One-Minute Book Reviews

March 27, 2008

Good Riddance to Book-Review Sections? Quote of the Day (Steve Wasserman)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:19 am
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Why have so many book-review sections shrunk, disappeared or turned into cheerleading squads for major publishers? Critic Gail Pool explores some of the reasons in her Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/ .

But literary agent Steve Wasserman, former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, goes further in a recent essay in the Columbia Journalism Review. Wasserman calls some book-review sections “shockingly mediocre.” And his article explains, better than any I have read, why their perilous condition reflects more than — to oversimplify a popular argument — cretins in the accounting department.

Here are some excerpts from Wasserman’s CJR article, which you can read at www.cjr.org/cover_story/goodbye_to_all_that_1.php?page=all.

“That book coverage is disappearing is not news. What is news is the current pace of the erosion in coverage, as well as the fear that an unbearable threshold has been crossed: Whether the book beat should exist at all is now, apparently, a legitimate question.…

“The predicament facing newspaper book reviews is best understood against the backdrop of several overlapping and contending crises: The first is the general challenge confronting America’s newspapers of adapting to the new digital and electronic technologies that are increasingly absorbing advertising dollars, wooing readers away from newspapers, and undercutting profit margins; the second is the profound structural transformation roiling the entire book-publishing and book-selling industry in an age of conglomeration and digitization; and the third and most troubling is the sea change in the culture of literacy itself, the degree to which our overwhelmingly fast and visually furious culture renders serious reading increasingly irrelevant, hollowing out the habits of attention indispensable for absorbing long-form narrative and the following of sustained argument….

“A harsher truth may lurk behind the headlines as well: Book coverage is not only meager but shockingly mediocre. The pabulum that passes for most reviews is an insult to the intelligence of most readers. One is tempted to say, perversely, that its disappearance from the pages of America’s newspapers is arguably cause for celebration.”

Wasserman is managing director of the New York office of the literary agency Kneerim & Williams at Fish & Richardson and book editor of www.truthdig.com.

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

March 5, 2008

What Responsibility Do Editors Have for Keeping Fake Memoirs Off the Market?

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:58 pm
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Does the publishing industry need New Yorker-style fact checking or just more common sense?

What responsibility do editors have for keeping potentially fake memoirs off the market? An article in today’s New York Times has a telling comment on this from Nan Talese, who edited James Frey‘s memoir A Milllion Little Pieces, a lot of which the author admits he exaggerated or made up www.nytimes.com/2008/03/05/books/05fake.html. Talese makes the observation in the Times‘s second-day report on the furor over Love and Consequences, a fabricated memoir by Margaret Seltzer writing under the name of Margaret B. Jones:

“I think what editors are going to have to do is point to the things that happened recently and say to their authors, ‘If there is anything in your book that can be discovered to be untrue, you better let us know right now, and we’ll deal with it before we publish it.'”

To which Ron Hogan at Galley Cat responds: “Like how about not publishing it? Or at least not calling it a memoir?” www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/authors/but_margaret_jones_promised_it_was_true_79038.asp. Hogan knows it’s a facile response (though it’s no less sensible for it). But he doesn’t agree with Talese that it would be insulting to authors to introduce New Yorker-style fact checking to book publishing.

“If you’re insulted that somebody’s holding your nonfiction writing up to a simple standard of truth,” he writes, “you’re probably not ready to share that writing with anybody, let alone an editor.”

Hogan is right. But there’s a middle ground between the laissez-faire attitude that currently prevails in book publishing and the exhaustive New Yorker–style fact-checking that some would like to see the industry use. That middle ground lies in the system used at responsible newspapers: Most newspapers don’t have fact-checkers on staff, but their editors question writers much more aggressively than many book editors do. You could say: They just use more common sense.

