One-Minute Book Reviews

May 18, 2012

What I’m Reading … Susan Gubar’s ‘Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer’

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction,What I'm Reading,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:39 pm
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“What I’m Reading” is a series about books I’m reading that I may or may not review later

What I’m reading: Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer (Norton, 296 pp., $24.95), by Susan Gubar.

What it is: A feminist scholar’s memoir of the medical “calamities” she endured after undergoing the standard medical treatment for advanced ovarian cancer, known as debulking surgery.

Why I’m reading it: Few authors have written in depth about having advanced ovarian cancer, partly because few women survive the disease long enough to do it.

Quote from the book: “the state of contemporary approaches to ovarian cancer is a scandal.”

Probability that I will review the book: 100%

Publication date: April 2012

Read an excerpt from Memoir of a Debulked Woman or learn more about the book.

About the author: Gubar co-write The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, a book widely used in college classes.

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

© 2012 Janice Harayda
www.janiceharayda.com

April 10, 2012

‘We Band of Angels’: The True Story of Nurses Who Became Prisoners of War

Filed under: History,Nonfiction,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:18 am
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A portrait of the first American military women taken captive and imprisoned as a group by an enemy

We Band of Angels: The True Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese. By Elizabeth M. Norman. Atria Books, 327 pp., $16, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

This book can only lift the heart of any woman who regrets seeing her sex represented in print by Lindsay Lohan’s bail hearings and Kim Kardashian’s prenuptial agreement. Few people may remember that American female prisoners of war existed before U.S. Special Operations Forces rescued Jessica Lynch from captivity in Iraq. But women have been falling into enemy hands at least since the Civil War. And the unlucky group includes 77 U.S. Army and Navy nurses who were stationed in the Philippines when Japanese bombs began to fall on American military bases there on Dec. 8, 1941.

Nurses on the Bataan peninsula worked in an open-air field hospital with thousands of beds laid out in rows under a jungle canopy intended to hide it from enemy planes. They sharpened needles on rocks and tried to ease their hunger by frying weeds in cold cream. After Bataan fell, the nurses were evacuated to Corregidor, where they worked in bomb-proof tunnels. When the Allies surrendered, they became prisoners of the Japanese, who held them in internment camps until the end of the war. It should surprise no one that after an initial flurry of attention, Americans lost interest in the group known as the “Angels of Bataan.”

Elizabeth Norman tries not to overplay the heroism of these nurses, but their extraordinary stories speak for themselves. On the evidence of We Band of Angels, these women were not raped or, in the sense in which the word is used today, tortured. But for more than three years they lead torturous lives, enduring with courage and professionalism their fate as “the first group of American military women taken captive and imprisoned by an enemy.” The nurses deserve a secure place beside the men who inspired They Were Expendable, perhaps the best-known story of the battle for Bataan, and other enduring World War II narratives. Their stories also suggest that we need history of all female prisoners of war. Some of the captives might have a tart response to a recent US Weekly cover story on Kim Kardashian entitled “My Divorce Hell.”

Best line: “By all available accounts the presence of women on the battlefield boosted the morale of men.” This fact and much else in We Band of Angels contradict the cliché that women in combat “distract” men.

Worst line: Only 48 of the 77 nurses captured in 1942 and freed in 1945 were alive when Norman began her research for We Band of Angels, and some turned down her requests for an interview. Such realities may help to explain the stilted characterizations of certain nurses, such as Helen Cassiani: “At twenty-four she was pretty and bright, with dark, curly hair down to her neck, a round face and an inviting smile.”

Recommendation? Highly recommended to book clubs, especially those looking for good nonfiction about women or a neglected aspect of military history.

About the author: Norman is a nurse and historian who teaches at New York UniversityWe Band of Angels won the Lavinia L. Dock Award from the American Association for the History for Nursing and other prizes.

Read more about this book or buy a copy from an independent bookstore in the author’s area.

Furthermore: William Lindsay White tells the story of the retreat from the Philippines from the perspective of a torpedo boat squadron in the book They Were Expendable, made into a movie that starred John Wayne.

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

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 28, 2011

Sexualizing Marie Curie – Lauren Redniss’s ‘Radioactive’ Nudes

Filed under: Biography,National Book Awards,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:13 am
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Has one double standard replaced another in a 2011 National Book Award finalist?

