One-Minute Book Reviews

February 27, 2007

The Year’s Worst Writing in Books — About the Finalists for the 2007 Delete Key Awards, To Be Announced Tomorrow

Filed under: Book Awards,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:32 pm

One-Minute Book Reviews will announce the finalists 2007 Delete Key Awards tomorrow morning, Wednesday, Feb. 28. The first book to make the short list will be named at about 10 a.m. with other titles released throughout the day. The full list of finalists will be posted by 5 p.m. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS to avoid missing the list, and forward this post to others who may be interested.

Questions and Answers About the Delete Key Awards for the Year’s Worst Writing in Books

Why do we need the Delete Key Awards?
When you go bed with a book, you should be able to respect yourself in the morning. Unfortunately, too many publishers don’t realize this.

Who is eligible for a Delete Key Award?
Anybody who has had a book published in hardcover or paperback in the U.S. in 2006, including reprints. One-Minute Book Reviews is the sole judge of when a book was published if there’s a conflict between the official publication date, the on-sale date, the date listed on Amazon.com, or the date when Janice Harayda first saw it in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. That’s the beauty of the Delete Key Awards. They’re completely arbitrary.

Why are the awards for “the worst writing in books” instead of “the worst books”?
The overall quality of a book can involve matters of taste and judgment. The Delete Key Awards recognize bad writing that doesn’t involve those questions. They call attention to such things as clichés, bad grammar, or writing at an elementary-school level according to the readability statistics on Microsoft Word. The listing for each finalist will give an example of the bad writing in the book and explain what’s wrong with it.

How did you select the finalists?
At the end of each review on One-Minute Book Reviews, you’ll find the best and worst lines in the book. The finalists came from the “worst” lines. But all of the selected examples of bad writing are typical of what you’ll find in the book that made the short list. No author became a finalist because of one or two bad lines.

Why are you picking on struggling authors?
First, “struggling authors” is a cliché. Strike it from your vocabulary. Second, I’m not picking on those people. Most of the Delete Key Awards finalists are rich. If they’re not rich, they’re influential.

When will you announce the winner or winners of the Delete Key Awards?
Visitors to One-Minute Book Reviews will be able to comment on the finalists for two weeks, and the winner or winners will be named on March 15. I’m announcing the winner or winners on the Ides of March because Julius Caesar was assassinated then, and some of the finalists have assassinated the English language. I hope to post the best comments from visitors when I announce the winner(s).

Why are you announcing the finalists one at a time instead of all at once?
It will provide more entertainment for people who are bored at work. And there are so many bad writers in the U.S., my site my crash if they all rushed over at once to see if I’d recognized their contributions to American literature.

Why are you qualified to pick the winner of the Delete Key Awards?
One-Minute Book Reviews doesn’t accept free books or other promotional materials from editors, publishers, literary agents, or authors whose books may be reviewed on the site. So the reviews aren’t affected by the marketing considerations that sometimes affect the decisions of others.

I also received more than 400 books a week during my 11 years as the book editor of The Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper. These included Knitting With Dog Hair, which is still in print. Critics laughed when the book was published. But Knitting With Dog Hair looks like Madame Bovary compared with some of the book on the list of finalists.

I’m fed up with bad writing in books. How can I support the Delete Key Awards?
First, send a link to this post to people who might like to have it, especially bloggers and media and publishing types. Second, keep visiting my site throughout the day tomorrow, Feb. 28, to see names of new finalists. This could help One-Minute Book Reviews make it onto the list of the “Blogs of the Day” on WordPress, so even more people will see it. The last time I made the list I wrote in a review of For One More Day about my discovery that Mitch Albom is writing at a third-grade level. [Note for overseas visitors: Third-graders in the U.S. are typically eight years old.] That post is archived in the “Novels” category on this site. I’d like to see if I could make it into the WordPress Top 10 on my own without so much help from Mitch.

So is Mitch Albom is a finalist?
You’ll have to check back tomorrow for the answer to that one.

Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

One-Minute Book Reviews is an independent book-review blog created by Janice Harayda, an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor and critic for The Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. Please visit www.janiceharayda.com for information about her comedies of manners The Accidental Bride (St. Martin’s, 1999) and Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, 2004).

Ishmael Beah, Soldier Boy in Sierra Leone

Filed under: African American,Memoirs — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:30 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

A young author with a “photographic memory” writes of learning to use an AK-47

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Sarah Crichton, 229 pp., $22.

By Janice Harayda

At the age of 13, Ishmael Beah practiced for combat in his native Sierra Leone by “stabbing the banana trees with bayonets.” He had fled into the bush months earlier, carrying a few cassettes by LL Cool J and other rappers, when rebel forces attacked village and scattered his family.

Beah stayed on the run, near starvation, until captured by government soldiers who promised that if he joined the army, he would have food and a chance to avenge the loss of parents. Afraid he would be shot if he refused, he became part of a squad of boys between the ages of 7 and 16 who learned to use AK-47s and other weapons against the rebels who were still terrorizing the countryside. He also became addicted to the marijuana, cocaine mixed with gunpowder, and “white tablets” – presumably amphetamines – that the army gave young conscripts to ease their fears and keep them awake on patrol. For more than two years, he says, killing was “a daily activity” that he describes in chilling detail in A Long Way Gone. Then one day United Nations workers showed up – as unexpectedly as rebels had attacked his old village — and demanded that the army release some of boys, including Beah, who made his way to Guinea and from there to New York.

These experiences make for a story that, if gripping, is at times hard to believe, and not just because the killings it describes are so savage. Now 26 years old, Beah could not have taken many notes as a soldier, because their discovery could have led to his death. Instead, he implies, he relied his “photographic memory” in telling his story. But you wonder if that memory might have been impaired by near-starvation or the chronic use of drugs, an issue that A Long Way Gone doesn’t address. And some of the events seem implausible regardless. In one scene Beah tells how he and several friends “lay in the dirt” on a coffee farm near a ruined village and eavesdropped on rebels who played cards and chatted “for hours.” He says he heard one rebel say that his group had just burned three villages:

“Another rebel, the only one dressed in full army gear, agreed with him. ‘Yes, three is impressive, in just a few hours in the afternoon.’ He paused, playing with the side of his G3 weapon. ‘I especially enjoyed burning this village. We caught everyone here. No one escaped. That is how good it was. We carried out the command and executed everyone. Commander will be pleased when he gets here.’ He nodded, looking at the rest of the rebels, who had stopped the game to listen to him. They all agreed with him, nodding their heads. They gave each other high fives and resumed their game.”

If Beah and his friends were close enough to hear that conversation, how did the rebels avoid hearing them “for hours”? If the boys could see a rebel “nod,” and others “nodding” in agreement, how could the rebels not see them? It appears that they could have avoided notice only by hiding behind bushes dense enough that neither group could see, or hear, the other.

Beah has described some of his wartime experiences at a United Nations conference and in other settings likely to have included experts who could have challenged aspects of his story that didn’t ring true. Even so, the tragic abuse of child soldiers is so important – and has received so little attention – that you wish he had made an airtight case for believing all that he has to say about it.

Best line: Beah writes his first visit to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone: “I was amazed at how many lights there were without the sound of a generator.”

Worst line: The scene at the coffee farm, described above, is one of a number that make you question the accuracy of some of Beah’s recollections.

Editor: Sarah Crichton

Published: February 2007

Furthermore: On Feb. 15, A Long Way Gone replaced Mitch Albom’s For One More Day as the only book sold at Starbucks coffee shops in the United States.

Reading group guides: The site for Farrar, Straus www.fsgbooks.com has a reading group guide. An additional reading group guide to A Long Way Gone was posted on One-Minute Book Reviews on March 5. This unauthorized guide covers questions that do not appear in the official FSG guide. It is archived with the March posts and also in the Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides category.

Links: You can find other information at www.alongwaygone.com, the site for the book.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: