One-Minute Book Reviews

June 1, 2022

How Great Writing Helped Charlotte Curtis Blaze Trails At The New York Times

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The Ohio-born writer and editor Charlotte Curtis wasn’t just the first woman to appear on the masthead of the New York Times and to edit its op-ed page. She had earlier helped to transform its women’s section from a pink ghetto into one that welcomed diverse voices and was widely imitated by publications around the country.

How did Curtis scale the walls of the old boys’ club at a venerable newspaper? Here’s my appreciation of her work with a sidebar that gives 17 of her best leads for stories: https://medium.com/history-of-women/how-great-writing-helped-charlotte-blaze-trails-in-journalism-f36ba60eb76a

July 12, 2021

How ‘The AP Stylebook’ Can Help You If You Don’t Work for a Daily Newspaper

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Some people call The Associated Press Stylebook “the journalist’s bible.” Others call it the journalist’s book of Job. Either way, if you’re a writer, it can help you fine-tune your work.

By whatever nickname, this newsroom stalwart gathers in one volume the AP’s rules for grammar, spelling, capitalization, and other writing-related matters.

The 640-page paperback edition has more than 3,000 brief, clear, and alphabetically arranged entries, many on topics not covered by Grammarly, Microsoft Editor, or similar tools. Why should you care about its rules when more than 2,000 newspapers have died since 2000? Isn’t that like feeding insects to pterodactyls? What if you hope to write not news stories but a memoir or Amish romances or blog posts that go viral?

If you’re interested, you may want to check out my essay “The Book Writers Love to Hate and Hate to Love” on Medium, in which offers some thoughts on the stylebook based on years of working with it.

September 26, 2013

Quote of the Day / Journalist John Kroll on ‘Anticlimactic’ Titles

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:29 pm
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Headlines often fail for obvious reasons such as sensationalism or grammatical errors. But they may have more subtle problems. Journalist John Kroll says that some editors seem determined to make the titles of newspaper articles “as anticlimactic as possible”:

“One of The Plain Dealer’s early experiments in narrative was titled ‘Losing Lisa.’ There’s a reason Disney didn’t name a movie  Losing Bambi’s Mom.”

© 2013 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 7, 2013

Today’s Gusher Award for Literary Hype Goes to …

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:20 pm
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The latest in a series of posts that recognize out-of-control praise for books

Today’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Literary Hype Goes to …

“George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year”
Title of an article in the The New York Times Magazine, Jan. 6, 2013

Reality check: Someone at the New York Times may have been reading too many Cosmopolitan articles with titles like, “The Best Sex You’ll Have All Year.” Ninety-five percent of 2013 books haven’t been published yet. And you might read Shakespeare this year.

December 30, 2012

Backscratching in Our Time — Jami Attenberg and Julie Orringer

The latest in a series of posts on authors who praise each other’s work

Jami Attenberg on Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge, which she listed as one of the “5 Best Things” she had “read recently” in Impose magazine: 

“I just cracked open Julie Orringer’s latest book this morning; a very wise and literary friend gave me a galley of it and promised I would love it. It’s gorgeous so far, master-craftsman-next-level kind of writing.”

Julie Orringer on Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins in the New York Times Book Review:

“There’s a touching paradox in the first chapter of Jami Attenberg’s caustic, entertaining and bighearted new novel, The Middlesteins….The burning question, which Attenberg explores with patience and sensitivity, is why Edie has embarked on her self-destructive path. The answers themselves aren’t surprising: Edie married too early, felt ambivalent about parenthood, became disillusioned with her career. What’s remarkable is the unfailing emotional accuracy and specificity with which Attenberg renders Edie’s despair….largely brilliant.”

Read about other logrolling authors in the “Backscratching in Our Time” series.

You can follow Jan on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button on this page.

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 10, 2012

Backscratching in Our Time: Denis Johnson and Michael Cunningham

Filed under: Backscratching in Our Time,Book Awards,Pulitzer Prizes — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:53 pm
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The latest in a series of posts on authors who praise each other’s books

Michael Cunningham says that he and the two other jurors for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for fiction found it “upsetting” that the board that oversees the awards rejected all three of the books they nominated, including Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams. Here’s what others might find upsetting: In a 5,000-word post on the controversy for the Page-Turner blog for the New Yorker, Cunningham doesn’t mention a conflict of interest: As I noted in April, Johnson helped to launch Cunningham’s career by providing a blurb for his first book and did him another favor by allowing him to reprint his work in an anthology. Some people would argue that, given these conflicts, Cunningham should have recused himself from judging Johnson’s work for the Pulitzer. His New Yorker post makes clear that he participated actively in the process.

Here’s what the two writers say about each other:

Denis Johnson on Michael Cunningham’s Golden States:
“Michael Cunningham writes with wisdom, humor, and style about a difficult part of any life.”

Michael Cunningham on Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams:
“Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams had been written ten years earlier and been published as a long short story in The Paris Review. It was, however, magnificently written, stylistically innovative, and—in its exhilarating, magical depiction of ordinary life in the much romanticized Wild West—a profoundly American book.”

