One-Minute Book Reviews

March 15, 2010

First Runner-Up in the 2010 Delete Key Awards for Bad Writing in Books — Seth Grahame-Smith’s ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:39 pm
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Elizabeth Bennet’s best friend turns into a Regency zombie and appears to channel Mammy in Gone With the Wind in a passage from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk), the second runner-up in the 2010 Delete Key Awards for bad writing in books. Jane Austen weeps as author Seth Grahame-Smith has Charlotte Lucas say:

“‘What can be da meaning of dis?’ howled Charlotte, as soon as he was gone. ‘Mah dear Ewiza, he muss be love you, aw he never wuh have called in dis famiwiar way.’”

Read all the shortlisted passages from all the finalists here. You can also follow Janice Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 25, 2010

2010 Delete Key Awards Finalist #8 — ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ by Seth Grahame-Smith

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:48 am
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From Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk):

“‘What can be da meaning of dis?’ howled Charlotte, as soon as he was gone. ‘Mah dear Ewiza, he muss be love you, aw he never wuh have called in dis famiwiar way.’”
Charlotte Lucas turns into a Regency zombie and appears to channel the words of Mammy in Gone With the Wind. Jane Austen weeps.

Read the full review of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. 

You can also read about the Delete Key Awards on Twitter at @janiceharayda. The 10 finalists are being announced in random order, beginning with No. 10, but numbered for convenience. This is finalist No. 8. The winner and runners up will be announced on March 15 on One-Minute Book Reviews and on Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 4, 2010

Out for Blood – A Review of ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:51 am
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Elizabeth and Darcy inhabit a Regency England drenched in the blood after zombie attacks

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now With Ultraviolet Zombie Mayhem. By Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. Quirk, 317 pp., $12.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

This book is a literary prank, the equivalent of drawing moustaches on the apostles in The Last Supper. Seth Grahame-Smith follows the outline of the plot of Pride and Prejudice as he splices together many of its original passages and a new tale of zombie attacks that have left Regency England drenched in blood. Elizabeth Bennet is fearless zombie-killer who learned her deadly arts in China. Darcy loves her partly because he knows he has met his match among slayers of the undead. And Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte Lucas turns into a zombie whose physical deterioration causes her to say things like: “I fank you, Eliza, for dis piece of c-civiwity.”

Thousands of people have apparently have found all of this funny. But because this novel is more mashup than parody, there’s little room for wit, and any of Jane Austen’s best lines is better than the entire book. So what is the purpose of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Any number of answers might come to mind after you read that Elizabeth stabbed one of her victims in the stomach and “strangled him to death with his large bowel.” How about, for a start, “blood money”?

Best Line: Many by Austen. They include Elizabeth Bennet’s admission to her sister Jane that she didn’t always love Darcy: “But in such cases as these, a good memory is unpardonable.”

Worst line: No. 1: “‘What can be da meaning of dis?’ howled Charlotte, as soon as he was gone. ‘Mah dear Ewiza, he muss be love you, aw he never wuh have called in dis famiwiar way.’” No. 2: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”

Published: 2009

Furthermore: The popularity of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has led to a movie deal and a sequel, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Grahame-Smith also wrote The Big Book of Porn: A Penetrating Look at the World of Dirty Movies.

You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 12, 2009

Funny Gifts for Readers Today on Twitter

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:06 pm
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On my Twitter page today I’m recapping in 140 characters or fewer some of the amusing and other gifts for readers that I’ve mentioned on One-Minute Book Reviews and that you can still find, such as the Shakespeare’s Insults Magnets and the Jane Austen Action Figure. You don’t need to have your own Twitter account to see these. Just click on “my Twitter page” in the first sentence of this paragraph.

July 22, 2009

Mitch Albom Writes at a 3rd Grade Reading Level, Stephen King at an 8th — The Reading Levels of Your Favorite Authors

[This post first appeared in November 2006 and ranks among the 10 most popular posts of all time on the site. I am on a short semi-vacation.]

For One More Day: A Novel. By Mitch Albom. Hyperion, 197 pp., $21.95.

By Janice Harayda

It’s official: Mitch Albom writes at a third-grade reading level, according to the readability statistics on Microsoft Word 2004.

