A №1 bestseller has racial stereotypes, romance-novel clichés — and Reese Witherspoon as a producer of the movie

Clapper for the movie / Credit: Sony Pictures

For much of my childhood, I spent part of every summer living in a two-room shack without indoor plumbing or running water, which stood at the end of a dirt road in the hauntingly beautiful woods known as the Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey.

My experiences in some ways resembled those of Catherine “Kya” Clark, the young heroine of Where the Crawdads Sing, a novel that sold more print copies than any adult book in America — fiction or nonfiction — when it first appeared in 2019.

Like Kya, I spent most of my time without parents nearby —…


Detail of the cover of “Officer Buckle and Gloria” / Credit: Penguin Random House

A lively dog helps a policeman teach his…


by Bernard Waber

An upbeat crocodile savors urban pleasures like a picnic in Central Park

Cover of “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” / Credit: HMH Books

It’s not easy being green and living in a bathtub in New York City. Just ask any young fan of Lyle, an anthropomorphic crocodile who made his picture-book debut in 1962 in The House on East 88th Street and has reappeared in more than a half-dozen sequels that celebrate the joys of urban life.

Lyle lives with Mr. and Mrs. Primm and their son, Joshua, in a New York City brownstone that has a high stoop, fanlight window, and claw-foot bathtub in which he relaxes. …


5 types of flat, dull, or trite first lines for articles

Eraser / Credit: Kim Gorga on Unsplash

Nobody dumps Gatorade on the writing coaches at newspapers who have tried to help reporters turn out sparkling copy amid the apocalypse for the print media. But Jack Hart, a writing teacher and former managing editor at the Oregonian, seems to have deserved that treatment.

Hart drew on decades of working with reporters for his exemplary A Writer’s Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Work, a book that seeks to demystify a dozen aspects of good writing — clarity, brevity, voice, color, structure, rhythm and more. …


Lame expressions of regret can backfire if your words come across as insincere, defensive, or self-serving

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

As the CEO of PEN America, Suzanne Nossel leads an organization that knows that free speech isn’t free — you have to keep fighting for it.

But what if you’ve been too free with your speech? What if your words have deeply hurt, misled, or offended someone important to you?

A good apology “can mean the difference between an uneasy encounter and a career- or life-altering conflict,” Nossel writes in her Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All. A strong apology, she adds, is prompt and sincere. It doesn’t make excuses or deflect blame. …


Until recently police could legally have sex with hookers — and other truths about America’s most misunderstood industry

Red-light district peep show / Credit: Amsterdam Tourist Office

Nearly 25 years ago, strippers at the Lusty Lady peep show in San Francisco made history.

They were angry about their working conditions, and one injustice especially rankled. Some of the peep show windows had one-way glass. Customers were hiding cameras under their clothes and filming the dancers for porn videos without paying them for it.

Management brushed off the strippers’ concerns, so the women — known as “the Lusties” — began to unionize. Some marched in front of the club carrying signs that said “Bad Girls Like Good Contracts!”

Embarrassed by the unflattering publicity, the managers removed the one-way…


But comedian Colin Quinn says Floridians have it worse.

Colin Quinn publicity photo / Credit: colinquinn.com

My native New Jersey once needed a new state slogan and asked residents for ideas. It quickly eliminated one suggestion: “Most of Our Elected Officials Have Not Been Indicted.”

I expected to hear fewer jokes after I moved to Alabama. But Twitter came up with one after the state elected a former Auburn football coach as its U.S. Senator: “Tommy Tuberville thinks the three branches of government are offense, defense, and special teams.”

Still, New Jersey and Alabama fare better than some states targeted by Colin Quinn in Overstated, which roasts all 50. Quinn calls tobacco-friendly North Carolina “America’s Astray” and beer-and-bratwurst–rich Wisconsin “The Diet Starts Tomorrow State.” And poor Florida! Quinn says that “all state jokes used to be about New Jersey, and now half the jokes are about Florida.”


by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat

A young detective loves solving cases and eating pancakes

Cover of “Nate the Great” / Credit: Penguin Random House

For nearly 50 years, the 9-year-old detective who calls himself “Nate the Great” has been striding confidently forth to solve crimes dressed in a Sherlock Holmesian deerstalker’s cap and a trench coat worthy of Inspector Clouseau. And there’s no mystery about why he remains one of the most popular heroes of the beginning-reader genre.

Marjorie Weinman Sharmat was among the first authors to show that chapter books with a limited vocabulary don’t have to be as dull as the Dick-and-Jane primers that once set their tone. Nate has personality. He is cool, methodical, and self-assured without being rude. …


A classic picture book set in Paris has year-round charms

Cover of “Anatole” / Credit: Penguin Random House

Americans didn’t storm bookstores, the way a French mob took to the Bastille, when Anatole arrived on shelves. But the hero of this classic has deservedly become one of the most popular mice in picture books — no small accomplishment for a character competing with Mickey.

Anatole is a dignified, beret-wearing French mouse who enjoys sneaking into houses and nibbling on leftovers. Then Parisians offend his pride by complaining about the scavenging. He has to feed his family — his wife, Doucette, and six children — but he has a conscience and self-respect.

So he’s mortified to hear Parisians complaining…


The “journalist’s bible” can help you fine-tune your writing, but you have to get past the idea that it’s just for newspaper reporters

Robert Redford as Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in “All the President’s Men” / Credit: Warner Bros.

Is it “Covid-19” or “COVID-19”? “Antisemitism” or “anti-Semitism”? “Former president Donald Trump” or “former President Donald Trump”?

If you lie awake thinking about questions like these — instead of, say, whether the Browns will win the Super Bowl in your lifetime or Olivia Rodrigo is better than Ariana Grande — The Associated Press Stylebook will help you sleep better. It can also fine-tune your writing.

Some reporters call the AP stylebook “the journalist’s bible.” Others call it “the journalist’s book of Job.” By whatever nickname, this newsroom stalwart gathers in one volume the AP’s rules for grammar, spelling, capitalization, and…

Janice Harayda

Critic, novelist, award-winning journalist. Former book columnist for Glamour and book editor of The Plain Dealer.

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