Today’s Gusher Award for Literary Hype Goes to …
The Los Angeles Times wins this week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Literary Hype for these lines from a review of Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves:
“Uh-oh. Run for your life. This girl is on fire.”
Get a fire extinguisher and put out the flames of hyperbole in this one.
Gusher Awards recognize over-the-top praise for books or authors in reviews, blurbs or elsewhere. One-Minute Book reviews welcomes nominations for them. Read more Gusher Award winners here. You can also follow Jan Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.
(c) 2011 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
Time magazine wins today’s Gusher Award for a brief review that named Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea one of the best books of 2006:
“ … Three Cups of Tea is an astonishing tale of compassion—and of a promise kept.”
No doubt those words sounded less ironic four years ago than they do in the wake of a 60 Minutes investigation that found that Mortenson misrepresented some of his efforts to build schools in Afghanistan. But even in 2006, that “astonishing” might have suggested that parts of the book were too good to be true and that Three Cups of Tea didn’t belong on a best-of-the-year list.
Jonathan Franzen says that when he first read Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters, it seemed to him ”obviously superior to any novel by Fox’s contemporaries John Updike, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow.” — From Franzen’s introduction to Desperate Characters: A Novel (Norton, 1999, paperback).
Comment: I admire Fox and think her books are underrated, but Franzen’s hype tests the patience even of a champion of her Borrowed Finery and The Coldest Winter. Click here to read other Gusher-Award winners.
Two reviews share today’s Gusher Award for over-the-top praise in book reviews:
From a review of Marisa Silver’s Alone With You: Stories in the New York Times Book Review on June 6, 2010:
“Miraculously, Silver makes philandering Burton sympathetic even as she compassionately conveys the ambivalence Julia feels, at once insulted and relieved by her husband’s infidelity.”
From a review of Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge in the Oregonian on June 26, 2010:
“No less miraculous, however, are the tools by which Orringer builds these connections: Her writing is glorious, at times awe-inspiring.”
Makes you wonder if the pages of these books were printed on the Shroud of Turin, doesn’t it? Memo to critics tempted to use “miraculous” in future reviews: Why not save it for times when a plane lands on the Hudson instead of squandering it on smooth transitions between paragraphs?
Gusher Awards appear on Fridays except when no sentence or paragraph was too inflationary to qualify. These prizes may recognize types of overheated praise other than hyperbole, such as gonzo metaphors. If you’d like nominate an a candidate, please send an e-mail note to the address on the “Contact” page.
You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.
© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
Aimee Bender makes you “grateful for the very existence of language.”
— From a review of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt in the San Francisco Chronicle
As the novelist Jennifer Weiner said in posting this quote on Twitter, “I have my doubts.”
Gusher Awards recognize over-the-top praise in book reviews. To read earlier posts in the series, click here.
A line in a review of Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge, in the “Briefly Noted” section of the May 5, 2008, New Yorker:
“Strout makes us experience not only the terrors of change but also the terrifying hope that change can bring: she plunges us into these churning waters and we come up gasping for air.”
The last part of this sentence is meant as praise, but why is it good that a book leaves you “gasping for air”? Doesn’t it make reading this novel sound a little like having an asthma attack?
One-Minute Book Reviews will have a review of Olive Kitteridge next week. In the meantime I’ve posted a few comments on the book at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.
This winner of this week’s Gusher Award exemplifies one of the most popular forms of overheated praise, the literary relay gone haywire. It comes from a recent review of Yu Hua’s novel Brothers in the New York Times Book Review:
“Imagine a novel written by William Dean Howells together with D.H. Lawrence, updated by Tom Wolfe and then filmed by Baz Luhrmann, and you’ll have some idea of what Brothers would be like, had it originated in the West.”
The reviewer doesn’t stop with linking a Chinese author to Howells, one of the most influential American writers of the 19th century. He also invokes a fine early 20th-century English author, a bestselling New York novelist, and the Sydney-born director of Australia (after having said that Brothers has a presumably French-influenced “Cyrano de Bergerac-style struggle”). Instead of being helpful, all of these comparisons have the opposite effect: The more of them the critic piles on, the less clearly you see the book.
On a more practical note: Some research has shown that readers start to have trouble grasping statistics when more than three numbers appear in a sentence, and I suspect that a similar principle applies to comparisons. After this critic throws in that fourth name, Baz Luhrmann, he’s lost you.
Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing appear on One-Minute Book Reviews on Fridays unless, as happened this week, I hit “publish” when I meant to hit “save” so that one of them is announced earlier.
(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
This week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing Goes to …
A review of Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowds’s Our Life in Gardens (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 322 pp., $30) in the New York Times Book Review:
“Once you wander into this book, you won’t be able to sit still for long anyway, what with having to scurry around looking for paper and pen to take notes on just a few more plants you must have, and leaping up to consult the pictures in your American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants.”
Sounds like you’d better get that prescription for Xanax or Valium filled before you read this one, doesn’t it?
Gusher Awards recognize over-the-top praise in book reviews. They appear on Fridays except in weeks when no praise was too overheated to qualify.
Other Gusher Awards appeared on Dec. 11, Oct. 31, Sept. 5 and July 25.
One-Minute Book Reviews will announce the winners of the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books on Monday, March 16, beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern Time.
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.