All About Blurbs

A book recently arrived.  It was unexpected, but when I saw the return address I knew what it was.  My young colleague Daniel Sarlo from the University of Toronto had kindly asked me to blurb his book The Solar Nature of Yahweh.  I’ve known Dr. Sarlo virtually for many years.  He’s engaged me a number of times on issues surrounding my research on solar worship in ancient Israel and Ugarit.  I had a book project in the works on the latter topic when other colleagues suggested going with something biblical for my next book, thus Weathering the Psalms was born.  Books, particularly academic ones, are in constant conversation with one another.  I’ve been writing on horror and religion now for over five years but my material on ancient West Asian religion is just now starting to get noticed.  It’s a funny old world.

One day I stumbled across a blurb lifted off my website for a book from Johns Hopkins University Press.  I was impressed.  First of all, that some author or editor had found my remarks on their book from this blog and that they’d liked them enough to cite them.  Getting blurbs can be a difficult task these days.  Academics are under a lot of pressure and time for such things is at a premium.  The payment is generally a copy of the book.  For some of us, though, it’s a thrill just to see yourself cited at all.  Once you’re no longer an academic you’re easily forgotten.  It has been a number of years since I’ve researched Yahweh and the sun, but someone, at least, still remembers.

Like book reviewing, reading a book for a blurb is one of those things you really can’t talk about pre-publication.  Book production is a slow process.  Like most things in life, it takes a complicated chain of events to lead to something as humble as a printed book.  And you need things like blurbs well before the release date.  As an author you often worry that—even in a field like ancient West Asian studies—your book will be outdated before it’s even published.  Some new find, or new idea might invalidate all that you’ve worked for.  Higher education should be one of the best venues for building humility in a person.  Your great learning is only one example among myriads of other scholars.  It’s a great accomplishment to get a book published in the midst of all that.  And this one, as the blurb indicates, is well worth reading.

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