One-Minute Book Reviews

July 25, 2007

Believe It or Not, Haikus About Charlie Rose, Sean Penn and Others

Filed under: Paperbacks,Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:36 am
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More on what I’m reading right now, because I’m still too blitzed to post a review …

The kinkiest poetry book I’ve come across in a while: Beth Lapides’s Did I Wake You? Haikus for Modern Living (Soft Skull, 2006) www.softskull.com. And Lapides means “modern.” These are haiku about Iraq, Google and tantric sex — not to mention, Larry King, Mario Cuomo and Salma Hayek. Here’s my favorite so far: “Charlie Rose dresses / down for Sean Penn, who dresses / up for Charlie Rose.” What would Philip Larkin think of that? If Lapides lived in my part of New Jersey, she’d probably be writing haikus about the “Mad Hatter” bandit, just caught and suspected of robbing 18 banks (though he insists it’s all a case of “mistaken identity”).

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 20, 2007

You’re a Real Republican If …

Filed under: Humor,Paperbacks — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:11 am
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“Patriot Act: Protecting the nation against the twin evils of terrorists and library patrons.”
– A definition from The Real Republican Dictionary

The Real Republican Dictionary. By Robert Lasner. Ig Publishing, 103 pp., $9.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

A friend who lives in the original blue state recently dated a man she saw as a perfect for her except for one epic flaw: He was a Republican. To cheer her up, I bought her The Real Republican Dictionary, a book that satirizes what Robert Lasner calls “Republican English” on topics from “abortion” to “zealot.” Before I could send it, they broke up. That gave me a chance to take a second look at the book and discover that it isn’t just for people who believe they’ve been tragically mismatched with an incipient Libertarian by an online dating service. Although Lasner hasn’t come out with a guide to “Democratic English,” you may be able to tell whether you’re a “real” Democrat by inverting his explanations of GOP positions.

You’re a real Republican if you agree with these definitions from The Real Republican Dictionary:

Patriot Act: Protecting the nation against the twin evils of terrorists and library patrons.”
Founding Fathers: Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich.”
War: To be used only as a first resort.”
Oil: ‘The good Lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are freely elected democratic regimes friendly to the United States … But we go where the business is.’ Dick Cheney, Cato Institute, June 1998.
Culture: NASCAR.”

Published: September 2005 www.igpub.com

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

April 5, 2007

Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’: What Do You Say to God Besides, ‘I’ve Always Been a Big Fan of Your Work’?

After a bruising divorce, a woman in her 30s finds her way back to herself with rest stops in Rome, Mumbai and Bali

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. By Elizabeth Gilbert. Penguin, 352 pp., $15, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

In her early 30s, Elizabeth Gilbert kept thinking about something her sister had said while breast-feeding her firstborn: “Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it’s what you want before you commit.”

Gilbert took her words to heart. She quit trying to get pregnant, divorced her husband, moved out of their house in a New York suburb and took a year-long break from life as she had known it.

As she puts it in Eat, Pray, Love, she went to Rome for “pleasure” and to an ashram near Mumbai for “devotion” or spiritual renewal. Then it was off to Bali for “balance,” though this goal took a hit when she had so much sex with her island boyfriend that she got a bladder inflection. (A medicine woman cured her by making her drink a foul-smelling brew made from roots, leaves, berries, turmeric and a “shaggy mass of something that looked like witches’ hair.”) Gilbert, a writer for GQ, has some interesting things to say about the places she visits. But she’s nowhere near as good at highly inflected travel writing as, say, Geoff Dyer, whose Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It offers much more thoughtful writing on Indonesia and other countries. Great travel writers sell you on a personal vision of a place. Gilbert is selling something else: the idea that you can fix what’s wrong with your life buying a few plane tickets to spots that you’ve always wanted to visit. In her case, “recovery” sounds a lot like another form of consumerism.

Best line: Gilbert says that as her marriage fell apart, she wanted to ask God for help but wasn’t sure how to pray: “In fact, it was all I could do to stop myself from saying, ‘I’ve always been a big fan of your work …’”

Worst line: “A word about masturbation, if I may. Sometimes it can be a handy (forgive me) tool …” This kind of wordy and cute-instead-of-witty prose turns up often in Eat, Pray, Love.

Published: February 2006 (Viking hardcover), January 2007 (Penguin paperback)

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 29, 2006

James L. Swanson Follows the Trail of John Wilkes Booth

A taut true-crime story about the search for Lincoln’s assassin

Manhunt: The Twelve-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. Morrow, 448 pp., $26.95.

Over Thanksgiving dinner I told one of the smartest people I know that I had just finished Manhunt, the true story of the attempt to capture the man who killed Abraham Lincoln. “Why did John Wilkes Booth kill Lincoln, anyway?” my friend asked. “Was he just crazy?”

