One-Minute Book Reviews

May 23, 2007

How Are Reading and Writing Related? Quote of the Day #27

Filed under: Quotes of the Day,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:08 pm
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How does reading help your writing? Here’s an answer from Mortimer J. Adler’s classic How to Read a Book (discussed at more length in an earlier post today, May 23, 2007, on One-Minute Book Reviews):

“Writing and reading are reciprocal, as are teaching and being taught …

“Nevertheless, although the rules are reciprocal, they are not followed in the same way. The reader tries to uncover the skeleton that the book conceals. The author starts with the skeleton and tries to cover it up. His aim is to conceal the skeleton artistically or, in other words, to put flesh on the bare bones. If he is a good writer, he does not bury a puny skeleton under a mass of fat; on the other hand, neither should the flesh be too thin, so that the bones show through. If the flesh is thick enough, and if flabbiness is avoided, the joints will be detectible and the motion of parts will reveal articulation.”

From How to Read a Book: Revised and Updated Edition (Simon & Schuster, 1972). By Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren.

Comment by Janice Harayda:

All those of us who teach writing urge our students not just to write but to read — ideally, every day. This quote explains, as pithily as I’ve seen it explained, why both are important. One of the best ways to improve your writing if you can’t write every day is to read every day.

If you enjoy these quotes, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. The Quotes of the Day appear often but, most weeks, not every day. All of the quotes are intended to enhance your enjoyment of reading of the books reviewed on this site and elsewhere.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 28, 2007

‘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.

March 14, 2007

Dr. Phil’s ‘Love Smart’! It’s Got Exclamation Points! Lots of Them! More Than Two Dozen in the First Seven Pages! Enough to Qualify Him for a Delete Key Award? You Tell Me!

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:51 pm

“Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?”

Love Smart has lots of exclamation points! More than two dozen in the first seven pages alone! And can that Dr. Phil McGraw ever dish out the clichés! See how many you can find in this line: “Now it seems time to step up and close the deal, get ‘the fish in the boat,’ walk down the aisle, tie the knot … you want to get to the next level.”

Is that enough to earn a Delete Key Award for the year’s worst writing in books? Or just worse than a bad episode of The Bachelorette? How about if I tell you that “America’s therapist” also advises women hold sex “in reserve” until a man has made “the ultimate commitment,” because many men still think: “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?” Women, tell me HOW YOU LIKE BEING COMPARED TO COWS! Men, tell me HOW YOU WOULD LIKE IT IF WE ALL WENT ON THE KIND OF SEX STRIKE THIS SEEMS TO BE RECOMMENDING! Yes, Dr. Phil uses a lot of BIG FONTS, too, because he seems to think we won’t GET IT if he doesn’t!


© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Did We Really Need This Reminder That They Didn’t Have Epidurals in Bethlehem?: Mary’s Labor Pains on a Donkey: Bad Enough to Win a Delete Key Award for Elizabeth Berg?

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Fiction,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:12 pm

“I am in agony, and I must ride endlessly on a donkey in search of something we cannot find!”

What Mary says to Joseph in The Handmaid and the Carpenter

What made Elizabeth Berg decide to fictionalize the courtship of Mary and Joseph in a novel pitched to the 2006 Christmas gift market? In The Handmaid and the Carpenter, Joseph feels “a stirring in his loins” when he looks at the “flirtatious” Mary. And Mary’s labor pains speed up while she and Joseph are looking for a room, causing her to screech at Joseph, “I am in agony, and I must ride endlessly on a donkey in search of something we cannot find!”

Is this bad enough to win a Delete Key Award? Find out tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews. A list of finalists appeared on Feb. 28 and is archived with the February posts.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Where Have All the Commas Gone? Should Terry McMillan Win a Delete Key Award for Sentences Like This?

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:08 pm

“We tried you on your cell but you didn’t pick up so we got a little worried since we didn’t know where your appointment was and we tried calling Leon at work but his assistant said he left early to pick up his son at the airport and against our better judgment we tried your house and Hail Mary Full of Grace answered and after she deposed us, I asked if she knew your doctor’s number and she said she had to think for a few minutes and while she was thinking I started thinking who else we could call and that’s when I remembered your GYN’s name was a hotel: Hilton!”

Where have all the commas gone? Yes, this sentence from Terry McMillan’s The Interruption of Everything reads like the winner of a Bad Hemingway Parody Contest. But is it bad enough to win a Delete Key Award? Is it worse than the work of Mitch Albom, Dr. Phil, or Danielle Steel?

