Monday, September 29, 2008


I was browsing around in the bookstore looking for something to read the other day, and I settled on this book called Adverbs. It's by Daniel Handler, who it turns out, is also the author of those Lemony Snicket books.

For some reason I've never even looked at the Lemony Snicket books. I think I became conscious of them the same time I became conscious of Harry Potter, and I didn't really like the one Harry Potter book I read, so somehow, I don't know, one of those things.

This book, Adverbs, has a lot of funny things about it, things I would have said I would really, really, not like in a book.

For one thing, all the chapter headings are adverbs. You know, Chapter 1: Immediately. Chapter 2: Obviously.

Also, the chapters don't really follow any single cohesive narrative line. They jump around, there are lots of characters, you're not sure when the stories intersect. Or even if they intersect.

Finally, the book is "about love." Right on the back, it says, "This novel is about love."

Just as I'm buying the book, I'm thinking, What am I doing? These all sound like things I will hate.

But I was a little desperate. Regular readers may remember that I'm toward the end of Volume 4 of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, so maybe you're wondering, how could you be desperate for something to read?

Well, the copies I have of Proust are big, hardcover books. Not really the sort of thing you pop into your purse to read on the subway, and not really the sort of thing you want to carry around all day. Also, you may have heard, as wonderful as those books are, Proust can be, you know, a little sad.

So I bought Adverbs. And I got totally swept up in it. I loved it. None of the qualities I thought would be annoying or peculiar were annoying or peculiar.

What I liked most was the simple calm feeling of the whole thing. This book just does its thing. When it's done right it seems effortless but writing simple sentences is very difficult, which is why you don't see it that often.

The adverb I'd use for this book is: Quietly. Even when there's drama, this is somehow a quiet book, in the nicest way.

For example, the last chapter, "judgmentally," begins this way:

"In the United States, where this love story is set, we all get to make decisions about love, even if we're not citizens or if we don't know what we're doing. If you get into a taxi and you fall in love there, no laws passed by the government of the United States will prevent you from making a fool of yourself. If you have someone in mind for the prom, you do not have to submit this person to a vote. If you want to be a lover, that is your call, no matter your mother's advice or what the song on the radio is going on about. The love's yours, for the time being.

If you'd rather be a criminal, though, we have a different system for that."

I don't know why I like this little passage so much, but I do. I love "even if we're not citizens or if we don't know what we're doing," and "we have a different system for that." These sentences are just right for me, somehow.

Maybe they'd be right for you, too. It's hard to say.

Love: always complicated and unpredictable.

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