One-Minute Book Reviews

September 13, 2010

On Not Making Coffee – Quote of the Day / From ‘News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist’

Filed under: Memoirs,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:50 pm
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Laurie Hertzel began her 18-year career at the Duluth News Tribune in 1976, the year Barbara Walters became the first female co-anchor of a network newscast. But such milestones had yet to open many doors for women at the Minnesota newspaper. Male reporters still wrote most of the stories, and the chief photographer was a man who had spent time in a German prison in World War II and made his way to America with his life savings hidden in an accordion.

Hertzel recalls her experiences at the News Tribune in News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist, a lively new memoir from the University of Minnesota Press. In this excerpt she tells what happened after she learned that she was supposed to make coffee for her male colleagues:

“I might have been timid, but I had a strong sense of fairness. I didn’t drink coffee, so I saw no good reason why it should be my responsibility. Also, it was logistically complicated. The only place with a sink deep enough to hold the coffee urn was the men’s bathroom. There was a women’s restroom on our floor, but it was a tiny, one-hole affair with a shallow sink, located directly across from the sports department. This meant that every time one of the seven women on the floor had to pee, the sportswriters didn’t just know it, they could hear it. It was a humiliating bathroom for a shy person, and it was of absolutely no use in making coffee.

“To make coffee I had to lug the urn down the hall, pound on the door, yell, ‘Is anybody in there?’ and then go in and fill it up at the big, deep sink, hoping that no guy came in needing to take a whiz, and then stagger with it back down the hall, water sloshing my ankles. This was not something I was inclined to do, so I set about scheming to get out of this responsibility. First, I started bugging guys when they were at their busiest. ‘Can you fill the coffee pot for me? There’s someone in the bathroom.’ They didn’t care to be interrupted when they were on deadline, and they didn’t want to be away from their phones when they were waiting for a call back from a source, so this drove them a little nuts. And then I made coffee … badly. Undrinkably so. In a newsroom, that’s saying a lot. …

“So it wasn’t too long before the responsibility just sort of evaporated, and I could concentrate on the fun stuff … ”

Hertzel, who is books editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, tells more about News to Me on her Web site. You can follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/StribBooks and read more excerpts from her memoir on the University of Minnesota Press blog.

March 23, 2009

Prairie Home Companion’s ‘Pretty Good Joke Book’

Filed under: Humor — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:49 am
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A sequel to "Pretty Good Jokes."

“Hard to believe that he beat out a million other sperm.”
– From the Pretty Good Joke Book

On the Saturday children’s reviews on this site, I’ve said that joke books can make wonderful gifts for children, especially for 5-to-9-year-olds. But joke books can also be good gifts for adults.

One that might appeal to many families is the Pretty Good Joke Book (Highbridge, 2000), introduced by Garrison Keillor, which collects hundreds of the jokes told on the “Joke Show” segment of Prairie Home Companion and has had a variety of sequels and editions, including one on CD. All entries were wholesome enough for National Public Radio. (Even the “adults-only” and “totally tasteless” sections look like monuments to good taste next to the workof comedians like Denis Leary and Jim Norton.) The jokes fall into 30 categories, including bar, insult, lawyer, religion, musician, yo’mama and Iowa and Minnesota jokes. And though some trade on the sex-role or other stereotypes found on any drugstore greeting-card rack, it’s hard to fault those that anyone might have occasion to use, such as: “Hard to believe that he beat out a million other sperm.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 3, 2008

What’s Next? Marijuana-Laced Scent Strips in Children’s Books? — A Picture Book Version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’

[If you can't see the book cover at left, you can see it and hear "Forever Young" by clicking on the link to book trailer on YouTube at the end of this review.]

Forever Young. By Bob Dylan. Illustrated by Paul Rogers. Atheneum Books for Young Readers / Ginee Seo Books, 40 pp., $17.99. Age range suggested on Amazon.com: 4–8. Actual age range: 50–70.

By Janice Harayda

Just in time for the holidays, here comes the latest piece of sucker bait tossed to sentimental baby boomers by publishers: a picture book that has no words except for the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s hymn to youth, “Forever Young.” What’s next, Let’s Read and Find Out About “Lay, Lady, Lay”? Or My First Book of “Everybody Must Get Stoned”?

