One-Minute Book Reviews

June 25, 2008

‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.’ Or Not.

Filed under: Essays and Reviews,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:28 am
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Not long ago, I picked up the alarmingly titled 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (Rizzoli/Universe, 960 pp., $34.95), intending to review it promptly. But every time I open it, I am reminded: The editor, Peter Boxall, thinks that while I still have a pulse, I need to read ten books by Ian McEwan. Ten! Is this man mad? Yes, that’s ten books in addition to McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, which I read shortly before it made the longlist for the 2007 Bad Sex Awards www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/23/.

Boxall also thinks I need to read only one book by Willa Cather, and it is neither her wonderful Death Comes for the Archbishop or nor her classic tale of prairie life, O Pioneers!, nor her My Antonia, which many critics regard as her greatest work. It is, bizarrely, her The Professor’s House. I would happily listen to arguments about why that book is her best, but 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die doesn’t offer them. So it’s going to take me a while to sort out this doorstopper.

In the meantime the Telegraph has posted a list of 110 books that would make up “the perfect library”
www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2008/04/06/nosplit/sv_classics06.xml. That list has its own quirks but is much less pretentious than Boxall’s. Among its virtues: It is refreshingly unstuffy and includes books like Gone With the Wind and Murder on the Orient Express along with The Iliad and The Odyssey.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

March 10, 2008

Has Ian McEwan Suffered Enough? Or Should He Still Get a 2008 Delete Key Award for This Writing From ‘On Chesil Beach’?

Filed under: Delete Key Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:35 pm
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First On Chesil Beach got longlisted for a Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the Literary Review www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/23/. Then it lost the Man Booker Prize to Anne Enright’s The Gathering. And last month Atonement came up empty at the Oscars.

Has Ian McEwan suffered enough? Or should he still get a Delete Key Award on Friday? The following passages qualified him for the shorlist, announced on Feb. 29 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/02/29/:

“Like most young men of his time, or any time, without an easy manner, or means to sexual expression, he indulged constantly in what one enlightened authority was now calling ‘self-pleasuring’ … How extraordinary it was, that a self-made spoonful, leaping clear of his body, should instantly free his mind to confront afresh Nelson’s decisiveness at Aboukir Bay.”

“Because the instrument was a cello rather than her violin, the interrogator was not herself but a detached observer, mildly incredulous, but insistent too, for after a brief silence and lingering, unconvincing reply from the other instruments, the cello put the question again, in different terms, on a different chord, and then again, and again, and each time received a doubtful answer.”

If you’d like to try to influence the outcome of the Delete Key Awards, you have until 9 p.m. Wednesday to leave a comment. Mercy or no mercy?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 29, 2008

Delete Key Awards Finalist #6 – Ian McEwan’s ‘On Chesil Beach’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:03 pm
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Delete Key Awards Finalist #6 – From Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach:

“Like most young men of his time, or any time, without an easy manner, or means to sexual expression, he indulged constantly in what one enlightened authority was now calling ‘self-pleasuring’ … How extraordinary it was, that a self-made spoonful, leaping clear of his body, should instantly free his mind to confront afresh Nelson’s decisiveness at Aboukir Bay.”

“Because the instrument was a cello rather than her violin, the interrogator was not herself but a detached observer, mildly incredulous, but insistent too, for after a brief silence and lingering, unconvincing reply from the other instruments, the cello put the question again, in different terms, on a different chord, and then again, and again, and each time received a doubtful answer.”

Earlier this year, Ian McEwan made the longlist for the Bad Sex in Fiction award from the London-based Literary Review, possibly for passages such as the first. He lost that prize to Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest. But the problems with On Chesil Beach go beyond than sex: The second passage quoted above sounds like McEwan is channeling the worst of the later work of Henry James.

The finalists for the 2008 Delete Key Awards are being numbered but announced in random order.

