One-Minute Book Reviews

September 7, 2009

‘Well-Known Name’ Asks for $1,000 to Blurb a Book, Author Claims

A potential blurber seeks cash for his labors …

A “well-known name” asked for a $1,000 “honorarium” to give a blurb for a book, author David Macaray claims on the site for the Poynter Institute, the Florida school and resource center for journalists.

Horse-trading has existed in blurbing for as long as I’ve been following the publishing industry, and I’ve posted examples in the “Backscratching in Our Time” series on this site.  But until now I haven’t heard of anyone asking for cash for praise for a comment that would appear on the dust-jacket of a book or elsewhere — which isn’t to say it it hasn’t happened. A hat tip to Bill Williams for letting me know about this one.

July 2, 2009

Is the State of Contemporary Poetry Healthy? – Quote of the Day / William Logan

Just picked up Our Savage Art: Poetry and the Civil Tongue (Columbia University Press, 368 pp., $29.50), the new book of poetry criticism by William Logan, who won a National Book Critics Circle Award for The Undiscovered Country. I’d read and enjoyed many of the pieces in Our Savage Art when they appeared in The New Criterion and elsewhere. (Sample opening line: “John Ashbery has long threatened to become a public monument, visited mainly by schoolchildren and pigeons.”) But I’d missed a 2002 Contemporary Poetry Review interview with Logan by the poet and critic Garrick Davis that’s reprinted in the new book.

In the interview, Davis asks, “What do you think of the present situation of poetry? Of its current health as an art?” Logan replies:

“I distrust the motives of the question. Much of what we dislike about the poetry around us won’t bother the readers of the future, because it will have been forgotten. I doubt even the Pulitzer Prize winners of the past two decades will have many poems in anthologies half a century from now. This isn’t simply a problem with the prize, though it’s a scandal that Amy Clampitt never won it and another that Gjertrud Schnackenberg has yet to win it.

“Our poetry is healthy, if the sole measure is that there’s a hell of a lot of it. Much is mediocre, but most poetry in any period is mediocre. What bothers me, as a reader, is how slim current ambitions are – too many contemporary poems start small and end smaller. They don’t bite off more than they can chew – they bite off so little they don’t need to chew.”

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February 23, 2009

Night Falls on James Frey’s ‘Bright Shiny Morning’

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:26 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A controversial author says that the City of Los Angeles “was founded by a major water source”

Bright Shiny Morning. By James Frey. Harper, 501 pp., $26.95.

By Janice Harayda

Evening came early for Bright Shiny Morning, a novel that appeared in May and that apparently had tanked at bookstores by September. And the premature nightfall befit this dark, postmodern tale of Los Angeles.

Bright Shiny Morning is a flat-footed converse of A Million Little Pieces, the discredited memoir that turned James Frey into a literary pariah. If much of that book was fiction posing as fact, much of this one is fact posing as fiction.

Frey tells the interleaved stories of stereotypical characters — a Mexican-American maid, a closeted gay male superstar — that don’t converge. He pads these with so many set pieces and trivia lists, you almost expect a recipe for huevos rancheros. The stories typically begin on right-hand pages and face, on left-hand pages, snippets of Los Angeles history that read like Wikipedia entries. Frey in effect juxtaposes two books — one fiction, one nonfiction — each of which makes sense without the other. It’s an interesting device, and a better stylist might have pulled it off. But much of Bright Shiny Morning reads like the work of an also-ran in a David Foster Wallace imitation contest. And some of its lines are almost comically inept. “The City of Los Angeles,” Frey tells us, “was founded by a major water source.”

A theme of Bright Shiny Morning — to the degree that it has one — is that people stay addicted to the dream of Los Angeles long after reality has impinged on it. Joan Didion said as much in her wonderful essay about the San Bernadino Valley, “Some Dreamers of Golden Dream,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. More than 40 years later, Frey may tell you less about Los Angeles in 501 pages than Didion did in her one-line comment that this is the place where “a belief in the literal interpretation of Genesis has slipped imperceptibly into to a belief in the literal interpretation of Double Indemnity.”

Best line: Frey reports that Los Angeles has the “world’s first video graveyard,” where TV screens play, for 24 hours a day, videos of the people buried beneath them.

Worst line: No. 1: “As is the case with most of the world’s megacities, the City of Los Angeles was founded by a major water source.” Bright Shiny Morning also has many lines like No. 2: “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.”

Second opinion: Read a review by David Ulin, book editor of the Los Angeles Times.

Furthermore: Bright Shiny Morning was one of Entertainment Weekly’s five worst books of 2008. It was a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. The paperback edition is due out in March 2009. Frey lives in New York.

One-Minute Book Reviews will post the shortlist for the Third Annual Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books on Thursday, Feb. 26. The finalists will be announced at roughly 20-30 minute intervals beginning a 11 10 a.m. Eastern Time and the full list posted by the end of the day. The winners will be named on March 16 (instead of the usual March 15, which falls on Sunday this year).

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
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