One-Minute Book Reviews

July 21, 2007

Alas! Harry Potter 16, Philip Larkin 0

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:04 pm
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Game over for boy-wizard-versus-titan-of-20th-century-poetry?

Alas! All the Harry Potter posts have finally ousted the great English poet Philip Larkin from the top 50 posts in the Entertainment category on the WordPress News Front Page www.news.wordpress.com. As of 6 p.m. Eastern time there were 16 posts about Potter and none about Larkin. Or, more specifically, no sign of “The Case Against Poetry Readings” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/19 that’s been holding for a day or.

So this match is over unless Larkin gets a link big enough to thrust him back into the limelight. Do you think there’s any chance that Scobleizer will develop a sudden interest in poetry? Some of those tech geek bloggers must know that Larkin is a Killer App …

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

News Flash on Philip Larkin/Harry Potter Title Bout on WordPress News Front Page

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:47 am
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A miracle! After nearly 24 hours, dead English poet Philip Larkin is still holding his own against all the Harry Potter posts among the top 50 posts in the Entertainment category on the WordPress News Front Page www.news.wordpress.com. Larkin now stands at #42 on the list for his comments on poetry readings in “The Case Against Poetry Readings,” posted on One-Minute Book Reviews on July 19 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/19/. Why isn’t Bob Costas covering this?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 20, 2007

Could This Weekend’s Group Grope of Harry Potter Actually HARM Children? Quote of the Day

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:59 pm
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What could possibly be wrong with millions of children lining up to buy and read the same book at the same time? Here’s an answer from Ron Charles of the Washington Post:

“Consider that, with the release of each new volume, Rowling’s readers have been driven not only into greater fits of enthusiasm but into more precise synchronization with one another. Through a marvel of modern publishing, advertising and distribution, millions of people will receive or buy The Deathly Hallows on a single day. There’s something thrilling about that sort of unity, except that it has almost nothing to do with the unique pleasures of reading a novel: that increasingly rare opportunity to step out of sync with the world, to experience something intimate and private, the sense that you and an author are conspiring for a few hours to experience a place by yourselves — without a movie version or a set of action figures. Through no fault of Rowling’s, Potter mania nonetheless trains children and adults to expect the roar of the coliseum, a mass-media experience that no other novel can possibly provide.”

Ron Charles, a senior editor of the Washington Post’s Book World Section, in “Harry Potter and the Death of Reading,” Sunday, July 15, 2007, Page B01. I can’t link directly to this post but you can find it by Googling “Harry Potter and the Death of Reading.”

Comment by Janice Harayda:
I love Charles’s observation that reading a novel offers “that increasingly rare opportunity to step out of sync with the world, to experience something intimate and private, the sense that you and an author are conspiring for a few hours to experience a place by your selves.” This suggests the possible dark side not just of Harry Potter mania but of book clubs and all those campaigns that aim to get all the adults in a town to read the same book.

Could such efforts be a subtle way of co-opting the solitary pleasures of reading? What do you think?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

More Shocking Poetry News! Philip Larkin Is GAINING on Harry Potter!

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:16 pm
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Could it be the result of one of those magical potions they have at Hogwarts?

Dead English poet Philip Larkin is actually gaining on Harry Potter.

Just before 4 p.m. today there were 14 posts about Harry Potter among the top 50 Entertainment posts on the WordPress News Front Page www.news.wordpress.com. Twelve of the Potter posts were above the One-Minute Book Reviews post on Philip Larkin www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/19/ and two were below it. At 9 p.m. eight of the Harry Potter posts are above the Larkin post (which has moved up to #31 from of #42) and six are below it. Larkin somehow passed four of the Potter posts while I was out having a slice of pizza.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Shocking News in Poetry! Philip Larkin Chases Harry Potter on WordPress News Front Page

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:00 pm
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Can a dead English poet continue to hold his own against the boy magician?

Just looked at the top 50 posts of the day in the Entertainment category on the WordPress News Front Page www.news.wordpress.com … and here is a shocker. Philip Larkin is holding his own against Harry Potter. Fourteen of the top Entertainment posts on WordPress (including the top two) deal with the final installment in J.K. Rowling’s series. But clocking in at #42 (at about 3:45 p.m. Eastern Time) is the quote of the day from Larkin on One-Minute Book Reviews www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/19/. Larkin actually came in ahead of two of the Harry Potter posts. This can’t last, so if you’re a poetry-lover and could use a little cheer, check out the WordPress News Front Page now.

