The Reading Order of the Phoenix

by Yule Heibel on June 22, 2003

There is a clear reading order at our house for the new Order of the Phoenix. We picked up our pre-ordered copy yesterday around midday at Munro’s Bookstore, whose entire staff was in costume. (Owner Jim Munro appropriately appeared as Dumbledore. Would his marriage to Alice Munro have ended had the wizarding side of his personality emerged sooner? Who can say.) After lunch Emma (our 9-year-old) disappeared with the book, emerging only long enough in the afternoon for her usual bike ride and the usual brief spot of evening dvd-ing. And yet she had finished the entire book (766pgs., British edition) before lunch today. (Crikey, don’t mess with her; she makes speed reading look like a drive in the country.) Adam (our 12-year-old) next grabbed the book. A few hundred pages into the book, he’s happy that Rowling has started to flesh out some economic and political aspects of the wizarding world. Werner will read it next, and eventually I’ll get around to it. Maybe. Then the German translation will come out in November, and we’ll have to slog through that. It’s typically 3million pages longer, as that language has never heard of Elements of Style. Here is a quote from the 3rd ed., 1979, p.72: Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating. If the sickly sweet word, the overblown phrase are a writer’s natural form of expression, as is sometimes the case, he will have to compensate for it by a show of vigor, and by writing something as meritorious as the Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.

On that note, I’d like to re-post (is this allowed?) William Gibson’s recent blog entry (June 19):


1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

“If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase…into the dustbin where it belongs.”

Uh, maybe I should re-read Strunk & White, and some Orwell, before bothering with Harry. I prune the shrubs in my garden quite vigorously. Time to prune the brain, too.


Betsy Burke June 23, 2003 at 7:54 am

You can add a bit of Elmore Leonard advice to that (rightly considered to be a god among many of the writing community) – cut the stuff the reader skips.

Yule Heibel June 23, 2003 at 12:20 pm

Great advice, and difficult to follow!

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