An Unsparing, Bleak, Magisterial Attack on Book Blurbs….Complex and…Merciless….

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Book blurbs are bogus baloney, saith the UK Guardian. An excerpt:

Rule one: if it sounds like baloney, it probably is baloney. 'A dark allegory about empathy, nuclear power and contemporary feminism' is not for us. Then there are those danger words. Adjectives to be wary of include: 'intense' (quite boring), 'merciless' (boring), 'unsparing' (very boring) and 'bleak' (unbelievably boring). There is also that lit-crit jargon that says everything and nothing: 'ironic' (up itself ), 'magisterial' (too long), 'surreal' (no plot), 'humane' (turgid), 'complex' (unreadable) and 'picaresque' (pointless). Beware 'masterpiece' (we paid too much for this and it's translated from the Albanian). Watch out for 'momentous' (not a quotable review in sight and the editor responsible has been fired).

I've had my blurbs appear on six or so books myself, and I think I avoided all those words. I hope.

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  1. This kind of shit drives me crazy.
    Why can’t we just say, word-wise, it’s a mine field out there, then get the bimbo Paul McCartney is divorcing to give us an amen.

    Seriously:
    Setting a word minefield at a blog site.
    Cruel and brutal.

    Come in here, kwais.

  2. You left out “romp” and “tour de force”.

    And what of “deconstructs”?

    I wonder what the blurb on Maddox’s new book says?

  3. I enjoy reading movie blurbs that are presented as compliments, but aren’t.

    “Highly stylized”

    or

    “Explosive”

  4. Well done! A truly merciless, unsparing critique!

  5. None of this comes as a surprise to anyone who ever worked in a bookshop, or, I suspect, as a book reviewer or publisher’s lackey. (Or, do I repeat myself…)

    My favorite Warning, Will Robinson*! Warning! blurb is “In the tradition of…”, which usually leaves you wishing that Tolkien or John MacDonald or whoever they are trying to grab the coattails of had an unpublished ms or two awaiting discovery.

    Kevin

    * No relation.

  6. My copy of Gravity’s Rainbow has four adverbs ending in “-ingly” on the cover.

    That’s a paddlin’.

  7. None of this comes as a surprise to anyone who ever worked in a bookshop, or, I suspect, as a book reviewer or publisher’s lackey.

    But what if you combine those jobs, as a bookshop book reviewer hand-scrawling your pensees on 5X8 notecards:

    “Catcher In the Rye, by JD Salinger: ‘Respectable critics’ will warn you away from this book, saying you should read Proust or Virginia Woolf instead. But I found it the wisest, warmest, most moving novel of my lifetime.”

    “The Lexus and the Olive Tree, by Thomas Friedman: If you want the wisest, most thought-tormented vision of this our modern world, told in prose that is as witty as it is profound, this is the book for you.”

    “Snow Falling On Cedars, by David Guterson: Like a piping hot bowl of chili, this tender tale is searingly satisfying at first, explosive and pungent later.”

    Imagine the child who dreamed of one day writing her stupid blurbs on notecards in between being surly and unhelpful to bookstore customers.

  8. Imagine the child who dreamed of one day writing her stupid blurbs on notecards in between being surly and unhelpful to bookstore customers. – TC

    Oh, I can remember the thankless job of jotting “shelf-talkers”, as they are known in the trade. Since I enjoy fiction with plots, and my non-fiction taste tends to the likes of Reason, I was not usually entrusted with such duties. I’ve written my share of mini-reviews for the store newsletter, and many booksellers nowadays do the equivalent for their online store/website. At its worst, the task involves rewriting the publishers catalog copy. I only ever contributed my opinions about books I had actually read, in galley, advance reader’s copy, or trade release. Blurbists are usually not constrained by any such requirement. 🙂

    Kevin

  9. Perhaps they should try a little ironic honesty:

    “Not worth the trouble to shoplift” would make me buy it.

  10. I wonder what the blurb on Maddox’s new book says?

    Probably something about the size of his testicles.

    He is one funny dude – I ordered the T-Shirt of his website that says ‘For every animal you don’t eat, I’m going to eat three’.

    Awesome.

  11. Publishers (inc. my own) are convinced that blurbs always help sales, and they often ask you to hound your most well-known friends and acquaintances for positive back cover quotes. It’s obnoxious and humiliating, and I wish everyone would agree to end this nonsense immediately.

    30 odd years ago I discovered JD Salinger’s entire line of titles, which were the first and only paperback books I’ve ever seen whose covers were completely quote/blurb/discription-free. That alone made me want to read them.

  12. I just want a description on the back cover of paperbacks or the inside dust jacket of hardbacks. I hate when I’m vaguely curious about a title, go to see what the book’s about, and all I see are blurbs about the book – or even the last book the author wrote.

    Also: great headline.

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