The Washington Post

Gary Shtengynart blurbs

Do blurbs actually help sell books?

When you’re glancing at paperbacks, do you care that Alice Munro thinks Elizabeth Strout “shines with integrity and humor”? Who, exactly, at the New York Times claimed that “Robopocalypse” is “ingenious”?

A new documentary on YouTube (below) explores the blurb culture by focusing on its most manic practitioner, the comic novelist Gary Shteyngart. Among the literary community, he’s known as one of the most encouraging writers or, alternately, as a “blurb whore.” You can find his witty compliments on the backs of all kinds of books by experienced and debut authors.

On Twitter, he’s even blurbed his own blurbs: “Gary Shteyngart’s blurbs are touching, funny and true. This is a blurber to watch.” — Gary Shteyngart.

You can read his collected blurbs on a tumblr account maintained by Jacob Silverman.

The Brooklyn journalist Edward Champion spent two and a half months interviewing 35 writers for this documentary called simply, “Shteyngart Blurbs.” Karen Russell, Molly Ringwald, Edmund White and many, many others (including me) offer their thoughts on just what the purpose of a blurb is. It’s mostly tongue-in-cheek, narrated with characteristic dead-pan by Jonathan Ames (the creator of HBO’s “Bored to Death”). But you’ll never again read the back of a book with quite the same naivete.

Ron Charles is the fiction editor of The Washington Post. You can follow him on Twitter @RonCharles.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.


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