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

March 4, 2008

Praise for the Recall of ‘Love and Consequences’ by Penguin Group USA

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:27 pm
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A publisher shows respect for readers in the wake of another scandal

Somebody at Riverhead Books clearly made a disastrous blunder on the way to the publication of Love and Consequences, a memoir of gang life that has been exposed as a fake. But Riverhead’s parent company, Penguin Group USA, deserves praise for announcing that it would recall all copies of the book promptly. Penguin acted responsibly, professionally and in a way that shows respect for readers by moving swiftly to remove the book from shelves and to cancel author Margaret Seltzer’s book tour. Nobody wants more publishing scandals to erupt, but when they do, this is the way to handle them www.nytimes.com/2008/03/04/books/04fake.html.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

 

February 29, 2008

O. J. Simpson and Ishmael Beah Books Disqualified From Delete Key Awards

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:16 am
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Two of the most controversial books of 2007 have been ejected from the competition

O. J. Simpson’s If I Did It might be the most loathsome book in the history of publishing, but it’s been disqualified from the 2008 Delete Key Awards contest, which recognizes the year’s worst writing in books. One-Minute Book Reviews said last weekend that the book had been ruled ineligible because it would be cruel to the other finalists to mention them in the same breath with this purportedly “hypothetical” account of the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.

Another controversial book, Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, was disqualified today for different reasons. The Delete Key Awards don’t recognize the “worst books” of the year but specific examples of bad writing, such as cliché-infested sentences or paragraphs. And the Australian, the Australian national newspaper, has raised such serious questions about the credibility of Beah’s entire account that to single out one or two sentences would distract attention from those larger issues. A Long Way Gone doesn’t need a Delete Key Award – it needs a segment on Sixty Minutes.

The first Delete Key finalist will be named by 10 a.m. today with others announced throughout the day.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 28, 2008

Tomorrow – Finalists for the Delete Key Awards for the Worst Writing in Books

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:38 pm
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Can’t get enough of clichés, psychobabble and bad grammar? You’ll find them all on the shortlist for the second annual Delete Key Awards, which recognize authors who aren’t using their delete keys enough. The ten finalists for the 2008 prizes will be announced in separate posts starting at 10 a.m. Eastern Time that will include samples of their bad writing. The full shortlist will appear by the end of the workday.

After that, you’ll have two weeks to comment on the finalists. The winners will be announced on March 15 because Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March and the honored books include writing that assassinates the English language. The Delete Key Awards do not recognize the “worst books” but the worst writing in books (typically, individual lines or paragraphs). The prizes honor the books published in the U.S. in hardcover or paperback in the preceding year, and some titles may be grandfathered in if they appeared too late in 2006 to gain traction until 2007.

Strong arguments by visitors may affect who wins on March 15. Please check back tomorrow or bookmark this site to find out if your favorite authors made the shortlist.

Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

For more information about Delete Key Awards, see the Feb. 24, 2008, post “Questions and Answers about the 2008 Delete Key Awards for the Year’s Worst Writing in Books” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/02/24/.

– Jan Harayda

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 27, 2008

Does the Cover of ‘A Long Way’ Gone Show a Soldier in Niger or Another African Country Instead of Sierra Leone? Why Isn’t the Location Identified?

Filed under: Book Covers — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:50 pm
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Seeing red on the dust jacket of Ishmael Beah’s controversial book

Does anything strike you as odd about the photo on the cover of A Long Way Gone, the book that Ishmael Beah bills as a memoir of his years as a child solider in Sierra Leone? For months the picture puzzled me: Why was the young solider wearing a T-shirt in a shade of orange-red so bright, it would make him an easy target for an enemy?

The book says only that the picture was taken by Michael Kamber www.kamberphoto.com and came from the Polaris image bank www.polarisimages.com. And at first I suspected that an art director had changed the original color of the T-shirt to a bright orange-red so the cover would stand out more at stores.

But the more I looked at the cover, the more questions I had: Why hasn’t the young man’s T-shirt faded when his flip-flops are so tattered? Where was the picture taken? If it shows Sierra Leone, why doesn’t the cover say so?

It occurred to me that the soldier might be wearing an orange-red T-shirt for the same nationalistic reasons that the Marines wear their blue, white and red dress uniforms. But the colors of Sierra Leone flag don’t include orange or red – they’re blue, green and white. And the colors of another West African country, Niger, are the colors of the young soldier’s T-shirt and flip-flops – dark orange and green. Soldiers in Niger seized control of the government in 1996 after the ouster of the president Mahamane Ousmane, and Human Rights Watch has called on both government and rebel forces to end abuses against civilians that have occurred in a more recent conflict www.hrw.org/english/docs/2007/12/19/niger17623.htm.

