• Book Blurbs: Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments 5 comments

    Lansdale BlurbA couple years back our pal Nico Vreeland wrote a piece about why the jacket copy of books almost always pisses him off. In particular he doesn’t care for book blurbs using the words “’dazzling’ or ‘heartbreaking’ or ‘innovative,’ or any of the other bland superlatives that muddy up dust jackets.” In the comments, Publishing Perspectives‘ editor Ed Nawotka says “So much of this has to do with the erosion of our critical vocabulary. Too often we fall back on ‘dancing adjectives’ to get our point across.”

    Blurbs from other writers are often the worst offenders. Remember these hysterical words from Nicole Krauss on David Grossman’s To the End of the Land? “Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same,” Krauss barfed. “To read it is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being.” (Full text here, if you can stomach it.)

    There have been times when an overly effusive blurb has nearly caused me to skip a book. For example, when Alice Sebold wrote about Yellow Birds, “All of us owe Kevin Powers our heartfelt gratitude.” I sure as *&(^&(*^ don’t need Alice Sebold telling me what I owe, and to whom. Especially when she’s talking about such a subpar novel.

    I had an odd experience last week. In 2012 I reviewed a Joe Lansdale book: it’s a mildly entertaining novel, and the review is heavy on plot summation because there’s not much else to say about it. The review does make it clear, though, that the book is boilerplate Lansdale: “By now Lansdale can [write these books] with his eyes shut.” But then I close the piece with a twee–and wholly unnecessary–line. A line the publisher must have liked, because when they sent me the book just ahead of its paperback release, I found my name on the back cover. (See photo above.)

    I thought it was pretty cool, to see my name and words there above Dean Koontz’s. And I still do. (Though it likely speaks to Koontz’s increasing irrelevance.)

    But! Is this a book I’d recommend? Rarely. It would make for decent airport reading. It would serve as a step up for Koontz fans. The story is engaging at times, and I’d watch a film adaptation. But I wouldn’t like to read the book again. Nor have I ever suggested anyone else do so.

    Except now I kind of am doing that. And to random strangers, to boot.

    This post really has no moral. Or, if it does, it’s a moral that’s been repeated many times before: Don’t buy books based on blurbs. (I could even trot out “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”)

    We did a Facebook poll last year using the following question:

    How much do blurbs influence your book purchases?

    A) Effusive blurbs —> a book worth buying
    B) If a writer I like blurbs a book I’ll buy the book
    C) Blurbs are nothing but cashed-in favors & useless cliches
    D) What is a blurb?
    E) What is a book?
    F) What is the what?

    A few of your answers:

    Cynthia: “I guess I’d say A. I believe cover art and blurbs sell books. Unless the book is a runaway best seller, the cover and the blurbs are the first things to grab us and entice us to open the cover.”

    Susan: “Seen too many bad books with exciting blurbs and fancy art, so I take those with a grain of salt. If the basic premise intrigues me, I download the sample chapters and give it a whirl (or open to a random page if it’s a paper book).”

    David: “B. Although I’ve come across some favourite authors by accident. I discovered Andrew Taylor by swapping a novel with someone I was sitting next to on a very delayed train.”

    George: “I’m going with D, although I’ve probably seen them in books so many times.”

    Daniel: “Definitely C… In fact, C for other things I see in print as well.”

    Nico (yes, the same Nico): “I think if you did a study, effusiveness of blurbs would have zero correlation with the quality of the book. But god help me, I do get swayed by them.”

    I’m with Daniel on this one. And Nico. And Susan.

    Now let’s hear from the rest of youse. Blurbs: Love ’em? Hate ’em? Do they sucker you in? Do you manage to ignore them? Do they sometimes make you want to tear a book in half?


    0 0 votes
    Article Rating
    Notify of

    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    Carrie Winters

    I’m with Daniel on C), and the theory that that’s how the world works.

    But I’ve also bought books based on blurbs, I’m sure. Can’t think of one offhand, but it’s happened. I’m also sure I’ve bought books based on the cover art, which is even stupider.

    David Duhr

    A few comments from the Facebook: Amanda: “Although I totally agree with the bland superlatives comment, I have to say that when I was in Korea with limited access to only extremely overpriced books in English from a strange sort of eclectic market of pretty much any writer from any English speaking nation, the blurb was everything. When I read, “If you knew you would die from reading this book, would you?” I was like, ‘Hell, yes! I’ll take that one for my $40 American bucks.’ Great book! I guess what I’m getting at is that when you’re paying more… Read more »

    Martin Barkley

    The blurbs for David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King run three pages and are elevated from dust jacket status to the pages right before the august text itself. This is a trend, I find, in the presentation of blurbs; they’re deemed important enough now to waste pulp and run on for several pages, right after the printer’s imprint/copyright page. And sometimes, in addition to the book in hand, the blurbs praise other books written by the same author. This seems like a deceptive bait-and-switch to me; I should be able, at least, to read the blurbs I paid for, and… Read more »

    J. Sommers

    I don’t mind seeing blurbs/review material for other books by the same writer. If I read a book and enjoy it, then reading a few notes about some of his/her other work might tell me where to go next. But sure, I can also easily find that info on the Internet, so I get it. What I do fucking hate with a burning intensity is when the back cover of a book is nothing but blurbs. No plot summation, no author bio. And that is especially irritating when you also can’t find plot info on the front flap either. “We’re… Read more »

    Charity Kountz

    With ebooks increasing in prevalence and popularity, blurbs are becoming less relevant. Book reviewers have yet to fill this void with valid and relevant content but hopefully that’s coming. The sooner the better if you ask me. Which I guess you did, huh? :)

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x