Today on Salon, Laura Miller attempts to disabuse readers of the notion that author blurbs are a good way to choose a book. The topic arises because Nicole Krauss (noted Under-40 novelist) recently earned widespread mockery for her comically effusive blurbing of David Grossman’s To the End of the Land. The blurb begins:
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.
We will spare you the rest.
Miller rightly points out that this is goofy. Whatever Krauss claims, Grossman is not necessarily able to “look inside a person and discover the unique essence of her humanity”; readers will not necessarily feel that to read the book “is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being.” But this is beside the point. More important is the discrepancy between how book buyers perceive blurbs (“Hey! SALMAN RUSHDIE likes this book! It must rule”) and what blurbs actually represent:
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.
Break our hearts why don’t you, Laura Miller?
Proposed rule of thumb: trust recommendations only if the author proves they REALLY mean it, by teaching the novel or writing essays about it or trying to get it back in print after a long disappearance. Otherwise, no dice.
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