One-Minute Book Reviews

February 24, 2008

Did Your Sunday Paper Call a Book an ‘Instant Classic’ Today?

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If so, you can nominate the review for a One-Minute Book Reviews Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole. A classic has proved its worth over time. So “instant classic” is self-contradictory hyperbole. (A critic could solve the problem by writing that a book “deserves to become a classic.”) To submit a review for consideration for a Gusher Award, leave a comment or use the e-mail addresses on the “Contact” page and mention the nomination in your subject heading.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Questions and Answers About the 2008 Delete Key Awards for the Year’s Worst Writing in Books

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Which authors haven’t used their delete keys enough in the past year?

One-Minute Book Reviews will announce the finalists for the 2008 Delete Key Awards on Friday, Feb. 29. The first book to make the shortlist will be named at about 10 a.m. with other titles released throughout the day. [Note: This is a time change.] The full list of finalists will be posted by 5 p.m. To avoid missing the list, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. I would appreciate it greatly if you would forward this post to others who might be interested, such as booksellers, librarians and the media.

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 2007, including reprints. Jan Harayda 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, or the date when she first saw it on a rack in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. A few books published in late 2006 may be grandfathered in if there’s a good reason, such as that Oprah selected them for her book club in 2007. 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 involves subjective issues such as taste and judgment. The Delete Key Awards recognize more clear-cut sins. They call attention to such things as clichés, bad grammar or writing at a third-grade 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 comment on what’s wrong with it.

What kind of bad writing qualifies for an award?
Anything that would make an intelligent reader cringe. The sins that may qualify a passage in a book for a Delete Key Award include clichés, bad grammar, dumbing down, psychobabble, stereotypes, mispunctuation, stilted dialogue, unintentionally comic sex scenes, and overall tastelessness (the “that’s just sick” factor).

What doesn’t count? A writer’s politics. Last year a Democrat, the former New Jersey governor James McGreevey, made the shortlist for his bestselling memoir The Confession. And because so many political books have come out in this presidential election year, a Republican could be a finalist this year.

A writer’s or bad intentions don’t count, either. What matters is what’s on the page. Mitch Albom may be perfectly sincere in wanting all of us to make the most of our time on Earth. But he’s still writing at a third-grade level in For One More Day, according to the readability statistics on Microsoft Word. And that’s partly why he was the first runner-up in last year’s competition.

How do 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 usually come 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 shortlist. 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 usually influential or representative of a strong trend in publishing.

When will you announce the 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 winners will be named on March 15. I’m announcing the winners on the Ides of March because Julius Caesar was assassinated then, and at least in spots, these books assassinate the English language.

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 published in the U.S., my site might crash if they all rushed over at once to see if I’d recognized their contributions to 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 finalists who were announced in February 2007, when the awards began.

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. Second, visit the site throughout the day on Feb. 29 to see names of new finalists. This could help One-Minute Book Reviews make the list of the “Blogs of the Day” on WordPress, the “rising posts” list on Technorati or other search enginges, so more people will see it.

You haven’t blogged about one of the most controversial books of 2007, If I Did It. Are you going to consider it for a Delete Key Award?
No. I’ve disqualified If I Did It even though it may be the most repulsive book in the history of American publishing. My reason was pretty straightforward: I didn’t want to taint any finalist by association with O.J. Simpson’s “hypothetical” account of the murder of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. To say to an author “you’re in a class with O.J.” – that seemed just cruel. My other reason for disqualifying the book was that I couldn’t stomach the thought of reading it. You can name anything on the forthcoming shortlist, and I’d rather read it than If I Did It.

I have blogged a lot about another controversial book, Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone. But its sins are different from Simpson’s, and I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do about it. I hope to issue a statement about that soon.

I’ve read a 2007 book that was so bad, you wouldn’t believe it. How can I nominate it for a Delete Key Award?
Oh, I’d believe it. But you can leave nominate a book by leaving a comment on this site or sending an e-mail to the address on the “Contact” page on this site. If you send e-mail, please mention the awards in the subject heading.

Thanks so much for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. It was 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. She would like to expand this site to include podcasts, Webcasts and other services and is looking for a home for it that would make this possible.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 23, 2008

Ezra Jack Keats’s Trailblazing Picture Book for Ages 5 and Under, ‘The Snowy Day’

A Caldecott medalist often called “the book that broke the color barrier” in mainstream children’s publishing

Winter still has enough muscle here in New Jersey that the library was closed for snow yesterday. So I couldn’t put my hands on a trailblazing book about the kind of weather we’re having now, Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day (Puffin, 40 pp., $6.99, paperback, and other editions). And because I haven’t read it, I’ll have to quote an excellent reference book and hope that teachers, librarians or others will jump in with comments.

“Keats illustrated nearly a dozen books before writing his first, The Snowy Day, which won the 1963 Caldecott Medal,” former children’s librarian Mary Mehlman Burns writes in The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), edited by Anita Silvey. “A celebration of color, texture, design, and childhood wonder, The Snowy Day is significant in that it was one of the first picture books in which a minority child is seen as Everychild. Years before, Keats had come across photos of a young boy, and he recalled that ‘his expressive face, his body attitudes, the way he wore his clothes, totally captivated me.’ The boy was to become Peter, who, in his red snowsuit, discovers the joys of dragging sticks and making tracks in the snow. After its publication, Keats found out that the photos had come from a 1940 Life magazine – he had retained the images for over 20 years.

“With solid and patterned paper as wedges of color, Keats used collage to create endearing characters and energetic cityscapes, not only in The Snowy Day (1962) but also in Whistle for Willie (1964) and Peter’s Chair (1964).”

A generation of readers – black and white – is grateful to The Snowy Day, sometimes called “the book that broke the color barrier” in picture books from mainstream publishers. One of the latest editions is a DVD-and-book gift set that Viking published in September and includes Whistle for Willie.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 22, 2008

Which Is Worse – Bad Grammar or Bad Sex? Next Friday on One-Minute Book Reviews – the Delete Key Awards for the Year’s Worst Writing in Books

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Which authors don’t use their delete keys enough? Find out when the shortlist for the second annual Delete Key Awards competition is announced on Feb. 29

Which is worse in a book – bad grammar or bad sex scenes? Pomposity or writing dumbed-down to a third-grade level? Nasty stereotypes or mind-numbing clichés? An OVERUSE OF CAPITAL LETTERS or an underuse of the space bar sothatabookhaslotsoflinesthatlooklikethis? And what about those manic exclamation points (!!!) that some novelists love!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

These are the questions you wrestle with when you are selecting the finalists for the Delete Key Awards for the worst writing in hardcover or paperback books published in the preceding year. You’ll know the answers starting at noon Eastern Time next Friday, Feb. 29, when One-Minute Book Reviews will announce the shortlist for the prizes. You’ll have two weeks to comment on the nominations before the winners are named on March 15. The winning books are announced on the date of Julius Caesar’s assassination because their authors have assassinated the English language in the selected passages.

You can read last year’s shortlist by clicking on this link If you scroll down after reading the list, you’ll find separate posts with writing samples from each finalist. Last year’s winners were Danielle Steel’s Toxic Bachelors (grand prize winner), Mitch Albom’s For One More Day (first runner-up) and Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children (second runner-up).

The Delete Key Awards do not honor “the year’s worst books” but the worst writing in books – lines, paragraphs or passages that make you cringe. Entertainment Weekly published a list of the five worst books of 2007, discussed in this post:

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

And This Week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole Goes to …

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On Sunday (Feb. 17) the New York Times Book Review had a review of The Seven Days of Peter Crumb, billed as “a chronicle of the final week in a psychopath’s life by the British actor and writer Jonny Glynn.” The critic said:

“Reading it, I fought the urge to throw up. Needless to say, I was transfixed.”


Hyperbole in reviews often involves substituting overheated words like “transfixed” and “mesmerized” for calmer (but perhaps more accurate) ones like “fascinated” and “interested.’ “Transfixed” means “to render motionless” or “to fixate on something as though held by a spell.” You wonder if this critic was “transfixed” by anything but the need to find a vomit bag.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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’

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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.

February 20, 2008

Children’s Books to Be Eligible for the Delete Key Awards for the First Time, One-Minute Book Reviews Annouces

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NEW JERSEY, USA — Janice Harayda, editor-in-chief of One-Minute Book Reviews, announced today that children’s books would be eligible for the first time for the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books.

Ms. Harayda said that she had opened the annual awards to children’s books to in the interests of diversity. She said the change would allow the Delete Key Awards to represent better the full range of literary bottom-feeders.

“It isn’t fair to suggest that adult-book publishers are the only ones shoveling junk at us,” she said. “Not when we have everything from cheesy knock-offs of The Velveteen Rabbit, which was inadvertently allowed to go out of copyright, to Steve Martin making fun of people with disabilities in an alphabet book for 2-to-4-year-olds.”

Ms. Harayda said she hoped that the decision to include children’s books would make the prizes fairer and also encourage Martin to stick to making movies “unless they were like Sgt. Bilko.” She noted that some people might see the change as a technicality given that the 2007 first runner-up, Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, is written at a third-grade reading level, according to the Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics that are part of the spell-checker on Microsoft Word.

The finalists for the Delete Key Awards will be announced beginning at noon on Friday, Feb. 29, and the winners on March 15. Anybody may nominate a candidate for one of the awards by leaving a comment on the site or sending an e-mail message to the address on the contact form.

