|Having recently gone through the process of asking people I know to blurb a book I worked on, I'm feeling a bit down on the blurb genre. It just seems so... empty. |
"This illuminating book reminds us all that the important aspects of its topic are essential objects of study for beginning students and advanced scholars alike. The author's scintillating analysis of that topic guides us through its intricacies, revealing in the process new ways of seeing that will stay with us for years to come."
Blah blah blah. That wasn't even a fun parody to write! It's a sure sign that a form of writing is dead to the world if its satirical versions are as boring as the thing itself. So, to give blurbiage a shot in the arm, I recommend that we look back to its shining Golden Age: the early seventeenth century!* In short: from now on, all blurbs should be written in verse. And some in italicized Latin verse.
Here, for example, is what Stanley Fish wrote for the essay collection "Renaissance Literature and its Formal Engagements" (which, incidentally, has a wonderful essay in it by Stephen Cohen, whose new book I'm looking forward to reading):
Despite innumerable casual disparagements of formalism, it has always been with us and will always be with us so long as there is something called a literary object that solicits our literary attention. These essays brilliantly display the pleasures of formalism and consitute a rigorous and thrilling demonstration of its indispensability.
Kind of a pat on the back for formalism, more than anything else, but whatever. Here is how it should have been written:
Despite innumerable disparagements
Of formalism and its ilk,
This book contains nine marriage tents
Where form and modern thought drink love's milk.
And if there is a literary object,
(Yea, that there is, methinks we can agree)
Then formalism is a worthy project,
As these essays show quite brilliantly.
Don't you want to buy the book now? And don't you now believe that Stanley Fish has actually thought a bit about what he wants to say about it? And aren't you wondering what "love's milk" is? (It's just a convenient rhyme, people... I do these rather quickly). Look, I know it doesn't scan well, and it's kind of nonsensical, and it has one misplaced line of Jacobean-speak, but take a gander at this bit of puffery written by Thomas Randolph for the 1630 edition of James Shirley's play, The Grateful Servant:
I don't know about you, but this totally makes me want to read The Grateful Servant, along with everything Thomas Randolph ever wrote. (I encourage my co-bloggers and our readers to write in with some good examples of their own.) On the flip side, imagine what would have happened had Ben Jonson hurriedly blurbed the first folio: "This collection of plays shows a writer at his best, offering a great variety of comedies, tragedies, and histories that are not of an age, but for all time. If you like Aristophanes, Terence, and Plautus, you'll love Shakespeare." The book wouldn't have sold well, there wouldn't have been second, third, and fourth printings, and boom: I'm out of a job. Thank you, 400-year-old verse blurbing, for keeping me off the streets!
So the next time you're asked to blurb something, do consider alexandrine couplets or at least blank verse. You will be resuscitating a dying form, and probably saving the job of an English professor in the distant future.
*The early seventeenth century: shining Golden Age of EVERYTHING.