One-Minute Book Reviews

September 22, 2009

Dan Brown’s Worst Lines — 20 Bad Sentences From ‘The Lost Symbol,’ ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Angels and Demons’

Do critics unfairly malign Dan Brown’s writing? You’ll be able to judge for yourself when I list the best and worst lines from The Lost Symbol in my forthcoming review, which will appear after my name makes it to the top the reserve list at the library. In the meantime Tom Chivers selected the 20 worst lines from Dan Brown’s novels for a story for the Telegraph in England.

Yes, Chivers found a qualifying sentence from The Lost Symbol. But his two best choices appear below. The lines from Brown’s books are italicized and Chivers’s comments follow in a Roman font.

Angels and Demons, chapter 100: Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers glorified the four major rivers of the Old World – The Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio Plata.

“The Rio de la Plata. Between Argentina and Uruguay. One of the major rivers of the Old World. Apparently.

“The Da Vinci Code, chapter 5: Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop’s ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué.

“A keen eye indeed.”

Will lines like these qualify Brown for one of the 2010 Delete Key Awards for bad writing in books, given annually to authors who don’t use their delete keys enough? Find out in late Feburary when the shortlist will appear and on March 15, 2010, when this site will announce the winners.

July 14, 2009

No Plaudits for the Word ‘Plaudit’ in Newspapers

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:21 pm
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Why do newspapers allow reporters to use the stilted word “plaudits” when “praise” would do? Two writers for the New York Times tell us today that the departing presidential adviser Steven Rattner “has won plaudits” for directing the restructuring of Chrysler and General Motors.

Who speaks like that? Has your boss ever said, “Plaudits for that Power Point presentation!” Or “A big plaudit for not dozing off during the CEO’s speech!” (It seems you can’t “win” just one “plaudit” but always get more than one if you’ve earned any.) Has a date or spouse told you, “Honey, plaudits for the best sex I ever had!” Some people might say that “plaudit” has value as a substitute for “praise” if that word has appeared repeatedly. But that argument endorses the sin of  “elegant variation” or the needless use of fancy synonyms when plain words would be clearer. And the Times reporters rolled out “plaudits” before giving “praise” a chance.

This kind of stuffy writing is sometimes called “newspaperese” but also infects books. If you’ve found an example, why not nominate it for one of the Delete Key Awards for bad writing in books that this site awards every March 15?

I’m on a semi-vacation for a couple of weeks and posting lightly or on offbeat topics such such as plaudit abuse that I normally deal with only in the context of book reviews.

January 2, 2009

‘Literally,’ a Guide to ‘Annoying Words and Abused Phrases You Should Never Use Again’ (Quote of the Day / Marie Shear)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:33 pm
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And you though it was bad when Bush said, “I know how hard it is to put food on your family”

Marie Shear writes in the The Freelancer that the NBC anchor Brian Williams — “who reportedly earns $10 million a year” – has said that something is “the exact same” as something else. That’s not the only language abuse that bothers her:

“Within a few days this fall, TV news said that ‘we’re bracing ourselves’ for something; that pupils ‘study up’ on a topic; that a church caught fire ‘at 3 p.m. in the afternoon’ (as opposed to 3 p.m. in the morning); that a plot was ‘frightening and disturbing’ (and redundant); and that a child was ‘brutally beaten to death’ (not murdered courteously). A radio journalist called a U.S. Senate race ‘a virtual dead heat.’ I learned that a town would ‘address the smell’ of sewage in the air (perhaps by saying ‘Howdy, Mr. Stench’).”

Shear reviewed four guides that offer antidotes to “sloppy, repetitious language” – the blather that passes for careful speech in the media and elsewhere. They include Paul Yeager’s Literally, the Best Language Book Ever: Annoying Words and Abused Phrases You Should Never Use Again (Perigee, 194 pp., $13.95, paperback): “Yeager smites ‘transition’ and ‘partner’ as verbs, ‘there’s’ followed by a plural, ‘ATM machine,’ ‘revert back’ and … ‘we’re pregnant.’” And since its publication a Michigan university has come up with a list of words overused in 2008, including “game-changing,” “carbon footprint” and “going green.”

When it comes to language crimes, politicians and bureaucrats the serial offenders. And no book skewers them more entertainingly than a former No. 1 bestseller that didn’t make Shear’s list: Edwin Newman’s Strictly Speaking: Will America Be the Death of English? (Warner, 1975). Newman tweaks the rise of clichés like “ongoing dialogue” and “adversary relationship” in government and others in the fields of sports, business, and journalism.

“A respect for language requires some standards of judgment,” Newman writes, speaking of 1974. “In Washington they are lacking.”

Can anybody say that times have changed enough that we no longer need books like his?

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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