One-Minute Book Reviews

October 23, 2009

Backscratching in Our Time – Aleksandar Hemon and Gary Shteyngart

The latest in a series of occasional posts on authors who praise each other’s books

Aleksandar Hemon on Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan:
Absurdistan is not just a hilarious novel, but a record of a particular peak in the history of human folly. No one is more capable of dealing with the transition from the hell of socialism to the hell of capitalism in Eastern Europe than Shteyngart, the great-great grandson of one Nikolai Gogol and the funniest foreigner alive.”

Gary Shteyngart on Aleksandar Hemon’s Love and Obstacles:

“Hemon can’t write a boring sentence, and the English language (which he adopted at a late age) is the richer for it.”

The “Backscratching in Our Time” category on this site has other examples of logrolling by contemporary authors.

October 15, 2009

Late Night With Jan Harayda – The World’s Best Acknowledgments in a Book

Yesterday Deborah Heiligman made the shortlist for the 2009 National Book Award for young people’s literature for her captivating dual biography, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Holt, 268 pp., $18.95, ages 9 and up). And she might win in a walk if the judges gave the prize for the acknowledgments section of a book alone. Heiligman amusingly tweaks the clichés of the genre in her thanks to her husband, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jonathan Weiner:

“You put up with a lot as I wrote this book. You owed me, sure, but you have paid me back in spades. I’m ready for your next one. Jon read the book front to back in many drafts, and if there are any mistakes, blame him.”

Wouldn’t acknowledgements be more fun if everybody wrote like this?

July 31, 2009

Backscratching in Our Time – Nora Roberts and Janet Evanovich

The latest in an occasional series of posts on authors who praise each other’s books

Janet Evanovich on Nora Roberts’s new Tribute:
“Nora Roberts is amazing.”

Nora Roberts on Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money:
“Stephanie Plum is destined to join ranks with Kinsey Millhone and Carlotta Carlyle. Janet Evanovich has crafted a heroine for today, tough, vulnerable, resourceful, and impulsive.”

You’ll find other examples of logrolling in the Backscratching in Our Time category on this site.

The fascinating question here is: Why did Tribute need a blurb? Roberts was the first author inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame and has more than 250 million copies of her books in print.  Danielle Steel started publishing earlier and may have the edge in copies sold, but she isn’t a traditional romance novelist. If you take Steel out of the equation, Roberts may be the bestselling romance novelist in America. She is also one of the bestselling of all time.  Is the blurb from Evanovich likely to make a difference when Roberts  has spent hundreds of weeks on  New York Times bestseller lists and her sales figures have been over the moon for years? Does somebody think that in the Great Recession, even Roberts needs all the help she can get?

July 24, 2009

Next Week — A Review of Janet Evanovich’s ‘Finger Lickin’ Fifteen’

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:26 pm
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A pair of thugs use a meat cleaver to behead a celebrity chef in the opening pages of the bestselling Finger Lickin’ Fifteen, Janet Evanovich’s 15th comic suspense novel about the Trenton-based bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. Is the decapitation amusing or tasteless after terrorists’ beheadings of captives such as the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl? One-Minute Book Reviews will have a review of the novel next week.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

March 11, 2009

Claire Messud Won a 2007 Delete Key Award for These Clichés. Should Barbara Walters Win One for Hers?

Filed under: Delete Key Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:22 pm
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What does it take to win a Delete Key Award for the year’s worst writing in books? Two years ago it took the clichés found in Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children. That novel was the second runner-up in 2007 Delete Key Awards competition, finishing behind Mitch Albom’s For One More Day (first runner up) and Danielle Steel’s Toxic Bachelors (grand prize winner). Messud received her Delete Key Award for lines like:

“It filled her with despair, a literal leadening of her limbs, a glazing of the eyes, so that she could barely lift the sheets of paper around her, and certainly couldn’t decipher what was written upon them.”

Among the problems with the sentence: That “leadening” wasn’t literal but metaphorical, and the sentence is infested with clichés

Messud was also recognized for writing that one of her characters “never knew in life whether to be Pierre or Natasha, the solitary, brooding loner or the vivacious social butterfly.”

As opposed, presumably, to a loner who wasn’t solitary.

This year Barbara Walters made the Delete Key shortlist for her cliché-stuffed Audition, which brims with sentences like:

“Just before the ax fell, lightning struck and my life changed, never to be the same again.”

Has Waltters surpassed Messud? Is her sentence bad enough to win a Delete Key Award? If you’d like to try to tamper with the jury, you have until Saturday.

Read some of the comments on Messud’s Delete Key Award here.

The 2009 Delete Key Award winners will be announced on Monday, March 16, beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern Time.

© 2009 Janice Harayda.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

February 13, 2009

St. Valentine Is #58 on List of ‘101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:17 pm
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A while back I reviewed a quirky book called The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived (Harper, 2006), which ranked fictional characters in order of their social and historical importance. The Marlboro Man took the No. 1 spot for his role in changing how people saw a cigarette formerly marketed to women: “Marlboro’s new image boosted its sales four-fold from 1955 to 1957, and by 1972 it had become the top cigarette brand both in the nation and the world.”

