One-Minute Book Reviews

July 1, 2013

What I’m Reading … Helen Simonson’s ‘Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’

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“What I’m Reading” is a series that describes books I’m reading that I may or may not review later on this blog

What I’m reading: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (Random House, 368 pp., $16, paperback).

What it is: A gently satirical romantic comedy about the relationship between Ernest Pettigrew, a retired British Army officer, and Jasmina Ali, a shopkeeper of Pakistani ancestry in his English village. The two friends’ first names betoken their roles in the novel: Major Pettigrew is earnest and proper; Mrs. Ali is the exotic flower in town.

Why I’m reading it: My book club is reading it.

How much I’ve read: More than half.

Quote from the book: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand tweaks many kinds of prejudice, including the snobbery of a certain sort of Englishman toward Americans. An example occurs when the Major Pettigrew observes, on seeing an unfamiliar face at his golf club: “The fourth man was a stranger, and something in his broad shoulders and unfortunate pink golf shirt suggested to the Major that he might be another American. Two Americans in as many weeks was, he reflected, approaching a nasty epidemic.”

Furthermore: Janet Maslin reviewed Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand favorably in the New York Times.

You can follow Jan on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button at right.

© 2013 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

May 5, 2013

John Kenney’s Romantic Comedy, ‘Truth in Advertising’

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:29 pm
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A lovelorn copywriter confronts his father’s death as he races to create a Super Bowl spot

Truth in Advertising. By John Kenney. Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 308 pp., $24.99.

By Janice Harayda

Two kinds of creative people work in advertising, the hero of John Kenney’s first novel observes: “Those who think they’re smarter than the client and those who are successful.” It’s an old joke, but Kenney puts spring its step in this romantic comedy about a lovelorn copywriter at a high-flying New York agency.

At the age of 39, Finbar Dolan is recovering from a broken engagement when he faces back-to-back crises during an unlucky holiday season in the age of iPods and eight-dollar cupcakes. Fin and his colleagues are racing to produce a Super Bowl commercial for “the world’s first eco-friendly, one-hundred-percent biodegradable diaper” when he learns that his estranged father is dying. This setup invests Truth in Advertising with a staple of the modern romantic comedy, a hero with a more urgent goal than finding love, and the plot borrows a few clichés from that cinematic genre. If you can never have too many of those scenes in which two characters ultimately confront their feelings for each other in an international departures terminal at a packed airport, this book is for you. The novel also appears to pander to Hollywood with an episode in which a lawyer summons Fin and his siblings to his office for a “reading of the will,” an act that today occurs mainly in movies.

But Kenney satirizes with a sure hand the profession in which he worked for 17 years. His lovers’ follies pale beside those of his clients, account executives, creative directors, office assistants and “insufferable human resources women with their easy detachment and heartless smiles,” who say things like: “You’re eligible for Cobra and the family plan is only $1800 a month.” And he gives his narrator an appealing wistfulness that suggests the cost of years of artistic and moral compromises. For all of his encounters with celebrity endorsers like Gwyneth Paltrow, Fin remains a man who has had enough illusions knocked out of him that he no longer fantasizes that the producer Aaron Sorkin will see his work and demand to know who wrote it: “There’s a voice beneath the mail-in rebate copy that feels very fresh to me. Who is this guy?’”

Best line: “They call us creative. Baloney. The inventor of the corkscrew was creative. The irony of advertising – a communications business – is that we treat words with little respect, often devaluing their meaning. The all-new Ford Taurus. Really? Five wheels this time?’

Worst line: “Every one changed their own baby’s diaper.” This line refers to a group of that consists only of women. “Every one changed her own baby’s diaper” would have been smoother and more precise.

Published: January 2013

About the author: Kenney worked at the Ogilvy & Mather agency and contributes to The New Yorker.

Watch the trailer for Truth in Advertising. Or read more about the book on the publisher’s website, which includes an excerpt.

Jan will cohost a Twitter #classicschat on The Great Gatsby on Friday, May 10, at 4 p.m. ET at which the novelist Alexander Chee will discuss F. Scott Fitzerald’s masterpiece. Please join us! You can follow Jan on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the sidebar on this page. She is an award-winning journalist who has been the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland.

