Adverb Backlash

Today there was a story in the A&E about Nick Hornby’s new book. It sounds like a must own classic.


Hornby divides every month into two categories, "Books Bought" and "Books Read." There's not always a lot of overlap -- he's forever buying books he intends someday to read and not getting around to it, and defends himself by saying, "And I'll bet you do it, too."

(Jeff Baker Jan 14 05 Oregonian)

Yes, I do. I have a half dozen Signet Classics like Crime and Punishment and Madame Bovery that I bought years ago that don’t even have bookmarks in. (Sometimes I pile up a bunch of books to read next to the bed and I’ll start a few and read about 7 pages, stick in a bookmark and put back in the pile. Then I get tired of feeling overwhelmed by this huge pile of books by the bed and put them back on the shelf to read later.) I also have a bunch of ratty used paperbacks that I always think I’m going to get to like an Edward Hoagland book of essays and some Joyce Carol Oates shorts stories. The only time I look at these books is when I’m tidying the bookshelf or going on a trip and think that traveling will produce the optimum environment to finally dive into these books. Then I read everything else I brought with me and bring them back home and put them on the shelf.

This week I finished Harry Potter #5. I thought that HP #4 was mediocre except she really pulled it out of her ass at the end for a nice emotional payoff that redeemed the book. #5 I thought was a much better story that totally lost it in the 3rd act — like she suddenly realized she’d been droning on for 900+ pages and had to wrap it up quick. I could reduce 50 pp. from the book by taking out unnecessary adverbs. One time she uses “sycophantically” — is that even a real word? ( says it is — okay, I don’t think it should be.) Also, don’t you think it’s weak story telling to get your hero into a terrible fix and then at the critical moment, have him rescued by some character(s) that have been off-stage for awhile, showing up to save the day. I think you can get away with doing this once. But this happens several times. Finally, in the writer’s favor, I will say that Harry’s 15 year old angst where he’s angry and doesn’t think anyone can understand how he feels is spot on teenage behavior. Don’t misunderstand, I liked the book but I don’t think it held up for 956 pages.

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