About a year-and-a-half ago now (God, time flies!), my dear friend, the Honorable Reverend Esteban Vázquez wrote a post entitled, “On Blurbing (Or, ‘This Is the Best Book To Appear since the Invention of Writing’),” in which he details the sheer ridiculousness of book blurbs and their utter lack of worth in telling readers anything about the books they endorse. I have to concur with his general sentiment. I’ve never been big on book blurbs in general but sometimes I’ll read one and wonder whether or not the person blurbing has actually read the book they’re commenting on. More times than not I have to conclude that they haven’t. So I wonder, are blurbers expected to have actually read the books they endorse, or are they just expected to lend their name to a project regardless of their familiarity with it?
What brought this to mind was thinking back on a video I saw of Pastor Mark Dever giving a tour of his study, in which there was a stack of manuscripts that he was given to read for review and/or endorsement, a rather large stack numbering (by my estimate) thousands of pages. I thought it nearly impossible to actually read all those manuscripts on top of all the reading he’d have to do for his own writing projects, his pastoral work, and his general keeping up with current events. Add to that familial responsibilities and sleep and it jumps from nearly impossible to simply impossible.
But this gives me reason to believe that there are many others, like Dever, who are busy and are given thousands upon thousands of pages to read and endorse, who unfortunately can’t read them all, skim just enough to be dangerous, and end up writing positive endorsements for books that are otherwise good forth nothing other than kindling.1 Incidentally, as the Hon. Rev. Vázquez has also pointed out with prophetic discernment, this seems to be an issue with some bloggers who review books as well. Esteban deserves to be quoted at length on this point:
Somewhere along the way (rather early on, if my cynicism may be trusted), some publishers realized that, since many of us turn to the internet to search for reviews of books we do not know, this was a very effective marketing strategy—particularly in view of the fact that many bloggers, unaware of the long history of journal reviews described above, feel that it is their bounden duty to speak of the books they have received only in glowing terms. Some have gone so far as to hastily review books they have not read (!), while others have resorted to writing two-paragraph “reviews” that amount to little more than a glorified blurb. In these cases, the haste is usually related to a misplaced desire to comply with the time limits of a marketing campaign, while the invariably positive review is tied to misguided gratitude for the free book received. In these cases, one might indeed say that an advertiser has effectively bought a glowing endorsement for the measly price of book production and shipping.
And that, my friends, is the gospel truth! And so my advice to both blurbers and reviewers who endorse works that they haven’t actually read is this: stop it! We can tell and we don’t appreciate it. You’re not doing yourselves, your friends whose books you endorse, or the publishers who provide you with books for review, any favors.
1 N.B. that I am not saying that Mark Dever has written any such blurbs or is guilty of skimming and blurbing/reviewing. I can’t recall ever reading a blurb that he’s written. It was simply the thought of the video tour of his study that brought this to mind.