Monday, October 18, 2004

Blurbwhores

Teachout has a very entertaining piece today on blurbwhoring policies of the rich and famous. Or, when do you agree to blurb the back of a book, and when do you politely demur. His concluding graphs include a pointed quotation from Evelyn Waugh, who was a bit of a specialist when it came to pointed quotations.
Evelyn Waugh had a Wilsonesque postcard of his own (“Mr. Evelyn Waugh deeply regrets that he is unable to do what is so kindly proposed”), but he could occasionally be persuaded to supply blurbs, usually for friends and/or fellow Catholics. Strangers rarely fared as well.

In 1961, for instance, Waugh sent this characteristic letter to a Simon & Schuster publicist who was looking for blurbs in all the wrong places:

Thank you for sending me Catch-22. I am sorry that the book fascinates you so much. It has many passages quite unsuitable to a lady’s reading. It suffers not only from indelicacy but from prolixity. It should be cut by about a half. In particular the activities of “Milo” should be eliminated or greatly reduced.

You are mistaken in calling it a novel. It is a collection of sketches—often repetitious—totally without structure.

Much of the dialogue is funny.

You may quote me as saying: “This exposure of corruption, cowardice and incivility of American officers will outrage all friends of your country (such as myself) and greatly comfort your enemies.”

Me, I’d have printed it, but Simon & Schuster thought otherwise.
I was recently asked to write a foreword (together with my collaborator) to a book on a particular piece of graphics software, of which I am somewhat familar. I've also been informed that a quotation from that foreword will appear on the back of the book, which I guess makes me a blurbwhore. So I guess I need to come up with a witty and disdainful policy of my own.

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