One-Minute Book Reviews

November 8, 2022

How the ‘Southernization’ of the U.S. Hurts Politics

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Media analysts often spoke of Donald Trump, during his first presidential campaign, as a rogue candidate, a one-off the country hadn’t seen before. On one level, it was true: No major party had ever nominated a reality-show host for president.

But the U.S. had seen something like Trump before, the authors Frye Gaillard and Cynthia Tucker note in their insightful book The Southernization of America: A Story of Democracy in the Balance (New South,  2022). The country had seen it in the presidential campaigns of four-time Alabama governor George Wallace, who proclaimed in his 1963 inaugural address: “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Many of Trump’s tactics, intentionally or not, were a page out of Wallace’s playbook. By failing to understand the depth of the racist fears and hatreds that Wallace had stirred up — and the degree to which they persist — the analysts underestimated not just Trump’s appeal but its potential effects.

I write about some of the ways U.S. politics has become “Southernized” over at Medium:

August 13, 2022

Salman Rushdie: Books ‘Make Us Who We Are’

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Salman Rushdie may be better known as a novelist, but he’s a wonderful literary critic, and I’m grateful for his many admirable reviews of other authors. Over at Medium, I’ve posted one of my favorite quotes from him on why books matter:

https://medium.com/everything-shortform/why-salman-rushdie-believes-the-books-we-love-make-us-who-we-are-c09ebc0bcac3

August 1, 2022

One of America’s Most Honored Journalists Reread the Hardy Boys Novels He Once Loved–And What He Found Startled Him

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Gene Weingarten, America’s only two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, calls the Hardy Boys mysteries the novels that “most influenced” his love of his craft

When he reread the books as an adult, he made a couple of startling discoveries: Contrary to his rosy memories, the writing was so bad, it was “some of the worst bilge ever published.” But there was much to admire in the often heartbreaking, Depression-era life of their author, Leslie McFarlane, who was required by the publishers of the Hardy Boys to write under the pen name of Franklin W. Dixon. Weingarten described what he learned about McFarlane and the Hardy Boys in an article I wrote about on Medium.

https://medium.com/crows-feet/what-happened-when-a-pulitzer-winner-reread-the-hardy-boys-books-66107b46c6

July 15, 2022

7 Deadly Sins of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’

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Stephen King’s On Writing is America’s second bestselling guide to the craft, according to Amazon rankings, and it draws rapturous praise from aspiring writers. But in my experience, more experienced writers take a dimmer of its advice.

Over at Medium, I challenge seven pieces of advice King gives in On Writing. Some of his precepts are outdated or inconsistent. Others oversimplify an issue that’s vastly more complex than King makes it. Here’s a brief excerpt from my post (dealing, in this case, with King’s views on adverbs) and a link to my responses to six others at the end of it:

‘The adverb is not your friend’

No, it’s not your friend — unless you’re Jane Austen and writing one of the most famous first lines in English: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Or you’re F. Scott Fitzgerald and writing one of the most famous last lines: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Or you’re Herman Melville ending Moby-Dick by quoting the Book of Job: “And I only am alone escaped to tell thee.” Take that, writers of the King James Version.

Yes, writers tend to overuse adverbs, especially in speech tags. But adverbs have a purpose, and the best writers don’t libel them but use them — as Austen and Fitzgerald and Melville did — to serve their purposes.

https://janiceharayda.medium.com/7-ways-stephen-kings-on-writing-loses-the-plot-2494b09dc64f

May 7, 2022

My Summer Reading List — 30 Beach-Ready Books From 30 Countries

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Has your reading become GU, or geographically undesirable? Do you read way too many Mom Coms about mothers in deep suburbia or first novels by young Brooklynites living on Ramen noodles?

Jump start your summer reading with my list of 30 beach- and hammock-ready books from 30 countries, from Australia to Zimbabwe, all alphabetically arranged by country name. My list includes new and classic books of fiction and nonfiction with a one- or two-line review of each and a link to more information, chosen with an eye toward providing something for every taste and travel destination.

If you’ve found a great book about a place you love, please feel free to add it in the comments here or on Medium, where I’ve posted the full list:

https://medium.com/lit-life/intriguing-books-from-30-countries-151377fe8cac

Thanks for reading, and if you’ll be taking a trip this summer, happy travels.

