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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Get your adverbs here
I didn't know about the connection between author Daniel Handler and his pseudonym Lemony Snicket until after I finished Adverbs, but I think I sensed a kinship between the two. Both are told with a certain deadpan humor, both wrestle the maximum meaning out of words and phrases, both stop just a hair short of becoming pedantic in their explanations...
Published on May 2, 2006 by Eric J. Lyman

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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Handler's characteristic wit in an "art" book
My first exposure to Daniel Handler was his Series of Unfortunate Events writing as Lemony Snicket. I was delighted with his clever dry wit. I appreciated how he captured the absurdity of mundane things. His turns of phrase were frequently genuinely hilarious. Inspired, I read his other works in this order, Watch Your Mouth and The Basic Eight. Of the two, I was more...
Published on July 25, 2007 by K. Sullivan


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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Get your adverbs here, May 2, 2006
By 
Eric J. Lyman (Roma, Lazio Italy) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Adverbs: A Novel (Hardcover)
I didn't know about the connection between author Daniel Handler and his pseudonym Lemony Snicket until after I finished Adverbs, but I think I sensed a kinship between the two. Both are told with a certain deadpan humor, both wrestle the maximum meaning out of words and phrases, both stop just a hair short of becoming pedantic in their explanations.

Unfortunately, after a certain point, I think the unusual combination of characteristics under both names succeeds ... but at the expense of the narrative.

The biggest difference, of course, is that Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events is written for children (or, perhaps more accurately, at the parents who buy them for their children), while Adverbs is aimed at adults. And while the former explores some of the central themes of childhood -- fear of abandonment, need for approval, adventure, that sort of thing -- Adverbs focuses squarely on the main theme of adulthood: love.

The book is made up of 16 intersecting stories that, with witty pen and stiff upper lip, explore the frail state of love. The title of the 250-page volume comes from the fact that each chapter is named for the adverb that modifies the word love as it is described in that chapter.

I thought the first chapter -- entitled "Immediately" -- was the best, telling us about a couple on their way to hear a will read. Here's how it starts:

"Love was in the air, so both of us walked through love on our way to the corner. We breathed it in, particularly me: the air was also full of smells and birds, but it was love, I was sure, that was tumbling down to my lungs, the heart's neighbors and confidants. Andrea was tall and angry. I was a little bit shorter. She smoked cigarettes. I worked in a store that sold things. We always walked to this same corner, Thirty -- seventh and what's -- it, Third Avenue, in New York, because it was easier to get a cab there, and the entire time we were in love." Nice.

Looking over the book again, I think the second chapter was probably my second favorite, and I think the third was the third best ...

... which tips me off to a trend: like many books held together by a clever device like the adverbs theme here, the veneer eventually wears thin and the story suffers. After some reflection, I think that if I read some intermediate story first, that might have become my favorite. If I read the first one last, it might have started to feel as weary as I did when I finally put the book aside.

If I had it to read over again, I'd leave it at my bedside and pick it up every third night or so. I don't want to undervalue Mr. Handler's writing, which is smart and efficient and fun to read. But I can't escape the feeling that because of the book's hallmark timing, vocabulary, and style it is damned to be good but not great.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For those locked in a modern romance with words, July 30, 2006
By 
zugenia (Fayetteville, Argentina) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Adverbs: A Novel (Hardcover)
You know how sometimes you read so much of an author that his tone of voice, his quirky eye for quirky things, his attachment to certain moods and turns of phrase and senses of humor become fully acclimated to your own tone of voice, your own quirky eye, your own moody and wordy and humorous attachments, at least in your own head, so that you forget that they came from somewhere and just think, "That's the way things are; this is the way I think about the way things are," and you think, "This is how the world is, to me; this is how I am, in the world," and then you pick up another book by that author and you think, "This is interesting, but, frankly, he's just saying what passes in my own mind, my own everyday mind, and how hard is that--I do it all the time," and it takes you a while to realize that the reason the earth isn't trembling as you read is not that you could have written this book just by being in the world, no, but that the book is written in the very language in which your mind has been taught to think, and you have to realize that before you can realize what new kinds of things it's saying to you this time?

That's how I am with Daniel Handler. I don't love all his books. Of course, I am devoted to the splendid Series of Unfortunate Events. I enjoyed The Basic Eight very much, but it didn't place Handler in my pantheon of Writers Too Brilliant To Be True, alongside the likes of Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, and Haruki Murakami. And I was actively disappointed by Watch Your Mouth, which just didn't work, somehow. But last night I stayed up late finishing his most recent work, Adverbs, and I realized around 1:37am that all the barely conscious judgments I'd been passing on the book as I read, ranging from the enchanted to the skeptical, were not at all the point. The point is that this writer's writing--its voice, its perhaps irritating delight in words, particularly in how they warp the real into truer shapes, its willful confusion of the funny and the sad, its dead-on sense of the infuriating, its sublimation of its fury into wordplay, because where else is it going to go--this writing rewrote my own mental processes some time ago, and now Daniel Handler and I are in a relationship. Probably a permanent one. I'm living in his waking dream of the world. It's useless for me to say, "This book was really great" or "This book thinks it's too clever by half," because I might as well be giving a book report on the weather.

