Becky Spratford’s excellent RA for All blog recently highlighted some short opinion pieces on the New York Times site about the veracity and value of book blurbs. Becky’s point was that regardless of their absolute truth, blurbs have real value for librarians working to connect readers with books. Taken with a grain of salt, and used appropriately, blurbs provide a quick way to judge a book and suggest what sort of familiar authors might have similarities to a new discovery.
I was left pondering the value of book blurbs for book groups. Do these pithy little claims have a place in our meetings? We’ve all seen enough overgenerous blurbs to know that some authors will seemingly praise anything to get press coverage or garner favor in the mutual admiration society. As with some full reviews, some blurbs seem to be written without going to the bother of reading the pesky book, at least not in full.
That said, blurbs can be a great way to get the snowball rolling or conversely, to recap at the end of the meeting. Read the blurbs aloud to begin and use them as a starting point for conversation. Read them at the end of the meeting to launch a round of “what’s your final opinion of the book?” comments. You might also discuss whether those who contributed the blurbs were well fitted to judge the particular work, or if other authors or public figures might have been better matches with the book’s author or more appropriate commentators.
At the very least, if you are facilitating a book group, read the blurbs in advance and note some of the claims that they make about the book. Then keep them in your “back pocket” as tools to get the conversation back on track, as a way to put more eloquent words in the mouth of a struggling participant, or just as fodder to enliven flagging discussion.