One of my favorite features in the old Spy magazine was “Logrolling in Our Time,” a monthly collection of grandiose compliments that authors traded with each other in public. On her blog, Janice Harayda periodically updates a list of such backscratching. Gary Shteyngart has parodied the whole process by handing out blurbs to just about anybody who asks.
But then there are those unsolicited blurbs — the objective blurbs: lines lifted from past reviews to show that it’s not just the author’s friends and teachers who think this is a great novel. Look: The Miami Herald loved it! The Kansas City Star called it “masterful”!
Sometimes, publishers choose these lines with the selective hearing of doting moms and dads at a parent-teacher conference. Through the magic of creative editing, “This is not a great book” shows up six months later on the paperback as “This is . . . a great book!”
I’m [not] kidding.
Other times, praise for an old book is recycled to make it look like applause for a new book. The funniest recent example appears on the paperback edition of Martin Amis’s “Lionel Asbo,” released this month by Vintage.
Amis is one of the finest stylists alive, but I thought “Lionel Asbo” was a bad novel. A really bad novel. In fact, my review of “Lionel Asbo” was a finalist for the Hatchet Job — a prize given for the most negative book review of the year. And yet, on the new paperback — on the front cover, no less — appears this ringing endorsement from The Washington Post: “Amis is a force unto himself. . . . There is, quite simply, no one else like him.”
All true. But caveat emptor. That line is drawn from a review of “London Fields” that my colleague Jonathan Yardley wrote . . . 23 years ago.
Books fade away, but blurbs are immortal. Like John Irving, I think that’s kind of “terrifying.”