In my last post, “Plays Well with Others,” I mentioned that Pank would be running a short piece of mine titled “Blurb of Myself” (after Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”) online, and that the piece had changed dramatically as a result of some input from the magazine’s editor. What follows is my first draft — the piece in essay form. Though heartfelt, this version is, in my opinion, a little dry, particularly compared to the “blurb version.”
Blurb of Myself
I see my endorsements on the covers of books and don’t always know what to make of them: In the first pages of Whatever, So-and-so grabs hold of the reader’s heartstrings and doesn’t let go. The author’s work is both sensual and provocative. A great and truly humane novel in the tradition of Charles Dickens and John Irving. Though each of these is from a separate book, I can’t help thinking that they might as well constitute a single blurb, a cry in the night to anyone who’s listening and wants to be listened to: Come, small press authors, and share your work with someone who will love it, someone who will read with a discerning eye and tell the world that your writing is beautiful, that you are a talent to be reckoned with, that the hours, days, weeks, months, years of writing and revising haven’t all been for naught!
I’m not lying, exactly. I really love the books I review and have come to admire a wide range of small press proponents not only for their talent but for their tenacity as well. There’s Curt Smith, a special education teacher who drafts and redrafts his novels in longhand whenever he gets a moment to spare. There are performance poets like Cesca Janece Waterfield and Christin O’Keefe Aptowicz who understand that laughter and heartbreak are frequently two sides of the same coin. And then there are the editors like Barry Graham of Dogzplot and Martin Shepard of The Permanent Press who pour their lives into the literature they believe in. The list goes on and on, and I’d venture to guess that no one gets into this game for the money. If they did, they’d be crazy. There’s no money in any of this. The only real explanation is love.
And maybe a little bit of ego.
I make this last point because I know that my own motives aren’t entirely pure. If they were, my reviews wouldn’t slip so easily into the otherwise meaningless blurb-speak that I normally detest. For the most part, I do my best to meet authors on their own terms when I review their books. In other words, I never read a book with the notion that there’s such a thing as objectively good literature. There are my tastes and preferences, but I know these aren’t everybody’s. Given this reality, the best I can do is say, “Here’s a new book. Here’s what I think the author was trying to do, and here’s how they succeeded in doing it.” Sometimes I get it right. Sometimes authors write to me and tell me, politely, that I missed the point of their work entirely. Without fail I always include a pithy sentence or two that would look great on a book cover.
To be perfectly honest, I love seeing my name in print, love being quoted as if my (I dare say, “expert”) opinion matters, and, perhaps more than anything, love working under the assumption, optimistic though it may be, that my reviews have an impact on the book-buying decisions of the public. Sure, my blog only averages between 800 and 900 hits a month, and most of those are likely from the authors whose books I’ve reviewed, but when I see my words of praise reproduced beyond their original context, I allow myself to believe that the impact I imagine is real, that I’m actually helping to create a global community of readers and writers. And so what if my prose needs to turn twelve shades of purple for it to happen? The blurb, for better or for worse, is our shared currency, the lingua franca of the publishing world. As much as it embarrasses me to speak in this effusive, nebulous argot, it’s a skill that appears to benefit me as much as it benefits the books I review — and maybe even the readers who pick them up. To paraphrase a much-loved small press poet, every blurb belonging to me as good belongs to you.