One-Minute Book Reviews

July 19, 2008

Why Should We Spend Billions of Dollars to Send Astronauts to the Moon When People Are Starving Here on Earth? Randy Pausch Responds in ‘The Last Lecture’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:29 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why spend money to send astronauts into outer space when we could use it to fight poverty and hunger on Earth? Americans began asking the question long before July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Jr. walked on the moon as Michael Collins orbited with their spacecraft, and some may ask it again today.

Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, responds in The Last Lecture www.thelastlecture.com, written with Jeffrey Zaslow:

“I understand the arguments about how the billions of dollars spent to put men on the moon could have been used to fight poverty and hunger on earth. But, look, I’m a scientist who sees inspiration as the ultimate tool for doing good.

“When you use money to fight poverty, it can be of great value, but too often, you’re working at the margins. When you’re putting people on the moon, you’re inspiring all of us to achieve the maximum of human potential, which is how our greatest problems will eventually be solved.”

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

May 25, 2008

Were They Really ‘The Greatest Generation’? Quote of the Day / Max Hastings

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:45 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw has called those who lived during World War II “the greatest generation.” Is this phrase accurate? Max Hastings, the journalist and former editor of The Daily Telegraph, says in his latest work of military history, Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944–45 (Knopf, $35) www.aaknopf.com:

“The phrase ‘the greatest generation’ is sometimes used in the U.S. to describe those who lived through those times. This seems inapt. The people of World War II may have adopted different fashions and danced to different music from us, but human behavior, aspirations and fears do not alter much. It is more appropriate to call them, without jealousy, ‘the generation to which the greatest things happened.’”

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

May 11, 2008

An Antidote to Mother’s Day Sentimentality (Quote of the Day / Jane Austen)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:09 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Had enough Mother’s Day sentimentality? Any of Jane Austen’s more astringent comments on motherhood might neutralize it. This line from Sense and Sensibility is perhaps the most biting comment on motherhood to appear in any of her novels www.mollands.net/etexts/senseandsensibility/sns21.html (and comes from the e-texts section of AustenBlog www.austenblog.com)

“Fortunately for those who pay their court through such foibles, a fond mother, though, in pursuit of praise for her children, the most rapacious of human beings, is likewise the most credulous; her demands are exorbitant; but she will swallow any thing; and the excessive affection and endurance of the Miss Steeles towards her offspring were viewed therefore by Lady Middleton without the smallest surprise or distrust.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 29, 2008

Why Do We Like to Read Mysteries? (Quote of the Day / David Lodge)

Filed under: Mysteries and Thrillers,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:24 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Why do mysteries and thrillers so often seem to dominate the bestseller lists? Why have writers as different as Agatha Christie and John Grisham both ranked among the most popular of their eras? Here’s an answer from the novelist and critic David Lodge in The Art of Fiction (Viking, 1993), an excellent collection of 50 brief essays for serious readers on how the different aspects of fiction (such as irony, point of view and coincidence) relate to the whole:

“A solved mystery is ultimately reassuring to readers, asserting the triumph of reason over instinct, of order over anarchy, whether in the tales of Sherlock Holmes or in the case histories of Sigmund Freud, which bear such a striking and suspicious resemblance to them. That is why mystery is an invariable ingredient of popular narrative, whatever its form – prose fiction or movies or television soaps. Modern literary novelists, in contrast, wary of neat solutions and happy endings, have tended to invest their mysteries with an aura of ambiguity or leave them unsolved.”

Comment by Jan:
Some critics have described the appeal of mysteries in starker terms. While Lodge argues that they assert “the triumph of reason over instinct” and “order over anarchy,” others say that they are at heart morality tales – they represent the triumph of good over evil.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 27, 2008

Why Read the Classics? (Quote of the Day / Michael Dirda)

Why is it important to read the classics? Michael Dirda, who won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for criticism as a staff critic for the Washington Post, responds in his Bound to Please: An Extraordinary One-Volume Literary Education: Essays on Great Writers and Their Books (Norton, 2005):

“People sometimes ask teachers or critics, ‘Which books should I read to become educated?’ The short answer is either ‘As many as you can’ or ‘A small handful that you study to pieces.’ But a better question might be this one: ‘Which books should I read first?’

“The answer to that is ‘The great patterning works of world literature and culture, the poems and stories that have shaped civilization.’