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

January 21, 2008

Anne Enright’s Worthy Man Booker Prize–Winner, ‘The Gathering’

The Gathering is to On Chesil Beach and Mister Pip what 18-year-old Jameson is to lukewarm tap beer

The Gathering. By Anne Enright. Grove/Atlantic/Black Cat, 261 pp., $14, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

In the 1920s a group of lay Catholics tried to save Dublin prostitutes by removing them from brothels after buying off the madams with Milk Tray chocolates or other bribes. Anne Enright builds on this historical episode in her artful Man Booker Prize-winning novel, The Gathering, which imagines how the effort might have affected a young woman and her descendants.

Her narrator is 39-year-old Veronica Hegarty, a contemporary Irish mother of two who has enough wit and ironic detachment from her life to view it in quotation marks: “I could pick up my keys and go ‘home’ where I could ‘have sex’ with my ‘husband’ just like lots of people did. This is what I had been doing for years.”

But that begins to change after her brother Liam kills himself and her eight surviving siblings gather in Dublin for his funeral. As Veronica tries to make sense of the suicide, she reflects on her family’s sorrows – cancer, mental illness, alcoholism, an infant’s death, a mother’s seven miscarriages. None of it disturbs her more than a scene of sexual abuse that she accidentally had witnessed years earlier. An Oprah show might focused on the effects of that experience alone. Enright digs deeper and begins where television typically leaves off. In adulthood, Veronica realizes, “we always feel pain for the wrong thing.”

Best line: No. 1: “There is something wonderful about a death, how everything shuts down, and all the ways you thought were vital are not even vaguely important. Your husband can feed the kids, he can work the new oven, he can find the sausages in the fridge, after all. And his important meeting was not important, not in the slightest.” No. 2: “There are so few people given to us to love. I want to tell my daughters this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen. And if you can, at nineteen, count the people you love on one hand, you will not, at forty, have run out of fingers on the other. There are so few people given to us to love and they all stick.”

Worst line: “I sweep my arm along the table of yellow pine, with its thick, plasticky sheen.” Send that “plasticky” back to the same neologism factory that gave us “garlicky.”

Recommendation? Not for book clubs that think Western literature peaked with Mitch Albom and Fannie Flagg. But it could be great choice for groups that like literary fiction. Grove/Atlantic has posted a reading group guide that is more extensive and thoughtful than most publishers’ guides.

Reading group guide: Available online at www.groveatlantic.com.

Published: 2007

Furthermore: The Gathering isn’t likely to have the popularity of the best-loved Booker winners, such as The Remains of the Day. It themes are too downbeat and the sex is too frequent and explicit. But it is a far better novel than the favorites for 2007 Man Booker Prize, On Chesil Beach and Mister Pip, which it defeated www.themanbookerprize.com. The story is richer, the characters better developed and the settings more fully evoked. The Gathering is to On Chesil Beach and Mister Pip what 18-year-old Jameson is to lukewarm tap beer. It is also better than the 60 or so pages that I read of the 2006 winner, The Inheritance of Loss www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/20/. Anne Enright is what every literary novelist should be: a good storyteller who has something worthy to say.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

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

December 10, 2007

Isobel English’s Elegant Novel, ‘Every Eye,’ Makes Its American Debut

A slender classic follows a couple from England to Ibiza on a belated honeymoon

Every Eye. By Isobel English. Introduction by Neville Braybrooke. David R. Godine/Black Sparrow, 192 pp., $23.

By Janice Harayda

This elegant novel might sound like the literary godmother of Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach. Like that Man Booker Prize finalist, Every Eye is a slender book about an English couple on a honeymoon – in this case, belated – near the ocean. And like On Chesil Beach, it comes from a distinguished British author who writes about how early misunderstandings can reverberate for a lifetime.

Yet Every Eye is everything that On Chesil Beach is not – subtle, persuasive and rich in insight. Hatty, the narrator, is a piano teacher who was born with a “lazy eye” that affects her view of herself long after surgery has corrected the problem. She marries late, well into her 30s, and recalls her awkward early years on a honeymoon trip through France and Spain to Ibiza with her intelligent young husband. And her apparently successful marriage suggests that her strains have eased. But a final, startling discovery awaits her when the parallel narratives of the novel, which glide between past and present, converge brilliantly during a visit to an abandoned hermitage on Ibiza. The last pages of the book do what all great endings should do but few achieve: They open up the novel and make you want to go back to the beginning and read it again.

