You Butter My Book… by Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson

You Butter My Book…

 

One day I’ll put together an anthology of the puffery and gush known in the UK as ‘advance praise’ and in America as ‘blurbs’, showing how it has evolved through the decades. You know the type of gush I mean: Stephen Fry or Colm Tóibín (the most regular perpetrators) pronouncing a debut novel to be ‘masterful and assured’, a memoir to be ‘raw and compelling’, a book about the climate to be ‘timely and urgent’, a work of history to be ‘authoritative and important’ or a volume of poems to contain ‘lines which will be read for as long as poetry matters’. Corralled before a book’s publication and placed on the covers of hardbacks, advance praise should be distinguished from the quotes found on paperbacks, which are pruned from reviews.

Advance praise is, for the most part, provided by friends of the author, friends of the publisher and rivals seeking to ensure that they will receive similar acclaim in return once their next book appears. When Edward A Freeman, author of the six-volume The History of the Norman Conquest, succeeded Dr William Stubbs, author of the more famous three-volume The Constitutional History of England, as Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, a Victorian humorist noted the suitability of the changeover, given each man’s habit of praising the other’s works: ‘See, ladling butter from alternate tubs,/Stubbs butters Freeman, Freeman butters Stubbs.’

Having both ladled it out and received it myself, I’ve nothing in principle against the business of buttering up. I’m happy to promote an author I admire, especially if they are published by a small press. Added to which, it’s hard to say no when the request to

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