That said, I could add that this is the first piece of Handler's writing under his own name that demonstrated to me how moving he can be. Never sentimental, of course, because sentiment has to believe on some level that it lives outside of wordplay, and nothing in a Handler novel does. But his chapters on the friendships between women were captivating--I was reminded of a Dorothy Parker story I have to look up to be sure it really exists--and by whatever devices and sleights of hand, the book did leave me with the sense that I'd just read as true an exposition of Love as a young, self-conscious, too clever, wordy person can find.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Handler's characteristic wit in an "art" book, July 25, 2007
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This review is from: Adverbs: A Novel (Hardcover)
My first exposure to Daniel Handler was his Series of Unfortunate Events writing as Lemony Snicket. I was delighted with his clever dry wit. I appreciated how he captured the absurdity of mundane things. His turns of phrase were frequently genuinely hilarious. Inspired, I read his other works in this order, Watch Your Mouth and The Basic Eight. Of the two, I was more impressed with the latter (his earlier work). I found the narrative compelling while still enjoying the dry clever wit I had so appreciated in A Series. Watch Your Mouth also aptly displayed his sense of humor and his keen ability to take you into the minds of his characters. However, I did not appreciate the narrative so much. I relatively enjoyed the book but felt like something was missing. It was surreal somehow and left me feeling a little off and incomplete; like I wasn't quite sure what I had just experienced.

This brings me to his latest work, Adverbs: A Novel. The writing and style is classic Handler. And I find it impossible not to appreciate his very special literary talents. His ability with words and mundane thoughts is simply unmatched. We are being treated to the craft of a genius. That said, again, I felt the narrative was wanting. Of course, this is not a standard novel. As others note, the chapters are connected but not by a single plot weaving its way to a conclusion. No, each chapter can stand alone, though it likely shouldn't. Surely Handler has some master plan behind it all, but I could not for my life identify what it was. Yes, the book is about love - whatever that means. I find myself asking that very question... what is love? Maybe he wants us to search ourselves for that answer... maybe not. He tells us that love is in the doing, or more precisely "how" we do it. Probably there is truth to that, but I am not sure how it relates to what I am reading.

There are recurring magpies, volcanoes, taxis, musicians, and even names or plights of characters, many of whom could be the same people but somehow likely are not. As he takes us into the minds of these people (as only he can), there is often a strong sense of paranoia or suspicion. But time and again we never see the narrative outcome of these things. I am left asking what they were really thinking... what really happened? It just feels like there is something else there; yet it remains out of reach. Some readers may enjoy such an experience. I don't particularly.

I compare reading Adverbs to watching an "art" film. It's an "art" book. The point is not in the plot or the meaning but in the experience. I, however, like my experiences with a point. The experience alone is just hollow to me. I didn't really want to finish the book but I forced myself to. Even with a chapter remaining, I looked at the book and sighed. "Do I have to?"

I think Handler is an amazing talent. Selfishly, I just hope he puts that talent to use in a way that I will find more appealing. Putting his genius into a more conventional narrative would be most welcome.
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29 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard for me to like, September 30, 2006
This review is from: Adverbs: A Novel (Hardcover)
Billed as a novel, this is really more of a collection of short stories -- vignettes, really -- that are loosely connected by a number of themes.

The overarching theme, as Handler reminds us repeatedly, is love. But there are a number of other themes woven throughout the various narratives, including birds (magpies in particular), a volcano beneath San Francisco, fancy cocktails with exotic names, money, a Snow Queen, and some others I'm forgetting. Make any sense to you? Not me, either.

Many of the characters in the vignettes have the same names as one another, but it's seldom clear whether they're supposed to be the same people or different ones with the same names. Judging by the smug copy Handler has written for the inside of the dust jacket, this is intentional.

Finally, one can observe Mr. Handler's use of Adverbs. Cleverly, he almost never uses them, except when one of his characters is nearing some moment of epiphany in the story.

Clever, indeed, is the word for the whole package. It's all very clever. Clever, as Tyler Durden in "Fight Club" might observe: How's that working out for you, Mr. Handler?