The kindest thing you can say about this book is that it lacks the appropriate special effects: marijuana-laced scent strips so preschoolers can get stoned out of their minds while reading it. Paul Rogers’s coolly antiseptic illustrations suggest none of the heat Dylan’s music generated: A critic for Publishers Weekly rightly said that “the flat, digitally manipulated compositions recall 1960s low-budget animation.”

Rogers’s illustrations amount to a visual biography of Dylan from his Minnesota childhood through his early years as a singer-songwriter in New York (though you wonder if he and his schoolmates fist-bumped and wore waist-length backpacks as in this book). The pictures show Dylan playing only an acoustic guitar, but some details nod to his later electric years. And the book has so many images of celebrities that children could well come away from this book with the idea that Joan Baez, Ben Shahn, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Edie Sedgwick, Albert Einstein, DA Pennebaker and Martin Luther King Jr. once stood shoulder-to-shoulder at an antiwar march as they do here. Rogers needs two pages of end notes to explain all the visual references that will sail right over the heads of four-year-olds, which makes Forever Young something rare: a picture book with footnotes.

“Forever Young” is a sweet song from its opening lines (“May God bless you and keep you always” / May all your wishes come true”) through its closing refrain (“May you stay forever young”). But its simple rhyming lines don’t have anything close to the energy or poignancy – or just the poetry – needed to sustain a 40-page book without a companion tape or CD. And the words reflect a point of view few children are likely to share.

Although parents may wish their offspring to stay “forever young,” children typically want to grow up as fast as they can. This why psychologists advise parents to use such overworked as phrases as “big girl chair” or “big boy school” in talking about new and potentially frightening situations. Few things are scarier to many children than the idea that they may stay “forever young,” which they may equate with powerlessness.

So here’s a suggestion: If this book tempts you in the children’s section of a bookstore, don’t buy it for the kids. Buy it as a gag gift for one of those second-childhood–themed 50th or 60th birthday parties where everybody brings Mickey Mouse ears or Star Trek DVDs. For all its faults, Forever Young is still a lot cheaper than a gift certificate for six months’ worth of Botox or Viagra.

Best line: An end note quotes a 2004 Los Angeles Times interview in which Dylan said he wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 10 minutes: “just put words to an old spiritual, probably something I learned from Carter Family records.”

Worst line: Some end notes are glorified product plugs: “Highway 61 Revisited (1965) is a great album to listen to when you’re on the road – or not.”

Editor: Ginee Seo

Published: September 2008

Watch the trailer for this book on YouTube, which has Dylan singing “Forever Young” as the pages of the book turn, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCMgDc2uiWI.

Furthermore: Can’t get enough of the sucker bait publishers throw at boomers? Click here to read about Steve Martin and Roz Chast’s 2007 picture book, The Alphabet from A to Y www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/02/.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic.

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

September 18, 2007

Great Small Presses #2: Milkweed Editions

Filed under: Great Small Presses — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:18 am
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Fed up with the poor quality of so many books from major publishers? This is the second in a series of posts on great small or independent presses that have had high standards for years and sometimes decades.

In addition to its usual reviews, One-Minute Book Reviews will post a short profile of a different publisher each day this week, including a link to its site, which you may want to consult for holiday gift ideas. The series will continue after this week on an occasional basis.

An independent publisher that wants to make “a humane impact on society”

By Janice Harayda

Milkweed Editions www.milkweed.org bills itself as “the largest independent, nonprofit literary publisher in the United States.” Founded in 1979, it seeks to make “a humane impact on society, in the belief that good writing can transform the human heart and spirit.”

Unlike commercial firms, Mikweed receives grants from foundations that enable its editors to look for books of exceptional merit, not exceptional profitability, for adults and children. The outside financial support also enables the Minneapolis–based press to publish unusually well-designed books.

The most admired Milkweed books include Susan Lowell’s young-adult novel, I am Lavina Cumming, winner of the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association Award for its beautifully told story of a 10-year-old girl who travels by train from the Arizona Territory to California, where she survives the San Francisco Earthquake. The site for the press lists other award-winning titles. Milkweed is also the American publisher of Jutta Richter, one of Germany’s most honored children’s authors.

On Saturday One-Minute Book Reviews will review The Summer of the Pike, Richter’s first young-adult novel to be published by Milkweed.

One-Minute Book Reviews was the seventh-ranked book review site on Google www.google.com/Top/Arts/Literature/Reviews_and_Criticism/as of Sept. 6, 2007. It does not accept free books from publishers.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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