One-Minute Book Reviews

August 19, 2008

‘Buying Dad’ — One Woman’s Hunt for the Perfect Sperm Donor

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:41 am
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[I am at the beach today and will return tomorrow if I don't get stung to death by the influx of jellyfish we are having here in New Jersey. This is a repost of one of the first reviews that appeared on this site.]

Two lesbians look for the father of their child in a tank of liquid nitrogen

Buying Dad: One Woman’s Search for the Perfect Sperm Donor. By Harlyn Aizley. Alyson, 313 pp., $14.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Harlyn Aizley rejoiced when she saw all the choices that sperm banks offered to people like her — “Jewish gay Gemini neurotics” in their late 30s. Leafing through books of donor profiles, she found that “buying sperm is much like shopping at Sam’s Club or Costco.” The trouble began when she and her partner downloaded the catalog of a California sperm bank, chose a donor they nicknamed Baldie, and had vials of his semen shipped to their home in Boston by Federal Express. After repeated failures to conceive, the couple learned that no woman had ever gotten pregnant with their donor’s sperm and that they had to start over.

It’s an understatement to say that Aizley’s instinct for wisecracking doesn’t allow her to look too closely at the moral or social implications of buying sperm like six-packs of Wild Cherry Coke. But if her breezy memoir lacks depth, it has the ring of hard-won authority and the consolation of a happy ending. Many couples, heterosexual or homosexual, may wish that they had read Buying Dad before spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on the DNA of their offspring. “The donors you want are the ones who have gotten somebody pregnant,” Aizley says with unassailable logic. “It’s as simple as that.”

Best line: “To the argument that gay parents will create gay children, I have only this to say: Every homosexual I know, male or female, was raised by two heterosexuals.”

Worst line: “March is the suckiest of all months.” Be grateful that Aizley didn’t collaborate with T.S. Eliot on The Wasteland.

Recommended if … you’re straight or gay, married or single, and thinking of using a sperm bank.

Published: July 2003

FYI: Harlyn Aizley edited the recent Confessions of the Other Mother: Nonbiological Lesbian Moms Tell All (Beacon, 2006), a collection of personal stories by lesbian mothers. www.harlynaizley.com


(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 8, 2008

Those ‘John Edwards Is Hot’ T-Shirts – Elizabeth Edwards Reacts (Quote of the Day / ‘Saving Graces’)

Elizabeth Edwards reacts in Saving Graces to the “John Edwards is hot” T-shirts that were circulating in Boston when Democratic National Convention nominated John Kerry for president and her husband for vice-president in 2004. Edwards says that she and her daughter Cate went back to their hotel one night during the convention and found that John had just received a gift from a fan:

“When Cate and I came back into the room, John pulled out a T-shirt someone had given him, boasting that he’d been told it was highest-grossing T-shirt in Boston. The shirt, made by a group of Harvard women, had a line drawing of John and the words ‘John Edwards is hot.’

“Cate took one look and said, ‘Dad, that’s disgusting. Do you want to burn that or do you want me to?’ ‘Oh, yeah,’ he answered, ‘I think it’s weird.’ Then he showed it to the next three people who walked into the room. Cate said, ‘Dad, you are so proud of that.’ ‘No, I do think it’s weird.’ ‘Okay then,’ she answered, ‘stop showing it to people.’ John never had to worry about getting too full of himself with Cate around. Bless her.”

Edwards talks about her marriage, her breast cancer and other subjects in her memoir, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength From Friends and Strangers, which Broadway Books published in hardcover in 2006 and in paperback in 2007.

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

[Page 254]

July 10, 2008

Gunning for Love — ‘Twisted Triangle: A Famous Crime Writer, a Lesbian Love Affair, and the FBI Husband’s Violent Revenge’

Love didn’t go by the book for two FBI agents, one of them a specialist in undercover work

Twisted Triangle: A Famous Crime Writer, a Lesbian Love Affair, and the FBI Husband’s Violent Revenge. By Caitlin Rother with John Hess. Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 281 pp., $26.95.