Every Eve has equally fine observations on place and character. Hatty finds a wry comfort in learning that an acquaintance with whom she has little in common will attend a family party. “At least we had the barren fields of our incompatibility between us, which made us better than strangers,” she reflects in a phrase that might have come from Elinor Dashwood. When she begins to date men at last, Hatty feels a slight thrill at “the almost human expression of the hard blocked toe-caps of their shoes” with their requisite perforations.

Critics have compared English to Muriel Spark and Anita Brookner – both of whom admired her work – but she is less austere than Spark and takes more risks than Brookner. English has a voice all her own, and it is more interesting than that of many better-known writers. At this writing On Chesil Beach ranks #184 on Amazon www.amazon.com, and Every Eye #864,564. If the bestseller lists were a meritocracy, those numbers would be revered.

Best line: Hatty’s husband, Stephen, says, “People sometimes go though their whole lives without reaching the moment when they are exactly the person they want to be.”

Worst line: One of the few off-key phrases is “she said managingly to me.”

Recommendation? An excellent choice for reading groups that enjoy mid- to late-20th-century British female authors but have run through many of the stalwarts, such as Spark, Brookner and Penelope Fitzgerald.

Published: Every Eye was first published in England in 1956. The Black Sparrow www.blacksparrowbooks.com edition is its American debut. The novel is the second by English (1920-1994), the pen name of June Braybrooke. who wrote two others, Four Voices and The Key That Rusts, and the short story collection, Life After All, winner of the PEN/Katherine Mansfield Prize.

Furthermore: English’s husband, Neville Braybooke, has written a wondeful introduction to Every Eve. It includes this arresting passage: “Never did I read a complete manuscript [by English] until it was ready to be professional typed. Then, after it was returned, June wrapped it in a silk scarf, as was her custom, and delivered it hy hand to her publishers — in this case the firm of André Deutsch. All four of her books were delivered in this manner and the scarves sent back in the stamped, addressed envelopes that she had enclosed.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 28, 2007

Read All the Passages Shortlisted for the 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Award Here

Just found a link to all the passages shortlisted for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the U.K-based Literary Review, won Tuesday by Norman Mailer‘s The Castle in the Forest, which defeated books by Ian McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and others. The Guardian (formerly the Manchester Guardian) has them here: http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,2217735,00.htm

That link will take you to them, but if it doesn’t work for you, just Google “Guardian + Bad Sex Awaard Shortlisted Passages.” Still haven’t found a YouTube upload of the reading of the offending lines that preceded the announcement of the winner. The finalists included Gary Shteyngart‘s Absurdistan, shown here.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 27, 2007

‘Sex in Ian McEwan’s Novel Is Not Bad Enough to Impress Judges’ of 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Awards, Times of London Reports — Here’s the Shortlist

[Note: A post with the name of the winner follows in five minutes.]

Ian McEwan is safe — at least until One-Minute Book Reviews considers the candidates for its next Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books, the winner of which will be announced on the Ides of March. The online edition of the Times of London reports that McEwan’s longlisted On Chesil Beach didn’t make the shortlist for the 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

The newspaper says that the finalists who swept past McEwan are: Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods, Richard Milward’s Apples, Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy, David Thewlis’s The Late Hector Kipling, the late Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest, Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan, Christopher Rush’s Will and Clare Clark’s The Nature of Monsters. The winner will be announced today after the offending passages are read aloud by actresses. Read the Times post, headlined “Ses in Ian McEwan’s Novel Is Not Bad Enough to Impress Judges.”

www.entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article2951176.ece

November 23, 2007

Ian McEwan Makes Longlist for Bad Sex in Fiction Award As Expected, Along With Norman Mailer and Jeanette Winterson

Read the list of the nominees for the 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Award and the lines that may have qualified On Chesil Beach for it

By Janice Harayda

Call me Nostradamus.

