Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The power of a blurb

For a word that sounds so nonsensical, "blurb" can be very powerful force.  The few simple words written by others can compel readers to pick up a book they otherwise might not have.  Just a few months ago, I picked up book based on the glowing blurb by Katie FForde and found the book (which shall remain nameless) so bad that I read only 20 pages and felt like I'd been led astray by my reliable pal Katie.  Others have missed the mark but have been inconsequential in my reading of a story.  Wench, a wonderful story about four slave women and their relationships with the men who owned them, used them, and had children with them, was blurbed to be a must-read for fans of The Help despite there being very little similarity between the two.

In some extreme cases, blurbs might cause paralyzing fear and anxiety about reading a book that's been so highly praised.  Alright, maybe not everyone would not stare down a book like a poisonous snake just because of the blurbs on it, but let me  justify myself here.  I recently checked out In the Rooms, a new book about a British literary agent living in New York who starts attending AA meetings to get to know a reclusive, Pulitzer Prize-winning author.  It was well-reviewed, but it took me days to pick it up because it was praised on its covers by Helen Fielding, author of the Bridget Jones books, and Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story (seriously, have I still not convinced you to read this?  Go put it on hold.  Really.).  Not only did these authors whom I respect have great things to say about the book, but it was also described as "part Nick Hornby, part Jay McInerney, and part vermouth."  The Library Journal review insisted it was recommended reading for Nick Hornby fans, as which I think I qualify.  So.  There it was.  The source of my anxiety: how does a book live up to that hype?  And what happens if I am expecting Fielding-meets-Shteyngart-meets-Hornby and I get...well, not that? 

Okay, okay, I know.  It's just a book.  I finally girded up my courage and read it.  And it was good.  It certainly wasn't the glory of all the cited authors combined, but it was good.  I could see where those authors were influential in Shone's witty, slightly acerbic, importance-of-everyday-life writing. But maybe the most important lesson is that, while I judge books by their titles and their covers, maybe I shouldn't judge a book by its blurbs.   

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