One-Minute Book Reviews

May 21, 2012

Ethics Go on Vacation in Nancy Pearl’s ‘Great Summer Reads’ for NPR

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[Update, May 24: After this post appeared, NPR acknowledged Nancy Pearl’s conflict of interest in a note that appears at the top of her post at http://bit.ly/NPRconf.]

A librarian doesn’t tell listeners about her financial ties to one of her “great summer reads”

By Janice Harayda

You expect some objectivity when you tune into a report on books by a regular commentator on NPR. You know that authors who appear on a broadcast are usually there to promote their work and gain financial benefits. But you assume that an experienced host or commentator will provide the professional distance needed to maintain credibility for the nationwide network of radio stations.

Think again. The latest meltdown of ethics at NPR involves the librarian Nancy Pearl, the author of Book Lust and a regular commentator for the network. In January Pearl drew fire from independent booksellers when she said she had signed a deal with Amazon to write the introductions and other material for about six novels a year in series called “Book Lust Rediscoveries.” She just made that situation worse.

Today Pearl released on the NPR website and on its “Morning Edition” a list of seven “great summer reads” from among the thousands of books that will appear this spring or summer. And – you guessed it – one of her favorites is the first book in the series from which she stands to make money under her Amazon deal. Equally disturbing is her failure to spell out her conflict of interest clearly. Pearl says coyly on the NPR site that A Gay and Melancholy Sound is “the first book brought back into print as part of the Book Lust Rediscoveries series.” She doesn’t mention her financial link to it.

This lack of disclosure betrays the trust of the millions of people who tune in to “Morning Edition” and other NPR shows. It may also violate Federal Trade Commission disclosure rules. The FTC rules say that bloggers or online endorsers must disclose “the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.” Pearl appears to have a “material connection” to Amazon (“the seller of the product” she endorsed) that she did not disclose. And it’s hard not to wonder if that isn’t exactly what the online retailer was hoping for when it signed her to a deal.

Pearl’s failure to tell the full story of her involvement with A Gay and Melancholy Sound seems also to flout NPR ethics codes. Those guidelines note that “partial truths can inflict great damage on our credibility, and stories delivered without the context to fully understand them are incomplete.” Pearl has told NPR listeners a partial truth about her “great summer reads,” and NPR should respond by amending its website and broadcasting a correction about her financial tie to a product she enthusiastically recommended. NPR can foster only cynicism about its work by asking people to believe that from among the thousands of books Pearl could have chosen, one her seven favorites is the one most likely to put money in her pocket.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist and former book editor the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.

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

Literary Jokes and Quotes From the British Library – Scrambled Eggs and Hamlet

Filed under: Holiday Gift Books,Humor — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:17 am
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The book that has the answer to: How many librarians does it take to change a light bulb?

Booklover’s Book of Jokes, Quips & Quotes. Compiled by David Wilkerson. The British Library, 96 pp., $12.95.

By Janice Harayda

Some literary joke books could make you weep. They brim with misquoted, unattributed, or plagiarized lines that seem to mock only copyright laws. This book has a trustworthy provenance: It comes from the British Library and includes the assurance that “every endeavor has been made to correctly attribute or seek permission” to use its material.

The Booklover’s Book of Jokes, Quips & Quotes also transcends geography with many forms of high and low literary comedy: puns; mangled book titles; knock, knock and light bulb jokes; insults from Shakespeare; aphorisms from Oscar Wilde, and much more. It’s a fine host gift for a bookish host who enjoys brain-teasers like: “What is Shakespeare’s favorite meal? Scrambled eggs and Hamlet.” And it’s small enough to fit into the Christmas stocking of anyone who believes that holiday cheer can take many forms, including: “How many librarians does it take to change a light bulb? No idea, but I know where you can look it up!”

Best line: “There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.” Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist 

Worst line: The charms of a page of “Yorkshire humor” may be lost on Americans.

Published: November 2011

Furthermore: Wilkerson is head of retail for the British Library.

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

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

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

May 8, 2012

Carol Anshaw’s Novel of Adult Siblings, ‘Carry the One’ — Bel Canto Writing With Grand Opera Undertones

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:54 am
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“Time is always a player” in the lives of three adult siblings touched by tragedy

Carry the One. By Carol Anshaw. Simon & Schuster, 253 pp., $25.

