Over at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, Sarah Weinman looks at the Denver Post‘s look at blurbing (“Not all blurbs are created equal,” by Robin Vidimos). Conclusion? They work. I’ve actually heard publishers say that blurbs aren’t that important, but I think they do make a difference when it comes to books. (The film industry has poisoned their own well by trumpeting hyperbolic praise from junketeers and even nonexistent critics, leading to an honestly-come-by cynicism on the part of moviegoers.) Certainly here at Booklist, if an unknown author’s first novel comes in bearing blurbs from Michael Connelly, James Ellroy, George Pelecanos, and so on, we’ll give it a closer look. And when I’m browsing in a bookstore, I pause when I see a blurb from an author I like–hell, maybe I’ll like it, too.
But, like Weinman, I also enjoy trying to spot the relationship between the blurber and the blurbee. In one case, I reviewed a book, American Youth, by Phil LaMarche, that was praised to the heavens by George Saunders. A very good book, but Saunders’ praise (“The debut novel of the year, and one, I expect, for the ages…an astonishing new American talent”) seemed a bit much, so I investigated. A couple of clicks on Google told me that LaMarche studied creative writing at Syracuse and now teaches there, too–making him a colleague of Saunders. That doesn’t mean that Saunders isn’t sincere in his praise, of course, but a little backstory never hurt anybody.