One-Minute Book Reviews

March 16, 2009

2009 Delete Key Awards First Runner-Up — James Frey’s ‘Bright Shiny Morning’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:33 am
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The 2009 Delete Key Awards first runner-up is James Frey’s novel of Los Angeles, Bright Shiny Morning (Harper).

All the controversy about A Million Little Pieces may have left some people with the mistaken idea that James Frey is great writer who went astray. In fact, Frey is an average – and often much worse than average – writer whose perceived sins won him a fame he might never achieved on the strength of his writing alone. His Bright Shiny Morning reads at times like an entry in a Bad Hemingway Parody contest.

Bright Shiny Morning is the Delete Key Awards first runner-up for many lines like:

“He said she would have a better life the sun shining every day more free time less stress she said she would feel like she had wasted a decade trying to get to the major leagues only to demote herself once she got into them.”

The Delete Key Awards recognize the year’s worst writing in books. They are given annually on March 15 or the nearest weekday to it. Other posts about the awards appear on www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 11, 2009

James Frey writes like this should he get a Delete Key Award on Monday Terry McMillan wrote like this too but she was only a finalist has Frey surpassed her?

There’s usually at least one Delete Key Awards finalist that reads like an entry in a Bad Hemingway Parody contest. This year that spot on the shortlist goes to this passage from James Frey’s Los Angeles novel, Bright Shiny Morning:

“He said she would have a better life the sun shining every day more free time less stress she said she would feel like she had wasted a decade trying to get to the major leagues only to demote herself once she got into them.”

Should Frey’s effort be among the winners named on Monday?

Consider this: Terry McMillan made the 2007 shortlist for the passage below. But she didnt win, because the competition from Mitch Albom and Danielle Steel was just too tough even for this jawbreaker from her The Interruption of Everything:

“We tried you on your cell but you didn’t pick up so we got a little worried since we didn’t know where your appointment was and we tried calling Leon at work but his assistant said he left early to pick up his son at the airport and against our better judgment we tried your house and Hail Mary Full of Grace answered and after she deposed us, I asked if she knew your doctor’s number and she said she had to think for a few minutes and while she was thinking I started thinking who else we could call and that’s when I remembered your GYN’s name was a hotel: Hilton!”

Should Frey win — even though McMillan didn’t — given that Bright Shiny Morning isn’t up against a novel written third-grade reading level (Albom’s For One More Day) or brimming with stereotypes of Jews (Steel’s Toxic Bachelors)? If you would like to try to tamper with the jury, you have until Saturday.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

March 5, 2009

Imprint Blight in American Book Publishing

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:16 pm
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The colophon of the respected Margaret K. McElderry imprint.

On this site I focus on the quality of the writing in books and generally avoid reporting on unrelated publishing news or gossip. But an article in today’s New York Times involves a trend that’s been on my mind for years: the proliferation of imprints at major publishing firms.

Many of the new imprints bear the names of their editors. And — to oversimplify a bit — they allow the editors to go out on a limb and buy books that reflect their tastes even if others at their firms dislike them. That freedom is in theory a good thing, because it allows editors to acquire worthy books that may be too narrow to appeal to staff members who might otherwise have to sign off on them. And some imprints have a longstanding reputation for high quality, such as the Margaret K. McElderry children’s imprint at Simon & Schuster.

But named imprints can also remove some of the checks-and-balances at publishing firms. And recently they have produced at least two books so tarnished by questions of credibility that they should never have been published in the form in which they reached stores: James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (from Nan Talese Books at Doubleday) and Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone (from Sarah Crichton Books) at Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

I won’t belabor this point here, but if you’re interested in imprint blight in book publishing, I’ve put up a series of tweets about them on my Twitter feed. Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

February 26, 2009

2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist #9 — James Frey’s ‘Bright Shiny Morning’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:39 am
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Delete Key Awards Finalist #9 comes from James Frey’s novel of Los Angeles, Bright Shiny Morning (Harper, 510 pp., $26.95).

“He said she would have a better life the sun shining every day more free time less stress she said she would feel like she had wasted a decade trying to get to the major leagues only to demote herself once she got into them.”

He got scolded by Oprah A Million Little Pieces blasted he needed to redeem himself with some critics a novel with many sentences like this not the best way to do that.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved

February 23, 2009

Night Falls on James Frey’s ‘Bright Shiny Morning’

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:26 am
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A controversial author says that the City of Los Angeles “was founded by a major water source”

Bright Shiny Morning. By James Frey. Harper, 501 pp., $26.95.

By Janice Harayda

Evening came early for Bright Shiny Morning, a novel that appeared in May and that apparently had tanked at bookstores by September. And the premature nightfall befit this dark, postmodern tale of Los Angeles.

Bright Shiny Morning is a flat-footed converse of A Million Little Pieces, the discredited memoir that turned James Frey into a literary pariah. If much of that book was fiction posing as fact, much of this one is fact posing as fiction.

Frey tells the interleaved stories of stereotypical characters — a Mexican-American maid, a closeted gay male superstar — that don’t converge. He pads these with so many set pieces and trivia lists, you almost expect a recipe for huevos rancheros. The stories typically begin on right-hand pages and face, on left-hand pages, snippets of Los Angeles history that read like Wikipedia entries. Frey in effect juxtaposes two books — one fiction, one nonfiction — each of which makes sense without the other. It’s an interesting device, and a better stylist might have pulled it off. But much of Bright Shiny Morning reads like the work of an also-ran in a David Foster Wallace imitation contest. And some of its lines are almost comically inept. “The City of Los Angeles,” Frey tells us, “was founded by a major water source.”

A theme of Bright Shiny Morning — to the degree that it has one — is that people stay addicted to the dream of Los Angeles long after reality has impinged on it. Joan Didion said as much in her wonderful essay about the San Bernadino Valley, “Some Dreamers of Golden Dream,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. More than 40 years later, Frey may tell you less about Los Angeles in 501 pages than Didion did in her one-line comment that this is the place where “a belief in the literal interpretation of Genesis has slipped imperceptibly into to a belief in the literal interpretation of Double Indemnity.”

Best line: Frey reports that Los Angeles has the “world’s first video graveyard,” where TV screens play, for 24 hours a day, videos of the people buried beneath them.

Worst line: No. 1: “As is the case with most of the world’s megacities, the City of Los Angeles was founded by a major water source.” Bright Shiny Morning also has many lines like No. 2: “He said she would have a better life the sun shining every day more free time less stress she said she would feel like she had wasted a decade trying to get to the major leagues only to demote herself once she got into them.”

Second opinion: Read a review by David Ulin, book editor of the Los Angeles Times.

Furthermore: Bright Shiny Morning was one of Entertainment Weekly’s five worst books of 2008. It was a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. The paperback edition is due out in March 2009. Frey lives in New York.

One-Minute Book Reviews will post the shortlist for the Third Annual Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books on Thursday, Feb. 26. The finalists will be announced at roughly 20-30 minute intervals beginning a 11 10 a.m. Eastern Time and the full list posted by the end of the day. The winners will be named on March 16 (instead of the usual March 15, which falls on Sunday this year).

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

November 18, 2008

Where Have All the Quotation Marks in Novels Gone? (Quote of the Day / Lionel Shriver)

Have you noticed something missing from the novels you’ve read lately? Such as all the quotation marks? The novelist Lionel Shriver recently had a provocative essay in the Wall Street Journal on the perils of a white-hot literary fad popularized by Cormac McCarthy: dropping quotations marks from lines of dialogue. Shriver writes:

“Some rogue must have issued a memo, ‘Psst! Cool writers don’t use quotes in dialogue anymore’ to authors as disparate as Junot Díaz, James Frey, Evan S. Connell, J. M. Coetzee, Ward Just, Kent Haruf, Nadine Gordimer, José Saramago, Dale Peck, James Salter, Louis Begley and William Vollman. To the degree that this device contributes to the broader popular perception that ‘literature’ is pretentious, faddish, vague, eventless, effortful, and suffocatingly interior, quotation marks may not be quite as tiny as they appear on the page.

“By putting the onus on the reader to determine which lines are spoken and which not, the quoteless fad feeds the widespread conviction that popular fiction is fun while literature is arduous. Surely what should distinguish literature isn’t that it’s hard but that it’s good.”

Some writers argue that that including quotation marks is intrusive that and omitting them reduces clutter in fiction. But if you aggressively exclude the marks, can’t that be intrusive in its own way? Shriver shows that it can by quoting passages by well-known novelists in which missing quotations result in confusing, misleading or labored prose. Read her essay here (and send a link to this one to any creative writing teachers or students you know): online.wsj.com/article/SB122489468502968839.html?mod=googlenews_wsj.

Apart from the writers on Shriver’s list, others who have omitted quotation marks include Henry Shukman in his well-received 2008 novel, The Lost City. What books have you read that use the device? How well did it work? I’d love to know if you’ve found examples in any of finalists for the 2008 National Book Awards www.nationalbook.org, the winners of which will be announced tomorrow night.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 16, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Three Books That Bombed at Bookstores – ‘Thirteen Moons’ and Other ‘Legendary Flops’

Most books don’t earn back their advances, but some go deeper into the tank than others. Boris Kachka listed three notorious flops in a recent survey of the state of the publishing industry for New York: Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games (HarperCollins, 2007), Charlies Frazier’s Thirteen Moons (Random House, 2008) and James Frey’s Bright Shiny Morning (HarperCollins. Kachka suggests why these novels bombed at
nymag.com/news/media/50279/index7.html.

Thirteen Moons earned an honorable mention in the 2007 Delete Key Awards competition for the year’s worst writing in books www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/02 for reasons suggested by its review www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/01/17/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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