One-Minute Book Reviews

April 11, 2009

Robinson, Updike or Roth Will Win the 2009 Pulitzer for Fiction, Statistical Analysis Shows — But Don’t Count on It

I’m on record as saying that the frontrunner for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction would seem to be Toni Morrison’s novel A Mercy, which I haven’t read. Morrison is the only Nobel Prize–winner in the hunt. And I think it’s going to be tough for the judges to pass over a laureate, although the National Book Critics Circle board did it in March.

But a research scientist and a book collector have reached a different conclusion by using regression analysis, a statistical technique for evaluating variables. The two say that the books most likely to win the 2009 fiction prize are Marilynne Robinson’s Home, John Updike’s The Widows of Eastwick, and Philip Roth’s Indignation. They’ve also identified the 12 other candidates that, based on their analysis, are most like to win, all listed in order at  PPrize.com. You can read their 2008 predictions — and how they fared — on the same site. The Pulitzer Prizes honor books in five categories — fiction, poetry, history, biography, and general nonfiction — and will be announced on Monday, April 20, at 3 p.m. Eastern Time.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

2009 Pulitzer Prizes to Be Announced on April 20 at 3 p.m.

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:17 pm
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The winners of the 2009 Pulitzer Prizes will be announced on Monday, April 20, 2009, at 3 p.m. Eastern Time at a press conference at Columbia University. The awards honor books in five categories — fiction, poetry, history, biography, and general nonfiction. The finalists will be named at the same time, and the judges may decline to give a prize in any category.

June 20, 2008

A ‘Casualty Notification Officer’ Brings News No One Wants to Hear

Great photos by the Pulitzer Prize–winning Todd Heisler and others enhance a poignant story of how Americans learn that their relatives have died in Iraq

“The Commandant of the Marine Corps has entrusted me to express his deep regret that your (relationship), John, (died/was killed in action) in (place of incident) (city/state or country) on (date). (State the circumstances.) The Commandant extends his deepest sympathy to you and your family in your loss.”
The Marine Corps’s suggested script for casualty notification officers, which they may modify, as quoted in Final Salute

Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives. By Jim Sheeler. Penguin, 280 pp., $25.95.

By Janice Harayda

It seems heartless today that the military once announced combat deaths in telegrams or brief sympathy letters that left relatives alone in their sorrow. Near the end of the Vietnam War, the government changed its policy and began sending two-person teams of uniformed officers to deliver the news instead. And Jim Sheeler shows how harrowing that job can be in this wonderful book about one such officer, Major Steve Beck of the Marine Corps, that grew out of a Pulitzer Prize–winning series with the same title for the Rocky Mountain News.

Sheeler doesn’t say so, but newspapers have reported that the notification policy changed partly because as Western Union offices became fewer, the military started asking taxi drivers to deliver the telegrams. Many of those cabbies — quite understandably — refused the work.

In Final Salute, Sheeler shows why anyone might decline the job now done by servicemen and -women known as “casualty assistance calls officers” or “casualty notification officers.” The military sends teams not just for emotional support but for the protection of the messengers: At the beginning of the war in Iraq, a furious mother slapped a Marine from Beck’s unit.

But the emotional hazards of casualty notification clearly outweigh the physical dangers. Officers do not generally call ahead to announce their visits. But families know instantly why they have arrived. “You can almost see the blood run out of their body and their heart hit the floor,” Beck said.

Sheeler couldn’t go with Beck when he knocked or rang doorbells. But he got as close as any reporter may ever have and followed up with the families. He also interviewed a former Marine who painted the names of the fallen on gravestones and went to a wake on an Indian reservation for the first Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe member killed in Iraq. Some of his most poignant stories involve a fatherless preteen son, who told him, “I get mad when kids tell me the wrong things like, ‘Your daddy died for no reason.’”

Writing in a calm tone and plain language somewhat reminiscent of that of All Quiet on the Western Front, Sheeler never overdramatizes or sentimentalizes his material. He also breaks up long stories into well-crafted shorter segments. This helps to keep his book from becoming almost too painful to read, but at times works against the narrative flow. Sheeler tells us on page 23 that a mother who had two sons at war screamed, “Which one was it?” when she realized that one had died. When he continues her story on page 114, he says she screamed, “Which one is it?” You don’t know if he gives two versions of the question because he had conflicting sources, because he massaged one of the quotes, or because the woman said first one thing, then another.

The story told in this book is so memorable that – with one exception – its lapses hardly matter. Final Salute benefits greatly from the photographs of Todd Heisler, who won his own Pulitzer, for feature photography, for the pictures in the “Final Salute” series in the Rocky Mountain News. Sheeler thanks Heisler in his acknowledgments. But neither he nor the jacket-copy writer mentions Heisler’s Pulitzer. How Sheeler and his publisher could have treated so much of their material so sensitively – and this aspect of it so insensitively – is a mystery.

Best line: Beck’s comment: “You can almost see the blood run out of their body and their heart hit the floor.”

Worst Line: The failure of Sheeler and his publisher to note that Heisler en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Todd_Heisler won a Pulitzer for his photos for the “Final Salute” series www.pulitzer.org/year/2006/feature-photography/works/, some of which appear in this book, including the elegant image on the cover. This is a disservice to Heisler, to readers and to others, including booksellers, who could have used the information in hand-selling the book. Sheeler is a great writer, but the importance of photographers to a story like the one told in the Rocky Mountain News series — without which this book would not exist — cannot be overstated. It is not simply that photographers can raise a story to a higher power artistically or help to persuade reluctant sources to cooperate. Outstanding pictures, such as those Heisler and others took, can help to “sell” editors on a story — to persuade them give it the play it deserves — and to persuade readers to read it. Just below the headline of this review appears a line that shows how easily Penguin could have mentioned Heisler’s Pulitzer, without doing an injustice to the other photographers, in one sentence on the dust jacket. Heisler was also part of a team that won the 2003 Pulitzer for breaking news photography. He is now a staff photographer for the New York Times.

Published: May 2008 www.jimsheeler.com and us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781594201653,00.html.

Furthermore: Sheeler is now a a scholar-in-residence at the University of Colorado.

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 a vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing her reviews.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

June 8, 2008

‘Jan the Hungarian’ Predicts the Winners of Major Book Awards – A New Series Starting Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Jan the Hungarian Predicts — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:41 pm
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Are you tired of getting blindsided by all those year-end news reports on award-winning books, half of which you have never even heard of, let alone read?

One-Minute Book Reviews wants to help with a new series that will predict which books or authors will win major literary awards in late 2008 or early 2009. Inspired by late Las Vegas bookie Jimmy “Jimmy the Greek” Snyder, Janice Harayda will make her predictions under her nom de guerre of “Jan the Hungarian.” (Yes, she is going to hear about this from the Scottish half of her family, but “Jan the Scot” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?)

The first post in the series will appear tomorrow when Jan will predict the winner of the next National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction even though she has not read all of eligible books because they have not come out yet. Her predictions will be based not on inside information – because she obviously never has any — but solely on having read the books.

Jan is starting with an NBCC prize because she used to be an NBCC judge … so that should be easy, right? Future posts may involve predictions about winners of the National Book Awards, the Pulitzer Prizes, the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction and Newbery and Caldecott medals. She will not make predictions about all the awards, only about those she thinks will interest you if you are bored at work.

Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these posts. Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

April 8, 2008

Why Do Unworthy Books Win Awards like Pulitzer Prizes? Quote of the Day (Neville Braybrooke)

In last night’s post, I listed some classic American novels that didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, given yesterday to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. A related question is: Why do unworthy book win awards? One obvious answer is that most prizes are given out annually, and every year may not bring a great book in a category.

But more subtle factors may come into play. A truism of literary prize-giving is that awards often go to everybody’s second choice. Judges may split into two camps with each side fiercely opposing the other’s first choice. To reach a decision, they may choose a second-rate book they can all support.

Judges tell many stories in among themselves about such compromises but rarely discuss them publicly. Who wants to admit to having honored a clinker? But Neville Braybooke suggests how the practice can work in his preface to the Every Eye, the elegant second novel by his late wife, Isobel English. Braybooke writes that English refused to add the happy ending that an American publisher wanted to her to give her first novel, The Key That Rusts:

“More significantly, during these early days of her career, came the news that The Key That Rusts had been shortlisted for the Somerset Maugham Award, tying for first place with Iris Murdoch’s first novel, Under the Net. In the event, the judges were unable to decide who should be the winner, so they gave the prize to the runner-up, Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim.”

Neville Braybrooke in Every Eye (David R. Godine/Black Sparrow, $23.95) www.blacksparrowbooks.com.

Comment by Jan:

Braybrooke may have been willing to tell this anecdote partly because there would have been no shame in losing either to Lucky Jim or Under the Net, both modern classics. And few critics would argue that Amis’s comic novel was unworthy of an award. The Somerset Maugham Award is given annually by the London-based Society of Authors www.societyofauthors.org to the writer or writers under the age of 35 who wrote the best book of the year.

