Julian Sanchez header image 2

photos by Lara Shipley

Efficient Reading

December 16th, 2004 · No Comments

I see that Radley has used P.J. Doland’s word frequency cruncher to create a list of all the words used on his site, in order of how often they’ve been used. I suspect that the Italo Calvino fans out there immediately thought, as I did, of a certain passage from If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler:

I asked Lotaria if she has already read some books of mine that I lent her. She said no, because here she doesnâ??t have a computer at her disposal.

She explained to me that a suitably programmed computer can read a novel in a few minutes and record the list of all the words contanined in the text, in order of frequency. “That way I can have an already completed reading at hand,” Lotaria says, “with an incalculable saving of time. What is the reading of a text, in fact, except the recording of certain thematic recurrences, certain insistences of forms and meanings?”

Lotaria goes on to generate a series of lists looking very much like Radley’s (pronouns and the like excised) and extract a sort of gestalt impression of what’s going on in each of several books. (I’ve been told Strauss did something like this as a clue to esoteric meanings, but I’ve no idea whether it’s true.) I’ll stick to the old fashioned way of reading for now, but I suspect you might learn something interesting, if not about a text, then about it’s author from this. How many uses of “I” proportional to the length of the piece? Of hedge words like “rather” or “seems”? Are there a handful of uncommon words of which the author seems unusually fond? And so on…

Tags: Uncategorized