One-Minute Book Reviews

February 25, 2010

2010 Delete Key Awards Finalist #9 — ‘Going Rogue’ by Sarah Palin

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:24 am
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From Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue: An American Life (Harper):

“But when the boom went bust, the golden goose still ruled the roost.”
Unless the goose was counting its chickens before they hatched instead of the clichés in this one.

Read the full review of Going Rogue.

You can also read about the Delete Key Awards at @janiceharayda on Twitter. The 10 finalists are being announced in random order, beginning with number 10. This is finalist #9 The winner and runners-up will be named on March 15.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 21, 2010

A Victim of Hurricane Katrina, Then of FEMA

Filed under: Biography,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:32 pm
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The story of a man who stayed in New Orleans when others left

Zeitoun. By Dave Eggers. McSweeney’s Books, 349 pp., $24.

By Janice Harayda

Like Infidel and A Long Way Gone, Zeitoun tells such an important story, you wish you could believe more of it. Dave Eggers gives a captivating if hagiographic account of the plight of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a well-off Syrian-born painting contractor and landlord who refused to leave New Orleans when the mayor ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city during Hurricane Katrina.

As the book has it, Abdul Zeitoun stayed to look after his buildings when his wife and four children fled to Baton Rouge. Then he traveled by canoe through the flooded New Orleans streets, performing humanitarian acts such as rescuing trapped people and feeding abandoned dogs.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was not impressed. More than a week after defying the evacuation order, Zeitoun was arrested. And he says his jailors refused to let him to make a phone call — to his wife or anyone else – and deprived him of other rights while implying that he belonged to the Taliban.

If all of this is true, it adds to the damning evidence of FEMA’s mishandling of Katrina. But Eggers writes from point of view of the Zeitouns, and their accounts are often self-serving or inconsistent. In one vivid incident, Zeitoun returns to check on dogs – no breed specified – that he had fed by crossing a plank bridge he rigged up between a tree and the house abandoned by the animals’ owners. He finds the pets dead: “The dogs were just under the windowsill, a tangle of limbs, heads to the heavens, as if they had been waiting, for weeks, for him.”

This scene, on first reading, seems heartbreaking. But it holds up poorly under scrutiny. Zeitoun casts himself as wholly innocent, but his repeated entry into a stranger’s house was – for however worthy a reason — tempting fate when the police were watching for and arresting looters. And the incident reflects questionable dog behavior. Eggers says that after feeding the abandoned pets, Zeitoun left a window open so they would have fresh air. Dogs can swim and leap out of windows. And Eggers gives us no reason to believe that the dogs he describes, in their desperation, wouldn’t have tried. Like much else in Zeitoun, the incident may have unfolded exactly as he says. Or it may be nothing more than a great story.

Best line: “This day he ventured closer to downtown, passing families wading through the water, pushing laundry tubs full of their possessions. He paddled by a pair of women pushing an inflatable baby pool, their clothes and food inside.” Zeitoun has many details like these that make you see life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit.

Worst line: “Laying on sweat-soaked sheets, he had a thought.” Was one of those thoughts: What’s that difference between “lie” and “lay” again?

Published: 2009

Furthermore: Eggers’s books include A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and What Is the What, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist about the civil war in Sudan.

You can also follow Jan Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda. She satirizes American literary culture, including the book publishing industry, at www.twitter.com/FakeBookNews.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 28, 2009

Spin, Baby, Spin – Sarah Palin’s ‘Going Rogue’ Sets the Record Askew

Filed under: Memoirs — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:40 am
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“There’s plenty of room for all Alaska’s animals – right next to the mashed potatoes.” — Sarah Palin in Going Rogue

Going Rogue: An American Life By Sarah Palin. Harper, 413 pp., $28.99.

By Janice Harayda

How desperate was John McCain to rein in Sarah Palin during his failed bid for the U.S. presidency? On the evidence of Going Rogue, desperate enough that a campaign strategist wanted to fly in a nutritionist who would force Palin to go off the Atkins diet and eat only “meals balanced in carbohydrates and nitrates” to see if it would help her stick to the script.

Like much else in this memoir, this anecdote — if true — shows how bizarre American political campaigns have become. But Palin gives such a loopy and self-serving account of the incident that her words are hard to credit fully. She says she wasn’t on the Atkins diet and had no idea why the strategist wanted to hire a nutritionist: “The Atkins bars – that must be it. They were everywhere, in every hotel room and on every snack table along the train. They were great when I didn’t have time to slow down and eat, but I didn’t know why they were all over the place.”

Maybe Palin didn’t know why the bars were everywhere. But something was apparently behind the incident that she can’t or won’t admit. And Going Rogue has so many such one-sided or off-kilter stories – some involving far more serious issues — that a better title for  the book might have been: Spin, Baby, Spin.

With help from the writer Lynn Vincent, Palin gives a colorful account of a childhood that involved eating caribou lasagna and using wooden sidewalks in a frontier community that got television shows on a one-week delay. And she suggests why her state remains unique: “You know you’re an Alaskan when at least twice a year your kitchen doubles as a meat-processing plant.”