Ms. Harayda reminded people that she does not accept free books from publishers even if they would send them to her “which, let’s face it, no same publisher would.” She is an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour and book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio.

One-Minute Book Reviews is a site for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. It is the eighth-ranked book-review site in the world on the Google Directory of top arts and literature sites

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Annie Ernaux’s Modern French Classics, ‘A Man’s Place’ and ‘A Woman’s Story’

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A prize-winning author recalls her parents’ lives in Normandy before and after World War II

A Man’s Place. By Annie Ernaux. Ballantine, 103 pp., varied prices, paperback. A Woman’s Story. By Annie Ernaux. Seven Stories, 96 pp., $8.95, paperback. Both translated from the French by Tanya Leslie.

By Janice Harayda

Annie Ernaux’s spare autobiographical books are remarkable for many things. One of them is their brevity. They typically have fewer than 100 pages, yet are so rich in perception that they have earned the status of modern classics in France.

In the U.S. Ernaux’s reputation rests largely on two books about her parents that are often described as autobiographical novels but resemble high stylized memoirs. Both are partly about how sex roles and social class shaped the lives of residents of a village in Normandy in the decades before and after World War II. They are also about how Ernaux, at once grateful for and alienated from her background, felt “torn between two identities” after she received the university education that her parents lacked.

A Man’s Place is about the life and sudden death of her father, a shopkeeper and café owner whom people called “simple” or “humble” but who had a complexity suggested by a telling incident: “One day he said to me proudly: ‘I have never given you cause for shame.” The sequel, A Woman’s Story, is similarly brief and evocative but, because of its subject, may hold more appeal for Americans.

After her husband’s death, Ernaux’s mother developed the disease the French call la maladie d’Alzheimer and suffered alternately from confusion and a terrified comprehension of her plight. She remembered that she had to turn off the light when she left a room but forgot how to do it, so “she climbed onto a chair and tried to unscrew the bulb.”

Ernaux describes all of this with an austere restraint reminiscent of the best work of Muriel Spark, always providing just enough detail to suggest greater depths. She tells us that her mother, as her Alzheimer’s become worse, wrote to a friend, “Dear Paulette, I am still lost in my world of darkness.”

Best line: From A Woman’s Story: “Books were the only things she handled with care,” Ernaux says of her mother. “She washed her hands before touching them.”

Worst line: Tanya Leslie’s translations capture well the stylistic purity of Ernaux’s prose. But her use of a conspicuously British English at times results in sentences that break the French mood, such as this line from A Man’s Place: “Ah here comes the lass.”

Published: 1993 (Ballantine paperback of A Man’s Place). 2003 (Seven Stories paperback of A Woman’s Story

Furthermore: A Man’s Place won the Prix Renaudot, the French equivalent of the Pulitzer. Ernaux lives in France. A Woman’s Story was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle She would like to expand One-Minute Book Reviews to include podcasts, broadcasts and other services, such as online book discussion groups or forums in “real time,” and is looking for a home for this blog that would make it possible to provide these.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved

February 19, 2008

Are Publishers’ Reading Group Guides Deceptive? Quote of the Day (Gail Pool)

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Publishers’ reading group guides are a form of advertising, and like all advertising, they are one-sided at best and deceptive at worst. Gail Pool offers an excellent critique of the guides in her recent book Faint Praise, a lament for the anemic state of book reviewing in America Pool argues that publishers’ guides mimic the analysis found in reviews but lack the critical distance that good reviewers bring to their work:

“Even readers’ guides are promotional: produced by the publishers to enhance the books’ value for – and sales to – reading groups, they may be designed to encourage more thoughtful reading, but they don’t encourage a critical approach. None of the guides seem to ask readers to question the quality of a book’s prose, its clichéd characterization, or the problems in its story line. They start from the premise that books are good, and it’s their purpose to help readers ‘understand’ why they are good, not discover that they aren’t.”

Gail Pool in Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America (University of Missouri Press, 170 pp., $34.95, hardcover, and $19.95, paperback)


Pool gets this exactly right. One-Minute Book Reviews posts its own free online guides partly to encourage the “critical approach” that publishers don’t. All of these guides are saved in the Totally Unauthorized Reading Groups category.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Two Books by Annie Ernaux, One of France’s Greatest Living Writers, Coming Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews

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Annie Ernaux is one of the greatest living writers in France, where she has been acclaimed for decades for her spare autobiographical novels. She has won the Prix Renaudot, the French equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and could be a dark horse candidate for a Nobel Prize. So why isn’t she better known in the U.S.?

Tomorrow One-Minute Book Reviews will consider two of her books that might especially interest American readers, including book clubs.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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