One-Minute Book Reviews

February 25, 2010

2010 Delete Key Awards Honorable Mention – ‘Mennonite in a Little Black Dress’ by Rhoda Janzen

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:46 am
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From Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home (Holt):

“Al’s enrollment at St. Veronica’s had not been a shoe-in, but Phil and Hannah had decided that Christian guilt was better than bad math.”


“With a pattern of dodgy behavior already established, I was a shoe-in for further scrutiny.”


“Aaron sang close harmonies in a madrigal group, his rich-timbered baritone blending like butter.”

You could argue using “shoe-in” for shoo-in and “timber” for “timbre” ought to have won Janzen an automatic spot on the shortlist. But copyeditors typically catch such mistakes and may have caught similar errors in the books of the other finalists. So Janzen gets only an honorable mention to avoid penalizing her for lapses by an editor.

Read the full review of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.

You can also read about the 10 Delete Key Awards finalists on Janice Harayda’s page on Twitter (@janiceharayda). The winner and runners-up will be announced on March 15 on One-Minute Book Reviews and Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 22, 2009

Dan Brown’s Worst Lines — 20 Bad Sentences From ‘The Lost Symbol,’ ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Angels and Demons’

Do critics unfairly malign Dan Brown’s writing? You’ll be able to judge for yourself when I list the best and worst lines from The Lost Symbol in my forthcoming review, which will appear after my name makes it to the top the reserve list at the library. In the meantime Tom Chivers selected the 20 worst lines from Dan Brown’s novels for a story for the Telegraph in England.

Yes, Chivers found a qualifying sentence from The Lost Symbol. But his two best choices appear below. The lines from Brown’s books are italicized and Chivers’s comments follow in a Roman font.

Angels and Demons, chapter 100: Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers glorified the four major rivers of the Old World – The Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio Plata.

“The Rio de la Plata. Between Argentina and Uruguay. One of the major rivers of the Old World. Apparently.

“The Da Vinci Code, chapter 5: Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop’s ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué.

“A keen eye indeed.”

Will lines like these qualify Brown for one of the 2010 Delete Key Awards for bad writing in books, given annually to authors who don’t use their delete keys enough? Find out in late Feburary when the shortlist will appear and on March 15, 2010, when this site will announce the winners.

August 24, 2008

Iconic Clichés That Should Be Taken Off the Table, Dude

Filed under: Nonfiction,Reference — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:45 pm
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The Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés omits “going forward, Day One, iconic, that said, off the table, in the run-up to and ahead of (for “before”), right quick, quite frankly, déjà vu all over again, rock star, guys (aimed at groups that include all sexes), dude, hottie, and take it to the next level,” Marie Shear says in a review in the Freelancer, the newsletter for the Editorial Freelancers Association www.the-efa.org. I’m with Shear and would add to her list transparency, a word regularly misused by the New York Times. (Are the workings of any organization ever transparent?) But I agree with Patricia T. O’Conner, who says in her excellent grammar book Woe Is I that we shouldn’t “summarily execute” all clichés and familiar phrases: “Let your ear be your guide. If a phrase sounds expressive and lively and nothing else will do, fine. If it sounds flat, be merciless. The Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés: Meanings and Origins of Thousands of Terms and Expressions, 2d edition. By Christine Ammer. Facts on File, 534 pp., $19.95, paperback www.factsonfile.com.

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

August 15, 2008

Why ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is Bad Poetry and Other Literary Thoughts on the Olympics

Random literary thoughts on the Olympics:

1. Michael Phelps’s underwater dolphin kick is sports poetry.

2. NBC should fire the swimming analyst who keeps saying “he has swam” (as in “he has swam much better than this”).

3. The first word of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (“Oh”) is an example of the literary device known as anacrusis, a lead-in syllable or syllables that precede the first full foot.

4. The national anthem is written in anapestic meter, Dr. Seuss’s favorite. (What, you’ve never noticed the similarity between “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” and “I meant what I said / and I said what I meant …”?)

5. Why is “The Star-Spangled Banner” bad poetry? Take in the last line: “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” In a good poem, words are not interchangeable. You can’t switch them around with no loss in meaning or effect, because everything in the poem essential. Apart from a rhyme, what would the national anthem lose if Francis Scott Key had written “home of the free and the land of the brave” instead of “the land of the free and the home of the brave”?

