One-Minute Book Reviews

February 26, 2009

2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist #7– ‘Read All About It!’ by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush

Delete Key Awards Finalist #7 comes from Read All About It (HarperCollins, 32 pp., $17.99, ages 4–6), a picture book by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush, illustrated by Denise Brunkus:

“I say, ‘The library is a boring place! All I will meet there are stinky pages.’”

and

“Miss Toadskin thinks she can gross us out with her science experiments. But I live for that stuff!”

It happens every year! Delete Key Awards finalists try to strengthen weak sentences by adding manic exclamation points! And bad puns! How many 4-year-olds will know that a “page” is someone who reshelves books!

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

2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist #8 — Stephenie Meyer’s ‘The Host’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:52 am
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Delete Key Awards Finalist #8 comes from Stephenie Meyer’s novel of alien abduction, The Host (Little, Brown, 619 pp., $25.99), a three-way tie:

“It’s a voluntary choice.”

and

“He nuzzled his face against mine until he found my lips, then he kissed me, slow and gentle, the flow of molten rock swelling languidly in the dark at the center of the earth, until my shaking slowed.”

and

“ ‘Well, for Pete’s sake!’ Jeb exclaimed. ‘Can’t nobody keep a secret around this place for more’n 24 hours? Gol’ durn, this burns me up!’”

The Host is a novel for adults written at a fourth-grade (9-year-old) reading level, according to the readability statistics that come with the spell-checker on Microsoft Word. But even 9-year-olds deserve better than the redundancy of the first example, the purple prose of the second, and the cornball dialogue of the third. The Jan. 5, 2009, post on One-Minute Book Reviews tells more about the fourth-grade reading level of The Host.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist #9 — James Frey’s ‘Bright Shiny Morning’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:39 am
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Delete Key Awards Finalist #9 comes from James Frey’s novel of Los Angeles, Bright Shiny Morning (Harper, 510 pp., $26.95).

“He said she would have a better life the sun shining every day more free time less stress she said she would feel like she had wasted a decade trying to get to the major leagues only to demote herself once she got into them.”

He got scolded by Oprah A Million Little Pieces blasted he needed to redeem himself with some critics a novel with many sentences like this not the best way to do that.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved

Follow the 2009 Delete Key Awards on Twitter

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:28 am
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The ten finalists for the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books are being announced today on One-Minute Book Reviews at roughly 30 minute intervals. You can follow them here (with the shortlisted passages cited in full) or on Twitter (author, title, publisher only) www.twitter.com/janiceharayda. The next finalist follows within five minutes. The finalists will be announced here first and on Twitter immediately afterward.

February 25, 2009

Questions and Answers About the 2009 Delete Key Awards for the Year’s Worst Writing in Books

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:33 am
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UPDATE: The finalists for Fourth Annual Delete Key Awards for bad writing in books will be announced on Thursday, Feb. 25. Please nominate your candidates by Feb. 15, 2010.

One-Minute Book Reviews will announce the finalists for the Third Annual Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books tomorrow, Feb. 26. The first book to make the shortlist will be named at about 10 a.m. Eastern Time with other titles released throughout the day. The full list of finalists will be posted by 5 p.m.

Here are some questions and answers about the awards:

Why do we need the Delete Key Awards?
When you go bed with a book, you should be able to respect yourself in the morning. Unfortunately, too many publishers don’t realize this.

Who is eligible for a Delete Key Award?
Any book for children or adults published in hardcover or paperback in the U.S. in 2008, including reprints and books in translation.

Why are the awards for “the worst writing in books” instead of “the worst books”?
The overall quality of a book involves subjective issues such as taste and judgment. The Delete Key Awards recognize more clear-cut sins. They call attention to such things as clichés, bad grammar or writing at a statistically verifiable third-grade level. The listing for each finalist will give an example of the bad writing in the book and comment on what’s wrong with it.

What kind of bad writing qualifies for an award?
Anything that would make an intelligent reader cringe. The sins that may qualify a passage in a book for a Delete Key Award include clichés, bad grammar, dumbing down, psychobabble, stereotypes, mispunctuation, stilted dialogue, unintentionally comic sex scenes, and overall tastelessness (the “that’s just sick” factor).

This is the third year Delete Key Awards have been given. What’s new in 2009?

First, visitors to One-Minute Book Reviews are choosing one of the finalists through a poll posted on Feb. 21 oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2009/02/21/. The poll remains open until 5 p.m. Eastern Time Feb. 25. Second, for the first time a special posthumous Delete Key Award will be given out before the shortlist appears.

Who are some past winners of the Delete Key Awards? Where can I read the bad writing that won them their awars?
The 2007 winners were Danielle Steel’s Toxic Bachelors, grand prize; Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, first runner-up; and Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, second runner-up, all of whose winning passages were posted on March 15, 2007. The 2008 winners were Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, grand prize; Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon, first runner-up; and Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, second runner-up, all of whose winning passages were posted on March 14, 2008.
How do you select the finalists?

