Friday, July 27, 2012

A Field Guide to North American Blurbs

Jake Adam York - July 21, 2012 - The Kenyon Review

As I’m preparing two blurbs this weekend, I’m looking at a lot of blurbs and thinking about the genre. Maybe, there are some observations to be made about the varieties of blurb so you’ll recognize them in the wild.

Maybe you’ll comment, sharing some of your favorite blurbs…

The genre of the recommendation letter, a friend once observed, is hyperbole. Everything has to be stated in the superlative, so one reads for degrees of overstatement, hyper- and hypo-hyperbole, becoming a progressively more sensitive seismograph, searching out quavers and tremors or microscopic proportion.
The blurb is a clear cousin or sibling, at least in the most common form in which sparrows of adjectives crossbreed with surprising frequency, occasionally to be found perching with monikers and epithets (the good kind).
The paperback edition of Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow lavishes its (richly deserved) lavishings in one-liners:
Nakedly honest … Superbly charged. —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Impossible to put down. —Los Angeles Times
An amazing, amazing read. —Jennifer Weiner, NBC’s Today
It’s really powerful. —Diane Rehm (NPR)
An exciting read all the way through. —Chicago Tribune

This last is almost a meta-blurb, suggesting in its strange capitalization (or is this the work of the book designer or the marketing department?) the always-already capitalized nature of the blurb, the raised-voice praise that may always only say however many words are within “this is good.”
Even in a more substantial blurb, like this one (with which I heartily agree), written by Melissa Pritchard for Ciatlin Horrocks’s This Is Not Your City (Sarabande 2011), the lavishing raises its volume:

Caitlin Horrocks is that literary phenomenon: a master storyteller. In each of these eleven short fictions, she lends confident style, mature perspective, and myriad voices to people in situations and circumstances we might otherwise turn from or never know of. This Is Not Your City is smart, entertaining, and emotionally mesmerizing—a superb, daredevil immersion steeped in grace.

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