I appreciate a well written blurb. It’s an art form I understand and admire. It takes skill to compose a terse but compelling summation of a novel. A good blurb dives right into the emotional heart of the book, plunging into the throbbing core of the plot. It grabs you by the eye-balls and says READ ME!
The blurbs on my Kindle screen, on the other hand, are usually bad. These blurbs and the corresponding book cover appear on the screen before I swipe the screen to read my own book. The ad is meant to entice me to buy the book. But, rightly or wrongly, when a blurb is bad, I assume the book is bad, too: probably a self-published novel that has never passed through a critique group, let alone fallen under the eyes of an editor. To be fair, a Kindle screen blurb — at twenty-five words or less — has to be the devil to concoct. (And I’ve never tried to do it.)
Here’s a bad blurb from my Kindle screen:
A baby vanishes from the womb without a trace. A fossil upends two centuries of scientific theory. A prehistoric virus kills thousands within days.
Would you buy this book? I didn’t. Those three sentences just make me think of that Sesame Street song “One of These Things (is not like the others).” Except I can’t pick out which thing doesn’t belong.
Here’s another blurb:
20th Centry Fox developing for film. An award-winning story of one family’s struggle to survive a massive terrorist attack that destroys America.
This is better. But the hype at the front is off-putting. Do I believe it? Do I care? Does it make me want to read the book? Not really. And the second sentence is the plot of every other contemporary dystopian novel.
Gabriel Miller swept into my life like a storm. There’s one way to save our house, one thing I have left of value. My body.
We are not amused. If there’s a connection between the first sentence and the second, you wouldn’t know it from this blurb. And would I trust an author who uses a period instead of the colon I am expecting? But at least this blurb pricks my curiosity. Is the body in question valuable for organ harvesting? Blood plasma sales? Scientific experiments? (My curiosity wasn’t strong enough that I bought the book.)
I think the blurb below has been on my Kindle since I bought it. Maybe absence would make the heart grow fonder because familiarly, in this case, has definitely bred contempt.
3 massacres, 2 detectives, 1 writer and 0 answers. A dark thriller you can’t put down with a twist you won’t see coming.
Plot? Hero? Nada. I didn’t buy this one either.
Here’s the plot of the books I buy over and over, in every permutation, as long as the setting is historical British Isles and there’s a Duke somewhere nearby.
Two people meet and instantly hate each other. Through misunderstandings and mishaps, desire flares between them. They succumb. They marry. The end.
Predictable? Yes. So why would I read such a predictable book and not, say, a novel like Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle (which I found in our Little Free Library):
“An absolutely terrific thriller, so pulse-pounding, so ingenious in its plotting, and so frighteningly realistic that you simply cannot stop reading.”
And ” . . . leaves the reader suspended as the book speeds to a breathless finale!”
I don’t read thrillers. I don’t read fiction that scares me, shocks me, keeps me in suspense, or keeps me awake. No rapes or mutilations or blood dripping through the floor.
I do read fiction other than bodice busters but it’s always fiction that entertains, transports, intrigues — unchallenging fiction to effortlessly pass the hours when chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia has me down and I’m not up for anything else. I read fiction to escape from the things that scare me in the real world.
And it’s harder every day to ignore those scary things.
For example: It’s only February and my asparagus is up more than two weeks earlier than we’ve ever seen it. And the bluebirds were fighting the sparrows for the birdhouses in the yard two weeks earlier than last year. (The bluebirds lost again.) The sparrows are sitting on eggs already, which is something I don’t keep track of from year-to-year but I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen them sitting on eggs in February.
Very early this month,out on the screened porch, about twenty of the black swallowtail chrysalises opened and the butterflies came out, only to die trapped in the cheesecloth-covered mason jars. Three or four of the insects died still crawling out of their winter homes, probably felled by the sudden return of cold weather. I had intended to remove the cheesecloth in time for the butterflies to fly away and find flowers to feed on. Who was looking for butterflies in early February? Not me.
Two butterflies were still alive. I placed them in a garden bed, on top of the foul-smellng purple deadnettle, and hoped these early blooms appealed. I hope the butterflies enjoyed a few days before winter temperatures caught them.
There were a dozen more chrysalises intact. Those are now in the refrigerator until I am more confident of the weather. This February looks like spring and the birds and peepers sound like spring. But it makes me uneasy.
It makes me uneasy in the same way finding caterpillars on the parsley made me uneasy last November, when I brought them inside to save them from the frost. It makes me scared in the same way watching video of the calving of an iceberg bigger than Manhattan scares me.
The world I know has changed. It continues to change in unpredictable ways.
I read non-fiction. I read newspapers and informative magazine articles. I attend forums and listen to podcasts. I can find my cheeks wet with tears during a discussion of health delivery systems for impoverished children. Real life offers more than enough to make my pulse pound, my blood boil, and my heart sore. Real life is more than enough suspense for me.
The seas rise and powerful tornadoes scour the land as dangerous shifts in climate threaten the lives of all earth’s inhabitants. An extraordinary tale of greed and ruthlessness, of bravery and sacrifice — with a heart-stopping climax of unforgettable power!*
I like the blurbs for the thrillers. I just don’t enjoy the actual books.
*This blurb is based on rave reviews of Eye of the Needle.