Ben Blatt is a numbers guy investigating words in Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing. Experts hotly debate the intersection of the two, especially whether such a thing is valid. Blatt proves it is, at least if you’re a word-curious soul. 

Blatt’s jumping off point is to compare famous writers’ books with advice they give aspiring writers. For example, Stephen King proclaims the adverb to be evil. How much does he use adverbs? Blatt counts, and then discusses what types of adverbs are most objectionable.

Lest you think this book is all about counting words, I assure you it’s not. But since I read it alongside two debut novels, of course I counted the number of times they used certain words. And that certainly made me appreciate the work editors do. 

Blatt also charts things like the odd words authors get attached to. For example, Ray Bradbury has a thing for cinnamon. In his highly descriptive works, he consistently uses all kinds of spice-related words. 

If you’ve ever wondered about the differences between U.K. versus U.S. writers, this book is for you. Or perhaps you’d like to know whether cliffhanger sentences keep readers engaged for just one more chapter. Plus, I learned that starting a chapter with a description of the weather is poor writing. Unless you’re best-selling author Danielle Steele.

My conclusions

This is a full-time, laser-focused book for word nerds. If you like writing or reading, it’s an engaging and quick choice. Some chapters hit home more for me than others. For example, discussing who uses “loud” words most was a snooze for me. 

But overall, I liked Blatt’s style. And despite my struggles with college statistics, Blatt never left me feeling confused. Plus, I’ll never look at exclamation marks the same way!

For three summers now, I’ve shared the reading experience of four books with three friends. We pick our books and send them in round robin style to each other. When we read, we also make notes and comments to each other. In the end, each book’s owner has a fun, marked up, group read on their shelf.

This was our third language-related book, so I recommend pairing it with the others: The Pun Also Rises by John Pollard and Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper.