One-Minute Book Reviews

March 28, 2007

Anne Porter: An Easter Lily in the Field of Late-Blooming Poets

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Christianity,Poetry,Reading,Religion,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:27 pm

In her mid-90s an acclaimed poet returns with her first book since her National Book Award finalist, An Altogether Different Language

Living Things: Collected Poems. By Anne Porter. Foreword by David Shapiro. Steerforth/Zoland, 176 pp., $15, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

A few months ago, a fascinating article about Anne Porter appeared in the Wall Street Journal under the headline, “A 95-Year-Old Poet Finds Her Muse and Literary Praise.” The story noted that Porter was 83 when her first collection, An Altogether Different Language, was published in 1994. The book was a finalist for a National Book Award for poetry and followed by Living Things in 2006.

The Journal article included excerpts from Porter’s poems that were so good that I began looking for Living Things – online, at libraries and bookstores in Manhattan and the suburbs. Nobody had it, or could get it. It seemed that – whether because of the Journal article or Porter’s growing literary reputation – the book had sold out everywhere.

Just before Lent, Living Things turned up again. And the timing couldn’t have been more apt for the return of this fine collection, which has all the poems from An Altogether Different Language and 39 new ones. Living Things makes clear that Porter is an Easter lily in the field of late-blooming poets. She is a Catholic poet in the same way that Flannery O’Connor was a Catholic novelist: She describes a world that is, as O’Connor put it, founded on “the theological truths of the Faith, but particularly on three of them which are basic – the Fall, the Redemption, and the Judgment.” But she transcends the label “Catholic writer.” As the poet David Shapiro has said, Porter transmits “her Franciscan joy in created things” and “reminds us that the idea of the holy is still possible for us.” At the same time, her poems spring from everyday life, particularly her role as the mother of five children by her late husband, the artist Fairfield Porter.

Many of her rhymed and unrhymed poems are meditations on saints, holy days or Bible verses. Others are hymns or prayers, steeped in a sense of wonder and gratitude reminiscent of that of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit poet who wrote: “Glory be to God for dappled things.” One of the most memorable poems is “A Short Prayer,” an interpretation – you might even call it a brief modern translation – of the “Hail Mary.” In “An Easter Lily” Porter considers the gift of a lily

Whose whiteness
Is past belief

Its blossoms
The shape of trumpets
Are mute as swans

But deep and strong as sweat
Is their feral perfume.

In seven short iambic lines, Porter links the Easter lily to glory (“trumpets”), martyrdom (“swans”), and purity (the whiteness of the lily and swans). And she does more. The best-known Bible verse about lilies, Matthew 6:28, says they “toil not” – they don’t sweat. Porter’s similie – “strong as sweat” – encourages you to consider the strength of the lily as well as its grace. It also connects flower implicitly to the sweat of Christ carrying the cross. Could anyone look at a lily the same way after reading this poem?

Perhaps the most poignant poem in Living Things is the loving reminiscence, “For My Son Johnny.” Porter told the Wall Street Journal that she believes her late son suffered from either schizophrenia or autism. In the poem she recalls, among other things, his kindness:

Though your shoelaces were hardly ever tied
And you seldom wore matching socks
You tried to behave with dignity in the village
“So as not to embarrass my little sisters.”

Porter’s natural tone and diction, here and elsewhere, are part of the charm of her book. The work of religious poets can imitate, consciously or unconsciously, the language of Scripture or the great metaphysicists. Porter has a voice all her own. How lovely that, however belatedly, people are discovering it.

Best line: At this time of year, many people may especially appreciate the poems that relate to Easter, which include “In Holy Week,” “Cradle Song II” and “Four Seasons Carol.” Anyone who looks for strong rhymes may also enjoy “House Lots,” a meditation on the arrival of bulldozers: “Good-bye sweet whistling quail/ Milkweed and Queen Anne’s lace/ Good-bye shy cottomtail/ Quit your secret room …”

Worst line: None.

