One-Minute Book Reviews

December 4, 2008

‘Unplug the Christmas Machine’ – How to Explain to Children Why You Plan to Give Them Fewer Gifts This Holiday Season

Filed under: How to,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:00 pm
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“First, talk to your children as soon as possible about your plans to give them fewer presents.”

Do publishers have a sense of irony? You might wonder after seeing all the double-digit price tags on books about how to simplify your holidays. So here’s an alternative: Head for the library and look for Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back Into the Season (Harper, 208 pp., $12.95, paperback), a field manual for the walking wounded in the annual holiday battle that advertisers and others wage for your soul and wallet.

This book grew out of workshops that authors Jo Robinson and Jean C. Staeheli began to lead in the late 1970s, and some of its material reflects the ideas of that era. But many of its suggestions are evergreen, and the advice never gives you the sense, as Martha Stewart’s does, that the glue gun can be a lethal weapon. A typical passage in the first edition tells how to ease your family into a celebration less focused on gifts:

“First, talk to your children as soon as possible about your plans to give them fewer presents. Be clear about what they can expect. Second, explain to children who are old enough to understand why it’s important to you to minimize gifts. Finally, give your children something else to look forward to, like a special trip or family activity. Focus on what they will be getting, not on what they won’t.”

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

December 3, 2008

What’s Next? Marijuana-Laced Scent Strips in Children’s Books? — A Picture Book Version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’

[If you can't see the book cover at left, you can see it and hear "Forever Young" by clicking on the link to book trailer on YouTube at the end of this review.]

Forever Young. By Bob Dylan. Illustrated by Paul Rogers. Atheneum Books for Young Readers / Ginee Seo Books, 40 pp., $17.99. Age range suggested on Amazon.com: 4–8. Actual age range: 50–70.

By Janice Harayda

Just in time for the holidays, here comes the latest piece of sucker bait tossed to sentimental baby boomers by publishers: a picture book that has no words except for the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s hymn to youth, “Forever Young.” What’s next, Let’s Read and Find Out About “Lay, Lady, Lay”? Or My First Book of “Everybody Must Get Stoned”?

The kindest thing you can say about this book is that it lacks the appropriate special effects: marijuana-laced scent strips so preschoolers can get stoned out of their minds while reading it. Paul Rogers’s coolly antiseptic illustrations suggest none of the heat Dylan’s music generated: A critic for Publishers Weekly rightly said that “the flat, digitally manipulated compositions recall 1960s low-budget animation.”

Rogers’s illustrations amount to a visual biography of Dylan from his Minnesota childhood through his early years as a singer-songwriter in New York (though you wonder if he and his schoolmates fist-bumped and wore waist-length backpacks as in this book). The pictures show Dylan playing only an acoustic guitar, but some details nod to his later electric years. And the book has so many images of celebrities that children could well come away from this book with the idea that Joan Baez, Ben Shahn, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Edie Sedgwick, Albert Einstein, DA Pennebaker and Martin Luther King Jr. once stood shoulder-to-shoulder at an antiwar march as they do here. Rogers needs two pages of end notes to explain all the visual references that will sail right over the heads of four-year-olds, which makes Forever Young something rare: a picture book with footnotes.

“Forever Young” is a sweet song from its opening lines (“May God bless you and keep you always” / May all your wishes come true”) through its closing refrain (“May you stay forever young”). But its simple rhyming lines don’t have anything close to the energy or poignancy – or just the poetry – needed to sustain a 40-page book without a companion tape or CD. And the words reflect a point of view few children are likely to share.

Although parents may wish their offspring to stay “forever young,” children typically want to grow up as fast as they can. This why psychologists advise parents to use such overworked as phrases as “big girl chair” or “big boy school” in talking about new and potentially frightening situations. Few things are scarier to many children than the idea that they may stay “forever young,” which they may equate with powerlessness.

So here’s a suggestion: If this book tempts you in the children’s section of a bookstore, don’t buy it for the kids. Buy it as a gag gift for one of those second-childhood–themed 50th or 60th birthday parties where everybody brings Mickey Mouse ears or Star Trek DVDs. For all its faults, Forever Young is still a lot cheaper than a gift certificate for six months’ worth of Botox or Viagra.

