One-Minute Book Reviews

March 11, 2009

Claire Messud Won a 2007 Delete Key Award for These Clichés. Should Barbara Walters Win One for Hers?

Filed under: Delete Key Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:22 pm
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What does it take to win a Delete Key Award for the year’s worst writing in books? Two years ago it took the clichés found in Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children. That novel was the second runner-up in 2007 Delete Key Awards competition, finishing behind Mitch Albom’s For One More Day (first runner up) and Danielle Steel’s Toxic Bachelors (grand prize winner). Messud received her Delete Key Award for lines like:

“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.”

Among the problems with the sentence: That “leadening” wasn’t literal but metaphorical, and the sentence is infested with clichés

Messud was also recognized for writing that one of her characters “never knew in life whether to be Pierre or Natasha, the solitary, brooding loner or the vivacious social butterfly.”

As opposed, presumably, to a loner who wasn’t solitary.

This year Barbara Walters made the Delete Key shortlist for her cliché-stuffed Audition, which brims with sentences like:

“Just before the ax fell, lightning struck and my life changed, never to be the same again.”

Has Waltters surpassed Messud? Is her sentence bad enough to win a Delete Key Award? If you’d like to try to tamper with the jury, you have until Saturday.

Read some of the comments on Messud’s Delete Key Award here.

The 2009 Delete Key Award winners will be announced on Monday, March 16, beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern Time.

© 2009 Janice Harayda.

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.

March 15, 2007

Steel, Albom and Messud Win Top Awards for the Worst Writing in Books

Toxic Bachelors, For One More Day and The Emperor’s Children finish win, place, and show in the first annual bad-writing contest sponsored by One-Minute Book Reviews,

Three novelists have won top honors in the 2007 Delete Key Awards competition for the worst writing published in books in the preceding year. Danielle Steel won the Grand Prize for Toxic Bachelors. Mitch Albom was first runner-up for For One More Day and Claire Messud second runner-up for The Emperor’s Children.

The blog One-Minute Book Reviews announced the winners earlier today. Steel, Albom and Messud defeated seven other books, including Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Rising, James McGreevey’s The Confession (with David France) and Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval’s The Power of Nice. Each winning book received a separate post on March 15 that described the reasons for its selection. The March 16 post will explain why some of the also-rans didn’t win the competition, the results for which were announced only on the Internet.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Second Runner-up for the 2007 Delete Key Award: ‘The Emperor’s Children’ by Claire Messud

The second runner-up for the 2007 Delete Key Award for the year’s worst writing in books is …

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud

How did this pretentious novel end up on so many best-of-the-year lists? Who knows? Every year there’s at least one book that earns praise far out of proportion to its merits. (Remember the great reviews Mitch Albom got when he started writing books? How hollow does some of the praise seem now?) The most overrated book of 2006 was The Emperor’s Children, a windy and cliché-infested novel full of repulsive characters who move in eddies around an aging New York journalist.

So why didn’t it win top honors in the Delete Key Awards competition for the year’s worst writing in books? Tedious as much of this novel is, The Emperor’s Children picks up steam in the last one hundred or so pages, when it borrows some drama from the events of Sept. 11, 2001. How many readers will stick with it until then?

Original review on One-Minute Book Reviews: Oct. 4, 2006, “The Emperor’s Children Wear Clichés,” Oct. 4, 2006, archived with the October posts and in the “Novels” category.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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