You have until the end of the day to comment. The Delete Key Awards will be announced by noon tomorrow on only the blog One-Minute Book Reviews.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

‘He Greeted Me in His Briefs’ And More Hot Sex Scenes From the Luv Guv, James McGreevey … They’re Bad, But Are They Bad Enough to Win a Delete Key Award?

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Memoirs,Politics,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:23 am

“He greeted me in his briefs. ‘Did anybody see you?’ he asked, closing the door quickly.”

James McGreevey put plenty of red, white and purple prose like that in his The Confession, a memoir written with David France. But are those lines bad enough to win a 2007 Delete Key Award for the year’s worst writing in books? How about, “Our first few times burned so fiercely in my mind I could hardly recall them even as we were still lying together …”?

You have until the end of the day today to comment. The Delete Key Awards winner will be announced tomorrow, the March 15, because Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, and some of the finalists are trying to assasinate the English language. Here’s another question to consider: McGreevey’s editor, Judith Regan, has been ousted from HarperCollins since the publication of this memoir. Should we keep alive the memory of her contributions to the publishing industry by giving an award to one of her books?

For more hot sex from the Luv Guv, read the Jan. 27 post on One-Minute Book Reviews, “Who Writes Better Sex Scenes, Danielle Steel or James McGreevey?” (archived with the January posts). This post lists steamy lines written by both authors and lets you guess who wrote which. Check back later today for other highlights from the short list of the year’s worst writing in books. (Yes, Danielle Steel is a finalist, too.) Or see the 11 posts on Feb. 28, the short list and a separate post on each finalist. See the Feb. 27 post for questions and answers about the Delete Key Awards.

I would appreciate it if you would forward this post or others about the Delete Key Awards to anyone who might like to know about them, especially if you have friends in the media or at major Web sites, because for some reason, The New York Times has not seen fit to cover the Delete Key Awards the way it covers the National Book Awards and the Pulitzer Prizes. Cancel your subscriptions! And bookmark One-Minute Book Reviews to avoid missing the announcement of the winner, which will be posted before noon tomorrow.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 13, 2007

Was This Line From Thomas Harris’s ‘Hannibal Rising’ the Worst Sentence in a Book Published in 2006?

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Fiction,Novels,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:39 pm

“Our family, we are somewhat unusual people, Hannibal.”

No, Thomas Harris wasn’t trying to be funny there. That line was a serious comment made by an uncle to young Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal Rising. Is it bad enough to win the 2007 Delete Key Awards competition for the year’s worst writing in books?

You have until the end of the day on Wednesday, March 14, to comment. The winner will be announced on Thursday, March 15. A review of Hannibal Rising appeared on this site on Jan. 23, 2007, and is archived with the January posts and in the “Mysteries and Thrillers” category.

Another example of the stilted prose in the novel turns up when Harris writes, “Hannibal walked Lady Murasaki to her very chamber door …” As opposed to her “not very” chamber door?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Is This Line From Claire Messud’s ‘The Emperor’s Children’ the Worst Line in a Book Published in 2006?

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Fiction,Novels,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:01 pm

“It filled her with despair, a literal leadening of her limbs, a glazing of the eyes, so that she could barely lift the sheets of paper around her, and certainly couldn’t decipher what was written upon them.”

Lines like this helped to make Claire Messud’s overrated The Emperor’s Children (Knopf, 2006) a finalist for a 2007 Delete Key Award for the year’s worst writing in books. Among the problems: That “leadening” wasn’t literal but metaphorical, and the sentence is infested with clichés

Messud also writes that a character “never knew in life whether to be Pierre or Natasha, the solitary, brooding loner or the vivacious social butterfly.” As opposed to a loner who isn’t solitary?

Should Messud win the 2007 Delete Key Awards competition? Or should the honor go to a finalist such as Mitch Albom or Danielle Steel? You have until the end of the day tomorrow to comment. One-Minute Book Reviews will name the winner on Thursday, March 15. You can find more about The Emperor’s Children in a review archived with the October 2006 posts and in the “Novels” category on this site.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 12, 2007

Flannery O’Connor on ‘Compassion’ in Writing … Quote of the Day #13

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Classics,Essays and Reviews,Literature,Quotes of the Day,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:57 pm

Flannery O’Connor on “compassionate” writers …

“It’s considered an absolute necessity these days for writers to have compassion. Compassion is a word that sounds good in anybody’s mouth and which no book jacket can do without. It is a quality which no one can put his finger on in any exact critical sense, so it is safe for anybody to use. Usually I think what is meant by it is that the writer excuses all human weakness because human weakness is human. The kind of hazy compassion demanded of the writer now makes it difficult for him to be anti-anything.”

Flannery O’Connor in “The Grotesque in Southern Fiction” in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. Selected and Edited by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969).

