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December 5, 2011

Can You Use Math to Write a Bestseller?

   By Gabe Habash

Here’s where you say “No. Math is a cold, sterile thing and writing is a blooming, loving sunflower and when I write I perch on it like a bumblebee. PWxyz should have its tongue lopped off, for that is the source of lies.”

But not so fast. Over at The Bestseller Code, they let you plug in an excerpt of your writing and, using statistical analysis, they tell you the probability of your book becoming a bestseller. Your results take the form of a “Bestsellers Score,” a number out of 20, with 20 meaning you’re the baby that would come from a Steven King-Agatha Christie union and 0 meaning your book is the equivalent of this.

The Bestsellers Score is determined by two key factors: word complexity and average sentence length. Depending on your genre (Literature, YA, Romance, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Thriller), the average of these two measurements is adjusted and your score pops out.

PWxyz’s QA department (me) took The Bestseller Code for a test drive, plugging in a random chunk of my unpublished novel manuscript, as well as excerpts from A Visit from the Goon Squad and The Tiger’s Wife, two recent bestsellers.

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December 3, 2011

Books for giving: fiction

Inside the Arctic Circle: John Burnside's A Summer of Drowning 'brings an eerie glow to the far north'. Photograph: Farrell Grehan/Corbis

   A rich year for novels

By Justine Jordan

After a rich year for fiction, the novel most likely to be placed under the Christmas tree will surely be Julian Barnes’s Booker winner, The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape, £12.99). A meditation on memory and regret slyly conveyed through the unreliable voice of a complacent man whose past gives him a nasty surprise, it’s slim enough to gobble at a sitting and slips down with deceptive ease, but leaves plenty to ponder in its wake. The hardback is also a thing of beauty in its own right.

Also small but perfectly wrought, At Last by Edward St Aubyn (Picador, £16.99) is the fifth and final volume in his series about abuse, addiction and other bad behaviours among the English upper classes. It’s savagely funny stuff, and a fitting conclusion to a saga that’s been one of the literary highlights of our time. Alan Hollinghurst teased out the literary establishment’s path through the 20th century in The Stranger’s Child (Picador, £20), elegantly unpicking myths and customs of Englishness as he traces the secret life and afterglow of a country house and a Georgian poem.

For more rambunctious fare, turn to Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie (Canongate, £7.99), the most irrepressible read of the year. A young boy is plucked from the streets of 19th-century Wapping and launched on the high seas, joining a quest to capture and bring back a komodo dragon. His story is full of wonder, peril and discovery. Animals also cavort through the picaresque Orange winner, The Tiger’s Wife (Phoenix, £7.99) by Téa Obreht. Through a mixture of folklore and autobiography, she paints a vivid portrait of Yugoslavia’s history and the Balkan wars.

This year saw several fine novels that opened on to parallel dimensions, including the much-anticipated 1Q84 (Harvill Secker, £20 & £14.99) by Haruki Murakami (which in two volumes means double the wrapping). There are cults, conspiracies and lost lovers aplenty in this vast labyrinth of a novel, in which the parallel universe is lit by a second moon. Beautifully strange, too, is John Burnside’s A Summer of Drowning (Jonathan Cape, £16.99), now on the Costa shortlist.

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November 13, 2011

Handicapping the Field: NBA Finalists in Fiction

By Jaimy Gordon

The 2011 National Book Award winners will be announced next week on Wednesday, Nov. 16. Below, we’ve provided a score-card for your office or at-home betting pool. To get the ball rolling, novelist Jaimy Gordon, 2010 winner for Lord of Misrule, agreed to survey the fiction field for us.
The field of finalists this year is rich in dark history, full of mythy and frightening tales and exotic places. Of this marvelous group, which includes Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, Andrew Krivak’s The Sojourner, and Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s WifeThe Tiger’s Wife is the obvious favorite, an authentically gorgeous and absorbing book that was already a best seller, with big wins on its past performance chart, even before it became a finalist for the National Book Award. But as a betting woman, of course I have a hard time putting my money on a heavy favorite, however likely a bet. There is another small jeweled volume in that group that makes America mythy and exotic by seeing it through the eyes of mail-order Japanese brides arriving in San Francisco a hundred years ago—this is Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic. I’d have to ride a little money on that one. However—as those who know me know—I’ve always favored classy old horses who are still running at the age of six or seven and can go the distance. There’s only one of those in this field, Edith Pearlman, for her Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories; although, true, she’s not really a miler but a sprinter, one of the great practitioners of the short form. How can you not want to put your money on a great American writer who has been so underrated for so long?
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October 13, 2011

Here Are the 2011 National Book Award Finalists

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By Ray Gustini

\ Today in literature: the National Book Award finalists are announced, an excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography explains the origins of his trademark blackturtleneck, and HarperCollins is giving Dennis Lehane his own imprint.

The finalists for the 2011 National Book Awards were announced on a special live broadcast of the Oregon Public Broadcasting show Think Out Loud. The five finalists in the Young People’s Literature category are: My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson, Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin, Shine by Lauren Myracle, and Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. The final five for poetry includes: Tonight No Poetry Will Serve by Adrienne Rich, Head Off & Split by Nikkey Finney, The Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakka, Devotions by Carl Smith, and Double Shadow by Carl Phillips. In the non-fiction category, the finalists are The Convert by Deborah Phillips, Love and Capital by Mary Gabriel, The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable, and Radioactive by Lauren Redniss. The five finalists in fiction include: The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht, The Buddha in the Attic by Julia Otsuka, Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman, and Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. One title notably absent from the fiction category was Jeffrey Eugenides’ new novel The Marriage Plot.

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September 10, 2011

The world of book awards – a longlist

The 2010 Man Booker prize shortlisted books. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

We’ve all heard of the Man Booker and the Bad Sex prizes – but do you know your Impac from your Boardman Tasker?

By Claire Armitstead

The announcement of the Booker shortlist this week signals the start of the new awards season. In a sense, though, we’re halfway through it, with the Orange prize stealing a march by announcing its winner in June, thereby appearing to take command of the calendar year when their judging year actually runs from April to March. This sleight of hand worked particularly well this year, as Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife was published in March and is therefore very much a 2011 title.

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