One-Minute Book Reviews

July 16, 2007

Reading Group Guides on One-Minute Book Reviews — A Complete List

Looking for a way to give your summer reading a little structure? Or for books your reading group might want to consider in the fall?

Here’s a complete, print-and-save list of readers’ guides available on One-Minute Book Reviews. Each title is followed by a one-sentence review of the book that inspired the guide and a link to the longer, original review. If a link doesn’t work, you can find all of these guides saved in the “Totally Unauthorized Reading Groups” category on the site. Most readers’ guides appeared on the same day that the review of the book was posted, usually in the post just below it. Some of the earliest guides appeared later and, in those cases, the links to both the guide and the review appear below.

Books for Adults

Summer at Tiffany (Morrow, $14.95). By Marjorie Hart. A lovely memoir of Manhattan in the weeks just before and after V-J Day, written by one of the first female pages at the famous jewelry store. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07.02/.

The Manny (Dial, $25). By Holly Peterson. A rich Park Avenue wife and television producer hires a male nanny for her son — and gets more than she bargained for — in a glorified romance novel with some of the year’s the worst sex scenes. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/26/.

The Empty Nest: 31 Parents Tell the Truth About Relationships, Love, and Freedom After the Kids Fly the Coop (Hyperion/Voice, $23.95). Edited by Karen Stabiner. Recent studies have shown that the “empty-nest syndrome” is mostly a myth, so this collection is a bit of a throwback to the 1950s with a few good essays — most notably, from Ellen Goodman, Charles McGrath and Roxana Robinson. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/11/.

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa (Little, Brown, $24.99). By Peter Godwin. A journalist writes about the terrors that Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has inflicted on his family and others in one of the great memoirs of the year. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/08/.

No, I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a 60th Year (Viking, $24.95). By Virginia Ironside. In this semi-autobiographical comic novel, a well-known British agony aunt argues that the great thing about getting old is that there are so many things you can’t do. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/29/.

Fat, Forty, and Fired: One Man’s Frank, Funny and Inspiring Account of Leaving His Job and Finding His Life (Andrews McMeel, $19.95). By Nigel Marsh. The CEO of Leo Burnett Australia gives a breezy account what happened when, after losing his former job, he took time off to pursue goals that included losing weight, overcoming his alcoholism and becoming more than “a bit player” in his family. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/17/.

Acceptance (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Sarah Crichton, $23). By Susan Coll. Coll send sends up the college admissions race in a tart novel that has many funny lines but also digressive subplots and point-of-view problems. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/13/.

Serpent in Paradise (Anchor, $12.95). By Dea Birkett. The true story of an award-winning English travel writer’s frightening experiences on Pitcairn Island, the refugee of the Bounty mutineers, in the 1990s. Older and harder to find than some books on this list, but one of the most unusual travel memoirs you’ll ever read. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/07/.

Stuart: A Life Backwards (Delacorte, $20). By Alexander Masters. A charming biography of an “ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath” that has won or been short-listed for several major literary awards. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/22/.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (Simon & Schuster, $12, paperback). By Eric Hodgins. Illustrated by William Steig. The classic satire of the modern lust for property that has inspired two movies, Mrs. Blandings Builds His Dream House and The Money Pit. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/04/09/.

Infidel (Free Press, $26). By Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A memoir by the Somali-born former member of the Dutch Parliament who writes about events including her circumcision and opposition to Muslim extremism. Readers’ guide: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/04/03/. Review: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/04/03/.

The Second Child: Poems (Random House, $19.95). By Deborah Garrison. Rhymed and unrhymed poetry about the intersection of work and motherhood, including classic forms such as the sonnet and sestina. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/12/deborah-garrison-finds-poetry-at-the intersection-of-work-and-motherhood/

Born Twice: A Novel (Vintage, $13.95, papeerback). By Guiseppe Pontiggia. One of the great recent novels about fatherhood, which won Italy’s highest literary award, the Strega Prize. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/08/.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Sarah Crichton, $22). By Ishmael Beah. A young writer’s story of his experiences as a fighter in the government army during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Readers’ guide: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/o3/05/. Review: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/27/.

The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival (Putnam, $24.95). By Stanley N. Alpert. A former federal prosecutor’s account of being kidnapped on a Manhattan street and held for thugs who showed a gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight ineptitude. Readers’ guide: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/04/.Review: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/01/30/stuart-alperts-25-hours-in-hell-with-a-turkey-sandwich/

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughs on Being a Woman (Knopf, $19.95). By Nora Ephron. Witty and trenchant essays by the author of Heartburn and the script for When Harry Met Sally … . Readers’ guide: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/20/. Review: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/10/14/ms-ephron-regrets/

Books for Children

The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures (Scholastic, $22.99, ages 9–12). By Brian Selznick. A much-admired children’s author gets and A+ for the art and a C for the writing in this bestselling novel about an orphaned thief who lives in a Paris train station early in the 20th century. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/04/21/.

