One-Minute Book Reviews

May 11, 2007

A Review of ‘Acceptance,’ Susan Coll’s Satire of the College Admissions Race, Coming Next Week on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Novels,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:52 pm

One of the books I’ll be reviewing next week is Susan Coll’s Acceptance, a send-up of the college admissions race, which I’ve just started. My favorite line so far? A mother named Nina boasts to a neighbor, Grace, that her daughter got straight A’s. Grace flinches: “Didn’t grades fall into the zone of private information, along with age and weight and financial net worth?”

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 10, 2007

Does ‘The Secret’ Work? Day 9 of 30-Day Test

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:51 pm

Day 8
A miracle. No e-mails today from Nigerian letter-fraud scammers trying to con me out of my bank account numbers. Did the Hot Mail spam-blockers finally kick in … or was it The Secret?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 9, 2007

Enid Shomer’s ‘Tourist Season,’ Short Stories About Women in Unfamiliar Territory

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Fiction,Reading,Short Stories,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:50 am

Female characters explore places that include Tibet, Florida and Las Vegas in a collection by a winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award

Tourist Season: Stories. By Enid Shomer. Random House, 256 pp., $13.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Enid Shomer is a thoughtful and intelligent writer whose Tourist Season is nonetheless hard to love. One problem is that Shomer lacks a strong voice. You might recognize her stories as hers only because she tends to write about current or former residents of Florida. This isn’t enough when so many other writers, like Carl Hiaasen, work the state with voices you’d know anywhere.

Here are the first lines of “Chosen,” the first story in Tourist Season: “It was a Tuesday afternoon in early June. School had been out for a week.” You can begin a story with writing that flat – sometimes – if you move on right away to more promising material. But “Chosen” is about a 59-year-old Jewish speech therapist who gets an unexpected visit from two monks who say that she is a reincarnated Buddhist lama, and who not only invites them into her home while she is alone but follows them from Florida to Tibet. The story is so implausible that it throws the pedestrian beginning into higher relief. And that implausibility has less to do with plot than with Shomer’s lack of a distinctive voice. The plot of “Chosen” is much less bizarre than some that have worked brilliantly in stories by writers with stronger voices, such as Flannery O’Connor and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

A related problem is that Shomer often gives you Cliffs Notes to characters instead of development. She writes of a Florida sheriff in “Sweethearts”: “A star high school quarterback who’d married a cheerleader and gone to Vanderbilt on a football scholarship, he had always been something of a local celebrity.” Change the name of the school (or “cheerleader” to “Homecoming Queen”) and those words could apply to anybody from Archie Manning to the most successful insurance agent in your hometown.

Shomer started out as a poet, turned to short stories and is writing on a historical novel. And there’s nothing wrong with working in several genres. But in Tourist Season, she doesn’t seem to know who she wants to be. She deals in realism in one story, semi-realism in another and magical realism in a third and with characters who range from a high school student to retirees. If the women in her collection resemble tourists in their own lives, Shomer comes across a tourist in literature, carefully mapping out journeys but still casting about for her ideal destination.

Best line: From “The Hottest Spot on Earth,” a story set in Las Vegas: “She regarded the pastel haze of downtown Las Vegas. A pyramid-shaped hotel prodded the sky. Beyond it the suburbs twinkled in a grid, like a busy switchboard.”

Worst line: From the title story, whose characters live in a condo building on Florida’s Gold Coast: “The directors were a bunch of bullies who couldn’t pass for businesspeople if they had ticker tape coming out of their butts.” I can’t quite see this one, can you?

Editor: Anika Streitfeld

Published: March 2007

Caveat lector: This review was based on the advance readers’ edition. Some material in the finished book may differ.

Furthermore: Shomer won the Iowa Short Fiction Award for her first collection or stories Imaginary Men (University of Iowa Press, 1993). Her work has appeared in The New Yorker and other publications.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. At least 50 percent of her reviews deal with books by women. Reviews of books by female authors typically appear on Mondays and Wednesdays and books by male authors on Tuesdays and Thursdays with the sexes up for grabs at other times.

May 8, 2007

Does ‘The Secret’ Work? Day 7 of 30-Day Test

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:49 pm

Day 7
I think my messages to the Universe are being intercepted. Since starting my test of The Secret, I seem to be getting more e-mail from con artists peddling variations on the famous Nigerian letter-fraud scam, though it’s coming from Burkina Faso: Somebody tells you that you can have millions of dollars in unclaimed funds if you provide your own bank account number so the cash can be deposited.

I try not to open these. But my e-mail from One-Minute Book Reviews goes to the address these people use, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the con artists from visitors to the site. Today I got an e-mail message with the heading: FROM THE DESK OF ADAMS SMITH. A fan of my review of For One More Day, noting that Mitch Albom is writing at a third-grade level? No, “Adams Smith” is the “Bill and Exchange Manager” of the “African Development Bank.” He has $15 million in unclaimed funds and will give me a third of it if I send him the number of my checking account so he can deposit the money in my name.

There is a serious chance that if this test of The Secret continues, my bank account will end up in the negative numbers. Is it possible that hackers could break into your messages to the Universe and redirect them to people being investigated by Interpol?

Requested from Universe on May 1: $1,000,000
Received so far: $825 (hard labor) + $58 (lottery) = $883
Universe owes me (according to The Secret): $999,117 (at a minimum)

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 4, 2007

Does ‘The Secret Work’? Day 3 of 30-Day Test

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Reading,Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:55 am

Day 3
Have just recovered from a flirtation with madness. Went to the UPS store to get my mail and see if the Universe had sent more of the $1,000,000+ requested on Day 1 of 30-Day test of advice in The Secret. (Had to agree with comment on this site by P that $825 check yesterday was hardly encouraging, especially since it covered freelance work I did before starting the test.) Got to the store too late and was locked out.

