Waldo Emerson wrote a private letter to Walt Whitman in 1855,
extolling the power of the then obscure writer:
am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of 'Leaves of Grass.'
I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America
has yet contributed.” Just a few months later the letter, with Walt
Whitman's permission, was printed in its entirety in The
New York Tribune.
With “Leaves of Grass” having been published on July 4, 1855, a
new 1856 edition was released with a short quote from Emerson's
letter to Whitman on the spine of the book. It read “I greet you at
the beginning of a great career.” Scholars believe that this
sentence was one of the first book blurbs to ever appear on a book.
we read book blurbs all the time. Books are compelling,
awe-inspiring, striking . . . Hundreds of thousands of books are
published every year, many plastered with words of praise, comparing
the new authors to ones we consider timeless like Cormac McCarthy,
Ernest Hemingway, and Toni Morrison. Ernest Hemingway was once
blurbed himself when he was still an unknown. Six quotes from six
different authors appeared on the front the 1925 edition of “In Our
word “blurb” is believed to have been coined in 1906 by Gelett
Burgess on the front cover of his book “Are You a Bromide?” Above
the description of the book, which was given out at a trade
conference, is a pretty woman announcing the blurb: “YES, this is a
'BLURB'! All the Other Publishers commit them. Why Shouldn't We?”
The image of the woman calling is captioned “MISS BELINDA BLURB IN
THE ACT OF BLURBING”. The actual blurb calls the book “a 90-H.
P., six-cylinder Seller.”
days we often read novelists blurbing other novelists. Stephen King
and Gary Shteyngart are two prolific blurbists. It's like another
career they have running parallel to novel writing. And then there
are writers who never blurb. Novelist Mark Helprin visited Lemuria
last month to talk about his new novel “Paris in the Present
Tense”—a fine book which needs no blurbs. I did not really know
anything about Mark Helprin so I read a lengthy interview in the
from 1993 in which he relates his feelings about blurbs and reviews.
Helprin gave his first book to his friend and well-known writer John
Cheever with the hope that he would write a favorable review. When
Cheever rejected the book and wrote a review for another writer,
Helprin described the rejection as a “double lightning bolt of
anger and shame.” And so his first book, “Dove of the East,”
has no blurbs on the dust jacket, just a photo of Mark Helprin on the
back of the dust jacket looking rather melancholy. To this day,
Helprin writes no reviews or blurbs for other writers, he does not
long for prizes, and he occupies himself with a large life beyond
writing his best-selling novels. He shared in the Paris
that it was “Flaubert who said something like 'live like a
bourgeouis so you can write like a wildman.'” Though others
continue to blurb, I will not blurb Mark Helprin's “Paris in the Present Tense.” Just read it and live wild.
Written by Lisa Newman