Friday, 18 November 2011

Burned by the Blurb

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Oh, that feeling of anticipation as you open up a new book. The delicious smell of the print floats off the pages, inviting you in as you settle down into the corner of the couch to start what you're sure will be a beautiful new relationship. Perhaps one for the ages! With cup of steaming tea by your elbow and dog snuggled up on your feet, you turn to the first page. Ah, bliss... Part way through the book, however, you realise that something is amiss. Something, somewhere is not quite ringing true. While it's not bad, this book is not going in the direction that you thought it would be - at least the direction you thought it would be when you read the blurb on the back... 

About eighteen months ago, I read A Gate at the Stairs in preparation for my thesis about post-9/11 literature. I had heard rave reviews about it and so I was really looking forward to digging in. As is my habit, before I started reading it properly, I read the synopsis on the inner flap of the cover (I'd splashed out and bought a hardback - that's how much I'd wanted to get my hands on this book) to get an idea of what I was in for. This is where my problems began. You see, this 300-word synopsis of the book was, in my opinion, completely misleading. I don't mean "misleading" in the Star Wars is a tender love story set in the Bronx during the 1930's kind of way. I mean more in the main relationship in Star Wars is the brotherhood between C3P0 and R2-D2 kind of way. I was expecting, and therefore looking for, the wrong plot line and in the end, the story I ended up reading didn't resemble the one I thought I was going to read at all. As you might imagine - vague disappointment ensued.

You could very well argue that it was my fault to go into something with expectations and assumptions and smugly claim some tripe about making an ass out of you and me - yes yes all of this is true - but really. Who among us buys a book, let alone reads it without at least checking out the back cover? I know I never do. Normally, this isn't a problem but this time I was well and truly burned by the blurb. It turned what I thought would be a fabulous book into an unsatisfying reading experience, but through no fault of the novel itself. 

Luckily, there is a happy end to this story. I just re-read it, freed of the false impressions of the previous reading and enjoyed it far better this time. I did enjoy it last time but without that thundercloud of "I've been duped!" hanging over me, this time I was able to fully engage in the brilliance of it. In fact, the difference in reading experience was so striking that it got me wondering if anyone else had ever had this kind of problem before with any other book or if anyone had actually read this book (and synopsis) and had no problems whatsoever. Or have you had this problem and had the chance (or inclination) to re-read the book to see if you could fix the issue? 


  1. The Long Winter from the Little House series has a cover with this Garth Williams illustration of Laura and one of her sisters dashing through a snowball fight, laughing. It looks like it is supposed to be a heartwarming, bucolic narrative about winter in the countryside. Turns out, the book is about the six months Laura's town spent stranded out west, nearly starving to death because the US government had stopped running trains out to South Dakota and they had no food. They eat nothing but bread baked from whole wheat they milled by hand in a coffee grinder and slowly go crazy as they contemplate the very real possibility of dying. It was co-authored by Rose Wilder Lane, Laura's daughter. She was a founder of the libertarian movement, so you can see political undertones in the narrative.

    I read it and was like "Huh, where's the snowball fight?"

  2. I can't remember which book it was that I had this same problem with a couple of years ago but I definitely felt the same way you did. I really thought I would have liked the book much better if I had not had expectations. So frustrating - preblogging days, I very often bought a book solely based on the blurb.

  3. I can't think of any specific examples, but I do think that the blurb always pulls out the most intriguing bits. I try not to buy based on the blurb, although I totally buy based on the cover. Great post.