In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Coming To a Bookshelf Near You.”
Ban the Blurb!
Judging a book by its cover
You should never judge a book by its cover, or so the old adage goes. But of course we all do. I have a particular fondness for the uncreased, almost glazed texture of the new book; its colours (vibrant? or muted?) and the way its artistic forepart coyly hints at the plot within. One can almost guess at the personality of the author from the way they are heralded as creator or mentioned almost as an afterthought – now boldly announced, now minutely scripted. The title itself is beckoning, beguiling, tempting the reader’s imagination to take flight. How different from the uniform orange or teal-banded Penguin classics of my youth, where the content truly was mysterious and was unveiled at a pace dictated by the author and the reader’s own lust for reading.
I recall reading an article some time ago, contrasting the cover designs of American novels with those we enjoy in the UK. The former, on the whole, darker and more like the line-drawings of film noir posters: the latter swirling, colourful and artistic. A year ago I attended a book preview at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, which takes place in my home town. Subsequently I followed with interest the gestation and birth of the novel, “A Song for Issy Bradley,” which was read in its unfinished form at that event by the author, Carys Bray. One of the most intriguing aspects the author revealed was the choice of artwork for the cover. It came in several forms, for the press copies, for the UK market and for overseas. I loved and coveted the deeply embossed, simple red and white design of the preview copies. I liked the version that went on general sale somewhat less and was aghast at the version to be sold Stateside.
I’ve done a little hunting and found some images of the covers to demonstrate the differences but I’d like to lure you into following me to my next point by asking – what do they have in common? My slightly out of left field answer is – they are all front covers! While I’m sure a lot of thought goes into the artwork for the reverse of the book, there lurks in that realm a much more heinous aspect of book design – the blurb.
The anatomy of a book
The blurb is a word that used to make my classes fall about with mirth when I taught an ‘anatomy of a book’ lesson. The double plosive sounds of the word, together with the slight resemblance to sounds we make when we’re repelled, are extremely funny when you’re seven years old. In my opinion, repelled is exactly the right reaction though. For what could be worse than having the dream of a few days or weeks of untrammelled dream-weaving snatched away by the hideous revelation of – the plot? Before you’ve even opened the cover to read the dedication, the publisher chooses to assault you with more information that you could reasonably need, in order to make a selection from the bookshop shelves. (You can only imagine what I make of invitations to “Look Inside” online!)
The publisher as enemy number one
So all is revealed in the blurb, with the connivance of the publisher. That wispy character suggested by the subtle tracery of the cover art? Murdered by the end of chapter three. The much anticipated journey to a reunion with a loved one? Thwarted by ill-fortune. They sympathetic-sounding character introduced on the first page? He’s the villain of the piece. What chance does the detective in me stand, when all is revealed? Is the publisher actually on my side – or the side of the author, whose painstaking characterisation and subtle plot-building are all for nought?
Ban the blurb!
What do you think? Are you with me or agin? Ban the blurb, I say! Let the journey of imagination be as the author intended – a bond between reader, characters and creator, which lasts to the end. Whatever that might turn out to be.
Coming To a Bookshelf Near You