One-Minute Book Reviews

June 18, 2008

Basketball Poems for Celtics Fans and Others

Earlier this month I wrote about Edward Hirsch’s shortlist of his favorite baseball poems, which appears in Poet’s Choice (Harcourt, 2006), a collection of his columns on poetry for the Washington Post. That book also has ideas for those of you who would rather read poems about basketball today. Hirsch recommends William Matthews’s “In Memory of the Utah Stars,” Quincy Troupe’s “Poem for Magic,” Garrett Hongo’s “The Cadence of Silk” Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Slam, Dunk, & Hook” and Marisa de los Santos’s “Women Watching Basketball.” He also likes B.H. Fairchild’s “Old Men Playing Basketball,” the text of which appears in Poet’s Choice. For more on Hirsch, a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry, click here www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=3173.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Holly Peterson’s Bad Sex Scenes Are Back in the New Paperback Edition of ‘The Manny’

How bad are the sex scenes in Holly Peterson’s The Manny? Let’s just say that one begins with “Now she was on her knees …” and ends with “like a fire hose in her expensive mouth.” What if you’re tempted to buy The Manny (Dial, 368 pp., $12), anyway, now that the novel is out in paperback? Maybe you know it involves a Park Avenue mother who hires a male nanny for her 9-year-old son. And you think: With that catchy premise, how bad could it be? Here’s a sample line of dialogue: “We’re in the modern era, baby, you spoiled, Jurassic, archaic, Waspy piece of petrified wood!” (And, yes, that comes from a character we’re supposed to like.) Lines like that one earned the novel a spot on the shortlist for the 2008 Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. You’ll find others in a review and Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to The Manny, published in separate posts on June 26, 2007 oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/26/.

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

June 15, 2008

A Bloomsday Appreciation of James Joyce’s Portrait of Dublin on June 16, 1904, in ‘Ulysses’ (Quote of the Day / John Gross):

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James Joyce’s Ulysses inspires celebrations around the world on the anniversary of the day on which its action takes place – June 16, 1904, known as Bloomsday after its main character, Leopold Bloom. Nowhere is the day observed more elaborately than in Dublin, where the novel is set.

John Gross writes of the role of Dublin in Ulysses in an essay on Joyce in Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature (Paul Dry Books, 2007), edited by Joseph Epstein www.pauldrybooks.com:

“The city itself is brought to life to an extraordinary degree. As piece of urban portraiture, there is nothing like it in English, apart from Dickens’s London. We are led through a maze of courtyards, lanes and quays, though pub and library, schoolroom and hospital, cemetery and brothel. Voices and faces, hoardings and headlines, birdcries and traffic sounds, are all noted. So are Reuben J. Dodd, solicitor, and the one-legged sailor skirting Rabaiotti’s ice-cream car, snuffling Nosey Flynn and bald Pat the waiter (“Bald deaf Pat brought quite flat pad ink. Pat set with ink pen quite flat pad”). Shopfronts slip past. We are in a city on the move, a city of criss-crossing routes and chance encounters. And it is rendered in an appropriately dynamic manner. The profusion of detail would pall, if everything were described from the same fixed neutral standpoint. But as it is, every scene has its own tone. Joyce’s prose registers the individual sensibility and the distinctive aura.”

Furthermore: One of the most ambitious Bloomsday celebrations in the U.S. takes place annually at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, home of Joyce’s manuscript for Ulysses www.rosenbach.org/programs/bloomsday.html.

For a listing of Bloomsday events in Dublin, visit the sites for the James Joyce Centre www.jamesjoyce.ie and VisitDublin www.visitdublin.com/events/AllDublinEvents/Detail.aspx?id=235&mid=2740.

