Skip to main content

April 5, 2017: Matthew Jockers, “Novel Analytics from James Joyce to The Bestseller Code”

Posted by on Wednesday, April 5, 2017 in Event Archives, Spring 2017 Colloquium.

Vanderbilt Center for Digital Humanities

Wednesday, April 5, 4:10 pm

Novel Analytics from James Joyce to The Bestseller Code

To better understand bestselling fiction, Matthew Jockers and research partner Jodie Archer took the advice of Google researchers who argue that we should “embrace complexity and make use of the best ally we have: the unreasonable effectiveness of data.”  Instead of seeking a formula or telling authors how to write a successful novel, Jockers and Archer went to the books, thousands of them, and leveraged computation to ask a simple question: “what are these texts made of?”  The bold claim of their research, documented in The Bestseller Code, is that novels that hit the New York Times bestseller list are not random lottery winners but books that share an uncanny number of textual features.  In this lecture, Jockers will describe how he went from being a close reader of language in Joyce’s Ulysses to mining thousands of novels in search of the linguistic patterns most typical to books that best sell.

Jockers photo

Matthew L. Jockers is the Associate Dean for Research and Partnerships in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor of English at the University of Nebraska.  He is a Faculty Fellow in the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities and Director of the Nebraska Literary Lab.  Jockers’s research focuses on computational approaches to the study of literature, especially large collections of literature. His books include Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History (UIUC Press 2013), Text Analysis with R for Students of Literature (Spring 2014) and, with Jodie Archer, The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel (St. Martins 2016). His research has been profiled in the academic and main stream press including features in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Nature, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wired, New Scientist, Smithsonian, NBC News and many others.  More on Jockers can be found at