By Janice Harayda

You might expect a lot of drama in a novel in which the three main characters have the names of opera figures or variations on them. But Carry the One inverts the structure of the warhorses it invokes – Carmen, Nabucco and Lucia di Lammermoor. The dead bodies in those operas don’t arrive until the third or fourth act. A 10-year-old girl dies in the first chapter of Carry the One after being struck by a car full of stoned and drunken guests who have just attended wedding of Carmen Kenney at a farm near Chicago in 1983. That event turns out to be the high point of the dramatic action in a novel that for all its eloquence, has an unsteady forward momentum.

For the next 25 years the post-wedding tragedy will recur like a dark musical motif in the lives of the bride and her adult siblings, Alice and Nick. Each of the Kenneys faces a crisis with a perhaps unintentional operatic counterpart. As her namesake spurns a soldier for a toreador, Carmen finds herself betrayed by her unexciting husband. As Lucia longs for the lord of Ravenswood Castle, Alice pines for an absent lesbian lover. And as Nabucco goes mad, Nick suffers from a mind ravaged by drugs. All of this finds its theme in an idea central to Gounod’s Faust: the power of time to lift, add to, or reshape burdens. In affairs of the heart, a character says, “Time is always a player.” And “player” has a double meaning: Time affects destiny, and it plays with us.

Carl Anshaw develops her theme with wit and intelligence. She has the literary equivalent of a gift for bel canto, an operatic form marked in part by its elegance of phrasing and purity of tone. Carry the One abounds with writing layered with meaning, beginning in its first sentence: “So Carmen was married, just.” Does the “just” mean “recently,” “barely,” or “only”? The scene can support all of those meanings.

Appealing as it is, Anshaw’s bel canto writing style makes an imperfect vehicle for a story with grand opera undertones. Her plot unfolds over so many years that she can’t dramatize all of the changes her characters undergo and at times relies on flat exposition such as, “She knew Carmen tortured herself for letting them all leave the farm that night in a car running with just fog lamps.” She also distributes weight of her story over so many major and minor characters — with frequent jump cuts from one to the next — that none acquires a poignancy befitting its tragedies. And the self-absorption of the Kenney children’s parents tends to cloud the motives of the younger generation: You’re never sure whether the heavy shadow over their lives results from their upbringing or the fatal crash in the opening pages.

But you don’t to operas for plots that make sense in conventional terms. Would all of Seville really be falling at the feet of an overconfident barber like Figaro? Shouldn’t Lucia di Lammermoor know right away that the forged letter is a trick to keep her from marrying Enrico? And why can’t a smooth operator like Carmen keep herself out of trouble?

No, you go to operas for beautiful singing. And Carry the One has a through-line of it. When Carmen becomes a single parent, she finds that “she had lost her advantage against daily life”: “Weeks, whole months passed beneath her notice, or off to the side while she was on the game show of her life. She ran from pillar to post then on to the next pillar, ringing bells, pressing lighted buttons and buzzers, making wild stabs at answers to questions she wasn’t sure she had heard correctly, walking when she should be skipping, speaking when a song was expected. That show was called Single Parenthood.” Has any single parent not had moments like that? Carry the One has such descriptions on nearly every page. And that, in operatic terms, is beautiful singing.

Best line: “Olivia’s family was an epicenter of credit card frivolity.” “Romance no longer looked like so much fun, more like a repetitive stress injury …” “Gabe idolized his uncle. He saw Nick’s addictions enhanced by rock star lighting. Nick was his private Kurt Cobain.”

Worst line: “a tricky rotator cuff.” “So many tricky steps.” “some tricky bipolar disorder.” “success was going to be a little tricky.” “Incoming calls were tricky for the Lisowskis” Waiting for an annulment “was apparently a tricky business.” “Still, she left the tricky or cumbersome supply runs to Pim.”

Reading group guide: A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide with discussion questions for  Carry the One appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on May 8, 2012.

Furthermore: Anshaw is a Chicago writer and painter who wrote Aquamarine and other books. She won the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle. The Metropolitan Opera site includes synopses of CarmenLucia di Lammermoor and Nabucco.

Published: March 2012

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic and former book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button on this page.

