Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve by Ben Blatt
What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing

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Reading it, you experience the feeling, again and again, of having some vague, squishy notion you've always sort of held about a given author getting ruthlessly distilled into a stark, cold, numerical fact.
-NPR

Synopsis

What are our favorite authors’ favorite words? Which bestselling writer uses the most clichés? How can we judge a book by its cover?

Data meets literature in this playful and informative look at our favorite authors and their masterpieces.

“A literary detective story: fast-paced, thought-provoking, and intriguing.” —Brian Christian, coauthor of Algorithms to Live By

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 “fitfully.” 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 compared to other celebrated authors? What’s more, do great books in general—the classics and the bestsellers—share this trait?

In Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve, statistician and journalist Ben Blatt brings big data to the literary canon, exploring the wealth of fun findings that remain hidden in the works of the world’s greatest writers. He assembles a database of thousands of books and hundreds of millions of words, and starts asking the questions that have intrigued curious word nerds and book lovers for generations: What are our favorite authors’ favorite words? Do men and women write differently? Are bestsellers getting dumber over time? Which bestselling writer uses the most clichés? What makes a great opening sentence? How can we judge a book by its cover? And which writerly advice is worth following or ignoring?

Blatt draws upon existing analysis techniques and invents some of his own. All of his investigations and experiments are original, conducted himself, and no math knowledge is needed to understand the results. Blatt breaks his findings down into lucid, humorous language and clear and compelling visuals. This eye-opening book will provide you with a new appreciation for your favorite authors and a fresh perspective on your own writing, illuminating both the patterns that hold great prose together and the brilliant flourishes that make it unforgettable.
 

About Ben Blatt

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Ben Blatt is a recent Harvard graduate whose sports analytics studies have been picked up by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Deadspin, and others. A staff writer at Slate, he also consults for the Jacksonville Jaguars Analytics Department.Eric Brewster, a senior at Harvard College, is the president of The Harvard Lampoon. He is one of the writers of The New York Times best-selling The Hunger Pains: A Parody and of the forthcoming Lampoon parody, The Wobbit.
 
Published March 14, 2017 by Simon & Schuster. 288 pages
Genres: History, Education & Reference, Humor & Entertainment, Literature & Fiction, Science & Math. Non-fiction
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Above average
Reviewed by Glen Weldon on Mar 31 2017

Reading it, you experience the feeling, again and again, of having some vague, squishy notion you've always sort of held about a given author getting ruthlessly distilled into a stark, cold, numerical fact.

Read Full Review of Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Ma... | See more reviews from NPR

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