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

June 12, 2008

The Best Book to Have on Hand in a Power Blackout

We’re still living in a state of emergency in my part of New Jersey, where some streets look like a scene from the Book of Revelation with pizza deliveries. Tens of thousands of people aren’t expected to get their electricity back until Friday. And it made me wonder: What’s the best book to have on hand during a power blackout? Pragmatists might argue for the American Red Cross First Aid and Safety Handbook or, possibly, the Kama Sutra. But – speaking just for myself – I’d want The Complete Sherlock Holmes in any edition. What book makes for better reading aloud by candlelight to anyone over the age of six? What plot device offers a more reliable diversion from the inconveniences of life without microwave popcorn than the deadly swamp adder in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” or that strange dog on the moors in “The Hound of the Baskervilles”? You can download 48 Sherlock Holmes stories for free at 221bakerstreet.org/, which also has a discussion forum and more.

Here’s news on the blackout that inspired this post: www.nj.com/newsflash/index.ssf?/base/news-32/1213231759129640.xml&storylist=jersey

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 10, 2008

Dana Jennings Remembers the Golden Age of Twang in ‘Sing Me Back Home,’ His Memoir of Growing Up With Country Music

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An editor at the New York Times writes of the days when giants with guitars roamed this cheatin’ Earth

By Janice Harayda

One of the Top 10 search terms that have led people to One-Minute Book Reviews this year is “Donald Murray,” the name of my late mentor and writing teacher, whom I have quoted on this site. Many visitors were looking for journalists who had studied with Don, an internationally known pioneer in the methods of teaching writing that he described in A Writer Teaches Writing www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/01/01/.

So I’m happy to report that one of Don’s students, Dana Jennings, is the author of a new memoir, Sing Me Back Home: Love, Death, and Country Music (Faber & Faber, 272 pp., $24) us.macmillan.com/singmebackhome. Dana writes of growing up in New Hampshire in what he calls “the golden age of twang,” the years between about 1950 and 1970, when giants like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Tammy Wynette were turning out many of their most famous songs. Those of us who studied with Don can be a pretty tight group — “acolytes” would not be too strong a word of some of us — so I can’t review Dana’s book. But Publishers Weekly said this about it:

“The perfect country song, according to the late songwriter Steve Goodman, always had references to mama, being drunk, cheating, going to prison and hell-bent driving. Taking a page from Goodman’s songbook, Jennings, a New York Times editor, brilliantly captures the essence of country music in this hard-driving tale that is part memoir and part music history.”

To read about some of Dana’s favorite country-music songs, click here: papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/04/living-with-music-a-playlist-by-dana-jennings/. To read the New York Times Book Review review of Sing Me Back Home, click here: www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/books/review/Kirby-t.html?_r=2&ref=review&oref=slogin&oref=slogin.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

June 9, 2008

‘Netherland’ Will Win the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, Jan the Hungarian Predicts

Filed under: Jan the Hungarian Predicts — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:48 am
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The first in an occasional series of posts that predict the winners of book awards

By Janice Harayda

You know how how Simon Cowell said long before the finale of the fourth season of American Idol that Carrie Underwood would not only win but go on to sell more records any previous winner? Here’s another prediction you can take to the bank:

After reading half of the book, Jan the Hungarian predicts:
Joseph O’Neill will win the next National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction for his novel Netherland (Pantheon, 256 pp., $23.95) www.randomhouse.com/pantheon/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307377043.

Netherland is good enough to win more than one major prize. But what it gets may depend partly on O’Neill’s citizenship. He was born in Ireland, raised mostly in Holland, received a law degree from Cambridge University, worked as a barrister in England and lives in New York. If he’s an American, he’s eligible for the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction. If he’s Irish or English, he’s eligible for the Man Booker. This site predicts he will win the NBCC prize because for that one, citizenship doesn’t count. If your book is published in the U.S., you can win if you’re from Alpha Centauri.

It’s true that good novels get passed over all the time for awards, and literary prize–giving is only the loosest of meritocracies. But there’s a kind of “good” that judges can ignore and a kind they can’t.