I know this because For One More Day struck me as so dumbed-down – even for Albom – that it fell below the level of the sixth-grade books I once edited for a test-prep company. So I typed a couple of paragraphs from the novel into my computer and ran the Word spelling and grammar checker, which gives you the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Statistics at the bottom. Albom, it showed, writes at the level of Grade 2.8. This was startling enough that I wondered if the paragraphs I had used, from page 24, were atypical. So I typed in the full text of pages 24 and 25 and found that they were atypical. Albom actually writes at a third-grade level, Grade 3.4, according to Flesch-Kincaid.

I used pages 24 and 25 because the first pages of a book sometimes don’t represent the whole of it: Authors may be clearing their throats or writing in a different tone than they will use after they have found their rhythm. So it’s often fairest to look not just at the first chapter but also at something that comes later. A chapter typically has about 20 pages, so I used the first full section of Albom’s book that follows page 20, a total of 305 words.

All of this raised a question: Does a novel written at a third-grade level deserve the same sort of review as books by authors who write at higher levels? Especially if the book appears to be a naked attempt to combine the theme of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life with the kind of framing device Robert James Waller used in The Bridges of Madison County (which tries to lull you into believing that a novel tells a true story)? Maybe not. So here instead are the grade levels I got for a half dozen other authors when I checked the readability statistics for 305 words of their prose:

Nora Ephron I Feel Bad About My Neck Grade 12.0
Alex Kuczynski Beauty Junkies Grade 10.3, an exposé by a New York Times reporter
James Boswell The Life of Samuel Johnson Grade 8.6
Stephen King Liseys Story Grade 8.3
Danielle Steel Toxic Bachelors Grade 4.8
Emily Arnold McCully An Outlaw Thanksgiving, a picture book for 4-to-8 year olds by a Caldecott Medalist Grade 4.3
Mitch Albom For One More Day Grade 3.4

I also ran the statistics for the Lord’s Prayer, using the punctuation in a 20th century edition of The Book of Common Prayer. And it turns out that Jesus, too, “wrote” at a third-grade level, Grade 3.8, according to Microsoft Word (although he spoke the prayer). So there you have it. Mitch Albom, writing at the Grade 3.4 level, doesn’t quite come up to the level of Jesus at Grade 3.8. But who would know it from all the attention he is getting?

Best Line: A quote from Louis Armstrong: “If ya ain’t got it in ya, ya can’t blow it out.”

Worst line: Many. Samples: “He chuckled.” “My mother chuckled.”

Editors: Leslie Wells and Will Schwalbe

Furthermore: This review has a reading level of Grade 9.5, excluding the supplemental information at the end, according to the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Statistics on Microsoft Word 2004.

Published: September 2006. Albom also wrote Tuesdays With Morrie (Anchor, 2005).

How to find the reading level of a book: Go to the Microsoft Word pull-down “Help” menu. Search for “readability statistics.” Select “display readability statistics.” This will walk you through the process of finding the grade level for any text you enter, including your own writing.

Grade levels and their corresponding ages in American schools: In the U.S, children typically begin grades at these ages: kindergarten, 5; first grade, 6; second grade, 7; third grade, 8, fourth grade, 9; fifth grade, 10; sixth grade, 11; seventh grade, 12; eighth grade, 13; ninth grade, 14; tenth grade, 15; 11th grade, 16; 12th grade, 17.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 19, 2009

‘Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners’ — ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Etiquette

Filed under: How to,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:06 pm
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[This is a re-post of a review that appeared on Nov. 27, 2006, while I'm on a brief semi-vacation.]

A charmingly illustrated explanation of the Regency etiquette rules followed by the novelist’s characters

Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders. By Josephine Ross. Illustrated by Henrietta Webb. Boomsbury, 133 pp., $14.95.

By Janice Harayda

A while back, I wrote a novel about a bride-to-be who believed that Jane Austen could have solved all her romantic problems. One reason for her view, I hoped, was clear: Austen’s novels are full of rules for social conduct.