It didn’t seem fair to blame the Universe for not coming up with the $999,175 it still owes me when, if I’d arrived earlier, it might have paid in full. So I decided to pick up $10 worth of scratch-off lottery tickets on the way home from the UPS store. I don’t usually buy these and realized, when I found a shop that sold them, that I had no idea which to get. There are 24 instant games, all displayed on rolls like shiny toilet paper, with incomprehensible names like “The Duke.” (Why did the New Jersey put John Wayne lottery ticket? Why not Bon Jovi or – for those of us with literary inclinations – Edmund Wilson?) I asked a clerk which game he would suggest. He said that a lot of people seemed to be winning modest amounts — $50 to $100 – on one called Big Money Spectacular. I handed over $10 for five $2 tickets and won $25 instantly.

I wondered if Big Money game was “hot,” so I pocketed a $15 profit and reinvested my original $10. I won $17, $50, $22 before I got a set of cards that had no winner. From five games I won $25 + $17 + $50 + $22 + $0, or $114, minus the initial investment of $50, for a $64 profit. I played once more to make sure my streak had ended, lost $6, then quit with a $58 profit. This doesn’t count the dry cleaner’s bill for getting the blizzard of silvery specks from all the scratch-offs off my clothes. So now the tally is:

Requested from Universe on May 1: $1,000,000
Received so far: $825 (hard labor) + $58 (lottery) = $883
Universe owes me (according to The Secret): $999,175 (at a minimum)

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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.

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.

Help for People Who Can’t See the Rhyme or Reason of Poetry

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Poetry,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:08 am

Books that make rhyme and meter / In our minds, so much neater

By Janice Harayda

Take a look at the list of top posts on this site on an average day, and you may say see something remarkable: The most popular post is often a review of a little-known book called How to Be Well-Versed in Poetry, a witty guide to understanding the different types of poetry. This post appeared than five months ago (Nov. 20, 2006), and since then it has repeatedly trumped reviews of newer and flashier books, including many bestsellers. And there’s some poetic justice in this: No book makes learning about poetry more fun than this delightful collection, edited by the British critic E.O. Parrott, which illustrates many kinds of rhyme and meter with self-descriptive light-verse examples such as, “A form with very tight parameters, / Heroic couplets use pentameters.”

But Parrott’s book, published by Viking in 1990, can be hard to find. So you may also want to consider John Hollander’s more widely available Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse (Yale University Press, $11.95). Like Parrott’s book, Hollander’s uses light verse to describe poetic forms: “A quatrain has four lines / As one can plainly see: / One of its strict designs / Comes rhymed abab.”

One difference between the books is that Parrott includes work by a constellation of poets while Hollander wrote all of his examples. Perhaps for this reason, How to Be Well-Versed in Poetry is wittier than Rhyme’s Reason and covers more poetric forms. But Hollander, a Yale professor, comments on some rhetorical issues that Parrott doesn’t. So many people will want both books. As Hollander says in another context, “Repetition is a powerful and diversified element of formal structures.”

You may also want to read … The Poetry Dictionary: Second Edition: 1) Defines key terms that should be in the vocabulary of every poet. 2) Includes over 250 illustrative poems from Homer to the present day. (Writer’s Digest, $14.99), edited by John Drury with a foreword by Dana Gioia. This reference book in the form of a dictionary has more information than casual poetry readers may need, including definitions of obscure types of poems such as the Fibonacci (which uses the mathematical Fibonacci sequence to determine the number of lines in each stanza). But The Poetry Dictionary may be useful to poets, critics and others. The landmark textbook Understanding Poetry by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren, first published in 1938, taught generations of college students how read poetry by focusing on the text, not the poet’s politics or other issues that have become fashionable. Understanding Poetry has gone through many editions and remains widely available in libraries. Another warhorse is John Ciardi’s How Does a Poem Mean?, first published in 1959 and widely used in high schools and colleges in its day. This textbook, also available in many libraries, may be most noteworthy today for its six-page analysis of Robert Frost‘s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which suggests the interpretation that has become standard — that the poem involves a death wish. A memorable third-season episode of The Sopranos in which Meadow explains the poem to A.J. may derive directly or indirectly from this influential book.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.








April 29, 2007

Mysteries and Thrillers Set in Paris, London, Hawaii and Other Places You May Be Dying to Visit

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Fiction,Mysteries and Thrillers,Novels,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:20 pm

When a plot is your passport

Can’t afford that big trip you’d hoped to take this summer? Reading an atmospheric mystery or thriller can help to keep the fantasy aglow until next year. And Bill Peschel has reviewed lots that are set in places I’d love to revisit or revisit. Some of the novels he’s covered and their backdrops include:

Hawaii: Dan Gordon’s Just Play Dead (St. Martin’s, 1999)
Paris in the 1920s: Water Satterthwait’s Masquerade (St. Martin’s, 1999)
London: Simon Shaw’s A Company of Knaves (Minotaur, 1998)
Rural England: Ann Granger’s A Word After Dying (Avon, 1999)
Edinburgh: Ian Rankin’s Dead Souls (Orion, 2005)
The Everglades: Carl Hiaasen’s Nature Girl (Knopf, 2006)

You can read more about these novels at Planet Peschel, where you’ll also find reviews of many other books in those genres.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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