The end of the month is nigh so this is a reminder for the Woodbridge Book Group. If you are planning to come along for our delayed first meeting of the year on Monday 26 February, please reply to this email and I'll confirm the details (it's been a while since we were last together!).
We'll be discussing 'Transcendent Kingdom' by Yaa Gyasi and it'll be interesting to see whether we agree with the praise quotes listed on the cover - it 'really sings', 'a novel for all times', 'absolutely transcendent'. They're not really telling us much are they?
Often, though, we've found that the blurbs on the back cover or the quotes on the front have left us at best puzzled and at worst misled! We rarely have the same sense of humour as the people championing a book, for example.
There was a great article about blurbs, reviews and praise quotes written by Helen Lewis for The Atlantic recently, an extract printed in The Week.
She claims 'blurbs have always been controversial - too clichéd, too subject to cronyism - but lately, as review space shrinks and the noise level of the marketplace increases, the pursuit of ever more fawning praise from luminaries has become absurd'.
Every book is important, it seems, or 'electrifying, essential, profound, a masterpiece, vital, compelling, revelatory, myth-busting, masterful, elegantly written, brave, lucid and engaging, indispensable, enlightening, courageous, powerful'. (While I rarely use many of these words, it makes me a little self-conscious in posting my reviews after reading this article!).
Because there are far fewer pages dedicated to serious and considered book reviews in our newspapers, publishers look to celebrities and established writers to endorse new titles (who do so in the hope and expectation that the praise will be reciprocated!?). And this mainly to reach booksellers and online promotions - they're not really thinking about the ordinary reader, it seems.
Though it's tempting to think this is yet another example of life today being topsy turvy, we should be mindful of good old George Orwell. Apparently he agreed with his friend and fellow writer Cyril Connolly that they would 'gush' about each other's new books. "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours," he wrote, apparently. And for other examples of historic puff quotes, and much more, Helen Lewis suggests we look to a study about book marketing, called 'Blurb Your Enthusiasm' by Louise Wilder. I'll add it to my list...
Thank you for reading.