This is the kind they can’t, especially when you have two dozen or so judges as the NBCC prizes do. The National Book Award for fiction has five judges, so the phrase “Winner of the National Book Award” can mean, “Three people really liked this book.” Or even, “Two people really liked it and leaned hard on a third.” One or two people with a cause can push a National Book Award in a direction that has nothing do with merit. When I was the book editor of the Plain Dealer, this happened at least once and led to a bitter public squabble after the awards ceremony. A larger panel of judges could favor a writer of high distinction like O’Neill.

You might wonder: How can you predict that a book will win an award you’ve read only half ot it? One answer is that 50 percent of Netherland is far better than 100 percent of most recent novels. Another answer is that – you’ll have to trust me on this one – some awards judges may not read more than half the book. In that sense, half the book could be a perfect basis on predict a winner.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org. Jan will review Netherland soon. Please see yesterday’s post for why she is using the handle “Jan the Hungarian” for her predictions. She predicted on May 10 that Pale Male will get serious consideration for a Caldecott Medal, but she regards that race as “still too close to call.”

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

June 8, 2008

‘Jan the Hungarian’ Predicts the Winners of Major Book Awards – A New Series Starting Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews

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Are you tired of getting blindsided by all those year-end news reports on award-winning books, half of which you have never even heard of, let alone read?

One-Minute Book Reviews wants to help with a new series that will predict which books or authors will win major literary awards in late 2008 or early 2009. Inspired by late Las Vegas bookie Jimmy “Jimmy the Greek” Snyder, Janice Harayda will make her predictions under her nom de guerre of “Jan the Hungarian.” (Yes, she is going to hear about this from the Scottish half of her family, but “Jan the Scot” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?)

The first post in the series will appear tomorrow when Jan will predict the winner of the next National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction even though she has not read all of eligible books because they have not come out yet. Her predictions will be based not on inside information – because she obviously never has any — but solely on having read the books.

Jan is starting with an NBCC prize because she used to be an NBCC judge … so that should be easy, right? Future posts may involve predictions about winners of the National Book Awards, the Pulitzer Prizes, the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction and Newbery and Caldecott medals. She will not make predictions about all the awards, only about those she thinks will interest you if you are bored at work.

Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these posts. Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

May 31, 2008

The Ruthless Book Club — the Online Reading Group for People Who Don’t Like Reading Groups — Starts Tomorrow

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A guilt-free, no-required-reading book club starts tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews.

To take part, all you have to do read the post that will appear on this site on the first day of each month. In the post, I’ll start the conversation by mentioning a book I’ve reviewed that made an unusual impact for good or ill.

Then it’s your turn to leave a brief comment on a book you’ve read that made an impression on you. The book doesn’t have to have to have been reviewed on this site. At the Ruthless Book Club you can share a discovery or warn others about an overrated book.

Here are the rules:

You may talk about “your” book on the first day of the month or any other day. Visitors may comment on your post or mention another book at any time during the month, or until a new discussion starts on the first day of the next month.

You may bring up any kind of book – children’s or adult, trade or scholarly, in-print or out-of-print. Please keep comments brief – you can expand them if people have questions – and don’t paste in reviews or other material.

You may bring only one book to the club, not a roster. You can bring up other books at later “meetings.”

You may not comment on a book you’ve received for free from the author, agent, publisher or anyone with ties to the book. Book publicists are barred from taking part the discussion.

You may not comment on a book by a friend, enemy or anyone else with whom you might appear to have a conflict. The Ruthless Book Club will follow the rule observed by journalists: You don’t just avoid conflicts of interest but the appearance of conflicts of interest. That’s one reason the club is called “ruthless.”

Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews, and hope to see you at the club.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 30, 2008

Randy Pausch’s ‘The Last Lecture’ – A Book for the Living, Not the Dying

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A professor with terminal pancreatic cancer writes about what life has taught him

The Last Lecture. By Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow. Hyperion, 224 pp., $21.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

For years, Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! has returned to the bestseller lists every June, spurred by its popularity as a graduation gift. As a statement of faith in someone who has just picked up a diploma, its buoyant message is hard to beat: “And will you succeed? / Yes! You will, indeed!”

But many graduates need more guidance than a picture book can offer. And for those who do, Randy Pausch has written what may be the year’s best high school or college graduation gift.