I don’t usually mention it when One-Minute Book Reviews makes it into one of those categories like “top blogs” or “top posts,” because it usually happens when I do a post on somebody like Mitch Albom, and I don’t want to depress you by pointing that out. But today may be the first day I’ve gotten there for a post about a writer I actually like, one of the great English poets of the 20th century (who earned his living as a university librarian). I may owe this partly to a nice link from Bookslut www.bookslut.com. Is a counterreaction to Potter mania already setting in?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 1, 2007

Is Harry Potter Sexist? Quote of the Day #32

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:15 pm
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Are the Harry Potter books or movies sexist? A children’s biography of Daniel Handler, the creator of Lemony Snicket, says he is wary of how movie versions of books can change authors’ characters:

“After viewing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for example, Handler was annoyed at the film’s portrayal of J.K. Rowling’s character Hermione Granger.

“He remembers Hermione as being smart and appreciated for it in Rowling’s book. In the film version, however, he said he noticed that every time Hermione said something smart, the camera would pan over to catch a shot of the boys rolling their eyes. He explains, ‘If you are a girl seeing the movie – and you’re the kind of girl who is always reading a lot, learning a lot of facts – then the lesson you’re going to get from this film is that somehow, that is not the appealing and acceptable way for a girl to behave.’”

Hayley Mitchell Haugen in Daniel Handler: The Real Lemony Snicket: Inventors and Creators. (Gale/KidHaven, 2005). The “Inventors and Creators” series www.gale.com/kidhaven/ includes biographies of J.K. Rowling, Roald Dahl, Laura Ingalls Wilder and others for elementary- and (some middle-) school students.

Comment by Janice Harayda:
I saw Harry and Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone but didn’t notice the pattern Handler describes. And I haven’t read any of the novels. If you’ve read the books or seen the movies, what do you think? Are they ever sexist?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 19, 2007

‘That Scrotum Book’ for Children: A Review of the 2007 Newbery Medal Winner, ‘The Higher Power of Lucky’ by Susan Patron

Some libraries have banned the winner of the American Library Association’s highest award for for children’s literature. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the book that caused the uproar?

The Higher Power of Lucky: A Novel. By Susan Patron. Illustrated by Matt Phelan. Atheneum: A Richard Jackson Book, 135 pp., $16.95. Age range: 9-11. [See further comments about these ages at the end of the review.]

By Janice Harayda

Who would have thought that the American Library Association www.ala.org would give its most prestigious award for children’s literature to a novel that uses the word “scrotum” on the first page? Not those of us who have observed its choices for years and have found that they tend to suffer from an excess of caution, often rewarding deserving books only after children have embraced them.

So it was, in a sense, startling that the ALA gave the 2007 Newbery Medal to Susan Patron’s The Higher Power of Lucky, which tells the story of a 10-year-old orphan named Lucky Trimble who hears what an Amazon reviewer has called “the s word” while eavesdropping on a 12-step meeting through a hole in the wall. Patron writes on the first page:

“Sammy told of the day when he had drunk half a gallon of rum listening to Johnny Cash all morning in his parked ’62 Cadillac, then fallen out of the car when he saw a rattlesnake on the passenger seat biting his dog, Roy, on the scrotum.”

This is hardly shocking language when many 3-year-olds know the words “penis” and “vagina” and psychologists routinely urge parents to introduce the medically correct terms for genitalia as soon as their children can understand them. You would think that librarians would rejoice in the arrival of a book that supports this view instead of rolling out words you are more likely to hear from children, such as “dickhead” and “butt-head” and, of course, the deathless “poopy-head.”

But some people have reacted to The Higher Power of Lucky though Patron had issued a manifesto in favor of kiddie porn. At least a few libraries have banned the novel, the New York Times reported yesterday. And a librarian in Durango, Colorado, accused Patron of using “a Howard Stern-type shock treatment” to attract attention.

All of this distracts from the more important question: How good is this book?

Answer: Not bad. I’d give it a B or B-minus, though it was far from the best work of children’s literature published last year. I haven’t read all the candidates for 2007 Newbery, including the Honor Books. But among those I have read, Patron’s novel has less literary merit than Kate DiCamillos’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane or Laura Amy Schlitz’s A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, both rumored on library listservs and elsewhere to have been contenders for the award.

