One-Minute Book Reviews

August 31, 2008

Another Gusher Award for Hyperbole in Book Reviewing – Coming Friday

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Did a book review in your favorite magazine or newspaper go over the top this week? Why not nominate it for a Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing? Send the comment and, if possible, a link to the e-mail address on the Contact page for this site.

To read previous winners, click on the “Gusher Awards” tag at the top of this post or on the category with that title at right. Another winner will be named on Friday.

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

June 27, 2008

Avoiding This Cliché ‘Should Be Required for All Americans’

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And This Week’s Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing Go to …

“Sheeler’s book is a devastating account of the sacrifices military families make and should be required reading for all Americans.”
From a review of Jim Sheeler’s Final Salute in Publishers Weekly, March 31, 2008 www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6545566.html

The Long Road Home “should be required reading for all Americans so that we will all understand the consequences of our votes, no matter what they’re for or against.”
From a review of Martha Raddatz’s The Long Road Home in Publishers Weekly, March 26, 2007 www.publishersweekly.com/blog/670000267/post/490007849.html

“It should be required reading for every American; yes, it is that good.”
From a review of Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower in The Christian Science Monitor, Sept. 5, 2006 www.csmonitor.com/2006/0905/p14s03-bogn.html

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 15, 2008

And Today’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole Goes to …

I came across the following praise for Junot Díaz’s first book, Drown, while doing research on his The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It appeared in a Newsweek article that named Díaz one of the “New Faces of 1996” www.newsweek.com/id/101264/output/print. The article said that before receiving a six-figure, two-book advance, he was “just another 27-year-old fiction writer with an MFA”:

“Now he’s the latest overnight literary sensation. But luck had nothing to do with Diaz’s success. He earned it with his talent. … Talent this big will always make noise.”

Let’s leave aside that “overnight literary sensation” isn’t just hyperbole but a cliché. If big talent will “always make noise,” why couldn’t Herman Melville get an advance for Moby-Dick? (His publisher claimed he hadn’t earned back the money he received for his last book.) Why have so many other great writers died broke and neglected by readers?

To say that luck has nothing to do with literary success is an example of the American denial of luck, a romantic myth. Díaz has talent, a lot of it. But he was also lucky. He came along when doors were opening to groups – including women, blacks and Dominican-Americans like Díaz – whose voices traditionally had been suppressed. This change is the most important – and welcome – to occur in publishing in my lifetime.

But to say that even today talent “will always make noise” is to imply that publishing is an unfailing meritocracy and injustices no longer exist. This is untrue. The authors who are certain to “make noise” today aren’t those with the most talent – they’re the ones with the best chance of sharing a sofa with Oprah.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 28, 2008

This Week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole Goes to …

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This week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing goes to …

“Anyone who’s ever worked at a restaurant will identify with Manny DeLeon, the protagonist of Stewart O’Nan’s short new novel, Last Night at the Lobster.”
Boulder Daily Camera, Nov. 9, 2007 www.dailycamera.com/news/2007/nov/09/lights-out-onan-finds-drama-pathos-in-chain/

Comment:

Yes, if you’ve ever thought you were Napoleon, you may identify with War and Peace. And if you can’t stop thinking about that white whale that chewed off your leg, you may identify with Moby-Dick. But these things are irrelevant to the quality of a book that it’s a critic’s job to judge. War and Peace and Moby-Dick are great books because you don’t have to be a candidate for a mental institution (or anything else) to appreciate them – not because you’ll appreciate them all the more if you are.

The U.S. also has more than two million waiters and waitresses, three million cooks and food preparation workers and a half million dishwashers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Are we to believe all five million of those people will identify with a 35-year-old man even if, say, they’re women? Would the critic have assumed that “anyone” would identify with O’Nan’s protagonist if the character’s name had been Manuela instead of Manny?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 7, 2008

This Week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole Goes to …

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And This Week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole Goes to …

A “startlingly tender memoir.”
— The March issue of O, the Oprah Magazine on Love and Consequences by Margaret Seltzer writing as Margaret B. Jones

And, as we learned this week, startlingly fake. This quote might have qualified even if Seltzer hadn’t admitted that she made up the book. Why should it “startling” that a book about gang life has tender scenes? Didn’t we see lots of those on The Sopranos?

www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/arts/2008/03/05/2008-03-05_oprahs_mag_gushed_over_memoir_of_fake_ga-1.html

Thanks to Larry McShane of the New York Daily News for an article on this one that has a quote from Amy Gross, editor-in-chief of O, acknowledging that the book “should have been classified as fiction.”

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. A new Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing appears every Friday along with any other posts that appear that day.

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

February 24, 2008

Did Your Sunday Paper Call a Book an ‘Instant Classic’ Today?