By Janice Harayda

For generations Marie Curie was the scientist who had no first name. The world knew her as “Madame Curie” and her male counterparts – men like Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi and Niels Bohr – by their full names.

That double standard has eased. But a potential new one emerges in Lauren Redniss’s Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love & Fallout, an illustrated biography of the couple who won a Nobel prize for physics for their work with radioactivity. A half dozen of its images sexualize Marie Curie by showing her fully or partly nude — in one case, frolicking as naked as a wood nymph with the married man who became her lover after her husband’s death.

Is anything wrong with this? In several respects, no. No one could object to nude pictures as tasteful as Redniss’s in a book intended for adults. And highlighting the romantic aspects of a life falls within the bounds of legitimate artistic interpretation. Pierre and his successor in his widow’s affections appear naked along with her in some of the pictures.

But Radioactive is at heart a book about Marie Curie: That’s why she appears on the cover. And it’s hard to imagine an illustrated biography of a male scientist of her stature that dealt with its subject’s sex life in the same way. As Redniss notes, Einstein had an illegitimate daughter with a former student and, while married, had an affair with his cousin. When have you seen a book that showed him cavorting as naked as Bacchus with a lover?

You can look at all of this in either of two ways. You can say: Radioactive acknowledges fairly that female Nobel laureates have lives beyond their work whether or not books treat their male counterparts differently. Or you can say: Radioactive is a throwback to an era that tended to view even the most brilliant women in the context of their sexuality and their relations with men. Redniss works hard to show the importance of the Curies’ scientific achievements. But she tips her hand with her subtitle and its double meaning, A Tale of Love & Fallout. You can only imagine the reaction the book might have inspired in Marie Curie, who said, “There is no connection between my scientific work and the facts of private life.”

A review of Radioactive appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on Nov. 26, 2011. The book was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award for nonfiction. You can see one of its nude images on the site for the New York Public Library: Click on the head of Paul Langevin (the man with the moustache), then then on the red arrow on the cover of the book. On the third click after the arrow you’ll see a spread that represents Marie and Pierre Curie on their honeymoon.

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

© 2011 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 10, 2007

God Catches a Break in Barbara Brown Taylor’s ‘Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith’

Can you have a love affair with God after you take off your clerical collar?

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. By Barbara Brown Taylor. HarperOne, 272 pp., $14.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

When I was the book editor of the Plain Dealer, a publisher sent me a study called The Private Lives of Ministers’ Wives. I knew right away that I wanted to assign it for review: How many books have you read about those underappreciated pillars of so many congregations? But when I asked a minister’s wife to review the study, she said she couldn’t do it unless I let her write under a pseudonym – which most newspapers don’t allow — because in her position she couldn’t express her views freely. Which, of course, was exactly the point of the book.

We may know even less about the inner lives of the clergy than we do about those of their spouses. Like the minister’s wife I tried to recruit as a reviewer, the partners of spiritual leaders may believe they have a responsibility to keep silent on some issues. But they have no formal job description that requires it. The clergy do have a duty to protect confidentiality and use other forms of discretion, which helps to explain why we hear about their private lives mainly when a scandal erupts.

Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor opens a stained-glass window onto their lives in an engaging memoir that at times gives the impression that she either lacks self-awareness or isn’t free to describe events fully. Leaving Church tells of her years a parish minister in Atlanta and Clarkesville, Georgia, and her decision to become a religion professor after realizing that “feeding people was no longer feeding me.”

Brown Taylor says she once saw being a priest as similar to being the chief engineer at a nuclear power plant: “In both cases, one needed to know how to approach great power without loosing great danger and getting fried in the process.” Her book has many such lines that are clever rather than deep, or seemingly intended more to keep people awake during sermons than to provoke serious thought. You might also question the logic of her decision to become a professor if “feeding people” wasn’t feeding her, given that college teaching consists largely of feeding students.

But Brown Taylor has strengths that offset her inconsistencies. Chief among these is that she describes vividly the demands of the parish ministry without whining or sugarcoating the difficulties. “Like most clergy, I know how to post bond, lead an intervention, commit someone to a mental health care facility, hide a woman from her violent husband, visit an inmate on death row, and close the eyes on a dead body,” she writes. “One summer when a frightened murder witness showed up at the church door I even learned how to arrange an appointment with the district attorney for testimony before a grand jury.” After years in church leadership roles, I didn’t know that the clergy did half those things, and I’d bet most other lay people don’t know it, either. Part of what makes Leaving Church valuable is that it shows how much the clergy do for those poverty-line salaries that they get.

