One-Minute Book Reviews

February 24, 2012

23 British Publishing Euphemisms Decoded by Industry Experts

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A tongue-in-cheek glossary from U.K. editors, publishers, authors and agents

By Janice Harayda

The British have a gift for coded speech. Like Southerners who say “Bless your heart” when they mean the opposite, they salt their conversations with euphemisms that only the most credulous tourist would take at face value.

The U.K. publishing industry has its own subset of words and phrases that deflect embarrassing or inconvenient realities. A few appeared in my American-accented “40 Publishing Buzzwords, Clichés and Euphemisms Decoded” and “More Publishing Buzzwords,” which gathered highlights from witty translations submitted at the Twitter hashtag #pubcode last year. Other examples of the British talent for indirection surfaced yesterday in a new wave of definitions at #publishingeuphemisms. Here are some of the best of those late arrivals (a list that excludes a few tweets that gave off an intentional or unintentional whiff of those posted in 2011), followed by the decoder’s name.

“ahead of its time”: “It bombed” Julie Bertagna, author of Exodus and other young-adult novels

“All our focus is on the paperback”: “The hardback tanked” Jonny Geller, literary agent

“eminently marketable”: “This author looks fit” Catherine Fox, author of Angels and Men, Scenes From Vicarage Life and other books

“an exciting new children’s author”: “edited to within an inch of its life so no parents can possibly be offended” Iain Paton, writer

for fans of [insert bestselling author name]”: “Normally eat smoked salmon? Try some tinned” Rhian Davies, judge for CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger.

“has worked as a gravedigger, ambulance driver, and llama-shearer”: “had a gap year” Christopher Wakling, author of The Devil’s Mask and other novels

“Here are all my corrections!”: “(Except all the ones I’m going to email you everyday until sign off date.)” Cathy Hurren, production editor and MA student

“I’m hard at work”: “I’m on Twitter” David Hebblethwaite, critic and blogger

“’I’m under such pressure for space”: “It didn’t deserve a review on my page” MaryB (@marysbookstuff on Twitter), “many hats.”

“in their own words”: “in the ghostwriter’s words” Iain Paton, writer

“Just a couple of tiny changes needed”: “I’m about to send you 27 pages of edits.”  Jill Mansell, author of A Walk in the Park and other novels

”literary-commercial cross-over”: “Has a plot but not too many adverbs” Nina Bell, author of Lovers and Liars and other novels

“The manuscript is nearly finished”: “I’m up to chapter 3” Karen Wheeler, former fashion editor of a British newspaper and the author of Tout Sweet: Hanging Up My High Heels for a New Life in France and other books.

“The new Tom Clancy”: “Jane’s Military technical specifications with occasional action” Iain Paton, writer

“No woman has nipples like strawberries: “I don’t get out much” Martin Pilcher (Igor Zap), writer

“The novel never quite reached the huge potential of its promise”: “Your pitch letter was better than the book” Jonny Geller, literary agent

“Sorry but our list is currently closed”: “We are too busy chasing celebrity deals to bother with hoi-polloi”  Carole Matthews, author of Wrapped Up in You and other books

“There is such excitement in-house”: “My assistant loved it” Jonny Geller

“This novel really challenges convention”: “including spelling and basic grammar” Phoenix Yard Books, an independent children’s publisher

“This doesn’t fit in my current list”: “The restraining order is in the post” Cath Bore, writer

“We’re not sure a head shot will work on the jacket”: “Look in a mirror” Christopher Wakling , novelist

We’ve changed the pub date to give the book the best exposure”: “We’ve f*cked up the schedule.” Jane Judd, literary agent

“You seem to have fallen through the net”: “We don’t send cheques unless we’re forced to.” Rosy Cole, author of The Wolf and the Lamb

“Your novel isn’t right for us at this time” = “or any time luv” Cath Bore

Janice Harayda has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. One-Minute Book Reviews is ranked one of the top 40 book blogs by Technorati and top 40 book-review blogs by Alexa Internet was named one of New Jersey’s best blogs by New Jersey Monthly.

You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.

