The worst book blurb I have read

by on May 26, 2014 at 3:41 pm in Books, The Arts | Permalink

Get this:

“The written equivalent of a Botticelli.”

That is from an advertisement for Antony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See.

The book has stellar Amazon reviews, and the MSM reviews are quite positive (or here), and yet I bought it only with reluctance, more to satisfy my curiosity than because I think I will enjoy or finish it.

What exactly is so bad about that blurb?  After all, I like Botticelli.  I like Botticelli a lot.  But if they are targeting readers who think such a book can be compared meaningfully to Botticelli, or who would be impressed by such a designation…then I start to worry.  And that one piece of Bayesian information weighs more heavily in my mind than all the praise for the work I have encountered.

1 Brian C. Albrecht May 26, 2014 at 3:43 pm

What’s the best blurb you’ve seen? Joke ones can be good.

2 Andrew' May 26, 2014 at 3:47 pm

A picture is worth a thousand words. So the book must be better as an essay.

3 Brendan May 26, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Tyler is not a good judge of blurbs. Witness this comment, apropos the new Levitt & Dubner:

“This is a beautifully written book, as good as the original Freakonomics.”

LOL. Perhaps their next one will be as beautiful as a Botticelli.

4 Sam May 26, 2014 at 4:10 pm

I dunno. I’ve definitely heard worse:

“Thomas Friedman – move over. There’s a new guy on the block.”

5 ummm May 26, 2014 at 4:17 pm

rofl that is pretty useless and vague

6 Fromas thiedman May 26, 2014 at 9:52 pm

That’s hilarious. The new guy is even worse than Friedman?

7 dearieme May 26, 2014 at 4:20 pm

The written equivalent of a Botti?

8 Patrick L May 26, 2014 at 4:53 pm

If only there were places where you could rent books for free, so you could see how effective your reject-a-book-by-it’s-blurb method is.

9 Vernunft May 26, 2014 at 10:50 pm

If only! But there is no way to avoid the opportunity cost of reading it.

If you meant a library, go back to Econ 101 and let me know when you’ve read up on opportunity cost!

10 LemmusLemmus May 27, 2014 at 2:37 pm

“Almost as good as a post by prior_approval.”

11 Philo May 26, 2014 at 4:56 pm

The author may not have been responsible for selecting the blurb, which would then hardly reflect the quality of the book.

12 Enrique May 26, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Tyler,s point is well-taken, but the blurb sounds more like worthless puffery to me

13 Brandon May 27, 2014 at 12:30 am

(Tyler’s point is apparently not well taken)

14 Dan May 26, 2014 at 6:25 pm

This is definitely the most ridiculous blog post about a blurb I have read. Not sure if you really believe that blurb says anything about the book…

15 karl May 26, 2014 at 6:47 pm

This post was just another excuse to type “Bayesian” in an unexpected context.

16 ShardPhoenix May 26, 2014 at 11:04 pm

If it was unexpected you should update your priors until it is expected :P.

17 ShardPhoenix May 26, 2014 at 11:04 pm

(In the direction of it being expected, that is)

18 karl May 27, 2014 at 12:48 am

Good point, by now I really should expect that word top pop up anywhere on this blog. Damn.

19 So Much For Subtlety May 26, 2014 at 7:45 pm

Maybe he means it is full of naked red heads?

In which case it could be a very good description indeed.

20 Thor May 28, 2014 at 12:25 am

In that case, I’ll take … two!

21 Ryan Holiday May 26, 2014 at 8:51 pm

I think this blurb beats them all. The writer sounds like a wonderful, humble human being.

“Just as Reviving Ophelia introduced readers to the culture of teenage girls, Guyland takes us to the land of young men.” (Mary Pipher, Ph.D., author of Reviving Ophelia)

22 Steve Sailer May 27, 2014 at 12:20 am

Too bad she couldn’t have worked her Twitter handle into her blurb.

23 prashanth May 26, 2014 at 10:27 pm

the book is worthreading, i loved it

24 Ray Lopez May 27, 2014 at 2:16 am

@prashanth – the book is terrible from the blurbs I’ve read (go to Amazon, “Surprise Me” and read the excerpts). It reads literally, like a movie script. No offense meant, but I am American and my girlfriend is a Filipino, and I notice that a lot of foreigners enjoy “literal” prose that leaves little to the imagination, which violates Checkov’s (a famous Russian writer) maxim that you should not describe something directly, but leave it to the imagination. For example, she enjoys watching movies with the captions on, so she can learn better idiomatic English, and likes detailed explanations in prose. My Chinese gf (girlfriend) was the same way. In short, foreigners that are non-English speakers would enjoy this book. In fact, this work of fiction reads something like this post here, and like a technical report in general, leaving little to the imagination and instead explaining everything three times, so it is not misunderstood. Am I making myself clear?

