Burbling Blurbs

It may shock you, but I do sometimes write about matters where I am NOT the world’s greatest expert. But I may have a few tiny insights to pass along, and I do this, in hopes of encouraging you to seek fuller answers. (Note: I’ve already checked Wikipedia; you’ll have to look elsewhere.)

Anyway, once in a while, somebody picks up a book—usually a new edition of something they’ve loved for years—stares at the back of the paperback or the endflap of the jacket, and demands “Who WRITES these things? THAT’S not what this book is about!”

In my college days, I was informed that the summary of the book seen on the dust jacket flap or the back of the book was written by employees or free-lancers the publisher paid at a rate of $25 per book. That provided was no great incentive to READ the book involved. A quick summary, filtered through the current version of “How can I make this sound as much as possible like Twilight?”, is all that is necessary. So what if the result bears only the slightest resemblance to what’s in the book? Why should the paragraph be any more accurate than that cover, showing a Gothic moonlit forest scene when the book takes place on the beach? The idea is to get somebody to BUY the thing, after all. What they make of what’s inside is secondary.

(This can lead not only to hasty writing but to hasty spelling. I ran into one of those southern Gothic generational sagas in which the heroine, it says, discovers “deep-seeded problems” in her genealogy. Freudian, really.)

For a good, solid “Huh?”, though, you can’t beat that sentence all in caps with an exclamation point at the end. Generally found on the front cover, THAT is designed by marketing mavens. Each of these turned up in the last few months, causing jaws to drop. But someone in a suit thoght this would get you to buy the book.

“Thrilling Suspense in the World’s Most Tallest Building!”

“The First Biography of a Gay AIDS Victim by the Man’s Heterosexual Sister!”

“Winner of the Irene Pobbletoes Contemporary Urban Fiction Award!” (name changed to protect the guilty)

“This Book Is Not Only a Necessity…It’s a Must!”

“A New Thriller By The Master Mistress of Mystery!”

“The Timeliest Book of Our Time!”

You can certainly find others as good or better. While you’re looking, could you research a few questions for me? What was the first book that was “Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture!”? (And has any book—outside a Mad Magazine parody—ever used the line “Soon to be a Minor Motion Picture!” Has any book had “Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture!” on it for more years before the movie was actually made than The Princess Bride?) What book has been called a “Rediscovered Classic!” in the most different republications? How many books advertised as “Unexpurgated!” were never expurgated anywhere in the first place? Who is supposed to be thrilled by “First Time In Paperback!”?

And was it Chad Oliver, Ray Bradbury, or Carl Sandburg who wrote of astronauts landing on a distant planet where civilization had died, where they found just one page out of one book out of all the libraries that had once flourished and held Book Fairs on that world? And all the astronauts could read on the page before it crumbled into dust forever was that “Millions of people had read the book, and millions of people would read the book”. 

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