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Poets ranked by the gravity of their beards

poets and their beards

In his 1913 classic (if that’s the right word) publication entitled Poets Ranked by Beard Weight, Upton Uxbridge Underwood (1881–1937) ranked poets according to the gravity of their beards, assigning each one a “pogonometric index” score. (So I have learned from A Journey Round My Skull, which informs me that Underwood was “a deipnosophist, clubman, and literary miscellanist with a special interest in tonsorial subjects.”) A score of 10, for example, was “very very weak,” whereas a score of 58 was “very very heavy.” Leaving aside for the moment the particulars of his methodology, let’s see how the poets stack up.

Jim Houston, 1933-2009

jim houstonJames D. Houston died last week after a struggle with cancer. I published his In the Ring of Fire: A Pacific Basin Journey at Mercury House in 1997. He was a pleasure to work with.

Shakespeare, again

Just a week ago a portrait of Shakespeare emerged that was supposedly painted by a contemporary. Now a fellow named John Casson (“an independent researcher and psychotherapist”) who “spent three years studying writings thought to be connected to Shakespeare” (wow! three years!), claims to have discovered six “new” works by Shakespeare.

Considering that there has been a sizeable full-time Shakespeare industry churning away in academia for at least a hundred years, I think this claim must be taken with many grains of salt until verified. It would be interesting to see the works though. English writing has been all downhill since Shakespeare.

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Shakespeare’s likeness

Is this really a contemporary’s portrait of Shakespeare?

shakespeare

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Bad sex

Which author wrote these lines about a lover’s vagina?

[It] did not feel like Phyllis’s. Smoother, somehow simpler, its wetness less thick, less of a sauce, more of a glaze . . .

Advice to the victors

wilde on forgiveness

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But we can make an exception for Joe Lieberman.

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via thedailyaphorism.com/

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BTW, There are a few quotations here at rightreading.com as well, including this one from Wilde.

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Ubu Roi, book binding by Marcel Duchamp and Mary Reynolds

ubu roi binding

Mary Reynolds (1891-1950) was an innovative book binder who for three decades enjoyed a relationship with Marcel Duchamp described by friends as “happier than most marriages.” Susan Glover Godlewski has written about her life and career, and examples of her work can be seen at the Mary Reynolds Collection (affiliated with the Art Institute of Chicago).

A post at Ordinary finds called this extraordinary binding for Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (Ubu the King) to my attention. It quotes the Reynolds Collection:

This binding is perhaps the best known and most successful of the collaborations between Reynolds and Duchamp. On November 26, 1934, Duchamp visited his close friend Henri-Pierre Roché in Arago and excitedly reported on a binding that he had just designed for Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi that Mary Reynolds was going to execute. Reynolds and Duchamp created out of the binding itself an extraordinarily clever pun. Both the front and back covers are cut-out “U’s” covered in rich earth tones; the spine is a soft caramel B. The endpapers are made of black moiré silk. A gold crown, signifying the puppet king, is imprinted on the front flyleaf and visible through the front cut-out “U”. The author’s name is imprinted in gold on the back flyleaf and is similarly visible through the back U. The binding spread open spells “UBU.” Reynolds must have spent considerable time executing this binding. We know from a letter from Duchamp, responding to a question from Katharine Kuh, that the binding was not completed until 1935. It is expertly and lovingly crafted. Both Duchamp and Reynolds were so pleased with the final work, that another copy was bound identically for the American collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg (Philadelphia Museum of Art).

ubu roi

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Paris: Librairie Charpentier et Fasquele, 1921. Binding: morocco, levant, and niger (goatskins) with silk and glassine endpapers. Mary Reynolds Collection, MR 253.

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Ordinary Finds – Book binding for Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry

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Literary Prizes

booker prize collageHaving served on several literary award committees, ranging from local ones like the Northern California Book Awards to national gigs like serving as an NEA panelist, I recognized something of the process revealed in forty years of recollections of Booker Prize judges, as reported in the Guardian recently.

