One-Minute Book Reviews

November 21, 2007

What to Say When Uncle Elmer Burps at Thanksgiving Dinner – And Other Holiday Dilemmas Resolved by Judith Martin, Miss Manners

The syndicated etiquette columnist tells how to deflect rudeness without being rude

Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say. By Judith Martin. Crown, 179 pp., $17.

By Janice Harayda

Judith Martin has written more than a dozen etiquette books under her nom de guerre of Miss Manners, but this is the one you need this week. The Right Thing to Say is a brisk field manual for anyone who wonders how to parry to all those rude questions and insensitive remarks that can occur in any season but peak at events like Thanksgiving dinner. As in her syndicated column, Miss Manners typically offers ideas that are witty, apt and polite, all dispensed in a question-and-answer format.

Are you single and wondering what to say to say when Cousin Herman asks you why you haven’t married? Miss Manners suggests, “Oh, Cousin Herman, you know I’m waiting for someone just like you.” Would you like to know how to silence an aunt who tells you that you’ve gained weight or gone gray? Miss Manners recommends, “Oh, thank you; how kind of you to notice.” Or perhaps you’re pregnant again and have heard too many comments like, “I’m glad it’s you and not me!” Miss Manners advises you to try, “I’m sure you mean to wish us the best.” And if you don’t know what to say when Uncle Elmer says “Excuse me” after burping, she offers the comforting: “No reply is appropriate.”

Miss Manners’s answers are entertaining even if you haven’t weathered the insults heaved at her correspondents. And if you get through Thanksgiving needing her advice, just wait. The office Christmas party is coming up.

Best line: “Why would anyone say ‘Congratulations’ to a couple who has just announced an engagement or the expected birth of a child? Congratulating people is what is now done at funerals. Anyone who has suffered a loss can expect to be told: ‘It’s really a blessing, you know’ … Those who are most skillful at comforting the bereaved with such congratulatory statements are able to go for a second round, Miss Manners has observed. When they have elicited a fresh outburst of woe, they congratulate the mourners again, this time for ‘dealing with’ or ‘working through’ their grief, or tell them what stage of grief they are at, as if grief were a subway stop. Thus they have the enormous satisfaction of having done something for their friends. Driven them to tears.”

Worst line: None, but the structure of the book is confusing. Instead of being grouped together, for example, related questions about dating and marriage appear on pages 79 and 109. And the index is so inconsistent, it’s all but useless.

Published: May 1998

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 21, 2007

The Dark Side of Betty Rollin’s ‘Here’s the Bright Side: Of Failure, Fear, Cancer, Divorce, and Other Bump Raps’

A former NBC News correspondent writes about subjects that include death as a growth experience

Here’s the Bright Side: Of Failure, Fear, Cancer, Divorce, and Other Bum Raps. By Betty Rollin. Illustrations by Jules Feiffer. Random House, 109 pp., $14.95.

By Janice Harayda

One of the most poignant sections of a recent memoir by four 9/11 widows described the cruelty of people who urged the women – even before the smoke had cleared over Manhattan — to look on the bright side of their husbands’ deaths. Some reminded the widows that they still had beautiful, if now fatherless, children. And a doctor told one of them: “It could be worse – you could be thirty-nine and fat with shingles”

How could people be so crass? Part of the explanation may lie in the avalanche of books, articles and news shows that take a promiscuously upbeat approach to human suffering. The latest book-length recipe for lemonade is Here’s the Bright Side, which has a format appropriately resembling that of Mitch Albom’s books. It is a huge disappointment coming from Betty Rollin, a former NBC news correspondent whose books include the trailblazing breast-cancer memoir First, You Cry.

Rollin cherry-picks anecdotes and statistics as she makes the case that “within each form of misery” there is “a hidden prize waiting to be found.” A “bright side” of divorce or widowhood is that you might find “a swell new mate,” she says. “Have you ever encountered the particularly dipsy-doodle joy of a newly married widow or widower?” she asks. If not, maybe it’s because second marriages have a higher divorce rate than first marriages. On the subject of getting old, Rollin is no saturnine Nora Ephron. Her “bright side” of aging is that “major depressive episodes” are “highest among 25- to 44-year-olds and lowest among those over 65.” That might sound good until you consider that when the episodes occur, they’re doozies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that “suicide rates increase with age and are very high among those 65 years and older,” with the highest rates in the country found among elderly white men.

You might wonder if there’s any harm in yet another book that says, as the dust jacket of this one does, that “clouds truly do have silver linings.” One problem is that some research suggests that trying to look on the bright side doesn’t work if you aren’t naturally inclined to do so. That research has found that we have a happiness “set point” and that, even after extreme changes such as winning the lottery or becoming disabled, most people return to it after about six months.

Anther problem involves what Barbara Ehrenreich has called the cult of “brightsiding,” which she describes in “Welcome to Cancerland” in The Best American Essays of 2002 (posted on Breast Cancer Action “Brightsiding” can lead to what’s usually called blaming the victim. If you can make yourself feel better by seeking the “hidden prize” in every disaster, isn’t it your fault if you can’t or don’t find it? In her essay Ehrenreich describes the hostility she faced, after developing breast cancer, from women who had the disease. Some suggested that she was only hurting herself by expressing her anger about possible environmental causes of cancer instead of echoing the popular view that “cancer made my life better” – a theme also of Rollin’s book. But experts agree that anger is a near-universal “stage” of grief. And Rollin doesn’t acknowledge that people may short-circuit the process by rushing into the brightsiding that she recommends.

Nor does Rollin’s one-size-fits-all view reflect that some forms of sorrow or suffering might defy her approach. Here’s the Bright Side appears designed partly for the gift market. But it could be beyond cruel to give this book to, for example, fourth-degree burn victims or parents who have lost a child to murder, suicide or the war in Iraq. Here’s the Bright Side came out just before the world learned of the horrific invasion of the home of a Connecticut doctor whose wife was raped and strangled and whose daughters died in their burning house. Would Rollin tell him, as she tells us, that “no matter what, there is usually a bright side up for grabs”?

Best line: In the strongest part of this book, Rollin sticks closely to her own experiences and doesn’t prescribe. She says after her first mastectomy in 1975, only a small, now defunct firm would publish her memoir of the experience: “Of course I was forbidden to use the word cancer or breast in the title, so I called it First, You Cry.”

Worst line: Here’s the Bright Side is the latest book to deal , in part, with what might be called “death as a growth experience.” As Rollin puts it: “Is there, then, a bright side to dying? There can be.”

Published: April 2007 and

Consider reading instead: When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Avon, $9.95, paperback), by Harold M. Kushner, a rabbi’s exploration of the problem of evil, inspired by the death of his young son. First published more than 20 years ago, this wise and thoughtful book has become a modern classic that appeals to all faiths. Other good books on topics covered by Rollin include these memoirs: Joyce Wadler’s My Breast (Pocket, $14.95, paperback) and Brendan Halpin’s It Takes a Worried Man (Penguin, $13.95, paperback), both about breast cancer; Wendy Swallow’s Breaking Apart (Hyperion, $19.95), about divorce; and Ruth Coughlin’s Grieving: A Love Story (Random House, varied prices), about the last months in the life of her husband, Bill, who died of liver cancer, and her subsequent widowhood.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 30, 2007

‘Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat’ (Books I Didn’t Finish)

Maybe this is how the new Miss Universe stays thin?

Title: Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother’s Tokyo Kitchen. By Naomi Moriyama and William Doyle. Delta, 274 pp., $12, paperback.

What it is: One woman’s theory of why Japanese women have the lowest obesity rate in the world (3 percent) and the highest life expectancy (85 years) even though the country has “millions of stressed-out, nonexercising people who are smoking and drinking their way to early graves.”

Where I stopped reading: At the beginning of Chapter 4, entitled “How to Start Your Tokyo Kitchen, or Yes, You Can Do This At Home!” (page 67).