Best line: An end note quotes a 2004 Los Angeles Times interview in which Dylan said he wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 10 minutes: “just put words to an old spiritual, probably something I learned from Carter Family records.”

Worst line: Some end notes are glorified product plugs: “Highway 61 Revisited (1965) is a great album to listen to when you’re on the road – or not.”

Editor: Ginee Seo

Published: September 2008

Watch the trailer for this book on YouTube, which has Dylan singing “Forever Young” as the pages of the book turn, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCMgDc2uiWI.

Furthermore: Can’t get enough of the sucker bait publishers throw at boomers? Click here to read about Steve Martin and Roz Chast’s 2007 picture book, The Alphabet from A to Y www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/02/.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic.

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

November 24, 2008

‘Chapman’s Car Compendium: The Essential Book of Car Facts and Trivia’ – A Great Gift for a Driver Who Reads More Than Road Signs

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:19 am
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An entertaining book of facts that includes a list of the “the 20 greatest car movies” and their stars and cars

Chapman’s Car Compendium: The Essential Book of Car Facts and Trivia. By Giles Chapman. Merrell, 187 pp., $16.95.

By Janice Harayda

This book is, quite possibly, the best literary gift for a car-lover that I have come across in more than 15 years of reviewing. It is witty, intelligent, well-written, inexpensive, and handsomely illustrated. It is also full of fascinating lore, such as its list of 25 excuses supposedly written on insurance forms after accidents. (Excuse No. 6: “I didn’t think the speed limit applied after midnight.”) And it speaks to lovers of all kinds cars — Kias and Hyundais included — unlike the overpriced coffee-table tomes that seem intended mainly for people who think you haven’t lived until you’ve owned a Maybach 62.

Much of Chapman’s Car Compendium consists of anecdotes, diagrams and lists with inspired titles like “Dictators’ cars” (“Rafael Trujillo – Chrysler Crown Imperial”) and “The cars most name-dropped in rap songs” (Mercedes is No. 1). But the book also has pithy advice on subjects such as how to wash, winterize and sell your car.

Giles Chapman notes that you, could, conceivably discover some of his material online. But that wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as reading this book. Chapman begins his introduction to one list with the droll: “Scotland is noted for many things, but making cars isn’t one of them.” He mercifully doesn’t say whether there’s a connection between that fact and another: Scotland is known for making malt liquor.

Best line: The list of “The 20 greatest car movies and their stars.” Chapman lists the stars and the cars they drove in the films. (Be honest, boomers: Did you remember that Dustin Hoffman drove an Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider in The Graduate?) Some of his choices reflect tastes perhaps more British than American: Carry on Cabby makes the cut but Taxi Driver doesn’t. But other entries are above reproach: Goldfinger (Aston Martin DB5), Thelma and Louise (Ford Thunderbird), Driving Miss Daisy (Hudson Hornet).

Worst line: “20 celebrity car deaths.” Some deaths on this list involve disputed circumstances that beg for a fuller discussion. Chapman says Princess Grace died while driving her Rover 3500S. Wikipedia says it was a Rover P6. Chapman may be right, but what’s his source?

Published: October 2007 www.gileschapman.com.

About the author: Chapman is a London-based former editor of Classic & Sports Car (“the world’s best-selling classic car magazine,” or so he says) who appears frequently on BBC radio. He contributes to many well-known magazines and newspapers.

Furthermore: God bless public libraries. I might have missed this one if I hadn’t found it in the “New Books” section at mine.

Janice Harayda’s 2008 A-to-Z holiday gift-book list will appear soon. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing it.

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

November 23, 2008

Watch a Slide Show of the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2008

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:29 am
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Every year since 1952, the editors of the New York Times Book Review have asked a group of judges to pick the best illustrated children’s books of the year. The 2008 list appeared in the NYTBR on Nov. 9, and if you missed it, you can watch a slide show that includes a picture from each of the 10 honorees here
www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/11/06/books/20081109ILLUSTRATEDBOOKS_index.html.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 21, 2008

Librarian-Approved Gift Books for a Cook, a Baker, and a Fashionista, Including a Gift Book That Dares to Answer the Question, ‘What Are Spanx?’

A Project Runway judge praises that “life-altering” product — Spanx pantyhose — in The One-Hundred

Oh, joy. Just back from the library with an armload of 2008 coffee-table books I’m going to check out as potential holiday gifts.

