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blurbinator, by Dan Waber

A couple of years ago I went through the poetry section of an SPD catalog and copy/pasted all of the blurb text, figuring to do something with it someday but not sure exactly what. Blurbs suck. And while I admit that I have written some in my life, I have stopped doing so and now politely decline when asked. It's nothing personal, I am just against the whole process and would launch a global campaign against them if I had the free time. I could never put my finger on exactly what bugged me (maybe it was so many things).

I started this particular project without a precisely defined goal, other than to do something with these texts. I've spent enough time mucking around with chunks of text that I felt an intuition would come to me once I started to manipulate these strings. Inspiration is in the dust kicked up by work. So I dug in and started deleting copy that was about anthologies or was an actually well-written mini-review of the work rather than one of the stinky blurbs I was targeting. And I started really reading the texts. Then I knew exactly what bugged me about them.

They reminded me of the kinds of statements used by charlatans when cold-reading a room, statements that leverage the Forer Effect: Barnum Statements, Rainbow Ruses, Self-Serving Bias, Generalities, and Flattery. I also discovered that a significant percentage of the worst offenders were of a certain structure, a four-part formula, very often exactly four sentences but easily broken down into four beats with variations that re-ordered the beats or dropped a beat or combined two beats, but always this same basic overall structure.

So I cut them apart and allocated them into bins based on which of the four beats they fit best in: opening, elaboration, penultimate, or closing. Then made names/titles into variables to show how blatently say-nothing they are. I could have written a random blurb generator from scratch (my wife can make them up on the fly, as a party trick), which would also be a kind of fun, but, I felt it was a more effective form of parody to use actual texts and show their interchangeable nature.

I believe this appropriation of texts written by others fall squarely under the Fair Use provisions for parody. My intent here is to show that these texts are, themselves, a joke. If the sentences can be randomly mixed with other sentences of the same type and have arbitrary names and titles substituted I hope it's pretty clear they're not saying anything of value about any specific book.

Kids, just say "No!" to blurbs.

Source code: blurbinator

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