One-Minute Book Reviews

August 15, 2007

Self-Help Books by Quacks, Frauds and Incompetents: Why Don’t They Get the Kinds of Clinical Trials That Drugs Get? (Quote of the Day)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:02 am
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How many times have you read or heard about a self-help book that struck you as pure quackery? Probably a lot. Some publishers make preposterous claims for how their books will improve your physical or mental health, or claims that the Food and Drug Administration would never allow other kinds of companies to make without proof that they were true. But publishers are rarely held accountable for false advertising.

Should some of this snake-oil-in-print be subjected to the kinds of clinical trials that drugs get? The Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating article recently suggesting that this is starting to happen. Here’s part of what it said about health-related how-to books:

” … this category is reminiscent of the market for elixirs, oils and pills before the advent of federal regulation. Despite the growth in research, fewer than 5% of the tens of thousands of self-help books on the market have been subjected to randomized clinical trials. And authors with no scientific credentials are just as likely to hit the jackpot as are renowned physicians. ‘When the book cover announces that it’s a bestseller, that means nothing,’ says John Norcross, a University of Scranton professor of psychology and researcher on the effectiveness of self-help books.

“Now, mental-health professionals in the U.K., the U.S. and elsewhere are determined to distinguish the most proven offerings. The aim is to recommend books that have been shown to be successful in published trials conducted by reputable, independent researchers.”

Kevin Helliker in “Bibliotherapy: Reading Your Way to Mental Health,” the Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2007, page D1. I couldn’t link to the article from this site but could find the story by cutting and pasting the following link into the address bar in my browser, so you might try that it if you want to know more: You can also find this article easily by Googling “helliker + bibliotherapy.”

Comment by Janice Harayda:

I’m all for the kind of testing the Journal described. I’d also favor stricter regulation of advertising by book publishers, whether or not clinical trials were conducted. How about you?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 12, 2007

Does ‘The Secret’ Work? Final Results My 30-Day Test of ‘The Secret’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:34 am
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Ouch. My 30-day test of The Secret is over, and now I know the secret of the universe: Taking advice from bestsellers can leave you worse off instead of better.

Yes, I knew when I started the test that the premise of Rhonda Byrne’s bestseller was scientifically “preposterous,” as Jerry Adler put it in his brilliant expose of the book in the March 5 issue of Newsweek. But One-Minute Book Reviews is the blog that gives out the annual Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. And The Secret seemed like such an obvious frontrunner that I thought: Shouldn’t I at least try its techniques before giving it a booby prize? How often do I have a chance to road-test the advice in a Delete Key contender? It’s not as though I can turn myself into a Danielle Steel heroine and do what she does to get men to give her jewelry and take her on Mediterranean cruises, which would require shaving at least a decade off my age and more off my dignity.

So on May 2, I began a one-month trial of the premise of The Secret: You can have anything you want by tapping into a “law of attraction” in the Universe (always spelled with a capital U). Byrne says that Universe will “manifest” your desire as long as you know exactly what you want. Part of the beauty of the “law of attraction,” Byrne says, is that you don’t actually have to work to achieve your desire: You just have to visualize it act as though you already have it. No order is too tall for the Universe to fill. “It is as easy to manifest one dollar as one million dollars,” Byrne writes.

That’s why I asked the Universe for a one-million-dollar advance for my next novel or for a movie or paperback deal for one of my earlier books. Given Byrne’s claims, this had to be a much fairer request than many that readers of The Secret were making, because the Universe could fill in so many ways it. I wasn’t one of those people asking for a vintage Mercedes that hadn’t rolled out of a plant since the Eisenhower administration. There were hundreds of publishers who had my agent’s telephone number. (My agent represented the most recent winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction! Those publishers had to be practically hacking into her voice mail to find out what she had to sell!) There were probably even more filmmakers who know how to get her number. Some of those producers had to be desperate for romantic comedies that could serve as star vehicles for actresses who were just coming out rehab and needed to make a comeback fast.

I was also willing to be fair to the Universe and cut it a little slack if it was overwhelmed in by all the requests from people who bought The Secret. As Byrne advised, I visualized the million-dollar check. But I decided I would give the Universe credit if, say, a flush publisher or producer had invited my agent to lunch to talk about me. (As Gay Talese once said, New York is about lunch.) My theory was: I could assign credit based on how good the lunch venue was – say, a few thousand for the Four Seasons and under $25 for Burger Heaven. I also decided to give the Universe some credit if the sales of one of my novels spiked on Amazon, suggesting that producers were buying it by the carton to ship to those actresses in rehab.

