A guide to the art and artifice of writing blurbs for books.
1. Use “I should have known” at the start of any quote you decide to give. As in “I should have known Meghan Askew would write the best vampire-leprechaun novel of the decade.” Or “I should have known that I should have known that ‘Maura’s Tears’ would sweep me away into a maelstrom of [whatever].”
2. To keep yourself somewhat closer to being honest, use “of the decade” only for books published in years ending in 1. Or 2, at a stretch.
3. Use “thrilling,” even if the book is about nucleopeptides that mimic topoisomerase. “Thrillingly” is OK, too.
4. Ditto “prodigious” except for books about child prodigies.
5. Come up with a clever variation of “I couldn’t put it down.” Some ideas: “I should have known that you wouldn’t be able to put it down, and neither would your aunt.” “It’s so thrilling, you’ll be afraid to pick it up. And when you do, you won’t be able to put it down.” “Go ahead–try it! Go ahead. I dare you. Try to put it down. Oh, you’re sure you can? You are? Well, let’s see it, then. What’s stopping you? Go ahead. There’s the table, and there’s nothing else on it–plenty of room. No one’s looking. You’re alone. So go ahead, by all means. See? I thought so!”
6. Make grand comparisons. Here is a menu of just some of the many books that may be used for grand comparisons: “War and Peace,” “The Joy of Cooking,” Deuteronomy, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” “Tropic of Cancer,” “Gilgamesh,” “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” “Peyton Place,” any book by Sinclair Lewis or John Irving, “Catch-22,” “A Brief History of Time,” “Go the F___ To Sleep.”
7. Always describe the process of becoming absorbed by the book. Some examples: “Fred James is one of the few writers who keep trying to set sail upon thrilling narrative waters alone, only to find readers swimming alongside and clambering to get on board.” “If the prodigious James Fredericks were a literary-journalistic shark, anyone who has started ‘The Agony and Ecstasy of Isometrics’ would instantly become his pilot fish.”
8. “Not since” is always good.
9. If you didn’t have time to read the book, open it completely at random, read whatever sentence your eye falls on–I just found “The man walked sideways, toward the corner of 7th and A”–transcribe it, and then say “Now, that’s what I call writin‘!”
10. For funny books, always say, “with an undercurrent of plangent melancholy.”
11. For sad books, always say, “with a prodigious comic undertone that in some measure redeems the melancholy.”
12. “Redeem” and “redemption” are always good. “Redemptive” is the best.
13. Assuming you are a writer, be bitter, as in “I might just as well string myself up–‘Damien’s Curse’ is that good.” Or “I threw my computer into the furnace after I read ‘Some Statistical Variations in the Populations of Small Towns in Central Nebraska.’ ”
14. “Howlingly funny” is always good.
15. “Kafkaesque” is so good that the American Association of Publishers is considering making it mandatory for blurbs for all books–including cookbooks and the Bible.
See also: Flap Rules.
Daniel Menaker is the editor of Grin & Tonic.