The catch – for my heroine as for others – is that Austen’s characters typically follow rules that are implicit, not explicit. And because Austen was a satirist, her precepts can’t always be taken at face value even when they are spelled out. Perhaps the best case in point is the much-misunderstood first line of Pride and Prejudice, which is often taken literally though meant ironically: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Josephine Ross has decoded some of the social conventions of the Regency era in Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners. And as befits an ironist like Austen, this book is less a “guide to good manners” than a literary companion disguised as Regency self-help manual.

Ross does not try to extrapolate from the behavior of Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse and others to modern life. Instead she describes the rules of the Regency era as she sees them and shows how Austen’s characters observe or break them. The rule “Do not be presumptuous in offering introductions” leads to a brief discussion of the proper ways of introducing people in the early 1800s. Then Ross writes: “When Lady Catherine de Bourgh, in high dudgeon, calls on the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice to dissuade Elizabeth from marrying her nephew Darcy, she does not ask Lizzy to introduce her mother, and sits for some time in the presence of awed Mrs. Bennet, who has therefore not been granted permission to converse with her Ladyship in her own house. This, of course, is not ‘good manners.’”

Some of the conventions that Ross describes went out with the chamber pot: “After dinner the ladies must withdraw.” Others continue in a modified form: “When in doubt, talk of the weather.” Either way, Ross writes so gracefully that her book is a delight, enhanced by charming watercolors by Henrietta Webb. How nice that she and her collaborator knew enough not to take literally the words of Northanger Abby: “A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”

Best line: “Only by understanding Society’s strict rules is anyone – man or woman – in a position to break them.”

Worst line: Why doesn’t the comma in “Compliments, Charades,” which appears on the cover, show up also on the title page?

Published: October 2006

Janice Harayda wrote The Accidental Bride (St. Martin’s, 1999), a comedy of a manners about a bride who tries to find solace in Jane Austen as her over-the-top wedding approaches.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

June 19, 2009

A Quote in the Spirit of Jane Austen From ‘Love in a Cold Climate’

A wonderfully satirical quote from Nancy Mitford’s modern classic Love in a Cold Climate, reviewed yesterday, that suggests why the novel night appeal to fans of Jane Austen:

“Lady Montdore loved anybody royal. It was a genuine emotion, quite disinterested, since she loved them in as much in exile as in power, and the act of curtseying was the consummation of this love. Her curtseys, owing to the solid quality of her frame, did not recall the graceful movement of wheat before the wind. She scrambled down like a camel, rising again backside foremost, like a cow, a strange performance, painful, it might be supposed, to the performer, the expression on whose face, however, belied this thought. Her knees crackled like revolver shots but her smile was heavenly.”

www.janiceharayda.com

June 1, 2009

A Yankee’s Favorite Books About the South #1 – Eudora Welty’s Comic Novella, ‘The Ponder Heart’

A kind-hearted uncle is put on trial for murder in a comic novella that includes some of the most entertaining courtroom scenes in American literature

The Ponder Heart. By Eudora Welty. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 168 pp., $12, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Jane Austen told a would-be novelist that “three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on.” And much of her comedy turns on the arrival of an outsider in such a group – most famously, Fitzwilliam Darcy’s entrance into the world of the Bennets, Bingleys and Lucases in Pride and Prejudice.

In that sense, The Ponder Heart is Eudora Welty’s most Austenian book. The wonderfully named Ponders and Clanahans and Sistrunks have held sway in Clay, Mississippi, for generations. Then a newcomer turns up: 17-year-old Bonnie Dee Peacock, who is “no bigger than a minute” and promptly marries Uncle Daniel Ponder, a rich, kind and mentally slow man whose greatest happiness lies in giving things away. When Bonnie departs as suddenly as she arrived, Uncle Daniel finds himself on trial for murder in one of the most entertaining courtroom dramas in American literature.

First published in The New Yorker in 1953, The Ponder Heart is a light-hearted and at times farcical social comedy that takes the form of a monologue by the endearingly self-assured Edna Earle Ponder, the proprietor of the faded Beulah Hotel in Clay, Mississippi. Edna says, “It’s always taken a lot out of me, being smart,” and the appeal of her tale lies partly in her astute, matter-of-fact send-ups of her fellow Mississippians.

