What word does an author rely on too heavily? Are certain authors more sexist than others? Should we really avoid exclamation points and adverbs? These are some of the questions that Ben Blatt seeks to answer with statistical analysis in his book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve. As an avid lover of literature and the proud owner of an A in a statistics course in college, I found this book completely compelling. It was short, sweet, and to the point, but it packed a huge punch. I actually listened to the audiobook and while I had to reference the PDF for graphs a lot, I loved the narrator and thought this book was spectacular.
Here’s the Amazon blurb:
There’s a famous piece of writing advice—offered by Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, and myriad writers in between—not to use -ly adverbs like “quickly” or “angrily.” It sounds like solid advice, but can we actually test it? If we were to count all the -ly adverbs these authors used in their careers, do they follow their own advice? What’s more, do great books in general—the classics and the bestsellers—share this trait?
In the age of big data we can answer questions like these in the blink of an eye. In Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve, a “literary detective story: fast-paced, thought-provoking, and intriguing” (Brian Christian, coauthor of Algorithms to Live By), statistician and journalist Ben Blatt explores the wealth of fun findings that can be discovered by using text and data analysis. He assembles a database of thousands of books and hundreds of millions of words, and then he asks the questions that have intrigued book lovers for generations: What are our favorite authors’ favorite words? Do men and women write differently? Which bestselling writer uses the most clichés? What makes a great opening sentence? And which writerly advice is worth following or ignoring?
All of Blatt’s investigations and experiments are original, conducted himself, and no math knowledge is needed to enjoy the book. On every page, there are new and eye-opening findings. By the end, you will have a newfound appreciation of your favorite authors and also come away with a fresh perspective on your own writing. “Blatt’s new book reveals surprising literary secrets” (Entertainment Weekly) and casts an x-ray through literature, allowing us to see both the patterns that hold it together and the brilliant flourishes that allow it to spring to life.
As a trivia nerd, I loved being able to take away some fun facts from this book. Sure, I learned a lot about writing, but I’m also always going to remember these facts. Here are some of the ones that still stick out in my mind.
- In the entirety of The Hobbit, Tolkein only uses the female pronoun “she” ONCE
- James Patterson published like 16 books a year in 2016
- Alexander Hamilton claimed credit for at least 12 Federalist Papers he didn’t write
- James Patterson also uses a ton of cliches in his writing and titles
- Apparently, you shouldn’t use the word “suddenly”
- Jane Austen NEVER had more “he” actions than “she” actions in any of her novels
- The writing of Robert Galbraith is not statistically different than the writing of JK Rowling. She would have been outed even if she didn’t reveal herself.
Seriously, read this book. If you love books and have ever thought about writing as a craft or a passion for your future, this boo will be illuminating and really humanize authors and their books in a way I’ve never experienced.