Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Reading eyes wide open

I favor reading widely, and I encourage students to do the same. That partly explains why something I recently read in Nabokov's Favorite Color is Mauve sticks in my brain.

In this accessible nonfiction text, author Ben Blatt crunches numbers about writing and literature. Quirky inquiries abound. He uses big data, for instance, to see how well Elmore Leonard and other authors heed Leonard's advice to spend exclamation points parsimoniously. In another chapter, Blatt compares professional and amateur authors regarding how much (or how little) they deploy cliches.

Blatt also explores, in his calculating fashion, how language might reveal implicit bias. One way he does this is by determining ratios of gendered pronouns in various texts. That leads to this observation on page 41:

Reading this, my brain felt like a record being scratched. I wondered: Should I now think less of The Hobbit and its author? Did the text still belong in a formal English curriculum? If so, how might I frame it to account for its slanted grammar? Should I go out of my way to tout, say, fantasy writer Tamora Pierce to balance Tolkien on this particular seesaw? (For that matter, might gender be more complex than a seesaw analogy?) Does a crude he/she ratio even qualify as a sufficient hook on which to hang my abashed hat? Lastly, to adapt a notion from Grace Lin: How much should reading mirror the lives we live versus open windows onto different -- sometimes unsettling -- experiences?

For now, I'll reach back to my first sentence like a life preserver: read widely -- in terms of text selection and keeping my eyes and mind open to what I find therein.


  1. Fascinating (tho' I wasn't able to get the quote you included). But I would stick with that first sentence regarding reading choices. It's a no brainer for those who wish to expand their horizons.

    1. I like no brainers :) Thanks for the heads-up about the recalcitrant quote, too. I've since repaired the link.