If you are going to participate in this sort of thing you have to focus on the promotional benefits, the advantages to the winning and shortlisted authors, and the value to readers of having good books brought to their attention. Because if you focus on the process or the fairness of the results, you will go mad. As one of the judges, Hillary Mantel, says, “I’m glad I was a Booker judge relatively early in my career. It stopped me thinking that literary prizes are about literary value. Even the most correct jury goes in for horsetrading and gamesmanship, and what emerges is a compromise.”

James Wood adds: “The absurdity of the process was soon apparent: it is almost impossible to persuade someone else of the quality or poverty of a selected novel (a useful lesson in the limits of literary criticism). In practice, judge A blathers on about his favourite novel for five minutes, and then judge B blathers on about her favourite novel for five minutes, and nothing changes: no one switches sides. That is when the horse-trading begins.”

Ah, the horse trading. “The choice of PH Newby’s Something to Answer For, Frank Kermode reports about the 1963 prize, “was the result of a compromise. Dame Rebecca [West] didn’t dislike it as much as nearly all the others.” Beryle Bainbridge recalls of the 1997 process: “All I can remember of the final meeting is that I got terribly tired, I literally sank lower and lower under the table. Brendan Gill, who I thought was American, went towards the balcony saying he was going to throw himself off, he was so fed up. Philip Larkin was completely silent most of the time. Nobody dared say a word to him and he never said a word back.”

Of course there were judges such as Saul Bellow who dealt with the process with aplomb. Antonia Fraser says, “I shared a taxi back with fellow judge Saul Bellow on a long, long ride from somewhere in the City: he was nattily dressed in a pale green shantung suit, blue shirt, green tie with large blue dots on it; his silver hair and slanting, large dark eyes made him look like a 30s film star playing a refined gangster. Suddenly he leaned forward and asked: ‘Has anyone ever told you that you’re a very handsome woman?’ I pondered on a suitable reply, modest yet encouraging. But having spoken, the Great Man closed his eyes and remained apparently asleep for the rest of the journey.” And George Steiner seems pleased with his experience, humbly noting of the panel of which he was a part, “It was the most illustrious panel in the Booker’s history.”

But on the whole the process appears remarkably random. As Jonathan Coe says, “How very arbitrary it seems, in retrospect. There was nothing wrong with our shortlist, and nothing wrong with our winner (Last Orders, by Graham Swift), but at 12 years’ distance, it feels as though we could easily have chosen another six novels altogether.” Which leads Paul Bailey to conclude, “There are many things I regret doing, and being a judge for the Booker prize is one of them. For some years after I was associated with two novels I absolutely loathed and would not have even started reading in other circumstances.”

David Lodge’s judgment is worth giving the final word to: “the overtly competitive nature of these prizes, heightened by the publication of longlists and shortlists, takes its psychological toll on writers; and, given the large element of chance in the composition and operation of judging panels, the importance now attached to prizes in our literary culture seems excessive. A committee is a blunt instrument of literary criticism.”

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Image via the Guardian

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Illustrating Lennon

Jerry Levitan, working with direction Josh Raskin, illustrator James Braithwaite, and digital artist Alex Kurina, has produced an animated version of an interview he made thirty-eight years ago with John Lennon. Levitan was fourteen at the time, and Lennon was generous in answering his questions.

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via crap detector

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Six classic wordle poets

Wordle is “a toy for generating ‘word clouds’ from text that you provide.” Words that appear more often are presented more prominently. The site will make word clouds from text that you provide or from urls or even from a del.icio.us user’s tags. It’s so pointless it almost becomes interesting.

What if some well-known American writers had become wordle poets? I fed six poems into the machine and accepted the default output (except in one case where I rejected a black background).

The books we need

franz kafka on the books we need

“The books we need are the kind that act upon us like a misfortune, that make us suffer like the death of someone we love more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we were on the verge of suicide, or lost in a forest remote from all human habitation — a book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.” — From a letter of Kafka to Oskar Pollak.

