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A story 10 years in the making
January 14, 2014 10:19 PM   Subscribe

Measuring societal zeitgeist by counting mood words across millions of books correlates with the economic misery index shifted forward a decade. "When are we most miserable, according to literature? Ten to eleven years after an economic downturn." Paper: Books Average Previous Decade of Economic Misery.
posted by stbalbach (10 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
They kind of touch on this briefly, but it seems that it might not be that we are most miserable 10 years after a downturn, but rather that it takes around 10 years from when people start writing a book to when they finish it, find a publisher, and it comes out onto the market.
posted by lollusc at 10:27 PM on January 14 [5 favorites]


Or until when people who are privileged enough to have enough leisure time and connections to write a novel and get it published start to notice.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:00 PM on January 14


This reminds me of Adrian Veidt standing before a bank of televisions to divine current trends in Watchmen.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:33 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


It could be that we get used to a certain amount of misery during the bad years and when things look up we turn to books to get the gloom we're used to.

Or this could all be utter nonsense from beginning to end. A study which takes "WW1 (1918)" and "the energy crisis (1975)" as similar events in terms of literary impact, and assumes that there is objectively such a thing as literary gloominess which in turn can be measured simply by the frequency with which a short list of 'mood words' crop up, is at best only loosely affiliated with common sense.
posted by Segundus at 3:39 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


assumes that there is objectively such a thing as literary gloominess

Well I don't think that's too much in doubt.

There has never been a more appropriate moment to explore the darkest corners of your bookshelves and wallow in some truly miserable literature.

"First published in 2006, The Road has taken only three years to become a bona fide contender for the title of Saddest Novel Ever Written."

OK it's one sample, but the best of the worst so it may have some special significance as a data point. A book published in 2006, written two years before the onset of the current recession, is surely based on the shared economic experiences of the 1990s - which it seems, if I am to believe this methodology, were far worse than all of the objective evidence.
posted by three blind mice at 4:17 AM on January 15


It takes about 5-7 years for a fiction book to go from pitch to shelf.
posted by The Whelk at 6:14 AM on January 15


'The Road' is grim, but there are elements of hope in its conclusion, so I'm sure it isn't the Saddest Novel. And it seemed to me it was about a distinctly 1950s post-nuclear style end of the world scenario (though who can say really); nothing in it spoke of the 90s to me.

But I wasn't questioning the existence of sad books, only of a measurable literary climate.
posted by Segundus at 6:36 AM on January 15


Academics at universities in Bristol and London analysed more than five million books digitised by Google, looking at how frequently words denoting different moods were used. . . . analyzing the frequency of miserable-sounding words . . .

That is a pretty sad way to go about it.

"We were still very cautious about spurious correlations at this point . . ."

Well, that's good.

'The Road' is grim, but there are elements of hope in its conclusion, so I'm sure it isn't the Saddest Novel. And it seemed to me it was about a distinctly 1950s post-nuclear style end of the world scenario . . .

Yah-geez, has no one read On The Beach?
 
posted by Herodios at 7:24 AM on January 15


Books cut a pretty narrow swath these days. How about movies and television, radio, magazines? What about context? And should we not weight books for how well they sold, or what kinds of reactions they got? Assuming equal sales, does a misery-full book with single star Amazon rating get the same heft as a Buck-you-uppo book with five stars?
posted by IndigoJones at 8:24 AM on January 15


> That is a pretty sad way to go about it.

First link: "literature proved to have a stronger correlation to the misery index than either one of the other determining factors, unemployment or inflation, taken on its own."

Semms like a good "way to go about it".
posted by stbalbach at 11:44 AM on January 15


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