November 30, 2009

Great Books About Scotland — A St. Andrew’s Day Celebration

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The Scots — who gave us classics that range from Treasure Island to James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson — celebrate their heritage on St. Andrew’s Day, Nov. 30, the feast day of the patron saint of Scotland. Here, in its honor, are some of my favorite books about the land of my maternal ancestors:

The Crofter and the Laird (FSG, 1992), by John McPhee. More than three decades ago, McPhee moved with his wife and four young daughters to a small island in the inner Hebrides, just off the Scottish mainland, which had fewer than 200 residents. He tells the story of that visit to the land of his ancestors in The Crofter and the Laird, a fascinating of study of a place that refracts the history of Colonsay through his family’s experiences. The book is especially noteworthy for its portrait of changing relations between crofters or tenant farmers and their English laird (then, a glorified landlord who owned the island) long before the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. McPhee won a Pulitzer Prize for Annals of the Former World. First published in 1969.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (HarperPerennial, 2009), by Muriel Spark. This great novella is a brilliant psychological study of female power as deployed by a teacher at an Edinburgh girls’ school in the early 1930s. The 1969 movie version had a memorable star turn by Maggie Smith but didn’t capture the most remarkable aspect of the book: It is a masterpiece of tone. Spark neither sentimentalizes nor demonizes her heroine, but describes her with the kind of cool detachment rarely found in novels about the sexually overheated world of girls’ and boys’ schools.  First published in 1961.

The Thirty-Nine Steps (Oxford University Press, 2009),by John Buchan. This slender, classic spy thriller is the first of Buchan’s five novels about Richard Hannay, a 37-year-old Scottish-born engineer who became a prototype for generations of adventurous patriots. In The Thirty-Nine Steps Hannary shelters a spy who has learned of a secret German plan to invade England. When the man is murdered, Hannay flees to the Scotland, where he hopes to lie low amid remote glens and moors. He soon finds himself hunted both by the British police who consider him a suspect and by the Germans who have killed the spy. After being spotted from an airplane, Hannay tries to elude his pursuers by adopting disguises and traveling by foot, bicycle and train through Scotland. This story is better known today for its movie version by Alfred Hitchcock. But Hitchcock changed so much of the plot that no matter often you’ve seen the film, you can enjoy the book. First published in 1915.

Other good books about Scotland include Israel Shenker’s In the Footsteps of Johnson and Boswell : A Modern Day Journey through Scotland, a re-tracing of one of the most famous literary excursions in history, and the two books that inspired it: Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and James Boswell’s A Tour to the Hebrides. You can find them together in one edition.

A fine golf book for serious readers (as opposed to serious picture-gazers) is A Season in Dornoch: Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands, the journalist Lorne Rubenstein’s account of a summer of playing on the Royal Dornoch Golf Course. And Liza Campbell writes of her life as the daughter of a Thane of Cawdor in A Charmed Life: Growing Up in Macbeth’s Castle, a memoir that offers a stars-without-makeup view of 20th-century Scottish aristocrats. Campbell’s book isn’t perfect, but the British class system is dissolving fast enough that her story may be one of the last of its kind.

You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter (@janiceharayda), where you’ll find others’ favorite books on Scotland by reading her home page or searching Twitter for the hashtag #scots.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 29, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Virginia Ironside’s ‘No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a 60th Year


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.

Marie Sharp refuses to learn Italian or take up paragliding now that she’s 60. She thinks that the great thing about her age is that there are so many things you can’t do. “You no longer have to think about going to university, or go bungee jumping!” she writes in this novel in the form of a diary. “It’s a huge release!” But if Marie is blunt, she isn’t mean-spirited. She is kind, cheerful, active and devoted to her friends and a newborn grandson who lives near her home in west London. And although she hasn’t had sex in five years, she doesn’t lose sleep over it. She’s thinking of giving it up – if a nice, rich, attractive friend named Archie doesn’t change her mind. As she tries to fathom his intentions, she pours into her diary her thoughts on age-related topics from “senior moments” to whether or not people should plan their own funerals.

Viking has posted a readers’ guide to No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club at 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 similar books. For these reasons, the Viking 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 Viking guide.

Questions for Readers

1. Author Virginia Ironside has spent more than 30 years as an “agony aunt” for newspapers in England. What, if any, evidence of her work do you see in her novel?