Why I stopped: You’d need to have a more serious interest in Japanese cooking than I do to read more than I did. The first three chapters explain the Japanese philosophy of eating as seen by Tokyo-born Naomi Moriyama, who moved to the U.S. at the age of 27. And these sections are interesting and well-written, though rooted in the views of an earlier generation (that of the author’s mother). Many Americans may be surprised to learn that the Japanese love desserts, especially chocolate. “One elegant Tokyo department store now offers shoppers their own accounts in a Chocolate Bank – you buy an amount of gourmet chocolate, the store keeps it in its temperature-controlled chocolate vault, and you stop in to make a withdrawal any time you want.” But after the first three chapters, the book turns into a collection of recipes for what Moriyama calls “Japanese home cooking.” “This is not a diet book,” she says. “And it’s not a book about making sushi.”

Best line in what I read: The Japanese philosophy of eating includes the concept of hara hachi bunme – “eat until you are 80 percent full.”

Worst line in what I read: I stopped before the recipe-intensive section. But even the recipes in earlier chapters call for ingredients that might be hard to find outside big cities. Among them: dashi, kombu, mitsuba, shiso leaves and bonito flakes.

Editor: Beth Rashbaum

Published: November 2005 (Delacorte hardcover), January 2007 (Delta paperback). This site has video clips of Moriyama’s Today show appearance:

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

At least 50 percent of all reviews on One-Minute Book Reviews cover books by women. Except during holiday weeks, books by female authors typically appear on Mondays and Wednesdays and books by male authors on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Please consider linking to this site and telling others about it if you’re frustrated by how often Sunday book review sections consist mainly of reviews books by male authors, written by male critics. To my knowledge One-Minute Book Reviews is the only site that, while reviewing books by both sexes, has had from the start a publicly stated commitment to parity for female authors. Thank you for visiting this blog. — Jan

May 3, 2007

Does ‘The Secret’ Work? Day 2 of 30-Day Test

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,How to,News,Reading,Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:19 am

“You do not have to ask over and over again. Just ask once. It is exactly like placing an order from a catalogue.”
— Rhonda Byrne in The Secret, the No. 1 nonfiction bestseller

Day 2
Just realized I may have made a mistake yesterday in asking the Universe for seven-figure advance for my next book. Forgot to say that I would also accept a) seven-figure movie deal or b) seven-figure paperback deal for one of earlier novels or other writing project. But The Secret says you’re supposed to ask only once for what you want. Should I revise my original request? Or should I assume the Universe knows I would accept a check from DreamWorks or a paperback house? Could not find an answer to this anywhere in The Secret.

But I did get an $825 check for a freelance project that I completed before I read the book. Hooray! Maybe it’s a sign from the Universe that DreamWorks will kick in the other $999,975 during the 30-day test?

Requested from Universe on May 1: $1,000,000
Received so far: $825
Universe owes me: $999,175 (at a minimum)

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 2, 2007

Does ‘The Secret’ Work? Day 1 of 30-Day Test

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,How to,Reading,Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:28 am

“We have received thousand of accounts of The Secret being used to bring about large sums of money and checks in the mail.”
— Rhonda Byrne in The Secret, the No. 1 nonfiction bestseller

Day 1
Oh, joy! I’ve just received a seven-figure advance for my next book. I am so happy and grateful that the check arrived. Now I can afford to live in one of those fantastic condos going up down the street instead of a modified garret in building also inhabited by black-and-white psycho ferret owned by downstairs tenant. Can also keep posting on One-Minute Book Reviews because advance has more than replaced all income lost since starting blog. The Delete Key Awards live!

Actually, I don’t have the advance yet. Or even a contract. Or even a finished book. [Note to literary agent: Only kidding, Carol! I don’t owe you a minimum of $150,000.] But The Secret says you create your own reality through your thoughts, a process it calls “the law of attraction.” This includes acting as though you already have what you want. The Secret suggests that you start by writing, “I am so happy and grateful now that … ,” then fill in the blank. This sends “a powerful signal to the Universe” that you’ve received what you want “because you are feeling gratitude for it now.” You’re supposed to turn yourself into a kind of human radio transmitter beaming messages to the Universe.

I wrote this post last night and haven’t heard from the Universe yet. Maybe it was busy, or had to be taken to the emergency room? Would like to ask Universe to stop psycho ferret from going postal again, or at least giving tenants rabies, but this is a “negative thought” not allowed by The Secret.

