One-Minute Book Reviews

April 6, 2012

Do You “Celebrate” or “Observe” Passover and Easter? Quote of the Day

Filed under: Easter,Passover,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:13 am
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I’ve been celebrating Easter all my life, but I paid little attention to the difference between “celebrate” and “observe” until I read S.I. Wisenberg’s breast-cancer memoir, The Adventures of Cancer Bitch (University of Iowa Press, 2009). It includes this quote from the comedian Lenny Bruce:

“Lenny Bruce said Jews observe; goyim celebrate.”

April 4, 2012

What Is Poetry? Quote of the Day / John Updike

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:53 am
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You can define poetry in many ways. You can focus its form, its content, its language, its purposes or its differences from prose. Or you can define it as John Updike — the poet, novelist and critic — did in Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism. He said that poetry is “the exercise of language at its highest pitch.”

April 1, 2012

What Made the ‘The Little Engine That Could’ So Popular? / Quote of the Day

Filed under: Children's Books,Classics,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:12 am
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Few picture books influenced mid-20th-century children as did The Little Engine That Could, written by the pseudonymous Watty Piper. Its pictures lack the high distinction of other favorites of the era, including The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. But  some baby boomers who recall no other line from their early reading remember: “I-Think-I-Can …” What explains the appeal of this story of a small engine that agrees to pull a long train up a hill after larger engines refuse to help? An answer appears in The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived, which ranks the “little engine” as No. 31 on a list compiled by authors Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan and Jeremy Salter. They write:

“Each of us has reserves of strength, imagination, and intelligence. If we concentrate and focus our attention, we can tap those reservoirs and meet challenges that might otherwise have seemed overwhelming. This is the simple yet powerful lesson of The Little Engine That Could. It is especially worth the attention of its target audience because The Little Engine That Could is a morality play for children. It is also very much an American tale in which an individual accomplishes what the establishment is unable or unwilling to do. …

“A valuable lesson for children is that being big doesn’t always make the difference. Those big engines refused to do what the tiny hero of our story accomplished. And she teaches us that we should believe in ourselves, to believe we can do it.”

March 22, 2012

Why We Need Bookstores / Quote of the Day From Scott Turow

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:41 am
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Why do we need brick-and-mortar bookstores? Scott Turow, the novelist and president of the Authors Guild, gives an often neglected reason in this quote:

“Marketing studies consistently show that readers are far more adventurous in their choice of books when in a bookstore than when shopping online. In bookstores, readers are open to trying new genres and new authors: it’s by far the best way for new works to be discovered.” 

March 15, 2012

Can Books Be ‘Compelling’? Quote of the Day From Robert Silvers

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:14 am
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Critics have an armada of fuzzy words that they deploy when they want to avoid taking a stand on books. Editors, agents and others translated some of the reviewers’ evasions in my posts 40 Publishing Buzzwords, Clichés and Euphemisms Decoded, More Publishing Buzzwords Decoded and 23 British Publishing Euphemisms Decoded. The critic Daniel Mendelsohn mentioned another while introducing lifetime-achievement award winner Robert Silvers, editor of the New York Review of Books, at the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Awards ceremony. Mendelsohn said that Silvers asked when a critic described a book as “compelling”:

“Compelling? Compelled to do what?”

You watch Mendelsohn’s introduction to Silvers in a video of the NBCC ceremony.

March 5, 2012

‘The Average American Author Earns About $9,000 a Year’ / Quote of the Day

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:51 am
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Herman Melville died broke after his publisher refused to give him an advance for Moby-Dick, one of America’s greatest novels. Do contemporary writers fare better? You might wonder after reading a recent essay by Scott Turow, the president of the Authors Guild. Turow noted that American publishers want to pay authors a royalty on e-books that is about half of what they pay for books on paper:

“The problem is that the average American author earns about $9,000 a year from writing as it is. Decreasing the rewards will inevitably drive more people out of the profession. And it is hugely unfair, because publishers do quite well with e-books. They have no costs for paper, printing, warehousing or distribution — and no risk, as is the case with physical books, that the volume will be returned for full credit by the bookseller, which is the great bugaboo of publishing.”

The plight of writers looks worse when you consider what Turow didn’t say: The federal poverty level (the threshold for government benefits) is $11,170 for one person. And the $9,000 a year figure he cited appears to have changed little in the past half century. More than 30 years ago, the American Society of Journalists and Authors surveyed its members and found that they earned slightly more than $10,000 a year from writing. The Authors Guild and ASJA figures suggest that writers earn roughly as much as migrant farmworkers, who have a median annual income of about $11,000.

You can follow Jan on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.

