One-Minute Book Reviews

January 6, 2010

Caribou Lasagna and Science Lessons at the Dinner — Sarah Palin Talks About Her Father in ‘Going Rogue’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:19 pm
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Sarah Palin writes in Going Rogue that her father, an Alaska science teacher, often taught his children lessons at the dinner table:

“Dad’s curriculum was cleverly all-Alaskan. His spelling tests included words like ‘ptarmigan’ (Alaska’s state bird) and ‘akuutaq’ (Eskimo ice cream). We learned the difference between glacial crevices and crevasses, and a cave’s stalagmites and stalactites. His lessons spilled over to the dinner table. We ate together every night, and I just assumed every kid learned clever acronyms for planet alignments and the elements of the periodic table between forkfuls of caribou lasagna. Didn’t every family talk about what differentiated a grizzly from a brown bear?”

A review of Going Rogue appeared last week. You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

March 10, 2009

‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living’ Wins Hemingway Prize

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:22 am
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Literary-prize judges too often snub quiet but worthy books. So I’m delighted to report that one of my favorite 2008 novels, Michael Dahlie’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living, which I reviewed in January, has won the Hemingway/PEN Award for “a distinguished first book of fiction.” This witty and intelligent comedy of manners about fathers and sons was well-received by critics, but by today’s overheated standards, probably received less attention than it deserved.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda.

January 18, 2009

What Does a Father Owe His Sons? Michael Dahlie Responds in His Witty and Intelligent First Novel, ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living’

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:18 pm
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A well-off New Yorker finds comfort in his love for his sons after his business fails and his wife leaves him

A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living: A Novel. By Michael Dahlie. Norton, 281 pp., $23.95.

By Janice Harayda

Does it ever make sense to give up a beloved family tradition? Michael Dahlie offers surprising answers in his witty and intelligent comedy of manners, A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living.

Arthur Camden cherishes his hereditary membership in the Hanover Street Fly Casters, a fictitious fly-fishing group founded in 1878 by his great-grandfather and 11 other patrician businessmen. Those pre-Freudian bluebloods weren’t too self-conscious to name their Catskills lodge Maidenhead Grange, though the club always barred women from the premises. And for decades that’s been fine with Arthur, who has looked forward to passing his membership on to his oldest son and seen the group’s annual Meeting-in-Full as the highlight of his year.

Then Arthur faces a series of calamities fostered by his sweet and vulnerable nature, which includes a lack of self-awareness that would have allowed him to anticipate the disasters. His family business goes bankrupt. His wife of 32 years leaves him. And he accidentally burns down Maidenhead Grange while lighting a fire in an ill-maintained chimney in order to seduce a date who insisted on seeing the lodge.

All of this might have devolved into a pseudo–P. G. Wodehouse novel full of absurd middle-aged or older men throwing trout heads instead of breadsticks. But Michael Dahlie takes a gentler approach as Arthur tries to regroup in the face of dismay of the Fly Casters and the bold sexual reconnaissance missions of his ex-wife, Rebecca.

“I hear she slept with absolutely everyone, and during your separation, no less,” an acquaintance tells him. “Most people have the sense to wait till the final paperwork is done. But from day one it was like she was on Spring Break.”

Amid such embarrassments, Arthur finds solace in his requited love for his sons, in the support of a few loyal friends, and in small pleasures such as the pine-needle liqueur he discovers when, hoping a vacation will help, he visits a boyhood friend in France. And for all its comedy, this novel has a serious theme.

At a family gathering on Nantucket, Arthur wonders how to help his younger son, David, who can’t seem to keep a job:

“It was a perplexing question: what sorts of things does a father owe his son? On one level the answer might best be nothing, since too much parental help so often had such obviously bad results. Moreover, there was no reason a person shouldn’t try to make his own way in such an obviously prosperous nation. But in terms of smaller-scale help, a leg up in the world, a little nudge forward, you could say that a father should at least give his son what his own father gave him.”

Dahlie’s thoughtful exploration of such issues gives his book a depth unusual in comedies of manners, which often ricochet from one bright line to another. America abounds with men blindsided not just financially but emotionally by the economic meltdown, and if Arthur has more money than most, he struggles with widely shared questions: How did I get into this fix? How can I get out of it? How will my losses affect my children? Many people who have stopped reading their 401(k) statements might profitably transfer their attention to this enjoyable novel.

Best line: A comment by the friend whom Arthur visits in France: “If there’s one thing the Swiss are good at, it’s running rehab centers. It’s like the Minnesota of Europe.”

Worst line: “Not unlike the outrage over Arthur’s distaste for salmon sandwiches and lobster Newberg, Arthur’s father was often worried ‘for the boy’s own good’ about one thing or another that he felt made Arthur look absurd.” The sentence doesn’t scan well grammatically, and the three Arthurs don’t help.

Published: June 2008. A paperback edition of A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living is due out in June 2009 www.michaeldahlie.com

Consider reading also: Guiseppe Pontiggia’s Born Twice, a novel of fatherhood that won Italy’s highest literary honor, the Strega Prize.

