Peterson paperback sparks debate on misuse of critics’ quotes

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From The Bookseller:

A blurb for Jordan Peterson’s Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life (Allen Lane) has drawn criticism for splicing negative quotes from reviewers to suggest positive endorsements for the book. 

Several journalists from major newspapers, including James Marriott, columnist at the Times, and Johanna Thomas-Corr, literary editor of the Sunday Times, have spoken out about the situation while other commentators believe the wider industry practice needs to be reviewed.

The debate began when Marriott shared the jacket of the controversial Canadian psychologist-turned-influencer’s latest paperback. In a Tweet he has since deleted, Marriott wrote: “Incredible work from Jordan Peterson’s publisher… My review of this mad book [Beyond Order] was probably the most negative thing I have ever written.”  

The cover quote from Marriott reads: “A philosophy of the meaning of life . . . the most lucid and touching prose Peterson has ever written.” Marriott’s original review for the Times in 2021 said “his [Peterson’s] philosophy, which is bonkers” and only described one chapter about interior design as containing “one of the most sensitive and lucid passages of prose he has written”.

The Times’ literary editor Robbie Millen wrote of the incident: “Publishers are like medieval alchemists. They can take the base metal of a stinking book review and turn it into the gold of praise. But this week [Marriott] came across his stern words transmuted by the magicians at Penguin into praise on the paperback version. From his radioactive review glowed words of approbation.”

Millen added: “Be suspicious of the quotes on the back of paperbacks. Know that the clever people in publishing have used all their skills to take someone’s words and bend them into new, more pleasing shapes.”

. . . .

Thomas-Corr described shock at finding out how her review, for the New Statesman where she had been a contributor, has been used on the book’s cover. She wrote in the Sunday Times: “You can imagine my surprise, then, when I learnt via social media of a controversy regarding the paperback edition of Peterson’s latest book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life, whereby damning reviews had somehow become lavish praise. 

“Naturally, I went back to my review just to make sure I hadn’t written it under the influence of strong drugs, and, sure enough, I was pretty damning,” she wrote.

Like other journalists writing on the subject, she believes it could lead to a wider discussion around jacket blurbs: “Of course, most people in publishing are aware of the industry’s log-rolling practices, but many feel a line has been irreversibly crossed…I suspect the industry will have to review its practices.

“One award-winning writer I was speaking to last week, whose own book cover is covered with superlatives from fellow authors and reviewers, believes the Peterson case could end what they described as a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ in publishing, that is, taking a reviewer’s words to endorse their books in return for having our verdict accurately represented.” 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

3 thoughts on “Peterson paperback sparks debate on misuse of critics’ quotes”

  1. Norman Mailer once took out a full-page ad in the Village Voice for his poorly received second novel, filled it with angry quotes from various big-name reviewers of his book, and above it ran the headline THE CRITICS RAVE. No university creative writing program anywhere will ever produce his troublesome like, which is, I suspect, the chief reason for their existence

  2. “…other commentators believe the wider industry practice needs to be reviewed.”

    Intentional misquotes by cutting comments is standard ptactice.
    CBS did it to me on a triviality.

    Peterson has it done to him all the time so what’s good for the goose…

  3. When an Editorial Review that I had arranged for and paid for came back generic and looking as if the reviewer had never even opened the book, I took the proper steps: I exercised my right not to have the review published.

    What I SHOULD have done was to send a copy of the review provided me before publication to see if it was okay with me to the management of the review company.

    Even without comment by me, it would have rung all kinds of bells.

    The reviewer asked me to rewrite it if I wanted to! I considered that path, realized it would be an enormous amount of work on my part, and just asked for the review to be completely discarded.

    Rewriting it myself OR extracting a positive review from it for my book page would have been possible – and highly dishonest.

    Complaining to management that the reviewer didn’t do the job for the agreed price seemed petty. And time-consuming. I cut my losses – but saved copies in case questions ever come up. I won’t purchase reviews from that reviewer in the future, possibly not that company, either, but I’ve had chances to bad-mouth the reviewer and didn’t take them. Just one of those things in a writer’s life.

    My charitable opinion is that something was going on in the reviewer’s life. The other reviews for the book, editorial and customer, were stellar, so I don’t think it’s the book.

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