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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

An Unoffending Refusal

“You know your trouble?” said Belle.
“Yes.”
“You let people walk all over you.
“You’re too mild-mannered. They take advantage, take you for a sucker.
“Like him next door and his ‘Can I borrow this? Can I borrow that? Could you not buy your own?’ And that crook in Best’s, sold you the suit with the straight pants when everyone else had moved to flares. And would you take it back? Would you what? I had to take it back. Bloody crook. Saw you coming of course.
“Yes.”
“You should do something about it so you should. Diane in work is always going on about assertiveness. She was reading a book, Don’t Say Yes When You Mean No or something. Teaches you to stand up for yourself. Not that she needs it, that one. Don’t Say Yes When You Want To Say No, that’s it. It’s written by a doctor. Will I get it for you? Is there any point in me getting it for you? Will you even read it? Will you read it?”
“Yes.”
I meant no.

Margaret Atwood has – regretfully, one assumes ‑ decided that she must turn down publishers’ requests for quotations (laudatory only please) to stick on the back of newly published books. She explains:

It takes four to six hours to read the book, and I get ten or so of these requests a week. Multiply five hours times ten requests and you get a fifty-hour-a-week job. Choosing a few of the books to blurb doesn’t make things much easier, partly because it takes a long time to make a well-informed choice, and partly because choosing between books is akin to choosing which of your two sisters should be your maid of honour … no matter what you do, someone’s bound to have their feelings hurt.

This is impressive – four to six hours to read a book, a novel, one assumes. It took me three months to read Vanity Fair, and I was enjoying it. Most impressive however is the fact that Atwood now sends out her refusal in a standard form, in verse. Thus:

“You are well known, Ms Atwood,” the Editor said.
“And we long for your quote on this book;
A few well-placed words wouldn’t bother your head
And would help us to get in the hook!”

“In my youth,” said Ms Atwood, “I blurbed with the best;
I practically worked with a stencil!
I strewed quotes about with the greatest largesse,
And the phrases flowed swift from my pencil.

Intelligent, lucid, accomplished, supreme
Magnificent, touching but rough
And lucent and lyrical, plangent, a dream
Vital, muscular, elegant, tough!

But now I am aging; my brain is all shrunk
And my adjective store is depleted;
My hair’s getting stringy; I walk as though drunk;
As a quotester I’m nigh-on defeated.

I would like to be useful; God knows, as a girl
I was well-taught to help and to share;
But the books and the pleas for quotes pour through the door
Till the heaps of them drive to despair!

So at last I’ve decided to say No to all,
What you need is a writer who’s youthful,
Who has energy, wit, and a lot on the ball,
And would find your new book a sweet toothful,
Or else see no need to be truthful.

Such a one would be happy, dear Editor, to
Write you quotes until blue in the brain,
It’s a person like this who can satisfy you,
Not poor me, who am half down the drain.

So I wish you good luck, and your author, and book,
Which I hope to read later, with glee.
Long may you publish, and search out the blurbs,
Though you will not get any from me.