By Janice Harayda

You know the old Woody Allen joke about how the great thing about being bisexual is that it doubles your chances of getting a Saturday-night date? This book reminds us that it can also halve your chances of getting out of it alive.

Twisted Triangle grew out of a macabre story about two married FBI agents that got splashy coverage in Vanity Fair and elsewhere in the 1990s. Gene Bennett had taken part in two successful undercover operations before he tried to kill his wife, Margo, in the apparent belief that she had become infatuated with the novelist Patricia Cornwell. His past raises interesting questions touched on in the book: Does undercover work – which requires agents to assume a false identity – foster personality disintegration? Can it lead to disassociative disorder, commonly known as multiple personality disorder, to which Gene’s lawyers attributed his violent behavior? Might undercover work attract people predisposed to the condition?

These questions have a relevance that may extend beyond the Bennett case to those involved in covert operations in places like Afghanistan. So you wish Caitlin Rother and John Hess had gotten better material from Margo, whose story they tell.

The essential problem surfaces in the subtitle, A Famous Crime Writer, a Lesbian Love Affair, and the FBI Husband’s Violent Revenge. Margo Bennett says repeatedly that she and Cornwell had two intimate “encounters” — or what sounds like a two-night stand — and Cornwell has confirmed it in interviews. On the witness stand, Margo corrected a lawyer who said she’d had “an adulterous lesbian affair” with Patricia Cornwell: “I said I had two encounters with Ms. Cornwell.”

So why is Twisted Triangle billed as the story of “a lesbian love affair”? The publisher may have imposed that subtitle on the authors. But Margo comes across as such an unreliable source that the unreliable subtitle, in a sense, represents a book driven by what sound like rationalizations instead of explanations. Margo signed phony documents in a home-relocation scam because, she says, Gene threatened to leave her if she didn’t. She lied on the witness stand when he was tried for the fraud because, she says, she was afraid he would hurt their children if she didn’t. To explain other unflattering actions, she invokes the Stockholm syndrome and — you guessed it — her “fragile self-esteem.” But if Margo lied under oath to protect her children, how do we know she didn’t try to protect them again by distorting the facts when she was interviewed for this book?

Rother and Hess confirmed some of what Margo told them through court documents and other sources. But much of this book has a “he said, she said” quality. Margo complains that a 1996 Washington Post story made her seem “very careless, uncaring, and crazy on my own.” Twisted Triangle does little to correct that impression and, in some ways, deepens it. In the Post story, Karl Vick expressed the theme of the Bennett case in seven words. Those words also sum up the moral of this book: “Sometimes, homo sapiens behave very, very badly.”

Best line: “Louis Freeh, who had just been appointed director [of the FBI], had instituted a zero-tolerance approach and was taking a hard line on disciplinary issues. Some agents described him as Hoover without the compassion.”

Worst line: Margo says that after working as an FBI agent for a few years, she learned that her husband had $60,000 in cash that he insisted was a gift from his dead father: “Gene claimed that his father had given him $60,000 in cash, which he’d kept in a suitcase in his mother’s attic. He said that his father had told him not to put it in the bank, so Margo figured his father had never reported it to the IRS, and this was his way of protecting Gene, who said he would take the old bills to the bank and exchange them for new ones so that no one would question any transaction or track the income.

“At the time, Margo took Gene at his word.”
This passage shows one of the many hard-to-believe rationalizations that Margo Bennett gives for why she accepted her husband’s shady behavior.

Published: April 2008 www.catilinrother.com

If you like true crime, consider reading instead: Stanley Alpert’s The Birthday Party (Putnam, 2007) www.stanleyalpert.com, a memoir by a former federal prosecutor abducted on a Manhattan street and held for 25 hours by captors who showed a gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight ineptitude. A review appeared on this site on Jan. 30, 2007 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/01/30/ and a reading group guide on Feb. 4, 2007 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/04/.

