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I’m obsessed with my book’s blurbs—but do they mean anything?
When I was applying to college, I found a loophole that allowed me to avoid asking any of my high school teachers for letters of recommendation. Fordham was the best school I could apply to that accommodated this loophole, and so I went to Fordham. As a teenager, my social anxiety was (in hindsight) debilitating and a real hindrance to my ability to participate in anything other than my safe-space activity (orchestra). By being a reason I wouldn’t apply to colleges that required letters of recommendation, it likely altered the course of my whole life.
It wasn’t until my late twenties, I’d say, that this anxiety stopped being the driving force in every decision I ever made. Luckily, I was canny enough even in the year 2003 to strategize around it to some extent. I was, even then, extremely online.
I’ve been thinking about this because I recently had to request blurbs for my forthcoming book, No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating, from writers I admire. It brought up a lot of the old anxiety, and some impostor vibes. (You’re nothing but a copy editor, still says a voice deep in my brain, never mind that a copy editor has to be the smartest, sharpest person in the room.)
You don’t have to be someone who had a bad adolescent and young adulthood case of social anxiety to find the blurb process exhausting. It’s nerve-racking! It’s unpaid! What helped with mine was that I have also begun being asked for blurbs, and while I was waiting for mine to roll in, I owed two people promised praise. Reminding myself that I was delinquent not because I had ill will or distaste toward the writers or their books helped me remember that those who agreed to read an advance copy of my book and heap one to three lines of praise upon it likely felt the same way: simply overburdened by work and life, per usual.
As the writer Lincoln Michel has asked in his newsletter “Counter Craft,” do blurbs actually mean anything? He notes they do. While I’m more likely to check out the publisher (anything Semiotext(e) puts out, I will read—that’s just the kind of extremely predictable girl I am), the co-sign from other writers always tells me who folks are in cahoots or contact with (or who their editors are in cahoots or contact with)—good for nosy folks! I do like to know who someone’s literary cohort is: who you feel comfortable asking for a blurb says a lot about who you are, who you want to be, and how you want the world to see you.
Still, no one likes to ask for favors, and book promotion is plenty of favors, from blurbs to bookstore conversations. Throughout every nitty-gritty bit of this process, which at the micro level feels emotionally exhausting, bringing up old anxieties and new fears, I have to remind myself that on the macro level, this is glamorous shit, this is a dream coming true, this is something I’ve worked my ass off to do. When I graduated from Fordham with my bachelor’s degree in English and told people I wanted to be a writer, no one but me really thought that would happen—I didn’t grow up around anyone who made a living doing creative work. Now, there’s this real proof that I accomplished this. (Even if now, having written a book, I would do it all very differently based on what I could have only learned through the process of writing the first one—hopefully I get another chance.)
No Meat Required is out in a little over four months, on August 15, which is wild. I want people to know it’s a book about food as pleasure and food as lifestyle and food as ideology; it’s a book about one person’s love affair (mine) with so-called alternative eating as it has manifested in the U.S. over the last 50-odd years. I want people to know it can be read and enjoyed by omnivores, and that I’m not trying to convert anyone to anything except the non-controversial idea that industrial animal agriculture needs to end—for the planet, for the workers, for (yes) the animals. Pre-ordering helps the hype cycle, and if blurbs will sway you, here they are—and I’m eternally grateful to these brilliant folks for their support:
“In a dietary discourse starved for historical and cultural context, Alicia’s work and analysis on the politics of eating meat (or not!) have been enduringly
informed and insightful, punctuated by No Meat Required.
There’s no one else I’d rather read on the subject!”
—Stephen Satterfield, host of High on the Hog and founder of Whetstone Media
“Everyone, whether vegan, vegetarian, or omnivorous, needs to read this elegantly written, thought-provoking treatise.”
“An impressively exhaustive look at where vegetable-centered eating comes from and where it might head, and a vital reminder that today’s dominant idea of veganism tells very little of the story.”
—Tamar Adler, author of An Everlasting Meal
“No Meat Required was always going to be a hugely important book, but it didn’t have to be a total pleasure. This is what happens when a writer as curious, compassionate, and truth-seeking as Kennedy goes all out on a subject that she knows matters deeply, to her and to the world.”
—Lauren Collins, staff writer, The New Yorker
I have tried and will continue to try to keep book promotion in this newsletter to the bare minimum, mainly because it’s not very stimulating for me and it’s likely quite annoying to all of you—but I hope you’ll indulge me a bit! I will have some fun giveaways for paid subscribers in the forthcoming months, and I will be doing a short East Coast tour in the fall to kick off in Brooklyn on September 14. (The August launch will happen here in San Juan, for all my local folks.)
This Friday’s From the Kitchen for paid subscribers will be about how it’s always the season to remember that simple syrup can be quite complex, flavor-wise, and great for mocktails! See the recipe index for all recipes available to paid subscribers.
A short essay in the writer Jamie Hood’s newsletter “regards, Marcel” on the symbolic significance of Proust’s madeleine for food writers.
10,000 things—but let’s focus on Tove Danovich’s wonderful Under the Henfluence: Inside the World of Backyard Chickens and the People Who Love Them because this Wednesday, April 12, I will be interviewing her about it at the Strand! (Yes, I’m in New York—for my cousin’s baby shower and an event at the Strand!)
All the usual things! I am loving the zhug from Blank Slate Kitchen on everything, I will say—it came in a promo box for Tamar Adler’s The Everlasting Meal Cookbook, which was a stellar promo box!