Pausch learned last year that he had terminal pancreatic cancer and, soon afterward, gave a valedictory lecture at Carnegie Mellon University, where he teaches computer science. He called his talk “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” and used it to explain how he had accomplished most of what he set out to do in life. Witty and poignant, the lecture had millions of viewings on YouTube and inspired this collection of brief essays in which Pausch tells what he has learned from life.

For all its popularity, The Last Lecture might give some people pause. It comes from Mitch Albom’s publisher and literary agent and has a format similar to that of Tuesdays With Morrie. And like Albom, Pausch loves clichés or what he calls “old chestnuts.” From The Last Lecture we learn that “Luck is indeed where preparation meets opportunity” and “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” Summing up the theme of his lecture and book, Pausch writes: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

But Pausch is much funnier than Albom. At times. The Last Lecture reads at times like a draft of Dave Barry Meets His Maker. Pausch allows that he’s given some good talks as a professor: “But being considered the best speaker in a computer science department is like being known as the tallest of the Seven Dwarfs.”

Pausch also serves up colorful anecdotes about working as an expert on virtual reality projects with Disney Imagineering and other titans. He tells us that reading journal articles can he so tedious that whenever he sent out a paper for review, he’d send a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints to the reviewer. “Thank you for agreeing to do this,” he’d write. “The enclosed Thin Mints are your reward. But no fair eating them until you review the paper.” When he needed to send a follow-up e-mail, he could keep it to one sentence: “Did you eat the Thin Mints yet?” You believe Pausch when he says that he achieved almost all of his childhood dreams that were within his reach and understand why he did.

That’s partly why The Last Lecture is a book for the living, not the dying. Pausch has been lucky to have been able to accomplish much of what he hoped to achieve, and he knows it. Many people aren’t. They die with large unfulfilled dreams that this book could throw into higher relief. So Pausch clearly found the ideal audience for his upbeat message at Carnegie Mellon. Students and other young people may find his book a wellspring of inspiration for the years ahead. Their grandparents may only regret that they don’t have more time to drink from it.

Best line: “Someone asked me what I want on my tombstone. I replied, ‘Randy Pausch: He Lived Thirty Years After a Terminal Diagnosis.’” And Pausch makes this comment about a football coach named Jim Graham: “Coach Graham worked in a no-coddling zone. Self-esteem? He knew there was really only one way to teach kids how to develop it: You give them something they can’t do, they work hard until they find they can do it, and you just keep repeating the process.”

Worst line: Pausch says he loves football clichés and often repeated them to his students: “I liked my students to win one for the Gipper, to go out an execute, to keep the drive alive, to march down the field, to avoid costly turnovers and to win games in the trenches even if they were gonna feel it on Monday.” Pausch is clearly having some fun here, but still: Isn’t it time to punt a few of those away?

Editor: Will Balliett

Published: April 2008

Reading group guide: A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to The Last Lecture was posted on One-Minute Book Reviews on May 30, 2008. If you are reading this post on the home page of the site, scroll up to find the guide. If you are reading this post on the Internet, click on this link www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/05/30/.

Furthermore: Pausch posts regular updates on his health download.srv.cs.cmu.edu/~pausch/news/index.html. Read an excerpt from his book or watch his lecture at Carnegie Mellon here www.thelastlecture.com.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic 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 www.bookcritics.org. One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

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

May 27, 2008

‘Goodnight Bush’ — A Parody in the Style of a Certain Children’s Book

Filed under: Humor — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:49 pm
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You could argue that you can’t satirize the man who said “I know how hard it is to put food on your family” because his actions have outstripped reality. But that hasn’t stopped Gan Golan and Erich Origen from sending up the president in their just-published parody of a certain children’s book, Goodnight Bush (Little, Brown, 48 pp., $14.99). Until I can put my hands on a copy of this one, you can learn more from the reader-reviews on www.amazon.com and from GalleyCat www.mediabistro.com/GalleyCat/, which has an article on it today.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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