Yup, that’s a “blurb”. We see them everywhere, but tend to notice them most on movie advertisements. We ignore them or laugh at them, but for better or for worse they influence our consumption habits.
Seeing the blurb on this dime store pulp made me chuckle – “damned with faint praise” is the first thing that came to mind. You’d think they might have come up with something a bit more riveting, but what it shows is the absolute necessity in some editor’s mind that a blurb – any blurb – must grace the cover.
The word “blurb” itself was coined by American humorist Gelett Burgess, author of Goops and How to Be Them (you can see a sample here.)
Burgess handed out a limited run of his book Are You a Bromide? to a trade organization dinner, and the dust jacket included this image:
Blurbs are everywhere, and well-known authors are often solicited for blurbs about other books. The New York Times published “Riveting!’: The Quandary of the Book Blurb,” a series of essays on blurbing including a piece by Stephen King; the upshot is that blurbs are a necessary evil, but they can have a certain value. On the other hand, however, sometimes the writers should probably have stayed in bed.
In their famous parody Bored of the Rings, Harvard Lampoon lost no opportunity to make fun of blurbs themselves, publishing this page of blurbs in the front of their book:
“Much have I travelled in the realms of gold, and many goodly states and kingdoms seen; round many western islands have I been, which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. Oft of one wide expanse had I been told, which deep browed Homer ruled as his demesne. Yet never did I breathe its pure serene, till I heard Bored of the Rings speak out loud and bold!…”
JOHN KEATS, Manchester Nightingale
“This book… tremor… Manichean guilt… existential… pleonastic… redundancy…”
ORLANDO DI BISCUIT, Hobnob
“A slightly more liberal reading of the leash-laws would keep books like this off the stands. I don’t know how you’ll fare, but my copy insists on long walks around suppertime, bays at the moon, and has spoiled every sofa cushion in the place,”
WILMOT PROVISO, The Rocky Mountain Literary Round-Up
“0ne of the two or three books…”
FRANK O’PRUSSIA, Dublin Gazette
“Truly a tale for our times … as we hang suspended over the brink on a Ring of our own, threatened by dragons and other evil people, and, like Frito and Goodgulf, fighting a cruel Enemy who will stop at nothing to get his way,”
ANN ALAGGI, The Old Flag
“Extremely interesting from almost every point of view.”
PROFESSOR HAWLEY SMOOT, Oer Loosely Enforced Libel Law!
Scott Adams, author of Dilbert, sponsored a reader contest to provide a blurb for his book Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!; the grand prize winner was Nicolas Feia who came up with this gem:
“‘What a perfect companion for my afternoon milk bath,” I thought while picking up this little gem on my way home from work. Within the hour I had laughed myself into a neck-deep tomb of butter. My wife came in, sipping her eggnog, and topped me with meringue.”
The others, however, are good for a laugh as well.
“Keep reading this blog and you’ll soon see that Mark Twain has met his match!”
SIMPLOT Q. ANALEMMA, On the Rising Value of Badgers, Mushrooms and Snakes in the Modern Commodity Market
The Old Wolf has spoken.