But Palin also engages in the same kind of backstabbing she says she faced during the campaign. And she saves some of her most cynical and sarcastic comments for McCain staff members, who she believes failed to appreciate what she could contribute even as they raised her from obscurity to a fame that enabled her to receive a reported $5 million advance for this book. Nancy Pelosi writes in her memoir Know Your Power that she got valuable advice from the former Congresswoman Lindy Boggs of Louisiana, who told her: “Never fight a fight as if it’s your last one.” If Pelosi and Boggs are right, Going Rogue bodes poorly for any national political ambitions held by its author: In this book Palin fights as though it were her last fight.

Best line: No. 1: I always remind people from outside our state that there’s plenty of room for all Alaska’s animals – right next to the mashed potatoes.” [cq “all animals."] “In Alaska, we joke that we have two seasons: construction and winter.”

Worst line: No. 1: “But when the boom went bust, the golden goose still ruled the roost.” No. 2: On how she won the Miss Wasilla pageant, which included a swimsuit competition: “Then I shocked my friends and family, put on a sequined Warrior-red gown, danced the opening numbers, gave the interview, and uncomfortably let my butt be compared to cheerleaders’ butts.” No. 3: “I breathed in the autumn bouquet that combined everything small-town America with rugged splashes of the Last Frontier.” No. 4: On her lack of freedom as the vice-presidential nominee: “But now I felt like a bit of a captive, pulled away from my loved ones in favor of a ‘higher priority,’ as though in the final analysis there is any such thing.”

Editor: Adam Bellow

Published: November 2009

You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 26, 2009

When Friends Gave Sarah Palin a Baby Shower at a Shooting Range – Quote of the Day From ‘Going Rogue’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:51 pm
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After weeks of waiting, I reached the top of the library reserve list for Going Rogue and will review it Monday. An offbeat incident from the memoir involves a shower that friends gave for Sarah Palin when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and pregnant with her daughter Piper:

“My friends and I still did a lot of things together, including clay shooting, and I continued to visit the range while I was pregnant. So in a nod to our Second Amendment, my friends Kristin Cole and Judy Patrick threw me a baby shower at the Grouse Ridge shooting range – complete with a cake in the shape of a Piper airplane.”

You can also follow Jan Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter www.twitter.com/janiceharayda, where she has posted other comments on Sarin Palin’s memoir.

November 22, 2009

Does Sarah Palin Deserve a Delete Key Award for Bad Writing for ‘Going Rogue’?

Filed under: Delete Key Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:57 pm
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The Delete Key Awards have shown through finalists James McGreevey and Newt Gingrich that neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on bad writing. Should a politician make the 2010 shortlist due out in February? I haven’t read Going Rogue, but reviews suggest that it could be a candidate. Does Sarah Palin deserve to become a finalist for a Delete Key Award for bad writing in books? If you’d like to nominate a line from Going Rogue or another book by a politician, please use the address on the “Contact” page on this site or send an message on Twitter to @janiceharayda that includes the sentence or keywords from it.

July 29, 2009

‘Most of Our Elected Officials Have Not Been Indicted’ – The Slogan New Jersey May Have Rejected Too Soon – Late Night With Jan Harayda

Filed under: News,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:25 pm
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A line from Notorious New Jersey that I’ve been thinking about since last week’s corruption sweep: Jon Blackwell noted that when the governor asked residents to suggest new slogan for the state back in 2006, someone proposed “Most of Our Elected Officials Have Not Been Indicted.” How long would that one have been true even if it hadn’t lost to “New Jersey, Come See for Yourself”?

July 28, 2009

‘One of the Cardinal Rules of New Jersey Politics Is, There’s No Such Thing As a Private Conversation’ — James McGreevey in ‘The Confession’ — Late Night With Jan Harayda

Filed under: Late Night With Jan Harayda,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:19 pm
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Update, 9:50 p.m. July 29:  Jack Shaw’s autopsy is “inconclusive” pending more toxicology reports.

The New Jersey corruption scandal has deepened with the apparent suicide of Jack Shaw, a Jersey City political consultant who was among 44 people charged Thursday in a federal probe aided by a real-estate developer-turned-informant who wore a wire.

James McGreevey, the former New Jersey governor, wrote about the ubiquitous threat of taped conversations in the state in his memoir, The Confession (HarperCollins, 2008), written with David France, and his comments still apply. McGreevey said:

“One of the cardinal rules of New Jersey politics is, there’s no such thing as a private conversation. Governor [Brendan] Byrne once told me this, as though imparting a philosophical truth from the ages. ‘Somewhere along the line,’ he said, ‘you are going to be taped by someone wearing a wire.’ This is why so many political meetings start with a big bear hug – a New Jersey pat down among friends.”