Comment by Janice Harayda …

“Compassionate” is also a word that that no critic can do without unless she substitutes “generous.” Why are the book reviews in Sunday newspapers so often dull? O’Connor has identified one of the reasons. Too many editors allow critics to substitute fuzzy words like “compassionate” for tough-minded analysis or interesting perceptions. O’Connor, thou shouldst be living at this hour!

Mystery and Manners is a classic book of essays on writing filled with sharp comments like today’s Quote of the Day. This collection was on the syllabus in the journalism classes I took with Donald M. Murray at the University of New Hampshire and has helped to shape my style of reviewing. I strive for the mix of wit, clarity and intelligence that pervades Mystery and Manners, a book I recommend to all writers and hope someday to review on this site.

Once I dated professor who wanted make his writing less academic. I took him to a bookstore, pulled Mystery and Manners off a shelf, and showed him a few passages. He said, “I have to have this,” and bought it. He dumped me but kept the book.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Deborah Garrison Finds Poetry at the Intersection of Work and Motherhood

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Poetry,Reading,Women,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:55 am

The loves and losses of a woman trying to keep a career and family afloat

The Second Child: Poems. By Deborah Garrison. Random House, 76 pp., $19.95.

By Janice Harayda

On the cover of Deborah Garrison’s A Working Girl Can’t Win there’s an elegant black-and-white photograph by Irving Penn that shows two chic women – both young-ish, reed-thin and smoking — languishing at a café table. You might think they were having brunch in Tribeca or the Meatpacking District until you looked the date of the picture and saw that it appeared in Vogue in 1950, long before those districts became favored addresses for stylish New Yorkers.

That cover is brilliant for reasons that go beyond its use of fashion photography instead of the tasteful watercolors of fruits and vegetables you see more often on poetry books. The two people who appear on it could be archetypes of those most likely to identify with Garrison’s work – urbane, intelligent women who have everything except the level of satisfaction they expected their manicured lives to bring.

Garrion’s second collection, The Second Child, consists of 33 poems about the interection of work and motherhood in an age of large and small anxieties – from fears of another terrorist attack to regrets about missed chances to listen to NPR and serve as a playground monitor. Garrison is a former staff member at the New Yorker who is an editor for Alfred A. Knopf and Pantheon, and the title may be, in part, a slightly self-mocking send-up of a publishing cliché. (Is there a writer so original that he or she has never referred to a book as his or her “child”?) If so, the wordplay is is fair representation of The Second Child – a smart and funny collection that is at times just a little glib.

Some of the lesser poems in this book resemble anecdotes in verse, written on the wing. In “To the Man in a Loden Coat,” the working mother who narrates the poems nearly explodes with frustration at a traveler on an escalator at the Port Authority Bus Terminal whose failure to grasp a law of New York life — “walk on the left,/stand on the right” — may cause her to miss the 5:25. The poem suggests how quickly a competent woman may be undone by bottled-up pressures the moment she leaves the office, but you might get as much from dipping into The Bitch in the House.

The best poems in The Second Child rise much higher. Perhaps the finest is a meditation on Sept. 11, “September Poem.” After the terrorist attacks, the working mother wants to have another child, but there’s a problem:

The idea of sex a further horror:
To take pleasure in a collision

Of bodies was vile, self-centered, too lush.

In these lines and others, Garrison suggests how public tragedy can impinge on the most joyous and private of acts. And a shadow remains after she and her husband have created a new life

Which might in any case
end in towering sorrow.

Throughout The Second Child, Garrison works in varied meters, rhymed and unrhymed, and forms that include the sonnet and the sestina. Her city poem “Goodbye, New York” has the anapestic bounce of a Cole Porter-ish Broadway show tune:

You were the pickles, you were the jar
You were the prizefight we watched in a bar

It ends with a final salute to:

my skyline, my byline, my buzzer and door
now you’re the dream we lived before

This kind of sentiment is entertaining, if not deep, despite subtleties such as the lack of punctuation after “before” – the last word of the poem – suggesting a continuing enjambment with the city. And if some of it seems too easy, the same quality could make The Second Child ideal for a working mother who wonders if “too easy” will ever be easy enough.

Best Line: All of “September Poem,” which begins: “Now can I say?/ On that blackest day …”

Worst Line: Part of a description of childbirth in “Birth Day Pun”: “A smoldering butt!/ That’s how it is:” That may be “how it is,” but it makes the woman giving birth sound like a pork butt.

Reading Group Guide: A reading group guide to The Second Child appears in the March 12 post directly below this one and is archived in the “Totally Unathorized Reading Group Guides” category.

Published: February 2007

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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