“Without a knowledge of the Greek myths, the Bible, ancient history, the world’s folktales and fairy tales, one can never fully understand the visual arts, most opera, and half the literature of later ages. Homer tells us about Ulysses in The Odyssey; then Dante, Tennyson, James Joyce, Wallace Stevens, and Eudora Welty add to, enrich, and subvert that story in great works of their own. The classics are important not because they are old but because they are always being renewed.”

Michael Dirda’s most recent book is Classics for Pleasure (Harcourt, 2007).

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

April 10, 2008

Winston Churchill’s Writing Secret

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:31 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Did Winston Churchill ever utter a line as bad as George Bush’s, “I know how hard it is to put food on your family”? Doesn’t seem likely, does it?

Unlike the many statesmen who have won the Nobel Peace Prize, Churchill won the Nobel Prize in literature nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1953/churchill-bio.html. And even critics of his policies tend to admit that he wrote some of the greatest speeches of the 20th century. What was his secret? Part of it lies this comment, in which he summed up his approach to writing:

“Broadly speaking, short words are the best, and the old words, when short, are the best of all.”

Winston Churchill as quoted in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Writer’s Block Journal (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007).

Comment by Jan:
The best book I’ve read about Churchill is the first volume in William Manchester’s unfinished “Last Lion” series, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874–1932 (Delta, 1984), which has 992 pages in its current American paperback edition. A good, shorter introduction to the life of Britain’s wartime prime minister is Winston Churchill / A Penguin Life: Penguin Lives Series (Viking, 2002) by the distinguished military historian John Keegan.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 8, 2008

Why Do Unworthy Books Win Awards like Pulitzer Prizes? Quote of the Day (Neville Braybrooke)

In last night’s post, I listed some classic American novels that didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, given yesterday to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. A related question is: Why do unworthy book win awards? One obvious answer is that most prizes are given out annually, and every year may not bring a great book in a category.

But more subtle factors may come into play. A truism of literary prize-giving is that awards often go to everybody’s second choice. Judges may split into two camps with each side fiercely opposing the other’s first choice. To reach a decision, they may choose a second-rate book they can all support.

Judges tell many stories in among themselves about such compromises but rarely discuss them publicly. Who wants to admit to having honored a clinker? But Neville Braybooke suggests how the practice can work in his preface to the Every Eye, the elegant second novel by his late wife, Isobel English. Braybooke writes that English refused to add the happy ending that an American publisher wanted to her to give her first novel, The Key That Rusts:

“More significantly, during these early days of her career, came the news that The Key That Rusts had been shortlisted for the Somerset Maugham Award, tying for first place with Iris Murdoch’s first novel, Under the Net. In the event, the judges were unable to decide who should be the winner, so they gave the prize to the runner-up, Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim.”

Neville Braybrooke in Every Eye (David R. Godine/Black Sparrow, $23.95) www.blacksparrowbooks.com.

Comment by Jan:

Braybrooke may have been willing to tell this anecdote partly because there would have been no shame in losing either to Lucky Jim or Under the Net, both modern classics. And few critics would argue that Amis’s comic novel was unworthy of an award. The Somerset Maugham Award is given annually by the London-based Society of Authors www.societyofauthors.org to the writer or writers under the age of 35 who wrote the best book of the year.

Do you think any unworthy books have won awards? What are they?

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

“ …

April 2, 2008

What is ‘The Golden Notebook’ About? (Quote of the Day / Doris Lessing via Emily Parker)

Filed under: Classics,Novels,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:38 am
Tags: , , , ,

Doris Lessing’s best-known novel is often seen as a feminist manifesto. Is that perception accurate?

Author profiles in the American media tend to be glorified press releases. They rarely tell you anything that would help you understand a book beyond the basics of its plot or factual content. Instead they focus on such questions as: How old – or young – is the author? How big was his or her advance? Has Robert De Niro bought the film rights yet? And – of course – how does the author write? In the morning or evening? In longhand or on a computer? In a semi-starved state or fortified by Wheat Thins?