One of the challenges of running this site is that because I don’t take free books from publishers, I no longer routinely see all those fat coffee-table toppers that appear at this time of year, as I did at Glamour and the Plain Dealer. I can get almost everything else from the library and other sources. But the gift books are the killer. So many are too expensive for libraries – especially given their vulnerability to theft – and for me.

This week I was lucky. I went to the library soon after it had put out some of the coffee-table books the staff bought this year. Here are three that I’m reading with an eye to whether they might make good gifts. All were among the 2008 books bought by the staff at a suburban library that the American Library Association has named one of the country’s 10 best:

The Christmas Table: Recipes and Crafts to Create Your Own Holiday Tradition (Chronicle, 239 pp., $19.95, paperback) by Diane Morgan. Photographs by E. J. Armstrong. Take that “crafts” in the subtitle lightly. This book has only 13 pages of craft ideas, and one calls for safety goggles and an electric drill, needed to make lighted glass blocks. (The instructions include the slightly ominous note, “This will take a few minutes, so be patient.”) But The Christmas Table is attractive and, at less than $20, reasonably priced for a gift book. It has a suggested menu and recipes for “Christmukkah – the hybrid holiday meal,” which blends Christian and Jewish traditions in dishes such as “Fa-La-La-La Latkes.” www.dianemorgancooks.com

Professional Baking: Fifth Edition (Wiley, 770 pp., $65) by Wayne Gisslen. Photographs by J. Gerard Smith. Foreword by André J. Cointreau. This encyclopedic cookbook has more than 900 recipes for serious home bakers as well as professionals. Published in cooperation with the Le Cordon Bleu cooking schools, it gives U.S. and metric equivalents for ingredients and tells how to adapt them for large-quantity measurements. The book retains its focus on classic techniques. But the fifth edition has a new chapter on “baking for special diets, including low-fat, low-sugar, gluten-free, and dairy-free diets.” Bet that Ciabatta on page 147 and those cream cheese brownies on page 512 would taste better than your supermarket’s. www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-311193.html

The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own (Collins Living, 284 pp., $21.95) by Nina Garcia. Illustrations by Ruben Toledo. This book is a brand-name–strewn wallow in consumerism by a judge for Project Runway – you apparently “must own” diamond studs even if your ears aren’t pierced – raised to a higher power by the stylish illustrations on nearly every page. The title is somewhat misleading: The One Hundred is less about what all women need to own than about a hit parade of basics and why they endure: the pea coat, wrap dress, pearl necklace, striped sailor shirt, Wellington boot (“the Royal Family always wears the classic green version for mucking about in the country”). Among the newer items in the book: Spanx, “a life-altering, footless, control-top panty hose that should be warn whenever a woman wants to appear a size smaller.” Bet the teenage boys at the library will like the picture for that one as much as the one for the push-up bra. www.harpercollins.com/books/9780061664618/The_One_Hundred/index.aspx

Other holiday gift ideas will appear later this year. To avoid missing them, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

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

September 14, 2008

Five Great Reference Books for Your Home Library That Also Make Excellent Holiday Gifts – A Librarian’s Favorites

Filed under: A-to-Z Holiday Gift List,Reference — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:18 am
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Lyndon Johnson recited the presidential oath from it on Air Force One.

“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
Musician Tom Waits, as quoted in the Yale Book of Quotations

For years I’ve urged people to consider giving great reference books as holiday gifts, especially to families. Not many $25 bestsellers deliver as much value as the $12.99 World Almanac and Book of Facts, more than a thousand pages packed with sports statistics, election results, the most popular baby names, documents like the Gettysburg Address and more. And in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal Donald Altschiller, a librarian at Boston University, offers a terrific starter list for shoppers in the form of a quintet of reference books that he sees as essential for a home library.

Four of Altschiller’s choices have appeared — in some cases, repeatedly — on my own lists of gift-book recommendations: the Yale Book of Quotations (Yale, 2006), the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), the Merck Manual of Medical Information: Second Edition (2003) and that World Almanac and Book of Facts (World Almanac, 2008). So I’ll take his word for the fifth: the Oxford Atlas of the World (Oxford University Press, 2007). Altschiller explains his choices in “Five Best” online.wsj.com/article/SB122125935106030191.html?mod=2_1167_1 (which accurately describes, for example, some advantages of the Yale Book of Quotations over Bartlett’s). His article also contains a few facts that, as often as I’ve written about these books, I didn’t know. One involves the World Almanac: “In November 1963, during the rushed swearing-in ceremony aboard Air Force One, Lyndon Johnson recited the presidential oath from this invaluable resource.”

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

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.

April 17, 2008

‘Dave Barry Turns 50′ — A Great 50th Birthday Gift (and There’s a ‘Dave Barry Turns 40,’ Too)

Filed under: Humor,Paperbacks — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:31 am
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Over at Amazon.com, the reviewers are duking it out over whether Dave Barry Turns 50 is or isn’t the funniest book by the retired Pulitzer Prize–winning humor columnist. My friends, it doesn’t matter. Barry may have written funnier books, including Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits. But Dave Barry Turns 50 is still a great 50th birthday gift for a reader (and one I’ve given more than once), possibly in its large-print edition. This collection of witty observations on reaching the mid-century mark is – of course — the sequel to Dave Barry Turns 40. You can find Dave Barry Turns 50 in the humor section at some bookstores but may have to order it from an online bookseller.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 16, 2007

How to Eat Well Before You Get Electrocuted — Hilary Heminway and Alex Heminway’s ‘Picnics’

Filed under: Coffee Table Books,How to — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:21 pm
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You could get fried along with the trout at these outdoor feasts

Picnics. By Hilary Heminway and Alex Heminway. Photographs by Audrey Hall. Gibbs Smith, 144 pp., $19.95.

By Janice Harayda

Taking my advice on cooking would be a little like taking advice on winning pennant races from a middle reliever for the Chicago Cubs. So I generally avoid reviewing cookbooks and stick to books on subjects I know perhaps too well, such as all the unintended comedy provided by the finalists for the recent Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

But I thought Picnics was my kind of book when I saw that it had a recipe for gorp (trail mix), which basically involves throwing together a few things like nuts, M&Ms and dried fruit. This coffee-table-topper isn’t a cookbook so much as a celebration of meals in the outdoors or other spots that call for portable food – sushi at your desk, dinner in bed, a sandwich on a plane (apparently a private jet, because you’d never get the glass bottle of San Pellegrino on page 24 past airport security). It has tips on defeating bugs, recipes for dishes like chili and grilled trout, and photos worthy of Martha Stewart Living.

The trouble arises when Hilary Heminway and Alex Heminway move beyond outdoor, sunny-day picnics. Quoting the novelist Alice Walker, they say that the English see a tea as “a picnic indoors.” That’s true only of a low tea (which includes foods such as cucumber sandwiches and sweet buns). A high tea is eaten at a dining room table – typically, instead of dinner — and involves more substantial fare, such as ham, roast beef and Cornish pasties. Picnics perpetuates American misconceptions about these two types of tea by showing pictures of (and giving recipes for) what the authors call a “high tea” but that the English would consider a “low tea.”

Then there is the bizarre section on what to do when it rains on your picnic. The Heminways suggest that you seek shelter in a convertible or under a gabled roof, then seem to contradict themselves by saying that you could also have your picnic under an umbrella or “in the drench where you are.” The metal parts of umbrellas aren’t usually dangerous because people use them near taller trees or buildings. But they could increase your chance of frying to death on a flat field. And the suggestion that you take cover in a convertible seems similarly irresponsible. So let’s give the last word to a group that specializes in preventing the kind of disasters this book could cause. The American Red Cross says that if no building is nearby, a hard-top vehicle will offer some protection: “Keep car windows closed and avoid convertibles” www.redcross.org/services/disaster/0,1082,0_590_,00.html.

Best line: The old rhyme about how to avoid poison ivy: “Leaves of three, let it be.”

Worst line: “Weather never fails. It may disappoint, but it never fails.” Picnics has many lines like those: They sound pretty, but what do they mean?” The first line of the book exemplifies the flowery writing throughout: “Doomed, a painted skimmer cuts (cuts a hundred bias lines per minute) air rich with midges: curves past blue dashers (out for midges, too); breaks through pickerel weeds; stops short on a nodding monocot: a rush for rest.”