Back in August, when a lot of people couldn’t stop praising Ian McEwan’s overrated On Chesil Beach, I wrote that “McEwan aggressively courts a Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the Literary Review” with the novel www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/10/. I raised the possibility of the Bad Sex Award again when McEwan made the shortlist for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction (“Does Ian McEwan Deserve the Man Booker Prize or a Bad Sex Award for Writing Like This? You Be the Judge”) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/07/.

The Literary Review has just announced the longlist for the 2007 Bad Sex Award, meant to “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description … and to discourage it” in modern literary novels (not pornograhy or erotica). And who’s on it? McEwan, along with Norman Mailer, Jeanette Winterson and others. Here’s the longlist:

Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods

Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach

Richard Milward’s Apples

Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy

Maria Peura’s At the Edge of Light

James Delingpole’s Coward on the Beach

David Thewlis’s The Late Hector Kipling

Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest

Quim Monzo’s The Enormity of the Tragedy

Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan

Christopher Rush’s Will

Claire Clark’s The Nature of Monsters

Nobody seems yet to have a list of the passages that won their authors a spot on the longlist for the award, the winner of which will be named on Nov. 27. But these lines from On Chesil Beach (Doubleday/Nan Talese, $22) quoted in my August 10 post, should have qualified McEwan easily (page 24 in the first U.S. edition):

“Like most young men of his time, or any time, without an easy manner, or means to sexual expression, he indulged constantly in what one enlightened authority was now calling ‘self-pleasuring’ … How extraordinary it was, that a self-made spoonful, leaping clear of his body, should instantly free his mind to confront afresh Nelson’s decisiveness at Aboukir Bay.”

Thanks to the Nov. 23 Literary Saloon www.complete-review.com/saloon/ for a link to a post on the Bookseller www.thebookseller.com that had the list. When is the Literary Review www.literaryreview.co.uk going to post the qualifying passages?

By the way, you can’t use the “Search Inside This Book” tool on Amazon www.amazon.com to find those lines from On Chesil Beach that I quoted, because the people at Doubleday/Nan Talese haven’t enabled it for the book. Those spoilsports.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and a vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 16, 2007

Irish Novelist Anne Enright Wins the Man Booker Prize, and the Judges Dodge a Bullet

Whew. That was close. No, not the betting on which of the frontrunners for the 2007 Man Booker Prize, Lloyd Jones‘s Mister Pip and Ian McEwan‘s On Chesil Beach, would win (though only a hair’s breadth separated their odds at the end).

What was really a squeaker was how close the judges may have come to honoring one of those novels, neither worthy of a major international award. Tonight the prize went instead to the Irish novelist Anne Enright‘s The Gathering, which was all but impossible to find in the U.S. in the days leading up to the ceremony (based on my efforts to obtain a copy through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, independent booksellers, and libraries). I hope to review it as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime you can read more about The Gathering at www.themanbookerprize.com.

Tomorrow: Full color makes its debut on One-Minute Book Reviews with a discussion of the cover of Katha Pollitt’s Learning to Drive (reviewed today) and comments on book covers generally. That post is part of a new series that occasionally will discuss the covers of books reviewed on this site and why they do or don’t fit the books.

Thank you for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 15, 2007

Will a Book Written at a Third-Grade Reading Level Get the Man Booker Prize for Fiction Tomorrow?

Tomorrow we ‘ll find out if the Man Booker Prize for Fiction www.themanbookerprize.com will go to New Zealander Lloyd Jones’s Mister Pip, a novel written at a third-grade reading level, according to the readability statistics on Microsoft Word. For more on this potential embarrassment to one of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes, see the post “Dumbing Down the Man Booker Prize” that appeared on this site on Sept. 24 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/24/ and the follow-up post the next day on the broader issue of dumbing-down literary awards www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/25/.

Jones had been the frontrunner in the betting at London bookmaking firms. But the race has turned into an apparent dead heat between Mister Pip and Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/10/, which has its own problems described in the review on this site.

I couldn’t review all the finalists, because some aren’t yet available in the United States. But I’ll have at least a brief comment on the awards as soon as possible after the winner is named.

(c) Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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