A stellar exception was the recent Wall Street Journal profile of Doris Lessing, who has finished a book about her parents, Alfred and Emily, that will come out in the U.S. in August. Emily Parker begins by talking about Lessing’s age (she’s 88 and finds being old “boring”) but quickly goes on to show that she’s unafraid to deal with the complex issues raised by the work of the most recent Nobel laureate in literature. A portion of the article deals with Lessing’s best-known novel, The Golden Notebook, first published in 1962:

“Ms. Lessing was briefly a member of the Communist Party before becoming thoroughly disillusioned. This loss of faith seems to have helped define her belief in the danger of dogmas and group-think. It also shaped The Golden Notebook.”

Lessing reminded Parker that the second comment in The Golden Notebook was “as far as I can see, everything’s cracking up”:

“’This is what The Golden Notebook is about, the crack-up of the 1950s,’ Ms. Lessing says. Or more specficially, the ‘crack up’ of the left after Nikita Khrushchev’s 20th Congress speech in 1956, in which he admitted that Joseph Stalin had been less than a perfect leader.”

Doris Lessing as quoted by Emily Parker in “Provocateur” in the Weekend Interview with Doris Lessing, the Wall Street Journal, March 15-16, 2008.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 27, 2008

Good Riddance to Book-Review Sections? Quote of the Day (Steve Wasserman)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:19 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Why have so many book-review sections shrunk, disappeared or turned into cheerleading squads for major publishers? Critic Gail Pool explores some of the reasons in her Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/ .

But literary agent Steve Wasserman, former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, goes further in a recent essay in the Columbia Journalism Review. Wasserman calls some book-review sections “shockingly mediocre.” And his article explains, better than any I have read, why their perilous condition reflects more than — to oversimplify a popular argument — cretins in the accounting department.

Here are some excerpts from Wasserman’s CJR article, which you can read at www.cjr.org/cover_story/goodbye_to_all_that_1.php?page=all.

“That book coverage is disappearing is not news. What is news is the current pace of the erosion in coverage, as well as the fear that an unbearable threshold has been crossed: Whether the book beat should exist at all is now, apparently, a legitimate question.…

“The predicament facing newspaper book reviews is best understood against the backdrop of several overlapping and contending crises: The first is the general challenge confronting America’s newspapers of adapting to the new digital and electronic technologies that are increasingly absorbing advertising dollars, wooing readers away from newspapers, and undercutting profit margins; the second is the profound structural transformation roiling the entire book-publishing and book-selling industry in an age of conglomeration and digitization; and the third and most troubling is the sea change in the culture of literacy itself, the degree to which our overwhelmingly fast and visually furious culture renders serious reading increasingly irrelevant, hollowing out the habits of attention indispensable for absorbing long-form narrative and the following of sustained argument….

“A harsher truth may lurk behind the headlines as well: Book coverage is not only meager but shockingly mediocre. The pabulum that passes for most reviews is an insult to the intelligence of most readers. One is tempted to say, perversely, that its disappearance from the pages of America’s newspapers is arguably cause for celebration.”

Wasserman is managing director of the New York office of the literary agency Kneerim & Williams at Fish & Richardson and book editor of www.truthdig.com.

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

March 5, 2008

What Do Award-Winning Novels Have That Others Don’t? (Quote of the Day/Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni)

[Tomorrow night the National Book Critics Circle will announce the winners of its annual awards, including its fiction prize. You can read about the finalists here bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com/2008/01/2007-national-book-critics-circle-award.html. A former judge for another prize offers some thoughts on literary awards in general below.]

What separates the novels that win major literary prizes from other books? Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, the Indian-born poet and novelist, served as a National Book Awards judge and comments here on reading the nominated books:

“What I learned from reading so many novels is that a novel, as it goes on, has to expand. It has to give you a sense of a larger life, not just the story you’re dealing with, no matter how well it’s told. There must be a sense of resonance, a sense that in that story is the knowledge of a whole larger story whose presence is felt.”

Chitra Baneriee Divakaruni in “Read More, Write Better,” an interview with Sarah Anne Johnson www.sarahannejohnson.com in The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction: Building Blocks (Writer’s Digest Books, $19.99), edited by Susan Burmeister-Brown and Linda B. Swanson-Davis. Banerjee Divakaruni www.chitradivakaruni.com , who teaches at the University of Houston, wrote the The Vine of Desire, The Mistress of Spices and other books. Her next novel, The Palace of Illusions, has just been published by Doubleday.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

« Previous PageNext Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 378 other followers

%d bloggers like this: