One Book That Will Make You a Better Writer

Ben Blatt's book Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve


Array of paint color samples

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 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 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 did well on that test and when Mr. White returned our 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, cliffhangers, and more. He looks at the concept of “dumbing down” literature and how the book covers to change with the success of the author.


And he does all this by using DATA. Not conjecture. Not anecdotal evidence, but real numbers generated by computers.



Ben Blatt converts 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.


Who knew that hard-core data could be so exhilarating?


Writers, book reviewers, and literary critics find Ben Blatt’s data as thrilling as I do.

“The is really the most delicious kind of rabbit hole. . . If you’re a writer, you won’t be able to resist it. If you know a writer, give this as a gift and find yourself adored . . . It can be dipped into like a squirrel’s nut hoard, enjoyed a quick nibble at a time, or dived into headfirst, one fascinating tidbit leading to the next.” — Publisher’s Weekly
“Ben Blatt’s delightful book gives us an original big data perspective on great writers’ work. Its humor, insights, and statistical displays are fascinating to behold, even as it helps us develop our own writing.” — Carl N. Morris, Professor Emeritus of Statistics, Harvard University

Yes, books can be educational, but we should never forget that they can be FUN, too.


Blatt’s book is a frolic through word mazes and phrase patterns, tracking down answers to long-asked questions in writing workshops everywhere.

“A super fun book for lit nerds . . . ..[a] wonderful addition to any book-lovers’ TBR pile.” — Literary Hub

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?

Discover the data-driven answers to these perennial questions. Improve your writing by following the scientific proof presented in Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve by Ben Blatt.

You’ll enjoy — and benefit from — the writerly wisdom presented in this unique book.

Aspiring author? Professional marketer? Interested in the craft of writing? Read more in "A Writer's Life."


Buy Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve from Bookshop.org.


 
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