25 B Cole May 27, 2014 at 5:29 am

Clearly, Ray Lopez, you have made yourself clear, and I understand what you mean by the way you wrote it.

And are the Philippines better than Thailand?

26 Ray Lopez May 27, 2014 at 6:21 am

@ B Cole – yes, PH > TH. Unless you are into casual sex, which I am not. This is a family site so I have to leave it there. TH has more money, but they speak English less well. PH has a higher violence rate but I don’t feel unsafe (then again, I’ve lived in drug dealing neighborhoods in the USA, and as a white collar professional). The people to my untrained Caucasian eye look very similar, and I would say PH girls are slightly more attractive with a more Spanish influence. Also religion is more Christian in PH. They do have in PH, like in TH, a North – South divide with the Muslims in the south and poorer. People in both countries are very patient, will wait in lines without complaint. They are not that smart IQ wise but they try hard. Speaking English is a problem, more so in TH. Life is very basic which means no frills, not meant as an insult. Certain things like hot water showers with high water pressure are simply not found in either country, and that includes some four star hotels BTW. Just by way of example, if you try and go to a fancy western-style restaurant, like a “steak house”, you will find the prices too high by local standards and the steak tough as shoe leather. Literally I could not eat mine in a high-end Manila steakhouse and I have very good teeth and a cast iron stomach. This is very typical. So you must adapt to the local customs and go native, which is not that bad in PH but in TH was a bit too much for me.

27 B Cole May 27, 2014 at 6:59 am


Thanks for the commentary. The food is great in Thailand, although I am getting bored with Thai food. Almost any food, anywhere. I live upcountry Thailand, btw. But maybe thinking about a switch in my middle-late years, under the theory the more you see before you go, the better. I have family here, but they are getting grown.

I lived in some “tough” neighborhoods in Los Angeles, and found they are not tough as long as you minded your own business. The guys getting shot belonged to gangs. No one cared about me. From what you say, you are not a target in the PH.

I would like to learn more, and you can e-mail me at benjamincole1965 at yahoo if you are so inclined.

BTW, the book reviews on All the Light We Cannot See are gaga. The public loves it.

28 Donald Pretari May 27, 2014 at 1:17 am

In order to entice me into buying the book ( reading it is another matter ), it would have been better to blurb “The written equivalent of a good bowl of chili.” I like Botticelli, but I’d much rather have a good bowl of chili.

29 karl May 27, 2014 at 11:28 am

How about Bottichili?

30 Donald Pretari May 27, 2014 at 4:54 pm

I like it…

31 Buce May 27, 2014 at 1:30 am

Dunno. I should think “The written equivalent of a Francis Bacon,” or “The written equivalent of a Jackson Pollock” would have freighted a lot of content. It least we can infer what the Boticelli book is not.

32 Steve Sailer May 27, 2014 at 4:52 am

In the Amazon description of the novel, I don’t notice any connection to Botticelli’s mythological subject matter or Florentine style.

The most overtly Botticellian modern novel is likely “The Centaur” by John Updike.

33 Scout May 27, 2014 at 2:19 am

Had a look at Birth of Venus. I find it to be rather gauche.

34 andrew' May 27, 2014 at 6:29 am

Covers are out. Blurbs don’t work. Is there any way to judge a book without having to read it?!?

35 Edward Burke May 27, 2014 at 8:52 am

Sounds like a superb blurb for a book that emerged from the academic captivity of American literature: most MFA-credentialed books written and read today are utter schlock, most of the rest are much worse. I can’t think of any American writer since Flannery O’Connor who could be said legitimately to have benefitted from exposure to an MFA program, but that was Iowa’s over sixty years ago.

36 Edward Burke May 27, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Or perhaps, Tyler, just as you yourself invoke the “stellar reviews” the novel has received, the blurb writer/publicist was subscribing in passing to the views of Ernst Gombrich and Frances Yates that Botticelli’s “La Primavera” functions at least in part as a magic talisman designed to transmit only salutary astral and aerial influences to the viewer (Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, 76ff.).

37 sapna June 12, 2014 at 1:39 am

These are more or less the remarks I made at the American Literature Association conference in Boston in May, 2013 with the exception of some improvisation I injected concerning Bosley Crowther, Manny Farber, and Sam Peckinpah and what I believe their works can contribute to understanding DeLillo. I also used graphic examples from the films of Tarnatino and Kubrick to illustrate how auteurs repeat images from film to film.

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