Furthermore: The Bennetts met while working in the Atlanta office of the FBI. Margo is a campus police captain at the University of California at Berkeley. Gene is serving a 23-year sentence in a Virginia prison. Patricia Cornwell has responded to Twisted Triangle in an Advocate article www.advocate.com/issue_story_ektid54596.asp.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. She does not accept books, catalogs, advance reading copies, press releases or other promotional materials from editors, publishers, authors or agents.

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

June 18, 2008

Holly Peterson’s Bad Sex Scenes Are Back in the New Paperback Edition of ‘The Manny’

How bad are the sex scenes in Holly Peterson’s The Manny? Let’s just say that one begins with “Now she was on her knees …” and ends with “like a fire hose in her expensive mouth.” What if you’re tempted to buy The Manny (Dial, 368 pp., $12), anyway, now that the novel is out in paperback? Maybe you know it involves a Park Avenue mother who hires a male nanny for her 9-year-old son. And you think: With that catchy premise, how bad could it be? Here’s a sample line of dialogue: “We’re in the modern era, baby, you spoiled, Jurassic, archaic, Waspy piece of petrified wood!” (And, yes, that comes from a character we’re supposed to like.) Lines like that one earned the novel a spot on the shortlist for the 2008 Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. You’ll find others in a review and Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to The Manny, published in separate posts on June 26, 2007 oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/26/.

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

June 10, 2008

During Yesterday’s Power Blackout in New Jersey, Life Imitated ‘Netherland’ Imitating Life

Update 7:05 p.m. Tuesday: Another power outage! I have just been “evacuated” from the library, in the words of the staff, for the second time in two days. This happened during the weekly Open Mic night in the library cafe, where a guitarist had just finished singing “The Mighty Quinn.” (This is our library’s unofficial anthem, played at every Open Mic. What’s your library’s anthem?) The new outage struck less than 24 hours after yesterday’s blackout ended. This power failure seems less extensive, though, because the traffic lights are only flickering, not out. Luckily I have tomorrow’s post written, so unless a catastrophe occurs, it will go up by morning.

Further update 1:15 p.m. Wednesday: A state of emergency has been declared in Essex County, NJ: www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2008/06/100000_pseg_customers_still_in.html. If you can’t access that Star-Ledger site, you can find a lot of information and pictures of the damage on the local news site Baristanet www.baristanet.com.

We know the lights went out, but we don’t know many people had that “we’re-all-going-to-die-sex”

Have your life and reading ever intersected in an uncanny way? More than 75,000 of us lost power yesterday after a fire broke out in midafternoon at an electrical switching station in West Orange, New Jersey. The blackout brought out a lot of people’s latent Eagle Scout: The library in my town evacuated all the patrons, but the staff soldiered on, and until the police showed up, a businessman in a pinstriped suit directed in traffic in 90-degree heat.

But there was no possibility of doing any serious writing – I have a Mac with a battery prone to sudden-death failures when the charge falls below 33 percent – so I headed over to an air-conditioned pizza place in a part of town that still had power. I settled in with my half-finished copy of Netherland, Joseph O’Neill’s elegant novel of life in New York City after September 11, 2001, and found myself reading a description of the August 2003 blackout that struck much of the Northeast.

In the scene, Hans, the banker who narrates the novel, goes up to the roof of his residential hotel in Manhattan, where tenants have gathered to watch night descend on a city bereft of power. He meets a man who predicts, in effect, that the city will turn into Lord of the Flies during the outage. Hans reflects:

“But in fact, as everybody knows, the blackout gave rise to an outbreak of civic responsibility. From the Bronx to Staten Island, citizens appointed themselves traffic cops, gave rides to strangers, housed and fed the stranded. It also transpired that the upheaval provoked a huge number of romantic encounters, a collective surge of passion not seen, I read somewhere, since the ‘we’re-all-going-to-die-sex’ in which, apparently, everybody had indulged in the second half of September two years previously – an analysis I found a little hard to accept, since it was my understanding that all sex, indeed all human activity, fell into that category.”