 

The Higher Power of Lucky (Atheneum, $21.99, ages 10 and up). By Susan Patron. Illustrated by Matt Phelan. Ages 10 and up. The controversial winner of the 2007 Newbery Medal that has the word “scrotum” on the first page. Readers’ guide: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/22/. Review: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/19/that-scrotum-book-for-children/

Books by Janice Harayda

The Accidental Bride (St. Martin’s Griffin, $13.95, paperback). A comedy of Midwestern manners about a Cleveland reporter who decides at the last minute that she wants to bail out of her break-the-bank wedding. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/28/.

Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, $14, paperback). A comedy of New York manners about a 25-year-old writer who leaves Ohio and takes a job on a glossy Manhattan magazine run by a talk-show-host-turned magazine editor who hopes to become the next Oprah. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/26/.

Most reading group guides on the Web were compiled by publishers or by people paid by publishers to write them. They are not “objective” guides (any more than the two guides I wrote for my novels are “objective”). They are part of a marketing plan designed to sell books. The reading group guides on One-Minute Book Reviews offer an independent evaluation of books and possible discussion questions, written by Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com, an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. The reviews and guides on this site are not influenced by marketing concerns.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 2, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Marjorie Hart’s Memoir, ‘Summer at Tiffany’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
Summer at Tiffany
By Marjorie Hart

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may reproduce it for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or use the address on the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to request permission to reproduce it.

In the summer of 1945 Marjorie Hart and a sorority sister at the University of Iowa set out, like Dorothy and Toto, for New York City, determined to find work as salesgirls. Turned down by Lord & Taylor, they talked their way into jobs as the first female pages at Tiffany & Co. Now in her 80s, Hart describes that experience in Summer at Tiffany, an affectionate memoir of Manhattan just before and after V-J Day.

Questions for Readers

1. Marjorie Hart seems to feel only gratitude that she and her friend Marty had the opportunity to work Tiffany’s in the summer of 1945. “We had to be the luckiest girls in town to be part of the Tiffany family and watch the curtain open to the toniest display of jewelry in the world.” [Page 34] Based on what she tells you about herself in her book, what do you think accounts for her sunnyside-up view of life? Do you think it has to do with her generation, her small-town Midwestern background or something else?

2. Many bestselling memoirs and biographies are what Joyce Carol Oates has called “pathography,” or books that focus on the pathological. Why do you think Hart was able to get Summer at Tiffany published when it’s so different from memoirs like Augusten Burroughs’s Running With Scissors? What makes her story enjoyable?

3. The end of World War II received more coverage than any previous event and continues to inspire books, movies, and TV shows. It also resulted in one of the most famous photographs of the century, Alfred Eisenstaedt’s picture of a sailor and nurse in Times Square on V-J Day. What did Summer at Tiffany tell you about that event (and the days just before and after it) that you hadn’t learned from other media?

3. Hart tells us up front that she has taken liberties with her story. She writes: “In some cases composite characters have been created or timelines have been compressed in order to further preserve the privacy of dear friends and maintain the narrative flow.” [Page vi] Could you see evidence of this in her story? Where?

4. Using composites characters or scenes in nonfiction is controversial. Some journalists say you should never use these. Others say it’s okay if a) you tell readers up front that you have done so and b) it’s necessary to tell a worthy story. After reading Summer at Tiffany, what do you think? Did the book justify any liberties that Hart took?

5. In our era we continually hear that it’s “healthy” to express your feelings, even if they might upset others. Hart grew up with different values: “It’s important not to disappoint anyone, or make them worry.” [Page 248] Does she seem to have suffered from this? Why or why not?

6. Do you think your parents and grandparents have the same view of this book that you would? Why or why not?

7. Some of Hart’s experiences have an underside she doesn’t deal with. For example, all of the women in the photo of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority are white. Should Hart have explored these issues? Or would that have made it a different book?

8. Late in the book, Hart has to decide whether to accept a scholarship to Yale that, she says, arose suddenly. Does she give you enough information to understand why she made the choice she did? What factors seemed most important to her decision? Would you have made the same choice?

9. Hart offers vibrant glimpses of her small-town and of Manhattan in the 1940s. For example, after the Queen Mary brought thousands of soldiers back from Europe, the Red Cross gave out 35,000 half-pint cartons of milk because the servicemen and -women seldom had milk overseas. [Page 80] What details do you remember best? Why did they make an impression on you?

10. The caption for the last photo in the book tells us that after visiting Tiffany’s in the winter of 1945, Hart didn’t return until 2004. Apparently it wasn’t because she couldn’t afford the trip. Does it seem remarkable that she didn’t go back sooner? What might explain her delayed return? Have you ever avoided going back to a place where you were happy? Why?

