One-Minute Book Reviews

April 29, 2008

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

Filed under: Mysteries and Thrillers,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:24 am
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Why do mysteries and thrillers so often seem to dominate the bestseller lists? Why have writers as different as Agatha Christie and John Grisham both ranked among the most popular of their eras? Here’s an answer from the novelist and critic David Lodge in The Art of Fiction (Viking, 1993), an excellent collection of 50 brief essays for serious readers on how the different aspects of fiction (such as irony, point of view and coincidence) relate to the whole:

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

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

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 20, 2008

The Real Mrs. Kipling — Beyond Kim Cattrall in ‘My Boy Jack’

Filed under: Classics,News,Plays,TV — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:41 am
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Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City plays Rudyard Kipling’s American wife in My Boy Jack, a televised version of a play about the writer and his vulnerable son, tonight on PBS. Who was Carrie Kipling?

V. S. Pritchett wrote in a review of Angus Wilson’s biography, The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling, which appears in Pritchett’s Compete Collected Essays:

“She was certainly very domineering – and like many dominant people was liable to hysteria which her prisoner was called upon to calm. She was certainly, once more, a stern mother-figure. He was incompetent with money. She managed his financial affairs, his contracts, his correspondence. She is said to have opened all his letters and to have dictated the replies. Her daughter said she cut her husband off from stimulating intellectual company and indeed she was out of her depth in it. But she fiercely protected his privacy and stood between him and the plague of visitors who descend like vultures on famous men; if Kipling was cut off from his coevals, he was cut off chiefly by his wealth: his friends were the successful and important. She was suspicious by nature, particularly of women, and seems to have felt many people were really after his money. But Kipling appeared to enjoy her rule, for he had been used to an excessive reliance on his parents, even in middle life. Visitors noticed that Rudyard and his Carrie enjoyed the same harsh jokes.

“She probably enjoyed hearing that the female of the species was more deadly than the male. Possibly he would not have married her unless he had loved her charming brother first and more spontaneously — he responded most to family affection — and one must remember that he and Carrie had the tragic bond of the loss of their two children and that she nursed her misogynist through his serious breakdowns and his hysterical, baseless, but harrowing dread of cancer. No; brought up in a tough school, Kipling found a tough wife.”

My Boy Jack is a Masterpiece (formerly Masterpiece Theater) production www.pbs.org written by David Haig and based on his play. It also stars Haig as Rudyard Kipling, Daniel Radcliffe as his son and Jack, shown with Cattrall in a PBS photo.

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

April 15, 2008

Did Masterpiece Theater Get It Right With ‘A Room With a View’?

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:05 pm
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I missed the new production of E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View on PBS on Sunday night, so I can’t comment on its success or lack of it. But it would be easy to misread Forster as a romanticist — just as it’s easy to misread Jane Austen that way — based on A Room With a View. David Garnett avoids the trap in his Great Friends: Portraits of Seventeen Writers (Atheneum, 1980). Forster was a social reformer, notes Garnett, the late author of Aspects of Love and son of the Russian translator Constance Garnett. All of his novels are about “the tyranny of conventions, the subjection of women and the indifference or contempt of the British upper middle class for all people of different race or origin.”

Forster typically assaults his society by bringing in an outsider who exposes its hypocrisy. That role goes in A Room With a View to old Mr. Emerson, whose son George comes between Lucy Honeychurch and her attachment to the dull Cecil: “Mr. Emerson is the touchstone who shows up the values of the conventional middle classes as genteel nonsense and brings the book to a happy ending by telling the heroine that, ‘Love is of the body’ – which she doesn’t understand at once, but which makes her see that the engagement she had accepted would not do.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 13, 2008

E. M. Forster’s ‘A Room With a View’ Tonight on PBS — Is It a Coincidence That This Follows the Jane Austen Cycle?

Filed under: News,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:04 am
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A new production of E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View airs tonight on Masterpiece Theater, which ended its Jane Austen cycle last week. A coincidence? Or is PBS trying to strike a blow for moral realism? The late V. S. Pritchett noted the similarity between the novelists in “Mr. Forster’s Birthday” in his Complete Collected Essays (Random House, 1991): “No one is let off in Forster’s novels; like Jane Austen, he is a moral realist.” Watch the preview of tonight’s A Room With A View, with Elaine Cassidy as Lucy Honeychurch at www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 6, 2008

