The Most Obsequious Blurb Ever to Grace a Book Cover

The Most Obsequious Blurb Ever to Grace a Book Cover

Behold, the blurb that launched a thousand mocking blog posts: "Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it nothing can ever be the same..." Book blurbs: Old media's version of linkbaiting.

The Guardian's book blog is having a contest to out-praise History of Love writer Nicole Krauss (and wife of author Jonathan Safran Foer), who wrote this blurb for novelist David Grossman's new book:

Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before. To the End of the Land is a book of this magnitude. David Grossman may be the most gifted writer I've ever read; gifted not just because of his imagination, his energy, his originality, but because he has access to the unutterable, because he can look inside a person and discover the unique essence of her humanity. For twenty-six years he has been writing novels about what it means to defend this essence, this unique light, against a world designed to extinguish it. "To the End of the Land" is his most powerful, shattering, and unflinching story of this defense. 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.

Which, wow. I sort of want to read it now? But this is the wrong reaction, Salon's Laura Miller tells us in a column explaining why all book blurbs are bullshit:

Once a reasonably finished draft of a manuscript has been completed, the author, at his publisher's insistence, begins the grueling and humiliating process of begging blurbs from better-known writers. [...] So when publishing people look at the lineup of testimonials on the back of a new hardcover, they don't see hints as to what the book they're holding might be like. Instead, they see evidence of who the author knows, the influence of his or her agent, and which MFA program in creative writing he or she attended. In other words, blurbs are a product of all the stuff people claim to hate about publishing: its cliquishness and insularity.

Miller goes on to list faint praise code words ("sweet" means the blurber secretly hated the book) and other open secrets from the publishing industry. She concludes that the "62 percent of book buyers [who] choose titles on the basis of blurbs" need to stop doing that, so the saccharine menace that is the economy of blurbs may finally be expunged. But without blurbs, where would well-connected writers rehearse the fine art of hyperbole? It's like a writing workshop exercise: Can you out-praise a fifth grader on a sugar high? It's the old media version of link baiting—which is, by the way, harder than it looks. Do you know how long it took me to write a sufficiently hyperbolic headline for this post? So long. Longer than the Wall of China, longer than the longest wait at the boringest DMV you've even been to, longer even than the longest continuous filament doubled over and knotted upon itself many times in the World's Largest Ball of Twine in Darwin, Minnesota. Really long, y'all. [Guardian, Salon]