Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A jaunt through the blurbosphere

Columnist William Safire tackled the overblown language of the ubiquitous blurbs in Sunday's NYT Magazine. It's well worth a look, particularly if like me, you are annoyed by the hyperbole that renders most blurbs meaningless.

Here's a little taste:

Acclaimed, in this fulsome lingo of book ads and catalogs, now means merely ''the author received at least one good review.'' Widely acclaimed means ''two or more, plus a cable-TV plug.'' Critically acclaimed means ''it was decently reviewed in a specialized publication but didn't sell.''

Long- is a beloved half-word adverb in the blurbosphere. The letters of Lytton Strachey, advertises Farrar, Straus & Giroux, regarded as one of the classiest publishers, is ''a long-overdue collection.'' Whenever a writer has had a dry spell and taken forever to deliver, his book is hawked as long-awaited. On the other hand, if the author has a hot hand and sold well last time out, the adverb is switched and his work becomes eagerly awaited.

Sales problem: How do you blurb a dull book? Meticulously researched, or if you're really in trouble, definitive, exhaustive, spiced with profoundly insightful. Whatever covers a lot of ground and spans the millennia is a sweeping epic, which could soon be a major motion picture about three generations of janitors.

Brilliant, through overuse, has lost its sparkle. Fascinating has lost its charm, powerful is impotent and even towering achievement is getting shaky. Liberals go for heart-shattering and deeply empathetic while conservatives are attracted to gripping and the hard-driving compelling.

For adventure novels, riveting is getting a rosy run, along with the hypnotic mesmerizing and the noun page turner. For novels in which characters determine the plot, San Francisco likes absorbing and satisfying, and New York pushes moving and masterly. Upbeat women's books take triple adjectives, with an adverb rhythmically punching the third: ''Funny, ferocious, intensely likable'' and ''Droll, shrewd, irresistibly entertaining'' describe the same Random House novel.

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