So what happened? Here are the results:

1. Not only did I not get the million dollars, I had what may have been, financially, my worst month in years. I can’t even tell you how bad it was, because a lot of sites for writers link to One-Minute Book Reviews, and some of their visitors might quit writing forever if I did.

2. Apart from not handing over the one million, the Universe hit me with bizarre and unexpected expenses, which made the month even more of a disaster. For example, I had to file a Freedom of Information Act request for a few records I needed. Journalists do this all the time, but I hadn’t done it before. So I didn’t realize that you had to pay for documents you wanted, which in my case amounted to no more than five or six pieces of paper, none classified or top-secret. Just a routine request. For this the U.S. government charged me $158. Memo to journalists who plan to do this in the future: They don’t call it the Freedom of Information Act because it’s free.

3. As for the publishers and filmmakers: Here’s a tip for any writers who may be thinking of doing their own test of The Secret. Do not try this test during a month when publishers are getting ready for, going to or recovering from hangovers acquired at the year’s biggest trade show, BookExpo America. You’re cooked if Tina Brown is promoting a new book on Princess Diana when you’re trying to get the Universe to notice you.

4. My novels didn’t budge in the Amazon rankings, but The Accidental Bride did get a really nice mention on a books-of-the-week list at the Bensenville Community Public Library in Bensenville, Illinois, which is featuring books about “brides, bridesmaids, wedding planners, and everyone’s favorite, bridezillas.” Bless you, Bensenville.

5. I got a great idea for a soccer-novel series that could be written by a writer friend who coaches youth soccer if only he’d give up his other work. This wouldn’t make money for me could make millions for him. I told my friend about my idea, and he sent me an e-mail message headed, “Are you mad?” I’m still hoping he’ll see the genius of it. When his millions start rolling in, maybe he’ll take me to lunch to thank me.

Finally, I did get some great links from bloggers about my posts on The Secret and other books. Thank you! A book typically takes at least eight or nine months to reach stores after an author turns in a manuscript. So you can be sure that none of bestsellers and other books I’ve written about have achieved their success because their authors tapped into a wacko “law of attraction.” Except, of course, for The Secret.

You can also follow Janice Harayda on Twitter at

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 22, 2007

Three of My All-Time Favorite Books for Adults and Children

Filed under: Children's Books,Classics — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:30 pm
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What’s on the used-book table at a school, library or church book sale?

By Janice Harayda

May is the month when used-book sales bloom in my town along with the irises. So I went bargain-hunting and picked up a half-dozen books that I loved years ago, want to reread, and may review on this site this summer. Here are three of my favorites:

Books for Adults
How to Read a Book: Revised and Updated Edition (Simon & Schuster, 1972) by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. I read an earlier edition of this as a high school student, and it ‘s helped to shape how I’ve read books ever since. Adler begins with sections on each of the four levels on which he believes we read (“elementary,” “inspectional,” “analytical” and “syntopical”). He then offers separate chapters on how to read each of seven kinds of books: “practical books,” “imaginative literature,” “stories, plays, and poems,” “history,” “science and mathematics,” “philosophy” and “social science.” His section on analytical reading includes a chapter called “Criticizing a Book Fairly” that was my introduction to literary criticism. (I noticed when I picked the book up at a church fair that Adler emphasizes “the importance of avoiding contentiousness.” Did I miss that part?)

Books for Children
Madeline (Picture Puffins, 1977) by Ludwig Bemelmans. First published in 1939, this narrative poem has never stopped delighting children. Its opening lines are its best-known: “In an old house in Paris / that was covered with vines / lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” But the rest of the book just as good. I’ve been planning to review Madeline in the “Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read” series on this site. So when I saw it going for 50 cents at a library sale, I whisked it to the check-out desk and handed over two quarters. If I had a preschooler who hadn’t read this book, this would have been the best 50 cents I’ve spent this year.

Junior Kroll (Harcourt Brace, 1993) by Betty Paraskevas and Michael Paraskevas. This children’s picture book consists of a witty cycle of rhyming poems that together tell the story of a mischievous little rich boy in a setting that resembles the Hamptons. Junior Kroll isn’t the classic that Madeline is. But it’s hilarious in its own way and ideal for a child who loves Bemelmans’ book. The first lines of a poem about Junior’s dog, Max, set the tone: “Crazy Max, the Krolls’ Great Dane / Was a time bomb ticking on the end of a chain … ”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 27, 2007

Janis Silverman’s ‘Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies’

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:44 pm
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Exercises that can help when a young child loses a parent, grandparent or other close relative or friend

Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies. By Janis Silverman. Fairview Press, 32 pp., $9.95, paperback. Ages 5–9.