Through maybe the first 30 pages of this book I thought I wasn't going to make it. I thought I would end up throwing it across the room. Why didn't I notice the gushing praise from David Eggers on the back cover? Why, when the smug, self-congratulatory Mr. Eggers is the one person whose good review could absolutely damn a book forever? A compliment from Mr. Eggers is enough to put most authors into the same category that I place Eggers himself; namely, people whose eyes I'd like to push into the backs of their skulls with my thumbs. But no, I didn't notice Eggers' review on the back of this book, and as soon as I started reading it I found myself nearly smothered by the smirking, clever prose of yet another Talented Young Author Who Winks And Thumbs His Nose At The Establishment.

But oh well. I stuck with it. I finished it. And by the end of it, I didn't think it was all that bad. Just hard to stomach, like eating a pound of chocolate mousse right before bed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hmmm., December 20, 2006
This review is from: Adverbs: A Novel (Hardcover)
To start off with, I'm a pretty hardcore fan of Handler's. A Series of Unfortunate Events was great, and I enjoyed The Basic 8 immensely as well. So I bought this book as soon as it came out. Upon my first reading of it, I think the word that would have best described it would have been "confusing." Yes, the assorted stories are tied, but they are such tenuous ties - what with maybe multiple characters having the same name and maybe not, among other things - that they are difficult to make out. This was a good thing, though. It made one think about the book, and it made it more interesting. Upon reading the book a second time, I think the word that most frequently came to mind was "cute." Strange, I thought. I do not generally think of Handler as someone who writes "cute" things. Funny, witty, intelligent, creative, deadpan, sarcastic, allusive, and so on, yes. Cute, no. But all these love stories are kind of just that. In an unconventional sense, of course, because, well, it's Handler. I'm still unsure what to make of them. I think in this book Handler's a bit over the top with the convolutedness of everything, but it's still a quick read - and good, full of characteristic Handler wit - that does sort of pull you in. Overall, not as good as his other stuff. But still fun.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not worth the effort it asks of the reader, August 24, 2006
By 
Richard L. Goldfarb (Seattle, WA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Adverbs: A Novel (Hardcover)
Adverbs is a series of interconnected short stories each with the title of an adverb, haha. Some of the stories, particularly "Soundly", set in a bar in an casino near Seattle (Puget "Sound", get it?), are affecting and interesting. Some are a bit disturbing, such as the first one set in a cabride where the narrator goes overboard both literally and figuratively by falling in love with the driver.

There are some interesting ideas, and some witty lines (my favorite is a woman contemplating what kind of money might be in an envelope and what she'd do with particular denominations, ending with "Million dollar bills--buy England").

But the stories seem to be about love only because Handler incessantly tells us they are. Stories that seem to be about people, just plain people, are squeezed into the square peg of "love" by fiat, not necessity. Some people are going to have intercourse in situations that appear to me to be the antithesis of love. Because the word can be applied to the act, is this love?

And the stories are interconnected, with a few obvious exceptions, only again because we are told they are going to be. There is a long tradition of great books with interconnected narratives making up a coherent and intriguing whole, from Ulysses to Cloud Atlas. I didn't see it here, or if it was there, Handler didn't make it worth my time to figure it out.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Adverbs, June 8, 2006
This review is from: Adverbs: A Novel (Hardcover)
Handler found an outlet for himself with the childrens books, and even those wouldn't have gotten the audience they did without the super-hyped efforts of HarperCollins. With both the childrens stuff and the stories in this book, he's got a lot of good acid-laced lines, but it's mostly the same thing, over and over and over again. And it is often just a bit too Clever, with a capital C. True to form, the stories here all follow the Clever route, some with better results than others. It's all a bit too self-aware, too self-conscious. Many of the stories are good, but by no means great. And sometimes the overkill of Vocabulary can get to you. Overkill in general tends to be the order of the day with this book, right down to the back cover, where a big barf comes by way of a big splashy blurb written by Mr. Blurb himself, Hander's buddy, David Eggers (who must write a blurb for every book of every author he's connected to). He really goes overboard here, comparing Handler to Nabokov, or, as Eggers says with oh so much wit, 'the russian man.' Please. Nabokov this author ain't.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars this book is like love, too., December 13, 2007
By 
This review is from: Adverbs: A Novel (Paperback)
The back of this book proclaims, "This is a novel about love."

And it is. No, it is not a cohesive love story, it is not a flighty "boy meets girl" romp, nor is it is not a "star-crossed lovers" drama. Instead it is like snapshots of love: noticing it suddenly here, and here, and here.

Adverbs is a collection of beautifully quirky vignettes exploring the different ways we have of loving -- clearly, soundly, not particularly, collectively... Each "story" is interconnected with the others, but not in an obvious way - instead, little details recur throughout the book, including magpies, character names, ripped purses, and taxis.

