One-Minute Book Reviews

November 12, 2013

William Logan’s ‘The Undiscovered Country,’ Award-Winning Poetry Reviews

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:49 pm
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What winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award most deserved the prize? My favorite honorees include William Logan’s The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin, a collection of essays and reviews on poetry, and I explain why in a post on the NBCC blog that begins:

“William Logan once heard a poet say that poets in the 1950s were afraid of three things: ‘Randall Jarrell’s reviews, Robert Lowell’s poetry, and the atomic bomb.’ Today’s poets have three different fears: William Logan’s reviews, John Ashbery’s poetry, and not getting tenure. [read more]

July 23, 2010

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

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:11 am
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Two reviews share today’s Gusher Award for over-the-top praise in book reviews:

From a review of Marisa Silver’s Alone With You: Stories in the New York Times Book Review on June 6, 2010:

“Miraculously, Silver makes philandering Burton sympathetic even as she compassionately conveys the ambivalence Julia feels, at once insulted and relieved by her husband’s infidelity.”

From a review of Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge in the Oregonian on June 26, 2010:

“No less miraculous, however, are the tools by which Orringer builds these connections: Her writing is glorious, at times awe-inspiring.”

Makes you wonder if the pages of these books were printed on the Shroud of Turin, doesn’t it? Memo to critics tempted to use “miraculous” in future reviews: Why not save it for times when a plane lands on the Hudson instead of squandering it on smooth transitions between paragraphs?

Gusher Awards appear on Fridays except when no sentence or paragraph was too inflationary to qualify. These prizes may recognize types of overheated praise other than hyperbole, such as gonzo metaphors. If you’d like nominate an a candidate, please send an e-mail note to the address on the “Contact” page.

You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter at

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 12, 2010

Fake Book News #2 — National Book Critics Circle

Filed under: Fake Book News,Humor,Late Night With Jan Harayda,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:32 pm
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National Book Critics Circle changes its name to National Association of Unemployed Former Book Editors.

Fake Book News is new category on this site that satirizes American literary culture, including the publishing industry, in posts after 10 p.m. Eastern Time. All posts consist of made-up news items that are intended to be entertaining — not taken seriously — and many will also appear on the FakeBookNews page (@fakebooknews) on Twitter ( Some Fake Book News may appear on One-Minute Book Reviews but not on Twitter and vice versa.

October 4, 2009

How Reviewing Opens Your Mind to Books — My Comments on the 35th Anniversary of the National Book Critics Circle

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:03 pm
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A copy of my remarks at the National Book Critics Circle’s recent 35th anniversary celebration has been posted on the NBCC site, and if you’re interested, you can find my comments here.

June 16, 2009

Can There Be ‘Too Many Reviews’ of Books? — Late Night With Jan Harayda

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:05 pm
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Fewer book reviews are appearing in print because of recent cutbacks at newspaper book-review sections, but is the smaller number necessarily a bad thing? Most critics seem to think it is, in part because it tends to result in an uneven distribution of literary wealth: As the review space shrinks, a larger share of it is going to established authors who don’t need the attention – but whom editors believe they can’t ignore – at the expense of unknowns who do need it.

A slightly different view informs North Toward Home, the acclaimed 1967 memoir by Willie Morris, the late editor of Harper’s. Morris suggests that “too many reviews and too much talk about reviews” can hurt writers by eroding their faith in the importance of their work in its own right. That argument may have been stronger when good new authors could usually take for granted that they would get reviews in respected newspapers. Now those authors may receive none. And neglect can erode a writer’s faith as much as too many reviews of the wrong sort. But Morris makes a worthy point that’s in danger of getting lost amid the din about shrinking book-review sections: Reviews are often a mixed blessing.

