Posted by: zhak39 | July 17, 2010

Cue: Lara’s Theme

It begins with an algorithm devised by a Russian software programmer, a young man of 27 who speaks English reasonably well although his native language is Russian.  His motivation, to present a tool to allow people to develop writing proficiency.  The result? a website that analyzes writing samples and forms a comparison with writers of some accomplishment.  It is a simple cut and paste experiment that yields fun if not necessarily useful results.

Accuracy?  According to an article on Yahoo Margaret Atwood writes like Steven King.  President Obama’s speechwriters channel David Foster Wallace.  Lady Gaga reveals her inner Shakespeare.  Oh, and transcripts of a ranting abusive aging actor?  Margaret Atwood.  Work in progress.

So who can resist?  I scrounged an earlier blog post, Daddy, and dutifully plugged it in.

I write like, I don’t want to say.

Surely it’s a rite of passage for every American girl to struggle through adolescence leaning on the crutch of the Great Russian Authors.  Did any of us make it through tenth grade geometry without taking sanity breaks between memorizing formulas by skimming passages of The Brothers Karamazov?  How else to deal with dateless Saturday nights then to take cold comfort in the company of  dutiful Tonya or perhaps  guilty vicarious pleasures with torn Lara?  There is no obstacle of puberty that can’t be eased by a stroll through hard frozen fields ruminating on essays of  Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev.  (Yeah, because I said so.)

So I write like….no.

Then we limp down the auditorium aisle to the strains of pomp and circumstance and make it through the summer somehow until our parents drop us off at a bland bare dorm room with a suitcase and a homemade comforter (and then they take a well deserved two week break from parenting on Cape Cod).  And we stand tall, without our crutch and immediately head to the Humanities Building to sign up for Fear and Trembling: A Review of Modern Literature and Devices.

And we love our literature classes for a semester or two.  We love these grim guys and their toady phrasing and their sharp beards and their feckless women.  We sneak macaroons and march determinedly into mouldering mansions with backs rigid, dignity intact and emotional lives shredded.  We think we understand Vronsky and are comme ci comme ca with Anna. And eventually we begin to realize that these men that write great portraits of women are, men.  And not only that, they are men of their time.  And we get interested in their time and support them and march on until we get to…

(I write like, Vladimir Nabakov).

…that evil little bitch, Lolita.  And we try to be sympathetic to Humbert Humbert and end up throwing the book against the dorm room wall, vowing to march right down to the Registrar and switch to a math major.  And it’s precisely because we have no experience and no distance (and apparently no sense of humor–Humbert Humbert?) so we just don’t get it.  This is just beyond us.  This is Harmonic Analysis in Euclidean Space and that’s right, we were reading novels tucked under our Geometry books back in tenth grade.  Ooops.

So we do march on, our backs rigid.  And at some point we do grow a sense of humor.  And we put aside fear and trembling for belly jiggling giggling.  And we continue to write for friends and family and don’t try to re-order the world.  We accept absurdity and we smile.

Nabakov.  OK. I can live with that.


  1. Zhak: Would you kindly send me the website?

    I want to find out who my, uh, speechwriters, are channeling.

  2. Sure thing, Bill. It’s in the Yahoo article.

  3. I write like David Foster Wallace, evidently.

    Never heard of him. Cool. This gives me an opportunity to read a new author! Another excuse to hit Barnes & Noble!

  4. Wallace’s work is amazing. Unfortunately he was very troubled. His suicide left much unwritten.

  5. I put in my statement of purpose for applying to grad school (one of the most scrutinized things I’ve constructed), and it says I write like Cory Doctorow, the sci-fi author and co-editor. You are what you eat, though I’ve been eating more Vonnegut recently.

  6. Boing-boing–fun. Vonnegut is yummy, kind of effervescent on the tongue with sometimes a bitter after taste. I’m trying to get Sam to gnam some.

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