One-Minute Book Reviews

September 16, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – How Book Coverage Works These Days

Mark Sarvas explains why he put Netherland on a standing list of recommended books on his blog, the Elegant Variation: “The way book coverage works these days, everyone talks about the same book for about two or three weeks, and then they move on and the book is more or less forgotten” marksarvas.blogs.com/. Exactly. After the first two or three weeks, books tend to come back only if they win awards or otherwise become unexpectedly successful – Oprah picks them, a movie version comes out. That’s partly why One-Minute Book Reviews reivews a mix of new and seasoned books, with the older ones often chosen because the critics bypassed them during that brief first flowering.

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

September 12, 2008

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

Filed under: Gusher Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:35 am
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The winner of this week’s Gusher Award is:

“Brilliant: Unwritten law requires reviewers to use this word at least once about every Garry Wills book. How much truer this is of Lincoln at Gettysburg.”

Lexington Herald-Leader review of Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America (Simon & Schuster, 1992)

Gusher Awards typically go to reviews of more recent books than this Pulitzer Prize–winner, but the Herald-Leader’s unintentionally comic line was irresistible. And it suggests what’s wrong with literary hype: Many scholars and critics regard Wills’s study of the Gettysburg Address — the greatest speech in American political history — as one of the finest Civil War books of the past two decades. But this review goes so far over the top that many of us might tune out the praise.

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

September 5, 2008

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

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:08 am
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The Gusher Awards are back after a summer hiatus of a couple of weeks. This week’s award goes to …

“The Great American Novel is something like a unicorn – rare and wonderful, and maybe no more of a notion. Yet every few years or so, we trip across some semblance of one. Oof! What’s this? Why, it’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (Ecco), a sprawling skein of a yarn about a farm nestled up against the forest primeval …”
June 2008, Elle

Unicorns are not “rare and wonderful” and “maybe no more of a notion” — they are mythical and there’s no “maybe” about whether they are “a notion.” Mixing the simile in the first sentence with that metaphor of “a sprawling skein of a yarn” makes it worse, and “Great American Novel” and “forest primeval” are clichés. There’s been a lot of talk this year about the decline of book reviewing in newspapers, and women’s magazines aren’t helping with prose like this.

Gusher Awards appear on Fridays on One-Minute Book Reviews unless no praise went far enough over the top that week to qualify. For a different view of David Wroblewski’s Hamlet-influenced first novel, see the review of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle written in iambic trimeter verse that appeared on this site on Aug. 28 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/. A reading group guide to the novel was posted on Sept. 3 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/09/03/.

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

August 31, 2008

Another Gusher Award for Hyperbole in Book Reviewing – Coming Friday

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:51 pm
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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

August 15, 2008

Why ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is Bad Poetry and Other Literary Thoughts on the Olympics

Random literary thoughts on the Olympics:

1. Michael Phelps’s underwater dolphin kick is sports poetry.

2. NBC should fire the swimming analyst who keeps saying “he has swam” (as in “he has swam much better than this”).

3. The first word of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (“Oh”) is an example of the literary device known as anacrusis, a lead-in syllable or syllables that precede the first full foot.

4. The national anthem is written in anapestic meter, Dr. Seuss’s favorite. (What, you’ve never noticed the similarity between “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” and “I meant what I said / and I said what I meant …”?)

5. Why is “The Star-Spangled Banner” bad poetry? Take in the last line: “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” In a good poem, words are not interchangeable. You can’t switch them around with no loss in meaning or effect, because everything in the poem essential. Apart from a rhyme, what would the national anthem lose if Francis Scott Key had written “home of the free and the land of the brave” instead of “the land of the free and the home of the brave”?

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

August 6, 2008

Is It Easier to Get a Novel Published When You’re a Critic? And Other Questions I Haven’t Answered on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: News,Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:49 pm
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Amy Munnell interviewed me for her attractive blog 3 Questions and Answers and asked a few questions I don’t deal with on One-Minute Book Review, such as: How did being a critic affect my career as a novelist? Some of the things Amy asked about come up a lot when I speak at writers’ conferences, and if you’re interested, you can find my answers here: 3questionsandanswers.blogspot.com/2008/07/interviewwith-journalistnovelist-janice.html. Thanks, Amy.

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

July 25, 2008

When Are Critics Going to Stop Congratulating Novelists for Being Good-Looking or Having Other Traits Unrelated to Their Books? This Week’s Gusher

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:47 am
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Would any critic write, “Be jealous. Veteran writer Philip Roth has lost the hair, but he’s still got the talent”?

And this week’s Gusher Award goes to …

“Be jealous. First-time writer Marisha Pessl is more than a triple threat. She’s young – only 28 years old – pretty, and immensely talented. She has already dabbled in modeling, acting and financial consulting. Her debut novel is another notch on her belt. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, a literary mystery novel, has come out with truckloads of buzz.”

– The first lines of a review of Special Topics in Calamity Physics in the Star-Ledger of Newark on Aug. 27, 2006

The Award Citation:

Is this a book review or a teaser for an episode of The Bachelorette?

This week’s winner involves no hyperbole — the reviewer apparently intends for us to take her words literally. But the quote illustrates a trend that’s just as bad: Critics are using their review space to congratulate novelists for being good-looking or having other traits unrelated to their fiction. Would any critic write, “Be jealous. Veteran writer Philip Roth has lost the hair, but he’s still got the talent”? So why do we so often see equivalent comments in reviews of younger authors’ novels?

Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing appear on Fridays except in weeks when no praise went far enough over the top to qualify.

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

June 27, 2008

Avoiding This Cliché ‘Should Be Required for All Americans’

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:31 am
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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.

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

June 18, 2008

Basketball Poems for Celtics Fans and Others

Earlier this month I wrote about Edward Hirsch’s shortlist of his favorite baseball poems, which appears in Poet’s Choice (Harcourt, 2006), a collection of his columns on poetry for the Washington Post. That book also has ideas for those of you who would rather read poems about basketball today. Hirsch recommends William Matthews’s “In Memory of the Utah Stars,” Quincy Troupe’s “Poem for Magic,” Garrett Hongo’s “The Cadence of Silk” Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Slam, Dunk, & Hook” and Marisa de los Santos’s “Women Watching Basketball.” He also likes B.H. Fairchild’s “Old Men Playing Basketball,” the text of which appears in Poet’s Choice. For more on Hirsch, a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry, click here www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=3173.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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