Published: January 2006

Furthermore: The back cover of this book has an evocative portrait of the author by her husband. Search Google for “Video: Portrait of Anne Porter” to watch a short video of Porter reading from and talking about her poetry. The Wall Street Journal article by Lucette Lagnado ran on Nov. 11–12, 2006.

Consider reading also: Common Life: Poems (CavanKerry, 2006), by Robert Cording, Barrett Professor of Creative Writing at Holy Cross. The poems in this book reflect a religious perspective and include the four-page “Lenten Stanzas” and the briefer “Pentecost in Little Falls, New Jersey.”

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist has been the book editor of the Plain Dearler and vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle. She wrote the comedies of manners The Accidental Bride (St. Martin’s, 1999) and Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, 2004).

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

‘A 95-Year-Old Poet Finds Her Muse and Literary Praise’

Filed under: Books,Poetry,Reading,Women,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:21 pm

Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews …

Late last year, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about Anne Porter headlined, “A 95-Year-Old Poet Finds Her Muse and Literary Praise.” Porter’s first volume of poetry, An Altogether Different Language, was published when she was 83 and became a finalist for the National Book Award. Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews Janice Harayda reviews Porter’s second collection, Living Things, which has poems about Easter and other subjects.

(c) Janiee Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 26, 2007

A Totally Authorized Reading Group Guide to ‘Manhattan on the Rocks’ by Janice Harayda

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Novels,Reading,Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:10 pm

10 Discussion Questions
Manhattan on the Rocks
A Comedy of New York Manners

[Note: After more than 200 posts about other authors’ books, I have the right put up one about my own, right? A movie option on this novel would make it easier for me keep posting reviews, so I have to get the word out to those Hollywood high-rollers. And how do I know that you aren’t Steven Spielberg or George Lucas, or Kate Hudson looking for her next starring role? You did get invited to the Vanity Fair Oscars party, didn’t you? Unlike the Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides on One-Minute Book Reviews, this one is just shameless self-promotion … Jan]

Laura Smart has thrived in her job as a writer of quirky stories like “Bowling-Trophy Wives,” an article about the wives of Ohio’s best bowlers, for a Cleveland magazine. But she can’t resist an offer to move to Manhattan and work for a talk-show-host-turned-magazine editor. She hopes her job at Cassandra will improve her troubled romance with an aspiring screenwriter and turn her into “Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s without the foot-long cigarette holder.”

Instead, Laura finds that she must deal with the alpine cost of New York apartments, a flirtatious corporate power broker, and a boss who wants her to track down elusive pop star. She also has to decide whether to break ranks with co-workers who see their cascade of perks from advertisers — free clothes, makeup, trips, and even cars — as fair compensation for their low salaries. The result is a sparkling comedy that sends up the sex-and-celebrity-driven world women’s magazines, written from the insider’s perspective of a former editor of Glamour.

1. Many works of fiction deal with young women who are transformed after moving to New York City. One of the most famous is Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Why do the best of these books have an appeal that lasts for generations?

2. Laura Smart, the heroine of Manhattan on the Rocks, dreams of becoming “Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s without the foot-long cigarette holder.” Does she achieve her dream? What similarities and differences do you see between Laura and Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

3. If you have read Breakfast at Tiffany’s and seen the movie, you know that the novella is darker than the film. In the book, Holly Golightly is a call girl, a high-priced prostitute. In the movie Audrey Hepburn appears to have no fixed occupation. Why do you think filmmakers made this change? What changes might be necessary in a film of Manhattan on the Rocks?

4. Novels about characters who step outside their usual setting are often called fish-out-of-water novels. These books include some of the most respected novels of the past century, such as Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim (about a naive young man who attends an elite English university). They also include recent fiction such as The Princess Diaries. Why do these books have so much potential for comedy? What pitfalls do authors need to avoid in writing them?

9. Harayda calls Manhattan on the Rocks “a comedy of New York manners.” Some people say that New Yorkers have no manners. Can you write a comedy of manners about a city perceived as “rude”? Why?

