Blurbs

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Do blurbs ever persuade you to read anything? Mostly I find they persuade me negatively, if at all. I was glancing at Everything Is Illuminated at my sister's house last week, which I hadn't been inclined to read because of the hype surrounding it, but the blurbs made me even less inclined to read it. (Dale Peck (?) ejaculates, "It is one of the best novels I've ever been fortunate enough to hold in my hands.") When blurbs aren't completely masturbatory and tacky, they're usually too broad to be of any use to a prospective reader.
I don't know. Do they work?

Prude (Prude), Tuesday, 20 January 2004 06:54 (sixteen years ago) link

too broad to be of any use to a prospective reader.

Much like this post! What a shithead.

Prude (Prude), Tuesday, 20 January 2004 06:59 (sixteen years ago) link

Some blurbs work and some some blurb might be likened to blowing air up your ass. What I find interesting is when authors give a shout out to a new author, that alone can make the book. Like when Harold Bloom and Stephen King commented on the Da Vinci Code, made me buy it right away! ;) heh.

Cupie (Cupie), Tuesday, 20 January 2004 15:42 (sixteen years ago) link

Like i said on another thread, apparently Chekhov was a dime a dozen. Tons of writers are compared to him on book jackets. Or they are called the Gambian Chekhov or the Irish Chekhov. I was looking at a book the other day and one of the blurbs said that it was "deceptively wise", which for some reason made me laugh cuz it isn't very often that a book's wisdom will sneak up behind me at the last minute and i say:"ah, so this book wasn't dumb after all, it was just deceptively wise!" I also tend to shy away from books that have a blurb that starts out:"Once in a great while a book comes along..."
There is a funny chart in an issue of The Believer that is a long list of books that are compared to Holden Caulfield/Catcher In The Rye on the cover.There are tons!
great while a book comes along..."
I would also like to say that this thread is *DAZZLING*, *A TOUR DE FORCE* Prude's Blurb thread is *ELEGANTLY WRITTEN*,*LOVELY*, *STRIKING*,and an *EXHILARATING JOURNEY* into the minds of ILB posters.

scott seward (scott seward), Tuesday, 20 January 2004 16:33 (sixteen years ago) link

After Trainspotting came out in the UK you started getting lots of
anti-blurbs on the novels that were blatantly aimed at the readers who lapped that up: things like 'like being violently fisted by a mad bloke you've met in the pub' FHM, 'This book will lobotomize, sodomize and inject you with crack - and then leave you while you're sobbing on the floor like a big baby' Guardian.

pete s, Tuesday, 20 January 2004 16:49 (sixteen years ago) link

I'm wary of blurbs from other authors on books, makes me think there is some mutual back-scratching or circle jerking going on between old friends/students/lovers/teachers/roomies.

What does "Tour De Force" literally mean anyway?

LondonLee (LondonLee), Tuesday, 20 January 2004 16:59 (sixteen years ago) link

My (least) favorite is "A CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION!" I mean, I like books and all, but very rarely am I moved to throw a party over one.

quincie, Tuesday, 20 January 2004 17:14 (sixteen years ago) link

It's really hard to believe a critic who's using the WORDS OF HYPERBOLE, unless he's made a damn tight case before pulling them out -- and there isn't space to do that in a blurb. So yeah, you just think, "hm, the freelance critic needed money so figgered he better make this book sound like it was WORTH THE THIRTY COLUMN INCHES, BOY HOWDY!!"

Ann Sterzinger (Ann Sterzinger), Tuesday, 20 January 2004 18:04 (sixteen years ago) link

My favorite blurbs are the ones where it's obvious that the book's publishers have done on a Frankenstein job on a book review - using ellipses to stitch together an enthusiastic-sounding blurb from a lukewarm review. Like "Joe Schmo's new novel...shows promise...with interesting characters...and an engaging plot", where it's obvious they've left out all the caveats and deprecating qualifiers.

o. nate (onate), Tuesday, 20 January 2004 18:20 (sixteen years ago) link

I don't read blurbs or the backs of books for a good reason: they give too much of the story away. I want to find out everything for myself. My way of testing whether I might like a book is to read the first page or two. Not an infallible test, I know.

R bunged V (Jake Proudlock), Tuesday, 20 January 2004 19:12 (sixteen years ago) link

I always find it amusing when one author blurbs an author on the other end of the talent spectrum. At the bookstore the other day, I noticed all three Jonathan Carroll books they had in stock were graced with a blurb by Pat Conroy. Carroll: witty, delightful SF writer. Conroy: hack. I can't imagine why Carroll's publisher thought he would be the person to convince others to buy these books. After all, anyone who might enjoy Carroll would be scared off immediately.

Jessa (Jessa), Tuesday, 20 January 2004 19:38 (sixteen years ago) link

Blurbs are fundamentally worthless, especially ones from newspaper critics. Sometimes I'll glance at a book if an author I particularly like has compared the work to that of ANOTHER author I particularly like - after all, an author isn't generally going to read the same sort of stuff they like - but most of the time it's not worth the effort. Read the first page, a page in the middle, and a page near the end, and take your judgement from there.

writingstatic (writingstatic), Wednesday, 21 January 2004 00:23 (sixteen years ago) link

Orgiastic, vague, or half-irrelevant blurbs are almost never useful-- I try very hard not to indict an author for the questionable decisions made by their publisher.

However, it does happen, every now and then, that I happen upon a book with favorable words from one or more authors I respect, oftentimes writers who don't necessarily appear very often on the backs of books. I haven't been steered wrong, for example, by a Brodkey blurb, or (much farther back) by Eliot's fairly impeccable selection of literary causes. Coover is also pretty reliable. Gass is, Elkin is. Lydia Davis is. Hawkes hated seemingly everything, including his own students' and friends' work, so you know to trust him if he's nice. (Whereas Pynchon, incidentally, is becoming less and less reliable, as he becomes more prolific in his blurbing, and the McSweeney's crew can't be trusted at all, at all, at all.)

On another note, as regards critics, the "famously testy" Ms. Kakutani is much more reliable than, say, Birkerts, who blathers often irresponsibly, Kakutani seems almost consciously to avoid writing anything quotable by a publisher unless she actually has a favorable opinion. Watch how the faint praise is derailed at every turn, how it's difficult to cobble together a subject, object, and verb in any convincing way. I don't necessarily agree with her opinions most of the time, but I usually trust that she meant them if I find them somewhere.

M.

Matthew K (mtk), Wednesday, 21 January 2004 16:21 (sixteen years ago) link

MobyLives a while back ran one of the most interesting pieces I've ever seen about blurbs.

I enjoy seeing the connections that get made by blurbs, but do hate the puffery. And the now-requisite 3-4 pages quoting praise at the front of trade pbk eds. of phenomenon books is really annoying.

Robomonkey (patronus), Thursday, 22 January 2004 17:52 (sixteen years ago) link

Most blurbs written by other authors (unless lifted from a review) will be polite favours to their shared editors, especially on first novels. Talented writers don't sit around all day reading proofs penned by hungry young egotist out to usurp their position. The first mass market paperbacks of 'Trainspotting' featured the fabulous 'the greatest book ever written... deserves to sell more than the Bible' [sic], credited to Rebel Inc, Welsh's first publishers. That should have killed the form forever, but sadly failed. I'd rather read the slatings, compressed, myself.

Snotty Moore, Saturday, 24 January 2004 03:33 (sixteen years ago) link

I'm with Matthew K regarding Kakutani's reviews (and, hence, her blurbs). If she trashs something I may or may not read it (doesn't seem to affect me either way) but if she raves about something it's more than likely I'll read it. I've found myself pretty much consistently agreeing with her when she finds a book worth speaking well about - but I disagree with her on some of those novels that she's torn to pieces. Other than her reviews, I tend to ignore blurbs unless they're the "Winner of ..." or "Finalist for ..." or "Shortlisted for ...," in which case I'll usually give the book a thumbing through.

I tend to look more at the publishing houses as opposed to the blurbs, if I'm looking for a new author - sounds snobbish, I know, but I've been pretty happy with the vast majority of the works published by Vintage (with the exception of their crime/mystery label, which I think needs to re-evaluate some of their authors) that I've read. I partcularly like their Vintage International and Vintage Contemporaries collections. Also, I tend to like Library of America publications.

I'm Passing Open Windows (Ms Laura), Saturday, 24 January 2004 05:15 (sixteen years ago) link

sixteen years pass...

https://i.imgur.com/DFKe322.jpg

thanks for the effort, barry

mookieproof, Thursday, 14 May 2020 00:37 (five months ago) link

I read blurbs. I like blurbs. They are often entertaining for their comical inarticulateness, especially the parades of one word superlatives. Whichever marketing genius culls these and slaps them on a book clearly thinks that a book which may be anywhere from 75,000 to 500,000 words can be summed up as "Stunning!" "Remarkable!" "Exquisite!" "Hilarious!"

Then, in among the cheap snippets that are like flecks of drool flung willy-nilly from the jowls of a St. Bernard dog as it shakes its ponderous head, or the dutifully ceremonial comments churned out by Kirkus Reviews, one sometimes finds genuinely admiring and perceptive commentaries or droll appreciations that, amazingly, convince me that the book was able to interest someone with the intellect and ability to read it in depth. Those are rare, but always helpful.

A is for (Aimless), Thursday, 14 May 2020 03:35 (five months ago) link

I would have frankly been scared to ask Malzberg for a blurb.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Friday, 15 May 2020 09:29 (five months ago) link

one month passes...

of brian aldiss, the guardian has this to say

'Our ablest SF writer'

mookieproof, Wednesday, 24 June 2020 00:54 (four months ago) link

One of these is a blurb on Marilynne Robinson's _Gilead_:

the exquisite tone of this mesmerising novel is remarkable
the exquisite tone of this remarkable novel is mesmerising
the remarkable tone of this exquisite novel is mesmerising
the remarkable tone of this mesmerising novel is exquisite
the mesmerising tone of this remarkable novel is exquisite
the mesmerising tone of this exquisite novel is remarkable

(it also has "A visionary work of dazzling originality")

Øystein, Wednesday, 24 June 2020 14:15 (four months ago) link

i vote b)

neith moon (ledge), Wednesday, 24 June 2020 14:47 (four months ago) link

I'm going with a) it just has the correct blurblike 'feel' to me, distributing the adjectives to their respective nouns with the greatest conventionality

the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless), Wednesday, 24 June 2020 20:00 (four months ago) link

agreed. f) as a second choice

mookieproof, Wednesday, 24 June 2020 20:09 (four months ago) link

I think f).

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Wednesday, 24 June 2020 20:16 (four months ago) link


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