August 2003 Archives
talking about being good in bed
i wrote this last night... thankfully... because today my "Nifkin" [a.k.a.Archie] died....
here we are... sticking our toes in and testing the waters of the discussion about Good in Bed by jennifer weiner ... did you dive right into the book?
what were your thoughts? good summer read? thoughtful novel? fluff piece?
we'll start with this initial bit of questioning...
i liked it... there were parts that i loved and parts i felt very uncomfortable with... i must say that i love jennifer weiner's writing style (there's only one other author out there for me right now that seems to capture my attention with a certain style of writing and that is Marian Keyes)
i love when books are written in the first person - maybe that's why i love reading blogs so much... it's like peeping into someone's life, yet they're inviting you in....
that brings me to one topic...
when Cannie's ex-Bruce writes about her in the magazine articles... it made me parallel it to writing about someone in a blog... have you written about someone you've had a relationship with/intimate experiences/etc - knowing full well that they would read it and know how you felt?.... have you been written about? what happened? did the relationship falter? did you or the other person have some epiphany or falling out?
i know that i've written about guys on my site and pretty soon the relationship dies... and if i've written about them post-break-up, then either they or their friends leave lovely hateful comments.
i digress, it's not about me, it's about the book...
how did you feel about cannie? did you like her? root for her? were you annoyed by her at any point? did you relate to her? did she alienate you? after a while, did you seem to forget that she was "plus-sized"?
the discussion has begun...
Sex vs. Gender
Well. When The Gender Genie was launched, no one here expected it to take off and make its way around the Internet. Thanks to everyone who linked to it, and hope you're having fun taunting your friends with their results.
From reading various sites that link to it, I've noticed that many have taken issue with both its results and stats. It also seems like a lot of people are confusing gender with sex, so I thought I'd write up a post to explain the difference.
Sex, apart from the act of having it, refers to biological or physical traits that determine whether one is a man or a woman. We all know the difference between a penis and a vagina, right?
Gender refers to society's classification of characteristics perceived to be particular to a certain sex. For example, think about humans as hunter-gatherers. Hunting connotes a masculine activity, so your brain might conjure up images of burly men carrying huge rifles and wearing orange vests. But not all hunters are men and a woman who hunts is still biologically a woman. In imagining her, however, you might assign her some masculine traits like being butch or wearing iron-toed boots.
I realize the above gender example leans heavily toward stereotyping, but it gets the point across. Biology determines sex while society assigns gender. To relate this back to The Gender Genie, a woman author whose passage comes up with a male result is seen by Koppel and Argamon's algorithm as having a masculine quality to her writing because she's writing more about specific things (using keywords like "the," "a," "some," numbers, and "it") than connections (using keywords like "with," possessives, possessive pronouns, "for," and "not").
The Gender Genie should really come up with results like "masculine" or "feminine" rather than "male" or "female." However, the former set of terms is highly subjective since gender can be assigned by either society as a whole or individual members of society. If a user puts in a passage by a man and gets "feminine" as a result, the user might think of that man as having feminine qualities and answer yes when asked if the result is correct.
The stats themselves are not to be taken at face value. Their near 50/50 results shows us that determining sex from a writing sample is hit or miss. Determining gender from writing, though, is another matter entirely.
As for all you men who think The Gender Genie is bunk because of your consistent female results, I suggest you stop fighting it and go buy a dress already.
final climax in bed?
hey all - so, monday... the discussion for good in bed starts up... this is the final push to finish up the book - it's supposed to be a great weekend, so, have fun, grab the paperback, head to the beach or pool, slap on your sunglasses and read!!!
will yap next week!!!
The Gender Genie
After Andy brought this New York Times Magazine article about gender and word choice to our attention, we (me) here at BookBlog headquarters (my bedroom), decided to test the algorithm by hand-scoring a few passages. We chose a few books off the top of three piles conveniently located right behind us, and conducted our own unscientific survey. We spent an hour typing and counting and adding and subtracting, and discovered that the algorithm correctly predicted the author from our sample of 10 books 50% of the time.
Then, taking a cue from Rich and borrowing his idea for a textual gender predictor, we decided to create a little application of our own:
The Gender Genie
Despite Koppel and Argamon's claim that their algorithm is 80% accurate, our application only manages near 50% just as our hand-scoring did.
Why would we bother to announce a gender-predicting program that's right only half of the time? Well, we find it entertaining. Plus it amuses us when we put in passages written by a man and discover that he writes like a girl. And it's pretty.
can you tell if a writer is a man or a woman?
"Men and women ostensibly write the same language, on the other hand, but according to a recent article in The Boston Globe, they do so in ways that immediately reveal which sex is doing the writing." That's according to Sunday's New York Times Magazine, which reports on research done by scientists who "devised an algorithm that could predict with 80 percent accuracy the sex of the author."