© 2013 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

March 2, 2012

Libba Bray’s Comic Novel for Teenagers, ‘Beauty Queens’

Filed under: Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:08 pm
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Miss Teen Dream contestants try to keep their spirits up after their plane goes down in a finalist for a 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize 

Beauty Queens. By Libba Bray. Scholastic, 396 pp., $18.95. Ages 12 & up.

By Janice Harayda

Thirteen beauty queens stumble into literal and metaphorical quicksand after their plane crashes on a tropical island in this madcap feminist farce with AK-47s and eyelash curlers. With fish and coconuts to sustain them, the Miss Teen Dream contestants don’t waste time weeping for their dead chaperones, who might have enforced the morals-clauses in their contracts. They keep hoping for a rescue and practicing their dance steps for the pageant, led by the crown-obsessed Miss Texas, until they discover that their island holds secret agents with high-tech offices hidden in a volcano who may work for their corporate sponsor.

As they try to outwit the men with walkie-talkies, the contestants have time to explore their varied sexual identities – straight, gay, transgender or uncertain – with the frankness of Miss Illinois, who dislikes having to declare an orientation like a major: “I am straight with a minor in gay.” Their tale sags in its last third under the weight and predictability of the wrap-ups of all the subplots — each involving a character who sees that she must be true herself, no matter what her unenlightened parents or friends think — and a deus ex machina in the form of a ship full of TV-show pirates.

But Libba Bray satirizes worthy targets along the way, including corporate greed, identity politics, and sexual double standards. And the contestants’ stories coalesce into a tidy theme expressed by Miss Nebraska. “Maybe girls’ need an island to find themselves,” she says. “Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching so they can be who they really are.”

Best line: “My platform is Identifying Misogyny in American Culture.” From the “Miss Teen Dream Fun Facts Page” about Adina Greenberg, Miss New Hampshire, a high school journalist who entered the contest hoping to expose how it promotes “the objectification of women.”

Worst line: “Taylor had heard enough. She emerged from the jungle like a Kurtzian goddess.” In these lines, Bray is writing from the point of view of Taylor Hawkins, Miss Texas, a pageant obsessive who shows little evidence of having read anything but I’m Perfect and You Can Be, Too, a self-help manual by a Miss Teen Dream winner who resembles a Southern-fried Sara Palin. It’s hard to believe she would see herself in terms of a character in Heart of Darkness.

Published: May 2011

Furthermore: Beauty Queens is a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the young-adult literature category. Some critics have called Beauty Queens a “satire,” and it does satirize contemporary follies, but its intentionally over-the-top aspects give it more in common with farce. The novel is the fifth by bestselling author Libba Bray, who lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Learn more about Beauty Queens or buy a copy from an independent bookstore in the author’s city.

Janice Harayda has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. One-Minute Book Reviews recently was ranked one of the top 40 book blogs by Technorati and top 40 book-review blogs by Alexa Internet. It was named one of the top blogs in New Jersey by New Jersey Monthly.

You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the sidebar to the right of this review.

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
http://www.janiceharayda.com

February 11, 2010

Fake Book News # 4 — FDA Says Americans Consume Too Many Books With Metallic Covers

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FDA says Americans consume too many books with metallic covers: Urges pregnant women to “limit or avoid” Dan Brown novels.

Fake Book News posts on One-Minute Book Reviews satirize American literary culture, including the publishing industry. They consist of some of the most popular of the made-up news items that appear on Janice Harayda’s FakeBookNews page on Twitter. To read all the tweets in the series, please follow FakeBookNews (@FakeBookNews) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/FakeBookNews.

June 19, 2009

A Quote in the Spirit of Jane Austen From ‘Love in a Cold Climate’

A wonderfully satirical quote from Nancy Mitford’s modern classic Love in a Cold Climate, reviewed yesterday, that suggests why the novel night appeal to fans of Jane Austen:

“Lady Montdore loved anybody royal. It was a genuine emotion, quite disinterested, since she loved them in as much in exile as in power, and the act of curtseying was the consummation of this love. Her curtseys, owing to the solid quality of her frame, did not recall the graceful movement of wheat before the wind. She scrambled down like a camel, rising again backside foremost, like a cow, a strange performance, painful, it might be supposed, to the performer, the expression on whose face, however, belied this thought. Her knees crackled like revolver shots but her smile was heavenly.”

www.janiceharayda.com

December 19, 2008

The Babar Books as Satire (Quote of the Day / Edward Rothstein)

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:06 pm
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What does it mean when a young elephant leaves the countryside, travels to a imposing town, and dons handsome clothes? Few classic picture books have sparked more controversy in the past two decades than the 37-book series about Babar, an orphaned elephant who becomes a king, begun by Jean de Brunhoff in the 1930s and kept alive after his death by his son Laurent.

