One-Minute Book Reviews

February 19, 2012

A Collie Enters the Westminister Dog Show in ‘Lad: A Dog’

Filed under: Children's Books,Children's literature,Classics — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:36 am
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Long before Malachy the Pekingese won “Best in Show” at the 2012 Westminster Kennel Club competition, Lad the collie had his own adventures at that annual event at Madison Square Garden. Albert Payson Terhune describes them in two tales in Lad: A Dog, a collection of 12 short stories inspired by an exceptional dog at a New Jersey kennel, which became an adult bestseller after it appeared in 1919 and which its publisher later repackaged as a children’s book. You can read “For a Bit of Ribbon” and “Lost!” online or in the attractive 1993 Puffin edition with illustrations by Sam Savitt.

July 20, 2010

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Tom Rachman’s ‘The Imperfectionists’

Filed under: Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:45 pm
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10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
The Imperfectionists: A Novel
Tom Rachman
Source: One-Minute Book Reviews
http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may make copies for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that would like to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

Tom Rachman blends comedy and tragedy in The Imperfectionists, a collection of linked short stories about the staff members and others attached to an unnamed English-language newspaper in Rome. His idiosyncratic daily is trying to stay afloat in the digital age. But it has no website because, an editor says, “The Internet is to news what car horns are to music.” Can such a journalistic throwback survive? Rachman withholds the answer until the last pages of a book that reads like a collection of smartly written parables about the human illusions that lie at the intersection of work and love.

Questions for Discussion:

1. The publisher of The Imperfectionists has billed the book as “a novel,” but it reads like a collection of linked short stories. Did the book work as a novel? Why or why not?

2. A character in The Imperfectionists expresses a theme of the book when she reflects that “living overseas changes the rules.” [Page 185] What did she mean? How has living abroad has changed the rules for some of the characters in the novel?

3. Another theme of the book is that human illusions persist in adulthood and that, to some extent, we need them. Rachman’s characters typically cling to a fantasy until jolted out of it (as happens to the corrections editor who believes that he and his old friend Jimmy are “gradations of the same man” until Jimmy visits and the editor realizes that they are “utterly different”). [Page 94] How well does Rachman develop this theme? Were you persuaded, for example, that the corrections editor would cling for so long to his fantasies about Jimmy’s writing talents? Or that the Paris correspondent could be so mistaken about his son?

4. How does living abroad feed the illusions of the characters in The Imperfectionists? Would its story have worked if Rachman had set the story in a city in the U.S.? Why?

5. The stop-and-go format of linked-story collections can work brilliantly, as it does in Winesburg, Ohio. It can also make it harder for an author to maintain a steady pace, because there’s a narrative break at the end of every story or chapter. (One critic said that “desultoriness … is only narrowly kept at bay” in The Impressionists.) How would you characterize the pace of the book?

6. One critic said that Rachman serves up “a procession of biscotti-cutter characters.” Do you agree or disagree?

7. Rachman combines comedy and tragedy, qualities that are often hard to unite in fiction. His story involves the death of child but also entertainingly hapless headlines such as “GLOBAL WARMING GOOD FOR ICE CREAMS” or “WORLD’S OLDEST LIAR DIES AT 126.” How well did Rachman bring comedy and tragedy together in his book? Which characters or events seemed the most amusing and the saddest?

8. Why do you think Rachman set his first story in Paris when most of the rest of The Impressionists takes place in Rome?

9. Christopher Buckley praised the endings of Rachman’s stories in his New York Times Book Review review of The Impressionists, some of which have what’s often called an “O. Henry twist.” Which endings did you find most memorable? Why did they work?

10. Several other linked short story collections have had a lot of attention recently, including the Pulitzer Prize-winner Olive Kitteridge. How does The Impressionists compare to any others you’ve read?

Your book group may also want to read:

And Then We Came to the End (Back Bay, 2008, paperback) by Joshua Ferris. D. J. Taylor wrote in a Guardian review that The Imperfectionists has a “faint yet persistent resemblance” to Ferris’s novel, “much of whose obliquity and ground-down communal spirit it shares.”

