Herman Melville’s novel “Moby Dick” was written in 1851. That’s one hundred and sixty three years ago. What’s incredible here though is that some of the whales swimming about in the oceans today, were swimming about in the oceans before Melville’s book was even published.
For those with an interest in such things, listings of the most distinct, and commonly used adjectives, adverbs, and sentences used in the fantasy/adventure “Hunger Games”, “Harry Potter”, and “Twilight”, series of novels.
In 1898 British writer and critic Clement K. Shorter published a list of the then one hundred best novels ever written. “Don Quixote”, “Robinson Crusoe”, “Pride and Prejudice”, “Frankenstein”, and “The Three Musketeers”, to name a few, were among books making the cut.
I haven’t read every last title on the list, but certainly many are familiar nonetheless. Shorter clearly knew a good book when he saw one… even if you may not agree with all his choices.
The reading list, with books presented in chronological order rather than order of preference, provides Ontario with a new angle. American classics of the 50s and 60s are strongly represented – On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood – as are tales of working-class boys made good, which emerged in the postwar years: Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar and Room at the Top by John Braine, and The Outsider by Colin Wilson, a study of creativity and the mindset of misfits. RD Laing’s The Divided Self speaks to a fascination with psychotherapy and creativity, as does The Origin of Consciousness in the breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes. There is no evidence that Bowie’s scientific inquries extend beyond psychology – Stephen Hawking’s cosmic theories are out – but his tastes are otherwise broad.
A text analyser, as developed by Canadian researcher Saif Mohammad, makes it possible to gauge the emotional temperature, or mood, of sections and chapters of books, before reading them, meaning a list of suggested titles could be tailored for you, depending on your prevailing frame of mind.
Mohammad has created his emotion analyser by combining these two advances with a clear method for visualising the results. For example, in analysing Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, he can display the number of words associated with each emotion that appear in every 10,000 words. This gives a kind of emotional signature. Comparing this to the emotional signature of Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, is revealing. “Observe how one can clearly see that Hamlet has more fear, sadness, disgust, and anger, and less joy, trust, and anticipation,” he says.
Self help, or “how to”, books are by no means recent, we have been offering our counsel to others by way of books for centuries, be that tips on to how battle, care for the sick, die well, or rule as a monarch. Surprise, surprise though, the advice being dispensed did, sometimes, conflict:
One of the most popular genres of “advice books” during this time was called “Mirrors for Princes.” They were often written by noble relatives, respected scholars, or religious leaders to be presented to new nobility as they came to power. These books were meant to instruct young royalty of their duties and their history. Most of these books, alongside records of battles and studies of other monarchies, instruct on the need for piety, benevolence, and the important of a praiseworthy life. A famous exception is the book The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. Machiavelli taught that it was better to be feared than loved, better to be stingy than generous (so as not to encourage greed in your subjects), and how to avoid contempt and hatred while adhering to the rest of his suggestions. Unlike most Mirrors, Machiavelli’s book is still widely read today.