LITERARY HUMOR

What Book Blurbs Really Mean

Witty parodies of words we see too often on dust jackets

Janice Harayda
Lit Life
Published in
2 min readJun 15, 2024

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Library of Congress via Wikipedia

Have you noticed that no ad ever describes a Honda hatchback as “spellbinding”? Or a cookie-cutter ranch house “triumphant”?

No? Then why do publishing firms keep sucker-punching us by plastering terms like those all over dust jackets, press releases, and other promotional materials for books?

Not long ago, I posted a list 57 of the most overused or overheated terms, translated by authors, editors, literary agents, and other publishing-industry insiders I follow on Twitter.

Lyle Hedley has one-upped them with his own list of parodies of terms too often seen in the blurbs found on book covers or in ads or reviews. I liked it so much, I’d like to quote a few:

“alarming” (as in “an alarming tale of terror”): “Stephen King describing a toaster”

“childlike” (as in “a story as childlike as it is endearing”): you’ll “have to keep explaining it over and over”

“commanding” (as in “a commanding story of greed and lust”): you “would only read this at gunpoint”

“fiery” (as in “a fiery novel of lost hope and found love”): “good for kindling”

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Janice Harayda
Lit Life

Critic, novelist, award-winning journalist. Former book editor of the Plain Dealer and book columnist for Glamour. Words in NYT, WSJ, and other major media.