To write his new book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, journalist and statistician Ben Blatt loaded thousands of classics and contemporary best-sellers into various databases and let his hard drive churn through them. He wanted to know if our favorite authors follow conventional writing advice about cliches, adverbs and exclamation points (they mostly do); if men and women write differently (yep); if an algorithm can identify a writer from his or her prose style (it can); and which authors use the shortest first sentences versus those who use the longest.
We can hear thousands of monocles dropping into thousands of cups of Earl Grey from here. “But what of literature?” you sputter. “What does any of that technical folderol have to do,” — here you start wiping your monocle on your nosegay — “with ART?”
Not much, is the answer. Blatt’s book isn’t terribly interested in the art of writing. What it is fascinated by — and what’s fascinating about it — is the craft of writing. Here are some of our favorites of Blatt’s findings.