Monday, January 28, 2008

Picture Books


I literally just read Franco Moretti's Graphs, Maps, and Trees the night before, a study in "big data" approaches to the humanities that takes information about the genres, narrative devices, and settings of novels -- from dozens of scenes in a single book to thousands of different books in separate national traditions -- to create visual representations that show how novels can be understood as evolving and changing during the course of their plots and also over the larger span of literary history.

So there was some irony to getting the link this morning to Books That Make You Dumb from Virtualpolitik pal Virgil Griffith, which also provides several schematic representations of literary history through the filter of Facebook favorite books with a database mash-up of campus SAT scores. Griffith has apparently taken some heat from "Literature majors" who "lack any sense of humor" and so changed Lolita and Pride and Prejudice from "Erotica" and "Chick Lit" respectively to the less controversial "Classics. "

Actually, I suspect that the fact that when you sort by category, books labeled "African American" are disproportionately likely to be correlated with low SAT scores will be a source of much more contention about possible implicit racism in this mash-up in the long run.

Overall, Griffith admits that correlation is not causation, but says the complete set of results is interesting "whether A causes B or B causes A, or even an unknown C causes A and B." Griffith's master chart with relative sizes of genres is below.

(In college, I would have probably said that my favorite book was Bouvard et P├ęcuchet.)

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