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Seduced by the Blurb

PUBLISHED: June 27, 2009

Shadow of the WindI walked into my neighborhood Borders last Friday—I love that my neighborhood store is the one on the corner of Michigan Ave in downtown Chicago—intending to purchase a book. One book. A hardcover, yes, so a bit of an indulgence for my student budget, but I had my 40% off coupon so I thought I’d be okay. I should have known better. Turning my inner bibliophile loose in a four-story bookstore is an invitation for disaster. And, true to form, I did not walk out with one book: I walked out with five.

“So what happened?” I asked myself on the walk home, feeling a little guilty (but not very) as the weight of the bag hanging from my arm reminded me of just how much I was going to enjoy every page of my guilty pleasures. Why are books my Achilles heel when I don’t buy anything else on an impulse, even items I love with equal intensity like shoes and dark chocolate and music for my iPod? Because those other things don’t come with blurbs on the back.

Winter in MadridPeople who love to read are always looking for that next great find, as the marketing department at every major publishing house knows. Don’t we pick up books and read the synopses on the back while hoping for a story so compelling we can’t put it down? This is the joy of language and this is why we read. (As an aside, is this not also why we write, to try and evoke that “ahhhh” moment of bliss in someone else?) The people who sell books are onto us, and I’ve just realized I’m a sucker.

Night Train to LisbonTake extra books number one and two. Winter in Madrid, by CJ Sansom. I was on the fence until I flipped it over and spotted this comment: “If you like…Carlos Ruiz Zafon, you’ll love this.” Since the book I had entered the store to purchase was Ruiz Zafon’s second novel—one I had waited two years to read in English after struggling through the Spanish version last summer—well, anything referring to The Shadow of the Wind was something I was going to buy. And apparently, someone else knew that too: within two minutes, with a reference to the same author, I had also added Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon to my pile.

Interred with their BonesThen I spotted another title that looked interesting: Interred With Their Bones, by Jennifer Lee Carrell. “A lively intellectual romp for Shakespeare lovers,” the back said. How many people can say they’ve actually read the complete works of Shakespeare from start to finish? I couldn’t say no. At this point, I should have had the good sense to flee to the cash register, but then I stumbled across The Ten-Year Nap, by Meg Wolitzer. With back-cover allusions to Tom Wolfe, Philip Roth, and John Updike I found my arm acting of its own accord.

The Ten-Year NapThe only saving grace was the blurb on the back of the book I put back. I can’t remember the title now, but it sounded good initially, at least until I saw the one-liner of praise on the back. “Fabulous!” declared a writer of fluffy historical sap. I shoved the book back on the shelf with a little more force than was necessary, and that clunk snapped me out of my purchasing daze.

There will always be more books on the shelves. Five is enough, I thought. But I couldn’t help but crack a small smile. Because, let’s face it: Five is only enough for now.


Harvee Lau's picture
I do the same thing in the library but at least I don’t spend anything except for late fines. I do sometimes feel guilty though for taking out so many books at one time.
Mandy Redig's picture
I know, I do it with the library too….only I’m not always as on top of things as you seem to be. I have paid my share of late fines along the way!

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