February 13, 2012

Emma Darwin to Charles – Valentine’s Day Quote of the Day

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:55 pm
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“I should be most unhappy if I thought we did not belong to each other forever.”
Emma Darwin to her husband, Charles, c. February 1839, as quoted in Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Holt, 2009), a National Book Award finalist

February 9, 2012

Cruelty in Creative Writing Workshops — Quote of the Day / Francine Prose

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:02 am
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An old joke says that a sadist is someone who’s nice to a masochist. By that standard, you find both types in creative writing workshops that require students to submit their work for critiques by their classmates. Francine Prose suggests why in an interview with Jessica Murphy Moo in The Atlantic online, reprinted in Reading Like a Writer, that includes these comments:

Francine Prose: “I think that the idea of writing by committee, or learning to write by committee is insanity. It’s just simply insanity. I mean, writing is all about being different from everything else – not the same. So when you’re writing to satisfy the tastes of a group, and presumably you know those tastes after a while, that’s actually quite dangerous.

“ … there’s something essentially sadistic about the whole [workshop] process. I mean to sit there and have the love of your life – your work – something that close to your heart and soul, just ripped apart by strangers. …

Jessica Murphy Moo: “And not to be able to say anything.”

Francine Prose: “Yes – and not to be able to say anything. Who thought that up? It’s so cruel. And everybody essentially knows it’s so cruel, but that’s one of the many things you’re not allowed to say. This whole language of euphemism has sprung up around the inability to be honest. You can’t say, ‘This just bored the hell out of me.’ So instead you say, desperately, ‘I think you should show instead of tell.’ Where’d  that come from? I mean, tell that to Jane Austen!”

Comment from Jan:

Philip Hensher was right that a creative writing workshop “can be wonderful, with the right group, with a proper level of trust; or it can be atrociously unhelpful.” Journalist Cheryl Reed got little help from students’ comments she received while getting an MFA. “Most contributors offered terrible and conflicting advice,” she said on her blog. Reed added that although she received many favorable comments on her fiction, the workshop process on the whole wasn’t helpful: “It was mean and mean-spirited.”

I had to submit my work to peers in my undergraduate journalism classes and found the process neutral, neither helpful nor harmful. Perhaps the experience was benign because I had a gifted professor or because the rules for news-writing are clearer than for fiction: Your story has an inverted-pyramid structure or it doesn’t. I’ve also led workshops in college journalism classes I’ve taught, and they had more flexibility than those Prose describes: My students could respond to comments. But I’ve used workshops sparingly for reasons implicit in Reed’s remarks: They can amount to — if not in the blind leading the blind — the nearsighted leading the nearsighted. Some creative writing programs may require workshops partly because, in writing classes that last for several hours, they give everyone a break from the lecture format. For that reason alone, some students and professors welcome them.

You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter, where she often tweets about writing, by clicking on the “Follow” button at right.

(c) 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 3, 2012

Words Forbidden on SAT Questions / Quote of the Day From ‘Crazy U’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:13 pm
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Which is more of an ordeal: taking the SAT or writing the questions that appear on it? You might wonder after reading Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College (Simon & Schuster, 2011), a lively memoir of one father’s attempt to understand higher-education admissions rituals.

One of the most informative chapters in the book deals with the college-entrance exam that was originally known as Scholastic Aptitude Test and is now officially just the SAT. Ferguson learned that the authors of its questions must navigate a minefield of words or phrases forbidden because they might offend a test-taker or give one group an advantage over another. He summarizes some of restrictions imposed on the test-writers by the Educational Testing Service, which develops and administers the test for the College Board:

“The term ‘hearing impaired,’ to describe people whose hearing is impaired, is discouraged in favor of ‘deaf and hard of hearing.’ Test writers must steer clear of the words ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal.’ ‘Hispanic’ should not be used as a noun, and neither should ‘blind’; ‘black’ can be used only as an adjective. ‘Penthouse,’ ‘polo’ and other ‘words generally associated with wealthier social classes’ are likewise off-limits; ‘regatta,’ too, needless to say, along with any mention of luxuries or pricey financial instruments like junk bonds. ‘Elderly’ is to be avoided in describing people who are elderly. ‘America’ can’t be used to describe the United States.”

December 30, 2011

Why Do Children Like Animal Stories?

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:58 pm
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Animal stories have appealed to young children for thousands of years. What accounts for their popularity? Peter D. Sieruta, a children’s literature critic and the author of Heartbeats: And Other Stories, writes in The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey:

“Infants, like puppies, kittens, and other young animals, not only share a diminutive size and appealing ‘cuteness’ but are also alike in their innocence and dependency on larger creatures.”

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