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If so, you can nominate the review for a One-Minute Book Reviews Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole. A classic has proved its worth over time. So “instant classic” is self-contradictory hyperbole. (A critic could solve the problem by writing that a book “deserves to become a classic.”) To submit a review for consideration for a Gusher Award, leave a comment or use the e-mail addresses on the “Contact” page and mention the nomination in your subject heading.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 22, 2008

And This Week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole Goes to …

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On Sunday (Feb. 17) the New York Times Book Review had a review of The Seven Days of Peter Crumb, billed as “a chronicle of the final week in a psychopath’s life by the British actor and writer Jonny Glynn.” The critic said:

“Reading it, I fought the urge to throw up. Needless to say, I was transfixed.”
www.nytimes.com/2008/02/17/books/review/Trussoni-t.html?ref=review

Comment:

Hyperbole in reviews often involves substituting overheated words like “transfixed” and “mesmerized” for calmer (but perhaps more accurate) ones like “fascinated” and “interested.’ “Transfixed” means “to render motionless” or “to fixate on something as though held by a spell.” You wonder if this critic was “transfixed” by anything but the need to find a vomit bag.

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

February 15, 2008

Two, Four, Six, Eight / Now’s the Time to ‘Salivate’! This Week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing Goes to …

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And this week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole goes too …

This book “will leave readers salivating for more.”
From a review of Special Topics in Calamity Physics in the New York Times Book Review, Aug. 13, 2006 www.nytimes.com/2006/08/13/books/review/13cover.html

Comment:

Even by the embarrassingly uncritical standards of contemporary literary criticism, the praise for Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Penguin, 528 pp., $15, paperback) went over the top. Many reviewers gushed not just about the novel but about the author’s youth and good looks as though they were writing for Hairdo magazine instead of major newspapers.

This week’s winner took the top honor because it double-faults. It’s unclear and presumptuous. What does “salivating” mean here? I may have defective salivary glands. But I can never quite figure out how to “salivate” for books – even by writers I love — as though I were, say, an unusually literary Weimaraner. If a critic does find him- or herself “salivating,” why not just say that (in the first-person) instead of projecting the response onto others (while hiding behind the third person)?

At least among critics, the bold prophecy of mass salivation for Special Topics in Calamity Physics seems to have gone unfulfilled. Ann Cummins wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that Pessl’s novel rates “that lamest of grades, an ‘I’ for Incomplete.” Donna Rifkind said in the Washington Post that Pessl is a “vivacious writer,” but that “hunkering down for 514 pages of frantic literary exhibitionism turns into a weary business for the reader.” And Peter Dempsey of the Guardian faulted the book for “a page-by-page cascade of dreadful extended metaphors.” “Baldly put,” he said, “Pessl has a tin ear for prose.”

One-Minute Book Reviews welcomes nominations for the Gusher Award. 

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 13, 2008

Another Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole Coming Friday

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Tired of reviews that read more like valentines to authors than independent evaluations of books? Every Friday One-Minute Book Reviews recognizes over-the-top praise for books with another Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole.

To read the winner of last Friday’s prize, click here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/02/08/and-the-first-gusher-award-for-achievement-in-hyperbole-goes-to/. .

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 6, 2008

The Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole — Starting Friday on One-Minute Book Reviews

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“Five thumbs up!” “You’ll laugh till you pee!” “Not since Tolstoy …”

Tired of reading lines like these in book reviews in respected magazines and newspapers? Or of seeing modestly promising first novelists hailed as the next Henry James or Edith Wharton?

You can fight hype and review inflation by nominating your candidates for the One-Minute Book Reviews Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole. A new winner will be named on the site every Friday beginning Feb. 8.

Here’s how to nominate your candidates:

1. Look for book reviews that go over the top. A rave won’t qualify if it’s an intelligent rave. Nor will a review qualify just because you and I disagree with it. The comments in the review need to defy belief or common sense. Several examples appeared in a recent post about Gail Pool’s Faint Praise, including a Boston Globe review that said that Zadie Smith’s White Teeth had “changed literature’s future” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/01/23/. The quote you nominate does not need to have appeared in the past week.

3. You can nominate a candidate by using the e-mail address on the Contact page on this site or by leaving a comment on any post that relates to the Gusher Awards, including this post. Please list the comment, the magazine or newspaper that published it, the date of publication and, if possible, a link. If you nominate a comment by e-mail, please refer to the awards in the subject heading and let me know if you’d like a “Submitted by …” credit if I use the comment.

4.You don’t have to explain what’s wrong with the quote. Most of the quotes should speak for themselves. If you want to explain what’s wrong, please comment on the quote, not on the reviewer. No personal attacks.

5. The Gusher Awards will generally honor reviews in publications large enough to use professional reviewers, such as daily newspapers and mass-market magazines — not community weeklies that depend on unpaid amateurs. The awards may also honor some blurbs.

Don’t forget that the finalists for the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books will be announced on Feb. 29, so you can nominate candidates for those, too.

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

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