Why did Where the Wild Things Are seem revolutionary when it appeared in 1963? What qualities helped it win the 1964 Caldecott Medal? And why has it lasted long enough to inspire a new Spike Jonze movie? A review of the trailblazing children’s book by Maurice Sendak appeared in the “Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read” series on One-Minute Book Reviews.
October 17, 2009
December 28, 2008
December 3, 2008
Anna Winger’s First Novel, ‘This Must Be the Place’ – An American Wife Finds Herself Emotionally Adrift in Berlin After Sept. 11
Life imitates a Tom Cruise movie dubbed in German in a city where “Dixie” is a popular ring tone
This Must Be the Place. By Anna Winger. Penguin/Riverhead, 303 pp., $24.95.
By Janice Harayda
What does it mean to spend much of your life speaking in someone else’s voice? And if you’ve done it, can you get yourself back again?
These questions lie at the heart of This Must Be the Place, Anna Winger’s engaging first novel about an unlikely friendship between an American wife and an unmarried man who lives in her apartment building in the Charlottenburg section of Berlin. Hope has followed her Jewish husband, Dave, to Germany, partly to escape tragedies in New York, including the attacks of Sept. 11. Walter earns an enviable living as the German voice of Tom Cruise, spending his days dubbing Vanilla Sky, a job that helps to mask his loneliness. Both of their lives change after a sidewalk argument brings them together and, over the next few months, they grow closer in ways that at once expose and ease their different forms of psychic displacement.
At times Winger overreaches as she describes the quirky bond between Hope and Walter. She tries to link circumstances too big and different to fit together neatly: losing a child, surviving Sept. 11, leaving America, being Jewish in Germany, and living in a formerly divided city. This effort leads to plot contrivances and talky explanations of motives. You wonder if Winger once wrote self-help articles for women’s magazines when you come across lines like: “She had resisted further argument with Dave because his anger about it was the only suggestion that somewhere inside his rational exterior he was suffering too and she wanted to believe that.” Some scenes seem to mainly exist as vehicles for her views on questions of national identity and other subjects.
But Winger’s observations on Germany are generally interesting and often amusing. Hope arrives in Berlin when “Dixie” is a popular ring tone on German cell phones. Walter comes from an Alpine town “where people in crisis were often comforted by visions of the Virgin Mary in breakfast cereal or dishwater bubbles.” Winger explains why German men urinate sitting down and what can happen if you ride the Berlin subways without a ticket even though there are no turnstiles.
In some ways, This Must Be the Place resembles Diane Johnson’s novel about Paris, Le Divorce. Like Johnson, Winger shows an unsentimental affection for her adopted city. And if Berlin isn’t Paris, Winger makes clear that it has its own charms.
“In New York, as soon as one building came down, another went up so quickly as to obliterate the memory of what had been there before,” Winger writes. “In other European cities, the past was glorified, the architecture spruced up for tourists to the point of caricature. But here, nobody seemed to be in any hurry one way or the other. Buildings had been bombed and the city had been ripped apart, but years later holes remained all over the place without explanation or apparent concern. The city moved forward with a lack of vanity that she found relaxing.”
Best line: “In almost every Tom Cruise movie he could think of, Rain Man, Jerry Maguire, Days of Thunder, The Firm, you name it, somewhere in the second act his character danced and sang along to a pop song on the radio to illustrate a sudden flash of optimism.”
Worst line: “In September, when she came out of her downtown building to see people covered in white powder running for their lives, she had not been entirely surprised to find the outside world finally reflecting her inner chaos.” Winger doesn’t begin to show why Hope might have had this extraordinarily nonchalant response to Sept. 11. It makes her heroine look self-absorbed in a way that the rest of the book doesn’t.
Editor: Megan Lynch
Published: August 2008 annawinger.com/book.html
About the author: Winger lives in Berlin. She created The Berlin Stories, a radio series for NPR Worldwide.
You can read more about This Must Be the Place in the post “Germany Loves the Famous Has-Beens” that appeared on this site on Dec. 2 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/12/02/.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
November 24, 2008
‘Chapman’s Car Compendium: The Essential Book of Car Facts and Trivia’ – A Great Gift for a Driver Who Reads More Than Road Signs
An entertaining book of facts that includes a list of the “the 20 greatest car movies” and their stars and cars
Chapman’s Car Compendium: The Essential Book of Car Facts and Trivia. By Giles Chapman. Merrell, 187 pp., $16.95.
By Janice Harayda
This book is, quite possibly, the best literary gift for a car-lover that I have come across in more than 15 years of reviewing. It is witty, intelligent, well-written, inexpensive, and handsomely illustrated. It is also full of fascinating lore, such as its list of 25 excuses supposedly written on insurance forms after accidents. (Excuse No. 6: “I didn’t think the speed limit applied after midnight.”) And it speaks to lovers of all kinds cars — Kias and Hyundais included — unlike the overpriced coffee-table tomes that seem intended mainly for people who think you haven’t lived until you’ve owned a Maybach 62.
Much of Chapman’s Car Compendium consists of anecdotes, diagrams and lists with inspired titles like “Dictators’ cars” (“Rafael Trujillo – Chrysler Crown Imperial”) and “The cars most name-dropped in rap songs” (Mercedes is No. 1). But the book also has pithy advice on subjects such as how to wash, winterize and sell your car.
Giles Chapman notes that you, could, conceivably discover some of his material online. But that wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as reading this book. Chapman begins his introduction to one list with the droll: “Scotland is noted for many things, but making cars isn’t one of them.” He mercifully doesn’t say whether there’s a connection between that fact and another: Scotland is known for making malt liquor.
Best line: The list of “The 20 greatest car movies and their stars.” Chapman lists the stars and the cars they drove in the films. (Be honest, boomers: Did you remember that Dustin Hoffman drove an Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider in The Graduate?) Some of his choices reflect tastes perhaps more British than American: Carry on Cabby makes the cut but Taxi Driver doesn’t. But other entries are above reproach: Goldfinger (Aston Martin DB5), Thelma and Louise (Ford Thunderbird), Driving Miss Daisy (Hudson Hornet).
Worst line: “20 celebrity car deaths.” Some deaths on this list involve disputed circumstances that beg for a fuller discussion. Chapman says Princess Grace died while driving her Rover 3500S. Wikipedia says it was a Rover P6. Chapman may be right, but what’s his source?
Published: October 2007 www.gileschapman.com.
About the author: Chapman is a London-based former editor of Classic & Sports Car (“the world’s best-selling classic car magazine,” or so he says) who appears frequently on BBC radio. He contributes to many well-known magazines and newspapers.
Furthermore: God bless public libraries. I might have missed this one if I hadn’t found it in the “New Books” section at mine.
Janice Harayda’s 2008 A-to-Z holiday gift-book list will appear soon. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing it.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.