Vital statistics:

The Imperfectionists: A Novel. By Tom Rachman. Dial Press, 272 pp., $25. Published: April 2010. Editor: Susan Kamil.

A review of The Imperfectionists appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on July 20, 2010.

Publishers’ reading group guides are marketing tools designed to sell books. They typically encourage cheerleading instead of a lively discussion of the merits or demerits of an author’s work. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides are an alternative to publishers’ guides and are intended to give books a fuller context and to promote a more stimulating conversation about them.

One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule. To avoid missing them, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. You can also follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda, where she writes about books and often comments on book clubs.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 28, 2009

One-Sentence Reviews of New and Classic Novels Recently Reviewed on This Site

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:10 am
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No time to read long book reviews? Every review on this site is condensed into a one-line summary saved in the Books in a Sentence category. Summaries of recently reviewed novels and short stories for adults appear below. You’ll find other one-line condensations, many of them shortened versions of reviews of books of nonfiction and poetry, in the Books in a Sentence category at right.

Novels
Finger Lickin’ Fifteen. By Janet Evanovich. Evanovich’s series about bounty hunter Stephanie Plum goes further south with a tasteless beheading and sophomoric jokes like, “Nobody calls me pecker head and lives.”

The 8th Confession (Women’s Murder Club Series). By James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. A glorified San Francisco police procedural set in such large type, you wonder: Was this novel written for for people who will be reading it by candlelight while eating Beanie Weenies out of a can during a power blackout?

Love in a Cold Climate. By Nancy Mitford. A beautiful English heiress flouts convention by marrying a man who had been her mother’s lover in a modern classic of comedy, inspired partly by the author’s half-batty upper-class family.

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind. By Ann B. Ross. A rich Presbyterian widow in North Carolina learns that her dead husband has left her a startling legacy — an illegitimate 9-year-old son — in the first of ten novels that are more irreverent than those of Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series but cut from a similar bolt of pop fiction.

The Pains of April. By Frank Turner Hollon. An 86-year-old retired lawyer looks back on his life from a Gulf Coast rest home, where he has held onto more of his marbles than some residents. (Briefly mentioned.)

The Naked and the Dead. By Norman Mailer. Nowhere near as good as some of the 20th-century war novels often mentioned in the same breath, such as All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms. (Briefly mentioned.)

A Summons to Memphis. By Peter Taylor. One of the great American writers of the late 20th century shows how a move from Nashville to Memphis has reverberated over time — all but destroyed a family that was once a model of Southern gentility — in a novel that deservedly won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

The Ponder Heart. By Eudora Welty. A comic novella about a rich and kind-hearted uncle put on trial for a murder he didn’t commit, full of examples of Welty’s wonderful ear for the dialect of many Southern groups.

The Genocides. By Tom Disch. Unseen aliens sow the seeds of an ecological catastrophe in a book two experts recently named one of the “100 must-read” science-fiction novels of all time. (Briefly mentioned.)

Middlemarch. By George Eliot. The first great multiplot novel in English — and maybe the greatest ever — tells the story of a young woman who longs to be useful as it reminds us that “that there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it.”

The Host. By Stephenie Meyer. A woman wages a host-versus-graft struggle with a new soul, inserted in her body by aliens, in a creepily Freudian tale written at a fourth-grade reading level.

Bright Shiny Morning. By James Frey. A dark, postmodern novel about Los Angeles that combines stories of stereotypical characters — a Mexican-American maid, a closeted gay male superstar — and so many trivia lists, you almost expect a recipe for huevos rancheros.

Jane and Prudence. By Barbara Pym. A clergyman’s wife plays matchmaker for a female friend and fellow Oxford graduate in a quiet novel salted with wry observations on the sexes. (Briefly mentioned.)

A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living. By Michael Dahlie. A witty and intelligent novel of New York manners (and a recent prize-winner) about a blueblooded father who finds comfort in the love of his adult sons after a divorce and other crises.

