Writer Justin Taylor reviewed a novel for the January issue of The Believer, but his editors sent him an unusual copy:
“Its covers, front matter, and end pages had all been stripped, and the spine blacked out with a Sharpie,” he writes. “I didn’t know what it was called or who wrote it or who was publishing it or when.”
In this case, the tome in question turned out to be The Book of Jokes by an author known simply as Momus—but imagine if this equalizing principle were applied to any book scrutinized by a reviewer. The appraiser would be forced to focus on the words themselves, untainted by the pat compliments of the endorsement blurb, the boilerplate buzzwords of the plot synopsis, the rote locutions of the author bio.
“Jacket copy does more than simply entice you to buy,” Taylor writes. “It supplies a framework for one’s experience. It is less a movie trailer than it is a placard on a museum wall, telling you not just how to look at the painting, but what to see there when you do.”
He ultimately saw the experiment, though short-lived, as liberating:
“I found myself freed from the tyranny of the pre-programmed response, set adrift, context-free, at sea with an alien text. Every reviewer—every reader—should hope to be so lucky.”