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Blurbs

I like reading the blurbs on the backs of books. Maybe I shouldn't:

The most prominent authors are inundated with manuscripts [to blurb], far more than they can ever read, especially if they hope to get on with their real job -- which is, of course, writing their own books. Many have adopted a blanket no-blurb policy, and most of these will at least occasionally wind up departing from that policy, usually for personal reasons. They might do it for a good friend or a former student, or as a favor to their editor or agent.

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.

The context here is an incredibly overwrought blurb from an author, Nicole Krauss, whom I like very much. I'm not actually sure I'd want to read a book if the experience is akin to "hav[ing] yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence." By contrast, Krauss's "A History of Love" is just a very good novel that doesn't go groping around in your essence. Recommended.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 13, 2010; 4:08 PM ET
Categories:  Books  
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Comments

"A History of Love" is an excellent book, but I would argue that it does grope around at your essence a little bit. In the best possible way.

I'm a sucker for the blurb, though; if one of my favorite authors writes an extremely favorable comment on a book, then I really am more likely to grab it off the bookshelf. But then, even if it's the result of personal connections through editors and graduate programs, maybe that will result in - in subtle ways - a similar writing style or philosophy that touches me personally.

Posted by: madjoy | July 13, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

P.S. Now that that blurb has been publicized, I'm also significantly more likely to consider acquiring "To the End of the Land"

Posted by: madjoy | July 13, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Usually the main blurb is given to the most famous of the authors providing comments, and the remainder of the authors are consigned to the subblurbs

Posted by: bdballard | July 13, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I'd long assumed author blurbs were mostly an "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine" sort of thing, and ignored them, looking for exceprts from real book reviews instead.

Although, a positive blurb from James Fallows did help me decide to get _Let the Seas Make a Noise_, which was fantastic. But then, from reading his blog, I bet Fallows wouldn't just write a blurb without really meaning it.

Posted by: dt4211 | July 13, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Confession time: I once ghostwrote a blurb, at the request of the publisher, for a prominent author/academic who wanted to contribute but didn't have the time, and whose name I won't reveal. He liked it so much, they asked me to ghostwrite two other of the blurbs. I declined. This is not a part of my business I would wish to expand or make permanent. But I'll admit it was fun, just once.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | July 13, 2010 10:58 PM | Report abuse

I know I bought Matthew Yglesias' "Heads In the Sand" on the strength of Ezra's blurb.

Posted by: sgettler | July 14, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

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