One-Minute Book Reviews

August 7, 2008

Whitewash on ABC’s ‘Nightline’ – Cynthia McFadden Wimps Out in Interviewing Ishmael Beah About the Truthfulness of His ‘A Long Way Gone’

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:18 pm
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Is it a coincidence that Cynthia McFadden’s recent Nightline whitewash of the questions about the credibility of A Long Way Gone (a Sarah Crichton book) came so soon after she listed Apples and Oranges (a Sarah Crichton book) first among her favorite books of the summer at www.wowowow.com/post/cynthia-mcfadden-my-stepsons-book-69835? Or is this another example of literary backscratching? As we try to sort it out, Graham Rayman has posted a good analysis of what went wrong with McFadden’s timid and one-sided Aug. 5 story on Ishmael Beah, who says he spent more than two years child soldier in Sierra Leone (“Nightline’s Bad Journalism 101”) blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/archives/2008/08/nightlines_bad.php. You’ll find questions she could have asked here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/08/03.

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

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

May 12, 2008

Barbara Walters’s ‘Audition’ – A Delete Key Awards Candidate?

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,Memoirs — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:57 am
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Kyle Smith wrote in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal that Barbara Walters is “a journalist who cannot write.” The sentence he offered as evidence? “Just before the ax fell, lightning struck and my life changed, never to be the same again.” I haven’t seen Walters’s Audition, in which the sentence appears. But the line sounds like a possible candidate for one of the Delete Key Awards, which this site gives annually to writers who haven’t used their delete keys enough. What do you think? Read the full review by Smith, a film critic for the New York Post, here: online.wsj.com/article/SB121038380585382137.html?mod=todays_us_weekend_journal.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 7, 2008

How to Talk With Successful People – A Tip From Barbara Walters’s Other Book

Filed under: How to — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:20 pm
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I haven’t seen Barbara Walters’s new memoir, Audition. But when I was starting out in journalism and looking for ideas on how to get hard-shelled sources to open up, I read her self-help book, How to Talk With Practically Anybody About Practically Anything. Walters offered this tip on talking with all the intimidatingly successful people you meet at parties or elsewhere: Ask them to tell you about their first job. I’ve taken that advice many times, and it usually works. The more successful people are, the more they seem to love to talk about their modest beginnings — as though the contrast between the past and present might make their achievements appear all the more impressive.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 6, 2008

Sex and Shuffleboard – A 28-Year-Old Former Joke Writer for David Letterman Moves Into a Retirement Village in Florida Where He’s the Youngest Resident by Decades

Filed under: Humor,Memoirs — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:20 am
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At Century Village, Thanksgiving resembles Parents Weekend at a college “but instead, it’s the kids visiting the parents”

Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement. By Rodney Rothman. Simon & Schuster, 256 pp., $13, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

An old joke says that “Florida is God’s waiting room.” Rodney Rothman showed up for his appointment early when, at the age of 28, a television show he was working on in Los Angeles was cancelled.

Rothman moved into the Century Village retirement complex in Boca Raton www.centuryvillage.com/BocaRaton.htm, hoping to parlay the experience into a book. He seems to have hoped to write a geriatric version of one of David Sedaris’s fish-out-of-water stories — maybe the one about working as an elf at Macy’s Santaland. Rothman isn’t as inventive as Sedaris, who often seems to be writing under the influence of a species of mushroom that only he has discovered. But Early Bird is still a snappy and entertaining account of life in place where Thanksgiving resembled Parents Weekend at a college “but instead, it’s the kids visiting the parents.”

The question is how much of the book you can believe. Rothman bills Early Bird as a memoir but has said that he is “not a journalist” and that some of the writing is hyperbolic. He also caught flak when, in 2000, he wrote an article for The New Yorker about sneaking in to work for an Internet company that hadn’t hired him. The magazine printed an apology after learning that he had made up an incident in the story.

Some of the claims in Early Bird would be hard to believe in any case. Rothman says that as part of his research for the book, he lied to his friends, falsely telling them he had slept with a 75-year-old woman whom he calls Vivian to see how they’d react. This is hardly reassuring. If he’d lie to his friends, why wouldn’t he lie to us?

But much of Early Bird is either believable or has been confirmed by people who appear in it, and Rothman writes engagingly about subjects from shuffleboard tp the psychology of being a young in a retirement village. And there is real bite to his observations, however amusing, on how Americans condescend to old people — for example, by calling them “adorable.”

“I don’t think Tuesdays with Morrie would have been so uplifting if that guy had to spend more than Tuesdays with Morrie,” he writes. “By Thursday he would have been cursing Morrie out.”

Morrie would have been cursing him out, too, if the guy kept calling him “adorable.”

Best line: “The rhythm of the senior softball game is unlike that of any softball game I’ve ever witnessed. The defining factor is that most of the men have much stronger arms and shoulders than legs. For all of them, the knees have started to go. ‘It’s what you get for carrying this kinda weight around for so long,’ Buddy, the WWF referee, says to me, slapping his ample belly for emphasis. Because of this, senior softball is very much a hitter’s game – as long as the hitters can get the ball in play and keep it low, odds are the fielders won’t be able to reach it in time.

“The opposite side of the ‘strong arms/weak legs’ issue is this – the hitters, once they put a ball in play, run very slowly. And the fielders, once they reach the ball, have the arm strength to fire the ball wherever it needs to go. So when people do get out, it’s in ways I’ve never seen before – like someone hitting a line drive deep into the hole in left center, and then getting thrown out a first.”

Worst line: All of the material on the aging seductress he calls “Vivian,” with whom he may or may not have had sex and about whom he may or may not have lied to his friends.

Published: 2005 (hardcover) and 2006 (paperback) www.rodneyrothman.com

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

© 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.

March 28, 2008

An Aardvark Gets the Last Laugh on a Bully in ‘Arthur’s April Fool’

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:40 pm
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Arthur and his friends hope to outwit a tyrant at a school assembly

Arthur’s April Fool (An Arthur Adventure). By Marc Brown. Little, Brown, 32 pp., $6.99, paperback. Ages 4–8.

By Janice Harayda

Wax lips. Rubber spiders. Sneezing powder. Remember how great April Fool’s Day used to be before the schools banned everything that was actually fun?

If you don’t, Marc Brown will remind you of it in this early installment in his picture-book series about Arthur, a friendly aardvark who wears owlish James Joyce glasses and dresses like the late Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. In Arthur’s April Fool, Arthur gets the last laugh on Binky Barnes, the school bully, at an April Fool’s Day assembly and shares the fun with the anthropomorphic animals from other species who form his circle of friends.

Brown’s cartoonish art tweaks the artifacts of Sputnik-era world that his characters inhabit — bunny slippers, Tinker Toys, chocolate cream pie, a red rotary telephone and a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People (written by “B. Peel,” a banana). And it’s too late to protest that his audience won’t get the jokes: Arthur got a show on PBS more than a decade ago and, in 2002, made TV Guide’s list of “the 50 greatest cartoon characters of all time.”

Best line/picture: Arthur’s sister, D.W., asks after Binky Barnes threatens to pulverize her brother: “After you get pulverized, can I have you room?”

Worst line/picture: The How to Win Friends and Influence People joke would have been funnier if Brown hadn’t used the real title of the book but had given it a slight twist the way he gives the name of its author, Norman Vincent Peale, a twist.

Published: 1983 www.marcbrownstudios.com and www.pbskids.org/arthur/.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. Reviews of children’s books appear every Saturday on the site.

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

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February 21, 2008

Diary: ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ From the New Oprah’s Book Club Section, Eckhart Tolle’s ‘A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:52 am
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My library just got Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, the 61st selection of Oprah’s Book Club. I didn’t understand why there was no waiting list for the book until I started to read it. Here are three passages from it:

“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.”

“The famous and now classic pop song, ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,’ is the song of the ego.”

I have no idea what any of this means, including the part about the Stones. I thought “Satisfaction” was rock, not pop. I tried to check this on Wikipedia and stumbled on a quote from Keith Richards: “ … the words I’d written for that riff were ‘I can’t get no satisfaction.’ But it could just as well have been ‘Auntie Millie’s Caught Her Left Tit in the Mangle’.” I wonder if anybody will bring this up at a meeting of Oprah’s Book Club? Or if any of this will make any sense after I’ve finished reading A New Earth?

© 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

October 11, 2007

Why Do People Like Westerns? Quote of the Day (William Kittredge)

Why do people like Western stories in books, movies and other media? Here’s an answer from the novelist William Kittredge:

“The Western is a story in which we get to have our cake and eat it. Shane does the killing, then rides into the mythical Tetons, carrying all our guilt away with him. Our problems have been solved quickly, and we are off the hook, guilt free, ready to go on, no blood on our hands.

“The Western is a story as ancient as warfare, about solving problems with violence, the great simple solution …

“It would be pretty to think the American version of this ancient showdown shoot-’em-up story of aggression enshrined has vanished. But it hasn’t.

“The Western mutated and went to the edge of the continent and downtown with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and the cops and detectives (think of Chinatown as the last Western movie). Lately the Western has gone into virtual worlds and outer space, where the same old story is being endlessly reenacted by killer androids.”

William Kittredge in The Portable Western Reader (Penguin, 1997) edited and with an introduction by William Kittredge us.penguingroup.com. The book gathers essays, poems and more, from ancient tribal tales to work of well-known contemporary authors such as Louise Erdrich. Richard Ford, Barry Lopez and Larry McMurtry and Leslie Marmon Silko.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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