One-Minute Book Reviews

December 14, 2008

‘Ozzie and Harriet’ Meets MySpace in ‘Apartment Therapy Presents,’ a Coffee-Table Book for Fans of Back-to-the-’50s Décor – Turquoise Naugahyde Chairs, Anyone?

Filed under: Coffee Table Books,How to — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:49 pm
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Want to brighten your place for the holidays? How about hanging a fake AK-47 on the wall instead of mistletoe?

Apartment Therapy Presents. Real Homes. Real People. Hundreds of Real Design Solutions. By Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan with Jill Slater and Janel Laban. Chronicle, 264 pp., $27.50.

By Janice Harayda

A red-flocked Jesus coin bank. A mural of pink flamingoes. A paint-by-numbers picture of a black poodle.

These are a few of the things that stylish young renters and condo owners display in their homes today, or so we learn from Apartment Therapy Presents, a coffee-table book based on a popular Web site. The “current aesthetic,” the author says, aligns with the tastes of a couple who bought a 1951 ranch-style house in Skokie, Illinois: “the’50s are back in style.” Call it Cold War Chic or Ozzie and Harriet Meets MySpace.

If chairs covered with turquoise Naugahyde aren’t to your taste, this book shows other items that could earn you style points: a pair of fake AK-47s framed by a rococo-like mirrors, a scary-looking dental chair made around 1900, a thousand yellow Post-Its stuck to a wall like overlapping shingles.

You can’t accuse the author of making any of this up. Apartment Therapy Presents shows “40 real homes decorated by real people” in more than 400 color photographs. It has floor plans and resource lists long on plugs for ebay, IKEA, and Design Within Reach. Nor can you say you didn’t understand the risks of, say, standing on a ladder for days while you stick a thousand Post-Its to your wall. A notice on the copyright page warns that the author, publisher and others “disclaim any and all liability resulting from injuries or damages caused by imitating the ideas described herein.”

Best line/picture: Some apartments in this book shout, “I’m camping out.” Dana Joy Altman’s beautiful place in a converted circa 1902 single family house in Chicago’s Logan Square, says, “I’m home.”

Worst line/picture: The photo of a pair of fake AK-47s framed by mirrors that a young Manhattan tenant hung on his wall. You hope this man never has guests who have lost friends in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Recommended if … you’re planning to redo a small space and have a sense of humor. One picture in this book shows a collection of “’50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s freezer doors” that hangs on a kitchen wall in the East Village.

Published: April 2008

Furthermore: This book grew out of the site Apartment Therapy www.apartmenttherapy.com

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

October 29, 2008

Rating the Book Covers — Steve Fraser’s ‘Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace’

The upside-down flag is a metaphor.

A few comments on the cover of Steve Fraser’s Wall Street, reviewed Monday:

This brief history of Wall Street is part of the small-format “Icons of America” series from Yale University Press. Because it’s a good book, you might want to look for others in the line. But nothing on the cover identifies it as part of a series, so if you’re hoping to spot its kin easily at a bookstore or library, you’re out of luck.

Wall Street and “Icons of America” are recent examples of trend at university presses to publish more books with mass-market appeal. The older Harvard Business School Press “Ideas With Impact” series is another www.hbsp.harvard.edu. And so far it’s been more successful, partly because it has a distinctive visual identity: You can spot HBSP books from halfway across the store at any airport Borders. Clearly Harvard had an advantage in that the “Ideas With Impact” series gathers articles from the Harvard Business Review, which itself has a distinctive look. But if U. S. News & World Report rated the covers of university-press books the way it rates colleges, Harvard would still win by a mile.

Apart from not establishing a brand identity, the cover of Wall Street uses yellowish tones that give it a retro look – a bit misleading given that Fraser carries the history of Wall Street into the 21st century. The cover appears to show a montage of shot-from-below pictures that suggest the dizzying, topsy-turvy action of the markets, partly through the upside-down American flag. It works well as a metaphor. For the same reason, you don’t want to look too long at it.

To its credit the cover avoids a static head-on shot of the New York Stock Exchange and visual clichés such as the Merrill Lynch bull. The montage also wraps in an interesting way around the spine and about two-thirds of the back of the book, which you can’t see here. On most covers, only the background color wraps front-to-back — the cover image stops at the spine to make for room blurbs or a large author photo. The unusual use of art on this one creates a handsome effect that says “money.”

Wall Street was reviewed on Oct. 27 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/10/27/.

