So there’s this crime show on CBS this season called NUMB3RS. In it, Rob Morrow (Northern Exposure) and David Krumholtz (the elf in the Santa Clause) play two brothers who solve crimes by applying mathematics. Morrow is an FBI agent, and Krumholtz is a genius math professor at Cal Sci (read that Cal Tech). No matter what kind of crime it is, Charlie, the mathematician, can reduce it to a set of numbers and equations, and solve the crime. There are a lot of scenes of him writing on big blackboards with fellow mathematician Peter MacNicol, inter-dispersed with scenes of Charlie condescending to some rough and tumble FBI agents who are just itching to get out there and trample someone’s Fourth Amendment rights. (Which they do nearly every week. Seems like you can’t get through an hour of crime TV without someone getting tortured or illegally searched. Who do they think they are, the President? ) Turns out, that no matter what happens, arson, murder, kidnapping, meth-cooking, 7-11 robbing, it can all be broken down to a complex equation and solved on a big blackboard. I feel much better, now, knowing that the toothless ice head who takes my car stereo graphs out the variables before he hurls a brick through my window.
So, with the sweet comfort of mathematics firmly in my grasp, I signed on to Amazon today, and noticed a new feature in the books section: Text stats. So I clicked.
Turns out that Amazon has analyzed nearly every book they sell by breaking down the numbers of the text. They categorize the books under the following criteria:
Concordance (the number of times certain words are used.
Readability (According to three indexes, Fog, which rates a book on grade level required to understand it, Flesch Index, with assigns a “readability number” with scores of 90-100 requiring a 6th grade education to understand, and scores of 0-30 requiring a college degree. And Flesch-Kincaid Index, which narrows down the Flesh index to a U.S. grade level. Yes, I think there should also be a Flesh index, for the number of times, on average, a reader becomes sexually aroused, but Amazon evidently isn’t ready to apply fluid dynamics mathematics to our books yet.)
Complexity, which covers complex words, syllables per word, and words per sentence.
Numbers of characters, words, and sentences.
Fun stats, which include words per dollar and words per ounce.
In short, fiction reduced to numbers.
This is not to say that these figures are all completely irrelevant. I have people ask me every day how long a novel should be. Well now you can look it up. And you can even run the fog index on your own work with many popular word processor programs.( For instance, according to MS Word, this blog entry has a Flesch index of 62, and a Flesch-Kinkaid of 8.9, so those of you with less than an eighth grade education, the secret is “bang the rocks together”)
So, because I had been thinking about numbers for several minutes, and I was becoming uncomfortable because I couldn’t see how any of that was about me, I looked up the text stats on some of my books. Turns out that if you have a seventh grade education, you can pretty-much enjoy my work without much sweat. Sure, with some of them you may have to wait until second semester, but with others, you can read them over summer vacation after sixth grade. The hardest, is Fluke, I presume because it has science and stuff in it, at 7.7. I think this also may explain why I am sometimes accused of having an adolescent sense of humor. I’m not immature, I am doing it for the children.
So, in the interest of solving crime and stuff, I decided to compare one of my books to a popular classic novel. (As well as a few others, but I’ll only cover one here.)
War and Peace http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/sitb-next/0140444173/ref=sbx_txt/102-3234692-4610521?%5Fencoding=UTF8#textstats
And here’s what I learned. The more education you have, the better chance you have of getting a good deal. Why?
Well, War and Peace came in with a Fog rating of 12.1, the highest of the books I sampled, so you have to have “some college” to enjoy it. Maybe a semester of junior college, but still. But here’s the rub, War and Peace is a total bargain at 51,705 words per dollar!
By contrast, my book, The Stupidest Angel, you can read at Christmastime as a 7th grader (Fog index 7.3 – and yes, I planned it for Christmastime), but you are only going to get 5,541 words per dollar. “ Gadzooks!” You say, “This is a colossal rip-off. I am being used because of my low academic standing and my weakness for doody and sex jokes.”
Well, yes, there is that, but I prefer to look at it on Moore’s Mac and Cheese index. Say you’d like a tasty dish of Macaroni and Cheese – you have several options. You can to the Soho Grand Hotel in New York, order the Mac and Cheese for lunch, pay 14.95 for a dish of it, and enjoy a delicious gourmet casserole of Mac and Cheese, brought to your table by someone who may, very probably be a vampire or a cyborg. Yes, fifteen bucks for some Mac and Cheese, but you’re enjoying it in the Post-Modern Industrial Chic environment seldom found outside of the movie Bladerunner. Option two, would be to go to the store and grab a package of Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese for about $3.00. Then you can take it home, pop it in the microwave, and enjoy a delicious dish of Mac and Cheese in a nearly cat-hair free environment. Finally, you can go to the store, get a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in the blue box, take it home, boil it up, add some butter and milk and the scrumptious cheese powder, which is lovingly hand-scraped off of Cheetos (the only place it appears in nature) by dedicated employees in East Jesus, Wisconsin, and enjoy a delicious dish of Mac and Cheese in your own studio apartment.
Assigned numberical values, the scale looks like this: SoHo Grand M&C 15 Stouffers M&C 10 Kraft M&C 5 *
So, you’re instincts might tell you that Tolstoy would be SoHo Grand M&C, and my books would be, say, Kraft Mac and Cheese, maybe with some weenies sliced in. But allow me to correct your misassumptions and draw figures furiously on a blackboard to show you just how wrong you are. My stuff, is, in fact, Stouffers Mac and Cheese – sure, it’s a little more expensive, but you only have to pop it in the microwave and remove a few cat hairs and it’s ready to go. While Tolstoy not only makes you add butter and milk, he makes you grow the wheat and raise the cow. Tolstoy comes in at a negative 5, below Kraft Mac and Cheese.
Consider this, if you will. (And you will, because, otherwise you have to do something useful.) If it cost’s $9000 a year to put a kid through public school, and Tolstoy’s book requires you to complete five more years of schooling than my book in order to enjoy it, then you are spending approximately $45,000 more to enjoy War and Peace, than you are for The Stupidest Angel. Using those figures, here’s the value of the respective works on the Moore Mac and Cheese Scale:
War and Peace $ .87 per word Stupidest Angel .06 per word
“Gadzooks!” you exclaim, “Tolstoy has been using me like the cheap whore that I am!”
And of course, you are right.
And that’s not even taking into account portability, which put’s Tolstoy firmly in the camp of “Won’t fit in the pocket on the seat back, but excellent if you need to mash a bug.” It garners a whopping 7.2 on the Moore Pocket Fisherman Portability and Utility Scale.
So, you see, it can all be broken down to numbers, just like on the TV show, and I think that we can see, after detailed analysis, why Charlie, the mathematician character in NUMB3RS, is never, ever going to get laid.
Feel free to do your own calculations.
*Home made Mac&Cheese is not included in the Moore Mac & Cheese scale because mothers may vary. For instance, your mother is so very ugly, that they press her face in dough to make gorilla cookies. Oh, he dinint… Oooo, snap! Dat bitch gotta be a 9 on the Yo Momma Uglability scale.