They discovered that "women are apparently far more likely than men to use personal pronouns -- 'I,' 'you' and 'she' especially. Men, on the other hand, prefer so-called determiners -- 'a,' 'the,' 'that,' 'these' -- along with numbers and quantifiers like ''more'' and 'some.'"
Is it truly possible to determine the sex of an author by a mathematical algorithm? If it's true, is this because men and women are so biologically different that even our prose is shaped by our genitalia? Or is this because of we've been socialized so much that masculine and feminine roles affect even our writing? Especially in light of the discussion below, I'm curious to see what you all think.
And: Can you tell the difference? To see if you can, I've created a little test (read on).
The challenge: Guess the sex of the author of the following passages. The answers are at the end, in white. Give it a shot and then post your score. We're all friends, so we trust you not to lie. Ahem.
My methodology: I went to my bookshelves and pile of magazines, selected a handful of texts, mostly at random, and selected, again mostly at random, a few sentences from each one. I only chose a new passage if I thought that the first one I found was too revealing (e.g., you'd recognize the work and thus the author because of character names or details). I also tried to make sure it was representative, and not just a random wacky passage. That said, I realize my methodology is completely nonscientific, and the study above actually examined the whole text, not just a segment.
Just take the test. Are these writers male or female?
- The ape is too distant to be sedulous. All the great novelists like Thackeray and Dickens and Balzac have written a natural prose, swift but not slovenly, expressive but not precious, taking their own tint without ceasing to be common property.
- Misunderstandings tangle like phone cords; perverse emotions simmer beneath neutral banter. But IMing can be oddly hypnotic as well. As long as the chat box remains onscreen, a psychic connection continues even if neither participant says anything at all.
- Dorothy put her right hand on Cara's belly. She was carrying high, which tradition said meant the baby was a boy, but this had nothing to do with Dorothy's certainty of the child's sex. She just had a feeling.
- Black America and white America still live separately. Most whites live in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods; most blacks live in majority-black ones. Americans of different races still tend not to live together, socialize together, or chart their paths in this society together.
- Time to escape. I want my real life back with all of its funny smells, packets of loneliness, and long, clear car rides. I want my friends and my dopey job dispensing cocktails to leftovers. I miss heat and dryness and light.
- I just kept quiet and looked around. And I noticed things. The dots on the ceiling. Or how the blanket they gave me was rough.
- I had an inspiration once. I woke up one morning and I knew that today I had to swallow fifty aspirin. It was my task: my job for the day.
- I knew he was near, because in the candlelight I could see blood scattered in the dust around my bed and there was a red handprint on the sheets. I guessed he was in the shadows at the other end of the longhouse, waiting to loom out and surprise me.
- In the mystic offices to which such things were put, there was something that quickened his imagination. For these treasures, and everything that he collected in his lovely house, were to be to him means of forgetfulness, modes by which he could escape, for a season, from the fear that seemed to him at times to be almost too great to be borne.
- A fire walker with steel rods through his cheeks had predicted the year would end in disaster, the islands would be laid waste by a curse. Educated Fijians had laughed at his prediction, shrugging off the odd cyclone and shark attack.
The answers (highlight -- click and hold your mouse as you drag over the line -- to read)
- female: Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own.
- female: Emily Nussbaum, "Fast Company," Radar Magazine.
- male: Michael Chabon, "Son of the Wolfman."
- female: Farai Chideya, Don't Believe the Hype.
- male: Douglas Coupland, Generation X.
- male: Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
- female: Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted.
- male: Alex Garland, The Beach.
- male: Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
- female: Kiana Davenport, "Fork Used in Eating Reverend Baker."
So, how'd you do?
After trying these, are you more or less convinced of the scientist's argument and findings? What did you find yourself looking for to determine whether the passage was written by a man or a woman? What parts mislead you on the ones you got wrong? What parts were giveaways on the ones you got right?
Gender Bias and Literature
In a comment to a post below, Rich mentions that he hopes for the day when a book is judged by its content rather than the gender of its author. Women aspire to that as well, but we draw attention to books written by women because we so often get left out when it comes to talking about great literature. It's also the rationale behind the existence the Orange Prize. We're not trying to make the women?s movement pendulum swing too far our way, but rather it's an attempt at evening things out because gender bias still exists among both men and women whether we're conscious of it or not.
Here are a few interesting articles about gender and literature:
The Orange Prize for Fiction: Is It Really Necessary? by Sarah Ridgard
The Talk of the Rest of the Town (Part I & Part II) by Dennis Loy Johnson from MobyLives
How Sexist Are We? from The Complete Review
If you take a look at some of the big literary prizes over the past 30 years, you'll notice a trend:
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction: 68% male winners, 32% female winners
Nobel Prize in Literature: 87% male winners, 13% female winners
National Book Critics Circle Award: 62% male winners, 38% female winners
PEN/Faulkner Award: 86% male winners, 14% female winners
Booker Prize: 69% male winners, 31% female winners
Perhaps there are reasons besides bias to explain why the division isn't closer to 50/50. If you have a theory, I'd like to hear it.