McGreevey’s memoir has problems well documented by the reviewers and op-ed page columnists who wrote about the book when it appeared in 2008, but The Confession also has many quotes like this one that help to put the latest scandal in context.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

July 26, 2009

Why Is New Jersey So Crooked? Two Views — From a Book and the WSJ

Wonder why some residents of New Jersey weren’t surprised when law-enforcement authorities arrested dozens of people Thursday in a political corruption and money-laundering probe that involved rabbis, mayors and a defendant said to have stuffed $97,000 in cash in a box of Apple Jacks? Read Jon Blackwell’s Notorious New Jersey: 100 True Tales of Murders and Mobsters, Scandals and Scoundrels (Rutgers University Press, 2007). This lively book looks back on sordid events  in Garden State history from the 1804 Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton duel in Weekhawken to the 2002 murder conviction of the philandering Cherry Hill rabbi Fred Neulander. Blackwell argues that crime thrives in New Jersey because, with 566 municipalities, the state has “many nooks and crannies where bribery can flourish.” That’s true as far as it goes, but former Star-Ledger reporter Brad Parks offers a fuller explanation in his  “Poison Ivy in the Garden State” in the July 25–26 Wall Street Journal. A review of Notorious New Jersey appeared on October 20, 2008.

July 7, 2009

What’s So Great About ‘Empathy’?

Filed under: Current Events — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:25 am
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“Empathy” has become the Portuguese water dog of the English language, something everybody seems to want – at least in somebody else. President Obama said that he wanted a Supreme Court justice who had it, and a lot of people have rushed to agree: In the New York Times, you see the word “empathy” almost as often as “transparency.”

But is “empathy” really better than detachment, or the ability to stand back and analyze a situation objectively? Mark Steyn argued that it isn’t in a recent issue of Maccleans, the Canadian weekly. Steyn is more conservative than I am on many issues, including some that he discusses in “What Price Our Pseudo-Empathy?,” but he writes with verve and intelligence about a form of language abuse that occurs at many points on the political spectrum and in novels as well as political speeches.

July 1, 2009

‘We Women Were Not Made for Governing …’ — ‘We Two,’ a Biography of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert by Gillian Gill

Filed under: Biography — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:08 am
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A royal couple who combined an affair of the heart with affairs of state

We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals.  By Gillian Gill. Ballantine, 460 pp., $35.

By Janice Harayda

We Two is something you don’t see every summer: a good beach biography. It’s not so dense and scholarly that you’d have to squint at agate-type footnotes through your Ray-Bans to make sense of it. But neither is it so lightweight that you might be embarrassed to carry it onto a beach even here in New Jersey, the proud home of Boardwalk attractions such as the Shoot the Geek concession stand that lets you fire paintballs at a luckless teenager dressed like a terrorist.

This book is rather the enjoyable story of two fascinating people: Queen Victoria (1819–1901) and Prince Albert, her cousin and husband,  and how they helped to shape the modern world during a marriage that ended when Prince Albert died of typhoid at the age of 42. We Two is is a love story but not just a love story, and Gillian Gill makes affairs of state as interesting as those of the heart.

Gill notes that Victoria won praise on an official visit to Paris when, from a box at the opera house, she waved to people below and then sat down again without a backward glance: “The crowd was impressed. Experts on protocol emerged to note in the French press that only a real queen never looks to see if her chair is in place.”

But Gill also gives vivid accounts of the domestic life of Victoria, who had nine children at the rate of one every two years, and the German-born Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. For all her privileges, Victoria felt so keenly the disadvantages of womanhood – and especially of child-bearing – that she wrote to her eldest daughter, “I think our sex a most unenviable one.”

Gill’s prose, to put it mildly, doesn’t always sing. She has the pedantic habit of continually starting sentences with “However” and a weakness for projecting 21st-century clichés and psychology onto 19th-century royals. Thus we read that the daughters of a king had “dysfunctional” parents and that, in the days of Victoria and Albert, “full disclosure and transparency were not to be expected from royal persons.”

But Gill excels as a storyteller if not as a prose stylist and serves up a banquet of memorable tales, some involving almost comically soap-operaish behavior by royals. One story involves Prince Albert’s father, a notorious rake, who one night summoned a mistress named Pauline Panam to his favorite retreat.

“After a long walk in a violent rainstorm that soaked her to the skin, Panam waited outside the house alone for hours,” Gill writes. “Finally she was obliged to climb up a ladder to the duke’s window and, when this proved too short, to scramble onto a chair he lowered for her from his bedroom.”

Best line: “Since it was strictly forbidden ever to turn one’s back upon a member of the royal family, the key skill required of women at [Victoria's] court was to walk gracefully backward, even when wearing a train and a headdress eighteen inches high.” We Two abounds details like these that make you see its era.

Worst line: “Dyed-in-the-wool conservatives among Cambridge graduates did their utmost to block the prince’s election [as chancellor of the university], but, happily, they failed.” But they probably weren’t too happy about how “happily” they failed.

About the headline: Queen Victoria’s comment about women and governing, as quoted by Gill, is:  “We women were not made for governing – and if we are good women we must dislike these masculine occupations; but there are times which force one to take an interest in them mal gré bon gré [whether one likes it or not] and  I do of course,  intensely.”

Published: May 2009

About the author: Gill wrote Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale.

Furthermore: An otherwise favorable Wall Street Journal review found several small errors of fact in the book.

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

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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