One-Minute Book Reviews

December 24, 2009

Entertainment Weekly’s 5 Worst Books of 2009

Most magazines dropped their “worst of the year” lists long ago, if they had them at all. But Entertainment Weekly has kept the tradition alive. Its 5 Worst Books of 2009 are: How to Be Famous, by Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt, reality-series stars whom EW faults for a lack of more than one kind of talent; Stories From Candyland, Candy Spelling’s “revenge-fueled” memoir; Christopher Andersen’s Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage, “packed with anonymous sources”; Mitch Albom’s Have a Little Faith, likely to give you “literary diabetes”; and Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, “one of the year’s worst written.”

August 18, 2009

‘Typos Are Worse Than Fascism!’ — Quote of the Day / I. F. Stone

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:11 am
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A lot of publishers seem to be trying to save money these days by skimping on copyediting and issuing more books with felonious typos. What’s wrong with that? I love this comment by one of the great muckraking journalists of the 20th century, which reflects the sentiments of many of us who have worked for daily newspapers:

“Typos are worse than Fascism!”
– I. F. Stone, as quoted by his daughter, Celia Gilbert, at his funeral in 1989

August 13, 2009

Sam Anderson Pans Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Inherent Vice’ With a Brio That Shows Why He Won a National Award for Excellence in Reviewing

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:04 pm
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Sam Anderson won the 2007 Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle and shows again why he deserved it with a stylish pan of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice in the August 10–17 issue of New York. Don’t miss this one if you admire the merciless wit that readers of the New Yorker used to get from Dorothy Parker, one of Anderson’s favorite critics.

July 15, 2009

Telling Kids ‘You’re Special’ Fosters Narcissism, Not Self-Esteem, Prof Says

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:02 am
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You know all those parenting manuals that say that you can build children’s self-esteem by piling on praise like, “You’re special”? And how a lot of schools apply the advice by assigning essays on topics like, “I’m special because …” If U.S. News & World Report is right, some people might want to ask for refunds from the boards of education that have used tax dollars to pay for such projects. Telling kids “You’re special” fosters narcissism, not self esteem, Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State and the author of Generation Me (Free Press, 2007), says in the magazine. U.S. News also says that you’re squandering your praise if you keeping telling the kids, “Good job!” If the magazine is right on that one, many parents deserve additional refunds from the publishers of the waves of books on child-rearing that have been promoting that phrase for years.

May 19, 2009

A Set of Ethical Standards for Freelance Writers and the Editors Who Hire Them in the Age of Blogs and Other Forms of Digital Technology

The following comments are off-message for me, but I’m posting them because they relate to a core principle of One-Minute Book Reviews: This site doesn’t accept free books from editors, publishers, authors, agents or others with a stake in those books. The FAQ page explains why, and the article mentioned below provides context for its comments. Jan

If you’re a freelance writer, do you tell editors when you have sources of income from (or are applying for jobs) that relate to work you’re doing for them? Edward Wasserman, Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, thinks you should. Wasserman tells the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in an article called “Keeping It Honest in a Freelance World”:

“Among the big changes the news business is undergoing is a steady erosion of its fundamental reliance on full-time, salaried journalists. What’s emerging in its place is an industry built on a patchwork of different working relationships. …

“What’s emerging is essentially the Op-Ed model moved from the opinion pages to the news: A growing dependence on journalism from loosely affiliated outsiders. The typical news site will have a small editorial nucleus at the center of an orbital sphere of contributing reporters, videographers, commentators and analysts. …

“There’s good reason not to welcome this. It means journalists will be paid even worse. It means coverage is likely to suffer from further loss of consistency and coherence, not to mention expertise.

“And it replaces the clarity of loyalty, obligation and independence that went with the traditional employment model with something that’s potentially very different. Remember that the Op-Ed pages have often been little more than an ethical bordello, with editors making scant effort to learn, much less police, the various entanglements that commentators might have with the topics they hold forth on.”

Wasserman lists seven ethical principles that editors should follow when assigning work to freelancers (and that, by implication, freelancers should follow when working for them). These include:

“Require internal disclosure. These disclosures should be comprehensive: All sources of income over the previous 12 months and all pending efforts to secure other paid work. (After all, you don’t want to post what seems like journalism but later turns out to have been an employment application.) Dollar amounts aren’t necessary; it’s the relationships that corrupt, not how lucrative they are. Require people to characterize those relationships—you don’t want anybody repaying favors on your site, but you also don’t want them settling scores. Disclosure should go beyond mere names. The range of some entity’s client relationships in town could implicate a number of other areas a particular journalist should steer clear of.”