5. The catch to many fish-out-of-water novels is that characters who at first appear to be out of their element may turn to be more at home in a new setting than in an old one. Is this true of Laura? Why?

6. Laura leaves Ohio to work for a magazine run by a television personality who hopes “to become the next Oprah or Martha.” Is Manhattan on the Rocks mainly about the cult of personality that surrounds those two stars? Or is it about something different?

7. Olivia Goldsmith, author of The First Wives Club, described Harayda’s first novel, The Accidental Bride as “satire with heart.” Does this description also fit her second? What does Manhattan on the Rocks satirize?

8. Manhattan on the Rocks brings back Brad Newburger, a public relations executive from The Accidental Bride who represents a condom boutique called Condom and Gomorrah. The author also writes about a law firm called Soke and Bilkem (inspired partly by the firm of Dunning, Spongett, and Leach in The Bonfire of the Vanities). She clearly likes to have fun with words. What is the effect this kind of playfulness? Can wordplay be satirical? Your group might want to compare The Accidental Bride and Manhattan on the Rocks to Wendy Holden’s comedies of manners, Bad Heir Day and Farm Fatale.

10. Like Manhattan on the Rocks, the bestseller The Devil Wears Prada involves a young woman who works for a fashion magazine and sees her co-workers receiving perks such as free clothes, makeup, and more. Discuss the different points of view that the authors of the two novels have toward this practice.

“Sophisticated chick lit.”
Pamela Redmond Satran, The New York Times

“Harayda, a former senior editor of Glamour, provides an inside look at the life of a New York magazine through an appealing heroine’s eyes.”
Kristine Huntley, Booklist

“Laura’s voice in this novel is spunky, and Harayda draws on references to both pop culture and literature to give Laura an intelligence that is the most compelling aspect of this novel. As her name indicates, she’s smart.”
Kelly Magee, Ohioana Quarterly

“Harayda teasingly pokes fun at the differences between Cleveland and Manhattan.”
Linda Feagler, Obio Magazine

A “blockbuster… autumn’s hot new book.”
Complete Woman

“Manhattan on the Rocks will make readers laugh out loud.”
Vince Brewton, ForeWord Manhattan on the Rocks

Vital statistics:
Manhattan on the Rocks: A Novel. Sourcebooks, 297 pp., $14, paperback. By Janice Harayda. Published: October 2004. Also by Janice Harayda: The Accidental Bride: A Romantic Comedy (St. Martin’s/Griffin, 1999). Please visit the “For Book Clubs” page of the Web site below for the reading group guide to The Accidental Bride.

Janice Harayda enjoys speaking to reading groups in Manhattan and parts of New Jersey, when her schedule permits, about this novel. She speaks to groups in other places by speakerphone.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 23, 2007

Complete List of Reading Group Guides Available on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Reading,Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:48 pm

Can’t find a good reading group guide to a book your club is reading?

One-Minute Book Reviews posts its own reading group guides to the some books reviewed on the site. These lists of discussion questions have no connection to publishers’ guides and may be more comprehensive or take a different view of books. You can find the guides archived in the Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides on One-Minute Book Reviews. The original reviews are archived both by category and date of posting.

Here’s a compete list of guides available as of March 22, 2007. Many more will be coming in 2007. Each title is followed by followed by the date of the original review, the category in which it’s archived, and a link to the review. If a direct link to a review doesn’t work, you can find the review by going to the site and searching for the title.