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via Book of Joe

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Books and Buddha-nature

alberto manguel's library

Alberto Manguel, author of The Library at Night, among other books, writes lovingly in the New York Times about his current library south of the Loire Valley in France and his other libraries that grew into this one.

But Manguel is a hoarder — a habit I’ve been trying to rid myself of. As books overflow their places throughout the house, I am trying to be freer about sending them on their way to other readers, like a kind of wheel of literary samsara.

Manguel goes so far as to write “I have dozens of very bad books that I don’t throw away in case I ever need an example of a book I think is bad.” He does describe a single prisoner he released: “The only book I ever banished from my library was Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, which I felt infected the shelves with its prurient descriptions of deliberately inflicted pain. I put it in the garbage; I didn’t give it to anyone because I wouldn’t give away a book I wasn’t fond of.” He won’t even lend books, writing that “If I want someone to read a book, I’ll buy a copy and offer it as a gift. I believe that to lend a book is an incitement to theft.”

I am devoted to books, but if we keep all the things we love and only give away those that we don’t love I think we are very far from achieving Buddha-nature.

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Via Sans Serif, who writes of a modest literary inheritance, “Some of the books I decided to give away, some were so beaten up they had to go in the recycling bin…. But a number of the books from Alabama made it onto the bookshelf.”

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Shown: A portion of Manguel’s library, from the NYT article.

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Writers’ websites

authors on the web

A website called Books Written By is documenting authors’ sites on the web. It has assembled screenshots of many writers’ websites; the screenshots link to the sites themselves (although it takes a couple of clicks to get there from the main page).

It’s a good idea, nicely executed. While some of the authors represented are not particularly distinguished, several interesting folks do crop up — on the page shown above, for example, you can see the sites of Jonathan Lethem and Haruki Murakami, among others.

Some of the sites are quite good. But I’m not sure the writers’ distinctive styles and personalities always come across in this medium as well as in the one for which they are known. This is probably in part because in many cases someone other than the author has designed the site or written code to realize the author’s vision.

Still, it’s interesting to see the variety and range of author sites, and there is a host of good ideas to be found in these pages. (If the site grows, it might need to add indexes by names, genres, nationalities, and so on. I imagine this would not be too difficult to implement.)

To visit the site, click the screenshot above.

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Classic writers quiz

literary quiz images

Here’s a simple quiz. Identify these writers based on these brief, slightly edited excerpts from their Wikipedia entries. I have provided the author’s images above, in a random order. These writers are all men so that I don’t have to play around with the pronouns; I’ll do a female version later.

1
He developed had a close relationship with his mother. In order to appease his father, who insisted that he pursue a career, he obtained a volunteer position at a library. After exerting considerable effort, he obtained a sick leave which was to extend for several years until he was considered to have resigned. He did not move from his parents’ apartment until after both were dead.

2
Supposedly studying medicine in Paris, in reality he squandered money his family could ill afford. He returned home after a few months, when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She finally passed into a coma and died; he refused to kneel with other members of the family praying at her bedside, and after her death he drank heavily

3
He was devoted to his father. The same year his father died he suffered a severe head wound: during treatment, he nearly died of septicemia. While recovering from the accident, he began tinkering with a new style of writing, for which he would become famous.

4
His parents were first cousins, members of a family that included brewery owners, bankers, and businessmen. Bullied and depressed as a schoolboy, he attempted suicide several times, some, he claimed, by Russian roulette.

5
Despite his fear of being perceived as both physically and mentally repulsive, he impressed others with his boyish, neat, and austere good looks, a quiet and cool demeanor, obvious intelligence and dry sense of humor. He suffered from migraines, insomnia, constipation, boils, and other ailments, all usually brought on by excessive stresses and strains. He attempted to counteract all of this by a regimen of naturopathic treatments, such as a vegetarian diet and the consumption of large quantities of unpasteurized milk.

6
He developed a staccato, nasal vocal delivery, which emphasized each syllable (even the silent ones). He enjoyed ridiculous and pedantic figures of speech; for example, he referred to himself using the royal we, and called the wind “that which blows” and the bicycle he rode everywhere “that which rolls.” He lived in a flat which the landlord had created through the unusual expedient of subdividing a larger flat by means of a horizontal rather than a vertical partition. Guests had to bend or crouch.