Vital statistics:
Summer at Tiffany. By Marjorie Hart. Morrow, 258 pp., $14.95.

A review of Summer at Tiffany appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on July 2, 2007 https://oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/02 It is saved both with the June posts and in the “Memoirs” category on the site.

Your book group may also want to read:
The Bell Jar (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, $16.95, paperback). By Sylvia Plath. This satirical novel about a young woman’s nervous breakdown fictionalizes the author’s stint as a guest editor of Mademoiselle in the 1950s. Plath’s experiences in the city were so different from Hart’s that you might enjoy comparing the two books.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but no on a regular schedule.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 11, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to ‘The Empty Nest,’ Edited by Karen Stabiner

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
The Empty Nest: 31 Parents Tell the Truth About Relationships, Love, and Freedom After the Kids Fly the Coop
Edited by Karen Stabiner

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may reproduce it for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce the guide.

A professor of family studies recently told the Washington Post that the idea of the empty-nest syndrome has been pretty much debunked by scholars. But the departure of children still packed an emotional wallop for many of the 31 parents who describe their experiences in the essay collection The Empty Nest, edited by Karen Stabiner. The contributors to the book include men and women, married and single parents and little-known authors and celebrities such as syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman and novelist and journalist Anna Quindlen.

Hyperion/Voice has posted a brief readers’ guide to The Empty Nest at www.everywomansvoice.com that you may want to use at a starting point for your discussions. But like most publishers’ guides, that guide is part of a publicity campaign designed to sell books. It does not encourage criticism, cite negative reviews or suggest that you compare the novel to others on similar topics. For these reasons, the Hyperion/Voice guide may have less depth or promote a less lively conversation than you or your group would prefer. The following Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide is not intended to be comprehensive but to raise questions not covered by the Hyperion/Voice guide.

Questions for Readers

[Page numbers are based on the advance readers’ edition and may differ in the final version.]

1. Many experts have come to see the empty-nest syndrome as myth. Do you agree or disagree with them? How did the book affect your view of this issue?

2. If you agree with the experts who say that the negative effects of the empty nest were exaggerated, why do you think they were exaggerated?

3. Some researchers have found that effects of the empty nest are actually worse for fathers than for mothers. One reason is that women expect to face big changes when children leave home and start planning – and even grieving – before this happens. Men are less likely to prepare for the loss. So they are more likely to be emotionally blindsided by the departure. How do these findings jibe with your experiences and those of people you know?

4. A reviewer for the New York Times Book Review said that The Empty Nest “probably is an exercise in creative catharsis” for the contributors. What do you think the reviewer meant? Was the comment a criticism or compliment? [“Get Out. No, Wait, Come Back!” By Liesl Schillinger. The New York Times Book Review, April 8, 2007 pp. 9–10.]

5. Anna Quindlen says that the women of her generation “professionalized” mothering – for example, by sometimes “making motherhood into a surrogate work world.” At the same time, she adds, “Motherhood changed from a role into a calling.” What’s your reaction to this? Who saw motherhood as more of a “calling,” you or your mother (or grandmother)?

6. Quindlen also says that because of all the “professionalization” of mothering, “the empty nest is emptier than ever before.” Do you agree or disagree? Which generation had a harder time when children left home, yours or your parents’?

7. Marriages often break up when a nest empties, because some parents “stay together for the sake of the children.” Yet not one marriage in The Empty Next seems to have taken a major hit. Did you find this realistic or true to the experiences of women you know? Or did you get the sense that some writers were “spinning” their stories? Or that Stabiner had looked for a certain kind of person for the book?

8. Ellen Goodman writes that she used to think that mothers who had jobs outside the home “might avoid the cliché of the empty-nest syndrome.” Now that she’s in her 60s, she doubts it. What’s your view of this? How does having a job outside the home affect (or not affect) a parent’s reactions to children’s departures?

9. Ellen Levine said that she once found herself “whining” that her son didn’t call as much to talk to her. Some people might say that a lot of parents in The Empty Nest are whining. How did this affect the book? Would it have been stronger if Stabiner had included more writers who didn’t talk so much about their pain? Or were their comments appropriate?

10. One brave contributor, Jan Constantine, admitted that she was actually relieved when her daughter Elizabeth left for the University of Wisconsin. Or, as she put it: “I don’t know which of the two of us, Elizabeth or I, was more relieved to see the other one leave.” [Page 200] Why do you think more parents didn’t make similar comments? Do you think that they weren’t relieved or just felt they shouldn’t say it?

If you dare:
11. Letty Cottin Pogrebin says that one of the things she learned about the empty nest is: “You lose a kid, you gain a sex life.” True or false?