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

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.

February 22, 2008

Which Is Worse – Bad Grammar or Bad Sex? Next Friday on One-Minute Book Reviews – the Delete Key Awards for the Year’s Worst Writing in Books

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:41 pm
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Which authors don’t use their delete keys enough? Find out when the shortlist for the second annual Delete Key Awards competition is announced on Feb. 29

Which is worse in a book – bad grammar or bad sex scenes? Pomposity or writing dumbed-down to a third-grade level? Nasty stereotypes or mind-numbing clichés? An OVERUSE OF CAPITAL LETTERS or an underuse of the space bar sothatabookhaslotsoflinesthatlooklikethis? And what about those manic exclamation points (!!!) that some novelists love!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

These are the questions you wrestle with when you are selecting the finalists for the Delete Key Awards for the worst writing in hardcover or paperback books published in the preceding year. You’ll know the answers starting at noon Eastern Time next Friday, Feb. 29, when One-Minute Book Reviews will announce the shortlist for the prizes. You’ll have two weeks to comment on the nominations before the winners are named on March 15. The winning books are announced on the date of Julius Caesar’s assassination because their authors have assassinated the English language in the selected passages.

You can read last year’s shortlist by clicking on this link www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/. If you scroll down after reading the list, you’ll find separate posts with writing samples from each finalist. Last year’s winners were Danielle Steel’s Toxic Bachelors (grand prize winner), Mitch Albom’s For One More Day (first runner-up) and Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children (second runner-up).

The Delete Key Awards do not honor “the year’s worst books” but the worst writing in books – lines, paragraphs or passages that make you cringe. Entertainment Weekly published a list of the five worst books of 2007, discussed in this post:

www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/12/26/entertainment-weekly-names-5-worst-books-of-2007/.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 25, 2007

Airport Grammar Delays Affect Thousands of Travelers As Logan Sends Message to Visitors to the U.S.: Welcome to America, Land of the Free and the Home of the Sub-Literate

 

The grammatically challenged Boston airport needs help from Patricia O’Conner’s bestseller

By Janice Harayda

Airports had record delays this year, and their grammar isn’t doing well, either.

I wrote an extra post over the weekend about the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, so I was going to take the day off today. But I realized that I was looking at a literary emergency when I got to the baggage claim section at Logan International Airport yesterday and saw these lines on large, permanent signs above a carousel:

“Many bags look alike, compare your claim stubs with the tag on your bag.”

“Oversize items and pets may be claimed at the Baggage claim.”

The first line is a run-on sentence — specifically, a comma splice or comma fault, which joins two independent clauses with a comma. And the structure isn’t parallel, because if you had “stubs,” you’d have “bags.”

The second line is scarcely better. Does the line mean that you can claim oversize items and oversize pets at the “Baggage claim”? If so, where do you claim the regular-sized pets? Wouldn’t it have been clearer to say, “Pets and oversized items …”? Why is the “B” in “baggage claim” capitalized? When did “Baggage” become a proper noun? And, yes, that “oversize” in the second line should be “oversized,” too.

My first instinct was to blame Continental Airlines for these examples of turbulence hitting the English language. But the baggage carousel Newark Airport got it right: “Many bags look alike. Please match the claim number on your ticket to the tag on your bag.” That “please” was nice, too.

So problem lies not with Continental but with the Massachusetts Port Authority www.massport.com, which runs Logan, and, I guess, its executive director, Thomas J. Kinton, Jr., who hasn’t sent a posse to clean up the mess. A book that could help is Patricia T. O’Conner’s Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English (Riverhead, $14, paperback) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/12/30/. A former editor of the New York Times Book Review, O’Conner www.grammarphobia.com also wrote the new Woe Is I Jr. (Putnam, $16.99, ages 9–12), illustrated by Tom Stiglich. It offers “jargon-free explanations and entertaining examples (Shrek, Count Olaf, Garfield, and Harry Potter all put in appearances,” School Library Journal said.

I haven’t read Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Gotham, $11, paperback), but that might do the trick, too. Truss www.lynnetruss.com has also written a children’s book on punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Matter! (Putnam, $15.99, ages 4–8).

Why not leave a comment if you see airport or other signs that show millions of people – many of them arriving the country for the first time — that America is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Sub-Literate?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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