Why you should never read the blurb

February 10, 2015 § 4 Comments

I never read blurbs. I never have, not out of any particular reason, except possibly that summaries of novels rarely interest me. I don’t even open a book to read the first few pages. If I’m not going by reviews or recommendations, I really do judge books by their covers. It seems to work quite well for me.

Last week I read Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves for my book club. Not only had I not read any reviews of it, but I soon realised I’d thought the book we were reading was one by an entirely different Karen. It started off quite well, probably better than I expected. And then a few chapters in, there’s an astonishing revelation that turns everything you thought you understood on its head. It’s really quite an impressive authorial feat.

fowler

The morning after I read that part, I idly glanced down at the back of the book while I was doing something else. The amazing twist was entirely given away right there! What a waste–at least that was my first impression. I am sure the book would not have had nearly such an impact if I had already known what was coming. It’s psychologically important in a meta sense too. This thing we now know would have changed how we read the story, and Fowler points this out. If you’ve read the blurb, you literally will not have the experience the novel thinks you have had or needs you to have had. There’s an interesting discussion of the spoiler situation here, though, and the different ways of enjoying the reading experience.

I wonder how the conversation between author and publisher went. Did Fowler try to object, on the basis that she had carefully crafted the novel to lead up to this crucial point? Did the marketing people roll their eyes and say, yes, but this is your USP? How can we not mention it? Fascinating to ponder. Safe to say I won’t be reading blurbs any time soon.

 

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