Friday, April 2, 2010

Ihre Preise

I have not blogged in a little more than a week, and I probably owe something of an explanation.

Most of my "free" (it should probably instead be called "unproductive") time has been devoted to researching and writing for the statistics columns I contributed to the Tournament of Books (first column, second column, third column, fourth column). I hope any of you who have been following the Tournament (which is now almost complete) enjoyed these contributions, or at least found them of passing interest.

More substantively, they represent something I'm fairly interested in: the role of what is called the paratext in how we think about and encounter books. It's a large topic, and I'm just beginning to think about how it works, but I'm pretty convinced that questions like "how do we encounter a 500-page book differently from a 250-page book?" or "is there an optimal page range for an 'ambitious' book?" are more than trivialities or idle questions.

In the spirit of open inquiry, I have created a Google Documents spreadsheet with the data I compiled for the last Tournament of Books column I wrote, where I looked at the winners and finalists for five prizes—the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Book Award for Fiction, the Man Booker, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and the PEN/Faulkner award—for the last five years as well as all the winners for all years of the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. It's pretty rudimentary aggregation and I'm hoping to add some other elements in over time (other prizes, including some genre prizes, and some other variables like the presence of chapters, average chapter length, publisher, etc.), but I figured I'd share what I have now.

One note on methodology: I used the WorldCat database to pull page counts, and I attempted throughout to use the pagination of the first editions of each book. Sometimes, the WorldCat entry notes that a book is a first edition, other times I had to guess by the year it printed. That should still be pretty accurate, but if there are any corrections I need to make, please let me know.

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