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Click here for the answers.

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(inspired by this quiz)

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The Medici Conspiracy

medici conspiracyPeter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini’s The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities–From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums is a real eye-opener. I had always imagined that the movement to repatriate art was largely based on the rape of colonial nations by the colonizers — that countries like Italy or Greece were trying to recover objects that had mostly been removed long ago. But Watson and Todeschini reveal that there is an extremely extensive digging operation going on right now that is turning up invaluable ancient art. (The clandestine diggers are known as tombaroli, or tomb robbers.) And this art is deliberately broken, smuggled in fragments out of their homelands by elaborate criminal networks (cordate), and reassembled. Then, with the explicit complicity of some auction houses, collectors, and museum curators who work closely with these criminal networks, the art makes its way to museums like the Getty or the Met. Sometimes, to conceal the criminal connections, the objects are acquired from third parties as sets of fragments over a period of years and then finally reassembled by museum conservators.

The books reads like a police procedural. The authors worked closely with the Italian investigators and had ample access to documentation related to an elaborate art smuggling ring that funneled art through a dealer named Giacomo Medici. Medici kept elaborate, detailed records of his activities in a warehouse full of antiquities in Geneva; these records were key to breaking the case. The authors also rely extensive on police interrogations of principal figures in the smuggling network.

An essential book. As Art Quarterly says, “You’ll never again look at some lovely painted pot in a museum . . . without a sharp stab of unease.” (For a dissenting, if not very convincing, view that attempts an apology for some of the museum curators involved in the case, see Hugh Eakin’s review in the New York Review of Books.)

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Buy from Powell’s
Buy from Amazon

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Jonathan Williams, 1929-2008

Jonathan Williams, poet, essayist, and publisher of Jargon Society, died Sunday in Asheville following a long illness. We published a collection of his short prose, called The Magpie’s Bagpipe, at North Point Press.

Williams attended Black Mountain College and began Jargon Society in the early 1950s. The press published such writers as Charles Olson, Kenneth Patchen, Denise Levertov, Paul Metcalf, and Guy Davenport.

“I am frankly a bourgeois living in seclusion in the country, busy with literature, and asking nothing of anyone, not consideration, nor honor, nor esteem,” he said in an interview. “I jump into the water to save a good line of poetry or a good sentence of prose from anyone. But I don’t believe, on that account, that humanity has need of me, any more than I have need of it.”

The Deracination
Jonathan Williams

definition: root

“a growing point,
an organ of absorption, an aerating organ,
a good resevoir, or
means of support”

veronica glauca, order Compositae,
“these tall perennials with
corymbose cymes of bright-purple heads of
tubular flowers
with conspicuous stigmas”

O do not know the Ironweed’s root,
but I know it rules September

and where the flowers tower
in the wind there is a burr of
sound empyrean . . . the mind
glows and the wind drifts . . .

epiphanies pull up
from roots

epiphytic, making it up

out of the air.

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Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of good fiction writing

The first rule of good writing is that there are no rules. If Elmore Leonard had written Ulysses, or Metamorphosis, or Remembrance of Things Past, or Death on the Installment Plan, or other of the modernist classics I don’t know if college freshmen would be studying them today.

They’d probably be pretty good reading though. Leonard knows how to stay out of his story’s way, and I think writers should at least be aware of his techniques before deciding on their own paths. In case you haven’t seen them before, here are his commandments:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Celine would have found no. 5 difficult. He would go for chapters with ellipses and exclamation points as his only punctuation. And where would Zola be without no. 8? And what about Perec or Robbe-Grillet and no. 9?

But that doesn’t make it bad advice, especially in today’s conservative marketplace.

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LINK: The official Elmore Leonard website.