I don’t know how much of the “we’re-all-going-to-die” sex we had here in New Jersey yesterday. But I do know, now that I’ve finished Netherland, that on nearly every page you’ll find writing as good as you do in that passage.

To read a longer excerpt from and find the reading group guide to Netherland, click here www.randomhouse.com/pantheon/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307377043.

To read about yesterday’s power blackout in northern New Jersey, click here www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2008/06/30000_without_power_in_essex_c.html.

© 2008 Janice. Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 4, 2008

‘Sex and the City,’ the Book That Started It All

Filed under: Movie Link,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:43 pm
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First, it was a collection of columns from a quirky weekly printed on salmon-colored paper

Sex and the City is a book that, like so many of its male characters, has baggage. But the baggage has changed in the 12 years since the publication of this collection of Candace Bushnell’s columns for the New York Observer, a quirky weekly printed on salmon-colored paper.

In the beginning many people treated Sex and the City less as a book than a parlor game: Who were the restless urban bedmates whose identities Bushnell had disguised? By the time the gossip columnists had lost interest in that question — or learned the answers — the book had picked up new baggage: the expectations created by the HBO Series www.hbo.com/city/. How does the original stand up to the adventures of Sarah Jessica Parker and friends?

Both have merits, but the HBO series has the edge, at least in its first seasons, before the show became a near-parody of itself (to say nothing of the movie, which I haven’t seen). In Sex and the City Bushnell wrote with style and authority about single female New Yorkers who had rejected the sexual mores of yore but hadn’t found a satisfying — or, in some cases, even humane — replacement for them. Her women were intelligent but shallow and independent but yearning for, if not love, at least a dependable piece of arm candy, and many of her men were worse. These New Yorkers were clearly not to everyone’s tastes — the overall tone of the book was chilly — but they were far more interesting than the flat characters in Bushnell’s subsequent novels www.candacebushnell.com.

Even so, the book gave some critics pause for another reason, too: You couldn’t tell how much of it was true. Its columns had appeared in a respected weekly, but Bushnell drew on techniques used by novelists. In hindsight, she looks like an ancestor of the new memoirists who believe that only emotional truths matter. But her book was still a revelation to many of us who were living in places like Cleveland when it came out: Who knew what was going on in Manhattan and the Hamptons?

From first episode of the HBO series, Sarah Jessica Parker gave Sex and the City some of the warmth that the book lacked. The writers also kicked up the humor up several notches, making the best episodes were funnier. And the series raised no questions of truth-in-publishing: It was clearly fiction.

This doesn’t mean that book has outlived its appeal. Sex and the City gives a unique account of a certain New York subculture in the 1990s. It may especially appeal to people found the HBO version too upbeat, or unrealistically sanguine about single women’s sexual prospects in their 30s and beyond. Writing in the Washington Post in 1996, Jonathan Yardley noted that every city has singles bars and their lonely patrons: “But Manhattan does tend to bring out the worst in certain people, and Sex and the City leaves no doubt that these days the worst can be very bad indeed.”

Read some of the the original “Sex and the City” columns in the Observer www.observer.com/2007/sex-and-city.

Watch the Sex and the City movie trailer here www.sexandthecitymovie.com.

Visit the site for the publisher of Sex and the City www.hachettebookgroupusa.com/books_9780446673549.htm for information on some of the editions of the book, including an audio edition read by Cynthia Nixon.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

April 10, 2008

The Hooker Prize – The Year’s Most Bizarre Literary List?

