The art of the book jacket review

I like the words that people use to describe books in book jackets. They overflow with generosity. They are breathless in wonderment, colorful, and inventive. Yes: even an advertisement can be a shining little example of generosity towards another's creativity. (And wouldn't the world be a sweeter place if we affirmed each other more unreservedly! the starry-eyed idealist in me muses.) 

In my feeble self-led apprenticeship in good writing, these book reviews (as with any well-crafted reviews, for I am nothing if not obsessed with the reflexive, the meta) are crumbs of delight for me. The average layperson, I'm convinced, could scarce think of more than three ways to say "poignant" when pressed to describe a luring novel. 

But then again, I'm generally prone to gasping with dumb awe at people who are good at describing things well, for this is a wholly underrated art in my book. To describe a thing well—a personality, a fleeting mood, a story that makes us want to giggle and weep—to do any of these complexities any justice, you really need two skills. 

The first, of course, is the writerly gift of being able to express something with pretty words, bold words, surprising words. Merriam Webster isn't enough; you need imagination. You need poetry swimming through your psyche. You need to handle the truth delicately and with great respect to be able to christen it well. 

If the first skill is the zenith of my literary aspirations, the second embodies a general human potential—that is, to be deeply aware and thus insightful. Beautiful writing, even some dutiful hasty remarks on the debut novel of a fellow writer, must start from a place of observation which must yield to insight. It must identify the truth of a thing. And this is perhaps what distinguishes a wordsmith from the kind of writer I'd like to be: a flair for digging beneath knowledge to resurface with knowing.