Books & Literature

Book Review: Blurb Your Enthusiasm: An A-Z of Literary Persuasion, by Louise Willder

NON-FICTION: Join Penguin publishing word wizard Louise Willder – five thousand blurbs written, mostly avoiding the phrase ‘unputdownable tour-de-force’ – to discover why we should judge a book by its cover. Even this one. (It’s an unputdownable tour-de-force.)

Quirky, funny, and fascinating.

Feature image credit: Kimberly Farmer via Unsplash

If you are a reader (and as you are currently reading a book review, one would assume you are!) then you have probably read Louise Willder. In fact, she may be the author you have read the most.

You just didn’t realise it.

Louise Willder is a copywriter at Penguin Books, and has been for over 25 years. One of her major jobs is to write the blurb: the description/pitch/teaser that you see on the back of book covers. Most of us don’t think much about the blurb after we have bought, borrowed, or stolen the book. And yet it is that very blurb that has probably led us to want the book in the first place. These words of persuasion are carefully thought out, designed to entice the customer, to give enough information (without the dreaded spoiler), and to let the potential reader know that this book is right for THEM. It is essentially marketing copy, just as is “10% less fat” on the side of a can of beans.

Blurb Your Enthusiasm pulls together all manner of stories, hints, facts, and ephemera, about the blurb. She also dips into other aspects of book covers such as graphic design, imagery, and even the title. Authors are not always the ones that come up with book titles, and the stories of some more famous books and their original titles are often hilarious. The book even delves into a brief history of the book cover, and the blurb, for it was not ever thus. The dust jacket/cover only really came into its own near the end of the 19th century.

Willder takes a gloriously idiosyncratic approach to the structure of her own work. Vaguely alphabetic, each chapter deals with some aspect or theme of blurbing, even such things as the physical shape: Triangle, Diamond, or Hourglass? Or the use of swear words in titles and blurbs: F**k Wisely.  Or the frustrating briefing process: Don’t Mention Jesus, which refers to a brief she once had to blurb a novel where Jesus was one of the main characters, but they didn’t want to put readers off …

I’m surprised though, that Willder didn’t quote the scene from the film Antonia and Jane, where Jane (Imelda Staunton) has a boyfriend who can’t get … ahem… started … unless she reads some Iris Murdoch to him first. They are lying in bed, Jane has Murdoch at the ready, and as she starts to read the first line he stops her saying “No … start with the blurb on the back.”

This is a glorious, funny, delightful, grab-bag of literary stories and facts, designed to be read either from cover-to-cover, or to be dipped into at will. It is a light-hearted meta-book, and the perfect gift for the reader/writer/booklover on your gift list, or an ideal summer beach read.

Now I’M sounding like a blurb writer!

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: OneWorld Publications
Released: September 2022
Approx RRP: $26

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