Other parodies in the book appear on the Simon & Schuster site www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?tab=1&pid=534287&agid=2. In its wisdom, the publisher has not posted the poems about Obama and McCain nor has it enabled the “Search Inside” tool on Amazon. But you can read part of Seely’s “Hey! Let’s Vote Obama!” in the original review of Mrs. Goose Goes to Washington oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/17/.

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

August 25, 2008

Is Laura Bush’s Children’s Book as Bad as the New York Times Said? Or Is the Newspaper Biased Against the Bush Administration?

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:58 pm
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Art by Denise Brunkus for Read All About It!

Illustration by Denise Brunkus for 'Read All About It!'

Popular first ladies like Laura Bush tend to get a free pass from newspapers, which generally appreciate that they are doing a difficult job for no pay. But the New York Times Book Review had harsh words for Read All About It! (HarperCollins, $17.99), the new picture book about the joy of reading by Bush and her daughter Jenna.

Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book, wrote that the authors seemed “fundamentally tone deaf” to why children love reading and that they told a story in which “the teachers’ names are dorky, the plot is hectic and the suspense and dialogue are artificial.” Is Read All About It! as bad as the Times said? Or was a liberal newspaper biased against a conservative administration it never liked, anyway?

Find out this weekend when a review of Read All About It! appears on One-Minute Book Reviews, which reviews books for children or teenagers every Saturday. In the meantime you can read Sutton’s review here www.nytimes.com/2008/05/11/books/review/Sutton-t.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss.

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

August 8, 2008

Those ‘John Edwards Is Hot’ T-Shirts – Elizabeth Edwards Reacts (Quote of the Day / ‘Saving Graces’)

Elizabeth Edwards reacts in Saving Graces to the “John Edwards is hot” T-shirts that were circulating in Boston when Democratic National Convention nominated John Kerry for president and her husband for vice-president in 2004. Edwards says that she and her daughter Cate went back to their hotel one night during the convention and found that John had just received a gift from a fan:

“When Cate and I came back into the room, John pulled out a T-shirt someone had given him, boasting that he’d been told it was highest-grossing T-shirt in Boston. The shirt, made by a group of Harvard women, had a line drawing of John and the words ‘John Edwards is hot.’

“Cate took one look and said, ‘Dad, that’s disgusting. Do you want to burn that or do you want me to?’ ‘Oh, yeah,’ he answered, ‘I think it’s weird.’ Then he showed it to the next three people who walked into the room. Cate said, ‘Dad, you are so proud of that.’ ‘No, I do think it’s weird.’ ‘Okay then,’ she answered, ‘stop showing it to people.’ John never had to worry about getting too full of himself with Cate around. Bless her.”

Edwards talks about her marriage, her breast cancer and other subjects in her memoir, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength From Friends and Strangers, which Broadway Books published in hardcover in 2006 and in paperback in 2007.

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

[Page 254]

May 9, 2008

Books the Candidates Need #3 – Barak Obama – ‘Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:30 am
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Barak Obama rose to fame partly on the strength of his eloquence as a speaker. So I was surprised to hear a couple of Democrats fault his grammar at a party last weekend. They said that Obama kept telling reporters that Rev. Jeremiah Wright “had married Michelle and I” instead of “Michelle and me.” Could it true?

I searched the Internet for “Obama” + “Wright” + “married Michelle and I.” Sure enough, the phrase popped up all over the Web www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24402983/. If Obama doesn’t want to lose the English-teacher vote, he’d better pick up Patricia T. O’Conner’s Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English: Second Edition (Riverhead, $14, paperback) www.grammarphobia.com. This lively grammar book explains what’s wrong with phrases like “married Michelle and I”: The personal pronoun is an object in the phrase, not a subject, which requires me.

My edition of Woe Is I also has a nice analysis of the root of the error. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the seeds of the I-versus-me problem are planted in early childhood,” O’Conner writes. “We’re admonished to say, ‘I want a cookie,’ not ‘Me want a cookie.’ We begin to feel subconsciously that I is somehow more genteel than me, even in cases where me is the right choice – for instance, after a preposition.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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