One-Minute Book Reviews

February 26, 2009

2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist #1 – Denis Leary’s ‘Why We Suck’

Delete Key Awards Finalist #1 comes from Denis Leary’s Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid (Viking, 240 pp., $26.95):

The winner of the first-ever One-Minute Book Reviews visitors’ poll:
“I’ll take five Anna Nicole Smiths for every Martin Luther King.”

And the runner-up in the poll:
“The women [at the gym]? Paired off on adjacent treadmills or elliptical trainers – yak yakkety yick yak yic, yic yickety, yawbeddy jawbeddy – jic jak yick. Yicketty yacketty blah blah blah.”

Can we all agree that somebody needs to rescue the prose of the star of Rescue Me?

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 21, 2009

You Be the Delete Key Awards Judge — First-Ever One-Minute Book Reviews Visitors Poll — What Is the Worst Line in Denis Leary’s ‘Why We Suck’?

Filed under: Delete Key Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:06 pm
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Update at Sunday 9:15 p.m. Eastern Time: Right now it’s a dead heat between two of the quotes below. Although other posts will follow, the poll will remain open until 5 p.m. Wednesday. The results will appear Thursday, Feb. 26, when the 2009 Delete Key Awards shortlist is announced. Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews. Jan

On Thursday I’ll post the shortlist for the Third Annual Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books, and this year I wanted to let you choose one of the finalists. This sounded easy, because WordPress has added a polling tool called PollDaddy. And the obvious choice was to let you pick a line from Why We Suck, a collection of rants by Rescue Me star Denis Leary, because that one abounded with candidates for deletion.

But trying to get PollDaddy working was more stressful than the time I was trapped on a Manhattan subway while the police searched for a gunman on the tracks, because in that case the cops found the guy pretty quickly and the train started moving again. My attempt to get the poll working went on for days and involved a) visits to the WordPress Support Pages; b) e-mail to support@wordpress.com; and b) using the PollDaddy page on WordPress TV.

When I finally got the poll going, I saw that PollDaddy doesn’t provide enough space for the full fourth quote below which you can read here. Given all this, I’m not sure when I’ll do another survey, so if you want to tamper with the Delete Key Awards jury, this is your chance. Results of the poll will appear Thursday.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

February 20, 2009

Vote for Denis Leary’s Worst Line – Which One Should be a Finalist for a Delete Key Award for the Year’s Worst Writing in Books?

Filed under: Delete Key Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:19 am
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One or two lines usually stand out in books that are frontrunners for the Delete Key Awards for bad writing, the shortlist for which will be announced on Feb. 26. Then there’s Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid. (Viking, 240 pp., $26.95) by the comedian and Rescue Me star Denis Leary. You could practically tape pages from this one to a wall, throw darts, and come up with a winner.

Can you help to select the worst line from among the many worthies in the book? Some of the candidates appear below. (In entry No. 4, asterisks replace words likely get this post blocked by library filters.)

1 “I’ll take five Anna Nicole Smiths for every Martin Luther King.”

2 “I don’t know a living man on this planet who DOESN’T have attention deficit disorder or spends [sic] at least twelve hours of each day thinking about his penis.”

3 “The women [at the gym]? Paired off on adjacent treadmills or elliptical trainers – yak yakkety yick yak yic, yic yickety, yawbeddy jawbeddy – jic jak yick. Yicketty yacketty blah blah blah.”

4 “Which is why I walk around now just wishing I could grab every other mouthy, misbehaved, spoiled and rotten little urchin I come across in airports and restaurants and just when I’m walking down the street – kids who are throwing snit fits in public as their disinterested or seemingly powerless parents stand off to the side and let the rest of us listen to the whining – I just once wanna grab them HARD by the flesh on their twiggy upper arms, that soft flesh that really hurts – and I mean grab them bruise-inducing, five-finger-indentation-left-behind hard – and whisper Clint Eastwood–style in their dirty little ear: Listen up and listen fast, punk, ’cause I’m only saying this one ****** time: yer gonna shut the **** up right now and start doing what yer dumb*** mom and dad say from here on in or a special van is gonna pull up one day and just pluck you right off the ****** street and drop your *** on a plane to Iraq where you will be dropped out of the sky with nuthin’ but a parachute and a bag of white rice – no cash, no toys, no more SpongeBob Square***– ya follow?”

I’d hoped to do this post as a poll, using the new WordPress polling tool PollDaddy, so you could vote anonymously. But after signing up for the required PollDaddy account, requesting help on the Forums, and contacting an unresponsive WordPress Support, I still can’t get the poll to work. Are you a WordPress.com blogger who has used PollDaddy? If so, I’d love advice. (None of the suggestions on the Forums works for me.) I’d like to poll visitors about another author early next week. Thank you!

The Feb. 24, 2008, post has questions and answers about the annual Delete Key Awards.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

January 11, 2009

If His Jokes About Autism Aren’t Tasteless Enough for You, Denis Leary Says, ‘I’ll Take Five Anna Nicole Smiths for Every Martin Luther King’ in ‘Why We Suck’

The comedian and star of the firefighting drama Rescue Me blows smoke at you in a 240-page rant

Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid. By Denis Leary. Viking, 240 pp., $26.95.

By Janice Harayda

Denis Leary begins Why We Suck by thanking his wife, who’s “funnier than I am.” You’ll believe it after reading this one.

Why We Suck isn’t a book so much a relentlessly profane rant by the comedian and star of the firefighting series Rescue Me. Leary rages mostly against safe targets: greedy athletes, overprivileged children, celebrity blowhards like Dr. Phil McGraw. But he has drawn fire for saying in a chapter called “Autism Shmautism” that autism diagnoses are on the rise because parents want psychotherapists to “explain away the deficiencies of their junior morons.” He adds:

“I don’t give a shit what these crackerjack whackjobs tell you – yer kid is NOT autistic. He’s just stupid. Or lazy. Or both.”

When that comment enraged parents of autistic children, Leary said his quote was taken out of context by people who didn’t read his book or missed his point. He was talking about what he sees as a trend toward overdiagnosis (though, of course, the larger the larger problem is that for generations autism was undiagnosed and autistic children often labeled “retarded”).

This incident tells you a lot about Why We Suck. Leary doesn’t have bad taste — he has no taste. To show really bad taste takes effort. Liberace, ayatollah jokes, “Springtime for Hitler” in The Producers – you laugh in part because of the work that went into all of them. How much effort does it take to show no taste? None. If you’re Leary, you just fill your book with lines like: “I’ll take five Anna Nicole Smiths for every Martin Luther King.” Where’s the humor there? Good comedy always has its roots in truth, and you don’t believe for a minute that Leary would take five Anna Nicole Smiths for every Martin Luther King. Or anything close to it.

Comedian Jim Norton’s recent I Hate Your Guts (Simon & Schuster, 253 pp., $25.95) is also a profane rant that taps into the angry-white-male market. But Norton tries harder to give you truly bad taste – not that this is a endorsement — instead of no taste. So his book is funnier than We We Suck. He seems to have put more effort into a six-page sendup of the Yankees’ radio broadcaster John Sterling than Leary did into a 240-pae book.

Norton makes you laugh at many of Sterling’s catchphrases besides his trademark “The Yankees win … theeeeeee Yankeeeees winnnnn!” (“Shane Spencer, the home run dispenser!”) He also makes an apt comment in a preface that honors the late George Carlin. Norton loved that when Carlin taped of a television show late in his career, he brought notes on cards and hid them in a spot on the set that the camera couldn’t see: “He didn’t take the laughs for granted.” On the evidence of Why We Suck, Leary does take the laughs for granted – a trait that seems remarkably obtuse when you’re telling parents that their children are not autistic – “just stupid.”

Best line: “THE END.” Boy, will you be glad to see those words.

Worst line: No. 1: “I’ll take five Anna Nicole Smiths for every Martin Luther King.” No. 2: “I don’t know a living man on this planet who DOESN’T have attention deficit disorder or spends [sic] at least twelve hours of each day thinking about his penis. ” No. 3: On what he sees at the gym: “The women? Paired off on adjacent treadmills or elliptical trainers – yak yakkety yick yak yic, yic yickety, yawbeddy jawbeddy – jic jak yick. Yicketty yacketty blah blah blah.” No. 4: The autism quotes cited above. No. 5: “Which is why I walk around now just wishing I could grab every other mouthy, misbehaved, spoiled and rotten little urchin I come across in airports and restaurants and just when I’m walking down the street – kids who are throwing snit fits in public as their disinterested or seemingly powerless parents stand off to the side and let the rest of us listen to the whining – I just once wanna grab them HARD by the flesh on their twiggy upper arms, that soft flesh that really hurts – and I mean grab them bruis-inducing, five-finger-indentation-left-behind hard – and whisper Clint Eastwood–style in their dirty little ear: Listen up and listen fast, punk, ’cause I’m only saying this one ****** time: yer gonna shut the **** up right now and start doing what yer dumbass mom and dad say from here on in or a special vanna is gonna pull up one day and just pluck you right off the ****** street and drop your ass on a plane to Iraq where you will be dropped out of the sky with nuthin’ but a parachute and a bag of white rice – no cash, no toys, no more SpongeBob SquareAss – ya follow?”

Published: November 2008

Read the Autism Society of America’s response to Leary’s comments. Leary says: “The people who are criticizing the ‘Autism Schmautism’ [sic] chapter in my new book Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid clearly have not read it.

“Or if they have, they missed the sections I thought made my feelings about autism very clear: that I not only support the current rational approaches to the diagnoses and treatment of real autism but have witnessed it firsthand while watching very dear old friends raise a functioning autistic child.”

Dennis Leary calls “Autism Shmautism” his “favorite chapter” in Why We Suck in Vanity Fair interview.

Furthermore: Leary uses the name “Dr. Denis Leary” on the cover of Why We Suck because he got an honorary degree from his alma mater, Emerson College.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist and novelist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of The Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 1, 2008

A Few Comments on Arthur Miller’s ‘All My Sons’ on Broadway and in Print

It’s remarkable how a well-staged Broadway production can transcend the defects of a play. Last weekend I saw All My Sons in previews at the Schoenfeld Theatre, and the time flew by.

You hardly noticed how prosaic Arthur Miller’s writing can be because the production had so much going for it, including brisk direction by Simon McBurney and a glossy cast: John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, Patrick Wilson, and Katie Holmes.

After I got home, it seemed to me that All My Sons stands up to rereading both better and worse than some of the other plays that appeared in decade after World War II. It holds up better partly because Miller is dealing here with issues that have fresh relevance in the age of Haliburton and Enron: the evils of war profiteering and the moral duty of individuals to resist the soulless influence of American business. It holds up worse because Miller can use language as blunt instrument instead of a precision tool (as in Linda Loman’s famous defense of her husband, Willy: “ … attention must be paid”). That liability is perhaps more noticeable today than it was before videos and DVDs expanded the availability of more elegantly written plays from Hamlet to A Streetcar Named Desire.

I wondered if others shared my view, so I picked up Arthur Miller (Chelsea House, 148 pp., $35), part of the “Bloom’s BioCritiques” series edited and introduced by the distinguished critic Harold Bloom. (The volume on Miller in the “Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations” series is instead shown above.) Bloom says:

“Miller is by no means a bad writer, but he is scarcely an eloquent master of the language.”

Exactly. The appeal Miller’s plays — which remains high — comes from virtues other than unparalleled phrase-turning, including their craftsmanship, moral courage and passionate exploration of the intersection of social and psychological forces in American lives.