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Bad Sex

The Literary Review has announced its nominees for the 2007 Bad Sex Award. The award supposed draws attention to “the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description … and to discourage it” in modern literary novels. In fact it’s just an excuse to talk about sex and make fun of writers who sells more books than you do. Here’s the list:

  • Jeanette Winterson, The Stone Gods
  • Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach
  • Richard Milward, Apples
  • Ali Smith, Girl Meets Boy
  • Maria Peura, At the Edge of Light
  • James Delingpole, Coward on the Beach
  • David Thewlis, The Late Hector Kipling
  • Norman Mailer, The Castle in the Forest
  • Quim Monzo, The Enormity of the Tragedy
  • Gary Shteyngart, Absurdistan
  • Christopher Rush, Will
  • Claire Clark, The Nature of Monsters

McEwan may have the inside track with passages like these:

Like most young men of his time, or any time, without an easy manner, or means to sexual expression, he indulged constantly in what one enlightened authority was now calling ‘self-pleasuring’ … How extraordinary it was, that a self-made spoonful, leaping clear of his body, should instantly free his mind to confront afresh Nelson’s decisiveness at Aboukir Bay.

Because the instrument was a cello rather than her violin, the interrogator was not herself but a detached observer, mildly incredulous, but insistent too, for after a brief silence and lingering, unconvincing reply from the other instruments, the cello put the question again, in different terms, on a different chord, and then again, and again, and each time received a doubtful answer.

86 recommended travel books

the emperor, by Ryszard Kapu?ci?skiConde Nast commissioned a distinguished group of writers to nominate their favorite travel books. Participating authors included André Aciman, Monica Ali, Julia Alvarez, Tom Bissell, Geraldine Brooks, Vikram Chandra, Jim Crace, Jared Diamond, Linh Dinh, Anthony Doerr, Jennifer Egan, Stephen Elliott, Nuruddin Farah, Nell Freudenberger, Peter Godwin, Peter Hessler, Uzodinma Iweala, Sebastian Junger, Robert D. Kaplan, Mary Karr, Erik Larson, Rosemary Mahoney, Peter Mayle, Tom McCarthy, John McPhee, Adrienne Miller, Jan Morris, Stewart O’Nan, Francine Prose, Jonathan Raban, Graham Robb, Akhil Sharma, Matthew Sharpe, Jim Shepard, Darin Strauss, Robert Sullivan, Manil Suri, Paul Theroux, Colin Thubron, Lynne Tillman, Luis Alberto Urrea, Gore Vidal, Sean Wilsey, John Wray, and Lawrence Wright.

The result is a list of 86 books. Looking at this list, the first thing that strikes me is how few of them I have read. West with the Night was our first bestseller at North Point Press, and we also published Ted Hoagland and M.F.K. Fischer. At Mercury House we reissued some Robert Lewis Stevenson as part of our neglected classics series. A few others I read here and there, but I haven’t read the majority of these books. Is it an especially peculiar list or have I just neglected my travel reading? Maybe a bit of both, but I think the list is a little odd because of the methodology of just collecting nominations — I mean, how can Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan not make a list of great travel books? Anyway, here’s the list. For more information about the nominated books, go to the CNT page.

