One-Minute Book Reviews

September 16, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – How Book Coverage Works These Days

Mark Sarvas explains why he put Netherland on a standing list of recommended books on his blog, the Elegant Variation: “The way book coverage works these days, everyone talks about the same book for about two or three weeks, and then they move on and the book is more or less forgotten” Exactly. After the first two or three weeks, books tend to come back only if they win awards or otherwise become unexpectedly successful – Oprah picks them, a movie version comes out. That’s partly why One-Minute Book Reviews reivews a mix of new and seasoned books, with the older ones often chosen because the critics bypassed them during that brief first flowering.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 12, 2008

And Today’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing Goes to …

Filed under: Gusher Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:35 am
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The winner of this week’s Gusher Award is:

“Brilliant: Unwritten law requires reviewers to use this word at least once about every Garry Wills book. How much truer this is of Lincoln at Gettysburg.”

Lexington Herald-Leader review of Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America (Simon & Schuster, 1992)

Gusher Awards typically go to reviews of more recent books than this Pulitzer Prize–winner, but the Herald-Leader’s unintentionally comic line was irresistible. And it suggests what’s wrong with literary hype: Many scholars and critics regard Wills’s study of the Gettysburg Address — the greatest speech in American political history — as one of the finest Civil War books of the past two decades. But this review goes so far over the top that many of us might tune out the praise.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 5, 2008

And Today’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing Goes to …

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:08 am
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The Gusher Awards are back after a summer hiatus of a couple of weeks. This week’s award goes to …

“The Great American Novel is something like a unicorn – rare and wonderful, and maybe no more of a notion. Yet every few years or so, we trip across some semblance of one. Oof! What’s this? Why, it’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (Ecco), a sprawling skein of a yarn about a farm nestled up against the forest primeval …”
June 2008, Elle

Unicorns are not “rare and wonderful” and “maybe no more of a notion” — they are mythical and there’s no “maybe” about whether they are “a notion.” Mixing the simile in the first sentence with that metaphor of “a sprawling skein of a yarn” makes it worse, and “Great American Novel” and “forest primeval” are clichés. There’s been a lot of talk this year about the decline of book reviewing in newspapers, and women’s magazines aren’t helping with prose like this.

Gusher Awards appear on Fridays on One-Minute Book Reviews unless no praise went far enough over the top that week to qualify. For a different view of David Wroblewski’s Hamlet-influenced first novel, see the review of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle written in iambic trimeter verse that appeared on this site on Aug. 28 A reading group guide to the novel was posted on Sept. 3

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 31, 2008

Another Gusher Award for Hyperbole in Book Reviewing – Coming Friday

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:51 pm
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Did a book review in your favorite magazine or newspaper go over the top this week? Why not nominate it for a Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing? Send the comment and, if possible, a link to the e-mail address on the Contact page for this site.

To read previous winners, click on the “Gusher Awards” tag at the top of this post or on the category with that title at right. Another winner will be named on Friday.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 6, 2008

Is It Easier to Get a Novel Published When You’re a Critic? And Other Questions I Haven’t Answered on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: News,Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:49 pm
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Amy Munnell interviewed me for her attractive blog 3 Questions and Answers and asked a few questions I don’t deal with on One-Minute Book Review, such as: How did being a critic affect my career as a novelist? Some of the things Amy asked about come up a lot when I speak at writers’ conferences, and if you’re interested, you can find my answers here: Thanks, Amy.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 25, 2008

When Are Critics Going to Stop Congratulating Novelists for Being Good-Looking or Having Other Traits Unrelated to Their Books? This Week’s Gusher

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:47 am
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Would any critic write, “Be jealous. Veteran writer Philip Roth has lost the hair, but he’s still got the talent”?

And this week’s Gusher Award goes to …

“Be jealous. First-time writer Marisha Pessl is more than a triple threat. She’s young – only 28 years old – pretty, and immensely talented. She has already dabbled in modeling, acting and financial consulting. Her debut novel is another notch on her belt. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, a literary mystery novel, has come out with truckloads of buzz.”

— The first lines of a review of Special Topics in Calamity Physics in the Star-Ledger of Newark on Aug. 27, 2006

The Award Citation:

Is this a book review or a teaser for an episode of The Bachelorette?

This week’s winner involves no hyperbole — the reviewer apparently intends for us to take her words literally. But the quote illustrates a trend that’s just as bad: Critics are using their review space to congratulate novelists for being good-looking or having other traits unrelated to their fiction. Would any critic write, “Be jealous. Veteran writer Philip Roth has lost the hair, but he’s still got the talent”? So why do we so often see equivalent comments in reviews of younger authors’ novels?

Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing appear on Fridays except in weeks when no praise went far enough over the top to qualify.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved. and

July 23, 2008

Editors Protest Plans to Kill LA Times Sunday Book Review Section — Read Their Letter About Why This Hurts the City and Others

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:42 pm
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The Los Angeles Times plans to kill its Sunday Book Review section and fold any surviving reviews into the paper’s Sunday Calendar section, Editor & Publisher and other publications have reported. Four former editors of the section have released a letter explaining how they believe the decision will hurt the city and others, which you can read here This letter is one of many such laments for the demise of book review sections that have appeared recently, but it is unusually blunt, intelligent and authoritative.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 17, 2008

8 Things You Find Only on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Blogging,Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:40 am
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Delete Key Awards – Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides – Backscratching in Our Time – Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing – Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read – Books I Didn’t Finish – Book Awards Reality Checks – Jan the Hungarian Predicts

1. Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. One-Minute Book Reviews gives these prizes annually on March 15 to authors who aren’t using their delete keys enough. The blog for Powell’s books calls these awards “arguably the second-best online literary award after the TOB’s Rooster [co-sponsored by Powell’s].”

2. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides. These guides encourage you to consider both the strengths and weakness of books (not just the strengths, as publishers’ guides do). They also have elements you won’t find in publishers’ guides – for example, they often quote from negative reviews.

3. Backscratching in Our Time. Inspired by “Logrolling in Our Time” in the old Spy magazine, this category calls attention to authors who have praised each others’ books, often in blurbs.

4. Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing. These awards recognize over-the-top praise in book reviews. They appear on Fridays unless no review was too out-of-control to qualify that week.

5. Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read. Reviews of books for children and adults appear every Saturday and sometimes include an installment in the “Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read” series.

6. Books I Didn’t Finish. Book critics typically tell you why they liked or disliked book, not why they decided to not to review certain books all. This series tells you why one critic gave up on some books.

7. Book Awards Reality Checks. This series considers whether books that have won major awards, such as a Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award, deserved their honors.

8. Jan the Hungarian Predicts One-Minute Book Reviews predicts the winners of major book awards in the newest series on the site, added in June 2008.

One-Minute Book Reviews was the sixth-ranked book review site in the world on the Google Directory of “Top Arts and Literature” blogs as of May 30, 2008: It has ranked among the Top 10 since the fall of 2007.

If you like any of these aspects of the site, I’d be so grateful if you’d link to them or post them on sites such as Digg. I use a free WordPress template that doesn’t allow me to show widgets for Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon and similar sites, and I’ve compiled the list partly for that reason. A thousand thanks to all the visitors who have put One-Minute Book Reviews on those sites regardless.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle Jan was named one of “25 Women Bloggers to Watch in 2008″by the site Virtual Woman’s Day

One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept books, catalogs, advance reading copies, print or electronic press releases or other promotional materials from editors, publishers, agents, or authors whose books may be reviewed on this site.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 13, 2008

Franzen and Messud Win This Week’s Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing

Messud becomes first Delete Key Awards finalist to win a Gusher

Two well-known novelists have tied for this week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing: Jonathan Franzen, who won a 2001 National Book Award for The Corrections, and Claire Messud, who took second place in the 2007 Delete Key Awards contest.

Both authors won for comments that appeared in their reviews of Alice Munro’s 2004 short-story collection, Runaway (Vintage, 352 pp., $14.95, paperback):

“Basically, Runaway is so good that I don’t want to talk about it here. Quotation can’t do the book justice, and neither can synopsis. The way to do it justice is to read it.”
Jonathan Franzen in “Alice’s Wonderland: Runaway,” the New York Times Book Review, Nov. 14, 2004

“ … to any reader broaching Munro’s work for the first time, no list of adjectives will suffice to convey what that work is, or its effects: She is one of those few living writers who, in the way of the greats, must simply be read.”
Claire Messud in “Our Chekhov, Our Flaubert,” the Globe and Mail, Sept. 25, 2004


Neither of these quotes meets a strict definition of hyperbole, or exaggeration for effect: Franzen and Messud appear to mean exactly what they say. But both comments are examples of overheated praise in book reviews, which the Gusher Awards recognize on Fridays.

Franzen and Messud may believe that “Quotation can’t do the book justice” and “no list of adjectives will suffice” for Runaway. But you could say as much about any of our greatest books and many of the worst. (Aren’t some books so bad that they seem to defeat description? Can any list of adjectives truly do justice to Mitch Albom?) So what do we learn from these comments on Munro?

Their words may not be a clichés, but the idea behind each is a cliché – “words can’t do it justice.” This kind of writing is often necessary in casual forms of communication such as e-mail. We might all be prostrate by noon each day if we made a grail of originality in every off-the-cuff note to a co-worker. But shouldn’t expect more from major reviews in the leading newspapers in the U.S. and Canada?

The shortlisted passages for the 2007 Delete Key Awards, including Messud’s, were posted as 10 separate posts on Feb. 28, 2007 A passage from her The Emperor’s Children took second place when the winners were announced on March 15, 2007

To see all posts about the Gusher and Delete Key Awards, click on those tags at the top of this post (after “Filed Under”).

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 12, 2008

A Delete Key Awards Finalist Wins a Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing … Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,Gusher Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:22 pm
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Many well-known authors moonlight as book reviewers. But until now none has won recognition in both the annual Delete Key Awards competition for the year’s worst writing in books and the weekly Gusher Awards contest for hyperbole in book reviewing. Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews, a Delete Key finalist goes home with Gusher for the first time.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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