“The Peacocks are the kind of people keep the mirror outside on the front porch, and go out and pick railroad lilies to bring inside the house, and wave at trains till the day die,” Edna says.

Everything about that sentence is perfect: its deadpan wit, its vivid images, its distinctive syntax (such as the dropping of the “who” from the phrase, “the kind of people keep”). And it suggests why many critics believe that Welty’s superb ear for the speech of many Southern groups – men and women, blacks and whites, city and country folk – reaches a high point in The Ponder Heart.

But Welty never makes dialect an end in itself, as so many novelists do. She always uses it to make a larger point that is as disarmingly frank and surprising as her language. Edna Earle suggests one of the themes of The Ponder Heart explaining why Uncle Daniel keeps finding reason come into town from the big Ponder house out in the country. “There’s something that’s better to have than love,” she says, “and if you want me to, I’ll tell you what it is – that’s company.”

This is the first in a series of daily posts about Southern literature. Tomorrow: Willie Morris’s memoir of his Southern boyhood, North Toward Home.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

July 29, 2008

Weather in Novels – How It Works, or Jane Austen and the Pathetic Fallacy

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:52 pm
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Last week we had a storm here that – if it lacked biblical proportions – still had the force of a minor religious tract. Have you ever thought about what wonderful conductors of electricity metal fire escapes are? We found out when one got struck by lighting, accompanied by a thunderous boom, a block from where I live.

Nobody got hurt, but as I counted the arriving fire trucks, I thought about storms in fiction. How do novelists use the weather – the good, bad and the ugly? David Lodge comments in The Art of Fiction (Viking, 1993), an excellent collection of essays on devices such as the use of lists, names, and the telephone in fiction:

“We all know that weather affects our moods. The novelist is in the happy position of being able to invent whatever weather is appropriate to the mood he or she wants to evoke.

“Weather is therefore frequently a trigger for the effect John Ruskin called the pathetic fallacy, the projection of human emotions onto phenomena in the natural world. ‘All violent feelings … produce in us a falseness of our impressions of external things, which I would generally characterize as the pathetic fallacy,’ he wrote. As the name implies, Ruskin thought it was a bad thing, a symptom of the decadence of modern (as compared to classical) art and literature, and it is indeed often the occasion of overblown, self-indulgent writing. But used with intelligence and discretion it is a rhetorical device capable of moving and powerful effects, without which fiction would be much the poorer.

“Jane Austen retained an Augustan suspicion of the Romantic imagination, and satirized it in the characterization of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. ‘It is not everyone who has your passion for dead leaves,’ her sister Elinor comments drily after Marianne’s autumn rhapsody, ‘How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind. What feelings they, the season, the air altogether inspired!’”

Weather in Austen’s novels, Lodge goes on to say, usually has an important practical bearing on her characters’ lives. But in her books and others’, it can serve other purposes, some related to the pathetic fallacy and some not, such as serving as “a metaphorical index” of characters’ inner lives or a portent of impending plot shifts.

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

June 26, 2008

Ten Books That Should Have Been on Entertainment Weekly’s List of the ‘The 100 Best Reads’ of the Past 25 Years But Weren’t

I love Entertainment Weekly‘s annual list of the year’s worst books, which is usually right on the money. But the magazine’s list of “The New Classics: The 100 Best Reads From 1983 to 2008”
www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20207076_20207387_20207349,00.html falls a bit wider of mark.

Here, off the top of my head, are 10 books that didn’t make the EW list. These titles appear in random order (and I hope to say more about some of them later):

1. Liar’s Poker (1989) Michael Lewis
2. The Polar Express (1985) by Chris Van Allsburg
3. Heartburn (1986) by Nora Ephron
4. Barbarians at the Gate (1990) by Brian Burrough
5. Collected Poems: Philip Larkin (1989) by Philip Larkin and Anthony Thwaite
6. A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (2003) by Samantha Power
7. Richard Wilbur: Collected Poems 1943–2004 (2004) by Richard Wilbur
8. Late Wife: Poems (2005) by Claudia Emerson
9. Jane Austen’s Letters: New Edition (1997) by Jane Austen. Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye.
10. Hotel du Lac (1984) by Anita Brookner

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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