In the previous post, I mentioned Being Dead, the National Book Critics Circle Award winner for 2000. I read it, hated it, then began treating reviews with a fair amount of skepticism because book critics clearly have no taste. I wrote my own review, which I add below for your reading pleasure:
I just finished Being Dead by Jim Crace. This book is about, well, being dead. And that's it. The characters aren't particularly interesting. Dialogue is almost nonexistent. There's barely a plot other than a thin story arc describing the events of the deceased's last day through the discovery of their bodies. The murderer disappears as stealthily as he arrives, and I got the impression that no one is intent on looking for him. In addition, the victims are so dull that you don't even feel sorry for them.
The only thing I can say in the book's defense is that it's beautifully written. But does it mean anything? A story isn't a great piece of literature just because an author is adept at composing prose. I'll give you an example of a piece I wrote myself:
I stepped onto the cool tile and was soon comforted by its smooth familiarity. Crossing the room, I paused as my face glided across the mirror. For a moment I contemplated the lines near my eyes which have become ever more pronounced with the passing years. The soft light above spread across the porcelain, hiding its stark whiteness under a warm blanket of ochre. Pools of darkness formed in the folds of my slacks as they slid down my thighs and calves to the floor below. Now seated, I was awash with contentment as the day's detritus flowed from my secret inner folds and splashed into the gaping mouth of the awaiting basin.
In case you missed it, I just took a beautifully written shit. And that's what this book is like. A beautifully written yet unsentimental account of murder, carrion, decay, rot, scavengers, and maggots. In particular, I didn't appreciate the numerous paragraphs discussing the dead man's penis from the moment of death to how the mortician will insert a plastic plug to keep his liquefying innards contained.
Maybe it's just me, but I don't get artsy crap like this. After I'm dead, I'll have eternity to contemplate its condition. In life, I'd much rather be entertained and amused. - May 31, 2001
Anyone else read it and think I'm dead wrong?
Lists of Bests
Ever wonder who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947? Robert Penn Warren for All the Kingís Men.
What about the first Newbery Medal winner? The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem Van Loon.
Or even the last five NBCC winners? Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, Being Dead by Jim Crace, Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem, The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro, and The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald.
These questions and more are all easily answered in just one place: Lists of Bests. Not only is this site a compendium of all the great books, itís an excellent resource for lists on movies and music.
My TBR pile is already nearly five feet tall. I have a feeling itís going to keep growing.
Keeping the Blog Alive
Iíve been trying to make an effort to post here since Iím on vacation, but I know the regular updates will dry up once work starts up again. Members, if you have any bookish news or useful information youíd like to share, feel free to post it. This isnít my site; itís our site, and Iíd love to hear from you guys every once in a while as well.
And to further the chick lit topic, here is a link for you:
chicklit: for women who love words
(They have a book club, too.)
Good in Bed, this monthís selection, is best-categorized as chick lit, a term coined to describe post-feminist fiction. Although serious writer Beryl Bainbridge (According to Queeney) called chick lit "a froth sort of thing," the genre continues to produce titles about young women working for or with ogres, getting support from their weird best friends, and overcoming romantic obstacles to finally end up with The Perfect Guy.
If youíre enjoying Good in Bed, here are some other books you might want to explore:
Other Book Club Blogs
So, youíre a blogger and youíre interested in joining a book club. Maybe BookBlogís traditional format and general nonfiction selections arenít for you. One of these might interest you:
Books and Bloggers: Claims to be "the first book club solely dedicated to bloggers." Ahem. Each month, the moderator posts a list of up to five books. The members then read the books, e-mail their thoughts to the moderator, and the e-mails are posted.
Page Turners: A lot like BookBlog, but without the structure. (Yes, I realize I am a control freak). Each member chooses a book in turn and discussions happen whenever some of the members finish reading.
Women-At-Home Book Blog: I couldnít find a FAQ or About page, but, from what I can tell, the moderator gives the members (all women, if you werenít able to figure it out) a focus for a certain number of chapters. They then read and discuss simultaneously.
Zulyís Reading Room: A "how many books can we read this summer" book club. Members read whatever they want then post their thoughts to the clubís page using TrackBack. Discussions can happen on either the readerís site or the message board. Members and book counts are listed on a sidebar.
Does anyone happen to have a copy of A Confederacy of Dunces? If so, Iíd appreciate someone leaving the last line of the book in the comments.
If you scroll down to the bottom of the main page, youíll notice that the last sentence of each BookBlog selection randomly pops up. Itís a sort of last word bonus for copyright readers. Since I generally give my books away after I read them (sacrilege to collectors, but I donít have the shelf space), I no longer have a copy of Confederacy. Iíve managed to acquire last lines from all our selections except this one.