Blurbese: “a _____ debut”

Book reviewers generally frown on unnecessary adjectives. Precisely how they frown depends on the situation, but you can bet if an author’s use of adjectives comes up in a review it’s not as a compliment. If a book is filled with rare and unusual descriptions (e.g. “a perturbing peccadillo”), it’s “flowery” or “over-wrought”; if it’s filled with commonplaces (e.g. “a worrying problem”), it’s “clunky” or “unimaginative.” (Think Dan Brown.)

But the prejudice against adjectives is a stupid one, an arbitrary holdover from Strunk and White, and it’s all the more infuriating because reviewers flaunt it all the time—particularly when it comes to the word “debut.” Rarely does this word appear without one—or more!—adjectives crammed in front of it, and worse, the ones that crop up the most have now taken on weird, book-review-specific meanings of their own.

So today, a primer on the worst offenders:

  1. a promising debut”: “This author already signed a two-book deal.”
  1. a timely debut”: “A book about racism.”
  1. a clever debut”: “This book has a twist ending.”
  1. a solid debut”: “I have an irrational dislike of this technically unimpeachable book.”
  1. a touching/heartbreaking debut”: “Someone dies.”
  1. a chilling debut”: “Someone dies, and then we discover a terrible secret about them.”
  1. a memorable debut”: “This book has a lot of sex in it.”
  1. a bold debut”: “This book relies on a gimmick that, considered independently, is kind of obnoxious.”
  1. a slender, tightly wound debut”: “Sorry, I was thinking about my new watch.”
  1. a stunning/dazzling/
    breathtaking/auspicious/knockout/splendid/winning debut”
    : “I want my name to appear on this book’s dust jacket.”

We would love to hear your own contributions in the comments.

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About Andrew Ladd

Andrew Ladd is the book reviews editor for the Ploughshares blog. His work has also appeared in Apalachee Review, CICADA, fwriction:review, Open Letters Monthly, The Rumpus, PANK's "This Modern Writer" series, DRAFT Magazine and the Good Men Project. His first novel, What Ends, was the winner of the 2012 AWP Prize in the Novel, and is forthcoming from New Issues Press.
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9 Responses to Blurbese: “a _____ debut”

  1. Daniel says:

    “An assured debut”–this person’s workshop-mates must have really envied her.

    • Andrew Ladd says:

      Ha! Love it. Though surely anyone with a published book and a good review will be the envy of their workshop-mates?

  2. paul says:

    “A lyrical debut” — the author has published poetry in small literary magazines

    “a finely wrought debut” — the blurber has published poetry in small literary magazines

  3. Ash says:

    “A gem of a debut” — “Sorry, we’re French”.
    “A scintillating debut” — Ditto.

  4. SarahR says:

    “A luminous novel” — “You know, it’s one of those girly books.”

  5. George says:

    “A gritty debut”: “This book has a lot of swearing in it.”

  6. “A scholarly debut” : “This book bored the shit out of me.”

  7. Andrew Ladd says:

    These are all great, folks. Of course, each comment you leave makes it progressively harder for me to actually write any more reviews myself — but keep it up!

  8. Pingback: Holden and the Phonies opening at some stupid place and other items of note | Nico Mara-McKay

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