Stuart: A Life Backwards. By Alexander Masters. A charming biography of an “ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath” that has won or been short-listed for several major literary awards. (March 22, 2007, Biography)

The Second Child: Poems. By Deborah Garrison. Rhymed and unrhymed poetry about the intersection of work and motherhood, including classic forms such as the sonnet and sestina. (March 12, Poetry) intersection-of-work-and-motherhood/

Born Twice: A Novel. By Guiseppe Pontiggia. One of the great recent novels about fatherhood, which won Italy’s highest literary award, the Strega Prize. (March 8, 2007, Novels)

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. By Ishmael Beah. A young writer’s story of his experiences as a fighter in the government army during the civil war in Sierra Leone. (Feb. 27, 2007, Memoirs)

The Higher Power of Lucky. By Susan Patron. Ages 10 and up. The controversial winner of the 2007 Newbery Medal that has the word “scrotum” on the first page. (Feb. 19, 2007, Children’s)

The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival. By Stanley N. Alpert. A former federal prosecutor’s account of being kidnapped on a Manhattan street and held for thugs who showed a gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight ineptitude. (Jan. 30, 2007, Memoirs)

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughs on Being a Woman. By Nora Ephron. Witty and trenchant essays by the author of Heartburn and the script for When Harry Met Sally … . (Oct. 14, 2006, Essays and Reviews)

An authorized reading group guide to Janice Harayda’s novel Manhattan on the Rocks, a comedy of New York manners, also appears on the site. It was posted on March 26 and is archived with the March 2007 posts and in the “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides” category.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 22, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to ‘Stuart: A Life Backwards’ by Alexander Masters

10 Discussion Questions
Stuart: A Life Backwards

This reading group guide was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher, or agent for the book. This guide is copyrighted by Janice Harayda, and its sale or reproduction in any form is illegal except by public libraries that may reproduce it for use in their in-house reading groups. Other reading groups that would like to use this guide should link to this site or the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce the guide.

“Charming” isn’t a word often applied to books about “an ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath,” as Alexander Masters describes his subject in Stuart: A Life Backwards. But it fits this biography of an intelligent and self-aware but physically and mentally impaired man – half Jekyll, half Hyde — whom the author met when both were living in or near Cambridge, England.

Masters has enriched his tragicomic story with quirky, New Yorker-ish line drawings of Stuart Clive Shorter and others in which people’s heads seem too big for their bodies. And whether or not the distortion was intentional, it’s a visual metaphor for the man described on its pages: Stuart was a someone whose brain always seemed to be about to burst out of his body and, apparently, in the end, did.

Questions For Reading Groups

1. One of the challenges faced by any biographer of a violent criminal is: How can you depict someone’s terrible crimes accurately while also maintaining enough sympathy for the person that people will keep reading? How does Masters do this?

2. Masters found that Stuart changed constantly and acted in “amazingly inconsistent” ways. “At first I thought he was lying or stupid,” Masters said in an interview. [“The Madman on Level D,” by Anne Garvey, the Times of London, June 10, 2005.] Did you ever think Stuart was “lying or stupid,” too? What changed your mind? How would you interpret Stuart’s behavior?

3. Stuart has an unusual narrative structure for a biography – it moves backwards. Masters begins when Stuart is an adult – “an ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath” – and doesn’t give his date of birth until Chapter 25. [Pages 1 and 291] But the story doesn’t always move in a straight chronological line. Masters describes some of Stuart’s ancestors in Chapter 24 before he tells you when his subject was born in Chapter 25. How well does this structure works?

4. Masters often criticizes mental-health professionals or popular views of mental illness, such as when he writes: “ … It is wrong to assume that a failed [suicide] bid is, as the nauseating cliché will have it, only ‘a cry for help.’ It could be – is usually in Stuart’s case – just the opposite. Its failure is the result of too great desperation to get the job done.” [Page 160] How did Stuart affect your ideas about mental illness or any aspect of it, such as suicidal tendencies?

5. One of the characteristics of great biographies is that they are usually “about” more than one person’s life. They may deal with subject’s profession or social circle or the era in which he or she lived. What is Stuart “about” besides Stuart?

6. Stuart disliked a version of the book that Masters showed him. He called it “boring” and wanted something “like what Tom Clancy writes.” [Page 1] How do you think Stuart would have liked the final book?

7. Biographies typically include only photographs of their subject and others. What do Masters’s drawings add to the book?

8. Masters is an advocate for the homeless who has worked in hostels for them and run a street newspaper. Biographers who support a cause are sometimes faulted by critics ax-grinding, special pleading, or slanting their facts. Has Masters done any of those things? How does he keep Stuart’s story fro becoming strident or sentimental?