Recommendation? The pictures in this book are easy on the eyes, so you might consider it as a gift for someone who wouldn’t mind the lapses in the text.

Published: March 2007 www.gibbs-smith.com

Furthermore: Hilary Heminway and Alex Heminway also wrote Guest Rooms (Gibbs Smith, 2005).

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour and the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland.

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

December 15, 2007

Good Gift Books for Children and Teenagers — What to Wrap Up for Everyone From Babies and Toddlers Through College-Bound High School Students

Season’s readings for ages 1-to-16 and up

Source: http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

New books don’t always make the best gifts for children and teenagers. These suggestions include 2007 books and classics that young readers have enjoyed for years or generations

By Janice Harayda

Ages 1–2
Nobody does board books better than Helen Oxenbury, who has twice won the Kate Greenaway Medal, Britain’s equivalent of the Caldecott. Oxenbury’s great gift is her ability to create faces that are simple yet expressive and never dull or cloying, which is just what young children need. You see her skill clearly in her engaging series of board books about babies at play, which includes Clap Hands, All Fall Down, Say Goodnight and Tickle, Tickle. (Simon & Schuster, about $6.99 each) www.simonsayskids.com. Any infant or toddler would be lucky to have one of these as a first book.

Ages 3–5
Children’s poet Jack Prelutsky pays homage to Lewis Carroll’s “The Crocodile” in Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: And Other Poems (HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 32 pp., $16.99, 3 and up) www.jackprelutsky.com, a collection of brief rhyming poems about imaginary animals. But this picture book stands on its own with amusing poems about fanciful creatures such as an “umbrellaphant” (an elephant with an umbrella for a trunk) and sparkling illustrations by Carin Berger.

Ages 6–8
Elizabeth Matthews makes a stylish debut in Different Like Coco (Candlewick, 40 pp., $16.99, ages 6–8) www.candlewick.com, a witty and spirited picture-book biography of Coco Chanel. Matthews focuses on the early years of the designer who learned to sew at a convent school, then revolutionized 20th century fashion with clothes that reflected and fostered the emancipation of women. The result makes clear that Chanel owed her success not just to hard work but to boldness and staying true to herself and her artistic vision.

Ages 9–12
Brian Selznick has had one of the year’s biggest hits for tweens of both sexes in The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures (Scholastic, 533 pp., $22.99) www.scholastic.com, a cross between a picture book and a chapter book. Selznick’s novel involves a 12-year-old orphan and thief who lives in a Paris train station and, in the days of silent movies, tries to complete work on a mechanical man started by his father. The beautiful packaging of this book helps to offset the so-so writing and unresolved moral issues it raises (including that Hugo rationalizes his thievery and mostly gets away with it) www.theinventionofhugocabret.com.

Ages 13-15
Three-time Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner says in The Art of Reading (Dutton, $19.99) that as teenager he was captivated by Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (Roc, $7.99, paperback) us.penguingroup.com. And that modern classic might still delight a teenager who likes science fiction (with or without a companion gift of the Stanley Kubrick’s great movie version). Or consider Mindy Schneider’s Not a Happy Camper (Grove, $24) www.not-a-happy-camper.com, an adult book being cross-marketed to teens. Schneider remembers her eight weeks at an off-the-wall kosher summer camp at the age of 13 in this light and lively memoir. (Sample experience: A bunkhouse burned down when a group of boys put candles under their beds to see if they could warm them up by nightfall.) This book is about wanting to fit in and never quite achieving it — in others, about the essence of being a teenager.

Ages 16 and up
Finally, a book for the college-bound, especially for the sort of high school student who might like to join a sorority or other all-female group: Marjorie Hart’s charming Summer at Tiffany (Morrow, $14.94) www.harpercollins.com, a book for adults that many teenagers might also enjoy. In this warm and upbeat memoir, Hart looks back on the summer of 1945, when she and a sorority sister at the University of Iowa became the first female pages at Tiffany’s, the Fifth Avenue jewelry store. They arrived just in time to watch the city erupt with joy when the Japanese surrender ended World War II and to have a much larger experience than they had expected. Hart’s account of all of it has none of the cynicism that infects so many books for teenagers, and that’s partly what makes it so refreshing.

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. You can read others by clicking on the “Children’s Books” and “Young Adult” categories under the “Top Posts” list at right.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

 

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