A few comments on the Sept. 26 preview: Kate Holmes (Ann Deever) is easy on the eyes and, given that producers must be strafing her with scripts for romantic comedies, has made a statement about how she wants to be perceived by taking on this role. John Lithgow (Joe Keller) gives an energetic performance in a tough role that requires him to undergo a transformation that, as Miller wrote it, isn’t fully believable. Patrick Wilson (Chris Keller) grows into his part. None of those actors can touch Dianne Wiest (Kate Keller), whose portrayal of a mother unable to accept the death of her son in World War II must be one of the best recent portrayals of mental illness in any medium.

All My Sons officially opens Oct. 16 on Broadway. You can read about that production and buy tickets at www.allmysonsonbroadway.com. You’ll find more on Arthur Miller (1915-2005) at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Miller.

One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept books from editors, publishers, authors or agents. It also does not accept free tickets to plays mentioned on the site.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

September 28, 2008

Another Thing Paul Newman (1925 — 2008) Doesn’t Want on His Tombstone

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:20 pm
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This is the second of two posts on this site about Paul Newman’s comments on how he wants to be remembered.

“I envy Laurence Olivier, because he seems to have endless resources in him to develop and be a different character each time,” Paul Newman said early in his career as an actor. “I feel I perhaps don’t have the imagination to change.”

Lionel Godfrey, who quotes that unsourced comment in Paul Newman: Superstar: A Critical Biography (St. Martin’s, 1979) goes on to say of Newman and Olivier:

“Since one is par excellence a screen-actor and the other’s sphere, despite great film-performances, has always been pre-eminently the stage, it is difficult to compare the two stars. But in the 12 years or so since he modestly made that statement, Paul has more than proved his own versatility and the creative resources he can bring to new, unusual roles. He has often told interviewers, ‘I don’t want to die and have written on my tombstone: ‘He was a helluva actor until one day his eyes turned brown.’”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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.” dorothyparker.com

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. www.guernseyliterary.com

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. www.katesummerscale.com and www.walkerbooks.com

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 movies.yahoo.com/movie/1809874771/video of the novel www.persephonebooks.co.uk.

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. www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/d/alan-durant/sports-stories.htm

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

August 5, 2008

‘Can I Describe the Joy of a Spouting Blow Hole?’ – Delete Key Awards Midterm Scouting Report, Continued

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:18 am
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I hadn’t seen this gem when I posted my recent scouting report on lines that have a chance to win one of the next Delete Key Awards, given to authors who don’t use their delete keys enough:

“Can I describe the joy of a spouting blow hole?”

From a letter written in 1939 by a dolphin-loving character in David Ebershoff’s new novel, The 19th Wife (Random House, 514 pp., $26, as quoted by Janet Maslin in the New York Times www.nytimes.com/2008/08/04/books/04masl.html.

To read the full midterm Delete Key Awards scouting report, click here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/07/28/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 28, 2008

Has Freedom of Speech Gone Too Far? A Report on Some of the Year’s Worst Writing in Books Published in the U.S. — Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 6:35 pm
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Has freedom of speech gone too far? You be the judge after you read tomorrow’s midterm report on some of the worst writing in books published in the U.S. in 2008. This post will include passages from books that have a chance to win one of the Delete Key Awards handed out annually on March 15 to authors who don’t use their delete keys enough. You will be able to leave comments on the selected passages and make your case for taking books off the list or leaving them on it.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

July 24, 2008

Tom Farley, Jr., on His Brother Chris Farley – Quote of the Day

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:18 pm
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Tom Farley, Jr., remembers his younger brother Chris Farley, who appeared on Saturday Night Live and in movies such as Beverly Hills Ninja, in his new The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts (Viking, $26.95) www.thechrisfarleyshow.com, written with Tanner Colby. Tom writes of Chris, who died at the age of 33 from overdose of crack and heroin in 1997:

“Soon after Chris died, I told my wife that my greatest fear was being sixty years old and trying hard to remember this kid who was my brother.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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