Sunday, April 17, 2005

Fun with Amazon

Currently reading: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

I read this book a few years ago and it horrified me. But it is so well written and well crafted, I had to re-read it. I highly recommend it, but not for the squeamish or faint of heart.

The reason I brought up this book was that it turned me on to a new feature on Amazon. Unfortunately, the feature isn’t there for all books, but I browsed through some old favorites and quickly became addicted.

This feature lists the 100 most used words in the book in question, and the number of occurrences of each one. It lists the number of words and characters in the book and the complexity of the words used (such as percentage of words with three or more syllables, average syllables per word and words per sentence). It also gives you the Flesch-Kincaid index (which shows the grade-level of readability of the book), and a fun stat that tells you the number of Words per Dollar and Words per Ounce. Heh.

Perfume has a Flesch-Kincaid index of 10.6, which means it is written at an approximately 10th grade reading level. The word “perfume” is used 252 times.

The coolest feature, however, is the SIP’s, or, Statistically Improbable Phrases. Amazon scans the contents of a book and finds phrases that are, amongst all books, statistically improbable (though not necessarily within the book), and shows us instances this phrase occurs in other books. It’s fun to see the connections.

For example, Perfume has a listing for the phrase “essence absolue,” which shows instances of the phrase in State of the Fantastic : Studies in the Theory and Practice of Fantastic Literature and Film (Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy) by Nicholas Ruddick and in Reap the Wind by IRIS JOHANSEN.

Some more fun stuff I found out:

Ulysses uses the word “said” 1207 times and has a Flesch-Kincaid index of 6.8!! And here I was still struggling to get through the book... And the phrase “met him pike hoses” appears in a book called The Flute Book: A Complete Guide for Students and Performers by Nancy Toff. Hmmm. Makes you wonder.

Hamlet has a readability level of 5.5. Please don’t tell me Shakespeare is hard to read... Heh.

One of my favorite books, Jitterbug Perfume, has a Flesch-Kincaid index of 8.6 and uses the word “beet” 161 times. The lists of SIPs is impressive and funny.

I’ll not bore you with more stats. But go explore. It’s addictive.

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