Thursday, February 16, 2006

Blurbs that burble

When you combine some of the stuff reviewers write with the extracts that publishers choose to display on book covers, you get intriguing results - some of which defeat their own purpose by driving screaming customers away from bookstores instead of encouraging them to part with their money within. Here are some of my favourite book-jacket blurbs (or How Not to Promote a Book):

The analogical
"Don Delillo’s new novel is a remarkable feat of engineering ... he chisels and carves until he has made a cathedral of prose...a towering structure...the view at the top is sensational" - Allison Pearson, on Underworld
(The reviewer is now senior editor, Architectural Digest)

"Eggers’ frisbee sentences sail, spin, hover, circle and come back to the reader like gifts of gravity and grace" - The New York Times on Dave Eggers’ You Shall Know Our Velocity
(Uh...boomerangs come back. Frisbees just crash-land clumsily)

The wide-eyed
"The terror just mounts and mounts" - Stephen King on Peter Straub’s Ghost Story
(A comedy of terrors from King, who shoots his own cause - popular and genre literature - in the foot here by chasing potential readers away from a modern horror classic)

The rhetorical
"Philip Pullman. Is he the best storyteller ever?" - The Observer, on The Amber Spyglass
(Turn page upside down for answer)

The knowledgeable
"It is, in fact, ONE OF THE TWO MOST TERRIFYING POPULAR NOVELS OF OUR TIME, the other being The Exorcist..." - Stephen King on Hannibal
(Mr King again, still scared, and using all-caps to show it this time. Blurbs like this one indicate that apart from having written more than any other living writer, King - in his time off from getting mowed down by trucks - also apparently reads everything ever published)

The much-too-specific
"I have marked 25 passages to come back to, which I will do again and again" - Rosie Boycott, on Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh

The pithy
"Good stories abound" - The New Statesman on David Niven’s The Moon’s a Balloon

The cautionary
"You may find yourself gripping this so tightly your hands hurt" - Miami Herald on Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled

The alliterative
"The master of metaphor, the sultan of simile" - San Antonio Current on Tom Robbins’ Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas
(The Agha of Alliteration?)

The exclamation-marked!
"Astonishing futures and unique societies!" - New Encyclopedia of Science on Bruce Sterling’s Globalhead
(would you read a book recommended by the New Encyclopedia of Science?)

"Brainy stuff!" - Entertainment Weekly on The Da Vinci Code
(the reviewing publication specialises in the "taut and terrific page-turner" variety of review capsules)

Inspired by the book’s subject matter
"Artfully weaves psychology, politics, medicine and music theory into a polyphonic composition" - Newsday, on Daniel Mason’s The Piano Tuner

Sounds deep, means nothing
"A charmingly unique sort of minor masterpiece, a tour de force of the transcendence of the tour de force" - John Hollander on Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate

One word to blurb them all
"Wonderful" - The Spectator
"Magnificent" - The Observer
"Sumptuous" - New Yorker
"Unforgettable" - The Guardian
(All from the book jacket of Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red)

[These one-word blurbs remind me of how a review sentence like "this pathetic travesty was purportedly inspired by the superb French movie..." can make its way onto a film poster in this form: "....superb...."]

The wordy
"A dizzyingly capacious novel ... vast, jokey, impassioned, angry, ironic, philosophical, linguistic carnival, which tracks the tectonic plates of characters and cultures as they collide and reshape themselves in startlingly unforeseen ways" - Catherine Lockerbie on Salman Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet
(a dizzyingly capacious blurb, also partly inspired by subject matter - the ‘tectonic plates’ reference the book’s earthquake imagery)

Should’ve carried a spoiler warning
"The moment the Titanic bursts to the surface is quite breathtaking..." - International Herald Tribune on Clive Cussler’s Raise the Titanic

The irreverent
"By contrast with the White Death, Moby Dick was a pussycat" - Washington Post on Peter Benchley’s Jaws

From the Acid House
"Tom Wolfe is a groove and a gas. Everyone should send him money and other fine things. Hats off to Tom Wolfe!" - Terry Southern on Wolfe’s psychedelic classic The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
(Who’s been puffing the magic dragon then?)

Of course there are millions more - perhaps even one for each book ever published. But this is all I have time for right now. Also see this.


  1. As for the Hollander quote, there's meaning. It's Hollanderese, he tends to write in a sort of code. Being deep (or not) is what the quote's about.

  2. Chesire, depth being indicated by how obscure the meaning can be? I have no idea what "tour de force of the transcendence of the tour de force" could be referring to.

    Unless it's an allusion to something that those in the know would wisely nod their heads to, and the flummoxed rest suitably awed by Hollanderese :).

    These are hilarious I loved the last one for Wolfe.

  3. Hey, how about doing one on Indian blurbs/books? That would be really interesting & fun!

  4. Ha, another coincidence. I was thinking of pretty much the same subject yesterday. Especially after a Seinfeld episode in which Elaine needs to read a book and review it to get a job. She doesn't, and gets her review from Kramer. Neat post this

  5. I still remember the blurb on one of my first Alistair McLean's novel. I had borrowed it from a friend and it was only because it had really interested me. Cant seem to find it though.