Janice Harayda wrote the comedies of manners The Accidental Bride and Manhattan on the Rocks

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 15, 2008

A Father’s Gift (Quote of the Day / Phyllis Theroux)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:33 am
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Phyllis Theroux writes about what her father gave her in the essay, “My Father, the Prince” in Peripheral Visions (Morrow, 1982):

“There are some people, and my father is one of them, who carry the flint that lights other people’s torches. They get them all excited about the possibilities of an idea, the ‘can-do’ potential of one’s own being.

“That was my father’s gift to me, and whatever psychic wounds remain to thrashed out between us are still lying on the floor of my unconscious, waiting for deep therapy to uncover. The fact is I am closer to my mother. But they say that a daughter carries around the infection of her father for life.

“They are right.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 8, 2008

Men’s Ties With a Book Design — A Father’s Day Gift for a Reader

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:07 pm
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Back in December, I suggested as a holiday gift the Josh Bach men’s ties with a book design available for $38 from the online catalog for the shop at the Los Angeles Public Library. These subtle and attractive silk ties avoid the cuteness of many club ties. So if you’re looking for a Father’s Day gift for a serious reader, you may want to visit the catalog at the Library Store at the Los Angeles Public Library www.lfla.org/cgi-bin/store/0943.htm. When you give one of these to Dad, you’re giving a double gift — the tie and the knowledge that he’s helping to support a great library system. The Josh Bach Book Tie could also make a good end-of-the-year thank-you gift for teachers and tutors. The library will gift-wrap the tie for $2.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 17, 2007

Nigel Marsh’s ‘Fat, Forty, and Fired,’ a Memoir of Unemployment

An English advertising executive in Australia discovers that – surprise – caring for his children is harder than he thought

Fat, Forty, and Fired: One Man’s Frank, Funny and Inspiring Account of Leaving His Job and Finding His Life. By Nigel Marsh. Andrews McMeel, 288 pp., $19.95.

By Janice Harayda

A couple of decades ago, American newspapers regularly published articles by men who had decided to stay home with their children and realized – to their amazement – that the work their wives did was actually hard. These gee-whiz accounts became a journalistic cliché fast enough that they have pretty well played themselves out here.

But apparently the trend still has life in Australia, where Nigel Marsh’s memoir of nine months at home with his family earned him spot next to Dan Brown and John Grisham on the bestseller lists. Not that Marsh signed on for the project as willingly as some of those former American “househusbands” who have since been recast as “stay-at-home dads.” Born and raised in England, he was the CEO of an advertising agency when a merger left him jobless. Instead of going right back to work, he decided that he wanted to stop being “a bit player in my own family” and spend more time with his wife, Kate, and four children under the age of 9.

Fat, Forty, and Fired is a breezy account of this experience that reads at times like a book fished out of an American time capsule from the 1980s, or a treatment for an offbeat Australian version of The Simple Life with the author alternately playing the roles of Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and one of their hosts. Marsh pats himself on the back when his stint as a school cafeteria volunteer goes well, and he’s irritated when his wife doesn’t “thank” him for dressing his twin daughters. Fortunately, Kate sets him straight quickly: “Why should I thank you when you do the basic things that you should be doing anyway?” And his book becomes more interesting as he flings himself other goals – to lose 30 pounds, train for an ocean swimming race, and conquer the alcoholism that he’d been denying even while knocking back six beers a night after work.

By the end of the nine months, Marsh has achieved several of his aims. But his hope of achieving “a more balanced life” is another matter. Recidivism sets in almost as soon as he takes a new job as CEO of Leo Burnett Australia. And he concludes that all the books and articles that tell men how to achieve “work-life balance” are not only misguided but part of the problem, because men can’t “have it all” any more than women can. That may be true, you have the sense that he’s known that all along. So what did he really gain from his experience?

In his time off, he quit drinking, lost weight and had many lyrical moments with his children, who play amusing and at times poignant roles in the book. And such gains, he suggests, were enough. “I may be struggling,” he admits, “but the struggle is slightly more enjoyable less damaging to those around me than it was a year ago.”

Best line: One of the strongest chapters deals with how people reacted after learning that Marsh had quit drinking. One group insisted bizarrely that he’d never had a problem with alcohol: “I was somehow offending these people’s sense of what a ‘real’ drunk’s story should be. I wasn’t a professional drunk – I was merely third division. Pathetic. My life hadn’t gone off the rails enough for them. If only I could have an affair, lose my job, or maim someone in an accident, I’d be a first-class guy. It just didn’t impress these people that I stopped before a dramatic disaster befell me.”

Worst line: Marsh’s treatment of most subjects is skin deep and sinks into psychobabble when he tries to sum up what he learned from his time off. He says the hiatus “started me on a personal journey” and that “I’m basically working on the habit of counting my blessings, not whining about the challenges.”

Reading group guide: A readers’ guide to Fat, Forty, and Fired was posted, before this review, on May 17, 2007, and is archived in the Totally Authorized Reading Group Guides category. This is guide is not just for book clubs but is also for individual readers who would like to learn more about the book.

Caveat lector: This review was based on the advance readers’ edition. Some material in the finished book may differ.

Published: April 2007

Links: www.fatfortyandfired.com

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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