Here’s more of his argument:

“A young writer’s work rests in a very real way on his own private ego – on his own personal faith that what he has to write and the way he writes it are important in themselves, important to his own time and to future generations. Why else subject oneself to the miseries of writing? When one is too closely involved in the world of publishing, this private faith can wear very thin. There are too many books, too many reviews and too much talk about reviews, too much concern about books as commodities, books as items of merchandise, book quotas, book prizes, book sales figures, book promotions. There is too much literary activity and too much literary talk, having little or nothing to do with the intensely private and precarious act of writing. There is too much predictable flattery. All this is necessary to the trade, but it generates a total atmosphere which can be destructive of one’s own literary values.”

This is the latest in a series of “Late Night With Jan Harayda” posts that appear after 10 p.m. Eastern Time and do not include reviews, which usually appear early in the day.

March 4, 2009

‘The Writer Is Insane’ — Flannery O’Connor and Her Critics

'Wise Blood' was a commercial flop.

Just picked up Brad Gooch’s new Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor (Little, Brown, 416 pp., $30). After a few chapters, I agree with Jonathan Yardley, who wrote in his Washington Post review that “the book is for the most part lucidly written and neither excessively long nor riddled with extraneous detail.”

Good provides a context for the obtuseness of so much recent book reviewing in a report on the initial response to O’Connor, a major American writer of the 20th century. He writes of her first novel, Wise Blood, edited by Robert Giroux:

“‘I can tell you that from a publishing point of view Wise Blood was a flop,’ says Robert Giroux. ‘It got three or four bad reviews right off. Then a good one came that began to see something. But I was shocked at the stupidity of these, the lack of perception, or even the lack of having an open mind. The review in the New York Times Book Review was by a Southern writer. He was embarrassed later, too late. Another reviewer said that it’s a work of insanity, the writer is insane.'”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 23, 2009

The Case Against Free Verse (Quote of the Day / J. V. Cunningham)

Filed under: Poetry,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:21 am
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The battle for free verse was over by the time I became a critic: Unmetered poetry was, if not dominant, well on its way to it. So I missed many of the early great essays that argued for or against the verse of Walt Whitman and others.

But I caught up with one of them after the recent publication of Praising It New: The Best of the New Criticism (Ohio University Press/Swallow Press, 288 pp., $18.95, paperback), edited by Garrick Davis with a foreword by William Logan. Davis notes that in the essay, “The Problem of Form,” the American poet and scholar J. V. Cunningham (1911–1985) makes the case against free verse with unusual skill: “The indispensability of meter has never been argued for more succinctly.”

Cunningham holds that the popularity of free verse springs from American ideals: We live in a democratic society and “give a positive value to informality.” Formal language is an anathema because we associate it with a hierarchical and authoritarian world with rules set by a privileged class. We see the measured or formal as insincere or a perversion of “the central value of our life, genuineness of feeling.”

If we value informality, we believe we must get rid of formality or form, which is by nature repetitive, Cunningham goes on: “But to get rid of it we must keep it; we must have something to get rid of.” And formal poetry involves a convergence of forms that — metrical, grammatical, rhetorical, conceptual and more. “Indeed, it is the inherent coincidence of forms in poetry, in metrical writing, that gives it its power.” So when we abandon meter in poetry, we abandon more:

“And here in naked reduction is the problem of form in the poetry of our day. It is before all a problem of meter. We have lost the repetitive harmony of the old tradition, and we have not established a new. We have written to vary or violate the old line, for regularity we feel is meaningless and irregularity meaningful. But a generation of poets, acting on the principles and practice of significant variation, have last nothing to vary from. The last variation is regularity.”

Cunningham wrote this decades ago, and a lot has changed. Many contemporary poets work at least partly with forms that include not just meter but rhyme. Those poets include Mary Jo Salter, editor of the Norton Anthology of Poetry, whose recent A Phone Call to the Future will be reviewed soon on this site.

So I’m quoting this not because I agree with all of what Cunningham says but because he makes an argument rarely heard these days. What do you think? Should more people be making it?