9. Critics have disagreed on whether Stuart is biography, memoir, or something else, such as a true-crime story. Blurbs on the cover of the hardcover edition call the book a “biography.” The directors of the National Book Critics Circle said that Stuart “defies categorization” and named it a finalist for the 2007 NBCC award in the autobiography/memoirs category. You can find one board member’s comments on this issue by searching for the words “Stuart: A Life Backwards” on Critical Mass How would you categorize the book? How do such classifications affect your perceptions of Stuart and other books?

If you have time …
10. Stuart resembles James Boswell’s Life of Johnson, the first great modern biography, in that it may tell you as much about its author as it does about its subject. So you might enjoy comparing the two books. Is fair to say that Masters was Stuart’s Boswell? Why or why not? What does Masters have in common with Boswell?

Vital statistics
Hardcover edition: Stuart: A Life Backwards. By Alexander Masters. Delacorte, 300 pp., $20. Published: June 2006. Paperback edition: Delta, 320 pp., $12, paperback. To be released in May 2007.

A review of Stuart: A Life Backwards appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on March 22, 2007, and is archived with the March 2007 posts and in the “Biographies” category on

Other reviews: “Shaking Down a Violent Jekyll to Find the Gentle Hyde,” Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times, June 9, 2006, p. E.2:36.

Most reading group guides come from publishers or sites that accept advertising from them. One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books or promotional materials or ads from publishers. All of its reading guides offer an independent evaluation of books that is not influenced by marketing concerns.

If you found this review helpful, please check the “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides” category on One-Minute Book Reviews for others and bookmark the site so you don’t miss forthcoming guides. I would also be grateful if you would forward a link to others who might like the site.

Links: Alexander Masters site:
[Note: SNAP Preview is enabled on One-Minute Book Reviews. This means that you can see an example of the art in Stuart just by putting your cursor on the preceding link to Masters’s site. You don’t have to click on the link and go to his site.] Publisher’s site: Critical Mass, the blog of the board of directors of National Book Critics Circle Click on the Critical Mass link, then search the site for “Stuart: A Life Backwards” for posts on why the book was a finalist for its 2007 NBCC awards.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 21, 2007

Flannery O’Connor on the Purpose of Symbols in Fiction … Quote of the Day #14

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Classics,Essays and Reviews,Fiction,Literature,Novels,Quotes of the Day,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:15 pm

Flannery O’Connor on symbols in fiction …

“Now the word symbol scares a good many people off, just as the word art does. They seem to feel that a symbol is some mysterious thing put in arbitrarily by the writer to frighten the common reader — sort of a literary Masonic grip that is only for the initiated …

“I think that for the fiction writer himself, symbols are something he uses simply as a matter of course. You might say that these are details that, while having their essential place in the literal level of the story, operate in depth as well as on the surface, increasing the story in every direction.

“I think that the way to read a book is always to see what happens, but in a good novel, more always happens than we are able to take in at once, more happens than meets the eye. The mind is led on by what it sees into the greater depths that the book’s symbols naturally suggest. This is what is meant when critics say that a novel operates on several levels. The truer the symbol, the deeper it leads you, the more meaning it opens up.”

Flannery O’Connor in “The Nature and Aim of Fiction” in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. Selected and edited by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1969.

Comment by Janice Harayda:
Flannery O’Connor wrote these words more than three decades ago, when symbols might have scared off the common reader but not critics. Have you noticed how symbols now seem to scare critics, too? Newspapers and magazines regularly publish reviews that make no attempt to deal with symbols in long and complex novels that obviously have levels of meaning. This is often a sign that those publications are using weak or timid critics. It can also be a sign that that editors are allowing those critics to avoid dealing with books in all their complexity.

