This is such a fun little book about blurbs written by a copy writer who is obviously well-read and thought a lot about blurbs. You would if you wrote them for a living.
The book looks at all aspects of the outside of a book, the front cover, inside flap, quotes and blurbs providing lots of examples and quotes from others who have written about the same things. The upshot is … it’s an art not a science. And, what’s even funnier – the quotes and blurb on the back of the book all do the things that it is suggested not to do!
The front of a book is described as a ‘pocket-sized billboard’ which has about 10 seconds to catch the eye of a possible reader and so is critical. They often reflect the wonderful interplay between words and images and as Ann Patchett let us know in These Precious Days, if a book isn’t selling well, they are changed when the paperback edition comes out. I always look now. I am really interested in the covers for 1984 – there are a lot – and how they are the same and different. The Penguin one is very interesting.
The title is so important as a summary for the book and must say something about it. When teaching children to read, it is an important part of understanding the book to be able to understand how the title fits with what you have read and so I often find myself questioning titles. The last book I read, A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville is just such a book. It seems to me that the room made of leaves is not the most important part of the story although it does have significance – it is where she met her lover for their trysts in the Australian countryside and where she discovered a life that she didn’t have with her husband. But, I can’t help that think that her learning how to control and manipulate her husband to purchase the space to lead her own life and become a world-class sheep breeder was a much more important aspect of the book, as was the massacre of Aborigines whose land they had taken led by her husband. I think the title should reflect that more than it does. Readers and their opinions, huh!
We finally get onto the blurbs where we look at some of the rules/guidelines all of which are broken in wonderful ways. They are:
- the opening line should convey the voice of the book (Stephen King)
- it should create an immediate mood of mystery, confusing or surprising
For blurb writers it is useful to think like a journalist and write line a novelist to say,
. . . come in and find out more.p44
I looked at the blurbs of the books in my To Be Read pile. Three didn’t have a blurb as such but only quotes from other authors about the book’s brilliance. Deborah Levy’s on The Man Who Saw Everything was perhaps the one that most invited me in.
He touched my hair as if he were touching a statue or something without a heartbeat . . .blurb on The Man who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy
I am left with loads of questions I want answered. Is it the man who has no heart? Does he love her? Is this about love? Artificial Intelligence? Is she she the one who is found lacking? I need to read it to find out.
The blurb for The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty is not on the back of the book but the inside front flap.
Set over one sweltering week in July and culminating in a bizarre act of violence that finally changes everything. The Rabbit Hutch is a savagely beautiful and bitingly funny snapshot of contemporary America, a gorgeous and provocative tale of loneliness and longing, entrapment and, ultimately, freedom.blurb for The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty
I would have preferred the blurb to end at everything where I would have been left wanting more. I hate the sort of blurb that tells me what to think about the book as if I can’t work it out for myself once I have read it. Will I find it funny? Interestingly, the protaganist is an obituary writer.
Probably the most boring blurb was on A Winter Grave by Peter May. I am a big fan of his writing so it didn’t put me off picking up the book in the library but even so – it seems a bit cliched.
A Tomb of Ice
A young meteorologist checking a mountain top weather station in Kinlochlevin discovers a body entombed in ice.
A Dying Detective
Cameron Brodie, a Glasgow detective, sets out on a hazardous journey to the isolated and ice-bound village. He has his own reasons for wanting to investigate a murder case so far from his beat.
An Agonizing Reckoning
Brodie must face up to the ghosts of his past and to a killer determined to bury for ever the chilling secret that his investigtion threatens to expose.blurb on A Winter Grave by Peter May
The headings are in red, using a limited power of colour for the genre – as is the heading on the front cover.
I don’t come across many book covers that annoy me but did recently and that is the one for Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus that I loved. Like many, I find it hard to classify the book – is it chick lit? Is it a serious feminist tract? Who is it aimed at?
I like the ‘In’ set out as if it is from the periodic table but find that the use of Nigella Lawson for a quote leads us to think sexy cook which is not what the book was about. Nina Stibbe seems to get about a bit. She also has a quote on the front of Blurb Your Enthusiasm so now I am wondering if she is an author for hire for quotes. Do they get paid for them? When I looked her up on Wikipedia I see that she won the Comedy Women in Print Prize for Reasons to be Cheerful and so assume that she is here to suggest to those of us in the know that these books are deemed to be funny. Again, that is not the point of Lessons in Chemistry although there is humour in it.
I heard that Garmus has said that she wasn’t happy with the book’s cover but as her first novel, she probably didn’t feel in control of it. I hope that she takes control for the next one.
Anyway, back to Blurb Your Enthusiasm. I couldn’t help but think the following blurb fits A Room Made of Leaves perfectly
Poor, unlucky and alone, our heroine is dismissed by the world as the lowest of the low. But eventually she triumphs over adversity and her fortunes change. At last, her exceptional nature is revealed, and her inner goodness is recognised.p273
Yes. It’s Cinderella and of course A Room Made of Leaves is a Cinderella story or a rags to riches plot as described by Christopher Booker in The Seven Basic Plots – one of the most told tales in the world.
One of the best bits of the book, and there are many, is the appendix where six copywriters have been asked to write a blurb for the book, including one AI programme. Suffice it to say, the AI blurb is a load of rubbish and the rest are fantastic but all very different.
An excellent book.
For more books about books, see this list here.