Read more about Praising It New at and about J. V. Cunningham at

© 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 26, 2008

What Critics Read on Vacation — Dorothy Parker and More

Filed under: Nonfiction,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:00 pm
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Frances McDormand starred in the movie version of "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day"

Lately I’ve realized that I’m the literary equivalent of a survivalist who has a cellar full of tinned Vienna sausages and sauerkraut just in case there’s an enemy attack. I’m dog-sitting for a week for a couple whose house resembles a Barnes and Noble annex: She’s led several book clubs and he’s a reporter covering the Democratic National Convention.

Still, I must be prepared. What if none of my friends’ books is exactly what I need to survive the week? So before leaving home I spent days thinking about which books to pack until a dozen or so went into my suitcase, including these five:

The Portable Dorothy Parker: Revised and Enlarged Edition (Viking, 1973), by Dorothy Parker with an introduction by Brendan Gill. I try always to take a good book of literary criticism on vacation, and this one has some of Parker’s best Constant Reader columns for The New Yorker plus a selection of her poems, articles and short stories. A favorite line: Parker writes in a review of a book by the wife of a British prime minister: “The affair between Margot Asquith and Margot Asquith will live as one of the prettiest in all of literature.”

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Dial, 2008), by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Based on the reviews and word-of-mouth, I just sent this epistolary novel as an 85th birthday present to an aunt in Peoria (along with a cherry-red tin of thistle-shaped Walker’s shortbread as a substitute for potato peel pie). Need to read the book to find out if Aunt Lois is still speaking to me.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective (Walker, 2008) by Kate Summerscale. An easy call. This is one of year’s most highly praised books of historical true crime. I read a few chapters earlier this month and had to force myself to stop and save the book for this week. I also have a soft spot for books in which the body turns up in an outhouse for reasons perhaps best saved for another post. and

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Persephone Classics, 2008), by Winifred Watson with an introduction by Henrietta Twycross-Martin. English journalists have called the London–based Persephone Books is “the new Virago,” a defunct imprint that specialized in neglected minor classics by women, so I’ve been looking forward to getting to know its list. The dust jacket says of this book says, “Miss Pettigrew is a down-on-her-luck, middle-aged governess sent by her employment agency to work for a nightclub singer rather than a household of unruly children. Over a period of 24 hours her life is changed – forever.” And a Guardian reviewer wrote: “Why has it taken more than half a century for this wonderful flight of humor to be rediscovered? Pure Cinderella fantasy farce with beaus, bounders, negligees and nightclubs – Miss Pettigrews’s blossoming is a delight to observe.” Frances McDormand starred in a 2008 movie version of the novel

Sports Stories (Kingfisher, 2000, ages 9 and up), chosen by Alan Durant and illustrated by David Kearney. For a long time I’ve been looking for a good book of short stories about sports for middle-school and older students. This one caught my eye at the library because it includes new and classic writing on a variety of girls’ or boys sports, including soccer, tennis, baseball, basketball, hockey, swimming and running. The quality of writing in anthologies tends to be uneven, and I’m hoping to find out this week if Sports Stories achieves enough consistency to recommend it.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 4, 2007

The Best Books You’ve Never Read (61 Critics Pick Their Favorites in New York Magazine)

Filed under: Nonfiction,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:30 pm
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Looking for a good book to take on vacation instead of one of those clinkers that may end up on my list of the summer’s worst beach books? Sixty-one critics and writers pick “the best under-the-radar books of the last ten years or so” in the current issue of New York magazine (June 4)

The literati who chose books include Frank Rich, Katha Pollitt, Michael Cunningham, Azar Nafisi and, well, me. Rich loves Leslie Epstein’s San Remo Drive, Pollitt praises Robert Hellenga’s The Fall of a Sparrow, Cunningham went for Jonathan Baumbach’s On the Way to My Father’s Funeral and Nafisi singled out Robert M. Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir: Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among Baboons. I chose Guiseppe Pontiggia’s great novel of fatherhood, Born Twice, reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews on March 8, 2007 The review is archived with the March posts (and there’s a reading group guide saved in the Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides category).

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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