At the end of each review on One-Minute Book Reviews, you’ll find the best and worst lines in the book. The finalists usually come from the “worst” lines. But all of the selected examples of bad writing are typical of what you’ll find in the book that made the shortlist. No author became a finalist because of one or two bad lines.

Why are you picking on struggling authors?
First, “struggling authors” is a cliché. Strike it from your vocabulary. Second, I’m not picking on those people. Most of the Delete Key Awards finalists are rich. Those who aren’t rich are generally influential or representative of a strong trend in publishing.

When will you announce the winners of the Delete Key Awards?
Visitors to One-Minute Book Reviews will be able to comment on the finalists for two weeks, and the winners will be named on March 16. The winners are usually named on the Ides of March because Julius Caesar was assassinated then, and at least in spots, these books assassinate the English language. But March 15 falls on Sunday this year, so the awards are being announced on March 16.

Why are you announcing the finalists one at a time instead of all at once?
It will provide more entertainment for people who are bored at work. And there are so many bad writers published in the U.S., my site might crash if they all rushed over at once to see if I’d recognized their contributions to literature.

Why are you qualified to pick the winner of the Delete Key Awards?
One-Minute Book Reviews doesn’t accept free books or other promotional materials from editors, publishers, literary agents or authors whose books may be reviewed on the site. So the reviews aren’t affected by the marketing considerations that sometimes affect the decisions of others.

I also received more than 400 books a week during my 11 years as the book editor of the Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper. These included Knitting With Dog Hair, which is still in print. Critics laughed when the book was published. But Knitting With Dog Hair looks like Madame Bovary compared with some Delete Key Awards fianlsits.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. It was created by Janice Harayda, a novelist and award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor and critic for the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

Thanks so much for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 14, 2009

‘A Relationship Is a Myth You Create With Each Other’ — A Valentine’s Day Quote of the Day (via New York Magazine)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:20 pm
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“A relationship is a myth you create with each other. It isn’t necessarily true, but it’s meaningful.”

Philip Weiss quoted an unnamed man as saying this in “The Affairs of Men: The Trouble With Sex and Marriage,” a cover story in the May 26, 2008, issue of New York that dealt with the Eliot Spitzer-inspired question, “Is man really a monogamous animal?” I liked the quote when I read it in the spring — it makes a subtle point about relationships that I can’t recall having seen made elsewhere — but saved it for the appropriate day.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

February 13, 2009

St. Valentine Is #58 on List of ’101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:17 pm
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A while back I reviewed a quirky book called The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived (Harper, 2006), which ranked fictional characters in order of their social and historical importance. The Marlboro Man took the No. 1 spot for his role in changing how people saw a cigarette formerly marketed to women: “Marlboro’s new image boosted its sales four-fold from 1955 to 1957, and by 1972 it had become the top cigarette brand both in the nation and the world.”

Where does St. Valentine rank? He comes in 58th, say Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan and Jeremy Salter. As if you didn’t know, they argue in part that he boosts the economy by contributing sales of “flowers, greeting cards, jewelry, and condoms.” They also give a good summary of one of the better known stories about him:

“The most frequently told legend holds that in 270, during the time of Emperor Claudius II, a priest named Valentine lived in Rome. Claudius felt that married men made poor soldiers because they would not want to leave their families for battle. The emperor needed soldiers, so Claudius is reported to have issued an edict forbidding new marriages.

“Valentine supposedly violated the ban and secretly married couples. For this, the Romans threw him in jail. While there, Valentine allegedly fell in love with his jailor’s blind daughter, and it was said he miraculously cured her. But when their illicit love affair was discovered, the Romans had him beheaded. On the morning of his execution, the 14th of February, he purportedly sent the girl a farewell message signed, From your Valentine. Sometime later, the miraculous cure helped qualify him for sainthood.

Who are the other fictional characters who made the Top 5 along with the Marlboro Man?

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

February 12, 2009

She Cuts Big Novels in Half With a Bread Knife to Make Them Easier to Read (Quote of the Day / Harriet Compston in Tatler)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:12 am
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Harriet Compston wrote this irresistible line about the English dancer Georgiana Cavendish, a direct descendent of her namesake, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, in the January 2009 issue of Tatler:

“Georgiana’s escape is big trashy novels, which she cuts in half with a bread knife to make them easier to read.”

Read it and weep, librarians and second-hand booksellers. You’re not going to get those novels for your Friends sales and sidewalk tables.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

February 9, 2009

The Little Parrot That Could – Irene M. Pepperberg’s ‘Alex & Me,’ The True Story of a Lovable Bird That Could ‘Say Better’ Than Others

A scholar’s 31-year-experiment in avian learning had spectacular results

Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence — and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process. By Irene M. Pepperberg. Collins, 232 pp., $23.95.