Read other posts in the “Backscratching in Our Time” series. You can follow Jan on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.

As noted on the “About This Blog” page on this site, comments on posts must relate directly to their content,  must contain no more than 250 words, and must  have a civil tone.  They must also include a name, a photo avatar, or a link to a site what includes these, unless their author is known to the moderator of One-Minute Book Reviews. 

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

February 3, 2012

Backscratching in Our Time / Andrew Roberts and Simon Sebag Montefiore

Filed under: Backscratching in Our Time — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:53 am
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The latest in an occasional series of posts on authors who praise each other’s books in reviews, blurbs or elsewhere

Historian Andrew Roberts on Simon Sebag Montefiore (on his website):
“The answers to these and a myriad other fascinating questions can be found in The Art of War: Great Commanders of the Modern World, a sumptuous chronological survey of the greatest commanders of the last four centuries. Compiled by an exceptionally distinguished team of historians (including such eminent names as Lady Antonia Fraser, Sir Martin Gilbert, Sir Alistair Horne, Michael Burleigh, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Richard Overy).”

Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore on Andrew Roberts (in the Wall Street Journal):
“My books of the year are Andrew Roberts’s The Storm of War, the best full history of World War II yet written …”

Read about other authors who are logrolling in our time.

December 31, 2011

Judgment and Disclosure Lapses at the New York Times Book Review

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 6:58 pm
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By Janice Harayda

In October the sponsor of the National Book Awards did a favor for Oregon Public Broadcasting, an independently run member of NPR. The National Book Foundation allowed OPB to carry the live announcement of the 2011 finalists — and benefit from any related boost in ratings or traffic to its site — instead of a for-profit station.

So you might wonder why the New York Times Book Review assigned a review of the fiction winner, Salvage the Bones, to Parul Sehgal, the books editor of NPR.org. Wouldn’t that create the appearance of a conflict of interest by giving an NPR employee the opportunity to return a favor the National Book Foundation did for an NPR member? If so, shouldn’t the NYTBR have disclosed the link between the awards program and NPR?

You might think so. And there’s more. Before the awards ceremony, Sehgal praised Salvage the Bones on the NPR site. She called Jesmyn Ward’s tale of Hurricane Katrina one of five “splendid books” shortlisted for the fiction prize, admiring its “pitch-perfect collisions of character and fate that endow it with the scope and impact of classical tragedy.” After the novel won, she reaffirmed her high opinion of it on The Millions, where she wrote: “Salvage the Bones is every bit as good as they say it is.” So it’s no surprise that in the Jan. 1 New York Times Book Review, Sehgal again celebrates the book: “Salvage the Bones … is a taut, wily novel, smartly plotted and voluptuously written.” After all, she’s told us twice before that she likes it.

What is a surprise is that the NYTBR assigned the review not just to a critic employed by NPR but to one who had made her views on the novel well known. Did the editors believe that no other critic could review the book as well? Sehgal is the most recent winner of the National Book Critics Circle’s Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing and was certainly well qualified to review the novel. But so were many other critics, including a half dozen or more recipients of the same honor. Was the Times trying to stack the deck in favor of a good review?

Newspapers often reprint reviews that have appeared in other papers or on wire services such as the AP, just as many bloggers self-syndicate by allowing their reviews to appear on multiple sites. These practices are widely accepted in part because they typically involve no effort to rig the jury. An editor of a paper or site simply reprints what exists. It’s also common for critics to review new books by authors whose earlier work they have praised, and more than 3 in 4 critics see nothing wrong with the practice, according an NBCC ethics survey.

But it’s highly unusual for a major newspaper to permit a critic to review a new book that he or she has lavishly praised for a substantial national audience, and it may be unprecedented at the New York Times Book Review. In the case of Salvage the Bones, the results are confusing: Sehgal seems to imply on the NPR site that the book is “pitch-perfect.” But she says of its author in her Times review: “She never uses one metaphor when she can use three, and too many sentences grow waterlogged and buckle.” None of this is intended to slight Sehgal – whose ethics and professionalism are, to my knowledge, unquestioned – but it creates the suspicion that the Times hoped to ensure a favorable review choosing her.

All of this raises questions of fairness – to readers, to authors, and to publishers. Everyone benefits when books receive as many reviews as possible from open-minded critics, because each reviewer offers a unique perspective. The situation might be different if the posts that Sehgal wrote before her Times review had been straight news stories that contained no opinion and consisited of, say, an announcement of its shortlisting and plot summary. But words like “splendid,” “pitch-perfect” and “as good as they say” involve value judgments, not facts, and the NPR description of the novel is indistinguishable from a brief review even if not labeled as such.

It’s hard to believe that the Times would have allowed Sehgal to review Salvage the Bones if she had criticized the book as strongly as she praised it on the NPR and the Millions sites. Readers would have complained that the paper showed an unfair bias in assigning a review of the novel to a critic known to dislike the book. Why wasn’t it equally unfair of the Times to assign a review to a critic known to like it?