Do you think any unworthy books have won awards? What are they?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved. www.janiceharayda.com

“ …

April 7, 2008

Judges on Drugs? 10 Classics That Didn’t Win a Pulitzer Prize

Filed under: Classics,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:23 pm
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[This is an encore presentation in slightly modified form of a 2007 post. It's for all those of you who have already forgotten which obscure author beat both Hemingway and Faulkner for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1930.]

The Great Gatsby didn’t win the Pulitzer, and neither did these modern classics

By Janice Harayda

Sore that your favorite novel just lost the Pulitzer Prize for fiction to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao? Consider this: The judges for the 1930 prize looked at Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and gave the fiction award to … Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge.

Those classics aren’t alone in having been snubbed. Here are some noteworthy also-rans for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the novels that beat them in the years listed:

1962
Loser: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Winner: The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor

1957
Loser: Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
Winner: The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

1952
Loser: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Winner: The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

1941
Loser: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Winner: Nobody. No award given.

1937
Loser: Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner
Winner: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

1930
Losers: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Winner: Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge

1928
Loser: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Winner: The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

1926
Loser: The Great Gatsby
Winner: Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

1921

Loser: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
Winner: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Here is a link to a list of all the 2008 winners (with descriptions of their work) and finalists www.huliq.com/56234/columbia-university-announcees-2008-pulitzer-prize-winners.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Junot Diaz Wins Pulitzer for ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:32 pm
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Junot Diaz has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscao Wao, a novel that last month won the National Book Critics Circle Prize for fiction. Here’s a link to the AP story that lists all the winners for books and journalism. ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5j7vuQ5ogo7UJ6MEjWWaYBGpyOTCgD8VT75DG0. The National Book Critics Circle site has comments on Diaz and links to major reviews and interviews here: bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com/2008/02/nbcc-award-finalists-in-fiction-junot.html.

This site at Columbia University has a complete list of all the winners (with descriptions of why they won) and finalists, including all the books that were finalists for a 2008 Pulitzer: www.huliq.com/56234/columbia-university-announcees-2008-pulitzer-prize-winners

April 6, 2008

Pulitzer Prizes To Be Announced Monday, April 7, at 3 p.m. — Here’s a Link to the Pulitzer Site

Filed under: Book Awards,News,Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:34 pm
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[Update at 3:30 p.m. Monday: Junot Diaz has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscao Wao, a novel that last month won the National Book Critics Circle Prize for fiction. Here’s a link to the AP story that lists all the winners for books and journalism, which has more on the winners right now than the Pulitzer site:

ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5j7vuQ5ogo7UJ6MEjWWaYBGpyOTCgD8VT75DG0.

This more extensive story has a complete list of all the winners (with descriptions of the work) and finalists, including all the books that were finalists www.huliq.com/56234/columbia-university-announcees-2008-pulitzer-prize-winners.

The winners of this year’s Pulitzer Prizes will be announced on Monday, April 7, at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. The awards honor books in five categories — fiction, poetry, history, biography, and general nonfiction – though the judges may decline to give an award in any of them. You should be able to find the winners after they are announced at the Pulitzer site, www.pulitzer.org. In the meantims, the site also has questions and answers about the prizes.

March 5, 2008

What Do Award-Winning Novels Have That Others Don’t? (Quote of the Day/Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni)

[Tomorrow night the National Book Critics Circle will announce the winners of its annual awards, including its fiction prize. You can read about the finalists here bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com/2008/01/2007-national-book-critics-circle-award.html. A former judge for another prize offers some thoughts on literary awards in general below.]

What separates the novels that win major literary prizes from other books? Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, the Indian-born poet and novelist, served as a National Book Awards judge and comments here on reading the nominated books:

“What I learned from reading so many novels is that a novel, as it goes on, has to expand. It has to give you a sense of a larger life, not just the story you’re dealing with, no matter how well it’s told. There must be a sense of resonance, a sense that in that story is the knowledge of a whole larger story whose presence is felt.”

Chitra Baneriee Divakaruni in “Read More, Write Better,” an interview with Sarah Anne Johnson www.sarahannejohnson.com in The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction: Building Blocks (Writer’s Digest Books, $19.99), edited by Susan Burmeister-Brown and Linda B. Swanson-Davis. Banerjee Divakaruni www.chitradivakaruni.com , who teaches at the University of Houston, wrote the The Vine of Desire, The Mistress of Spices and other books. Her next novel, The Palace of Illusions, has just been published by Doubleday.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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