But this book does more than help to explain why so many clergy face burnout and need long vacations and sabbaticals just as professors do. Like Anne Lamott, Brown Taylor notices offbeat but telling details that suggest the tangy flavor of her part of the country. Not long after moving to Clarkesville, she saw a church sign that read: “Given Satan an inch and he will become your ruler.” What minister would want to tangle with parishioners who suspected them of giving that inch?

Coincidentally or not, Leaving Church has arrived when God is taking it on the chin. Biologist Richard Dawkins www.richarddawkins.net has been on the New York Times Best Seller list for months with The God Delusion, which says that the biblical Yahweh was “psychotic.” He shares space with journalist Christopher Hitchens www.hitchensweb.com, whose God Is Not Great contends that religion is “irrational.” Brown Taylor doesn’t try to argue with the atheists. Instead, in a quiet way, she suggests joys and pains of a life lived according to faith and does so well enough that you believe her when she says that, no matter what went wrong between her and the Church, “this is a love story.”

Best line: Like most clergy, Brown Taylor often listened to requests for money from people with hard-luck stories. She reports that when she said “no,” one petitioner took it as a challenge to try harder. The woman called her and said: “Martha is sitting on the toilet and we are out of toilet paper. If I came over right now, could you write me a check to the grocery store so she can get up?”

Worst line (tie): No. 1 Brown Taylor says in one paragraph that “we have romanticized” Native Americans, then tells us in the next that a Cherokee friend has “a noble brow,” as though the image of the “noble” Indian weren’t part of the romanticized stereotypes she rightly criticizes. No. 2 She says that “the call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human.” That we should be “fully human” is one of those fuzzy clichés that many of have heard often from the pulpit. What does it mean? “Fully human” as opposed to half-human and half-bull, like a minotaur? Brown Taylor uses the phrase partly to explain why she left the parish ministry to teach religion. What about the people who have passed up such career moves? Are they less than “fully human”?

Recommendation? Likely to appeal to many fans of Anne Lamott www.annelamott.com, though Brown Taylor isn’t as funny or forthcoming about many parts of her life. Also highly recommended to church book groups.

Published: May 2006 (hardcover) and April 2007 (paperback) www.barbarabrowntaylor.com and www.harpercollins.com. Brown Taylor is a columnist for the liberal magazine The Christian Century www.christiancentury.org. She teaches at Piedmont College www.piedmont.edu.

Furthermore: Leaving Church won the Best General Interest Book award from the Association of Theological Booksellers www.associationoftheologicalbooksellers.org. For information on The Private Lives of Ministers’ Wives, click on this link www.lizaleshire.com and then on “Liz’s Books.”

Consider reading also: Michael Lindvall’s The Good News From North Haven: A Year in the Life of a Small Town (Crossroads, $16.95), a down-to-earth book of stories about the life of a Presbyterian minister in Minnesota. This book reads like a collection of autobiographical essays, though billed as a novel by its author, now the pastor at the Brick Presbyterian Church www.brickchurch.org in New York City.

One-Minute Book Reviews was the seventh-ranked book review site on Google www.google.com/Top/Arts/Literature/Reviews_and_Criticism/as of Sept. 6, 2007.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour and a vice president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org. She is a former associate lay leader of Park Avenue Methodist Church in Manhattan and often speaks to local or national religious groups on topics such as faith in fiction.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

June 22, 2007

Win a Copy of Deborah Garrison’s Poetry Collection, ‘The Second Child’

Filed under: Books,Contests,Poetry,Reading,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:06 pm

Is buying poetry a luxury on your budget? Would you like to win a copy of Deborah Garrison’s The Second Child (Random House, 2007), one of the most talked about poetry collections of the year?

This book deals with the everyday experiences of a working mother of three and is available only in hardcover. Here’s how you can win a copy:

1) Link from your blog to this post or or any other on One-Minute Book Reviews.

2) Send an e-mail message that includes the link to the address on the “Contact” page on this site. Include your mailing address.

3) If you’re the first person to send a link I can verify and you live in the U.S., I’ll send you the book. (I’ll pay the postage.) This is the copy of The Second Child that I used to write the review that was posted on this site on March 12, 2007 http: oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/12. It’s also the copy I used to write the reading group guide to The Second Child posted on the same day But it has no marks on (except for a bookstore sticker on the back) and is in very good condition.

Because links can be slow in showing up on Word Press and Technorati, you must send an e-mail message to the address on the contact page to win. I’ll judge the winner by the times on the e-mails.

This is the third in a series of book giveways that I’ll be having on Fridays or Saturdays on this site this summer. There may not be a giveaway every week, and not all giveaways may require a link. Some may involve writing contests that ask you to tell why you want the book.

(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.

April 24, 2007

How Do You Know When a Marriage Is Over? Women Tell Why They Left or Stayed With Their Husbands

Filed under: Book Reviews,Essays and Reviews,Memoirs,Reading,Relationships,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:33 pm

The turning points in a marriage fall under the scrutiny of 24 female writers, including Terry McMillan, Joyce Maynard and a former Mormon who had to wear “temple-issued undergarments”

The Honeymoon’s Over: True Stories of Love, Marriage, and Divorce. Edited by Andrea Chapin and Sally Wofford-Girand. Warner, 350 pp., $24.99.

By Janice Harayda

Some publishers say that “anthologies are the new memoirs,” but The Honeymoon’s Over makes you wonder if the boom is running on empty.

This is third essay collection I’ve reviewed this year that includes work by Joyce Maynard, the prolific journalist, novelist and contributor to NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Maynard is a good essayist whose entries have been among the best in all three books, but she’s been cannibalizing her life for parts for so long that some of her stories are wearing thin. Another writer might have added more freshness to this lightweight book of essays by 24 women on turning points in their marriages.

Nothing in The Honeymoon’s Over has the sophistication of Jane Smiley’s reflections on her first marriage in the recent Mr. Wrong, or of the best work of essayists like Daphne Merkin or Phillip Lopate. And the worst entries are bad enough to put off the poeple who might appreciate this book the most – those who are trying to decide whether to leave a marriage. Terry McMillan’s writing goes further south in a bitter, profane and disorganized screed against her ex-husband. Daniela Kuper makes cloying use of second-person narration in an account of her efforts to get her son back from a guru. And Zelda Lockhart devotes 20 pages to her past without making you understand why she married a lesbian partner with whom she fought regularly and to whom she had “never been physically attracted.”

The best entries in The Honeymoon’s Over describe experiences strong enough to carry them despite any flaws in the writing. Perhaps the most memorable is Elissa Minor Rust’s essay on why she has stayed with her husband since leaving the Mormon faith they once shared, an unusually candid report on Latter Day Saints teachings on sex roles. Did you know that married Mormon women must wear “temple-issued undergarments”? This is the kind of information you rarely get from news shows on Mormonism, which tend to focus instead on the LDS tolerance for polygamy. Rust avoids writing about politics, but her essay indirectly suggests some of the problems Mitt Romney may face in his bid for the presidency. How long will it be before the tabloids – or Sixty Minutes – start asking where his wife gets her underwear?

Best line: Rust describes the Mormon rules that she and her boyfriend, now her husband, had to follow when he moved to New York to begin the two years of missionary work required of young Mormon men: “We weren’t allowed to speak, except on Christmas and Mother’s Day (and even that was stretching the rules; he was allowed to call his family on those two holidays, but he also called me). For two years, our only communication was through letters – and he was only allowed to write one a week. For a person like me who has always fought against rules and power structure, this was torture. I would have had more access to the man I loved were he in prison.”

Worst line (tie): No. 1: Terry McMillan’s rambling and vengeful list of “100 Questions” for her ex-husband. McMillan writes on page 97, “I’ve forgiven you,” and on page 98, “I haven’t exactly forgiven you.” Which is it? No. 2: Andrea Chapin and Sally Wofford-Girand write of the contributors to this book: “Women in their second marriages seemed to choose better mates and by then were better equipped themselves to make a marriage work.” Then why do second marriages have a higher divorce rate than first marriages?

Caveat lector: Some Web sites say, incorrectly, that this book includes an essay by Jane Smiley (making you wonder if she was scheduled to appear in it but bailed out in favor of the more flattering lighting of Mr. Wrong).

Consider reading instead: Mr. Wrong: Real-Life Stories of the Men We Used to Love (Ballantine, $24.95), edited by Harriet Brown.

Editor: Amy Einhorn

Published: February 2007

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 8, 2007

Women Talk About Their Miscarriages

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Essays and Reviews,Reading,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:44 pm

Twenty writers tell how it feels when a pregnancy ends

About What Was Lost: Miscarriage, Healing, and Hope. Edited by Jessica Berger Gross. Penguin/Plume, 288 pp., $15, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Collections of essays reflect the tastes of their editors, so you may find it helpful to know that Jessica Berger Gross calls herself “an organic-eating, yoga-teaching, Birkenstock-wearing granola girl.” When she miscarried after eight and a half weeks, she sobbed for days, partly because she had to put aside her dreams of “the short list of literary French names I’d choose from” and “the chic Santa Monica baby store where we’d shop.”

No doubt Gross makes herself sound shallower than she is, but her self-portrait tells you something about this collection of essays by women who miscarried between the sixth and twenty-third weeks of their pregnancies. About What Was Lost resists deep engagement with the theme described on its cover – that many women find “that instead of simply grieving for the end of a pregnancy, they are mourning the loss of a child.” Contributors to the book tend to focus on their feelings of pain and grief, and how they absorbed them, not on the complex social, medical and religious questions miscarriage can raise.

But most entries are well written, and some transcend the limits of the collection. Novelist Caroline Leavitt and poet Rachel Zucker offer trenchant and perceptive essays that deal in part with the rude comments that others made about their miscarriages. One of Leavitt’s friends cheered by giving her a handmade book of hypothetical replies to people who said things like, “At least you didn’t know the baby.” (“Yeah, and if I had, I know he would have hated you!”) Zucker heard another strain of false comfort – “these things happen for a reason” – that got on her nerves. She had to stop herself from making hostile comebacks such as, “Perhaps when the baby heard all the people around me using stupid, trite clichés like these things happen for a reason the baby thought life wasn’t worth living.” Other contributors, too, faced insensitivity, which suggests both why this collection was needed and a paradox: The people most likely to read this book are women who have miscarried, but the people who need it most may be their friends.

Best line: Rebecca Johnson, a contributing editor of Vogue, writes of a pregnancy that ended after six weeks: “One out of four pregnancies ends in miscarriage; this was simply nature’s way of saying ‘Not this one, not yet.’ As a fertility doctor whom I interviewed once said to me, ‘Nature is extraordinarily wasteful when it comes to reproduction. Look at all the acorns on the forest floor.’”

Worst line: The title About What Was Lost. The title conflicts with the theme: If miscarriage often feels more like “the loss of a child” than the end of pregnancy, why wasn’t this book called About Who Was Lost?

Editor: Danielle Friedman

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

Furthermore: Other contributors include journalist Joyce Maynard, novelists Sylvia Brownrigg and Rochelle Jewel Shapiro and Pam Houston, author of the short story collection Cowboys Are My Weakness. Julianna Baggott’s entry takes the form of a dialogue with her husband, the token male in the book.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

One-Minute Book Reviews is an independent literary site that covers books by all kinds of people “from presidents and kings to the scum of the earth,” as Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine might say. At least 50 percent of all reviews cover books by women, with reviews of books by female authors typically appearing on Monday and Wednesday and books by male authors on Tuesday and Thursday.

March 28, 2007

Anne Porter: An Easter Lily in the Field of Late-Blooming Poets

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Christianity,Poetry,Reading,Religion,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:27 pm

In her mid-90s an acclaimed poet returns with her first book since her National Book Award finalist, An Altogether Different Language

Living Things: Collected Poems. By Anne Porter. Foreword by David Shapiro. Steerforth/Zoland, 176 pp., $15, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

A few months ago, a fascinating article about Anne Porter appeared in the Wall Street Journal under the headline, “A 95-Year-Old Poet Finds Her Muse and Literary Praise.” The story noted that Porter was 83 when her first collection, An Altogether Different Language, was published in 1994. The book was a finalist for a National Book Award for poetry and followed by Living Things in 2006.

The Journal article included excerpts from Porter’s poems that were so good that I began looking for Living Things – online, at libraries and bookstores in Manhattan and the suburbs. Nobody had it, or could get it. It seemed that – whether because of the Journal article or Porter’s growing literary reputation – the book had sold out everywhere.

