Kernels of Nonsense, #5: Review Blurbs on Books

Kernels of Nonsense (2)Kernels of Nonsense is a weekly feature where I discuss various book-related topics. This week I will be ranting about my dislike for those little book blurbs you find on many book covers.

Once upon a time I was a naive reader. I would walk into a bookstore, eager to find a new book to read. A pretty cover would catch my eye and I’d quickly pull the book off the shelf and let the book jacket description whisper sweet-nothings to me. Was this enough to get me to purchase a book? Not always.

But then there were those pithy review blurbs that would demand my attention. “Spellbinding”, “Electric”, “Utterly engrossing”, “Unputdownable”, “A gripping thrill-ride”. I couldn’t believe the amount of praise and if that wasn’t enough one of these quotes was by an author whose books I loved. Who better to recognize an exemplary read than an author who has written one themselves?

There I was, practically skipping out the store with a brand new book clutched to my chest. I’d arrive home with no obligations for the next couple of hours and would immediately dive into my new book. I’m amazed, excited, moved. My insides are in a jumble but in the best possible way. These characters! The plot! I’ve never read anything so brill—

No.

This is not the scenario. This is so far from the real scenario that if I still had a sense of humor up to that point, I would have been laughing. Instead, I wept inwardly, steamed a little, shook my fist at no one in particular. I came to the realization that I’d been taken, bamboozled, cheated….swindled.

Why, why would this author be so willfully deceitful? I understand that people have different tastes in books, but I don’t think anyone who reads as much as we book bloggers do would disagree that there are some books that are just bad and don’t deserve the glowing endorsements found on their covers.

I’ve come to realize that the whole review blurb business is really a quid pro quo between authors. A you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours kind of deal. Most authors it would seem will not write a negative review about another author’s work out of fear of receiving a negative review themselves. It’s basically blackmail…at the expense of the reader. If you follow any authors on Goodreads you may find a disturbing trend. The vast majority (and in some cases, all) of the books these authors rate receive five stars. I came across one author (who I won’t name) who had rated over 200 books and each one received a five-star rating. If I was less cynical, I might try to defend these authors, but I am not and I simply do not expect any sort of real honest reviews from any of them.

I can hardly blame these authors though. I imagine they view the whole write-a-glowing-book-blurb as a kind of game. How can I manipulate these words to make this book sound brilliant? It’s a challenge, a necessary challenge, they must pass in order to ensure that this same author doesn’t turn around and bash their book in return. But as a reader I cannot ignore the dishonesty. This is why I never rely on any author’s recommendations. This is why I no longer pay attention to these little review blurbs…though they still make me a little angry and if I happen across a book that I end up hating and see a pretty, empty recommendation on its cover, I might shake the book and lament aloud, “Why, why do you lie?”

What about you, do these book blurbs influence whether you buy a book or not? Do they get under your skin the way they do mine?

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8 thoughts on “Kernels of Nonsense, #5: Review Blurbs on Books

  1. What a great discussion! I never really pay attention to them anymore, but after discovering the wonderful world of book blogging, I DO listen to blogger blurbs if I happen to see a blog name I recognize. Since bloggers have no obligation to post a good review, I’m more likely to believe their word is more sincere. 🙂

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  2. I have noticed that exact trend on goodreads, and it drives me crazy! I’ll get a slew of updates that an author has “rated” like 30 books today and they’ll all be 5 stars despite them all being different genres, age ranges, etc.
    As a blogger who’s very honest and thoughtful in my ratings and reviews, it can be frustrating to see how this “game” works.

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  3. This is a really interesting point of view, one that I’ve never really thought about. I actually enjoy the quotes on a cover, I love how excited they get me about what I’m about to read. I work in marketing, so I like to think I have a little understanding on what goes into planning things like covers in order to get people to buy, and yet I still get sold on them every time!

    I have noticed recently some authors’ words get twisted in small quotes once you read the whole review (a hypothetical example – “hardly the greatest thing ever, but still worth a read” will turn into “the greatest thing ever”). I think they have to be taken with a pinch of salt, and I totally agree with you that there is likely a “you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours” situation going on, but for me they add to the build-up of getting my hands on a good book.

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    • I wonder how these authors feel about their words being taken out of context. As a reader I find that I will more likely listen to a good review by a blogger than another author’s opinion because of these perceived problems. I’m sure there are authors out there who are honest and it’s a shame we don’t often here their opinions too.

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  4. I have never paid that much attention to those author blurbs, but I can imagine the frustration for those who do. Honestly, I only trust author recommendations if they’re kind of randomly placed – like on the author’s twitter, for example. I feel those are books they actually enjoy, enough to mention them when they don’t need to.

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