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:26 pm
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Eliot Spitzer’s sex life prompted AbeBooks to come up with a list of nominees for what it calls the Hooker Prize, or “10 recommended non-fiction reads about hookers, madams, high-class call-girls and prostitutes” www.abebooks.com/docs/Community/Featured/hooker-prize.shtml. “Which is tautological given that call-girls and hookers are presumably subsets or synonyms of prostitutes,” Ceri Radford wrote in her blog blogs.telegraph.co.uk/arts/ceriradford/. And why did AbeBooks list only nonfiction like The Happy Hooker when Truman Capote’s great short novel, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, is about a call girl?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 1, 2008

Book Reviews Less Appealing Than Hot Sex, Statistics Show

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:53 pm
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Could this explain why the National Book Critics Circle had to launch its recent campaign to save book reviewing?

WordPress keeps adding new features, and one of the latest lets you see the search terms that people have used to find your site in the past day, week, month and year.

Here in order are the top search terms people have used to find One-Minute Book Reviews in 2008. The first two (“robin mcgraw” and “does the secret work”) have drawn at least a thousand people each to this site so far this year. The rest have drawn hundreds.

robin mcgraw
does the secret work
symbolism in literature
does the secret work?
symbols in literature
eat pray love quotes
moses, citizen and me
elizabeth gilbert
donald murray
virginia ironside
kinds of poetry
different kinds of poems
hot sex scenes
one minute book reviews
book reviews

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 12, 2008

Pop Quiz: What’s the Most Famous American Novel About a Call Girl?

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:48 am
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[Update at 12:15 p.m.: What! This post has been up for more than eight hours and nobody has figured out the answer? I'm taking this as a sign that the East Coast people, who log on first, are stumped. West Coast visitors: Can you help? Jan ]

Suppose Eliot Spitzer had done the smart thing and read a great novel about a call girl instead of consorting with one. What book would he have read? Hint: You know the title. I’m not dredging up a neglected masterwork known only to people who have just defended disserations in American Lit. And the book has a call girl as a main character, not a bit player. I’ll post the answer by the end of the day. If you know it and want to show the world what a genius you are, please leave a comment.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 11, 2008

Sex Scenes We Don’t Want to See in Eliot Spitzer’s Memoirs — From ‘The Confession’ by the Former New Jersey ‘Luv Guv’ James McGreevey

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 6:47 pm
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What we don’t want to read if the the former governor of New York gets a book deal out of the accusation that he met with prostitutes

“What is it with those Democrats in the East?” a liberal friend in Seattle asked on the phone today. “First Jim McGreevey. Now Eliot Spitzer. Before that, Bill Clinton. The Democrats can’t keep their flies zipped.” And publishers can’t seem to keep their checkbooks closed when it happens.

So here are some sex scenes we don’t want to see in the book we may get from Eliot Spitzer, accused by law-enforcement officials of having met with a high-priced call girl in a Washington hotel.

All of the following lines come from The Confession, a memoir by the former New Jersey governor James E. McGreevey, who stepped down in 2004 after outing himself as a “gay American”:

“I stretched out on the couch and placed my legs out over his knees … I then leaned forward and hugged him, and kissed his neck. His response was immediate and loving, just what I’d fantasized about since we first locked eyes.”

“I pulled him to the bed and we made love like I’d always dreamed … boastful, passionate, whispering … “

“We undressed and he kissed me. It was the first time in my life that a kiss meant what it was supposed to mean – it sent me through the roof.”

“Our first few times burned so fiercely in my mind I could hardly recall them even as we were still lying together. “

“‘I love you … You make me so happy…. I’ve never, you know …’”

“He greeted me in his briefs. ‘Did anybody see you?’ he asked, closing the door quickly.”

You can read more about The Confession (Regan, 2006) www.harpercollins.com, by McGreevey and David France, in “Who Writes Better Sex Scenes, Danielle Steel or Jim McGreevey?” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/01/08/).

Coming Friday on One-Minute Book Reviews: The winners of the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. The Confession was a finalist in 2007 but lost to the grand prize winner Danielle Steel and runners-up Mitch Albom and Claire Messud.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
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