A blurb is a testimonial solicited by a publisher (or an author) that's printed on the front or back of a book, presumably to persuade a potential customer that the book is indispensable.
Sometimes, it's a celebrity blurb. Oprah, by virtue of her Book Club's clout, is the ultimate celebrity blurb. If Annalisa Montagnon's new novel A Fire in November's Heart has on its front cover, "This book is a valentine to the entire world." -- Oprah Winfrey, Ms. Montagnon will probably sell a bunch more books.
(Ms. Montagnon and her book are imaginary, as are all the books and authors mentioned in this piece except for Agatha Christie and me. What's not imaginary is the impact the blurb would be likely to have.)
Nonfiction blurbs usually aim at confirming the book's accuracy and importance, so they come from wonk names that are prominent in the field. Admiral Prentiss G. Hardheart's Ice and Grit: the Submarine Battle for the South Pole might be blurbed with something like, "A hymn to the courage of our deep-sea warriors by a man who was there" -- Bill Clinton. In the world of nonfiction blurbs, former presidents are the big "get," unless it's a biography of Selena Gomez or Veganism for Tots.
Most fiction blurbs are by writers who are more famous than the author of the book. Thus, my books have been blurbed by T. Jefferson Parker, Larry Beinhart, Steve Martini, John Lescroart, and a bunch of very generous others. Once in a while, writers of approximately equivalent commercial value will blurb each other. "Lowell Hummell's The War on Aspen Way is the thriller of the year" -- Edward Lumpkin. This can look suspicious when, six months later, browsers of Edward Lumpkin's just-released Dead Cold Zero learn that Lowell Hummell calls it "A rip-roaring roller coaster of a book."
By the way, the term "roller coaster" usually means that the blurbing writer didn't like the book and couldn't even be bothered to think of something persuasive.
So make way for the oddest blurb of the new millennium thus far, and likely to remain so. Only one writer in the world has ever sold more than three billion copies of her books. Only one writer has had virtually all of her eighty books remain in print since they came out, decades ago. Only one fiction writer has outsold Chairman Mao. So who do you get to blurb Agatha Christie? Shakespeare's unavailable. Nobody else comes close.
Apparently, you get me. About a year ago, I had a call from Harper, asking me whether I'd write something nice about Agatha Christie. I really only like Poirot, so I wrote something truthful (from my perspective) about Poirot and e-mailed it to them, and then forgot all about it.
And on Thursday, the book pictured above arrived by Fed Ex, and on the back cover, all by itself, was this:
Dame Agatha has sold more than three billion copies. As of today, The Queen of Patpong is number 15,877 on Amazon. What's wrong with this picture?
But I'm honored, and all I can say is that I hope my name produces a real spike in Dame Agatha's sales. God knows she needs it.