Is There A Formula For A Good 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.