Just before Lent, Living Things turned up again. And the timing couldn’t have been more apt for the return of this fine collection, which has all the poems from An Altogether Different Language and 39 new ones. Living Things makes clear that Porter is an Easter lily in the field of late-blooming poets. She is a Catholic poet in the same way that Flannery O’Connor was a Catholic novelist: She describes a world that is, as O’Connor put it, founded on “the theological truths of the Faith, but particularly on three of them which are basic – the Fall, the Redemption, and the Judgment.” But she transcends the label “Catholic writer.” As the poet David Shapiro has said, Porter transmits “her Franciscan joy in created things” and “reminds us that the idea of the holy is still possible for us.” At the same time, her poems spring from everyday life, particularly her role as the mother of five children by her late husband, the artist Fairfield Porter.

Many of her rhymed and unrhymed poems are meditations on saints, holy days or Bible verses. Others are hymns or prayers, steeped in a sense of wonder and gratitude reminiscent of that of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit poet who wrote: “Glory be to God for dappled things.” One of the most memorable poems is “A Short Prayer,” an interpretation – you might even call it a brief modern translation – of the “Hail Mary.” In “An Easter Lily” Porter considers the gift of a lily

Whose whiteness
Is past belief

Its blossoms
The shape of trumpets
Are mute as swans

But deep and strong as sweat
Is their feral perfume.

In seven short iambic lines, Porter links the Easter lily to glory (“trumpets”), martyrdom (“swans”), and purity (the whiteness of the lily and swans). And she does more. The best-known Bible verse about lilies, Matthew 6:28, says they “toil not” – they don’t sweat. Porter’s similie – “strong as sweat” – encourages you to consider the strength of the lily as well as its grace. It also connects flower implicitly to the sweat of Christ carrying the cross. Could anyone look at a lily the same way after reading this poem?

Perhaps the most poignant poem in Living Things is the loving reminiscence, “For My Son Johnny.” Porter told the Wall Street Journal that she believes her late son suffered from either schizophrenia or autism. In the poem she recalls, among other things, his kindness:

Though your shoelaces were hardly ever tied
And you seldom wore matching socks
You tried to behave with dignity in the village
“So as not to embarrass my little sisters.”

Porter’s natural tone and diction, here and elsewhere, are part of the charm of her book. The work of religious poets can imitate, consciously or unconsciously, the language of Scripture or the great metaphysicists. Porter has a voice all her own. How lovely that, however belatedly, people are discovering it.

Best line: At this time of year, many people may especially appreciate the poems that relate to Easter, which include “In Holy Week,” “Cradle Song II” and “Four Seasons Carol.” Anyone who looks for strong rhymes may also enjoy “House Lots,” a meditation on the arrival of bulldozers: “Good-bye sweet whistling quail/ Milkweed and Queen Anne’s lace/ Good-bye shy cottomtail/ Quit your secret room …”

Worst line: None.

Published: January 2006

Furthermore: The back cover of this book has an evocative portrait of the author by her husband. Search Google for “Video: Portrait of Anne Porter” to watch a short video of Porter reading from and talking about her poetry. The Wall Street Journal article by Lucette Lagnado ran on Nov. 11–12, 2006.

Consider reading also: Common Life: Poems (CavanKerry, 2006), by Robert Cording, Barrett Professor of Creative Writing at Holy Cross. The poems in this book reflect a religious perspective and include the four-page “Lenten Stanzas” and the briefer “Pentecost in Little Falls, New Jersey.”

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist has been the book editor of the Plain Dearler and vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle. She wrote the comedies of manners The Accidental Bride (St. Martin’s, 1999) and Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, 2004).

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

‘A 95-Year-Old Poet Finds Her Muse and Literary Praise’

Filed under: Books,Poetry,Reading,Women,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:21 pm

Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews …

Late last year, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about Anne Porter headlined, “A 95-Year-Old Poet Finds Her Muse and Literary Praise.” Porter’s first volume of poetry, An Altogether Different Language, was published when she was 83 and became a finalist for the National Book Award. Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews Janice Harayda reviews Porter’s second collection, Living Things, which has poems about Easter and other subjects.

(c) Janiee Harayda. All rights reserved.

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