Wasserman is on the money about about all of this, and though he doesn’t say so directly, his comments have implications for online book-review sites, many of which have ties to publishers that are undisclosed or disclosed only by implication (for example, in the form of ads for books placed next to rave reviews of them or sycophantic profiles of their authors).

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

June 26, 2008

Why Isn’t Poetry Ever ‘a Good Read,’ Entertainment Weekly? Books the Magazine Left off Its List of ‘The New Classics’

Filed under: News,Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:00 pm
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Isn’t poetry ever “a good read”? Entertainment Weekly has published a list of “The New Classics: The 100 Best Reads From 1983 to 2008”
www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20207076_20207387_20207349,00.html that I wrote about earlier today. An obvious omission deserves a post of its own: EW includes no poetry on its list of the “100 Best.”

My choices for the list would include Collected Poems: Philip Larkin (1989) by Philip Larkin and Anthony Thwaite, Richard Wilbur: Collected Poems 1943–2004 (2004) by Richard Wilbur and Late Wife: Poems (2005) by Claudia Emerson. What others should have appeared on it?

How many of you, for example, would like to send EW Larkin’s “This Be the Verse,” which begins: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do.”? Many sites purport to give the full text of the poem, but because most of those I looked at are either misquoting or plagiarizing it, I won’t link to them. But “This Be the Verse” appears in the Collected Poems, which is widely available at bookstores and libraries.

Update at 3 p.m.: Just to give a more prominent place to a point I make in the comments on this post: EW might have acknowledged the existence of poetry by listing Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990). I dislike the oxymoronic phrase “instant classic” — which I have criticized on this site — but if ever a book has proved that it deserves it, it’s this one. I left Oh, the Places You’ll Go off my earlier post only because many Dr. Seuss books are better, including Horton Hatches the Egg.

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

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

May 19, 2008

Backscratching in Our Time: Max Hastings and Michael Howard

Filed under: Backscratching in Our Time — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:30 pm
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Max Hastings on Michael Howard:
“In Britain, Professor Sir Michael Howard, OM, CH, MC, and Don Berry were kind enough to read and discuss this manuscript, as they did that of my earlier book Armageddon.”

Max Hastings in the acknowledgments for Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944–1945 (Knopf, 2008), published in the U.K. under the title Nemesis.

Michael Howard on Max Hastings:
“This is a book not only for military history buffs but for anyone who wants to understand what happened in half the world during one of the bloodiest periods of the blood-soaked 20th century.”

Michael Howard in “The Worst of Friends,” a review of the book for the Oct. 3, 2007, Spectator www.spectator.co.uk, England’s most influential magazine of opinion. Howard’s quote appears on the cover of the American edition of Retribution.

Comment:

I normally post examples of literary backscratching without comment. But these two require a short explanation. The National Book Critics Circle found in a recent survey of its members, “Ethics in Book Reviewing,” that 68.5 percent of respondents thought a book editor should not assign a book to someone mentioned in the acknowledgments
bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com/2007/12/ethics-in-book-reviewing-survey-results.html.

The ethics of book reviewing differ in Britain, where the culture of full disclosure does not exist to the degree that it does in America. The pool of eligible reviewers is smaller in the U.K. and, without a more flexible standard, editors might have trouble finding qualified reviewers. And a potential conflict-of-interest does not always result in a weak review. Michael Howard’s review for the Spectator is more fluent, authoritative and interesting than reviews by others in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. You may wonder if Howard had reservations about Retribution that he withheld. But you still learn more about the book from his comments than from most – if not all – of the American reviews.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 8, 2008

‘Librarians Need Two Book Reviews to Justify Book Purchases for Libraries’ (Quote of the Day / Jane Ciabattari)

Media coverage of the decline of book-review sections has focused on the effect of the trend on authors, readers, and publishers. Jane Ciabattari, president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org, raises a frequently overlooked issue in the Winter 2008 issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin (“Book Reviews: In Print, Online, and In Decline?”) when she says that “librarians need two reviews to justify book purchases for libraries.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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