By Janice Harayda

Copycat titles like Alex & Me usually appear on weak imitations of the books that inspired them – in this case, the bestselling Marley and Me, John Grogan’s memoir of his wayward dog. Not Irene Pepperberg’s true story of her 31 years with an African Grey parrot that, on the evidence of this book, was the Einstein of the bird world.

Like Marley and Me, Alex & Me is an affectionate and entertaining portrait of a larger-than-life creature. But Pepperberg’s memoir is in some ways more interesting because it tells two stories at once.
The first tale involves the life and death of an extraordinary parrot who followed his owner to colleges from Tucson to Boston, where she did research on his ability to learn. Alex could recognize numbers from one to six and and do simple addition. He could identify objects by color, shape and material. He seems to have grasped concepts such as “smaller” and “larger” and the idea of object permanence (that a thing still exists when hidden from view), which children generally acquire during the first year of life.

Alex’s most endearing trait was that he learned to express his wishes in ways that were as forceful as they were colorful. He bombarded Pepperberg’s student assistants with requests: “Want corn … Want nut … Wanna go shoulder … Wanna go gym.” During lab tests, he corrected parrots who responded incorrectly (“You’re wrong”) or answered indistinctly (“Say better”). Yet he seemed to sense when he had gone too far, a realization he expressed by saying “I’m sorry.”

The second story Pepperberg tells – nearly as interesting – involves her efforts, beginning in the 1970s, to be taken seriously by her peers despite two formidable obstacles. First, she was a woman when recruiters still asked female scientists questions such as, “What kind of birth control are you using?” And she was fighting the prevailing scholarly belief that animals were automatons who lacked cognitive abilities.

Pepperberg parries inflammatory topics such as, “Did Alex have language?” and instead speaks of his ability to “label” objects. She also avoids some obvious questions – notably when she tells us that Alex would have an autopsy but not what it revealed about his walnut-sized brain.

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter in the book. Pepperberg writes in a lively, conversational style as engaging as Grogan’s. Yet she provides enough scientific detail to persuade you that something remarkable happened during her work with her adored parrot. Alex’s last words to Pepperberg were, “You be good. I love you.”

Best line: “Alex became quite a fixture at the vets’, talking to everyone who had time to stop and listen. His cage was right next to the accountant’s desk. The night before I was due to take him to Tucson, the accountant had to stay late, working on the books. ‘You want a nut?’ Alex asked her.
“‘No, Alex.’
“He persisted. ‘You want corn?’
“ ‘No, thank you, Alex, I don’t want corn.’
“This went on for a little while, and the accountant did her best to ignore him. Finally, Alex apparently became exasperated and said in a petulant voice, ‘Well, what do you want?’ The accountant cracked up laughing and gave Alex the attention he was demanding.”

Worst line: Pepperberg quotes a Guardian obituary: “Alex, the African Grey parrot who was smarter than the average U.S. president, has died at the relatively tender age of 31.” The evidence in Alex & Me doesn’t support the Guardian‘s claim, so it isn’t clear why it’s quoted. Alex could label numbers up to six. If the Guardian claim were true, the average U.S. president couldn’t tell you the address of the White House.

Sample chapter titles: “Alex’s First Labels,” “Alex Goes High-Tech,” “What Alex Taught Me.”

Published: October 2008

Watch a video of Pepperberg interacting with Alex on the HarperCollins site.

Furthermore: Pepperberg is an associate research professor at Brandeis and teaches animal cognition at Harvard. She also wrote The Alex Studies (Harvard, 2000).

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour and the book editor of the Plain Dealer.

One-Minute Book Reviews will announced the finalists for the Third Annual Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books on Feb. 26 and the winners on March 15, 2009. To nominate a passage in a book for a bad-writing award, leave a comment or send a message to the e-mail address on the “Contact” page.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

January 20, 2009

Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address Is Written at an 8th Grade Reading Level

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:21 pm
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Barack Obama’s inaugural address is written at an 8th grade reading level – specifically, Grade 8.3. This is an excellent showing compared with the reading levels of the novels of bestselling authors such as Mitch Albom (Grade 3.4) and Stephenie Meyer (Grade 4). But the level of Obama’s address isn’t as high as that of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (Grade 10.9) or Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech (Grade 11.2).

Reading levels of other presidents’ writing appeared in the 2007 Presidents’ Day post “Bizarre But True: GWB Writes at a Higher Level Than Thomas Jefferson.” And the levels of other authors were listed in the Nov. 16, 2006, post, “Does Mitch Albom Think He’s Jesus?,” which also tells how to find the reading level of a text using any recent version of Microsoft Word.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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