Read Adverbs in one sitting, straight through. Absorb Handler's uniquely expressive voice, his way of explaining things so matter-of-factly that you want to capture his voice to narrate your own life. Finish the book, close your eyes, take a break. Wait a little while, a few weeks or months. Lend the book to your best friend (but make sure she gives it back).

Then go back and read it again, one chapter at a time. Pick through the details, marvel over Handler's beautifully crafted phrases and enjoy the rhythm of the language. Fall in love with this book. Love it briefly, love it immediately, love it wrongly, love it soundly, love it once, or love it obviously...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fresh and interesting novel, July 17, 2006
By 
Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Adverbs: A Novel (Hardcover)
By now the secret is out --- the real identity of wildly successful children's author Lemony Snicket, creator of A Series of Unfortunate Events, is none other than Daniel Handler. Now, with ADVERBS, his most recent book for grown-ups, Handler loses none of the verbal gymnastics and wry humor that has made his kids' series so beloved by millions of children (and the many adults who also appreciate it as a guilty pleasure).

But make no mistake --- ADVERBS is definitely not a children's book. Instead, woven among its clever wordplay and its self-referential playfulness is a genuinely thoughtful series of considerations of love --- where we find it, how we lose it, why we pursue it despite dangers, heartbreaks, and catastrophes of volcanic proportions.

ADVERBS is a difficult book to describe. Its cover describes it as a novel, but it's not really. Its interlocking characters and plotlines, though, make it more than a collection of short stories. Instead of a cohesive plot, ADVERBS is united primarily by imagery, symbolism and theme.

Magpies (whether in the guise of devious birds or high school sports teams) flit artfully through the pages; nausea-inducing cocktails with absurd names like Morning Sickness and Hong Kong Cobbler are ordered up at countless bars; envelopes containing photographs or money fall out of one handbag and into another. Characters named Andrea, Joe, Allison and David appear over and over again --- but are they the same characters or do they just share common names? Readers who are tolerant of a McSweeney's-esque postmodern knowingness will tolerate Handler's playfulness, while those in search of a more grounded, traditional narrative may grow frustrated.

ADVERBS is more than worthy of the energy it demands of its readers, though. If anything unites this book, it is the consideration of love in all its forms. Throughout the book, characters try to define love, often just at the moment they are finding it or losing it forever. Ultimately, though, Handler writes, the task of defining love is doomed to failure: "It is not the diamonds or the birds, the people or the potatoes; it is not any of the nouns. The miracle is the adverbs, the way things are done. It is the way love gets done despite every catastrophe." Indeed, each chapter title is an adverb ("Briefly," "Clearly," "Wrongly," etc.), and each one illustrates a defining moment --- for good or ill --- in the characters' pursuit of love.

In "Obviously," a young usher tries to prove his chivalry and bravery in front of the woman he loves by tracking down a stranger's keys in a dark movie theater. In "Soundly," a young woman tries to come to terms with her best friend's terminal illness: "I'd spent my life driving around my city with Lila while the pop music told us what was happening and what it was like, and never wished I was doing anything else." In "Truly," the narrator's mother loses a diamond in Arizona and it miraculously resurfaces in a novel set in Wisconsin.

Throughout, ADVERBS is a challenging, sometimes perplexing read that nonetheless offers perceptive, flexible readers moments of hilarity, poignancy, and even clarity. There are no happy endings, no real endings at all --- just moments of connection and hope in the midst of absurdity. Happily, or unhappily, ADVERBS is a book that defies easy categorization or definition --- much like love itself.

--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great "bookends" -- soft in the middle, July 8, 2006
This review is from: Adverbs: A Novel (Hardcover)
I read the first hundred pages of this in a sitting. I was so overjoyed by the storytelling and the writing. It just worked. It was funny, poignant, witty. But for the next hundred or so pages, it was a slog. Just hazy, uninteresting, unremarkable, interchangable characters that I did not in any way care about. There is, however, a great recipe for my new favorite cocktail: The Suffering Bastard. It's 4 parts Gin, 3 parts Brandy, 1 part sugar syrup, 1 part lime juice, a dash of bitters, topped up with ginger ale and garnished with a cucumber. I really enjoy it, but it doesn't make those middle hundred or so pages any more enjoyable. I did think that it ended well, perhaps the last 40 pages or so, starting with an interesting little vignette where the author is writing as himself.

All in all, it's probably worth a read, and its definitely an interesting change of pace. A bit post-modern, frequently witty, but with a seriously slow, mainly uninteresting chunk in the middle that is was a chore to get through.
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Adverbs: A Novel
Adverbs: A Novel by Daniel Handler (Hardcover - April 11, 2006)
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