One-Minute Book Reviews

June 17, 2008

8 Things You Find Only on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Blogging,Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:40 am
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Delete Key Awards – Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides – Backscratching in Our Time – Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing – Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read – Books I Didn’t Finish – Book Awards Reality Checks – Jan the Hungarian Predicts

1. Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. One-Minute Book Reviews gives these prizes annually on March 15 to authors who aren’t using their delete keys enough. The blog for Powell’s books calls these awards “arguably the second-best online literary award after the TOB’s Rooster [co-sponsored by Powell’s].”

2. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides. These guides encourage you to consider both the strengths and weakness of books (not just the strengths, as publishers’ guides do). They also have elements you won’t find in publishers’ guides – for example, they often quote from negative reviews.

3. Backscratching in Our Time. Inspired by “Logrolling in Our Time” in the old Spy magazine, this category calls attention to authors who have praised each others’ books, often in blurbs.

4. Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing. These awards recognize over-the-top praise in book reviews. They appear on Fridays unless no review was too out-of-control to qualify that week.

5. Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read. Reviews of books for children and adults appear every Saturday and sometimes include an installment in the “Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read” series.

6. Books I Didn’t Finish. Book critics typically tell you why they liked or disliked book, not why they decided to not to review certain books all. This series tells you why one critic gave up on some books.

7. Book Awards Reality Checks. This series considers whether books that have won major awards, such as a Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award, deserved their honors.

8. Jan the Hungarian Predicts One-Minute Book Reviews predicts the winners of major book awards in the newest series on the site, added in June 2008.

One-Minute Book Reviews was the sixth-ranked book review site in the world on the Google Directory of “Top Arts and Literature” blogs as of May 30, 2008: It has ranked among the Top 10 since the fall of 2007.

If you like any of these aspects of the site, I’d be so grateful if you’d link to them or post them on sites such as Digg. I use a free WordPress template that doesn’t allow me to show widgets for Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon and similar sites, and I’ve compiled the list partly for that reason. A thousand thanks to all the visitors who have put One-Minute Book Reviews on those sites regardless.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle Jan was named one of “25 Women Bloggers to Watch in 2008″by the site Virtual Woman’s Day

One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept books, catalogs, advance reading copies, print or electronic press releases or other promotional materials from editors, publishers, agents, or authors whose books may be reviewed on this site.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 13, 2008

Franzen and Messud Win This Week’s Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing

Messud becomes first Delete Key Awards finalist to win a Gusher

Two well-known novelists have tied for this week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing: Jonathan Franzen, who won a 2001 National Book Award for The Corrections, and Claire Messud, who took second place in the 2007 Delete Key Awards contest.

Both authors won for comments that appeared in their reviews of Alice Munro’s 2004 short-story collection, Runaway (Vintage, 352 pp., $14.95, paperback):

“Basically, Runaway is so good that I don’t want to talk about it here. Quotation can’t do the book justice, and neither can synopsis. The way to do it justice is to read it.”
Jonathan Franzen in “Alice’s Wonderland: Runaway,” the New York Times Book Review, Nov. 14, 2004

“ … to any reader broaching Munro’s work for the first time, no list of adjectives will suffice to convey what that work is, or its effects: She is one of those few living writers who, in the way of the greats, must simply be read.”
Claire Messud in “Our Chekhov, Our Flaubert,” the Globe and Mail, Sept. 25, 2004


Neither of these quotes meets a strict definition of hyperbole, or exaggeration for effect: Franzen and Messud appear to mean exactly what they say. But both comments are examples of overheated praise in book reviews, which the Gusher Awards recognize on Fridays.

Franzen and Messud may believe that “Quotation can’t do the book justice” and “no list of adjectives will suffice” for Runaway. But you could say as much about any of our greatest books and many of the worst. (Aren’t some books so bad that they seem to defeat description? Can any list of adjectives truly do justice to Mitch Albom?) So what do we learn from these comments on Munro?

Their words may not be a clichés, but the idea behind each is a cliché – “words can’t do it justice.” This kind of writing is often necessary in casual forms of communication such as e-mail. We might all be prostrate by noon each day if we made a grail of originality in every off-the-cuff note to a co-worker. But shouldn’t expect more from major reviews in the leading newspapers in the U.S. and Canada?