Publishers don’t have to tell you more about stock photos than Beah’s book does. Still, wouldn’t you like know how this one found its way onto the cover of A Long Way Gone?

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

February 25, 2008

Why We Need Negative Reviews of Books (Quote of the Day/William Logan)

Perhaps everyone who’s edited a newspaper or magazine book section has heard the question: “Why do you publish negative reviews of books? When you have so little space, why not focus on the good ones?” William Logan deals with the question as it applies to poetry in his The Undiscovered Country:

“It’s often said that critics shouldn’t write negative reviews, because bad poetry will take care of itself (time will take care of it, too). With so few books in a given year worth remembering, why review those that will soon vanish from memory? I love reviewing poets I admire (isn’t that what a critic lives for?); but if you write only such reviews, how can a reader trust your praise? We learn something necessary about how a few poets go right when we know the ways so many have gone wrong: the latest clichés of feeling, the shop-thumbed imagery, the rags and bones of organization. Great poets transcend their age as much as they embody its ills, or succumb to them; but mediocre poets succumb on every page.

“If you’re too gentle to say a mean thing, are you ever courageous enough to say a truly kind one (or mean enough to say an honest one)? It’s surprising how many poets feel that poetry criticism should never be … critical. Yet these gentle readers love film and theater reviews that would eat the chrome off a car bumper.”

William Logan in the introduction to his most recent book of poetry criticism, The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin (Columbia University Press, $29.50) www.columbia.edu/cu/cup/. Logan teaches at the University of Florida www.english.ufl.edu/faculty/wlogan/index.html and writes the Verse Chronicle for the New Criterion newcriterion.com:81/. He is author of three other works of criticism and seven books of poetry. His awards include the a citation for excellence in reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review and inflation.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com


February 24, 2008

Did Your Sunday Paper Call a Book an ‘Instant Classic’ Today?

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:44 pm
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If so, you can nominate the review for a One-Minute Book Reviews Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole. A classic has proved its worth over time. So “instant classic” is self-contradictory hyperbole. (A critic could solve the problem by writing that a book “deserves to become a classic.”) To submit a review for consideration for a Gusher Award, leave a comment or use the e-mail addresses on the “Contact” page and mention the nomination in your subject heading.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 14, 2008

Ishmael Beah’s Wikipedia Entry – A Point-by-Point Response for Reporters, Producers, Book Groups and Others Seeking Facts About the Author of ‘A Long Way Gone’

The online encyclopedia Wikipedia has an entry on Ishmael Beah that may mislead reporters, producers and others seeking facts about the author of A Long Way Gone. This post is an attempt to clarify some of the statements that may cause confusion. It may be updated to deal with others.

Wikipedia says:
“He now considers his foster mother, Laura Simms, his mother.”

Others say:
Ishmael Beah says Laura Simms is “my adoptive mother.”
“Ishmael Beah Takes a Public Stand,” by Michael Coffey, Publishers Weekly Jan. 21, 2008. www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6524214.html.

Laura Simms’s Web site refers to “her adopted son Ishmael Beah.” www.laurasimms.com.

Wikipedia says:
“He and other soldiers smoked marijuana and sniffed amphetamines and ‘brown-brown’, a mix of cocaine and gunpowder.”

Others say:
Jon Stewart said,while questioning Beah on the Daily Show on February 14, 2007, that the drugs included crystal meth. Beah did not correct him and appeared to nod www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=82274&title=ishmael-beah.

Wikipedia says:
“Beah currently works for the Human Rights Watch Children’s Division Advisory Committee, lives in Brooklyn, and is considering attending graduate school.”

Others say:
On Nov. 20, 2007 Beah was appointed the UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War. www.unicef.org/people/media_41827.html.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist who has been the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
http://www.janiceharayda com.

February 13, 2008

Another Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole Coming Friday

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:26 pm
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Tired of reviews that read more like valentines to authors than independent evaluations of books? Every Friday One-Minute Book Reviews recognizes over-the-top praise for books with another Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole.

To read the winner of last Friday’s prize, click here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/02/08/and-the-first-gusher-award-for-achievement-in-hyperbole-goes-to/. .

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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