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The Blurb

A quick note on the blurb—originally intended as a rounding out of “Titles.” But we were a bit rattled by seeing readers on this site. As we’ve already noted, the distinction between title and blurb is fuzzy, especially as we march back in time or consider very cleverly titled books and those that manage to turn the title into a blurb. The main distinction is that the blurb isn’t written by the editors or the author but by friends induced to high-flown praise by various stratagems like, “If you blurb my opus, I’ll blurb yours.”

For an authoritative take on blurbs, not least a wonderfully brief but effective example of one, we once more turn to Roy Blount Jr.’s Alphabet Juice, a book that must be open at your side if you even hope to be witty about books, words, or phrases. (Now that last would count as a blurb if The Editors of Dwarf Planet Press amounted to a hill of beans in the Kingdom of Celebrity—which, alas, they don’t.) In any case, Roy informs us under the entry titled “blurbs” that the word was coined by Gelett Burgess (1866-1951), a humorist, sort of in the Ogden Nash category. Here’s a sample:

My Feet

My Feet they haul me Round the House,
They Hoist me up the Stairs;
I only have to Steer them, and
They Ride me Everywheres!

Roy reports—and this is something of a blurb about a blurb within a blurb—about his own most highly rated…blurb.  He says:

In his book-talk blog on nytimes.com, Dwight Garner actually gave one of my old blurbs, for Peter Dexter’s Paris Trout, a rave: “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen words of praise as insanely great as … ‘I put it down once to wipe off the sweat.’ Do they give awards for that kind of thing? No, they don’t. [p. 38]

We might apply Paul Rodriguez’s comment about titles here and suggest that the talents that produce the insanely great books may not be the same that produce the insanely great blurbs. “Insanely great?” We think that that phrase was coined by Steve Jobs and applied to just about every new product Apple Computer ever brought to market. 

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