One-Minute Book Reviews

March 6, 2011

Edith Wharton on Dull Men — Quote of the Day / ‘The House of Mirth’

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“She had been bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce … but she … must submit to more boredom … all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour of boring her for life.”

Edith Wharton on Lily Bart, the heroine of her novel The House of Mirth

 

July 1, 2009

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Bad Book Descriptions — ‘Dick: A User’s Guide’

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The Unilluminating Book Description of the Week Award goes to the first sentence of the publisher’s “product description” for the book Dick: A User’s Guide (DaCapo, 2003) as it appears on Amazon.com:

“Whether you own one or are close with someone who does, it’s pretty easy to recognize the importance of the penis.”

Let’s not all ask for specifics at once.

June 30, 2009

‘Our Poor Degraded Sex’ — Quote of the Day / Queen Victoria in ‘We Two’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:01 am
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Gillian Gill’s new We Two has disarmingly blunt comments on womanhood by Queen Victoria, a mother of nine who hated pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum woes. A review of Gill’s biography of Victoria and Albert will appear this week.

One memorable quote turns up in a letter from Queen Victoria to her daughter Vicky, who had married Prince Frederick William of Prussia. Vicky complained that Prussian men cared only for women who beautiful and fertile. Queen Victoria sent her daughter a letter that had something of the spirit of Carrie Bradshaw:

“That despising of our poor degraded sex … is a little in all clever men’s natures; dear Papa [Prince Albert] is not quite exempt though he would not admit it – but he laughs and sneers constantly at many of them and their inevitable inconveniences, etc. Though he hates the want of affection, of due attention and protection of them, says that all men who leave all home affairs – and the education of their children – to their wives, forget their first duties.”

May 12, 2009

Why Do People Read Detective Novels? Quote of the Day From Maureen Corrigan’s ‘Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:53 am
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Why do people read detective novels? Critics often say that mysteries are modern morality tales — we like to see bad guys punished. Maureen Corrigan suggests another part of their appeal in her memoir Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books (Vintage, 247 pp., $14.95, paperback).

A book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air, Corrigan writes of hard-boiled detectives like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser:

“Like other novels by and about the working class, the hard-boiled detective novel offers an unadorned picture of class tensions – the antagonism between those who sweat to make a living and those who can afford to hire them. … With ‘contemptuous tolerance’ in his heart and a snappy put-down ever ready on his lips, Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer is always venturing into some moneyed enclave in the California suburbs where he’s hired to tidy up some dysfunctional family’s dirty laundry. The message of the grand tradition of American hard-boiled detective fiction – from Hammett to Chandler to Macdonald to Chester Himes to Robert B. Parker to their many contemporary inheritors – is clear: too much money corrupts the soul. It makes men soft, even emasculates them, and the leisure lifestyle it buys is un-American.”

Read an excerpt from Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading.

April 1, 2009

Why Don’t Men Read Novels? (Quote of the Day / Gore Vidal)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day,Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:23 pm
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Many studies have shown that women read more fiction than men do, which may help to explain why they also join more reading groups. Why is this so? The novelist and essayist Gore Vidal offers an answer in his essay “Writers and the World” in his Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays 1952-1972 (Random House, 1972):

“It has been observed that American men do not read novels because they feel guilty when they read books which do not have facts in them. Made-up stories are for women and children; facts are for men. There is something in this. It is certainly true that this century’s romantic estrangement of writer from the World has reduced the number of facts in the American novel. And facts are the stuff of art as well as of life.”

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 10, 2009

‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living’ Wins Hemingway Prize

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:22 am
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Literary-prize judges too often snub quiet but worthy books. So I’m delighted to report that one of my favorite 2008 novels, Michael Dahlie’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living, which I reviewed in January, has won the Hemingway/PEN Award for “a distinguished first book of fiction.” This witty and intelligent comedy of manners about fathers and sons was well-received by critics, but by today’s overheated standards, probably received less attention than it deserved.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda.

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 11, 2009

Three Pick-Up Lines to Avoid If You Want a Date for Valentine’s Day

Filed under: How to,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:00 am
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In an age of hookups and friends-with-benefits, Valentine’s Day can inspire an atavistic craving for an old-fashioned date. If you’re looking for one, some pickup lines won’t help your cause, Caroline Tiger says in How to Behave: Dating and Sex: A Guide to Modern Manners for the Socially Challenged (Chronicle, 2006). Tiger suggests that you avoid:

1. Are you free tonight, or will it cost me?
2. Is it hot in here, or is it just you?
3. I’m going outside to make out. Care to join me?

There, now don’t you feel better-equipped to face the gym and bar?

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

January 18, 2009

What Does a Father Owe His Sons? Michael Dahlie Responds in His Witty and Intelligent First Novel, ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living’

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:18 pm
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A well-off New Yorker finds comfort in his love for his sons after his business fails and his wife leaves him

A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living: A Novel. By Michael Dahlie. Norton, 281 pp., $23.95.

By Janice Harayda

Does it ever make sense to give up a beloved family tradition? Michael Dahlie offers surprising answers in his witty and intelligent comedy of manners, A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living.

Arthur Camden cherishes his hereditary membership in the Hanover Street Fly Casters, a fictitious fly-fishing group founded in 1878 by his great-grandfather and 11 other patrician businessmen. Those pre-Freudian bluebloods weren’t too self-conscious to name their Catskills lodge Maidenhead Grange, though the club always barred women from the premises. And for decades that’s been fine with Arthur, who has looked forward to passing his membership on to his oldest son and seen the group’s annual Meeting-in-Full as the highlight of his year.

Then Arthur faces a series of calamities fostered by his sweet and vulnerable nature, which includes a lack of self-awareness that would have allowed him to anticipate the disasters. His family business goes bankrupt. His wife of 32 years leaves him. And he accidentally burns down Maidenhead Grange while lighting a fire in an ill-maintained chimney in order to seduce a date who insisted on seeing the lodge.

All of this might have devolved into a pseudo–P. G. Wodehouse novel full of absurd middle-aged or older men throwing trout heads instead of breadsticks. But Michael Dahlie takes a gentler approach as Arthur tries to regroup in the face of dismay of the Fly Casters and the bold sexual reconnaissance missions of his ex-wife, Rebecca.

“I hear she slept with absolutely everyone, and during your separation, no less,” an acquaintance tells him. “Most people have the sense to wait till the final paperwork is done. But from day one it was like she was on Spring Break.”

Amid such embarrassments, Arthur finds solace in his requited love for his sons, in the support of a few loyal friends, and in small pleasures such as the pine-needle liqueur he discovers when, hoping a vacation will help, he visits a boyhood friend in France. And for all its comedy, this novel has a serious theme.

At a family gathering on Nantucket, Arthur wonders how to help his younger son, David, who can’t seem to keep a job:

“It was a perplexing question: what sorts of things does a father owe his son? On one level the answer might best be nothing, since too much parental help so often had such obviously bad results. Moreover, there was no reason a person shouldn’t try to make his own way in such an obviously prosperous nation. But in terms of smaller-scale help, a leg up in the world, a little nudge forward, you could say that a father should at least give his son what his own father gave him.”

Dahlie’s thoughtful exploration of such issues gives his book a depth unusual in comedies of manners, which often ricochet from one bright line to another. America abounds with men blindsided not just financially but emotionally by the economic meltdown, and if Arthur has more money than most, he struggles with widely shared questions: How did I get into this fix? How can I get out of it? How will my losses affect my children? Many people who have stopped reading their 401(k) statements might profitably transfer their attention to this enjoyable novel.

Best line: A comment by the friend whom Arthur visits in France: “If there’s one thing the Swiss are good at, it’s running rehab centers. It’s like the Minnesota of Europe.”

Worst line: “Not unlike the outrage over Arthur’s distaste for salmon sandwiches and lobster Newberg, Arthur’s father was often worried ‘for the boy’s own good’ about one thing or another that he felt made Arthur look absurd.” The sentence doesn’t scan well grammatically, and the three Arthurs don’t help.

Published: June 2008. A paperback edition of A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living is due out in June 2009 www.michaeldahlie.com

Consider reading also: Guiseppe Pontiggia’s Born Twice, a novel of fatherhood that won Italy’s highest literary honor, the Strega Prize.

Janice Harayda wrote the comedies of manners The Accidental Bride and Manhattan on the Rocks

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 15, 2008

Woman Says She Traded ‘Sexual Favors’ for Vote for Bush (Quote of the Day / Nancy Huff in ‘The Necklace’)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:44 pm
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Nancy Huff makes this comment about her husband, Wayne, in The Necklace, a bestseller that tells the true story of 13 women, including Huff, who chipped in to buy a $15,000 diamond tennis necklace:

“I told Wayne, ‘I’ll make a deal with you. If you vote for Bush I’ll give you sexual favors.’ I live with a Democrat. What else could I do? Men are distracted by their little brain, as we call it.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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