Extraordinary thing. Look at this: http://bit.ly/jraEP
I was having lunch with my literary agent yesterday and I said, mostly as a joke, that I had it in mind to blog a confession. I would publicly admit that I read fewer than one in twenty of the books to which I gave approving quotes for dust jackets and blurbs. My agent was shocked. Whether he was shocked that I might plug books I hadn’t read, or shocked that I could contemplate owning up to such a crime, I cannot be entirely sure.
I hasten to add that it isn’t true. The plan, as I told my agent, was to make this confession as a way of getting publishers off my back. It may sound ungracious, but I get asked so many times a week to read book and supply quotes for them that I’m getting a bit fed up. Not because I don’t like reading, nor because I don’t like being sent books, though mostly of course, I am sent proof copies rather than the finished article. No, what I’m fed up with (and it is my contention that I am SO not alone in this) is seeing my name on the fronts, backs and flaps of books saying things like “a beautifully paced, unforgettable thriller”, “a magnificent feat of imagination”, “a delicately realised and vividly felt journey through memory and desire”, etc etc. Yuckety, yuckety, yuck. Pukety, pukety puke.
I mean well: I really don’t think my good intentions can be questioned. It gives me pleasure to encourage writers and if they and their publishers are so convinced that a word from me makes a difference then surely it would be churlish and unfriendly of me to deny them a favour that costs me so little and is worth (apparently) so much to them? And yet … isn’t there is a law of diminishing returns at work here? “I saw a new book in Waterstone’s the other day that didn’t have a quote from you on the front” people joke to me. I am fully aware that each peal of praise trumpeting a new book must be worth slightly less. The coin gets debased: instead of crying “Wolf!”, I’m crying “Gold!”, but the effect is the same. Hence my plan to reveal that I never read any of these works in the first place. If I let it be known that my view of a book’s merit is worthless because I never read any of them, then perhaps the nuisance would finally cease? Of course my view of a book’s merit IS worthless, or at last worth no more than anyone else’s … until you come face to face with data like that in the article pointed to in the link at the top of this page.
I try very hard not to use Twitter for the purpose of plugging anything commercial unless it is an absolutely genuine enthusiasm, a discovery I feel I just have to share. Eagleman’s “Sum” is an example of this and while I am pleased that my tweeting had such a positive effect, I have to confess that the figures are a little alarming. Imagine how many books and manuscripts are on their way to me even as we speak. What have let myself in for now?
Having said which, it just so happens that a truly amazing book is being published this very day: Last Chance To See, by Mark Carwardine http://tr.im/ymyE Fantastic photos, glittering prose and a forward by one of the most prodigious book-pluggers and quote-providers in the business. “Last Chance To See is a majestic tour d’horizon ” Stephen Fry, “a work or rare power and beauty” Stephen Fry, “I loved the Foreword by Stephen Fry,” Stephen Fry, “scorching satire”, Stephen Fry, “breathtakingly erotic” Stephen Fry, “help, I’m trapped,” Stephen Fry, “let me out!” Stephen Fry……