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

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Carol Anshaw’s ‘Carry the One’ With 10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs

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10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others

Carry the One
By Carol Anshaw
Source: One-Minute Book Reviews
http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may make copies for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that would like to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

Time is supposed to “heal.” But do some wounds run so deep that they remain immune to its effects? A tragedy in the first chapter of Carry the One places that question at the center of the lives of the adult siblings Carmen, Alice and Nick Kenney. A 10-year-old girl dies after being struck by a car full of stoned and drunken guests who are leaving Carmen’s wedding near Chicago in 1983. And for the next 25 years, that event will reverberate across the paths of the Kenneys, which are at once separate and intersecting — Carmen’s marriage and motherhood, Alice’s lesbian affairs, and Nick’s descent into drug use and meetings with hookers. Each Kenney seeks redemption in a different way. But all of their lives testify to the words of a guest at Carmen’s wedding. In affairs of the heart, she says, you can never discount the effects of time: “Time is always a player.”

Spoiler Warning! Some of the questions below involve events that occur late in the novel. Stop reading here if you would prefer not to know about these.

10 Discussion Questions for Carry the One:

1. Carol Anshaw took on a big challenge – that of keeping her story moving forward while continually switching back and forth between the stories of Carmen, Alice and Nick. Did she keep you turning the pages? Why or why not?

2. Which of the three Kenneys did you find most and least interesting?

3. Kevin Nance wrote in a review in the Chicago Sun-Times that Carry the One might have been stronger if Anshaw had given her story one main character instead of three. Do you agree or disagree?

4. Each of the Kenneys immerses him- or herself in something after the crash that kills 10-year-old Casey Redman: Carmen in social activism; Alice in art; and Nick in drugs. Why do you think they do this? Are they trying to escape from their memories? To atone for their guilt? Or to do something else?

5. Horace and Loretta Kenney are so self-absorbed that they don’t go to their daughter Carmen’s wedding. [Page 8] Does this affect how their adult children react to the crash that killed Casey Redman? How?

6. All three Kenney children have failed relationships: Carmen with her first husband, Matt; Alice with her lesbian lover, Maude; and Nick with Olivia, the driver of the car that killed Casey Redman. Does this have more to do with their upbringing or with the crash?

7. What parts of Carry the One did you find witty or amusing despite the tragedy at the heart of the novel?

8. Nick dies soon after Casey Redman’s mother, who has “cancer of everything,” forgives him for her daughter death. [Page 243, 245] What is the connection those events? Did Nick need Shanna’s forgiveness in order to die? Or had he been staying alive for Shanna (and lost his reason for living when, presumably, she died, too)?

9. The last line of Carry the One is unusual in that it is spoken by someone who has just appeared on the scene. [Page 253] It is much more common for the final words of a novel to come from someone we know fairly well by then. How do you interpret the last line of Carry the One? Is Olivia “okay”?

10. Michiko Kakutani called this novel “beautifully observed” in her New York Times review of Carry the One. What are some of the things that Anshaw observes especially well?

Extras:
1. The Simon & Schuster reading group guide for this novel says incorrectly that “Mourning and loss are the themes of this book.” “Mourning” and “loss” are not “themes”; they are subjects. A subject tells you what a book is “about” while a theme tells you what a book says about its subjects. So you might express the theme of Carry the One as, “People may grieve for the same loss in different ways” or “Contrary to the popular idea that you need ‘closure,’ you may grieve for some losses all your life.” Can you sum up in a sentence what the book says about loss or grief?

2. Carry the One actually has a larger theme than anything it says about loss or grief (which might be better described as a subtheme.) Anshaw expressed that theme in an interview in which she said that “time both makes a great deal of difference, and no difference at all.” As a character in the novel puts it, “Time is always a player” (though the degree to which it “plays” may vary). [Page 212] How is time a “player” in Carry the One?

3. All three characters in Carry the One have the names of opera characters or variations on them. [Page 40] In what ways is this novel “operatic”? [A discussion of this appears in the review of Carry the One posted on One-Minute Book Reviews.]

4. Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From the Goon Squad deals with the effects of time and shares other elements with Carry the One, such as switching back and forth between characters’ stories. If you’ve read that novel, how would you compare it with Anshaw’s?

Vital statistics:
Carry the One. By Carol Anshaw. Simon & Schuster, 261 pp., $25. Published: March 2012. A review of Carry the One appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on May 8, 2012.

Publishers’ reading group guides are marketing tools designed to sell books. They typically encourage cheerleading instead of a frank discussion of the merits or demerits of an author’s work. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides are an alternative to those commercial guides and are intended to give books a fuller context and to promote a more stimulating conversation about them.

One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule. You can avoid missing the guides by subscribing to the RSS feed or following Jan on Twitter.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow her on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.

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

April 30, 2012

‘One for the Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900’ — Why Are So Many Americans Smashed on the Highways?

