Ben Blatt's new book reveals surprising literary secrets
As seen on fivethirtyeight.com, there are loads of interesting tidbits hiding everywhere when we look at the numbers. Remember The Bible Code? Long texts, data sets and statistics hide surprising bits of information. Ben Blatt’s latest book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, takes an analytic and statistical look at literature, and finds some surprising correlations and unexpected anomalies in classic works ranging from James Joyce and Jane Austen to Chuck Palahniuk and E.L. James.
Below, a brief roundup of some of the most interesting finds.
Really, Truly, Copiously Full of Adverbs
Out of a selection of 15 popular writers, J.K. Rowling came in second for authors who use the most -ly adverbs (per 10,000 words) in their novels, at 140 adverbs. But the writer to take first place was E L James, writer of the Grey novels, at 155 -ly adverbs at the same rate.
The top 10 books with the most exclamation points contain three (count ’em!) books by Charles Dickens, and taking second place, at 2,102 !s, is the (previously thought to be morose) writer James Joyce for Finnegan’s Wake. But the top spot belongs to Salman Rushdie for Midnight’s Children, at a whopping 2,131 exclamation points.
Conversely, all top 10 books with the fewest exclamation points are by just two authors — Elmore Leonard and Ernest Hemingway.
That’s so cliché
In an exhaustive look at some of our most celebrated writers’ works, Blatt tabulated the use of certain cliché phrases that kept popping up. It turns out, certain writers are such fans of particular phrases, they use them in more than half their books. A brief roundup:
Stephenie Meyer “sigh of relief”
Ray Bradbury “at long last”
Tom Clancy “by a whisker”
William Faulkner “sooner or later”
The writer to use “suddenly” the most (per 100,000 words) is J.R.R. Tolkien, who unfurled it at a rate of 78. The writer to use it the least? Chuck Palahniuk, who uses it at a rate of only 2 words per 100,000. (In fact, Palahniuk also fell on the very low end of the spectrum of usage for exclamation points, as well as -ly adverbs.)