Maurice Sendak has said that Jean de Brunhoff’s tales “have a freedom and charm, a freshness of vision, that captivates and takes the breath away” and that “forever changed the face of the illustrated book.” But some scholars have cast Babar as an allegory for the evils of colonialism in general and French colonialism in particular.

Edward Rothstein weighs the arguments in a review of “Drawing Babar: Early Drafts and Watercolors,” on display at the Morgan Library & Museum though Jan. 4 www.themorgan.org. Rothstein notes that the educator Herbert Kohl has faulted the books for their admiration for Babar, who embraces trappings of the society that produced the colonial hunter who killed his mother:

“But as the critic Adam Gopnik points out in a rich, suggestive essay in the show’s catalog, these arguments miss the point. The saga is not an ‘unconscious instance of the French colonial imagination,’ Mr.Gopnik writes, ‘it is a self-conscious comedy about the French colonial imagination.’ Jean de Brunhoff knew precisely what he was doing. Invoking the colonial world of the 1930s and France’s mission of civilizing subjugated peoples, he was also satirizing that world, celebrating some things while being wary of others, knowing the need for civilization while also knowing the costs and inevitable failures that accompany it.”

Read all of Rothstein’s comments at www.nytimes.com/2008/09/22/arts/design/22baba.html. The series about Babar began with The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant, shown here.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 23, 2008

‘Anonymous’ No More — Does Joe Klein’s ‘Primary Colors’ Still Hold Any Interest Now That We All Know Who Wrote It?

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:37 am
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A veteran political reporter satirizes sexual harassment and more on the campaign trail

Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics. By Anonymous (Joe Klein). Random House, 384 pp., $13.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Guessing who wrote Primary Colors was a white-hot political parlor game in 1996, when the novel first appeared under the byline of “Anonymous.” But this former No. 1 bestseller is interesting for more than identity of its author, eventually revealed to be the longtime Washington journalist Joe Klein.

Primary Colors sends up the first presidential campaign of Jack Stanton, a Southern governor and stand-in for Bill Clinton. And Washington insiders had little trouble figuring out who might have inspired characters like first lady Susan Stanton (Hillary Clinton), campaign aide Henry Burton (George Stephanopoulos) and strategist Richard Jemmons (James Carville).

But Klein aims to do more than satirize the players in the 1992 Democratic primaries. Primary Colors is about the cost of political leadership in America and, perhaps, anywhere. “Two-thirds of what we do is reprehensible,” Jack Stanton says, while making clear that politicians will go on doing that reprehensible two-thirds because they think it justifies the good one-third.

Like most campaigns, Primary Colors is messy. It begins as a cynical – if effective – satire, then goes off the rails when it sinks into farce and axe-grinding. And yet, there are so few credible novels about political campaigns that Primary Colors, for all its imperfections, is still one of the best we have.

In one of its most famous scenes, a middle-aged political strategist whips out his penis at campaign headquarters in an attempt to lure young press aide to his hotel room. She looks at it and says, “I’ve never seen one that … old.” The strategist turns red and runs out of the room. Campaign aides – who have been eavesdropping – cheer. And for that scene alone, Primary Colors would deserve a cheer or two of its own.

Best line: On Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York: “His fantasy is a race where he doesn’t run and nobody else wins.”

Worst line: A comment by a 250-pound lesbian campaign aide: “YOU ARE OUTTA HERE, you slimetudinous sack of snail wuzzle.”

Published: October 1996 (first edition).

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 22, 2008

“I’ve never seen one that … old” – A Second Look at ‘Primary Colors’

Filed under: Novels,Paperbacks,Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:08 am
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In a famous scene in Primary Colors, a middle-aged political strategist whips out his penis at the headquarters of a presidential campaign in an attempt to lure young press aide to his hotel room. She looks at it and says, “I’ve never seen one that … old.” The strategist turns red and runs out of the room. Campaign aides – who have been eavesdropping – cheer. Tomorrow One-Minute Book Reviews will reconsider Primary Colors, the 1996 bestseller by Joe Klein, a Washington journalist who initially used the byline “Anonymous. The novel satirizes the first presidential campaign of a Democratic governor named Jack Stanton, stand-in for Bill Clinton. (c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 11, 2008

Jay McInerney Satirizes New Yorker-Style Fact-Checking in ‘Bright Lights, Big City,’ A Defining Novel of the 1980s

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:35 am
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The book that put spring in the step of the phrase “Bolivian marching powder”

A lot of people have suggested that book publishers need to adopt the system used in the fact-checking department at The New Yorker, where Jay McInerney worked briefly. How does it work? McInerney sends up fact-checking — among many other things — with sardonic verve in Bright Lights, Big City (Vintage, 1984), his satirical tale of a young Manhattanite who by day works for an elite magazine and by night seeks relief from the pretension in drug-fueled revels. (This book put spring in the step of the phrase “Bolivian marching powder.”) Along with Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, Bright Lights, Big City helped set the tone of fiction in the 1980s and may be McInerney’s best book. Among its virtues: It shows the rare, successful use of second-person narration in a novel. That device works partly because it suggests its anti-hero’s estrangement from himself: He’s alienated enough from his life that he sees himself not as an “I” but as a “you.”

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 17, 2008

Joshua Henkin’s ‘Matrimony,’ a Novel About the Rewards and Perils of Marrying Young

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:16 am
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Two male best friends get an education in love that begins in college and continues until their 15th-year reunion

Matrimony. By Joshua Henkin. Pantheon, 291 pp., $23.95.

By Janice Harayda

There’s a delicious scene early in Matrimony in which an English professor tries to curb the influence of Hollywood on his students’ writing partly by forbidding them to use the word “kerplunk” in their short stories. It’s blisteringly funny, and its deft blend of comedy and pathos reminds you of Dan Wakefield’s fine early novels, Going All the Way and Starting Over.

But the tone of Matrimony shifts as Joshua Henkin follows two of the professor’s students from college to early middle age. Best friends Julian Wainwright and Carter Heinz meet their future wives as freshmen and marry younger than many of their peers. And before they return to college for their 15th-year reunion, the bristling satire of the first chapter has given way at times to high-class soap opera. A $17-million dot-com windfall enriches a character nobody saw as the next Steve Jobs. A test for the breast-cancer gene leads another to consider having a double mastectomy immediately. Novels that lay unfinished for years suddenly get completed.

Fortunately, Henkin is too thoughtful a writer to allow his story to become silly, and amid all the improbable events, Matrimony offers sharp social commentary. In his 30s, Julian visits Carter in San Francisco and assumes incorrectly that he has less attachment to his car than other Californians. “I’m like everyone else,” Carter corrects him. “I take the elevator to the third floor so I can work out on the StairMaster.”

Best line: “Destroyed by Hollywood, Professor Chesterfield returned to Graymont, to his students, who watched more and more movies and read fewer and fewer books. Scrutinizing their stories, he could see the camera panning, the jump cuts and dolly shots, all the things that had ruined him. Worse, his students had taken to writing words such as ‘bang,’ ‘pop,’ and ‘splat,’ as well as nonwords masquerading as words, such as ‘kaboom,’ ‘yikes,’ ‘glunk,’ and even ‘arrrghhhh,’ often followed by multiple exclamation points. And in case the reader didn’t understand, the student would use capital letters: ‘ARRRGHHHH!!!!!’

“Worst of all was ‘kerplunk,’ which a student of Professor Chesterfield’s had used the previous year. A character had fallen off his horse, and then, in a paragraph all its own, came the single word,

“‘Kerplunk.’”

Worst line: Henkin has a distracting verbal tic: He often joins independent clauses by using “for” instead of “because.” “He liked going to parties, but once he and Mia were actually at one it was she who had the better time, for she was more adept at small talk than he was.” This stilted phrasing clashes with the writing elsewhere in Matrimony, which is more conversational.

Editor: Lexy Bloom

Published: October 2007 www.joshuahenkin.com

Furthermore: Henkin also wrote Swimming Across the Hudson. He lives in New York City.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com
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