The shortlisted passages for the 2007 Delete Key Awards, including Messud’s, were posted as 10 separate posts on Feb. 28, 2007 A passage from her The Emperor’s Children took second place when the winners were announced on March 15, 2007

To see all posts about the Gusher and Delete Key Awards, click on those tags at the top of this post (after “Filed Under”).

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 12, 2008

A Delete Key Awards Finalist Wins a Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing … Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,Gusher Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:22 pm
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Many well-known authors moonlight as book reviewers. But until now none has won recognition in both the annual Delete Key Awards competition for the year’s worst writing in books and the weekly Gusher Awards contest for hyperbole in book reviewing. Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews, a Delete Key finalist goes home with Gusher for the first time.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 6, 2008

Another Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing – Coming Friday, June 13, to One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:24 pm
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One-Minute Book Reviews gives Gusher Awards for over-the-top praise in book reviewing on Fridays … except when no praise was too out-of-control to qualify. Another Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing will be awarded on Friday, June 13. To read the work of past winners, enter “Gusher Award” in quotes into the search box. This will pull up all the winners (though you’ll first see a post about the new online book club on this site).

To nominate a review for a Gusher, leave a comment on any post related to the awards or send an e-mail message to the address on the “Contact” page.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 19, 2008

Backscratching in Our Time: Max Hastings and Michael Howard

Filed under: Backscratching in Our Time — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:30 pm
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Max Hastings on Michael Howard:
“In Britain, Professor Sir Michael Howard, OM, CH, MC, and Don Berry were kind enough to read and discuss this manuscript, as they did that of my earlier book Armageddon.”

Max Hastings in the acknowledgments for Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944–1945 (Knopf, 2008), published in the U.K. under the title Nemesis.

Michael Howard on Max Hastings:
“This is a book not only for military history buffs but for anyone who wants to understand what happened in half the world during one of the bloodiest periods of the blood-soaked 20th century.”

Michael Howard in “The Worst of Friends,” a review of the book for the Oct. 3, 2007, Spectator, England’s most influential magazine of opinion. Howard’s quote appears on the cover of the American edition of Retribution.


I normally post examples of literary backscratching without comment. But these two require a short explanation. The National Book Critics Circle found in a recent survey of its members, “Ethics in Book Reviewing,” that 68.5 percent of respondents thought a book editor should not assign a book to someone mentioned in the acknowledgments

The ethics of book reviewing differ in Britain, where the culture of full disclosure does not exist to the degree that it does in America. The pool of eligible reviewers is smaller in the U.K. and, without a more flexible standard, editors might have trouble finding qualified reviewers. And a potential conflict-of-interest does not always result in a weak review. Michael Howard’s review for the Spectator is more fluent, authoritative and interesting than reviews by others in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. You may wonder if Howard had reservations about Retribution that he withheld. But you still learn more about the book from his comments than from most – if not all – of the American reviews.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 15, 2008

And Today’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole Goes to …

I came across the following praise for Junot Díaz’s first book, Drown, while doing research on his The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It appeared in a Newsweek article that named Díaz one of the “New Faces of 1996” The article said that before receiving a six-figure, two-book advance, he was “just another 27-year-old fiction writer with an MFA”:

“Now he’s the latest overnight literary sensation. But luck had nothing to do with Diaz’s success. He earned it with his talent. … Talent this big will always make noise.”

Let’s leave aside that “overnight literary sensation” isn’t just hyperbole but a cliché. If big talent will “always make noise,” why couldn’t Herman Melville get an advance for Moby-Dick? (His publisher claimed he hadn’t earned back the money he received for his last book.) Why have so many other great writers died broke and neglected by readers?

To say that luck has nothing to do with literary success is an example of the American denial of luck, a romantic myth. Díaz has talent, a lot of it. But he was also lucky. He came along when doors were opening to groups – including women, blacks and Dominican-Americans like Díaz – whose voices traditionally had been suppressed. This change is the most important – and welcome – to occur in publishing in my lifetime.

