Chris Uggen's Blog: blurbs that reverb

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

blurbs that reverb

since the publication of locked out, i've given and received numerous blurbs. this week, i got an email blurbing a passage from one of my reviews:

“This book is a stunning achievement.”
—Christopher Uggen, Contexts

my comment isn't hyperbole. a multi-method tour de force tracking a cohort of delinquent boys for sixty freaking years is a stunning achievement. still, i wish i'd said something less trite; more people probably saw that blurb than anything else i've written. "this book is a stunning achievement" could apply to any book, including, apparently, the second edition of the crisis intervention handbook: assessment, treatment, and research and retro stud: muscle movie posters from around the world.

preferably, the publisher would have pulled something that demonstrated that i had actually read the book (i did too! how can you be so cynical?). because my brief contexts review didn't give them much with which to work, i can't blame the press. here's the longer passage i would have selected:

"Laub and Sampson continually remind us of the essential humanity of their subjects. Many readers will no doubt hear the voices of their fathers or grandfathers in the quotations, even in those from persistent offenders such as “Patrick” or “Boston Billy.” Nevertheless, Laub and Sampson also convey the sharp “edge” of these older men, many of whom still think of themselves as hell-raisers."

unfortunately, i didn't write anything pithy or blurbable. i said some pithy, blurbable stuff at an authors meet critics session, but that doesn't count. i also tried to quote social distortion's ball and chain (Well it's been ten years and a thousand tears/And look at the mess I'm in/A broken nose and a broken heart/An empty bottle of gin), but that too was axed in the editing process. so, i guess that harvard worked with what they had.

i also wrote a back-cover blurb for a new handbook at about the time that oxford emailed me the blurbs for my book with jeff manza. wondering how to phrase my praise, i had fun taking the nice things people said about locked out and adapting them to the books that i was supposed to blurb, substituting phrases such as "restorative justice" and "civil liberties" for "felon disenfranchisement." it went something like this:

"Few issues undermine the legitimacy of democratic systems more than civil liberties. The Handbook of Civil Liberties examines the legal, political, and social-historical context of this peculiarly American dilemma. The book is masterful, a must-read for those who seek answers to why and how civil liberties exist and what can be done to hasten their demise."

"Energetically researched and clearly written, The Handbook of Civil Liberties is a major contribution to public debate about the vexed issue of civil liberties. It sheds light into one of the dark corners of American political life, suggesting that civil liberties remain a significant shortcoming of our democracy."

"In this brilliant and timely book The Handbook of Civil Liberties probes the roots of this phenomenon in American history, especially our racial history, and they show us how civil liberties continue to distort American democracy, and to influence electoral outcomes."

trust me, this was a lot funnier back when civil liberties were still a positively valued social good. try substituting "puppies" for felon disenfranchisement and you'll see what i mean:

"Few issues undermine the legitimacy of democratic systems more than puppies. The Handbook of Puppies examines the legal, political, and social-historical context of this peculiarly American dilemma. The book is masterful, a must-read for those who seek answers to why and how puppies exist and what can be done to hasten their demise."

now isn't that a lot more thoughtful and nuanced than calling the handbook of puppies "a stunning achievement?" i bet it would sell more books, too.

2 Comments:

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Mike W. said...

What kind of awful editor would edit out Social D lyrics? (I suppose I know the answer: the editor of Contexts)

 
At 2:49 PM, Anonymous mike ness said...

ah, the editor really treated me well, mike. of course, i agree that the passage from ball and chain could only have improved the review. what lines better sum up the latter stages of a criminal career than:

a broken nose and a broken heart,
an empty bottle of gin...

 

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