[Note: Today’s usual post appears directly below this one. Jan]

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

The Best Book About Taking Care of an Older Person Who Is Ill

Filed under: How to — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:33 am

A practical and authoritative guide to home caregiving

Not long ago, I wrote about the psychological complexities of living with someone who is “physically present but psychologically absent” because Alzheimer’s Disease or another condition. My comments appeared in a review of admirable Pauline Boss’s Ambiguous Loss (April 20), a book that focuses the emotional aspects of such illnesses. If you’re looking instead for a how-to book on caring for an parent who is ill or disabled, consider the American Medical Association Guide to Home Caregiving (Wiley, $14.95), edited by Angela Perry. This guide offers nuts-and-bolts advice on many topics ignored by other books, such as how to keep a catheter from clogging or find someone who has wandered off. One caution: The book came out in 2001 and doesn’t cover changes in insurance and other fields that have occurred since then, such as the introduction of the Medicare Part D drug plan last year.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 1, 2007

Will ‘The Secret’ Make Me Rich? A 30-Day Test Starting Tomorrow

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,How to,News,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:30 pm

“When you think of the things that you want, and you focus on them with all of your intention, then the law of attraction will give you exactly what you want, every time.”
— Lisa Nichols, one of the 24 “teachers” quoted in The Secret, the No. 1 nonfiction bestseller

Will The Secret make me rich? Jerry Adler eviscerated Rhonda Byrne’s bestseller brilliantly in Newsweek (March 3, 2007), partly by quoting experts in history and psychology. But, you may wonder, what do experts know? Didn’t “experts” tell us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that the Red Sox would never lose the Curse of the Bambino? Shouldn’t somebody actually test the ideas in The Secret instead of just accepting Newsweek’s word that they are scientifically “preposterous”? And what blog is bold enough to do that test except for One-Minute Book Reviews, home of innovations such as the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing, the Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides and the Books I Didn’t Finish category for books don’t deliver on the promise of their great reviews?

Starting tomorrow, I’ll test one of the ideas in The Secret every day until May 31 and write a post the next day about what happened. I’ll also continue to post book reviews, which will appear in the post directly below the one on The Secret

Remember: Some of the experts in the book said you can see amazing results in just a few days, so you may be reading remarkable things in this space by the end of the week.

To avoid missing these posts, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. To read the Newsweek article on The Secret, Google “Adler + Newsweek + The Secret.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 23, 2007

Do Some Parenting Guides Need a Time-Out?

Filed under: Book Reviews,How to,Nonfiction,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:35 pm

Two popular books on child-rearing offer different answers to questions like: What can you do when children act up in public or won’t put their shoes away?

“It’s not fair, Jeremy Spencer’s parents let him stay up all night!”: A Guide to the Tougher Parts of Parenting. By Anthony E. Wolf. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 264 pp., $14, paperback.

Parenting for Dummies: 2d Edition. By Sandra Hardin Gookin and Dan Gookin. Mary Jo Shaw and Tim Cavell, contributing editors. Hungry Minds, 408 pp., $21.99, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Prime-time nanny shows have done American parents a favor: They’ve shown how much more you can often learn from somebody in a burgundy cape than from people who flaunt their Ph.D.s on book covers. Here, for example, is child psychologist Anthony Wolf’s response to a parent who reacts incredulously to his advice that you should “tough it out” when your child acts up at the mall:

Parent: “You mean if my kid acts up when we’re out in public, and if being nice, reasoning, and yelling all don’t work (which of course they rarely do), then there is nothing I can do? I just have to tough it out the whole rest of the time we’re out?”

Wolf: “Yes, not only is that all one should do, but as with temper tantrums, there are many things one should not do.” Among the things you shouldn’t do: go home, scold, offer rewards and threaten punishment.

Can you imagine what one of those burgundy-caped crusaders would say to this? Call Nanny 911! The TV nannies have shown over and over that you can respond effectively to children who act up in public. And the solution may start with setting up reward systems, which Wolf doesn’t like, or just teaching children manners.

“It’s not fair, Jeremy Spencer’s parents let him stay up all night!” looks like a book that might offer a fresh approach to child-rearing. The great title and terrific cover art by New Yorker cartoonist Lee Lorenz suggest that Wolf has a sense of humor. And some reviewers say that his book did help them a lot with problems like backtalk, sibling fights and children who say, “I hate you!”

