One-Minute Book Reviews

July 25, 2008

A Child-Approved Joke Book for Ages 6 and Up That You Can Get at CVS

Filed under: Children's Books,Humor — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:53 pm
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It is a late Friday afternoon in July. A critic named Jan (her real name) is sitting at a table in the café of a good suburban public library.

Jan has placed two books in front of her on the table. One is Lyle, Lyle Crocodile (Houghton Mifflin, 1962), a handsome, award-winning hardcover book that she has checked out of the library. The other is Awesome Good Clean Jokes for Kids (Harvest House, 1992), a cheap mass-market paperback that she has just picked up at CVS.

She is trying to decide which book to review and is leaning toward Lyle, because she didn’t get it off a rack that also had books about iffy herbal remedies and end-of-the-world prophecies.

An 11-year-old girl named Olivia (not her real name) starts to walk by. She does not know Jan but stops instantly when she sees Awesome Good Clean Jokes for Kids.

OLIVIA: I love that book! There’s a really good joke on page 103. It’s in the “knock, knock” section.
JAN: Would you show it to me? (She opens the book to page 103.)
OLIVIA: There it is at the bottom of the page.
JAN: “Knock, knock. / Who’s there? / Noah. / Noah who? / Noah good place we can go for dinner?”
OLIVIA: That’s my favorite. I like another one on that page, too. The one about the turnip.
JAN: “Knock, knock. / Who’s there? / Turnip. / Turnip who? / Turnip the heat, it’s cold in here!”
OLIVIA: I like that one because I really like turnips.
JAN: Do you think other 11-year-olds would like this book? Or do you think it would be better for another age?
OLIVIA: I think some 11-year-olds would like it. But I think it’s best for about 6-year-olds. My brother is six, and it’s his favorite book. We had a copy of it already, but my mother had to go to CVS and buy him his personal copy.
JAN: Why do you think your brother likes it so much?
OLIVIA: He like all those silly things like Captain Underpants.

Bob Phillips’s Awesome Good Clean Jokes for Kids (Harvest House, 207 pp., $4.99, paperback) also has riddles, daffy definitions, and many other kinds of jokes for ages 6 and up. It is available at drug- and other stores, including online and retail booksellers.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

December 26, 2007

A Pittsburgh Lawyer Tries to Play Through His ‘Midlife Crisis’ in Philip Beard’s Golf Novel, ‘Lost in the Garden’ (Books I Didn’t Finish)

Maybe the golfer in bunny ears on the cover should have been the tip-off

Title: Lost in the Garden: A Novel (Plume, 240 pp, $14, paperback), by Philip Beard.

What it is: A comic novel about a 45-year-old lawyer who, after his wife kicks him out of their home in suburban Pittsburgh, tries to cope with what he calls his “midlife crisis” by playing golf.

How much I read: The prologue, the first chapter and some later passages, about 30 pages.

Why I stopped reading: Beard starts pushing his luck with his first line: “If you choose books the way I do, you still have a chance to save yourself a few bucks.” He adds: “This is not a book that is meant to be bought; it’s only a book that needed to be written.” This sort of self-consciously ironic pose makes a critic say very quickly, “Okay, if it’s not meant to be bought, I won’t tell people to buy it.” Especially when the cliché “midlife crisis” also appears in the first few pages. A Publishers Weekly reviewer who finished the book said, “After a promising start, Beard doesn’t provide enough plot to keep the reader from losing patience with Beard’s self-absorbed mid-lifer and his games (sporting and otherwise).” That may be true, but comic novels don’t need a lot of plot if they’re funny enough to make you want to keep reading, regardless.

Best line in what I read: A quote from the novelist Peter De Vries: “Confession is good for the soul only in the sense that a tweed coat is good for dandruff – it is a palliative rather than a remedy.”

Worst line in what I read: Beard writes of the members of a golf club: “The women (who only just attained full membership status in 1998, following a battle that rivaled the one for women’s suffrage in both acrimony and expense) …” The labored humor of the line is typical of what I read.

Consider reading instead: Nick Hornby’s How to Be Good, a much funnier treatment of the crisis that occurs in the life of a father of two when his wife says he wants a divorce (“Nick Hornby Looks at a Marriage in Trouble in His Comic Novel How to Be Good“) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/11/.

Published: May 2007 (Plume paperback), May 2006 (Viking hardcover) http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780452288423,00.html

Caveat lector: On the book cover shown here, the man is wearing yellow bunny ears. These may not show up on your computer screen.

