One-Minute Book Reviews

February 29, 2008

2008 Delete Key Awards Finalist #4 – Eckhart Tolle’s ‘A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose’

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Delete Key Awards Finalist #4 – From Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose:

“A new species is arising on the planet. It is arising now, and you are it!”

“We are in the midst of a momentous event in the evolution of human consciousness. But they won’t be talking about it in the news tonight. On our planet, and perhaps simultaneously in many parts of our galaxy and beyond, consciousness is awakening from the dream of form. This does not mean all forms (the world) are going to dissolve, although quite a few almost certainly will. It means consciousness can now begin to create form without losing itself in it. It can remain conscious of itself, even while it creates and experiences form.”

Consciousness may be “awakening” in “many parts of our galaxy”? Has anybody told the National Aeronautics and Space Administration about this? If not, NASA will find out soon enough, because A New Earth recently was named the 61st selection of Oprah’s Book Club. Goodbye, Love in the Time of Cholera. Hello, Psychobabble in the Time of Ratings Wars.

The ten Delete Key Awards finalists are numbered but announced in random order.

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

2008 Delete Key Awards Finalist #10 – ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne

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Delete Key Awards Finalist #10 – From The Secret by Rhonda Byrne:

“The most common thought that people hold [about fat], and I held it too, is that food was responsible for my weight gain. That is a belief that does not serve you, and in my mind now it is complete balderdash! Food is not responsible for putting on weight. It is your thought that food is responsible for putting on weight that actually has food put on weight.”

If this is true, how can you lose weight? Byrne suggests that you stop looking at fat people:

“If you see people who are overweight, do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it.”

So if that low-carb diet isn’t working, maybe you should stop watching those weigh-ins on The Biggest Loser.

The ten Delete Key Awards finalists are being announced in random order from No. 10 to No. 1.

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

February 6, 2008

How to Get Started as a Book Reviewer — Tips From the National Book Critics Circle

If you think that trying get book-review assignments is like trying to get work decorating staterooms on the Titanic, the NBCC suggests how to avoid the icebergs

Later today I’m going to announce a new series of negative achievement awards for hyperbole in book reviewing that will begin Friday on this site, so I’ve been looking around the Web for posts that tell how to avoid over-the-top praise in reviews (and, indirectly, how critics can keep their name off the list of winners). The Tips for Successful Book Reviewing page www.bookcritics.org/?go=tips on the National Book Critics Circle site wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, partly because it’s more about how to get started as a book reviewer than about how to write good reviews.

But it has great advice for anyone who’s wondering if you can still get review assignments now that so many books sections have shrunk or vanished, or if this effort wouldn’t be like trying to get work decorating the staterooms on the Titanic. Rebecca Skloot www.home.earthlink.net/~rskloot/of the NBCC compiled the page with help from Elaine Vitone and delivers on the subtitle of her article, “Strategies for Breaking in and Staying in: Getting started as a critic, building your reviewing portfolio, going national, and keeping editors happy.” Here’s her most important point:

“Read good criticism. There are several authors who regularly gather their reviews and essays into collections that show how good criticism must be to stand the test of time. The NBCC has awarded several of these books prizes in our criticism category: Cynthia Ozick’s Quarrel & Quandary, William H. Gass’ Finding a Form, John Updike’s Hugging the Shore, Martin Amis’ The War Against Cliche, William Logan’s The Undiscovered Country, and Mario Vargas Llosa’s Making Waves are essentials in any critic’s library. Going back even further, the essays of T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Borges, and Orwell remind us how criticism can be the intellectual record of our times. Notice, too, how the very best criticism is driven by metaphors and ideas and examples, not adjectives.”

Skloot is right about those adjectives, and if you aren’t sure how many adjectives are too many, watch this blog for examples after the new awards series is announced.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. Janice Harayda is a former member of the NBCC board of directors.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

January 19, 2008

Are You Undercommunicating the Vision of Your Blog ‘by a Factor of Ten’?

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Explaining your goals more often or clearly may help you build your site

 

By Janice Harayda

Not long ago, I wrote about a paperback on how organizations change, which I recommended as a holiday gift for managers. But the more I’ve thought about the book, the more it’s seemed that the Harvard Business Review on Change (HBSP, $19.95) www.hbsp.harvard.edu makes a point that could also help bloggers who want to build their sites by attracting more visitors, gaining more links, or generally becoming more competitive. The point appears in an article by John Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School and an expert on corporate turnarounds. Kotter lists eight reasons why organizations fail to make changes that would help them stay competitive, including “Not Establishing a Great Enough Sense of Urgency” (Error #1) and “Declaring Victory Too Soon” (Error #7).

But the point that caught my eye was “Undercommunicating the Vision by a Factor of Ten” (Error #4). Kotter argues that the leaders in any field don’t spell out their vision once or twice and hope that people will buy into it (or worse, fail to articulate a vision at all and hope people will figure it out.). Leaders “incorporate messages into their hour-by-hour activities.”

Kotter’s advice might sound comically absurd to many bloggers. How can you weave your vision into your “hour-by-hour” activities if you post once or twice a day, as I do, or less? And yet, Kotter has a point. Most bloggers seem to convey their vision pretty much the way I did when I created One-Minute Book Reviews http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com: I described my aims on my “FAQ” and “About” pages and hoped that visitors would click on the links to them.

But these pages got much less traffic than others on my site, far less than 10 percent of the most popular posts. Based on that figure, Kotter was right: If I wanted people to understand my vision, I was undercommunicating it by a factor of 10. Worse, I can’t compensate for this adding information to the header on my blog, because I can’t customize the template.

So after reading the Kotter’s article, I made a few changes with the aim of conveying my vision better. These three seemed especially helpful and might work for you, too (though if could customize my header, that might be best of all):

1) Add a regular tag line to the bottom of posts, explaining what your site is “about.” Mine consists of just one sentence, “One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.”

2) Update your FAQ and post the changes both on the FAQ page and as a regular post, so visitors to your site will see the questions without having to click.

3) Keep visitors up-to-date on changes in your mission. If your thinking about your vision has evolved since you put up your FAQ or “About” pages, explain the changes in a regular post.

Have you taken any steps to communicate the vision of your blog that you think would help other bloggers? If so, why not share your views by leaving a comment?

Janice Harayda recently was named one of 25 “Women Bloggers to Watch in 2008″ by the site Virtual Woman’s Day virtualwomansday.blogspot.com/2008/01/women-bloggers-to-watch-in-2008.html. One-Minute Book Reviews is the sixth-ranked book-review site in the world on the Google Directory of top book-review blogs www.google.com/Top/Arts/Literature/Reviews_and_Criticism/.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 30, 2007

Cheers to Paul Dickson’s ‘Toasts,’ a Book of Ideas for New Year’s Eve and Beyond

“To champagne – a beverage that makes you see double and feel single.”

From Paul Dickson’s Toasts

Blame it on stage fright, cultural illiteracy, or the popularity of nonalcoholic drinks like green tea and Grape Vitaminwater. But the ability to make an artful toast is going the way of fine penmanship. If you’d like to keep it alive, you’ll find inspiration in Paul Dickson’s Toasts: Over 1,500 of the Best Toasts, Sentiments, Blessings, and Graces (Crown, $19) pauldicksonbooks.com, illustrated by Rollin McGrail. Many similar books focus on one occasion or group, such as wedding or Irish toasts. Dickson casts a wider net, offering ideas for events that range from retirement parties to everyday meals. He notes that toasts can be “sentimental, cynical, lyric, comic, defiant, long, short, or even a single word.” And he gives examples of all, including some that fit New Year’s Eve. Looking for an alternative to “Cheers” and “L’chayim”? What about, “To champagne – a beverage that makes you see double and feel single”? If you’ll be celebrating with a spouse who makes that one risky, you could try: “May all your troubles during the coming year be as short as your New Year’s resolutions.” You can find ideas for toasts for occasions other than the end of 2007 by going to the page for Toasts on www.amazon.com and using the “Search Inside This Book” tool.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

/www.janiceharayda.com/  

December 29, 2007

If You’ve Made a New Year’s Resolution to Lose Weight, You May Want to Make Another Resolution to Read ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ Before You Start Your Diet

Good Calories, Bad CaloriesHave you made yet another New Year’s resolution to lose weight?  You may want to check out Gary Taubes’s Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease (Knopf,  601 pp., $29.95), which I wrote about in October  www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/09/. This isn’t a diet book but one that investigates many of the claims that underlie other diet books.

Based on an exhaustive review of the scientific research, Taubes argues that obesity “experts” have demonized fat on the basis little or no evidence. Refined carbohydrates, he says, are a greater threat to health. And those fat-free brownies may hurt you more than foods that have more fat but fewer carbs. “Dietary fat, whether saturated or not,” he concludes, “is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization.”

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 21, 2007

What to Say When Uncle Elmer Burps at Thanksgiving Dinner – And Other Holiday Dilemmas Resolved by Judith Martin, Miss Manners

The syndicated etiquette columnist tells how to deflect rudeness without being rude

Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say. By Judith Martin. Crown, 179 pp., $17.

By Janice Harayda

Judith Martin has written more than a dozen etiquette books under her nom de guerre of Miss Manners, but this is the one you need this week. The Right Thing to Say is a brisk field manual for anyone who wonders how to parry to all those rude questions and insensitive remarks that can occur in any season but peak at events like Thanksgiving dinner. As in her syndicated column, Miss Manners typically offers ideas that are witty, apt and polite, all dispensed in a question-and-answer format.

Are you single and wondering what to say to say when Cousin Herman asks you why you haven’t married? Miss Manners suggests, “Oh, Cousin Herman, you know I’m waiting for someone just like you.” Would you like to know how to silence an aunt who tells you that you’ve gained weight or gone gray? Miss Manners recommends, “Oh, thank you; how kind of you to notice.” Or perhaps you’re pregnant again and have heard too many comments like, “I’m glad it’s you and not me!” Miss Manners advises you to try, “I’m sure you mean to wish us the best.” And if you don’t know what to say when Uncle Elmer says “Excuse me” after burping, she offers the comforting: “No reply is appropriate.”

Miss Manners’s answers are entertaining even if you haven’t weathered the insults heaved at her correspondents. And if you get through Thanksgiving needing her advice, just wait. The office Christmas party is coming up.

Best line: “Why would anyone say ‘Congratulations’ to a couple who has just announced an engagement or the expected birth of a child? Congratulating people is what is now done at funerals. Anyone who has suffered a loss can expect to be told: ‘It’s really a blessing, you know’ … Those who are most skillful at comforting the bereaved with such congratulatory statements are able to go for a second round, Miss Manners has observed. When they have elicited a fresh outburst of woe, they congratulate the mourners again, this time for ‘dealing with’ or ‘working through’ their grief, or tell them what stage of grief they are at, as if grief were a subway stop. Thus they have the enormous satisfaction of having done something for their friends. Driven them to tears.”

Worst line: None, but the structure of the book is confusing. Instead of being grouped together, for example, related questions about dating and marriage appear on pages 79 and 109. And the index is so inconsistent, it’s all but useless.

Published: May 1998 www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Martin

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

November 13, 2007

The ‘Tyranny of Positive Thinking’ and Cancer Patients — A Physician-Author Says That It’s Not Always Best to Tell People to ‘Be Optimistic’

Can you give too much encouragement to people who are ill?

By Janice Harayda

Not long ago, I reviewed Betty Rollin’s Here’s the Bright Side and objected to its theme that all human suffering holds “a hidden prize waiting to be found.” I argued that some losses are so sad — the death of a child, say — that urging people to find their “bright side” is cruel.

Later I read some interesting, related comments by Jimmie Holland, chair of Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. They appeared in an article Leslie Brody wrote about caring for her husband, who has pancreatic cancer, for the New Jersey daily, The Record, on May 20, 2007.

“Think twice before telling the patient to ‘be positive,’” Brody wrote. She added:

“Dr. Jimmie C. Holland, author of The Human Side of Cancer and a pioneer in the psychological aspects of the illness, has written about the ‘tyranny of positive thinking.’ When people insist patients should ‘be optimistic,’ they imply that those who get sicker may be to blame for not trying hard enough to stay upbeat and conquer the disease.

“Holland says a patient’s mind-set might help him stick to a grueling chemo regimen, but it’s less clear whether attitudes and emotions in themselves can affect tumor growth or the body’s response. Patients — and their families — should feel free to vent depressing and anxious thoughts without being judged.

“Instead of saying ‘Chin up,’ or, ‘You’ll be fine,’ it’s better to say, ‘Hang in there,’ or ‘We’re thinking of you,’ or ‘We’re hoping for the best.’”

Links: To read the original review of Here’s the Bright Side, click here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/21/. To read about The Human Side of Cancer, click here www.humansideofcancer.com.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

August 21, 2007

The Dark Side of Betty Rollin’s ‘Here’s the Bright Side: Of Failure, Fear, Cancer, Divorce, and Other Bump Raps’

A former NBC News correspondent writes about subjects that include death as a growth experience

Here’s the Bright Side: Of Failure, Fear, Cancer, Divorce, and Other Bum Raps. By Betty Rollin. Illustrations by Jules Feiffer. Random House, 109 pp., $14.95.

By Janice Harayda

One of the most poignant sections of a recent memoir by four 9/11 widows described the cruelty of people who urged the women – even before the smoke had cleared over Manhattan — to look on the bright side of their husbands’ deaths. Some reminded the widows that they still had beautiful, if now fatherless, children. And a doctor told one of them: “It could be worse – you could be thirty-nine and fat with shingles” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/10/24/.