Jacket illustration: Hirooki Aoki/Getty Images

Note: A thousand apologies to anyone who can’t see the image on this post. I’m working to solve technical problems that cause only part of the images to appear to some visitors, particularly those using browners other than Firefox. I’ll repost this page after I’ve fixed this. In the meantime you can see the cover on the Yale University Press site yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300117554. Thanks so much for your patience and for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 15, 2008

Four ‘Classic’ Graphic Novels

Filed under: Graphic Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:21 am
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Graphic novels — which have been called “comic books on steroids” — aren’t always novels but include many kinds of book-length stories, memoirs among them. As a group, they’ve come into their own recently enough it’s too soon to call any of them classics. But four books are candidates for that status, a panel sponsored by the New York chapter of the Women’s National Book Association suggested:

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Mariner, 232 pp., $13.95, paperback), by Alison Bechdel. The creator of “Dykes to Watch Out for” comic strip writes about growing up in the 1960s and 1970s in rural Pennsylvania, where she realized that she was a lesbian and her troubled father was www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=689441.

La Perdida (Pantheon, 288 pp., $14.95, paperback), by Jessica Abel. A young American moves to Mexico City hoping to learn about her estranged father’s country in a book in which much of the dialogue is written in Spanish and translated or explained in a glossary www.jessicaabel.com/laperdida/?s=intro.

Maus (Pantheon, 106, $14.95, paperback), by Art Spiegelman. No graphic novel has earned more praise than this Pulitzer winner. Nazis are cats and Jews are mice in Spiegelman’s meditation on the experiences that shaped his father, a Jewish Holocaust survivor lambiek.net/artists/s/spiegelman.htm.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Pantheon, 160 pp., $10.95, paperback), by Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi uses small black-and-while panels similar to those of Persian miniatures to describe the often frightening experience of growing up in Iran just after the overthrow of the Shah www.randomhouse.com/pantheon/graphicnovels/satrapi2.html.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 25, 2008

Shot-From-Behind Book Covers — Jodi Picoult and Beyond

Filed under: Book Covers,Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:38 pm
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It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen a dust jacket unusual enough to review in the series on this site that rates book covers. But if you’re interested in the topic, you may to look at a post on GalleyCat, the publishing-industry news site, that deals with the boomlet in shot-from-behind covers such as that of Jodi Picoult’s Change of Heart www.jodipicoult.com. The GalleyCat post deals with the trend as it applies to mainstream women’s fiction. But once you’ve noticed the pattern, you’ll see evidence of it on other kinds of books, including The Blue Star, Tony Earley’s just-published sequel to Jim the Boy. One reason for the popularity of back-view covers: They allow publishers to avoid showing a face that may conflict with a description in the book. Here’s the link to the GalleyCat post: www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/book_jackets/the_new_trend_in_womens_fiction_covers_80993.asp

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 27, 2008

Does the Cover of ‘A Long Way’ Gone Show a Soldier in Niger or Another African Country Instead of Sierra Leone? Why Isn’t the Location Identified?

Filed under: Book Covers — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:50 pm
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Seeing red on the dust jacket of Ishmael Beah’s controversial book

Does anything strike you as odd about the photo on the cover of A Long Way Gone, the book that Ishmael Beah bills as a memoir of his years as a child solider in Sierra Leone? For months the picture puzzled me: Why was the young solider wearing a T-shirt in a shade of orange-red so bright, it would make him an easy target for an enemy?

The book says only that the picture was taken by Michael Kamber www.kamberphoto.com and came from the Polaris image bank www.polarisimages.com. And at first I suspected that an art director had changed the original color of the T-shirt to a bright orange-red so the cover would stand out more at stores.

But the more I looked at the cover, the more questions I had: Why hasn’t the young man’s T-shirt faded when his flip-flops are so tattered? Where was the picture taken? If it shows Sierra Leone, why doesn’t the cover say so?

It occurred to me that the soldier might be wearing an orange-red T-shirt for the same nationalistic reasons that the Marines wear their blue, white and red dress uniforms. But the colors of Sierra Leone flag don’t include orange or red – they’re blue, green and white. And the colors of another West African country, Niger, are the colors of the young soldier’s T-shirt and flip-flops – dark orange and green. Soldiers in Niger seized control of the government in 1996 after the ouster of the president Mahamane Ousmane, and Human Rights Watch has called on both government and rebel forces to end abuses against civilians that have occurred in a more recent conflict www.hrw.org/english/docs/2007/12/19/niger17623.htm.