Filed under: Current Events,History — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:44 am
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Margaret Mitchell’s killer and the wide receiver Donté Stallworth are among the people who spent little time in jail for taking a life 

One for the Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900. By Barron H. Lerner. Johns Hopkins University Press, 218 pp., $24.95.

By Janice Harayda

A paradox of modern life is that Americans stigmatize smokers but have a history of leniency toward drunk drivers who often do more harm. In 1949 Margaret Mitchell died after being hit by the car of an off-duty taxi driver who had alcohol on his breath and 22 previous traffic violations. Hugh Gravitt spent just 10 months and 20 days in jail for killing the author of Gone With the Wind. He also won remarkable sympathy from journalists and others, including the Atlanta Constitution columnist Celestine Sibley, who believed that Mitchell had inadvertently dashed into the path of his car. As late as 1989, Sibley wrote that she hoped to see “a book that exonerates the taxi driver.”

Barron Lerner shows in One for the Road that such forbearance remains so common, it may be the rule rather than the exception. In 2009 the Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donté Stallworth killed a jaywalking pedestrian with his car after a night of drinking in Miami Beach. He pled guilty to driving under the influence (DUI) manslaughter and received a 30-day jail sentence (of which he eventually served 24 days). At about the same time, the New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg with a hidden gun that he had carried into a nightclub. His sentence: two years for a crime that harmed no one but himself.

The different fates of the wide receivers suggest the contradictions in American views of drunk driving. For decades respected studies have shown that drivers generally begin to become impaired when they have blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05%. But all 50 states set their legal limit at 0.08%, higher than the level at which the risk of a crash increases. Stricter tests of drunk driving – and penalties for violating them – apply in Australia and much of Asia and Europe. It’s illegal to drive with a BAC above 0.05% in France and Italy and above 0.02% in Norway, Sweden and Russia.

Lerner believes America’s complacency results in part from a clash between basic values: the desire to promote public safety and to protect to individual rights. It also reflects the national love of cars, the popular view of alcoholism as a disease that needs treatment rather than incarceration, and a new focus on the dangers of texting, talking on cell phones, and other forms of “distracted driving.” A few months ago, a Philadelphia Inquirer headline read “Distracted is the new drunk,” as though one danger had replaced another.

One for the Road leaves no doubt that the U.S. could reduce the number of drunk-driving casualties — 13,000–17,000 deaths and countless injuries a year. Higher “sin taxes” on cigarettes have helped to deter smoking and would be likely to have a similar effect on drunk driving. And new forms of technology such as ignition interlock devices could help if more states required them.

But whether the U.S. can muster the political will needed to reduce the casualties is uncertain. Some of the tougher laws on drunk driving that exist today resulted from campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s by the Surgeon General C. Everett Koop or by groups such as RID (Remove Intoxicated Drivers) and Mothers Against Driving (MADD), which have lost much of their clout. That movement appears to have stalled. And a powerful alcohol lobby stands ready to push back if it regained momentum.

Lerner is a doctor who specializes in public health and describes all of this with almost clinical detachment, although he appears to favor changes such as lowering the legal blood alcohol content. And his book is less a history of drunk driving than of the up-and-down national effort to control it. That focus can make for dry reading but provides a welcome counterpoint to the emotionalism that often taints media reports on related personal tragedies. One for the Road reminds us that other public health campaigns, worthy as they are, shouldn’t drive out efforts to reduce alcohol-fueled casualties on the road. As Lerner writes, “Surely it is hard to argue that someone who smokes, especially away from other people, deserves more scorn than someone who drives drunk.”

Best line: In the movie Animal House, four fraternity members wreck a car after a night of drinking. “Although the dean admonishes one of them, warning that ‘Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son,’ the film’s irreverent message was, of course, exactly the opposite.”

Worst line: “Perhaps nothing better demonstrates the ambiguities and contradictions of drunk driving than the stories of two women involved in the founding of MADD: Candy Lightner and Cindi Lamb. Both women lost daughters to drunk drivers, although Lamb’s daughter, Laura, was paralyzed for six years before dying. In the early 1990s, both women went to work for the alcohol industry, the very people who manufactured and vigorously advertised the product that had, indirectly, led to their children’s deaths. As we will see, Lightner and Lamb were not naïve at all and had good reasons for doing what they did.’ That’s a memorable passage, but Lerner doesn’t convince you that their reasons were “good.”