I couldn’t have answered before I read Manhunt and, no doubt, many people still can’t. One of the chief virtues of this fascinating book is that it reminds us how little we know about some of the most familiar events in American history.

Lincoln scholar James L. Swanson hasn’t written a biography or a character study of Booth but a true-crime story about what happened between the actor’s escape from Ford’s Theatre after the assassination and his arrest at a barn in Virginia 12 days later. So he leaves unanswered many questions about Booth’s mental stability. Instead he casts the actor as a passionate white supremacist who saw Lincoln as a tyrant and was enraged by the president’s recent call for limited black suffrage. General Robert E. Lee had surrendered, but strong Confederate armies remained at large in parts of the South, and their leaders had not taken their cues from Lee. Booth may have been delusional enough to believe that, by killing Lincoln, he could affect what remained of the Civil War.

For all its absence of psychological insight, this story is rich in adventures worthy of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Swanson follows Booth and an accomplice from Ford’s Theatre to the homes of Confederate sympathizers in Maryland and a pine thicket where they hid for five days until they believed they could safely cross the Potomac to Virginia in small boat under cover of darkness. And although he occasionally he describes thoughts by Booth that he appears to have had no way to know, he documents most of the story meticulously.

Manhunt came out just before Presidents’ Day, and some critics may omit it from holiday gift lists in favor of more recent titles. That’s too bad, because this book has much to offer adults and teenagers with a passion for U.S. History. Many of us learned from our teachers that after shooting Lincoln, Booth leaped onto the stage at Ford’s and shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis” – “Thus always to tyrants.” How many of us learned that he first said something else? Before leaving the president’s box, Booth shouted a single word: “Freedom!”

Best line: “John Wilkes Booth’s escape and disappearance unfolded as though scripted not by a master criminal, but by a master dramatist. Each additional day of Booth’s absence from the stage intensified the story’s dramatic arc.”

Worst line: Swanson describes what Booth was thinking just before his arrest in lines like: “Suicide? Never that shameful end, Booth vowed to himself. Richard III did not commit suicide, Macbeth did not die by his own hand, nor Brutus …” Swanson provides many endnotes, but none makes clear how he could have known this.

Editors: Michael Morrison at HarperCollins and Lisa Gallagher at Morrow

Published: February 2006. HarperPerennial paperback to be published February 20007. www.jameslswanson.com

Posted by Janice Harayda

© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 28, 2006

Danielle Steel Gets Toxic

Filed under: Novels,Paperbacks — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:35 pm
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Nasty stereotypes of Jews and others masquerading as a fairy tale

Toxic Bachelors. By Danielle Steel. Dell, 447 pp., $7.99, paperback.

Nobody expects social realism from Danielle Steel, but it’s still shocking to find Jews portrayed as monsters in her latest paperback. Toxic Bachelors is about three single men from different backgrounds who try to avoid marriage while cruising the Mediterranean on a 240-foot yacht. Charlie Harrington is philanthropist whom others see as “ever the polite and romantic Prince Charming.” Gray Hawk is a “penniless” artist who can somehow afford to live in the fashionable Meatpacking District of Manhattan while also paying for all the years of therapy needed by his psychotic dates. Adam Weiss is a “top lawyer” in the entertainment industry and a male slut: “Adam never had less than four women going at once, often five, sometimes six in a good week. And once, seven.”

Each man represents a spiritual as well as social “type”: Charlie is WASP-y, Gray makes a religion of art, and Adam is Jewish. Guess which one has an ineffectual father, a mother who is “a nagging bitch,” and a spoiled sister? If you said, “Adam,” you’re right. While Charlie’s dead parents were saintly and Gray’s were irresponsible but not malicious, Adam’s are cruel enough to make the Portnoys look like candidates for a lifetime achievement award from Parents’, magazine, even when they gather for the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur. Adam sees them as “freaks” who are no better than his sister: “She had never done anything with her life except get married and have two children.”

Danielle Steel is known for her fairy-tale endings, but if this is a “fairy tale,” it resembles one of the original Brothers Grimm stories more than their sanitized modern versions: a dark and nasty morality play masquerading as entertainment.

Best line: Steel departs from stereotypes when the director of a children’s shelter wonders if visitors can appreciate her work: “What did they know about a five-year-old who had had bleach poured in her eyes and would be blind for the best of her life, or a boy who had had his mother’s hot iron put on the side of his face, or the 12-year-old who had been raped by her father all her life and had cigarettes stubbed out on her chest?”

Worst line (tie): Winner No. 1: “He was well built and good-looking in an exotic, ethnic way.” In other words, he’s Jewish. Winner No. 2: “Yes,’ he said succinctly.”

Published: September 2006 (mass market paperback edition).

Posted by Janice Harayda

(c) 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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