Extra:
12. Nora Ephron writes briefly about her own empty nest in “Parenting in Three Stages,” an essay in I Feel Bad About My Neck (Knopf, 2006). “If you find yourself nostalgic for the ongoing, day-to-day activities required of the modern parent, there’s a solution: Get a dog,” she says. “I don’t recommend it, because dogs require tremendous commitment, but they definitely give you something to do. Plus they’re very lovable and, more important, uncritical. And they can be trained.” [Page 64] Glib as it might seems to be, this comment makes a subtle point: Sometimes what we feel when children leave home is pure nostalgia. What’s your reaction to this? How does it compare to the tone of The Empty Nest? If you’ve read I Feel Bad About My Neck, which book do you think had more value for empty-nesters?

Vital statistics
The Empty Nest: 31 Parents Tell the Truth About Relationships, Love, and Freedom After the Kids Fly the Coop. Edited by Karen Stabiner. Hyperion/Voice, 320 pp., $23.95.

A review of The Empty Nest appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on June 11, 2007, and is archived with the June posts and in the “Essays and Reviews” category.

Your book group may also want to read:

1. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. By Nora Ephron. Knopf, 137 pp., $19.95. In this best-selling essay collection, Ephron writes about her empty nest and related topics in a short piece “Parenting in Three Stages.” I Feel Bad About My Neck was reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews on Oct. 14, 2006, and is archived with the October posts.

2. No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a 60th Year. By Virginia Ironside. Viking, 231 pp., $24.95. This comic novel focuses on Marie Sharp, a divorced 60-year-old London grandmother who becomes a grandmother for the first time and sees her stage of life differently than do most contributors to The Empty Nest. No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club was reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews on May, 2007, and is archived with the May posts:
https://oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/29/

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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October 27, 2006

John Carey Picks the 50 Most Enjoyable Books of the 20th Century

A witty guide for reading groups and others that focuses on books, not on whether to serve gin with The Great Gatsby

Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century’s Most Enjoyable Books. By John Carey. Faber and Faber, 173 pp., $14, paperback.

Reading group guides are thick on the ground this year, and some offer strong opinions on almost everything except books — refreshments, meeting times, power plays among members. All the more reason, then, to savor Pure Pleasure, a collection of 50 witty and literate essays on modern classics. This is not a reading group guide in the usual sense. But any group would benefit from taking some of its suggestions, and not just because John Carey wouldn’t dream of telling you, as one recent guide does, that strawberries are the “go-to fruit” for book clubs.

Part of the charm of Pure Pleasure lies in the brevity and directness of its essays, which first appeared in the Sunday Times of London. Secure in his reputation as one of England’s most admired critics, Carey has neither the need nor the desire to wear his erudition like a top hat at a royal wedding. His method is to dive straight into what interests him most about a book and wrap up his review in about 800 words. Here are the first lines of his essay about John Updike’s A Rabbit Omnibus: “Updike’s Rabbit saga is often praised as a lifelike portrait of middle-America in the second half of the 20th century. This should give grave offense to middle-America.” And here is how he introduces Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled: “This is a book about stress, a problem of epidemic proportions in our culture that modern fiction largely ignores.” Carey’s writing is never harder to understand than that, yet it is full of insights into works as different as The Great Gatsby, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and the Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats.

Several aspects of Pure Pleasure might give pause to an American book group. Carey writes mainly about authors from Britain and Ireland with a scattering from France, Germany, the U.S. and elsewhere. Many of his choices reflect tastes that, however refined, have fallen from fashion. (How many people would today appreciate the wit of S. J. Perelman, famous for such lines as, “I’ve got Bright’s Disease, and he’s got mine”?) And Carey considers only five women: Elizabeth Bowen, Katherine Mansfield, Stevie Smith, Muriel Spark and Sylvia Townsend Warner.

But you could argue that, for the same reasons, Pure Pleasure is an ideal complement to book group guides that take their cues from the current bestseller lists. Without ever saying so directly, this is a book that reminds us that long before Bridget Jones flirted with Daniel Cleaver by interoffice e-mail, Philip Larkin wrote: “In everyone there sleeps/A sense of life lived according to love.”

Best line: “The current vogue in university English departments is to reduce literature to politics — a way of engaging in the class war without actually risking income and politics.”

Worst line: On Elizabeth Bowen: “No writer has ever pursued people’s thoughts and feelings — or half-formed thoughts and half-recognized feelings — with such intricacy.” Take that, Shakespeare.

Recommended if … you like John Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald better than Amy Tan and Jane Smiley, and George Orwell or Evelyn Waugh better than any of them.

Published: 2000

Consider reading also: A Reader’s Delight (Dartmouth, 1988), a collection of 40 brief and elegant essays that the author and critic Noel Perrin for the Washington Post about some of his favorite books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Posted by Janice Harayda

(c) 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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