One-Minute Book Reviews

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

November 27, 2007

Carol Saline and Sharon Wohlmuth’s ‘Sisters,’ a Holiday Gift for Women Who Think That Having a Sister Is ‘Like a Marriage Without the Sex’

Sisters of many ages talk about what they give to and get from each other

By Janice Harayda

“It’s like a marriage without the sex,” the folksinger Anna McGarrigle says of her relationship with her sisters, Kate and Jane. If you know a woman who has similar feelings, your search for an ideal holiday gift book might begin with Sisters: The Tenth Anniversary Edition (Running Press, 164 pp., $29.95) www.sistersbook.com.

Since 1994 more than a million people have bought this attractive coffee-table book that has 36 brief essays by the award-winning journalist Carol Saline www.carolsaline.com and wonderful black-and-white photos by Sharon J. Wohlmuth, who shared a Pulitzer Prize at the Philadelphia Inquirer. What accounts for its staying power? In part, an inspired mix of sisters – pairs, trios and a quintet — who talk about their relationship. Some are celebrities — Chris Evert, Melba Moore, Gail Sheehy, Dixie Carter, Barbara Mandrell, Christy Turlington, Coretta Scott King, Wendy Wasserstein. But the most memorable essays involve women unlikely to appear in “Got Milk?” ads – a Vietnamese refugee, a pair of nuns, a trio of police officers, and a 7-year-old girl who tries to comfort an 11-year-old sister with AIDS.

The tone of Sisters is warm but not cloying. And Wolmuth’s photos often have a low-keyed wit, as in a picture of three sisters in their 80s who relax at a pool in what appears to be a Miami retirement complex. One member of the trio, in a Betty Ford hairdo, stands in chest-high water and lights a cigarette. What are ashes in the pool, the picture seems to ask, when you’ve got love like this?

Caveat lector: This review was based in the first edition. The 10th anniversary edition has some new material, including updates on sisters in the first edtion.

Furthermore: The authors also wrote Best Friends and . Mothers & Daughters, which have a similar format.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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