There’s a fun chart floating around called “Book Blurbs – Glossary of Terms.” I’ve tried to figure out the origin of this clever glossary but couldn’t. But I thank my good friend, Elizabeth Dewey, for sending it to me with her suggestion for this column.
Regular type represents the original chart, what it means when a critic calls a book this, for example “Exotic” (code for Set Abroad). Bold print represents whatever book I’ve added as the example. I invite you all to think through your reading lists, recently or long ago, and imagine which books you believe fit under each blurb, a little like a party game. Indeed, this could be fun in a group or just sitting alone at the computer as I am right now. Here we go.
“Spare and taut” (code for Under Researched) – James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans. I didn’t have to think this one up. Mark Twain, a formidable literary critic, had no use for Cooper’s book and took it to task brilliantly. Find Twain’s critique and you’ll find his most famous book review.
“Moving” (code for Child Dies) – Take your pick of Charles Dickens’ novels, especially The Old Curiosity Shop. You had to be tough to grow up in Victorian London.
“Heart rending” (code for Dog Dies) – This is especially true when you didn’t see it coming. M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth book known as Lament for Little Jock. Beaton actually has multiple dogs die, unusual for a cozy mystery writer. A few years ago, I was sitting in the coffee shop reading one of her books and for no particular reason, Macbeth’s dog just up and died of natural causes. I tried to hide it, but it made me cry. The owner came by and was concerned. Just try to explain that you’re crying in public because a non-existent fictional dog died. Fool me once. I’m ready for dogs to be temporary in Beaton’s books now.
“Disturbing” (code for Author Is Bonkers) – I’m picking Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. After all she did write it in one sleepless, drug hazed weekend with her writer friends, and it does give us an ultimately sympathetic monster who dies at the hands of a mob of villagers. It’s pretty disturbing. She might have been a little bonkers.
I’m going to fit one author into two categories. “From the pen of a master” (code for Same Old Same Old) and “richly detailed” (Over Researched) – Anything by James Michener. He’s got a formula and one either loves it or not. (Let’s just say I haven’t read one in a long time. But I do understand the attraction.)
“Award winning” (code for Set in India) – There’s a certain current truth to this although it might be shifting to South Korea. A good example is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
“Thoughtful” (code for Mind Numbingly Tedious) – This choice was easy for me. Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Wake me when he’s finally got the fish, please! (At least Ahab was after something of formidable size, had a bigger boat and the air of insanity. Not to mention there’s a narrator named Ishmael and a tattooed fellow with his own hand made coffin named Queequeg. I know which fishing trip I’m picking.)
While I’m thinking of Hemingway, let’s cover the critical “Epic” (code for Editor Cowed by Author’s Reputation) and pick A Farewell to Arms, the yuckiest portrayal of 20th century women perhaps ever. (Let me add for those Hemingway fans among you, I really do believe his short stories are priceless, brilliant things. I feel compelled to mention that. But his women.)
Remember, this is all in good fun. I’ve only covered eight out of twenty categories and will put the whole list on the library’s Facebook page, so you can see everything. It’s a great conversation starter with your reading friends. Thanks again, Liz. Of course, we can get you all these books and so many more, 24/7, in every format, always free.
See you at the Library!
(By Roz Weedman for publication in the Frankenmuth News, Dec. 15, 2021)