Where does St. Valentine rank? He comes in 58th, say Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan and Jeremy Salter. As if you didn’t know, they argue in part that he boosts the economy by contributing sales of “flowers, greeting cards, jewelry, and condoms.” They also give a good summary of one of the better known stories about him:

“The most frequently told legend holds that in 270, during the time of Emperor Claudius II, a priest named Valentine lived in Rome. Claudius felt that married men made poor soldiers because they would not want to leave their families for battle. The emperor needed soldiers, so Claudius is reported to have issued an edict forbidding new marriages.

“Valentine supposedly violated the ban and secretly married couples. For this, the Romans threw him in jail. While there, Valentine allegedly fell in love with his jailor’s blind daughter, and it was said he miraculously cured her. But when their illicit love affair was discovered, the Romans had him beheaded. On the morning of his execution, the 14th of February, he purportedly sent the girl a farewell message signed, From your Valentine. Sometime later, the miraculous cure helped qualify him for sainthood.

Who are the other fictional characters who made the Top 5 along with the Marlboro Man?

© 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 11, 2009

If His Jokes About Autism Aren’t Tasteless Enough for You, Denis Leary Says, ‘I’ll Take Five Anna Nicole Smiths for Every Martin Luther King’ in ‘Why We Suck’

The comedian and star of the firefighting drama Rescue Me blows smoke at you in a 240-page rant

Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid. By Denis Leary. Viking, 240 pp., $26.95.

By Janice Harayda

Denis Leary begins Why We Suck by thanking his wife, who’s “funnier than I am.” You’ll believe it after reading this one.

Why We Suck isn’t a book so much a relentlessly profane rant by the comedian and star of the firefighting series Rescue Me. Leary rages mostly against safe targets: greedy athletes, overprivileged children, celebrity blowhards like Dr. Phil McGraw. But he has drawn fire for saying in a chapter called “Autism Shmautism” that autism diagnoses are on the rise because parents want psychotherapists to “explain away the deficiencies of their junior morons.” He adds:

“I don’t give a shit what these crackerjack whackjobs tell you – yer kid is NOT autistic. He’s just stupid. Or lazy. Or both.”

When that comment enraged parents of autistic children, Leary said his quote was taken out of context by people who didn’t read his book or missed his point. He was talking about what he sees as a trend toward overdiagnosis (though, of course, the larger the larger problem is that for generations autism was undiagnosed and autistic children often labeled “retarded”).

This incident tells you a lot about Why We Suck. Leary doesn’t have bad taste — he has no taste. To show really bad taste takes effort. Liberace, ayatollah jokes, “Springtime for Hitler” in The Producers – you laugh in part because of the work that went into all of them. How much effort does it take to show no taste? None. If you’re Leary, you just fill your book with lines like: “I’ll take five Anna Nicole Smiths for every Martin Luther King.” Where’s the humor there? Good comedy always has its roots in truth, and you don’t believe for a minute that Leary would take five Anna Nicole Smiths for every Martin Luther King. Or anything close to it.

Comedian Jim Norton’s recent I Hate Your Guts (Simon & Schuster, 253 pp., $25.95) is also a profane rant that taps into the angry-white-male market. But Norton tries harder to give you truly bad taste – not that this is a endorsement — instead of no taste. So his book is funnier than We We Suck. He seems to have put more effort into a six-page sendup of the Yankees’ radio broadcaster John Sterling than Leary did into a 240-pae book.

Norton makes you laugh at many of Sterling’s catchphrases besides his trademark “The Yankees win … theeeeeee Yankeeeees winnnnn!” (“Shane Spencer, the home run dispenser!”) He also makes an apt comment in a preface that honors the late George Carlin. Norton loved that when Carlin taped of a television show late in his career, he brought notes on cards and hid them in a spot on the set that the camera couldn’t see: “He didn’t take the laughs for granted.” On the evidence of Why We Suck, Leary does take the laughs for granted – a trait that seems remarkably obtuse when you’re telling parents that their children are not autistic – “just stupid.”

Best line: “THE END.” Boy, will you be glad to see those words.

Worst line: No. 1: “I’ll take five Anna Nicole Smiths for every Martin Luther King.” No. 2: “I don’t know a living man on this planet who DOESN’T have attention deficit disorder or spends [sic] at least twelve hours of each day thinking about his penis. ” No. 3: On what he sees at the gym: “The women? Paired off on adjacent treadmills or elliptical trainers – yak yakkety yick yak yic, yic yickety, yawbeddy jawbeddy – jic jak yick. Yicketty yacketty blah blah blah.” No. 4: The autism quotes cited above. No. 5: “Which is why I walk around now just wishing I could grab every other mouthy, misbehaved, spoiled and rotten little urchin I come across in airports and restaurants and just when I’m walking down the street – kids who are throwing snit fits in public as their disinterested or seemingly powerless parents stand off to the side and let the rest of us listen to the whining – I just once wanna grab them HARD by the flesh on their twiggy upper arms, that soft flesh that really hurts – and I mean grab them bruis-inducing, five-finger-indentation-left-behind hard – and whisper Clint Eastwood–style in their dirty little ear: Listen up and listen fast, punk, ’cause I’m only saying this one ****** time: yer gonna shut the **** up right now and start doing what yer dumbass mom and dad say from here on in or a special vanna is gonna pull up one day and just pluck you right off the ****** street and drop your ass on a plane to Iraq where you will be dropped out of the sky with nuthin’ but a parachute and a bag of white rice – no cash, no toys, no more SpongeBob SquareAss – ya follow?”

