this morning, novelist Bill Morris
about the "artistic, personal and ethical minefield" of being asked to blurb afriend's book.
The essay contains a priceless bit of history: The first appearanceof the word blurb .
The phrase originates with the 1906 book Are You a Bromide ?, by humorist Gelett Burgess. On the cover, awoman identified as "Miss Belinda Blurb" cups her hand to her mouth, megaphonestyle, and announces the following:
YES, this is a "BLURB"! All OtherPublishers commit them. Why Shouldn't We? Say! Ain't this book a 90H.P., six-cylinder Seller? ... WE consider that this man Burgess has got HenryJames locked into the coal bin, telephoning for "Information." WE expect tosell 350 copies of this great, grand book. It has gush and go to it, ithas that Certain Something which makes you want to crawl through thirty milesof dense tropical jungle and bite somebody in the neck. No hero, noheroine, nothing like that for OURS, but when you've READ this masterpiece,you'll know what a BOOK is, and you'll sic it onto your mother-in-law, yourdentist and the pale youth who dips hot air into Little Marjorie until 4 A.M.in the front parlour. This book has 42-carat THRILLS in it. Itfairly BURBLES. Ask the man at the counter what HE thinks of it! He's seen Janice Meredith faded to a mauve magenta. He's seen BLURBSbefore, and he's dead wise. He'll say:
This Book is the Proud PurplePenultimate!!
"Dipping hot air into Little Marjorie," by the way, is areference to apopular book from 1891, not (we don't think, anyway) some sort of deviantact from the turn of the century.
In trying to figure out whether book blurbs actually makea difference to readers , Morris polls a bunch of his friends. One, a sci-fireader, notes that praise from certain authors will pique her interest, butothers actively turn her off. "UrsulaK. Le Guin is a perfect example," the woman says. "If sheliked a book, I know it's politically correct, female-empowering, pretentiouscrap."
Half the crap galleys I've seen inthe past year were blurbed by one human: A.J. Jacobs. #timeforanintervention
What about youare there writers whose quoted praise wouldmake you put a book back on the shelf? Or writers whose recommendations youalways trust?
Image courtesy of the Libraryof Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
TODAY IN SLATE
The Right Target
Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.
The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget
It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is
I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights
Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.
Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.
It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice
Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.
In Defense of HR
Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.