By Janice Harayda

Normally, I don’t review children’s books that offer only bibliotherapy or help with problems. But Help Me Say Goodbye has so much to offer grief-stricken 5-to-9-year-olds that I’ve decided to break my self-imposed rule.

Teacher Janis Silverman designed this activity book for families with young children who will be visiting a friend or relative who is dying. But the book could also help children who have recently lost someone important. Each page describes something a child could do to “say goodbye” and provides space for it. One page says: “When you visit your friend or relative, what can you bring? Draw or write about your ideas.” Other pages suggest ways children can express their feelings after a loss. One says that when someone dies, people may feel angry: “Draw or write what you can do when you feel angry. Circle the things that won’t hurt anyone else.” And while the book is designed for children in grades kindergarten through three, it describes a few activities for younger ones, such as, “Use a toy phone to talk about what happened.”

Recommended … for children who are coping with the death of a parent, grandparent, sibling, teacher or friend. The exercise in this book could be adapted for children whose pets have died.

Published: January 1999.

Furthermore: At this writing, this book is in stock on Amazon Many libraries also have it.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 29, 2006

Judsen Culbreth Tells How, in Her 50s, She Found Love and Marriage on the Internet

A lively guide to finding a mate — or a New Year’s Eve date — online when you can remember watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show on a TV set with knobs

The Boomers’ Guide to Online Dating: Date With Dignity. By Judsen Culbreth. Rodale, 230 pp., $12.95.

Think you’d have a better chance of winning a Pillsbury Bake-Off than lining up a date for New Year’s Eve this year? Feel sure you won’t find love until you lose the crow’s feet or the saddlebags?

Judsen Culbreth disagrees. Divorced at the age of 49, she expected her many friends to fix her up. After two years in the single lane, she’d gone on two blind dates. She had similar luck meeting men on her own, so she decided to try online matchmaking.

“Two days after posting on an Internet dating site and asking for matches within a 50-mile radius of Manhattan, I had 84 responses,” she writes. “Over the next year, I posted my profile on six sites. I screened thousands of men, corresponded with more than 100 of them, and liked 25 well enough to meet in person.” The result? She found and married “the man I prayed for.” And she tells how she did it in The Boomers’ Guide to Online Dating, a lively how-to book for what she calls “the mature woman.”

A former editor-in-chief of Working Mother, Culbreth offers smart and practical advice on topics from the pros and cons of well-known dating sites to getting sexually involved after meeting online. In a chapter on how to write a compelling profile, she tells what doesn’t work along with what does. Among the nonstarters: taglines or other come-ons that are hostile or bleak: “NO HEAD GAMES,”“RU NORMAL?” or “MAKE ME SMILE AGAIN.” Would you want to go out with someone who had forgotten how to smile?

As for that New Year’s Eve date you know you won’t have, Culbreth encourages you not to be so sure. She believes online dating can work even if you keep telling yourself, “I want to get a face-lift first” or “I need to lost 25 pounds.” Waiting until you’re perfect may make you older, but not wiser. “I’m all in favor of self-improvement,” she says, “but your social life can move forward online while the metamorphosis takes place.”

Best line: “Almost every site will ask about your age, children, education, occupation, religion, ethnicity, height, and weight. Be absolutely honest. You can’t recover from misrepresenting yourself.”

Worst line: None. But this book came out before the surge in popularity of a new feature on some sites that lets members post comments about others. I agree that “you don’t have to reply to all the men who contact you,” but I would add that failing to respond could get you slammed on a site by people who expect a reply.

Recommended if … if you’re a woman in her mid-30s or older who wants recharge her social life. This book has useful for information for any female reader of a certain age, not just baby boomers.

Editor: Jennifer Kushnier

Published: August 2005. Author:

Conflict alert: Judsen Culbreth is one of my closest friends, I am in her acknowledgments, and I would no sooner give her bad review than I would ask Dick Cheney to be my friend on a social networking site. If I didn’t like a book Judsen had written, I wouldn’t review it. I like this one, and that’s why I’ve reviewed it.

Janice Harayda
© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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