Updated: Aug 28
Ben Blatt's Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve
Stan White would roll over
When I was a junior in high school, I was going to prove to myself that I could do high-level math. I signed up for Advanced Algebra with the legendary Stan White. My mother had gone to school with the man and repeatedly told me that he was a GENIUS. True, he was known throughout the high school as a brilliant man. He was also known as an inept teacher, one of those people who were too smart to come down to the level of us not-so-brilliant kids in his classroom.
I can still see him standing at the board, his hand poised at the beginning of the equation. He would repeatedly pound the board with his yellow chalk in a frantic kind of Morse code. "See that? It's right there," he'd say, as if the constellation of chalk stars exploding in front of that formula would explain it all.
The miasma of chalk stars did not speak to me, but Mr. White's inability to articulate those formulas didn't really matter because the brainy, math-minded kids got what he meant. I didn't.
An out-of-place word nerd
I was a word nerd as out of place in that class as buck teeth on a supermodel. The whole year was a struggle for me, going home to work hours on assignments that made no sense -- like trying to master Swahili with no instruction. ONE TIME, one single time, when we were studying factors, I got it. Breaking things down into their simplest form was something I understood.
I got an A on that test, and when Mr. White returned exams, he stood at the front of the classroom and pointed his pudgy, chalk-stained finger right at me saying, "This test was too easy because that girl there got an A."
Mr. Stan White would be rolling over right now if he knew that I LOVED a book about math, data, and calculations.
Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve by Ben Blatt
Ben Blatt is a journalist and statistician who decided to use data analysis to examine literary principles. He looks at the tendencies of individual authors to use certain words or phrases. (In case you're wondering, Vladimir Nabokov's favorite word is mauve, not surprising when you learn that he had synesthesia.) Blatt analyzes the commonalities of bestsellers, the use of animal similes, cliches, adverbs, exclamation points, and cliffhangers. He looks at the concept of "dumbing down" literature.
And he does all this by using DATA. Not conjecture. Not anecdotal evidence, but real numbers generated by computers.
Ben Blatt coverts 1500 books into plain text form and loads them into computers that can then count words and phrases and compile data.
The resulting book, Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve is a charming marriage of words and numbers that every writer should read and benefit from.
Writers benefit from Blatt's discoveries
Does the use of adverbs affect the success of a book?
Do men and women use different vocabulary?
Can you tell a writer's nationality by looking at their word use?
Is an author's identity embedded in their words?
What happens when writing is infused with exclamation marks?
How frequent - and necessary - are one-sentence, cliffhanger endings?
Are we dumbing down literature over the years?
Is there a formula for successful opening lines?
How do authors' books change after a successful debut work?
Is using a cliche a bad thing?
Find the answers to these questions. Put into practice the data-proven techniques to make your writing better. You'll enjoy - and benefit from this interesting, unique book.
Buy Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve at Amazon