Mystery and Manners is one of the great books of the 20th century on the art and craft of writing. It is one of the few books on writing that I recommend to all fiction writers and readers who look for the “greater depths” in novel or short story. Another quote from Mystery and Manners appears in the March 12 post, archived with the March 2007 posts in and in the “Quotes of the Day” category.

(c) Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 20, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck’ by Nora Ephron

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Essays and Reviews,Reading,Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:42 pm

10 Discussion Questions
I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

This reading group was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher, or agent for the book. This guide is copyrighted by Janice Harayda, and its sale or reproduction in any form is illegal except by public libraries that may reproduce it for use in their in-house reading groups. Reading groups that would like to use this guide should link to this site or the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce the guide.

Nora Ephron is our Ironwoman of the keyboard. Perhaps no living female writer has excelled at a broader range of literary forms: reporting, fiction, screenwriting. Ephron made her name with witty and trenchant articles for Esquire and other magazines, collected in books such as Wallflower at the Orgy (Viking, 1970) and Crazy Salad (Knopf, 1975). She earned Oscar nominations for her screenplays for When Harry Met Sally …, Silkwood, and Sleepless in Seattle, which she also directed. And she wrote one of the signature novels of the 1980s, Heartburn, which included recipes (although, she admits. she left the brown sugar out of her directions for making pears with lima beans, so the recipe in the first edition didn’t work). I Feel Bad About My Neck collects 15 personal essays on topics from cabbage strudel to her internship in JFK’s press office.

Questions for Reading Groups

1. Ephron says that aging isn’t what you might think from all those “utterly useless” books for older women that are “uniformly upbeat and full of bromides and homilies about how pleasant life can be once one is free from all the nagging obligations of children, monthly periods, and, in some cases, full-time jobs.” [Pages 128–129] What is her view of aging?

2. Ephron seems to enjoy her life. But she says that “the honest truth is that it’s sad to be sixty.” [Page 128] Were you persuaded that she thinks it’s “sad”? Or might she have said that because friends had died recently or for other reasons? How well does she make her case that it’s “sad”?

3. Novelist Anna Shapiro said that Ephron isn’t “just writing about vanity or even grief” in I Feel Bad About My Neck: “What she’s really writing about is the insult to our identity that we suffer when we see that unfamiliar face in the mirror—pouchy, crumpling—a face that’s too strong and exaggerated to be our own, and that also seems to have, with all those dark, complicated areas, too many features.” [The New York Observer, Aug. 14, 2006, page 20.] Do you agree with Shapiro? Why or why not?

4. Ephron offers advice about life in “What I Wish I’d Known,” a list that directly precedes her chapter that dismisses as “useless” books that are “uniformly upbeat and full of bromides.” Her list has many lines that might qualify as bromides, such as, “You can order more than one dessert.” [Page 125] Do you see these sections of the book as contradictory? Why or why not?

5. The essays in I Feel Bad About My Neck first appeared in a half dozen publications, including Vogue, The New Yorker and The New York Times. Which essays work best? Does this seem to relate to the publications in which they appeared? Why or why not? How does Ephron’s writing change and stay the same from one publication to the next?

6. Many people have said that women, more than men, have to be what others want them to be. Do you agree? Did you get the sense from I Feel Bad About My Neck that Ephron, successful as she is, had to accommodate her editors? Did she have to accommodate others? In what ways?

7. Ephron called her first book Wallflower at the Orgy because, she said in the introduction, “working as a journalist is exactly like being the wallflower at the orgy.” She added: “I always seem to find myself at a perfectly wonderful event where everyone else is having a marvelous time, laughing merrily, eating, drinking, having sex in the back room, and I am standing on the side, taking notes on it all.” [Page ix] Would you say after reading I Feel Bad About My Neck that her life still has something of that wallflower quality? Why or why not? How do you think Ephron would answer that question?

8. You may have noticed that most of the reviews of I Feel Bad About My Neck were written by women. How do you think men might have reviewed this book?

9. Could – or would – a man have written a book like I Feel Bad About My Neck? Why or why not? What does this say about our culture?

