One-Minute Book Reviews

November 19, 2008

Matthiessen, Gordon-Reed, Doty and Blundell Win 2008 National Book Awards — Gordon-Reed Is First African-American Woman to Win the Nonfiction Prize

The winners of the 2008 National Book Awards are Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country (fiction), Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello (nonfiction), Mark Doty’s Fire to Fire (poetry) and Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied. Each winner receives $10,000 and was selected by a different panel of five judges. The nonprofit National Book Foundation sponsors the prizes and has posted more information about them at The site includes interviews with all the winners and finalists and excerpts from their books.

The publishing news site GalleyCat will have pictures and more on the ceremony tomorrow. Ron Hogan, senior editor of GalleyCat, attended and posted the names of the winners on his Twitter feed with heroic speed. If you can’t wait for tomorrow’s news stories, you can read more about the event on his Twitter feed, which includes snippets from the acceptance speeches.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Annette Gordon-Reed Wins 2008 National Book for Nonfiction for ‘The Hemingses of Monticello’

Annette Gordon-Reed has won the 2008 National Book Award for Nonfiction for The Hemingses of Monticello. She is the first African-American woman to win the nonfiction prize. An interview with the author and an excerpt from the book appears on the site for the National Book Foundation,, which has promised to post a video of the ceremony later tonight.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Late Night With Jan Harayda — So You Think Writing Is the Way to Fame? How Many of These National Book Awards Finalists Have You Heard Of?

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:02 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Ever heard of the novelists Savatore Scibona and Aleksandar Hemon? How about the historian Annette Gordon-Reed and the memoirist Joan Wickersham? Do I even need to ask about the poets Patricia Smith and Richard Howard?

All are finalists for the 2008 National Book Awards, the winners of which will be announced tonight. As their low profile suggests, this year’s shortlist is a quiet one

The few stars include finalists Peter Matthiessen and Marilynne Robinson in fiction and Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust in nonfiction. Even they lack the fame of the some of the better-known winners or finalists of the past decade: Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates, E. L. Doctorow, Robert Caro, Jonathan Franzen, Susan Sontag, Sherman Alexie. This is not a complaint – I’d rather see a shortlist like this one than one that appears driven by sales figures instead of merit.

But the group raises the possibility in some circles, the best-known finalist is a children’s author: Laurie Halse Anderson, whose historical novel Chains made the shortlist in the young people’s literature category. Halse Anderson wrote the picture book Thank You Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, widely used in schools and the library equivalent of a bestseller at this time of year.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 21, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda — The Complete 2008 National Book Awards Shortlist for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry and Young People’s Literature

Amid the hoopla over the Nobel, I didn’t have a chance to post a link to the list of the recently announced finalists for the National Book Awards for fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature. If you missed the list, you can find it here

Some years none of National Book Awards finalists seems a strong candidate for the prize. But the 2008 nonfiction shortlist alone has two worthy books: Jim Sheeler’s Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives and Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. No complaints from here if either wins, though I haven’t seen the other nonfiction finalists, which may be equally good.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 8, 2008

College Students Say the Darndest Things – ‘Ignorance Is Blitz’ Collects Fractured Facts From Real Term Papers and Other Academic Work

“The major cause of the Civil War is when slavery spread its ugly testicles across the West.”
From Ignorance Is Blitz

Ignorance Is Blitz: Mangled Moments of History From Actual College Students. Compiled by Anders Henriksson. Workman, 155 pp., $6.95, paperback. Originally published as Non Campus Mentis.

By Janice Harayda

Zoroastrianism was founded by Zorro. The South succeeded from the Union. Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.

What a pity that SAT scores don’t measure common sense. If they did, those of us who have taught college students might have seen far fewer lines like these on tests and term papers. And now comes Ignorance Is Blitz to show us that cultural illiteracy on campus is at once far more extensive — and more entertaining — than some of us knew from the students who solemnly told us that a fictional character founded a major religion or that the South “succeeded” from the Union.

After decades of teaching at a state college in West Virginia, Anders Henriksson has collected hundreds of his students’ gaffes and supplemented them with others from professors at universities in the U.S. and Canada. Henriksson doesn’t name most of the schools, and that’s a mercy when the blunders include lines like:

“The P.L.O. is the airline of Israel.”

George Eliot was written by Silas Marner.”

“Greek semen ruled the Agean [sic.].”

“The Berlin Mall was removed.”

“Without the discovery of the flying buttock it would have been an impossible job to build the Gothic cathedral.”

“John Huss refused to decant his ideas about the church and was therefore burned as a steak.”

“The Civil Rights movement in the USA turned around the corner with Martin Luther Junior’s famous ‘If I Had a Hammer’ speech.”

In a postscript Henriksson blames some of the tragicomic errors on an overreliance on spell-checkers and on anxieties about test-taking. The causes of the problem go deeper than he allows and include a devaluation of history in schools and grade inflation that allows some students to do well even if they write, as one student in the book did, that “St. Teresa of Avila was a carmelized nun.”