Published: September 2011

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

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

April 14, 2012

Next Week — ‘Under a Cruel Star,’ A Classic Memoir of Totalitarianism

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Critics have hailed Heda Kovály’s Under a Cruel Star as a modern classic about one woman’s experiences first under Nazis and later under Stalinist tyrants who falsely accused her husband of treason and executed him along with his co-defendants in an infamous show trial. Alfred Kazin wrote when the memoir first appeared in America more than 30 years ago that “it is written with so much quiet respect for the minutiae of justice and truth that one does not know where and how to specify Heda Kovály’s splendidness as a human being.” One-Minute Book Reviews will have a review of the book next week.


‘Frog and Toad Are Friends,’ Arnold Lobel’s Easy Reader for Grades K—2

Filed under: Children's Books,Classics — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:16 am
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The first book in an award-winning series for children who are starting to read on their own

Frog and Toad Are Friends: An I CAN READ Book. By Arnold Lobel. HarperCollins, 64 pp., $16.99. Ages 4—8 (Grades K—2).

By Janice Harayda

Arnold Lobel called Beatrix Potter his artistic mother. If that’s true, he deserves a Son of the Year award for Frog and Toad Are Friends.

Potter casts a long shadow over stories about animals who act and dress like humans but retain characteristics of their species. Artists often try to avoid the Curse of Peter Rabbit by denying its existence: They create animal tales so garish or absurd that no one could confuse them with Potter’s exquisite naturalism. Lobel stays in the sun by taking the opposite tack: He nods to Potter by giving his stories neo-Victorian settings and clothing, making her era his own. In his “Frog and Toad” early readers, his characters live in fairy-tale cottages with period details — a potted fern, cross-hatched windows, and heavy, carved furniture — made fresh by a palette long on soft greens. This approach makes for escapist fun along with a psychological depth rare in limited-vocabulary books.

Frog and Toad Are Friends introduces in five short parables a pair of gentle amphibian best friends with complementary temperaments — the optimistic and gregarious Frog and the more pessimistic and reticent Toad. Like a long-married couple, Frog and Toad take care of each other in ways that are kind, natural, and amusing. In their first adventure they tackle small tasks that can seem Herculean to children — getting out of bed, coping with illness, finding a lost button, waiting for mail, and appearing in a swimsuit in front of friends.

Frog and Toad have a gift for telling the truth without being mean, a trait that emerges as they splash in a river in “A Swim.” Toad thinks he looks funny in a bathing suit, a striped one-piece Victorian affair, and doesn’t want to leave the water while Frog and other creatures are watching. Sure enough, when he steps onto land, Frog laughs. Toad asks why. “I am laughing at you, Toad,” said Frog, “because you do look funny in your bathing suit.” Far from appearing wounded by this, Toad says matter-of-factly, “Of course I do.” He marches home with his head high, satisfied that Frog has admitted the truth, in a witty sketch that puts a happy ending on the tale.

Perhaps better than any story in Frog and Toad Are Friends, “A Swim” shows Lobel’s command of character. Frog doesn’t hurt Toad’s feelings by telling him he looks “funny” in a bathing suit because that is what his friend wants to hear. His comment is a validation of Toad’s view rather than an insult. And Lobel shows his sophistication as an author and artist in his ability to make such a distinction clearly implicit without expressing it in words. Frog and Toad Are Friends lacks the full-throttle drama of Mr. McGregor racing after Peter Rabbit with a rake shouting, “Stop thief!” But it has many quieter pleasures. Good artistic sons, like biological children, don’t have to look just like their parents.

Best line/picture: The final picture of Toad, marching off proudly in his ankle-length, green-and-white striped Victorian bathing suit, in “A Swim.”

Worst line/picture: None. But this review was based on the original 1970 hardcover edition. The literary and artistic quality of spinoffs and later editions may differ.

Furthermore: Frog and Toad Are Friends was a 1971 Caldecott Honor book. Arnold Lobel (19331987) won many other honors for his books for children.

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

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

April 11, 2012

Coming Saturday – ‘Frog and Toad Are Friends’ Reconsidered

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:31 pm
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It’s April, and Frog thinks Toad should get out of bed and have fun with him. Toad has other ideas in Frog and Toad Are Friends, the first book in an award-winning series about a pair of amphibian best friends who enjoy gentle pleasures such skipping through meadows and swimming in a river near their neo-Victorian cottages. One-Minute Book Reviews will have a review of Arnold Lobel’s modern classic on Saturday.

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.

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© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
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