But Wolf’s sense of humor soon gives way to psychobabble, and he tips his hand when he writes in his second chapter: “Most parents today subscribe to the belief that if children are treated well they will thrive – which is absolutely true.” Flip that idea around, and you’ll see the problem: It means that if your child isn’t thriving, you aren’t treating that child “well.” But we all know good parents whose children – for whatever reason – aren’t flourishing. Wolf finally allows why this may be so in his next-to-last chapter: “As is increasingly being shown by researchers in child development, children are born with varying psychological characteristics. We do not fully shape our children. Much they seem to bring with them.” Why didn’t he say so in the beginning?

Parenting for Dummies is much more practical than the ultra-permissive “It’s not fair …” I resisted the “Dummies” and “Idiot’s” guides for years because of their titles — why buy a book that insults you on the cover? — but recently have had to read a lot of them as a critic. And most that I’ve read give you nuts-and-bolts advice that, if dumbed-down, is often less pretentious than in other books. If the “Dummies” and “Idiot’s” guides patronize you, they’re up front about it in a way that Wolf’s book isn’t. You know just by looking at their titles that their authors assume you’re a moron.

Consider how “It’s not fair …” and Parenting for Dummies deal with discipline. Wolf hits you with “shoulds.” Parenting for Dummies covers the subject a section called “Discipline and torture techniques.” Want to tell a child to put his or her shoes away? The authors suggest that you say, “Your shoes snuck out of your closet. Can you please help them find their way home?” Instead of scolding a child for leaving the milk out, try, “Why don’t you be the milk police? Your job is to make sure everyone follows the milk rules. Arrest whoever breaks this law!” These techniques wouldn’t work in all families, but I’d bet they would be a lot more effective in some than Wolf’s reminder that “there is nothing you can do” to make some situations better.

© 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.

February 20, 2007

My Final Word on ‘That Scrotum Book’, Including How to Lobby Your Library to Carry ‘The Higher Power of Lucky’ If You Don’t Have Time to Write a Letter

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Children's Books,How to,Libraries,Newbery Medals,Novels,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:41 pm

The last word on scrotums …

Okay, I’ve just about exhausted what I have to say about scrotums, at least until I get to Dr. Phil’s vasectomy reversal (yes, he had one) which his wife, Robin, discusses in her Inside My Heart (Nelson, 2006), soon to be reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews.

A couple of final thoughts about Susan Patron’s Newbery Medal–winning The Higher Power of Lucky, reviewed at length in this space on Monday, Feb. 19:

1) Want to encourage your library to carry The Higher Power of Lucky? Make a formal request that the library buy the book. At most public libraries, any cardholder can do this by filling out a postcard at the checkout desk. You may also be able to do this online by logging onto the library’s Web site. Don’t give the staff an opportunity to say, “We didn’t think this book is right for our patrons.” Tell your library that you’re a patron, and it’s right for you. If you have a child with a library card, it would be even more brilliant to get your child to request The Higher Power of Lucky. This would achieve two things. First, you will be teaching your child about the wonderful range of services offered by public libraries, which often include buying books that you request. Second, you will force the library to choose between buying the book and breaking the heart of your adorable child, who may be requesting the purchase of a book for the first time. And if the library doesn’t buy the book, you could have your child ask a librarian to explain why it couldn’t buy the book. As I said … brilliant, isn’t it?

2) Want to find out what you missed if you didn’t see Barbara Walters’s discussion of Susan Patron’s book on The View today (Feb. 20)? Go to the blog Watching the View This site has an amusing recap of the show on which Barbara Walters apparently read aloud a dictionary definition of “scrotum” … just in case you were still unclear about which part of the male anatomy Patron was describing.

Postscript: This turned out not to be my last word on scrotums. Since writing this post, I have published reading group guide to The Higher Power of Lucky and thoughts on why the book might have received the Newbery despite its use of the word “scrotum.” Both of these posts appeared on Feb. 22. If you don’t see them on the main page of this site, you will find them archived in the “Children’s Books” category on One-Minute Book Reviews. My original review of The Higher Power of Lucky appeared on Feb. 19 and evaluated, among other things, how the word “scrotum” fits into the novel as a whole.

© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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