Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Quest for the Good Blurb

It is on the back of the edition of Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles I'm currently reading that I have finally found what I long believed was a myth: a good blurb.

The Quest for the Good Blurb has been an informal search of mine for several years with one simple (and one complex) goal: to find a good blurb (or to find the practical justification for blurbs. Either/or.). I've never really been a fan of blurbs, whether because I think they blemish an otherwise clean book exterior or simply because they are almost always completely and entirely full of nonsense. Blurbs have a tendency to be dramatic and overwrought - publishers will choose the most awkward-yet-gushing phrases to slap on back (and sometimes, god forbid, front) covers. More often than not, these blurbs are also heavily edited and an experienced reader can taste the missing (and perhaps somewhat less laudatory) sentiments that used to be housed in place of those ellipses.

But then here's a blurb that (in my mind) actually works. One that even if I hadn't received numerous recommendations to read the book would probably have had me intrigued:
"Critics have variously likened him to Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler, Arthur C. Clarke,Don DeLillo, Philip K. Dick, Bret Easton Ellis and Thomas Pynchon - a roster so ill assorted as to suggest Murakami is in fact an original." - The New York Times
Whoever wrote this sentence* is a genius. Or, rather, whoever picked this as a blurb really knows what they're doing. This is the anti-blurb, an honest acknowledgement of critics' obsession with comparing authors when they really should just stand alone. And yet it provides a potential reader with a kind of framework by which to judge Murakami's writing, even as it begs the reader to do the opposite. The final message, meanwhile, is wonderfully suggestive: it tells me that something about Murakami's writing is special. That it's different. What kind of reader won't fall for a blurb like that?

* Which, it turns out, is slightly edited: "Western critics searching for parallels have variously..." is the original, significantly more accurate quote

1 comment:

  1. I agree - that is the perfect blurb! And very fitting for Murakami. Not many authors deserve a blurb like that, but he he does :-)

    I admit I also fall for any blurb that happens to mention Murakami - some use his name in very unfitting circumstances, but I have occasionally been rewarded with a gem.

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