Friday, July 9, 2010

The Blurb Transparency idea

Today I landed on Emily Gould's post about blurb transparency which she wrote in response to Laura Miller's Salon piece saying book blurbs probably shouldn't exist.

I won't post the link to Salon, because when I clicked on it, it took me to a very long ad for some ABC show called "DRUGS!" There was no way to exit out of it short of eventually shutting down the laptop.

I'm guessing that Miller's article conveyed a caveat emptor approach to blurbs, and Gould's point, on balance, was that a little bit of fair disclosure might benefit the process.

Dozens of books cross my desk in a given week.

The one I'm not reading right now is The Thieves of Manhattan: A Novel. It's sitting on my mantle. I made it as far as page 33. But Ayelet Waldman's blurb says, "it's the rare literary novel that can stand up to the rigors of six hours sandwiched in coach between a shrieking newborn and a gentleman hacking up at least one of his lungs." That would never happen to me (I won't fly, or have kids), but if it did, I would consider that high praise.

I think I'm just not into novels right now. I loved Waldman's Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace -- which recently came out in paperback, and I finally got around to reading at the exact same time I read her husband's most recent non-fiction, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son (P.S.). I love Michael Chabon (I practically wrote a eulogy for his last Details column), and was actually shocked (shocked!) that I liked her book better.

 I found Emily Gould by way of two other books: Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House by Meghan Daum (whom I've written about before  - but not nearly in proportion to the amount of time I've devoted to thinking about her and the fact that my life would be perfect if I had her site), and How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley, whose name is everyday-familiar to me, because she's a publicist, so I get emails from her like this one, "it's on the way" (in response to a request for Dave Eggers' Zeitoun (Vintage) -- new in paperback -- one of those books I always meant to read last year but never got around to). It's not exactly the sort of breathless-cafe-exchange People Magazine apparently envisioned for the two of us.

The other reason I feel like Sloane Crosley is so familiar is because her first essay collection was I Was Told There'd Be Cake, and I liked it so much the first babystep words I ever posted on facebook, twitter, and all-social-media as a status update were: "was told there'd be cake." For me, it was the equivalent of my "Watson, come here, I need you." And the first person who ever responded (after I let that update sit there for a long time because I couldn't figure out how to change it) was Aimee Lynne Hirschowitz who wrote back, "well, there won't be cake, but there will be wine and cheese," inviting me to her art opening.

I bought Crosley's new book (I actually did buy it, though ordering a review copy was on the intern's to-do list for a long, long, long time) at least partly because the blurb at the top described it as "relentlessly funny," which really meant something coming from David Sedaris. I didn't feel as confident about the comment from People, "you'll feel as though you're sitting with her at a cafe, breathlessly waiting to hear what she's going to tell you next." Oh, People Magazine, sometimes it's like you don't know me at all.

My favorite chapter in the book is "Off the Back of a Truck," which she spends furnishing her apartment with ill-gotten, upscale, purloined goods from the store she refers to as Out of Your League, fenced to her illicitly by their lovably irascible vaguely mafia-esque employee Daryl, who tells her the one thing no one else will after she wastes a year of her life on a relationship spent in an accidental, inadvertent double life with her boyfriend who, as it turns out, hadn't really bothered to leave his last girlfriend. She was leading one life; he was leading two. Or as she puts it when the girlfriend calls her, "the bigger picture was too difficult to understand. In that picture, the person I loved not only stepped out of the frame but turned around on his way out to tell me he was never there." As she reels and recovers, everyone consoles her with unsolicited advice ("plenty of fish!" and "it could be worse!" or "it has nothing to do with you")  but it's Daryl who tells her The One Thing, and The One Thing is this: "It wasn't as real as you thought it was. Whatever anyone else tells you is bullshit." It's one of the best chapters you'll ever read about heartbreak and home decor.

I knew Emily Gould's work because a lot of readers sent me her famous 2008 NYTMag piece, "Exposed" -- most with cautionary notes attached about what happens when you write too much about the "characters" in your life and how they might not like it so much. I re-discovered her this year because writers kept lumping her in with reviews of Meghan Daum and Sloane Crosley, presumably because all three of them happen to be women, who have new books out -- and then I realized I wasn't the only person who'd noticed how often they got grouped, after the Awl post: "These are definitely both books about being alive and a human being while, incidentally or not, also having a vagina. Also, don't forget, you know who else has a vagina and also lives in a city? That's right: Meghan Daum."

As soon as I get Emily Gould's  And the Heart Says Whatever, I will probably write a lengthy post that compares and contrasts it with Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House, and How Did You Get This Number?.

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