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning journalist who has been book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and a vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow her on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.

June 6, 2011

In Defense of Meghan Cox Gurdon, Children’s Book Reviewer

Does a reviewer have a right to say that books for adolescents are “ever-more-appalling”?

By Janice Harayda

For years Meghan Cox Gurdon has been reviewing books for children and teenagers for the Wall Street Journal – at first biweekly and, since the launch of the paper’s book review section in late 2010, weekly. Her reviews are consistently intelligent and well-written and almost always favorable.

Cox Gurdon clearly has made it her mission to look for and call attention to high-quality books for children and teenagers on many topics and in a variety of genres. She has praised books as different as Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which won the 2008 Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association, and Ruth Krauss’s reissued classic The Backward Day.

Over the weekend the Wall Street Journal published “Darkness Too Visible,” one of the rare articles by Cox Gurdon that faulted a major trend — the burgeoning array of novels for adolescents that involve violence, abuse or other bleak topics. For this she has been pilloried in blogs and on Twitter at the hashtag #YASaves, which was created  in response her story and has generated more than 15,000 responses, according to the trade newsletter ShelfAwareness. Cox Gurdon has been called “biased” (@KelliTrapnell), “idiotic” (@fvanhorne), “a right-wing nut” (@annejumps), full of “ugliness” (@AprilHenryBooks), and “brittle, ignorant, shrewish” (@Breznian).

What did Cox Gurdon do to earn this torrent of vitriol? She did what critics are supposed to do – to look beyond plot and characterization and consider the deeper themes and issues raised by novels. In “Darkness Too Visible,” she questioned the effects of books like Jackie Morse Kessler’s Rage, a “gruesome but inventive” 2011 book about a girl whose secret practice of cutting herself “turns nightmarish after a sadistic sexual prank.” Cox Gurdon quotes a passage from the novel that says: “She had sliced her arms to ribbons, but the badness remained, staining her insides like cancer. She had gouged her belly until it was a mess of meat and blood, but she still couldn’t breathe.”

It is entirely legitimate for a reviewer to ask, as Cox Gurdon does, how this might affect a vulnerable child or teenager:

“The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. If a teen has been abused, the logic follows, reading about another teen in the same straits will be comforting. If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife.

“Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.”

Anyone who writes about children’s books regularly knows that Cox Gurdon hasn’t made up this trend: Books, like movies, keep getting more lurid. Or, as she puts it, the publishing industry is serving up “ever-more-appalling offerings for adolescent readers.” If this issue might not concern all adults, it would surely concern some, given how many buy books as gifts for children without having time to look at much more than the cover and flap copy. And Cox Gurdon isn’t saying: Never read young-adult books. She’s saying: Know what’s in those books, and use judgment, as you would with movies.

Contemporary child-rearing experts urge parents to protect their children in ways that would have been unthinkable a couple of generations ago, when psychologists warned of about the dangers of “overprotectiveness.” This shift has resulted from social changes that require more caution, and Cox Gurdon has encouraged adults to apply to their children’s reading the level of care that they bring to all other areas of their lives. Is this so terrible? Thousands of people on Twitter have said, “Yes.” Anyone who believes that adolescents’ reading habits matter as much as their viewing habits may disagree. In her latest article and others, Cox Gurdon has paid young people’s literature the highest compliment:  She has given children’s books the close scrutiny that, in an age of shrinking book-review sections, typically goes only to those for adults. For that, she deserves gratitude.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning journalist who has been the book editor of the Plain Dealer, the book columnist for Glamour, and vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. She has written for the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and many other publications Since 2006 she has edited One-Minute Book Reviews, named one of New Jersey’s best blogs in the April 2011 issue of New Jersey Monthly. You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

(c) 2011 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 3, 2011

When Journalism Is ‘Churnalism’ – Quote of the Day / Nick Davies

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:08 am
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Linda Polman indicts humanitarian-aid abuses and journalists who turn a blind eye to them in her The Crisis Caravan (Metropolitan, 2010). In this excerpt, she quotes a former employee of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) who saw the “churnalism”:

Do aid workers use journalists? Of course, they do, said Jacques de Milliano, former director of the Dutch MSF. ‘To raise funds. It’s the job of journalists to provide balanced reporting, to refuse to prostitute themselves to aid organizations. There ought to be an element of journalistic pride.’

“Journalism seems to be moving in precisely the opposite direction. Costs are cut and standards are eroded by media proprietors, resulting in what the British journalist Nick Davies in his book Flat Earth News calls ‘churnalism’; in other words, ‘journalists failing to perform the simple basic functions of their profession; quite unable to tell their readers the truth about what is happening on their patch. This is journalists who are no longer out gathering but who are reduced instead to passive processors of whatever material comes their way, churning out stories, whether real event or PR artifice, important or trivial, true or false.’”

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