Literary Irrational Exuberance – Shteyngart Blurbs

He’s been called the Balzac of blurbs, the Robert Pollard of blurbs. And now he’s the centerpiece of a new short documentary by Edward Champion, “Shteyngart Blurbs.” Gary Shteyngart blurbs and blurbs and blurbs. Why? He says he’s trying to get people to read literary fiction. He’s paying forward the help that he got when he was a newbie. And, well, it’s good for the ego.

Sausage-making is one of those things you don’t want to look into, and it’s entirely possible that blurbing is another. But if you’re strong of stomach, read on. Publishers believe that blurbs sell books – you even see blurbs on self-published books. So blurbing is an important service for fellow authors. But the search for a blurb can be excruciating, one of the many grateful recipients of a Shteyngart blurb says in the film. Shteyngart is willing, and his power is nearly mystical. One author says he lays hands on a book and comes to understand its essence.

I ignore blurbs. All critics claim to ignore blurbs. OK, I often look to see who blurbed a book but I’m not sure I’m ready to admit they influence me. This makes me unlike the Washington Post critic Ron Charles, who says in the movie “I am impressed by good blurbs even when I know they are friends of the author. . .” I like to figure out the networks – who knows who, who studied with whom. I always read the acknowledgements, too.

The film is full of grateful recipients of Shteyngart’s blurb largesse, including A.J. Jacobs, whose New York Times column on blurbing says:

A literary blog once created a word collage out of all blurbs by the novelist Gary Shteyngart. “My blurbing standards are very high,” Shteyngart told me. “I look for the following: Two covers, one spine, at least 40 pages, ISBN number, title, author’s name. Once those conditions are satisfied, I blurb. And I blurb hard. I’ve blurbed about a hundred novels in the past 10 years, nearly every one that landed on my desk.

Shteyngart admits to the ego – and to a few other things too. Like not finishing all the books he’s blurbed. And did he blurb the film? Here’s his tweet:


It’s all part of the game. Do you read blurbs? Do you read Shteyngart’s blurbs? Do they influence you? Let us know in the comments.

Publisher’s note: We got our own Shteyngart blurb!

UPDATE: This post has been edited.

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About Alexandra Bowie

Alexandra Bowie is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.

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4 Responses to Literary Irrational Exuberance – Shteyngart Blurbs

  1. David on Middagh January 14, 2013 at 12:08 am #

    A fine film. I laughed; I backed up to study the bookcases; but I failed to cover my eyes at 3:30. Some things cannot be unseen.

  2. Edward Champion January 14, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    Thanks for the kind writeup, Ms. Bowie. I look forward to reading many additional stories from the Brooklyn Bugle, a periodical of impeccable standards, high spirits, and grand gusto. As the person who put this film together, I feel compelled to address David on Middagh’s understandable terror.

    Believe it or not, I did debate whether or not to include the cat Vonnegut’s Asterisk shot. On one hand, the cat offered a beautiful swoosh of its tail. Indeed, among the cats I have worked with, it was never one of those difficult divas with a rider demanding a trailer filled with a giant ball of yarn. On the other hand, there was the cat’s uncanny position.

    I felt that the loping tail was enough to cover up the Asterisk and that a brief cut would not be especially noticeable. By the time the film was locked, I realized that it had the reverse effect. I had unwittingly imbued the film with an “Un Chien Andalou”-like moment. Bunuel considered the eye. I had rued upon the ass. I wondered if anybody would notice. Nobody did. Until now.

    Life, however, is best guided by instinct and happy accidents, and this spirit guides the film. So I stand behind my artistic decision, but maybe I’ll grow a tail to cover my Asterisk in the future.

    • Alexandra Bowie January 18, 2013 at 10:37 am #

      Ed – So glad you liked the post – looking forward to more films.

  3. Homer Fink January 15, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    Ed – that’s an Easter Egg – should have saved it for the DVD !