I couldn’t resist Louise Willder’s Blurb Your Enthusiasm when it popped up on NetGalley many months ahead of publication. That wordplay, of course, only added to the attraction. Willder’s book is all about those 100 or so words, so important in persuading us whether to read a book or not. She should know, she’s been writing them for twenty-five years.
A good blurb is a mini-drama, with a conflict and movement all of its own
Willder endearingly introduces her book with more than a nod to the flexibility with the truth employed in writing a blurb: after all, they are about selling the book. That out of the way, she takes us through the history of the blurb – handily provided by the author in the novel’s early days with those lengthy subtitles familiar from title pages – before offering advice on how to write snappy copy and exploring blurbs in different genres, all the time pointing out what makes a good blurb, with frequent examples of howlers and gems. She ends with what is, for her the near perfect blurb written for the paperback edition of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and still used two decades later.
This is a prodigious, monstrous, stupefying, indescribable book (from T S Eliot’s blurb for The White Goddess by Robert Graves)
Willder’s book is an exploration of a facet of publishing with which we’re all familiar and, if you’re like me, sometimes find a source of exasperation. Clearly, she enjoyed being let off the 100-word leash, giving full rein to her enthusiasm in an enjoyably chatty, discursive style while putting forward a few forthright opinions and drawing on the views of writers and publishers throughout. It’s stuffed with literary anecdotes and historical details together with some excellent writing advice based on Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing with their emphasis on brevity and clarity, much derided by Will Self, unsurprisingly. She’s a fan of the pared-back, avoiding adjectives whenever she can while still accentuating the positive. There’s a lovely section on puns, for which I share her weakness, offering a few examples but not the wonderful Mrs Death Misses Death, sadly. Willder obviously had a great deal of fun putting this together as I did reading it. One aimed squarely at the gifts for the bookish Christmas market, I’d say.
One World Publications: London 9780861542178 352 pages Hardback (Read via NetGalley)