Unwarranted Close Reading: 6 Words that Should No Longer Be Used in Book Blurbs

This week’s book news was dominated by the Giller Prize, and I must admit that even I tuned in to watch the coverage on CBC. Host Rick Mercer was amusing as always, but I found myself making faces at some of the cringe-worthy instances of stock blurb vocabulary used by the celebrity presenters in introducing the nominees.

So of course I spent the duration of the broadcast mentally mocking the preponderance of blurb words. (Note to self: this would make an excellent drinking game.)

What follows is my short, snarky and somewhat unwarranted close-reading of the language of book blurbs.



1. stunning

From the verb to stun: to knock senseless; stupefy; bewilder or astound due to something shocking.

Unless I’m clocked in the face with a hardcover book hurtling through the air at breakneck speed, I am unlikely to be ‘knocked senseless’ by a book. Mildly taken aback perhaps. I might even go so far as to say that I’ve been quite interested in learning the outcome of events. Have I ever experienced real physical astonishment at the outcome of a book? Sorry—no.


2. readable

adj. able to be read; legible

Why, yes, thank you. This book IS readable. In fact, I am in the process of reading it. As one does. With books.


3. haunting

From the verb to haunt: a placed visited regularly by a ghost, usually one who reputedly gives signs of its presence.

Does anyone else chortle a bit when someone calls a book ‘haunting’? I always picture it floating in midair, following you around your house, petulantly tossing other books of your bookshelf like a toddler mid-tantrum. “Read me. Reeeaaaad meeeeee.”


4. compelling

From the verb to compel: bring about by force.

This word always brings out the worst of my contrarian nature. I want to put town any book described as ‘compelling’ and run away screaming, “I don’t want to and you can’t make me!”


5. breathtaking

Literally meaning, to take away one’s breath.

Like the soul-sucking Dementors of Harry Potter fame, books are often imbued with the power of stealing the life-giving oxygen from unsuspecting readers’ lungs. For shame, books. For shame.


6. unputdownable

OK, seriously? Now you’re just making up words.



Isn’t it funny how much hyperbolic tripe goes into marketing books that should, if they’re worth their salt, be void of hyperbolic tripe? I mean, come on. People in the book biz and in journalism are presumably big fans of the written word. Don’t they owe it to themselves at the very least to dig down and pull some precise, descriptive and unique words out of their university-educated vocabularies.

I could go on (and I’m sure you could, too) but in the mean time, can we all agree, for the sake of my sanity, to cut down on these buzzwords?

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.