But the skimpy analysis in no way detracts from the hilarity found on nearly every page of Ignorance Is Blitz. Well ahead of the holiday season, this small-format humor book has emerged as of the year’s best literary stocking stuffers. In the meantime some of its mangled lines could add levity to a tense election season. You’re worried about problems with those butterfly ballots? America’s students are here to remind you that it could be worse. There was a time when, as one of them put it, “Voting was done by ballad.”

Best line: “The major cause of the Civil War is when slavery spread its ugly testicles across the West.”

Worst line: “Machiavelli, who was often unemployed, wrote The Prince to get a job with Richard Nixon.” One of the few lines that make you wonder if a student was pulling the teacher’s leg.

Recommendation? A great gift for teachers, history lovers and, of course, some of those “actual college students” in the subtitle. Many high school students would also enjoy this book.

Editor: Ruth Sullivan

Published: January 2008 First published in 2001 under the title Non Campus Mentis. Portions of the material in the book appeared in The Wilson Quarterly.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

July 15, 2008

Four ‘Classic’ Graphic Novels

Filed under: Graphic Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:21 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Graphic novels — which have been called “comic books on steroids” — aren’t always novels but include many kinds of book-length stories, memoirs among them. As a group, they’ve come into their own recently enough it’s too soon to call any of them classics. But four books are candidates for that status, a panel sponsored by the New York chapter of the Women’s National Book Association suggested:

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Mariner, 232 pp., $13.95, paperback), by Alison Bechdel. The creator of “Dykes to Watch Out for” comic strip writes about growing up in the 1960s and 1970s in rural Pennsylvania, where she realized that she was a lesbian and her troubled father was

La Perdida (Pantheon, 288 pp., $14.95, paperback), by Jessica Abel. A young American moves to Mexico City hoping to learn about her estranged father’s country in a book in which much of the dialogue is written in Spanish and translated or explained in a glossary

Maus (Pantheon, 106, $14.95, paperback), by Art Spiegelman. No graphic novel has earned more praise than this Pulitzer winner. Nazis are cats and Jews are mice in Spiegelman’s meditation on the experiences that shaped his father, a Jewish Holocaust survivor

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Pantheon, 160 pp., $10.95, paperback), by Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi uses small black-and-while panels similar to those of Persian miniatures to describe the often frightening experience of growing up in Iran just after the overthrow of the Shah

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 14, 2008

A Review of ‘The Red Leather Diary’ — Coming This Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:45 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

In 2003 the journalist Lily Koppel found a battered red leather diary from the 1930s in a dumpster front of her New York apartment building, which was being renovated. Koppel saw that the journal had belonged to an intelligent and high-spirited woman whom she tracked down with the help of a private investigator and found to be in her 90s and living in Connecticut and Florida. In The Red Leather Diary Koppel tells the true story of the life of Florence Wolfson Howitt, who helped her see her own youthful experiences in a fresh context. A review of the book will appear on One-Minute Book Reviews later this week.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reseved.

July 1, 2008

July 2008 Meeting of the Ruthless Book Club — What Books Are You Taking on Vacation or Reading in a Hammock at Home?

Filed under: Ruthless Book Club — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:48 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Welcome to the second meeting of the Ruthless Book Club, the online book club with no required reading. All you have to do to join is to leave a comment on this post about a book you like (or want to warn others away from) on any day in July. The book doesn’t need to have been reviewed on this site, but it can’t be one you got for free from the author, publisher or anyone else connected to it. (That sex-education manual your parents gave you at the age of 9 is, of course, fine.) A new virtual meeting will begin August 1.

I promised that I’d get the conversation started each month. So here’s my question: How do you decide what books to take on vacation? I’ve spent hours – sometimes days – winnowing the options.

Last year I packed On Chesil Beach, but it turned out to be overrated and so lightweight I finished it on the train before I arrived at the shore. The only bookstore in my resort town sold mostly bestsellers, so I bought Lone Survivor. It had more to say than Ian McEwan’s novel but was partly a screed against journalists. Am I a masochist?

I probably had the least trouble with the vacation-reading dilemma the year I read all of the Jane Austen novels in a one-volume edition that Oxford University Press has, tragically, allowed to go out of print. I’d read a few of the novels before I left town, enough to know I’d probably like the others, and the book was compact enough to be easily portable.

So what are you taking with you this year?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 26, 2008

Another Meeting of the One-Minute Book Reviews Online Book Club on Tuesday

Filed under: News,Ruthless Book Club — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:48 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Last night I had dinner with some of my most literary friends, and we had an interesting conversation on the subject of: Are we supposed to take seriously the reading lists in books like 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die? One of my companions — who used to be the top editor at an esteemed imprint — argued that we weren’t. He said that he thought editors published those lists to spark arguments, not to make a definite statement. And he may be right. But I suspect that whether or not editors intend it, a lot of people do take the lists seriously.

A new discussion will begin Tuesday on the online book club that started on this site on June 1 And this might be a good topic to explore there: Did you ever buy a book because it had turned up on a lot of those “best of” lists (or even on one list)? What was your reaction?

You can also use the comments section of Tuesday’s post to bring up other books you’ve enjoyed recently (or would like to warn others away from), whether or not they’ve been reviewed on this site.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: