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Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve

Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve: And Other Experiments in Literature - Ben Blatt

This is not exactly the book I was expecting it to be.  I sort of thought it would be a quick read full of fun facts about various books and authors, and it is, but it's, you know, full of math and statistics. 


hate math, but not nearly as much as I hate statistics.


This book is cover to cover statistics, and uses foul words like median and average; it even includes a formula.  


But like any good writer, Blatt had me glued to the pages anyway, because 1.) he didn't get bogged down defining the data sets (he put those in the notes), 2.) he made all the information easy to understand, 3.) he always reminded the reader that correlation is NOT causation and maintained an admirable objectivity, even when he admitted his biases, and 4.) the information he pulled out was fascinating.  So many of the chapters had MT (who was patient about being read to) and I debating for hours about Blatt's results, often with him saying "yeah, but is he accounting for ..." and me breaking in with "oh! wait! here he goes on to address that..."


I've learned oodles from this book.  For example, while I knew I used too many exclamation points (a fact validated by the math), I apparently also use too many -ly adverbs.  I never knew avoiding them is considered a 'rule' to good writing.  Ditto with qualifiers: quite, rather, somewhat, etc.  That's going to be a harder habit to break than the exclamation points, as I often depend on those to soften statements I make that I worry can be taken badly.   (I'm keeping that last adverb, dammit.)


Chapter 2 looks at identifying gender through writing, and it was interesting and a little depressing.  There's a lot of information here that might get stuck in some people's craw, but Blatt maintains a very respectful, objective voice throughout - he's just the messenger of the data, even when he doesn't think it's as meaningful as others might; he's quick to point out that the results have as much to do with the content's subject as they do with author style.  The only part that bothered me was that this level of sophisticated analysis is being used for user profiling and targeted marketing.  Of course it is.


Chapter 3 talks about using common words to identify authorship and it's a step beyond fascinating.  I could not stop reading this chapter - the results are awe inspiring.  


The whole book is just a rich mine of information about what the best sellers and award winners have in common, how fan fiction quantitatively differs from published fiction and even how US writing differs from UK writing.  And yes, there's a whole section on the favorite and fallback words of famous authors.  (Teaser:  2 of Agatha Christie's favourites are inquest and alibi.  I know; you're shocked.)


This is a book on statistics, but it uses books as its data sets, and Blatt writes well, so that makes it not only o.k., but cool.  It should appeal to math lovers and book lovers.  Math loving bibliophiles might find heaven between the covers.