Published: November 2008

Read the Autism Society of America’s response to Leary’s comments. Leary says: “The people who are criticizing the ‘Autism Schmautism’ [sic] chapter in my new book Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid clearly have not read it.

“Or if they have, they missed the sections I thought made my feelings about autism very clear: that I not only support the current rational approaches to the diagnoses and treatment of real autism but have witnessed it firsthand while watching very dear old friends raise a functioning autistic child.”

Dennis Leary calls “Autism Shmautism” his “favorite chapter” in Why We Suck in Vanity Fair interview.

Furthermore: Leary uses the name “Dr. Denis Leary” on the cover of Why We Suck because he got an honorary degree from his alma mater, Emerson College.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist and novelist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of The Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 21, 2008

Librarian-Approved Gift Books for a Cook, a Baker, and a Fashionista, Including a Gift Book That Dares to Answer the Question, ‘What Are Spanx?’

A Project Runway judge praises that “life-altering” product — Spanx pantyhose — in The One-Hundred

Oh, joy. Just back from the library with an armload of 2008 coffee-table books I’m going to check out as potential holiday gifts.

One of the challenges of running this site is that because I don’t take free books from publishers, I no longer routinely see all those fat coffee-table toppers that appear at this time of year, as I did at Glamour and the Plain Dealer. I can get almost everything else from the library and other sources. But the gift books are the killer. So many are too expensive for libraries – especially given their vulnerability to theft – and for me.

This week I was lucky. I went to the library soon after it had put out some of the coffee-table books the staff bought this year. Here are three that I’m reading with an eye to whether they might make good gifts. All were among the 2008 books bought by the staff at a suburban library that the American Library Association has named one of the country’s 10 best:

The Christmas Table: Recipes and Crafts to Create Your Own Holiday Tradition (Chronicle, 239 pp., $19.95, paperback) by Diane Morgan. Photographs by E. J. Armstrong. Take that “crafts” in the subtitle lightly. This book has only 13 pages of craft ideas, and one calls for safety goggles and an electric drill, needed to make lighted glass blocks. (The instructions include the slightly ominous note, “This will take a few minutes, so be patient.”) But The Christmas Table is attractive and, at less than $20, reasonably priced for a gift book. It has a suggested menu and recipes for “Christmukkah – the hybrid holiday meal,” which blends Christian and Jewish traditions in dishes such as “Fa-La-La-La Latkes.” www.dianemorgancooks.com

Professional Baking: Fifth Edition (Wiley, 770 pp., $65) by Wayne Gisslen. Photographs by J. Gerard Smith. Foreword by André J. Cointreau. This encyclopedic cookbook has more than 900 recipes for serious home bakers as well as professionals. Published in cooperation with the Le Cordon Bleu cooking schools, it gives U.S. and metric equivalents for ingredients and tells how to adapt them for large-quantity measurements. The book retains its focus on classic techniques. But the fifth edition has a new chapter on “baking for special diets, including low-fat, low-sugar, gluten-free, and dairy-free diets.” Bet that Ciabatta on page 147 and those cream cheese brownies on page 512 would taste better than your supermarket’s. www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-311193.html

The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own (Collins Living, 284 pp., $21.95) by Nina Garcia. Illustrations by Ruben Toledo. This book is a brand-name–strewn wallow in consumerism by a judge for Project Runway – you apparently “must own” diamond studs even if your ears aren’t pierced – raised to a higher power by the stylish illustrations on nearly every page. The title is somewhat misleading: The One Hundred is less about what all women need to own than about a hit parade of basics and why they endure: the pea coat, wrap dress, pearl necklace, striped sailor shirt, Wellington boot (“the Royal Family always wears the classic green version for mucking about in the country”). Among the newer items in the book: Spanx, “a life-altering, footless, control-top panty hose that should be warn whenever a woman wants to appear a size smaller.” Bet the teenage boys at the library will like the picture for that one as much as the one for the push-up bra. www.harpercollins.com/books/9780061664618/The_One_Hundred/index.aspx

Other holiday gift ideas will appear later this year. To avoid missing them, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

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

October 6, 2008

Notes From WordPress’s New York Word Camp 2008 – A Comic Novelist Rates Matt Mullenweg’s Jokes Tonight on ‘Late Night With Jan Harayda’

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:48 am
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I spent most of yesterday at WordPress’s New York Word Camp 2008 and will have a few notes on what I learned tonight on “Late Night With Jan Harayda,” which will appear after 10 p.m. Eastern Time. This post will include an answer (from my perspective as a comic novelist) to, “What was WordPress founding developer Matt Mullenweg’s ma.tt/about/best joke in his keynote address?” Today’s book review will appear by 1 p.m. Monday.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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