If you have time …
10. Ephron returns in I Feel Bad About My Neck to some topics she explored in earlier books. “The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less” deals with her second marriage, to the journalist Carl Bernstein, and the novel inspired by their divorce, Heartburn. [Pages 105–107] And “Serial Monogamy” is partly about Craig Claiborne, whom she wrote about in “The Food Establishment” in Wallflower at the Orgy. If you have read any of her earlier books, how would you compare her work then and now? How have her views of people or situations changed?

Vital statistics

Hardcover edition: I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. By Nora Ephron. Knopf, 137 pp., $19.95.

Paperback edition: Vintage, 160 pp., $12.95, paperback. To be released April 8, 2008 [not 2007], according to the listing for the book on

A review of I Feel Bad About My Neck appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on Oct. 14, 2006, and is archived with the October 2006 posts and in the “Essays and Reviews” category on the site.

To learn more about Ephron’s articles, books, and movies, search the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia, where you’ll see a short biography and many helpful links.

To learn more about movies for which Ephron has written screenplays, go to the Internet Movie Database and search for the titles of movies listed in the introduction to this guide. Please note that while Wikipedia links always seem to work, links to IMDb may be less reliable. If an IMDb link doesn’t work, you can reach the site by Googling “Internet Movie Database.”

Most reading group guides come from publishers or Web sites that accept advertising from them. They do not encourage criticism of books, quote unflattering reviews, or suggest that an author’s writing might be anything but flawless. The reading group guides on One-Minute Book Reviews are different. They encourage you and your group to look at books from all angles that might make your discussion interesting or enlightening. One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books, advertising or other promotional materials from publishers. All of its guides and reviews offer an independent evaluation of books that is not influenced by marketing concerns.

If you found this review helpful, please visit the “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides” category on One-Minute Book Reviews for others and bookmark the site so you don’t miss future guides. I would also be grateful if you would forward a link to reading group members.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 19, 2007

Just When You Thought Books Couldn’t Get Worse Than Those of Mitch Albom and Dr. Phil … Here Comes ‘The Secret’

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,How to,Magazines,News,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:38 pm

Jerry Adler had a brilliant evisceration of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret in the March 5 issue of Newsweek. He devotes five pages to some of the more bizarre claims in this bestseller by a former television producer, who purports to explain how you can get everything you want in life by using a “law of attraction.” The law, Adler writes, is scientifically “preposterous.” (Sample advice: If you want to lose weight, stop looking at fat people.) The Newsweek article says in part:

“You’d think the last thing Americans need is more excuses for self-absorption and acquisitiveness. But our inexhaustible appetite for ‘affirmation’ and ‘inspiration’ and ‘motivation’ has finally outstripped the combined efforts of Wayne Dyer, Anthony Robbins, Dr. Phil and Mitch Albom. We have actually begun importing self-help — and from Australia, of all places, that citadel of tough-minded individualism, where just a couple of years ago, Byrne was a divorced mother in her 50s who had hit a rocky patch in her business and personal lives. It was in that moment of despair, when she ‘wept and wept and wept’ (as she recounted to Oprah on the first of two broadcasts devoted to her work), that she discovered a long-neglected book dating from 1910 called The Science of Getting Rich. In it she found how to let your thoughts and feelings get you everything you want, and determined to share it with the word. She called it The Secret …”

Obviously — obviously — I will report back to you soon on whether we have a frontrunner here for the 2008 Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. Until then I’d like to offer a modest defense of Australian imports by reminding you of my reviews of two of my favorite children’s picture books, Cat and Fish (Feb. 17, 2007) and The Nativity (Dec. 8, 2006), both award-winners from Down Under. Please read these posts before you conclude, on the basis of the Newsweek article, that Australia is shipping us only baloney by the pound.

