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The Science of Writing a Hit Book
On January 8, Inside Science reported that computer scientists at Stony Brook University had designed an algorithm allowing them to determine what makes a novel a success. The results are eerily precise. Among the traits most likely to make a book well reviewed and widely read are an unadorned, journalistic style; higher numbers of nouns and adjectives; and lower numbers of adverbs and verbs.
Thankfully, literature is not a science. Yet the writing and selling of literature increasingly is. Thanks to a proliferation of analytics, it’s easier than ever for publishers to track, graph, and therefore do their desperate best to predict market trends. Judged on that cold scale of downloaded units, Mein Kampf—which has come roaring back recently thanks to a high volume of e-book sales—might now be considered a good book.
I won’t go so far as to say that reducing the richness of books to ones and zeroes, and then judging them on such a scale, is tantamount to literary eugenics. But it does raise a question about what it means for a book to be formulaic, and whether that’s a good or bad thing. Or whether those kinds of questions even mean anything anymore.
2014 Book Preview
In Next Magazine, writer and Lambda Literary Poetry Editor Jameson Fitzpatrick offers a preview of 2014’s most anticipated gay titles.
Portland Fun and Games
When in doubt, put a bird on it. Next month, McSweeny’s is releasing The Portlandia Activity Book, a companion piece to the popular television IFC television show Portlandia. The book, written by Carrie Brownstein, Fred Armisen and Johnathan Krisel, provides fun-filled activities for the whole hipster family.
From the publisher:
This is The Portlandia Activity Book—a compendium of guaranteed enrichment for the Pacific Northwestern part of your psyche. Like a cool high school that prefers a sweat lodge to the traditional classroom, this book will expand your mind through participation, dehydrate you to a state of emotional rawness, then linger in the corners your bare soul.
Here you will find enough activities to get you through a year’s worth of rainy days, including: How to Crowdfund Your Baby, Punk Paint By Numbers, Terrarium Foraging, and so much more. With pages unlike any you’ve seen before, this is the kind of book that you can be yourself around. Shed the trappings of normalcy, let down your glorious mane, and take the deepest breath of your life. Portlandia is beckoning your arrival.
In Slate this week, Rosie Schaap provides an in-depth look at The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, a new book by Olivia Laing. The book explores how extreme alcohol consumption affected a series of famous authors and playwrights, including Tennessee Williams and John Cheever.
The Brokeback Opera
The Advocate recently interviewed author Annie Proulx, who is currently adapting her famed gay love story “Brokeback Mountain” into an opera.