Furthermore: Beard also wrote the novel Dear Zoe, which he self-published, then sold to Viking. He has a great story on his site about the experience www.philipbeard.net/backstory.html. He is a writer and lawyer in Pittsburgh.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 8, 2007

Where to Find Lists of Books Recommended for Adolescents and Teenagers

Looking for good books for adolescents or teenagers? You’ll find many suggestions at the site for the Young Adult Library Services Association www.ala.org/yalsa/, part of the American Library Association. Click on the page on the site that says “Booklists & Book Awards” to find librarian-approved titles in categories such as “Books for the College Bound,” “Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults” and “Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.”

This is a repost for holiday shoppers of an item that appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews in September.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 30, 2007

Do We Need Awards for Brand-Name Blight in Fiction?

Designer labels fester in fiction despite the critics’ complaints

By Janice Harayda

Do we need awards for brand-name blight in fiction?

Critics have complained for years about novelists who tell you about their characters’ designer labels as a substitute for character development. But the problem keeps spreading. In many novels you read about more than the labels on characters’ clothes and shoes. You learn the brand names on their cars, appliances, baby gear and more.

The most egregious example I’ve reviewed was Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (Vintage, 1991) www.randomhouse.com, a novel about a young Wall Street serial killer, who “describes his designer lifestyle in excruciating detail,” as Nora Rawlinson wrote aptly in Library Journal. But Ellis at least seemed to be trying to develop a theme — that our culture views products and people as equally disposable and that consumerism fosters violence.

Many novels, though less grotesque than American Psycho, have no such core. Their authors use designer labels as a shortcut to meaning. Brand-name abuse is a sin that I consider in giving out the annual Delete Key Awards on this site. But books can go wrong in so many ways that the prizes don’t focus on label blight. Should I give separate awards for Brand-Name Blight in Fiction (maybe in the summer after I’ve had a few months to recover from naming the winners of the Delete Key Awards on the Ides of March)? Can you suggest candidates?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

Nominate Your Candidates for the 2008 Delete Key Awards for the Year’s Worst Writing in Books

Which of the authors you’ve read this year didn’t use their delete keys enough?

One-Minute Book Reviews will announce the finalists for the 2008 Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books on February 29, 2008. So it’s not too early to nominate your candidates for these prizes, given to authors who don’t use their delete keys enough.

The Delete Key Awards recognize the worst lines or passages in hardcover or paperback books published in the United States. The grand prize winner and runners-up will be named on March 15, the date of Julius Caesar’s assassination, because all the finalists assassinate the English language with weapons such as clichés, jargon, bad grammar, dumbing down or pomposity.

All books that contain bad writing are eligible for the awards, except for those in the categories listed at the end of this post. But the prizes are intended especially for established authors who have been overpraised or granted unmerited immunity by critics. The 2007 winners were: grand prize, Danielle Steel’s Toxic Bachelors; first runner-up, Mitch Albom’s For One More Day; and second runner-up, Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children.

To inspire your nominations, here’s a complete list of last year’s finalists. You can read their offending passages by clicking on the “Delete Key Awards” tag at the top of this post or going to the “Delete Key Awards” category at right.

Finalists for the 2007 Delete Key Awards:

For One More Day by Mitch Albom

The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg

Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris

The Book Club Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to the Reading Group Experience by Diana Loevy

Love Smart: Find the One You Want — Fix the One You Got by Dr. Phil McGraw

The Confession by James McGreevey with David France

The Interruption of Everything by Terry McMillan

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud

Toxic Bachelors by Danielle Steel

The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

Janice Harayda is the sole judge of the Delete Key Awards but enthusastically considers suggestions from visitors to One-Minute Book Reviews. She is a novelist and award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle.

Jan does not accept free books from publishers and excludes from consideration for the Delete Key Awards any books that would present a conflict of interest or the appearance of such a conflict. The ineligible books include those published by her current publisher, represented by her literary agent, or written by her friends or enemies. Unfortunately, the publishing axiom is right: You don’t know who your enemies are until you review their books. Or give them a Delete Key Award.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 11, 2007

Justice for Adrian Mole! Long-Suffering Teenager With Acne Finally KOs Mitch Albom and Others

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:29 pm
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After weeks of ignominy, a comic masterpiece cracks the Top Ten

My fellow literary bloggers: Have you noticed that all your posts about books you don’t like always show up on your list of Top Ten posts while all the posts about books you will adore forever never do? Or is this just a quirk of this site?

Back in May, I wrote a post saying that Good Sports, a collection of sports poems for children, was an unusually weak book by the gifted Jack Prelutsky. So what happened? Day after day for months, the book has made it onto the Top Ten list. You would weep if I told you how often Mitch Albom has turned up there.

So here, at last, is justice. This weekend Sue Townsend cracked the Top Ten list with The Adrian Mole Diaries www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/08/, a comic masterpiece in diary form that has sold more than five million copies since its publication in the mid-1980s. Of course, it’s fitting that in the blogosphere as in the novel people would underestimate Adrian Mole, a working-class British teenager with acne, irresponsible parents, an off-again, on-again girlfriend and a justifiable conviction that the world doesn’t appreciate his genius. Still, I must say it: Adrian, redemption is yours.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 4, 2007

Pascal Khoo Thwe’s Award-Winning Memoir of Terror in Myanmar, ‘From the Land of Green Ghosts’

A remarkable memoir in the spirit of Infidel and A Long Way Gone

From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey. By Pascal Khoo Thwe. Foreword by John Casey. HarperPerennial, 304 pp., $13.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Pascal Khoo Thwe once hoped to become “the first Burmese saint.” Instead he took up arms against a military regime that murdered his girlfriend, then tried to kill him. With government agents on his trail, he fled into the jungle and escaped with the help of John Casey, a professor at Cambridge University whom he had met by chance at a restaurant in Mandalay where he worked as a waiter. It is hard to say which is the greater miracle — that he survived such terrors or that he has written such an eloquent memoir about them. Atheists may find their lack of belief tested by this award-winning book, an astounding story of courage and faith in a divine providence that ultimately seemed fully justified.

From the Land of Green Ghosts in some ways resembles Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel. But it is a better book than either, because it raises fewer questions about its author’s memory or credibility. First published in 2002, Khoo Thwe’s story has gained fresh interest since mass demonstrations against the military dictatorship in Myanmar began in August and thrust the country’s human-rights abuses back into the news. HarperCollins has posted a reading group guide to the book, an outstanding choice for reading groups, at www.harpercollins.com.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 31, 2007

Reconsidering Azar Nafisi’s ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’

I’m severely computer-deprived this week and posting from the library, so some reviews may omit a few things you typically see at the end, such as the best and worst lines in the book.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. By Azar Nafisi. Random House, 384 pp., $14.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

This overrated memoir is the kind of book that critics tend to love, a reminder that literature can glow in the darkest of regimes — in this case, that of the Islamic Republic of Iran, where Azar Nafisi taught a secret class in the Western clasics to seven female students. But Nafisi is right when she writes in this overrated memoir that she is at times “too much of an academic”: “I have written too many papers and articles to be able to turn my experiences and ideas into narratives without pontificating.” As she describes her students’ responses to novels such as Pride and Prejudice and The Great Gatsby, Nafisi slips into cliches and vapid acdemic locutions such as, “It is not an accident that …” Like a scholarly Nostradamus, she informs us that “it is not an accident that” the heroine of Washington Square wore a red satin dress at her first meeting with a dishonorable suitor, as though such a detail were ever an accident in Henry James’s novels.

Published: 2003 www.randomhouse.com

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

September 15, 2007

Review and Reading Group Guide to ‘Water for Elephants’ — Coming Friday on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:56 pm
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A character in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants says of the Depression-era traveling circus that provides the setting for the novel, “The whole thing’s illusion, Jacob, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what people want from us.”

Does something similar apply to this No. 1 bestseller? Are the virtues critics and others have found in the novel real or overplayed? Find out Friday when a review of and reading group guide to the novel will appear on One-Minute Book Reviews, which dealt with the first two chapters on Sept. 14 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/14/. You can find the publishers’ guide to Water for Elephants at www.algonquin.com.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 2, 2007

One of the Best Memoirs of 2006 Arrives in Paperback

One of the best memoirs of 2006, Alexander Masters’s Stuart: A Life Backwards (Delta, $12), has arrived in paperback, not long after becoming a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. If you don’t think anybody could tell a charming story of the life an “ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath,” this book could change your mind. This link will take you to a review that has a reading group guide posted just below it: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/22/. The readers’ guide is also saved with the March posts and in the “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides” category.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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