A further defense of Australia: The Delete Key Awards have had links from blogs on at least three continents. Some of the most delightful comments came from the Australian writer Sean Lindsay on his blog 101 Reasons to Stop Writing, where he suggested that the Delete Key Awards should be televised and winners forced to donate some of their royalties to literacy programs. What a brilliant idea! Maybe the awards should be televised on Oprah’s show because at least one finalist, Elizabeth Berg, owes some of her success to having had an earlier book selected by its book club …

Thanks also to Bill Peshel at Reader’s Almanac, a font of reviews of the reviews of mysteries and thrillers too often neglected in this space.

How to find the takedown of The Secret in Newsweek: If you can’t get the following direct link to work (which I can’t), the quickest way to find the article is to Google “Adler + Newsweek + The Secret.” Link:

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 16, 2007

Another Jawbreaker From Claire Messud’s ‘The Emperor’s Children’

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Fiction,Novels,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:05 pm

A postscript to yesterday’s news that Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children had been named the second runner-up in the 2007 Delete Key Awards competition for the year’s worst writing in books

By Janice Harayda

Wow, I thought the lines I quoted from The Emperor’s Children were bad. (Delete Key Awards Finalist, #4, Feb. 28; see also the March 15 post naming her the second-runner up in the finals But I just discovered that reviewer Gary Malone may have one-upped me. Read this excerpt from his review of the hardcover edition of her novel on that site:

The plot that wouldn’t thicken, March 5, 2007
Reviewer: Gary Malone (Australia)
– See all my reviews

“You’ve really got to worry about a novel when a *favourable* reviewer describes the plot’s two main set pieces and one of them is when the cat dies. [The Economist, 19 Aug 2006.] Before getting into that, however, try this sample sentence for size:

‘He remembered his father’s telling him – his father, small as he was himself tall, with sloping shoulders off which Murray feared, as a child, the braces might slip, a bow-tied little man with an almost Hitlerian mustache, softened from menace by its grayness, and by the softness, insidious softness, of his quiet voice, a softness that belied his rigidity and tireless industry, his humorless and ultimately charmless ‘goodness’ (Why had she married him? She’d been so beautiful, and such fun) – telling him, as he deliberated on his path at Harvard, to choose accounting, or economics, saying, with that dreaded certainty, ‘You see, Murray, I know you want to go out and write books or something like that. But only geniuses can be writers, Murray, and frankly son …’ [p. 124]

See what I mean about size? Reviewers have already complained about the author’s self-interrupting, drunkenly digressive prose style. They are entirely correct to do so. Claire Messud’s book is festooned with sentences which are essentially motorway pile-ups of sub-clauses, codicils and parenthetical interpolations. Such a rookie mistake – which makes for hopelessly cumbersome reading – should never have made it past the editor.”

Be sure to read Malone’s review on Amazon if your book club is thinking of reading The Emperor’s Children, especially if you wonder if the writing was bad enough to make it the second-runner in the Delete Key Awards, just behind first runner-up Mitch Albom and grand prize winner Danielle Steel.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 14, 2007

Dr. Phil’s ‘Love Smart’! It’s Got Exclamation Points! Lots of Them! More Than Two Dozen in the First Seven Pages! Enough to Qualify Him for a Delete Key Award? You Tell Me!

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:51 pm

“Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?”

Love Smart has lots of exclamation points! More than two dozen in the first seven pages alone! And can that Dr. Phil McGraw ever dish out the clichés! See how many you can find in this line: “Now it seems time to step up and close the deal, get ‘the fish in the boat,’ walk down the aisle, tie the knot … you want to get to the next level.”

Is that enough to earn a Delete Key Award for the year’s worst writing in books? Or just worse than a bad episode of The Bachelorette? How about if I tell you that “America’s therapist” also advises women hold sex “in reserve” until a man has made “the ultimate commitment,” because many men still think: “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?” Women, tell me HOW YOU LIKE BEING COMPARED TO COWS! Men, tell me HOW YOU WOULD LIKE IT IF WE ALL WENT ON THE KIND OF SEX STRIKE THIS SEEMS TO BE RECOMMENDING! Yes, Dr. Phil uses a lot of BIG FONTS, too, because he seems to think we won’t GET IT if he doesn’t!


© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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