One-Minute Book Reviews

April 26, 2008

Great Nonfiction for Teenagers — True Stories With High Drama

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True tales of disaster on land, on sea and in the thin air of Mt. Everest

By Janice Harayda

I noticed while doing research for a future post on John Hersey’s Hiroshima (Vintage, 152 pp., $6.95, paperback) that this modern classic had won an award for “Books for the Teen Age” from the New York Public Library www.randomhouse.com/vintage/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780679721031. The contents first appeared in The New Yorker — not a magazine for teenagers — so the honor might seem surprising.

But there’s no doubt that many teenagers would be deeply affected by this true story of six people who escaped death when the atomic bomb fell on their city. Hersey tells what all were doing at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945 – one woman had just given each of her children a handful of peanuts – and follows them for a year. The result is a triumph of focus: Hersey homes in on his subjects’ struggle to stay alive, physically and emotionally, so his book has more in common with great disaster narratives than with what many people think of as “a New Yorker article” (long, digressive, full of semicolons). The Vintage paperback edition has a chapter on the survivors lives’ 40 years later. And because its structure resembles some of the most gripping accounts of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, this short book may especially appeal to teenagers who have a strong interest in that tragedy.

Hiroshima appears on many school reading lists, and you’re looking for nonfiction for a teenager who has already read it, you might consider two books dramatic enough to have inspired movies — John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, a tale of disaster on Mt. Everest (Anchor, 383 pp., $14.95, paper) or Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm (HarperPerennial, 272 pp., $13.95, paperback), an account of terror at sea. Or try John Demos’s The Unredeemed Captive (Vintage, 336 pp., $14.94, paperback). This National Book Award–winner tells the story of a Puritan minister and his wife and children who were captured by Mohawks and marched to Canada, where a daughter stayed and married an Indian after her family members had died or been released. The Unredeemed Captive is more challenging than the others but well within reach of high school students who are strong readers.

A new review of a book or books for children or teenagers appears every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. Coming soon: Why do some parents see red about Pinkalicious and its sequel, Purplicious?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

October 29, 2007

‘Baseball Haiku': World-Class Poems About the Seasons of a Sport

Poems that speak to the emotions of Red Sox and Rockies fans today

Baseball Haiku: American and Japanese Haiku and Senryu on Baseball. Edited and With Translations by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura. Norton, 214 pp., $19.95.

By Janice Harayda

“Haiku and baseball were made for each other: While haiku give us moments in which nature is linked to human nature, baseball is played in the midst of the natural elements — on a field under an open sky; and as haiku happen in a timeless now, so does baseball, for there is no clock ticking in a baseball game — the game’s not over until the last out.”

With those words, Cor van den Heuvel sets the tone for this exemplary anthology of more than 200 of the finest haiku about baseball written by American and Japanese poets. Most Americans think of haiku as poems of 17 syllables, typically arranged in a 5-7-5 pattern on three stepped or flush-left lines.

But van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura show how much more flexible the form can be than the traditional pattern might suggest. Van den Heuvel notes, for example, that the best American practitioners of the art typically write free-verse haiku that have fewer than 17 syllables.

Consider the work of the Kansas-born Michael Fessler, who shows how nature can affect baseball in a poem that portrays the game as few of us see it played today: “dust storm trick: / infielders / face the outfield.” Fessler’s haiku suggests the layers of meaning that gifted poets can find in as few as 15 syllables: The word “trick” refers both the players’ shift of position and to a trick of nature, the dust storm. And the poem quietly conveys the passions aroused by baseball, a sport people will play in blinding storms.

Each author in Baseball Haiku gets an intelligent, one-page introduction that mentions a team that influenced him or her. But even without that material you might guess that the Maine-born van den Heuvel is “a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox” from one of his own poems that appears in the book, an homage to Ted Williams: “Ted hits another homer / a seagull high over right field / gets out of the way.”

Like all good poetry, the best haiku in this book transcend fandom and evoke deep and, if not universal, at least transoceanic emotions. One comes from the Japanese poet Yotsuya Ryu, known for his ability to capture fleeting moments in nature. He wrote its words years ago. But this one’s for you, Rockies fans: “until raised to Heaven / I’ll go to fields of green / carrying my glove.”

Published: June 2007 www.wwnorton.co

Furthermore: All the Japanese poems in Baseball Haiku include their original text and an English translation. More haiku appear at www.simplyhaiku.com. Van den Heuvel nows lives in New York City and Tamura in Japan.

You may also enjoy: The June 18, 2008, post on this site “Basketball Poems for Celtics Fans and Others” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/18/.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

May 30, 2007

‘Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat’ (Books I Didn’t Finish)

Maybe this is how the new Miss Universe stays thin?

Title: Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother’s Tokyo Kitchen. By Naomi Moriyama and William Doyle. Delta, 274 pp., $12, paperback.

What it is: One woman’s theory of why Japanese women have the lowest obesity rate in the world (3 percent) and the highest life expectancy (85 years) even though the country has “millions of stressed-out, nonexercising people who are smoking and drinking their way to early graves.”

Where I stopped reading: At the beginning of Chapter 4, entitled “How to Start Your Tokyo Kitchen, or Yes, You Can Do This At Home!” (page 67).

Why I stopped: You’d need to have a more serious interest in Japanese cooking than I do to read more than I did. The first three chapters explain the Japanese philosophy of eating as seen by Tokyo-born Naomi Moriyama, who moved to the U.S. at the age of 27. And these sections are interesting and well-written, though rooted in the views of an earlier generation (that of the author’s mother). Many Americans may be surprised to learn that the Japanese love desserts, especially chocolate. “One elegant Tokyo department store now offers shoppers their own accounts in a Chocolate Bank – you buy an amount of gourmet chocolate, the store keeps it in its temperature-controlled chocolate vault, and you stop in to make a withdrawal any time you want.” But after the first three chapters, the book turns into a collection of recipes for what Moriyama calls “Japanese home cooking.” “This is not a diet book,” she says. “And it’s not a book about making sushi.”

Best line in what I read: The Japanese philosophy of eating includes the concept of hara hachi bunme – “eat until you are 80 percent full.”

Worst line in what I read: I stopped before the recipe-intensive section. But even the recipes in earlier chapters call for ingredients that might be hard to find outside big cities. Among them: dashi, kombu, mitsuba, shiso leaves and bonito flakes.

Editor: Beth Rashbaum

Published: November 2005 (Delacorte hardcover), January 2007 (Delta paperback). This site has video clips of Moriyama’s Today show appearance: www.japanesewomendontgetoldorfat.com

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

At least 50 percent of all reviews on One-Minute Book Reviews cover books by women. Except during holiday weeks, books by female authors typically appear on Mondays and Wednesdays and books by male authors on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Please consider linking to this site and telling others about it if you’re frustrated by how often Sunday book review sections consist mainly of reviews books by male authors, written by male critics. To my knowledge One-Minute Book Reviews is the only site that, while reviewing books by both sexes, has had from the start a publicly stated commitment to parity for female authors. Thank you for visiting this blog. — Jan

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