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:
- “a promising debut”: “This author already signed a two-book deal.”
- “a timely debut”: “A book about racism.”
- “a clever debut”: “This book has a twist ending.”
- “a solid debut”: “I have an irrational dislike of this technically unimpeachable book.”
- “a touching/heartbreaking debut”: “Someone dies.”
- “a chilling debut”: “Someone dies, and then we discover a terrible secret about them.”
- “a memorable debut”: “This book has a lot of sex in it.”
- “a bold debut”: “This book relies on a gimmick that, considered independently, is kind of obnoxious.”
- “a slender, tightly wound debut”: “Sorry, I was thinking about my new watch.”
- “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.Might we be so bold as to suggest that you subscribe to Ploughshares?