How could people be so crass? Part of the explanation may lie in the avalanche of books, articles and news shows that take a promiscuously upbeat approach to human suffering. The latest book-length recipe for lemonade is Here’s the Bright Side, which has a format appropriately resembling that of Mitch Albom’s books. It is a huge disappointment coming from Betty Rollin, a former NBC news correspondent whose books include the trailblazing breast-cancer memoir First, You Cry.

Rollin cherry-picks anecdotes and statistics as she makes the case that “within each form of misery” there is “a hidden prize waiting to be found.” A “bright side” of divorce or widowhood is that you might find “a swell new mate,” she says. “Have you ever encountered the particularly dipsy-doodle joy of a newly married widow or widower?” she asks. If not, maybe it’s because second marriages have a higher divorce rate than first marriages. On the subject of getting old, Rollin is no saturnine Nora Ephron. Her “bright side” of aging is that “major depressive episodes” are “highest among 25- to 44-year-olds and lowest among those over 65.” That might sound good until you consider that when the episodes occur, they’re doozies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that “suicide rates increase with age and are very high among those 65 years and older,” with the highest rates in the country found among elderly white men.

You might wonder if there’s any harm in yet another book that says, as the dust jacket of this one does, that “clouds truly do have silver linings.” One problem is that some research suggests that trying to look on the bright side doesn’t work if you aren’t naturally inclined to do so. That research has found that we have a happiness “set point” and that, even after extreme changes such as winning the lottery or becoming disabled, most people return to it after about six months.

Anther problem involves what Barbara Ehrenreich has called the cult of “brightsiding,” which she describes in “Welcome to Cancerland” in The Best American Essays of 2002 (posted on Breast Cancer Action www.bcaction.org). “Brightsiding” can lead to what’s usually called blaming the victim. If you can make yourself feel better by seeking the “hidden prize” in every disaster, isn’t it your fault if you can’t or don’t find it? In her essay Ehrenreich describes the hostility she faced, after developing breast cancer, from women who had the disease. Some suggested that she was only hurting herself by expressing her anger about possible environmental causes of cancer instead of echoing the popular view that “cancer made my life better” – a theme also of Rollin’s book. But experts agree that anger is a near-universal “stage” of grief. And Rollin doesn’t acknowledge that people may short-circuit the process by rushing into the brightsiding that she recommends.

Nor does Rollin’s one-size-fits-all view reflect that some forms of sorrow or suffering might defy her approach. Here’s the Bright Side appears designed partly for the gift market. But it could be beyond cruel to give this book to, for example, fourth-degree burn victims or parents who have lost a child to murder, suicide or the war in Iraq. Here’s the Bright Side came out just before the world learned of the horrific invasion of the home of a Connecticut doctor whose wife was raped and strangled and whose daughters died in their burning house. Would Rollin tell him, as she tells us, that “no matter what, there is usually a bright side up for grabs”?

Best line: In the strongest part of this book, Rollin sticks closely to her own experiences and doesn’t prescribe. She says after her first mastectomy in 1975, only a small, now defunct firm would publish her memoir of the experience: “Of course I was forbidden to use the word cancer or breast in the title, so I called it First, You Cry.”

Worst line: Here’s the Bright Side is the latest book to deal , in part, with what might be called “death as a growth experience.” As Rollin puts it: “Is there, then, a bright side to dying? There can be.”

Published: April 2007 www.bettyrollin.com and www.atrandom.com

Consider reading instead: When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Avon, $9.95, paperback), by Harold M. Kushner, a rabbi’s exploration of the problem of evil, inspired by the death of his young son. First published more than 20 years ago, this wise and thoughtful book has become a modern classic that appeals to all faiths. Other good books on topics covered by Rollin include these memoirs: Joyce Wadler’s My Breast (Pocket, $14.95, paperback) www.simonsays.com and Brendan Halpin’s It Takes a Worried Man (Penguin, $13.95, paperback) www.brendanhalpin.com, both about breast cancer; Wendy Swallow’s Breaking Apart (Hyperion, $19.95) www.wendyswallow.com, about divorce; and Ruth Coughlin’s Grieving: A Love Story (Random House, varied prices), about the last months in the life of her husband, Bill, who died of liver cancer, and her subsequent widowhood.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 15, 2007

If You’ve Got Cancer and You Know It, Clap Your Hands: A Review of Betty Rollin’s ‘Here’s the Bright Side’ Coming Soon to One-Minute Book Reviews

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“Do clouds truly have silver linings?” asks the dust jacket of Betty Rollin’s Here’s the Bright Side: Of Failure, Fear, Cancer, Divorce, and Other Bum Raps (Random House, $14.95) www.randomhouse.com. Do books that lead with clichés truly give you more than a bad Mitch Albom impersonation? Find out in a review of the latest book by the author of First, You Cry, coming soon to One-Minute Book Reviews. To avoid missing this review, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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