Did Jane Austen Have a Romantic View of Marriage? Looking Beyond Tonight’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ on PBS

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:04 am
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Many people imagine that Jane Austen had a romantic view of marriage. Her novels and letters don’t support this view. Hilary Mantel writes in an essay on Austen in Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature (Paul Dry Books, 2007), edited by Joseph Epstein www.pauldrybooks.com:

“Jane Austen’s novels, as everyone has observed, end at the church door: with the wedding, not the marriage. Jane’s private observation did not. She looked about her and saw what marriage meant. ‘Poor animal,’ she wrote of a woman too often pregnant, ‘she will be worn out before she is thirty.’ Love within a marriage might compensate for what marriage demanded of women – the cyclical facing-down of the risk and pain of childbirth – but the ideal matches Jane sets up for her characters are outnumbered in her fiction by those that are botched together in bad circumstances, contracted in haste, and repented at leisure or simply arrange by cold and grand family interests.”

Comment by Jan:

Mantel is right about those bad marriages. The unions that fit her description include those of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Mary and Charles Musgrove in Persuasion and Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park. Then there are John and Fanny Dashwood, the weak husband and manipulative wife of Sense and Sensibility, the subject of a Masterpiece Theater production that concludes tonight on PBS www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/index.html.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

http://www.janiceharayda.com

March 31, 2008

Last Night’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ on PBS — A Star Vehicle for Jane Austen, Not Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant

Filed under: Classics,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:32 pm
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Does the new Sense and Sensibility leave the impression that Marianne Dashwood needs extra Zoloft?

Ginia Bellafante wrote in Saturday’s New York Times that Marianne Dashwood “slips over the rocks from fragility to desperation” in the new Sense and Sensibility on PBS that began last night:

“At 17, Marianne is meant to possess a heart that gives itself too easily, but I doubt that Austen ever intended for us to see her as someone who ought to increase her dosage of Zoloft.”

Bellafante is right about the generous heart of the middle Dashwood sister www.nytimes.com/2008/03/29/arts/television/29aust.html?ref=arts. But I didn’t see the need for extra Zoloft in last night’s installment of the two-part series, which ends April 6, so you have to wonder if Marianne will take an alarming emotional plunge on Sunday.

But so far I like this Masterpiece Theater/BBC production at least as much as the 1995 Ang Lee adaptation that starred Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman. For all its charms, the Lee version was a star vehicle for its actors, especially for Thompson and Grant. But the new adaptation is a star vehicle for Jane Austen www.pbs.org. And you can hardly fault it for that.


© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 30, 2008

Watching ‘Sense and Sensibility’ on PBS Tonight

Filed under: Classics,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:23 pm
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Remember the great 1995 miniseries of Pride and Prejudice with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth that induced such raptures in Bridget Jones?

The screenplay came from Andrew Davies, one of the finest living adapters of classic English novels, whose credits include an excellent 1994 miniseries of Middlemarch. Davies also wrote the script for the new two-part Sense and Sensibility that airs tonight and April 6 on PBS, so this one should be worth watching.

A few comments on the novel:

Like Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility is not an allegory, though their titles might suggest otherwise. The characters in both novels are more than types. In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor Dashwood – the nominal embodiment of “sense” – has deep emotions and a distinctive sensibility. And Marianne Dashwood (“sensibility”) is too intelligent to view as a creature of pure feeling.

Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first published novel (though she wrote Pride and Prejudice before it). But if you haven’t read any of Austen’s work, this is not the best place to begin.

The first 50 or so pages of Sense and Sensibility move so sluggishly that they might defeat all but diehards. You’ll be more likely to understand why people love Austen if you begin with Pride and Prejudice, which gets off to faster start and has more all-around charm even when Firth isn’t bathing in a copper tub on your screen. Persuasion and Emma also move briskly from beginning to end.

Once you get past those plodding opening chapters, Sense and Sensibility has perhaps the sharpest wit in any of Austen’s books, one reason why I love it. Two of my favorite lines from the novel are:

“Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.”

books.google.com/books?id=FHmUFBfxr1gC&pg=PA189&lpg=PA189&dq=%22elinor+agreed+to+it+all+for+she+did+not+think+he+deserved+the+compliment+of+rational+opposition%22&source=web&ots=in8vioD6pI&sig=G_ViixvJQM0oPAxxQVMnYy3e9ec&hl=en

“ … a fond mother, though, in pursuit of praise for her children, the most rapacious of human beings, is likewise the most credulous: her demands are exorbitant; but she will swallow anything …” classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/jausten/bl-jausten-sen-21.htm

Photo: Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood in the new two-part Sense and Sensibility on PBS www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/austen/index.html .