But to say that even today talent “will always make noise” is to imply that publishing is an unfailing meritocracy and injustices no longer exist. This is untrue. The authors who are certain to “make noise” today aren’t those with the most talent – they’re the ones with the best chance of sharing a sofa with Oprah.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 8, 2008

‘Librarians Need Two Book Reviews to Justify Book Purchases for Libraries’ (Quote of the Day / Jane Ciabattari)

Media coverage of the decline of book-review sections has focused on the effect of the trend on authors, readers, and publishers. Jane Ciabattari, president of the National Book Critics Circle, raises a frequently overlooked issue in the Winter 2008 issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin (“Book Reviews: In Print, Online, and In Decline?”) when she says that “librarians need two reviews to justify book purchases for libraries.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 1, 2008

Book Reviews Less Appealing Than Hot Sex, Statistics Show

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:53 pm
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Could this explain why the National Book Critics Circle had to launch its recent campaign to save book reviewing?

WordPress keeps adding new features, and one of the latest lets you see the search terms that people have used to find your site in the past day, week, month and year.

Here in order are the top search terms people have used to find One-Minute Book Reviews in 2008. The first two (“robin mcgraw” and “does the secret work”) have drawn at least a thousand people each to this site so far this year. The rest have drawn hundreds.

robin mcgraw
does the secret work
symbolism in literature
does the secret work?
symbols in literature
eat pray love quotes
moses, citizen and me
elizabeth gilbert
donald murray
virginia ironside
kinds of poetry
different kinds of poems
hot sex scenes
one minute book reviews
book reviews

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 28, 2008

This Week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole Goes to …

Filed under: Gusher Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:33 am
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This week’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing goes to …

“Anyone who’s ever worked at a restaurant will identify with Manny DeLeon, the protagonist of Stewart O’Nan’s short new novel, Last Night at the Lobster.”
Boulder Daily Camera, Nov. 9, 2007


Yes, if you’ve ever thought you were Napoleon, you may identify with War and Peace. And if you can’t stop thinking about that white whale that chewed off your leg, you may identify with Moby-Dick. But these things are irrelevant to the quality of a book that it’s a critic’s job to judge. War and Peace and Moby-Dick are great books because you don’t have to be a candidate for a mental institution (or anything else) to appreciate them – not because you’ll appreciate them all the more if you are.

The U.S. also has more than two million waiters and waitresses, three million cooks and food preparation workers and a half million dishwashers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Are we to believe all five million of those people will identify with a 35-year-old man even if, say, they’re women? Would the critic have assumed that “anyone” would identify with O’Nan’s protagonist if the character’s name had been Manuela instead of Manny?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 27, 2008

Good Riddance to Book-Review Sections? Quote of the Day (Steve Wasserman)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:19 am
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Why have so many book-review sections shrunk, disappeared or turned into cheerleading squads for major publishers? Critic Gail Pool explores some of the reasons in her Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America .

But literary agent Steve Wasserman, former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, goes further in a recent essay in the Columbia Journalism Review. Wasserman calls some book-review sections “shockingly mediocre.” And his article explains, better than any I have read, why their perilous condition reflects more than — to oversimplify a popular argument — cretins in the accounting department.

Here are some excerpts from Wasserman’s CJR article, which you can read at

“That book coverage is disappearing is not news. What is news is the current pace of the erosion in coverage, as well as the fear that an unbearable threshold has been crossed: Whether the book beat should exist at all is now, apparently, a legitimate question.…

“The predicament facing newspaper book reviews is best understood against the backdrop of several overlapping and contending crises: The first is the general challenge confronting America’s newspapers of adapting to the new digital and electronic technologies that are increasingly absorbing advertising dollars, wooing readers away from newspapers, and undercutting profit margins; the second is the profound structural transformation roiling the entire book-publishing and book-selling industry in an age of conglomeration and digitization; and the third and most troubling is the sea change in the culture of literacy itself, the degree to which our overwhelmingly fast and visually furious culture renders serious reading increasingly irrelevant, hollowing out the habits of attention indispensable for absorbing long-form narrative and the following of sustained argument….

“A harsher truth may lurk behind the headlines as well: Book coverage is not only meager but shockingly mediocre. The pabulum that passes for most reviews is an insult to the intelligence of most readers. One is tempted to say, perversely, that its disappearance from the pages of America’s newspapers is arguably cause for celebration.”

Wasserman is managing director of the New York office of the literary agency Kneerim & Williams at Fish & Richardson and book editor of

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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