Along the Ganges, Ilija Trojanow
Arabian Sands, Wilfred Thesiger
An Area of Darkness, V.S. Naipaul
As They Were, M.F.K. Fisher
A Barbarian in Asia, Henri Michaux
The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer, Eric Hansen
Bitter Lemons of Cyprus, Lawrence Durrell
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West
Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon
Captain John Smith: Writings
Chasing the Monsoon, Alexander Frater
Chasing the Sea, Tom Bissell
Cross Country, Robert Sullivan
Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux
Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville
Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell
Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff, Rosemary Mahoney
The Emperor, Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski
Endurance, Alfred Lansing
Eothen, Alexander William Kinglake
“Exterminate All the Brutes,” Sven Lindqvist
Farthest North: The Voyage and Exploration of the Fram, 1893–1896, Fridtjof Nansen
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
The Fearful Void, Geoffrey Moorhouse
From a Chinese City, Gontran De Poncins
Great Plains, Ian Frazier
The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux
Hindoo Holiday, J. R. Ackerley
The Histories, Herodotus
The Impossible Country, Brian Hall
In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson
India: A Million Mutinies Now, V. S. Naipaul
The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain
In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin
In the Country of Country, Nicholas Dawidoff
In Trouble Again, Redmond O’Hanlon
Iron and Silk, Mark Salzman
I See by My Outfit, Peter S. Beagle
The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Journey to Portugal,
José Saramago
Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Condition of the North American Indians, George Catlin
Letters from Egypt: A Journey on the Nile, 1849–1850, Florence Nightingale
Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain
London Perceived, V. S. Pritchett
The Long Walk, Slavomir Rawicz
The Lycian Shore, Freya Stark
Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, Suketu Mehta,
The Muses Are Heard, Truman Capote
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, Matsuo Basho
News from Tartary, Peter Fleming
The Nomad: Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt
No Mercy: A Journey into the Heart of the Congo, Redmond O’Hanlon
Notes from the Century Before, Edward Hoagland
Old Glory, Jonathan Raban
The Pillars of Hercules, Paul Theroux
The Pine Barrens, John McPhee
Riding the Iron Rooster, Paul Theroux
The Rings of Saturn, W. G. Sebald
The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan, Winston Churchill
The Road to Oxiana, Robert Byron
Rome and a Villa, Eleanor Clark
Roughing It, Mark Twain
Arabia, Peter Theroux
Sea and Sardinia, D. H. Lawrence
Shah of Shahs, Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, Eric Newby
Siren Land, Norman Douglas
Skating to Antarctica, Jenny Diski
Slowly Down the Ganges, Eric Newby
The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin

Style Trends in Fiction

statistical data on style trends in fiction

For the past couple of years amazon.com has been including a feature it calls “text stats” on many of its book pages. Among the statistics presented are “readability calculations” that estimate “how easy it is to read and understand the text of a book.” But there is also more raw data, including stats on the percentage of complex words (however that is measured), the number of syllables per word, and the number of words per sentence. For example, Alejo Carpentier’s The Harp and the Shadow (my translation, with Carol Christensen) scores in the 13th percentage for word complexity, a low 1.6 syllables per word (hard to believe), but a whopping 39.1 words per sentence, or one and a half times as much as Faulker, putting it in the top one percent of all books in the amazon sample.

I was curious to see if this feature could be used to identify any trends over time. My first thought was to compare best sellers across the years, but I quickly abandoned that idea as the list of books was simply too boring. Instead I chose Pulitzer Fiction Prize winners at five-year intervals, beginning with 1950 (the fiction prize was first given in 1948). Statistics were not available for all of these books, so I had to substitute by going a year forward or back in some instances. Here is the list of books I used in my test:

1950 The Way West by A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
1955 A Fable by William Faulkner
1961 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
1965 The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
1969 House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
1976 Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow
1980 The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
1986 Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
1990 The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos
1995 The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
2000 Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
2005 Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

(For Faulkner’s Fable I had to substitute an edition called Novels 1942-1954.)

The results were interesting. One might assume that the style in fiction has been toward simpler language, but this is not what I found. For example, although the differences in word length aren’t great, it would appear from the results that words in fiction — at least, the fiction that wins Pulitzer Prizes — are clearly getting longer.

increasing length of words in fiction over the years

Similarly, there is a clear increase in the number of complex words.

increasing complexity of words in modern fiction

The trend in sentence length is unclear. There is a big spike with Faulker in 1955; otherwise, there may be a slow increase in this category as well.

increase length of sentences in modern fiction

Does this prove anything? Not really. My sample is very small, and a slightly difference choice of books might find something completely different. Moreover, the category of Pulitzer Prize winners is obviously a minute fraction of overall fiction, and Pulitzer judges might deliberately resist overall trends. More research would be welcome. At the same time, it is suggestive to find that in all three of the amazon statistical categories the trend in this sample of fiction has been to greater complexity and length over the past half century and not the opposite as one might have guessed. I would be interested to hear other opinions.

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