Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wouldn't it be great if back cover blurb writers actually read the book?

Every now and then I have a gripe about back cover blurbs.  It seems as if half or more are written by folk who have never read the book given their general inaccuracies and misleading statements.  I know these are marketing devices, but surely they should have some grounding in the realities of the story they are selling?  The latest one to rub me up the wrong way is for Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not.  Here's what it says:

"To Have and Have Not is the dramatic story of Harry Morgan, an honest man who is forced into running contraband between Cuba and Key West as a means of keeping his crumbling family financially afloat.  His adventures lead him into the world of the wealthy and dissipated yatchsmen who throng the region, and involve him in a strange and unlikely love affair.  Harshly realistic, yet with one of the most subtle and moving relationships in the Hemingway oeuvre, To Have and Have Not is literary high adventure at its finest."

Seems straightforward, however there are number of problems with the description.  Harry Morgan is not an honest man; he just doesn't smuggle 'anything that can talk'.  His family is not crumbling and he's content in his relationship with his wife and three kids.  His adverntures do not lead him into the world of wealthy yatchsmen, but with rummys, smugglers and Cuban revolutionaries.  He does not have a strange and unlikely love affair - he's faithful to his wife.  That relationship is hardly subtle or moving.  In fact, Harry is a bully and misogynist, who has little pity for others or himself.  I'll post my review tomorrow, but I also do not agree that the book is literary high adventure at its finest - indeed most reviewers seem to think this one of Hemingway's weakest stories.

My sense is that whoever wrote this blurb might have been basing it on having watched the movie, which bares little resemblence to the book.  How difficult would it have been to write something appealing that also bore a passing resemblence to the book?  Okay, rant over.

6 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - I couldn't possibly agree with you more. It's one of my big pet peeves about books - the misleading blurb or the blurb that gives the whole story away.

Spade and Dagger said...

I've totally given up on reading the blurbs on crime books. In just a few inches of text they frequently ruin the story by giving away vital plot information - such as revealing murders, sometimes even with the means & the motive, which would otherwise be unexpected when you read the book.

pattinase (abbott) said...

If you don't want to read the book, at least don't offer plot points.

Rob Kitchin said...

I gues what annoys me about this 1) it is possible to write a blurb that is both informative and does marketing work, 2) does not give spoilers. When hiring folk who write blurbs those should be the two tests they have to pass. Also authors should demand to vet - I do on both my fiction and non-fiction. And don't get me started on taglines ...

Anonymous-9 said...

Funny you should bring that up... Just before reading this post, I was ruminating on those odd folks who seem to have infiltrated the publishing industry (maybe they've been with us always, like fleas) who think they can speed-read a novel and fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. Then they write their own synopsis or review. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion and also their own level of reading ability and comprehension, but how learners get employed for these jobs is beyond me. I guess some days, the regular guy is out sick, and that's life. I applaud you for calling it out. Let's name this syndrome! (Not finished first cup of coffee, brain cells not working yet).
Anonymous-9/Elaine

melhealy said...

Hi Rob

Well put. As rants go, this was also, er, unputdownable.