Publishers don’t have to tell you more about stock photos than Beah’s book does. Still, wouldn’t you like know how this one found its way onto the cover of A Long Way Gone?

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

February 26, 2008

Rating the Cover of ‘A Long Way Gone’ – Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Book Covers — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:24 pm
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Update, 5 p.m. Yes, I still plan to rate the cover today, Wednesday. The post should be up in an hour or so. Thanks for your patience. Jan

You could argue that the cover of A Long Way Gone doesn’t matter, given all the other concerns that have been raised about the credibility of this book by a man who claims to have spent two years as a child soldier in Africa. But book covers always matter in the sense that what you wear on a job interview matters. They’re part of what’s become known in the age of Facebook as “impression management.” So tomorrow One-Minute Book Reviews will consider the cover of A Long Way Gone in the next of its occasional series of posts that rate book covers on their artistry and accuracy in representing the text. You’ll find other posts in the “Book Covers” category at right. This site welcomes comments from booksellers, librarians, graphic designers and others whose perspectives on book covers may differ from those of literary critics.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 12, 2008

Why Was Randolph Caldecott So Great? (Quotes of the Day/Maurice Sendak)

On Monday the American Library Association will announce the winner of its highest award for a picture book, named for the great English illustrator Randolph Caldecott (1846–1886). Why was Caldecott so important? Here’s an answer from Maurice Sendak, who won the Caldecott Medal for Where the Wild Things Are:

“Caldecott’s work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. He devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that had never happened before. Words are left out – but the picture says it. Pictures are left out – but the word says it. In short, it is the invention of the picture book.”

* * *

“My favorite example of Caldecott’s fearless honesty is the final page of Hey Diddle Diddle. After we read, ‘And the Dish ran away with the spoon,’ accompanied by a drawing of the happy couple, there is the shock of turning the page and finding a picture of the dish broken into ten pieces – obviously dead – and the spoon being hustled away by her angry parents. There are no words that suggest such an end to the adventure; it is purely a Caldecottian invention. Apparently, he could not resist enlarging the dimensions of this jaunty nursery rhyme by adding a last sorrowful touch.”

Maurice Sendak in Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books & Pictures (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988), a collection of Sendak’s reviews and other writing for adults. The first quote comes from his essay “Randolph Caldecott” and the second from his acceptance speech for the 1964 Caldecott Medal. Sendak is one of the few great picture-book artists who is also a great critic. Caldecott & Co. has only a dozen pages of pictures but doesn’t need more, because Sendak makes you see books without them.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 11, 2007

Gifts for Readers — Hobbit Poster From the Bodleian Library at Oxford

[I’m tossing in a few extra posts this week with suggested gifts for readers. Again, no kickbacks from their sellers. These are just gifts that I like and help to support libraries or other friends of books. Today’s review appears in the post below this one.]

Most book posters are artless enough to appeal only to fans of the titles they promote. Not this handsome poster published by the Bodleian Library at Oxford University for an exhibit marking the 50th anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in 1987. The poster shows one of Tolkien’s drawings for the first edition of the novel, depicting the scene “Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves.” It has the dates of the exhibit and sells for 5.95 pounds (about $12) at Bodleian Library Shop Online shop.bodley.ox.ac.uk/acatalog/index.html. The shop has other Hobbit posters and literary gifts, including cards imprinted with quotations from Shakespeare or reproductions of the covers of Victorian gardening books owned by the library. A related gift: The Hobbit: 70th Anniversary Edition (Houghton Mifflin, $25) www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com, just published in the U.S., which has Tolkien’s original drawings and an introduction by Christopher Tolkien.

Drawing: (c) The Trustees of the Tolkien Estate 2005.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 4, 2007

No Salute for the Cover of ‘Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say’

The latest in a series of occasional posts that rate the covers of books reviewed on this site

By Janice Harayda

One of the delights of the syndicated Miss Manners etiquette column is that it has always had a distinctive voice – a bit arch and Victorian yet also witty and commonsensical. You would never know it from the covers of some of its companion books.

Martin’s advice finds a deft balance between the ideals of two eras – the years before and after the upheavals of the 1960s, which swept away many traditional etiquette rules. You see that trait clearly in the cover of Miss Manners’ Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium (Fireside, 1990), which shows of a photo of a fountain pen next to a personal digital assistant. The title floats above them in the John Hancock-ish script that is Martin’s trademark. And the harmonious coexistence of the quasi-archaic font and sleek PDA reflects her style perfectly.