But The Higher Power of Lucky does have virtues, some of which are more therapeutic than literary. Patron describes the principles of 12-step programs not just for alcoholics but for “gamblers, smokers, and overeaters.” This may help many children who have relatives in such programs and don’t understand them. And Lucky is an intrepid and often amusing heroine who defies a few female stereotypes. She loves science, has close male friends, and lives in a trailer in the Mojave Desert, which has a dramatic landscape that Patron describes vibrantly. No one could accuse this novel of fostering the rampant materialism you see in so many children’s books. The Higher Power of Lucky also has evocative black-and-white illustrations by Matt Phelan that add so much to the book that you wonder if it would have had a shot at the Newbery without them. Perhaps above all, the novel has a worthy theme: What constitutes a “family”?

So what’s not to like about the book? The writing — vivid as it can be — is at times careless or clunky. Patron confuses “lay” and “lie” in a line of dialogue on page 4, and while you could argue that this misuse is in character for the speaker, she makes similar lapses in expository passages. She tells us that a character had “a very unique way of cooking.” She does not appear to have mastered the use of the semicolon and overuses it, including in conversation, in a book for children who may themselves be struggling to figure out its purpose. She also italicizes so many words — a sign of weak writing — that her book reads at times like a children’s version of the old Cosmopolitan edited by Helen Gurley Brown.

Most of all, some aspects of the plot and Lucky’s character are thin and underdeveloped. Toward the end of the book, Lucky behaves recklessly and is also dangerously mean to a friend. And while such events might have made less difference earlier in the book, they come so late that Patron has left herself too little time to persuade us that her heroine has learned from them. Other late events are insufficiently foreshadowed to make them believable. And that brings us back to that incendiary “scrotum.”

Lucky finally does learn the meaning of the word. But it turns out to have so little relation to the rest of the plot that its use in the beginning looks gratuitous. The metaphorical gun on the wall in the first act turns out to be firing blanks. The Higher Power of Lucky is not about its heroine’s sexual development or anything else that might have justified the use of the word. Patron could have reworked the offending passage with no loss to the book. In that sense, she may have made a mistake. But libraries would be making an even more serious one if they ban a book that has much to offer children.

Best line: This book has many good descriptions of the landscape of the Mojave, such as this image of a dust storm: “Tiny twisters of sand rose up from the ground, as if minature people were throwing handfuls in the air.”

Worst line: Clearly many people think it’s the one about the scrotum. For variety I’ll go with the ungrammatical first line of the third chapter, which includes a dangling modifier: “Out of the millions of people in America who might become Lucky’s mother if Brigitte went home to France, Lucky wondered about some way to trap and catch exactly the right one.”

Age range: The publisher recommends this book for ages 9-to-11. But The Higher Power of Lucky has a much less complex plot and smaller cast than many novels beloved by children in that age group, such as the Harry Potter novels. And its heroine is a 10-and-a-half-year-old fifth-grader, and children tend to read “up,” or prefer stories about characters who are older than they are. So this book may have much more appeal for children below its age range, including 7- and 8-year-olds, than 11-year-olds. This fact may explain much of the controversy about the book. Many librarians and teachers who would have no trouble with the word “scrotum” in a book for fifth-graders may be upset because they know that this one will end up in the hands of many second- and third-graders.

Furthermore: You may also want to read two related items posted on One-Minute Book Reviews on Feb. 22: a reading group guide to The Higher Power of Lucky and a discussion of six possible reasons why this book one the Newbery despite having the word “scrotum” on the first page. Check the “Children’s Books” category on this site if you don’t see them on the home page of this blog. The reading group guide is also archived in the “Totally Unathorized Reading Group Guides” category.

Published: November 2006

Furthermore: Patron’s name is pronounced “pa-TRONE.”

Links: You may also want to read the review of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, archived in the “Children’s Books” category on this site.

One-Minute Book Reviews is an independent literary blog created by Janice Harayda, an award-winning journalist and former book editor of The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer and vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle. Please visit www.janiceharayda.com for information about her comic novels.

If you found this review helpful, please consider forwarding a link to One-Minute Book Reviews to others, particularly sites for parents and libraries. To my knowledge, this is the most comprehensive review of The Higher Power of Lucky on the Web that anyone can read without registering or providing personal information and that was written by a highly experienced critic who has judged a national book awards competition. One-Minute Book Reviews is a four-month-old site that has grown rapidly, in part because of links from libraries and other book-related groups or institutions. Additional links will help to make it possible for future reviews like this one to keep appearing

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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