Short Stories
Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes. By Tamar Yellin. An award-winning English writer’s superb collection of 10 linked short stories about geographically or otherwise displaced characters, inspired by accounts of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

Olive Kitteridge. By Elizabeth Strout. An uneven collection of linked short stories (published in Seventeen, South Carolina ReviewO, the Oprah Magazine, and elsewhere)  that, alas, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for its tales of a retired math teacher in a coastal town in Maine.

All Souls. By Christine Schutt. A skimpy Pulitzer finalist that its publisher has billed as a novel but is, in fact, a collection of linked short stories — many no more than vignettes — about how students and others react when a Manhattan prep school senior gets a rare connective-tissue cancer.

One-Minute Book Reviews has a policy that at least 50 percent of all reviews will deal with books by women. The “About This Blog” page describes other principles of the site, including that it does not accept free books  or other promotional materials from editors, publishers, authors, agents or others with ties to books that may be reviewed here. The “FAQ” page answers questions such as, “Why don’t you take free books?” and “If you don’t take books from publishers, where you do you get them?”

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

June 23, 2009

Why Is It So Hard to Get Rid of Books We’ve Read? (Quote of the Day From Tamar Yellin’s ‘Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes’)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:13 am
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An amateur book collector in the short story “Dan” in Tamar Yellin’s new Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes (Toby Press, 156 pp., $22.95) lives in a house “full to its bursting point.” But he grieves when, at his wife’s urging, he parts with some of the volumes in his library:

“A book once read was used, faded, too intimate to be parted with, too familiar to be read again.”

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

June 3, 2009

A Yankee’s Favorite Books About the South #3 – Flannery O’Connor’s Collection of Essays on Writing, ‘Mystery and Manners’

A  Southern novelist and short story writer considers the literature of her region and others

Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. By Flannery O’Connor. Selected and edited by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 256 pp., $15, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Most people associate the Georgia-born Flannery O’Connor with novels and short stories, but she was equally good at nonfiction. She proves it in this elegant collection of essays on life, literature and peacocks, birds that captivated her.

Sally and Robert Fitzgerald adapted the pieces in Mystery and Manners from talks from O’Connor gave at colleges and elsewhere, and part of their charm lies in their conversational tone. Some of their topics are classroom-worthy: “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” “The Teaching of Literature,” “Catholic Novelists and their Readers.”

But O’Connor deals with these subjects as writer, not a professor, and her perspective on them is always fresh and down-to-earth and never pedantic. One of the most interesting essays deals with the prevalence in Southern fiction of the grotesque, which she defines as something “which an ordinary man may never experience in his ordinary life.” Why do oddballs so often turn up in the literature of the region? O’Connor responds: “Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.”

Other comments on and quotations from Mystery and Manners appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on March 12, 2007, “Flannery O’Connor on ‘Compassion’ in Writing” and March 21, 2007 “Flannery O’Connor on the Purpose of Symbols in Fiction.” O’Connor’s editor, Robert Giroux, comments on the critics’ response to her work in the March 4, 2009, post “The Writer Is Insane.” The quote came from Brad Gooch’s new biography, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, lucidly reviewed by Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post.

This is the third in a series of daily posts this week on Southern literature. Tomorrow: Peter Taylor’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Summons to Memphis.

May 28, 2009

A Traveler Without a Compass – Tamar Yellin’s ‘Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes’

Filed under: Short Stories — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:14 pm
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An English novelist who has won international awards maps the life of a “perpetual foreigner” in the world

Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes. By Tamar Yellin. Toby Press, 156 pp., $22.95.

By Janice Harayda

You can tell a lot about God’s sense of humor by the people he gives money to, an old joke says. Literary awards suggest that heaven has a lot of whoopee cushions. So what are we to make of the news that the Tamar Yellin won the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, worth $100,000, for her first novel, The Genizah at the House of Shepher?

Perhaps that God has put away one of the whoppee cushions. I haven’t read Yellin’s first novel, but Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes is a wonderful book. This collection of ten linked short stories deals with characters who are displaced – geographically, psychologically, linguistically – in unnamed but slightly exotic lands. You can read it as a study in modern alienation from the self, a portrait of a world full of perpetual travelers without a compass, who may come from any faith.

But Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes also works as an allegory for the Jewish diaspora in the 21st century, a meditation on a people often unable to find the Messiah within as they wait for the Messiah from without. In the story “Asher” an old man lives alone in an urban apartment building of faded splendor, where he obsessively checks his mail, reads the papers, and listens to the radio, waiting for a report that never comes. Once in a while, he says, “it would be nice to hear some good news”: “We interrupt this bulletin to announce the coming of the Messiah.” That the old man lives on a street named for Simon Peter, the first pope, suggests that Yellin intends specifically to show the plight of Jews adrift in a Christian world.

Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes unfolds as a series of chronological episodes in the life of a wandering narrator, a “perpetual foreigner” whose name and sex are never given – a character we meet as a 9-year-old in thrall to a ruthless nomadic uncle and last see as an old traveler facing death alone in a distant land. Each story works as part of the whole and as a stand-alone parable about the cost of rootlessness, including a misplaced trust in people or talismanic objects used like New-Age crystals. The magical realist story “Issachar” may nod to Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah with its tale of a student named Genie who may be invisible, an apparition, or a hallucination.

Yellin writes about complex ideas in an appealingly direct and engaging prose style. There is nothing pretentious or stuffy about her stories, which would make for fine reading aloud. The tales have their roots in the ancient idea of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel but require no familiarity with it to be enjoyable. The stories often have a mystery at their heart, which adds to the suspense, and a twist or half-turn at the end. Yellin was born and lives in the north of England, and it is heartening that a writer of her skill has won major international honors. It is also startling that she has never made the shortlist for Man Booker Prize, given some of the trifles that have appeared on it. That neglect may support, however obliquely, some of the ideas about the place of Jews in the world that Yellin develops in this book.

Best line: “I thought that at last I was beginning to be cured of restlessness, though perhaps I was merely beginning to be cured of youth.”

Worst line: “There are birds, the albatross for example, that spend their entire lives in the air.” This is a good metaphor for the narrator and other characters in this book who, figuratively speaking, spend their lives in the air. But the line isn’t strictly true – albatrosses nest on land and rest on ocean waves – and for that reason slightly confusing, particularly given that it appears on the first page. You aren’t sure whether the author is taking creative license or trying to establish the narrator as unreliable.

Reading group guide: Available on the Toby Press site.

Published: September 2008

Read an excerpt from Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes.

Furthermore: A review in the Sept. 1, 2008, issue of Library Journal said that this book is “recommended for all libraries.

About the cover: Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes will appear soon in the “Rating the Book Covers” series on this site. In the meantime, a question: Does this “A” book have an “A” cover?

The review of Clara’s War that was scheduled to appear this week will be posted in early June.

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

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

April 14, 2009

More on ‘What’s the Difference Between a Novel and a Short Story?’ (Quote of the Day / Allan Gurganus)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:14 am
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The Oxford American

What’s the difference between a novel and a short story? In earlier posts, I’ve quoted answers from Eudora Welty and Orson Scott Card. Here’s a response from Allan Gurganus, author of Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, in the Winter 2006 issue of The Oxford American:

“Like vocal music, stories consist wholly of what singers call ‘exposed notes.’ Meaning: If you go sharp, everybody’s going to hear. Novels are more forgiving; chapters can vary in quality. They can be assembled so a weaker unit gets propped between its betters.

“But, poem-like, everything in a short story must count, must show.”

I keep returning to the question “How does a novel differ from a short story?” in part because it helps to explain why works of fiction succeed or fail. Many novels try to do too little — their plots or ideas are so skimpy, they deserve no more than a short story. With the markets for stories dwindling, you see this problem more and more: for example, in Mitch Albom’s novels, which deal with simple ideas that might have worked better at a shorter length. More rarely, short stories try to do too much — their subjects are so large or diverse that they deserve a novel. A good question for book clubs to explore, when members dislike books, might be: Did the author choose the right form for this material?

