Literature, with the naughty bits

Friday, July 16, 2010

I Write Like E. A. Bagby, Thank You Very Much

By now, literary folks with time to kill have probably discovered I Write Like, the website that tells you--based on an automated analysis few cut-and-pasted paragraphs--which famous writer's work your words most resemble. I tried it a couple of times, once with the opening scene of my Victorian YA mystery, once with the last post of this blog. Evidently, the mystery resembles Dickens (hooray! exactly what it needs to do!), and the blog resembles Dan Brown. That last assessment was--well, nauseating.

I feel better after reading this post at the NY Times, in which the tool identifies the opening from Moby-Dick as resembling Stephen King. (Well, both writers are New Englanders.) Equally intriguing are the comments on the post, in which it emerges that the tool's database contains a scant 40 writers, of whom only three are female and none are minorities. No Toni Morrison, no Ralph Ellison, no Richard Wright, no Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, no Jorge Luis Borges, no Virginia Woolf, no Carlos Fuentes, no Haruki this is really not much of a canon, then. It's a shame: the tool offers yet another instance of a celebrity-dependent culture wasting an opportunity to turn a bunch of readers on to some brilliant writers they might not have heard of.

But, in a more positive development, yesterday a friend who'd never read any David Foster Wallace was told her writing resembled his. That led to a spirited online discussion of his work--he's one of my favorites, and his 2008 suicide robbed literature of a brilliant mind. The conversation reminded me of what it's like when a writer permanently changes your way of seeing the world. DFW is one of the writers I find most inspiring; his work impels me to write and write and write, until you have to pry the pen from my cold, dead hands. Anything that reminds me of that isn't all bad.

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