May 5, 2022

How a Drug Startup Scammed Patients, Doctors, and Insurers Until Its Founder Got Caught

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If you love to read good books about crooks, the American drug companies are the gift that keeps on giving. Last year’s hit was Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, a story of the misdeeds by the OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, which became finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction and winner of other honors.

Now comes Evan Hughes’ The Hard Sell, a story of crime and punishment at Insys Therapeutics, the once high-flying drug startup that in some ways makes Purdue Pharma look a choir of angels. Founder John Kapoor is doing five-and-a-half years in a federal prison, and more than two dozen of his executives, sales reps, and doctors were convicted of crimes related to illegal promotions of the company’s signature drug, Subsys, a fast-acting opioid linked to more than 100 deaths, according to an investigation by Frontline for PBS.

Interesting in reading more? Here’s my take on the scandals on Medium:

https://janiceharayda.medium.com/how-a-drug-startup-screwed-patients-doctors-and-insurers-33d33aabda2b

December 4, 2021

How Much Trouble Can You Get Into by Stealing Another Writer’s Idea? An Author Finds Out the Hard Way in Jean Hanff Korelitz’s ‘The Plot’

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I liked the satire of creative writing programs in The Plot but had mixed views of other aspects of the story in a book likely to turn up on a lot of holiday wish lists: https://medium.com/p/e183cd41ac25

August 25, 2021

The Best Business Book I Read This Year: ‘Empire of Pain’

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I loved Empire of Pain and, for my review, tried out a template for business books suggested by Medium:

What did I read?

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick RaddenKeefe

So who’s this Patrick Radden Keefe?

He’s a staff writer for The New Yorker, who builds in this book on his reporting on the Sacklers for that magazine. His honors include a National Book Critics Circle Award for his earlier Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland.

Give me the 30-second sell.

Empire of Pain is the latest book about the ravages of America’s opioid crisis, from Barry Meier’s 2003 Pain Killer: A “Wonder” Drug’s Trail of Addiction and Death to Sam Quinones’ 2015 Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic and Chris McGreal’s 2018 American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts.

What sets Empire of Pain apart from those earlier books is that Keefe doesn’t focus on victims, their families, or others who’ve been extensively covered elsewhere. He zeroes in on the history and business practices of the secretive Sackler family, owners of the bankrupt Purdue Pharma, the privately held company that pleaded  to three federal charges, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, all related its blockbuster drug, OxyContin.

Keefe shows how three generations of the Sacklers — beginning with founding brothers Arthur, Raymond, and Mortimer — acquired a $13 billion fortune and fueled a public health crisis by using sales, marketing, and other tactics that ranged from trailblazing to hardball to outright criminal. His basic message is simple: “Prior to the introduction of OxyContin, America did not have an opioid crisis. After the introduction of OxyContin, it did.”

You can read the rest of this review here.

July 22, 2021

What Sex Workers Want You To Know About Their Work

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I had no idea police could legally have sex with suspected hookers until Michigan became  the last state to outlaw the practice in 2017. The recent book We Too describes that and other abuses I mention on @Medium.

https://janiceharayda.medium.com/5-things-sex-workers-want-you-to-know-about-their-work-9a3e54258a87

July 12, 2021

How ‘The AP Stylebook’ Can Help You If You Don’t Work for a Daily Newspaper

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Some people call The Associated Press Stylebook “the journalist’s bible.” Others call it the journalist’s book of Job. Either way, if you’re a writer, it can help you fine-tune your work.

By whatever nickname, this newsroom stalwart gathers in one volume the AP’s rules for grammar, spelling, capitalization, and other writing-related matters.

The 640-page paperback edition has more than 3,000 brief, clear, and alphabetically arranged entries, many on topics not covered by Grammarly, Microsoft Editor, or similar tools. Why should you care about its rules when more than 2,000 newspapers have died since 2000? Isn’t that like feeding insects to pterodactyls? What if you hope to write not news stories but a memoir or Amish romances or blog posts that go viral?

If you’re interested, you may want to check out my essay “The Book Writers Love to Hate and Hate to Love” on Medium, in which offers some thoughts on the stylebook based on years of working with it.

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