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If you want to know how many times Chuck Palahniuk uses the verb “snuff,” this is just the thing. Illuminating entertainment...

Literary criticism by the numbers.

Writers write—and write and write. In fact, notes former Slate staffer Blatt (co-author: I Don't Care if We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever, 2014), they write more once they get going than when they started. A useful example is J.K. Rowling, whose first Harry Potter book came in at 78,000 words—but who wrote a follow-up three times as long. “If the unknown Rowling had written an 870-page version of the first book in 1997,” writes the author, “it would likely have had a much harder time getting published (and getting readers to pick it up).” We are able to know things such as book inflation by applying techniques of big data to the corpus of literature. In Blatt’s opening examples, the discussion centers on adverbs, which writers such as Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway have scorned. By doing part-of-speech searches of whole books or even just looking for words that end in -ly (only one class of adverb, as Blatt notes), we can see that those two authors didn’t always practice what they preached—and again, that Hemingway’s early, harder-worked books were leaner than his later ones, True at First Light being almost twice as adverbial as The Sun Also Rises. One takeaway for writers: “The best books—the greats of the greats—do use a lower rate of -ly adverbs.” Statistical approaches to literature have sometimes produced barren results, but Blatt has obvious fun poking around in the stacks, conducting literary experiments that sometimes turn into object lessons: if you want to write like a Brit, use “brilliant,” but not too much, lest you sound like an American trying to sound like a Brit. If you want to avoid ridicule, avoid clichés like “past history.” And always avoid opening with the weather—unless you’re Danielle Steel.

If you want to know how many times Chuck Palahniuk uses the verb “snuff,” this is just the thing. Illuminating entertainment for literary readers.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0538-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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