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

February 12, 2008

Do Love Stories ‘Give Love a Bad Name’? Quote of the Day (Jeffrey Eugenides)

“Love stories depend on disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name.”

Jeffrey Eugenides in the introduction to the new My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories, From Chekhov to Munro (Harper, 587 pp., $24.95) www.harpercollins.com, which he edited, as quoted by Moira Hodgson in “The Puzzle of Love,” the Wall Street Journal, Feb. 9–10, 2008 online.wsj.com/article/SB120251134693455033.html?mod=2_1167_1.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

January 14, 2008

What Is the Difference Between a Novel and a Short Story? (Quote of the Day/Orson Scott Card)

Science fiction writer Orson Scott Card won the 2008 Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement from the American Library Association www.ala.org this week for his novels for teenagers, Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow. Here he talks about the difference between a novel and a short story:

“A novel isn’t a half-dozen short stories with the same characters. The seams invariably show. Why? Because a novel must have integrity. The novel, no matter how dense and wide-ranging it might be, must have a single cumulative effect to please the reader. Every minor climax must point toward the book’s final climax, must promise still better things to come …

“Ideally, a short story is an indivisible unit – every sentence in it points to the single climax that fulfills the entire work. One moment in the story controls all the rest. But in a novel, that single climax is replaced by many smaller climaxes, by many side trips or pauses to explore. If you keep shaping everything to point to that one climax, your reader will get sick of it after a hundred pages or so. It will feel monotonous. To keep the reader entertained (i.e., to keep him reading) you must give him many small moments of fulfillment along the way, brief rewards that promise something bigger later.”

Orson Scott Card www.hatrack.com in “To Make a Short Story Long …” in Legends of Literature: The Best Articles, Interviews, and Essays From the Archives of Writer’s Digest Magazine (Writer’s Digest Books, $19.99), edited by Phillip Sexton.

November 11, 2007

My First Bestseller? ‘A Year in Cleveland’ Is #17 in the Humor Category on Amazon Shorts

Filed under: Humor — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:46 am
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Bizarre but true! Cleveland loses the pennant race but wins on Amazon

Were you on vacation in August when I wrote about a program on Amazon that for 49 cents lets you download short works of fiction and nonfiction by authors with books for sale on that site? Just in case, I’m pasting in below the original post about Amazon Shorts. And here’s an update for any writers who are thinking of joining the program:

As I’d mentioned, I didn’t know that Amazon Shorts existed until a friend suggested that I consider it for some of my own work. I sent in “A Year in Cleveland,” a parody of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, and it just sat there for a while. But in the past few weeks it’s started to move and, as of Nov. 11, ranks #17 in the Humor category on Amazon Shorts. You can see all the categories and short works by clicking on “Digital Downloads” on the Amazon home page www.amazon.com. How can Cleveland be a loser in the pennant race and a winner on Amazon? I have no idea — unless all the copies are being bought by sadistic Red Sox fans who want a few more laughs at Cleveland’s expense — but this is the closest I’ve had to a bestseller.

Here’s my original August 5 post about Amazon Shorts:

Fed up with the alpine cost of books? Amazon.com sells previously unpublished short stories, essays and other works for 49¢ through its Amazon Shorts program. The online bookseller requires that all sellers have at least one book for sale on Amazon. And some of the authors who have posted their work may surprise you, including actor John Lithgow, journalist Melissa Fay Greene and mystery novelist James Lee Burke.

But you could easily miss hearing about the program, because it isn’t listed on the home page for www.amazon.com. You have to use the search bar to look “Amazon Shorts” or go to the pull-down menu that says, “See All 41 Product Categories.” [Note: The preceding has changed since I posted this. There's now a "Digital Downloads" category on the Amazon home page.] I knew nothing of the program until a writer friend persuaded me to post my “A Year in Cleveland,” a parody of A Year in Provence, there. So you may want to check this section of the Amazon site if you enjoy short fiction, nonfiction and poetry. You can read the shorts by downloading them, having them e-mailed to you, or following an HTML link.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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