2. A theme of No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club is that the line we’ve been fed about being old – that anything is possible at any age – is a fairy tale. Marie believes that the great thing about being 60 is that “so many things are impossible.” [Page 8] For example, you no longer have to think about going back to school or taking up bungee-jumping. Do you agree? How well does the novel support this point of view?

3. Does this novel seem to be trying to refute some fairy tales about being old while perpetuating another? What, if any, fairy tales does it promote?

4. Marie Sharp spurns some activities that might stimulate her mind, such as joining a reading group. She writes of book club members: “I think they feel that by reading and analyzing books, they’re keeping their brains lively. But either you’ve got a lively brain or you haven’t.” [Page 42] Yet Marie tells us that she takes lots of fish oils: “If fish could improve Jeeves’s brain, they can improve mine, too.” [Page 109] Do these passages seem contradictory? Why or why not? Does Marie ever seem to be cherry-picking her mental stimulants without owning up to it? How does this affect the novel?

3. Similarly, Marie thinks that “sex only brings trouble and misery.” [Page 139] She tells us so little about her past relationships, especially her marriage, that it isn’t clear exactly what she means by this. But near the end of the novel she’s sure that she can have a “sexy and loving” visit with a male friend. [Page 231] Based on what has happened to her in the book, is this transformation credible? Why or why not?

6. Marie makes few comments about Americans, but they are all unflattering. (You can’t count the Bob Hope joke that she likes because Hope was born in London.) She hates “a frightful, raucous American voice.” [Page 204] She cringes at the sort of “wretched” asexual woman with a “weird” haircut who has the “American-woman-in-art-gallery” look. [Page 132] She thinks the local Starbucks is “horrible.” [Page 204] If you’ve lived in the U.K., you may recognize these as examples of the British stereotype of Americans as loud, rude and unattractive vulgarians who are polluting the world with their toxic culture. How do you think Marie would react if you told her that her views of Americans were stereotypes? Would she listen? Or would she say that Americas are loud, rude and unattractive?

7. No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club has many amusing lines. One is: “Did you hear that grandchildren are the reward you get for not killing your children?’ [Page 205] Another is that “the five ages of man” are “Lager, Aga, Saga, Viagra, Gaga.” [Page 49] What are some of your favorites? How does Ironside manage to make serious points while keeping her novel funny?

8. Marie was young in the 60s and claims she “slept with a Beatle.” [Page 7] Yet rock ’n’ roll has almost no role in her diary. Is her apparent lack of interest in the music of the 60s believable in the context of this? Why or why not?

9. England has given the world many wonderful novels in diary form, far more than the U.S. has. The best British diary novels include E. M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady, Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. Why do you think England has produced more great diary novels than the U.S. has? If you have read any of them, which do you like best? How would you compare them to No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club?

10. Ironside says in an interview on the Penguin Web site that she has never belonged to a book club “and would certainly not wish to read books dictated by a group.” Dictators, what would you say to her?

If you dare:
11. Marie has found that the “clitoris was a much-overrated part of one’s anatomy, which never really lived up to the rave reviews it received over the last twenty years.” [Page 178] Is Marie nuts? Everybody in the group who thinks so, raise your hand.

12. Novelist Jane Gardam wrote in a review in the Spectator (Oct. 14, 2006) “This is the sketchy diary of a 60-year-old woman with an amusing, runaway pen, written over 19 months. She is scatty, impulsive, open-minded and living cheerfully in Shepherd’s Bush, which never ceases to intrigue her (‘Today I saw a man standing on his head in the middle of the pavement’).” Do you agree with the characterization of Marie as “scatty” and “impulsive”? How would you characterize Marie? (You can read Gardam’s full review by searching for the title of the book on the Spectator site.)

Vital statistics
No, I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a 60th Year. By Virginia Ironside. Viking, 231 pp., $24.95.

A review of No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on One-Minute Book Reviews on May 29 2007, and is archived with the May posts and in the “Novels” category.

Your book group may also want to read:
I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. By Nora Ephron. Knopf, 137 pp., $19.95. In this essay collection, Ephron offers a different view of being in her 60s than Marie Sharp does. Your group may want to compare their attitudes toward the same topics, such as sex, children, friendship and their homes. I Feel Bad About My Neck was reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews on Oct. 14, 2006, and is archived with the October posts:

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 One-Minute Book Reviews or subscribe to the RSS feed and forward a link to others. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


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