By Ben Fogler
Since the invention of the printing press, millions of books have been written, published, and distributed around the world. Every day, the accessibility of knowledge increases. Don’t get me wrong -- that’s a great thing. But such a surplus of literature has meant that certain vexing issues become more and more prevalent. And since nothing is hindering population growth, these factors continue to be passed down through generations of reading because survival of the fittest no longer applies. Once upon a time, Charles Darwin observed a herd of books migrating to the southern side of the Galápagos for winter. He was fascinated by their merciless group mentality -- those who were sick or old and could not continue the journey were left behind. The strong carried on, while the weak perished. His observations on that fateful day were what led him to develop his Theory of Evolution. But now, with so much accessibility, any book can survive a harsh winter or a long migration, because someone out there is sure to pick it up eventually. So naturally, certain unfavorable mutations that otherwise would have disappeared within a generation are allowed to flourish and thrive. There’s one in particular, though, that really bugs me. I’m so infuriated by it, it makes me want to scream. It is going to take a lot out of me here to speak my truth on this subject, but I know that if I don’t then no one else will.
Can we please stop putting reviews that are just strings of adjectives on the cover of every book? I am sick of picking up a book and seeing that HuffPost called it “thought-provoking, engaging, and funny.” That tells me NOTHING about what is actually in the book. Also, for all we know, the author could have cut that out of a sentence that wanted to convey the complete opposite: “This book was not thought-provoking, engaging, and funny. Will be returning, and would not recommend.” These buzzwords have been used so many times that they don’t even hold any meaning anymore. I’d say The Fault in Our Stars and The Communist Manifesto are both pretty “thought-provoking,” but I don’t think they belong in the same category of literature. Do you see what I mean? Reviews that are just lists of generic descriptors say absolutely nothing about the book, and it’s not like I’m going to read one and think, Oh, well if Entertainment Weekly said it was “powerfully witty” then I just have to buy it! What does that even mean???? Powerfully witty??? Did the wit have a superhuman ability?? If you’re going to be that vague, at least make it make sense.
Those one-line reviews are bad enough, but even worse are the ones written by famous people. First of all, what qualifies them to give their opinion on a book? I highly doubt that, say, Paris Hilton, is well known among her peers for her experience in critical analysis. Also, why does their opinion on the book even matter, especially when their barely-even-an-actual-sentence reviews (I looked it up, they’re apparently called blurbs -- fitting name, because it’s a sound a baby would make, and you only need the intelligence of a baby to write a blurb) are like, “Staggering and unprecedented. A much-needed social commentary in our era.” Oh, were you really “staggered,” Gwyneth Paltrow? Were you physically shook, unable to stand? Did it bring you to your knees? Alright, maybe I shouldn’t be so aggressive over this hypothetical -- to my knowledge Gwyneth has never actually written that statement about a book. Actually, I don’t know if she’s ever written for the cover of a book at all. If she hasn’t, it should stay that way -- she’s about as qualified to do literary criticism as she is to give nutrition and lifestyle advice. Oh wait…
Here’s a better example of an actual blurb I saw: “An important cultural document.” That was literally it. This four-word review, by none other than Lena Dunham (because of course, why not), was on the cover of I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy. You know, the book that always gets mentioned when a YouTuber is doing an ad for Audible? Now, I read this book recently, and it was really, really good. One might have called it “Stunningly original; a profoundly evocative, vulnerable read.” But tell me, would you have known what book it was from Lena’s review? Would you have even known what genre it was? For all the information her blurb gave us, we could have guessed she was writing about The Bible. And yes, I’m aware that if you picked up the book to see her review on the cover, you obviously know what book it is. You just wouldn’t really know anything about the content in the book, or McCurdy’s writing style, or what about it made it so important culturally. But my greater point is, why is Lena Dunham’s -- or really any celebrity’s -- endorsement even relevant? It’s not like their half-baked opinion is going to hold some sway over whether or not you buy the book. Also, in the case of Lena Dunham, I really am not sure why she specifically was chosen for the blurb. Not even mentioning the plethora of tone-deaf controversial statements she’s made during her career, I don’t think Lena’s fanbase (does she have one?) has much crossover with Jennette McCurdy’s. Girls and iCarly are very different bodies of work, although I suppose if you only saw a review that Lena wrote for the two of them, they’d be pretty indistinguishable.
Anyway, I think I’m beating a dead horse here. You get my point. I’m just trying to say that maybe, just maybe, certain things, certain opinions, are better left unsaid. So if you ever find yourself writing a blurb (I am really starting to hate that word) for a book, I beg thee, write something meaningful, something that takes longer than two minutes, something that a toddler couldn’t do. You’re our only hope! And also, I hope you thought this article was “fascinating, deeply comedic, a piercing criticism of the world today.”