You can’t say that for the cover of the more recent Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say (Crown, 1998), part of her “Basic Training” series. The regimental stripes seem intended to carry out the mild joke in the title – Martin as a drill sergeant sending you to the boot camp. This is too clever and clashes with her tone. Martin isn’t the John Wayne of etiquette so much as its strict but benevolent headmistress. Worse, the colors of the cover – especially that stop-sign yellow – are shrill, which she isn’t. And on a lunch-hour dash through Borders, who would stop to read a nine-line subtitle in white-on-navy-blue reverse type?

Why does a writer with such a steady voice come across on her covers as a teenager who doesn’t know whether she wants to wear a lemon-meringue prom dress or a flak jacket to the party? Well into her career as an author, Martin moved from Simon & Schuster to the Crown imprint of Random House, which gave her a new look. The mismatch may have extended beyond her covers. Martin’s latest book, Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated, written with Gloria Kamen, was published by Norton www.wwnorton.com.

If you’re interested in book covers, check out Rekya’s Bookshelf www.rekya.blogspot.com, a site that focuses book design. It has a great blogroll with links to many good book-design sites and designers’ portfolios.

The review of Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say appeared on Nov. 21, 2007, before a second post on Cyber Hymnal that appeared the same day. To read it, click here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/21/.

All cover reviews on this site consider not just aesthetics but how well the cover reflects the contents of the book. That’s why the cover reviews don’t appear until after the review has been posted (or, if I have only a line or two to say, in the section of extra material that follows the review, not in the body of the review). These reviews aren’t just about design but about truth in publishing.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 25, 2007

Why Does This Picture-Book Cover Work? Elizabeth Matthews’s ‘Different Like Coco’

The latest in a series of occasional posts that rate the covers of books recently reviewed on this site

By Janice Harayda

The covers of children’s books often fail for the same reasons that the covers of adult books do: They’re dull, clichéd or too pallid to stand out at a bookstore or library. Or they tell you too little about a book or, worse, aggressively misrepresent the contents. And if they’re about people – instead of one of those riveting topics like Let’s Read and Find Out About Flypaper or My First Book About Dandruff – they may stereotype their subjects as nakedly as all those pink covers on novels marketed to women in their 20s and 30s.

Elizabeth Matthews avoids all those problems on the cover of Different Like Coco (Candlewick, $16.99, ages 4 and up) www.candlewick.com, which combines a pen-and-ink drawing with the artful use of watercolors. This picture-book biography of the fashion designer Coco Chanel sports a witty illustration of its subject in a brown-black dress on a yellow background with the title in an interesting copper-colored script. And it works beautifully for several reasons:

1. It has real “pop.” Put Different Like Coco on any bookstore or library shelf and it will stand out among its shelf-mates because of its strong design. It doesn’t need the special effects that make so many books look more like toys – lots of glitter, metallic images and overengineering in the form of punched-out or see-through spaces.

2. The image of Coco Chanel points to the right, or to the pages instead of the spine. This is so basic that no critic should have to mention it. In most cases you want to focus children’s attention where it will encourage them to open a book (though there are some notable exceptions that succeed). But a striking number of picture books ignore such fundamental design principles.

3. The cover represents both the book and its subject accurately and nonstereotypically (without a sea of pink). Chanel designed simple, unfussy clothes with flair. This is a simple, unfussy cover with flair. Matthews’ art reflects the spirit of Chanel’s designs so well that you might guess the subject of her book before you read the title. But the cover isn’t so sophisticated that it will appeal to adults more than children. The comic exaggeration (and that dog) will take care of that.

Some people might argue that Chanel’s arms look anorexic. But in the context of the book, the pencil-slim arms are clearly intended as a stylistic exaggeration and also appear on women with bodies of operatic proportions.

The only other thing might strike you as odd about this cover is that Matthews’s name appears in a much smaller font than you usually see for authors of her caliber. That’s because this is her first book. The general rule in publishing is: The bigger the author, the larger the font for his or her name relative to the font for the title (though less so for children’s books than others). Stephen King’s name, for example, appears on his covers in a larger font than the title of the book. It’s a safe bet that as Matthews’s reputation increases, the size of her name on the cover will, too.

The original review of Different Like Coco appeared on Oct. 21, 2007, www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/21/. You may also want to read a comment in yesterday’s post (Oct. 23) by lisamm, who says perceptive things about this cover, including the Chanel has her head held high.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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