I have run around with Nabokov’s favorite word is mauve by Ben Blatt in my bag for the last few days and what a joy it has been. This was exactly what I needed right now in terms of literature, something light and easy access but not too long as my attention span right now is down to 0.5 seconds. Blatt does study writing quirks or oft used expressions by a variety of authors, a similar study of my blog would probably reveal that I use the phrase “I’ve been meaning to read it for ages” very often. Not my favorite expression but one I use a lot because a) it’s usually the case b) I’m probably too lazy to write in a different way, as it’s not the point. It’s a bridge to the book I want to discuss, and I’ll save my fancy words for that. When it comes to this book all of the above is true.
As I love literature and have a fondness for statistics, this is right up my alley. But even without being the kind of person who goes through the appendix, checks method and make little notes on the very neat and logical arguments in regards to sample size and variables, this is worth reading. Because it’s fun, irreverent and infused with a love of books. It is heavily skewed towards the Anglo-saxon of course. I hope somebody does similar studies in other languages because it would be fun to see the results.
That said let me share some of the cool, cute, quaint and relevant data about literature that I have learned in this book.
- James Joyce uses a lot of exclamation points. I will use this piece of data as another excuse not to read him. I will claim that I have a problem with exclamation marks. Anyone who has seen me comment knows that is not really the case. However in literature I will claim it is vulgare.
- The opening sentence in A tale of two cities by Charles Dickens uses 119 words, 17 commas and an em-dash. However because he sometimes started his books with short sentences he has a reasonable average. A Christmas carol starts with the words “Marley was dead: to begin with”. The lesson here is that Dickens knew how to start a book.
- Danielle Steel has gone beyond writing opening sentences about weather. Reading the compilation of 42 of her opening sentences is like looking at a piece of post-modern textual art. I feel OK about not reading Danielle Steele now.
- Dan Brown uses the expression “O Draconian Devil” several times in his books. Like why? That’s the worst. It’s making me not wanna read Dan Brown ever. I wasn’t interested before either but that’s beside the point. He also uses the expression “O lame saint” a lot (it’s on the same list). However I feel that “Draconian devils & Lame saints” might be a great name for an electro-pop band (dibs on being the cool girl behind the synth).
- Nabokov’s favorite words were mauve, banal and pun. The first one was no surprise in one sense, it’s the title of the book but it’s not a colour that I think of when I think of his books. I wasn’t too surprised by the others though as those are words that I think fits well with his style.
- The road to hell kind of is paved with adverbs, as Stephen King says. A particular adverb though, that ends in -ly. Suddenly, hastily, quietly, etc. If you are gonna use those word be sure you know what you are doing.
- There are no rules when writing books. There seems to be an opinion that a book shouldn’t start with weather, but then Orwell wrote 1984 which does just that to great effect. Don’t use to many “-ly words”, unless you are Nabokov in the process of writing Lolita in which case you do it like a boss. There are patterns but a good writer knows when to break the rules or use expectations to his or her advantage.