Bad words and prejudice

The only acceptable type of 'bittersweet' ...

Putting books back on shelves this morning, I picked up a title that sounded interesting, and turned to the back cover to read more.  It only took a second to change my mind about taking the book home: the first three words in the publisher’s blurb were “A bittersweet exploration…”

As much as the cover is the first thing to catch our eye, the next thing that many of us judge a book by is all the stuff on the back – summary, blurb, review quotes, author recommendations – there seems to be no end to the ways a publisher tries to entice us to try a book.   Sometimes it works really well, and I am off to the issues desk with my library card; other times it’s an instant turn-off:  bittersweet is great if you are talking about chocolate, but I HATE the word when used to describe a book.

Likewise, the following collection of words and phrases:  astonishing, inspiring, tour-de-force, luminous prose, enfant terrible, profoundly moving, rip-roaring, roller-coaster, homage, award-winning, groundbreaking, debut …  ICK!

And what about those jacket quotes by other authors?  Sorry, publishers, if that Twilight woman is involved anywhere, it’s the kiss of death for me (hur hur).  Likewise, Mr Patterson and Ms Roberts – you can’t tell me they have time to read and recommend ANYthing, given how many books they are churning out themselves.  And how do publishers figure out which authors to mention?  And when?  Big-name authors of 2011 may not survive into 2012, and if their fame is of the trendy and current variety, who knows how readers will feel about them in another five years?

Having said all that, however, there are also words, phrases and authors that will just about instantly propel me to the issues desk.  Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Cory Doctorow, China Mieville – if YOU recommend a book, I am absolutely going to read it, no matter what it’s about.  Fairy tales and magic realism; words like steampunk, quirky, alternate; publishers like Angry Robot, and anything at all related to that odd sub-genre “New Weird”:  all these are definite trigger words for a Yes! reaction, at the very least.

And yet these words and signals are all peculiar to me alone.  For other readers, the very mention of the words “magic realism” are enough to make them run screaming to the exit, while a list of all the fancy-schmancy highbrow awards a book has won will make some swoon with delight (ooh, see my prejudice showing …).

Each to his own, though, I guess.  And as long as Neil and China and Cory are recommending, and AngryRobot is publishing, I will be happy.

What words and phrases make you happy on a book cover?  Are there authors’ names you look for in the recommendations?  Or do you take no notice of all those words on the back, and just dive straight in?

12 thoughts on “Bad words and prejudice

  1. Claire at Latitude 17 January 2012 / 10:57 am

    How do you feel about “X [insert author’s name] is writing at the peak of his/her powers”?

    • bronnypop 17 January 2012 / 1:53 pm

      I know – poor author! Doomed to a spiralling descent from that point on – it’s really just code for “give up now, you’ll never do any better.”

  2. Laraine Barker 17 January 2012 / 11:35 am

    My sister gave me Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth so I shut my mind to expectations of yet another Dan Brown imitation (and the word “bestseller” on the cover) and started reading. Sunday Times is quoted on the back cover as describing it as “Compelling … intriguing … passionate” and Independent apparently described it as “action-packed adventure” and called it an “elegantly written timeship novel”. I couldn’t find any real action in it and nothing could have been less elegantly written. Yes, “bestseller” is for me the biggest turnoff of the lot.

    • clurbee 17 January 2012 / 1:29 pm

      Pretty much any book where the author’s name is bigger than the title and/or shiny is put off for me. Quite often it goes hand in hand with ‘bestseller’

  3. Robyn 17 January 2012 / 12:20 pm

    Oh no! “Astonishing, inspiring, tour-de-force, luminous prose, enfant terrible, profoundly moving, rip-roaring, roller-coaster, homage, award-winning, groundbreaking, debut”. I believe I have used all of these words in blogs over the years. I am on a roller-coaster of rip-roaring embrarassment at how my luminous prose has not been award-winning, nor groundbreaking.
    I find it astonishing that even my debut was not an inspiring tour-de-force but your profoundly moving meditations on bad words do make me want to pay homage to you. I may never put fingertips to keyboard again.

    • bronnypop 17 January 2012 / 2:10 pm

      Well, you must understand that my bitter rant was inspired by a rollercoaster of epic emotions – like envy of authors who actually write novels that are published … When my own masterwork is finally written and published, of course ALL of those words will be plainly evident on all covers, AND they will be all true.

  4. Marion 17 January 2012 / 1:21 pm

    I had to sneak a look at my lunchtime reading. There it was “crafts a suspenseful tale with enough twists and turns to keep readers on their toes”
    At least a reasonable teaser for the plot followed. Then a quote from The Australian which I thought was aiming high but missed the mark “No one drops so many wonderful threads to a story or ties them so satisfyingly together at the end”

  5. lynneccl 18 January 2012 / 10:25 am

    I avoid anything described as “heartwarming”, (sickly and sentimental) “quirky’ (just weird) or “tour-de-force” (unreadable pretentious rubbish hoping for a Booker prize).

    • jane 24 January 2012 / 1:56 pm

      I like your style Lynne!

  6. El Rico Grande 23 March 2012 / 12:23 pm

    “In the spirit of…” – used more often on DVD covers, but still avoidance material nonetheless. Especially if it’s a heartwarming story like that one with Sam the Hobbit in an American football team…

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