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

February 6, 2008

A Super Bowl Moment We’re Glad We Didn’t See on Sunday

Filed under: Memoirs — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:35 am
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Marv Albert has covered Super Bowls for NBC and Westwood One radio in a broadcasting career that has spanned four decades. He recalls some of the singular moments from those and other games in his memoir I’d Love to but I Have a Game: 27 Years Without a Life (Doubleday, 1990).

One such moment occurred when Richard Dent of the Chicago Bears received a new car from Sport magazine after he was named the most valuable player of Super Bowl XX. Albert handed him the keys, and the defensive end stepped up to the microphone and said, “I just want to thank the Sporting News for this brand-new car.”

“Other than that,” Albert writes, “it went perfectly.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

February 3, 2008

Watch Ishmael Beah on Comedy Central (This Is Not a Joke)

Somehow I missed this until now, but last year the people at Sarah Crichton Books apparently decided that they had found a great place for Ishmael Beach to plug his memoir of how the army in Sierra Leone turned him into a ruthless drug-addicted killer. And that place was … Comedy Central!

I’m not making this up. Beah was on the Daily Show With Jon Stewart on Feb. 14, 2007. His publisher posted a clip of his appearance the Web site for his A Long Way Gone and hasn’t taken it down, so somebody must still think it’s pretty funny. Here’s a link to the Stewart interview www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=82274&title=ishmael-beah. (If the link doesn’t work, you can find the clip by going to www.alongwaygone.com and clicking on the “News” page.) Click here for the latest developments in the investigation of the book by the newspaper the Australian www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23145293-5001986,00.html.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. 2008 All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

March 26, 2007

Robin McGraw’s Faith in Herself

Dr. Phil’s wife writes about her $50,000 Mercedes, her crystal chandeliers, and those tabloid rumors

[Note: I picked up Inside My Heart along with Love Smart, reviewed on this site on Feb. 8, planning to do a dual review. The books were so different I decided to do this one separately.]

Inside My Heart: Choosing to Live With Passion and Purpose. By Robin McGraw. Nelson, 223 pp., $24.99.

By Janice Harayda

Robin McGraw devotes four pages of Inside My Heart to a vasectomy reversal that her husband had without telling her – an incident that included, as she puts it, “fabricating” a cover story for his whereabouts during the surgery. This is by far the most revealing anecdote in her memoir of her marriage to Dr. Phil McGraw. What would her husband say if a man on his talk show confessed to doing the same thing?

McGraw says that she wrote Inside My Heart to get female readers excited about becoming “the woman that God created you to be,” a process that involves learning to stand up for themselves as she says she has done. Presumably to help them get “excited,” she writes about her $50,000 Mercedes, her “Italian Renaissance style” home with its “mosaic floors and crystal chandeliers” and her “black suede bomber jacket” that her husband gave her for Christmas. She says little about her day-to-day spiritual practices and struggles beyond that she gives thanks each morning for how “God has blessed” her.

Although Inside My Heart comes from a publisher of Christian books, God comes across in it as a generic figure with a goody bag that always has something for McGraw. So it’s hard to say who the target audience is. Inside My Heart may offend evangelicals with its glib materialism and lack of references to Jesus and the Bible. But it’s so shallow it has little to offer others, including people who enjoy good celebrity memoirs. Perhaps it’s is aimed partly at all those tabloid readers who wonder if there’s truth to the rumors that its author has been so lonely in Los Angeles, she went door-to-door trying to find someone to play bunco with her? If so, let the record show that McGraw says the stories about the dice game are false. “I had never even heard of it,” she says, “let alone played it.”

Best line: McGraw was startled when she first learned of her husband’s vasectomy reversal: “And then I took a good look at him and saw that he had a bulge under his trousers from a bandage and icepack.”

Worst line: At times McGraw slips into her husband’s nasty, hectoring tone. An example occurs when she urges people to have colonoscopies: “If you’re over fifty and haven’t had one done because you’re too squeamish to deal with it, stop acting like a baby and go have one.”

Consider reading instead: Firstlight: The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd, by Sue Monk Kidd. A review is archived in the “Essays and Reviews” category on this site.

Published: September 2006

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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