The Soul of Wit

A fun look at how stylometry helps prove that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

I’m always a little baffled when people try to make a big conspiracy theory around Shakespeare. (See also Truman Capote writing To Kill a Mockingbird instead of Harper Lee.) Let the dude have his work!

Also, this is good proof that a writer’s voice is a real thing. Even though Shakespeare wrote sonnets, historical dramas, fantastical comedies, and more, all his works have his particular tone and style.

Maybe you’re not Shakespeare, but you have your own writerly voice. Someone else can be writing about spooky ghosts or family dramas or adventures in space, but your voice is all your own, and that’s part of what makes everything you write unique.

Gif-fiction with the Hanging Garden

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of gifs. So when Natalie Parker and Julie Murphy approached me about The Hanging Garden, a project in which 2014 debut YA authors write fiction inspired by gifs, my reaction was something along the lines of:

Our first challenge: write a short story inspired by one of two gifs. Every Monday, a different author shares their work. When I read the stories posted so far:

Then I realized I’d have to follow up these amazing writers:

My writing process:

But eventually I put together my very first gif-inspired short story and now it’s live on the Hanging Garden. Woohoo!

In grad school I mostly wrote short stories, but since then I’ve mostly worked on longer projects. It’s been really fun to dive back into a shorter form and write down ideas that can exist in their own little world. Looking forward to lots more gif-fiction challenges with the Hanging Garden team!

Land of 1000 Blog Posts–and a New Facebook Page!

Sometimes I hear writers talk about blogging (and social media in general) like it’s a big chore, and how overwhelming it is, and how it’s a giant time suck. I feel really fortunate in that I genuinely enjoy blogging. I look at it as a fun and easy way to share cool things I find online with lots of people who may find them cool, too. And apparently I’ve come across a lot of cool things to share, because this is my 1000th post. Thank you to all my followers and readers for helping me get to this point. I know at least some of you aren’t spam-bots, and I’ve really appreciated your likes and comments. You guys are the best!

To celebrate reaching 1000 posts, I’m launching my brand-new author Facebook page. Because one good social media turn deserves another! Follow along for more fun links, photos, live Q&As, and (hopefully) hilarity. Right now I have up a few new author photos–that’s right, I am a human being and not just one profile picture!

Thanks again to my wonderful readers and followers. You keep me going, and I’m psyched to share another 1000 posts with you.

Same Annie, New Look

This weekend I finally got around to updating my site, and I’m really digging it so far. A few changes:

  • An updated About section, including links to interviews and more general info about me. (Do I like nail polish? Secrets revealed!)
  • A Books page, aka your one stop-shop for info on The Chance You Won’t Return.
  • The Blog is its own page now, which I think makes things a little cleaner.

Hope you enjoy all the new content! Let me know if things look weird or if links aren’t working. And don’t worry–even though the site has a shiny new look, you can still expect all the same fun bookish content you know and (hopefully) enjoy.

Links Galore

Lots of good links for today:

Countless Stars: Why I Don’t Rate Books

Sorry, stars.

These days, it’s easy to review and find reviews about pretty much anything. Need to find a local Thai restaurant? Don’t worry–there are three in your area and one of them has been rated four-and-a-half stars. It’s a helpful way to find coffee shops/shoes/apps/etc. that you’ll most likely enjoy.

That goes for books as well. At sites like Goodreads, you can rate and review pretty much any book you’ve ever read. For example, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has currently been rated 4.35 stars by 1,840,709 people. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last fifteen years or so and have no idea what this novel’s about, it can be helpful to see that so many people rated it highly. “Hmm,” you say, “maybe I should check this out!” Conversely, if you find a book that has a really bad rating, you might be more inclined to skip it. I know I’m at least a little swayed by star ratings.


I don’t like to rate books.

When I first joined Goodreads, I jumped on the star rating train. Four stars over here! Five stars over there! But sometimes I’d run into the problem of wanting to give a half-star and Goodreads isn’t really structured that way. I’d round up, wanting to be nice, but that felt disingenuous when compared to all the other full star reviews. Also, sometimes I’d finish a book and, coming off that good post-read vibe, rate it really highly. But then a few weeks would go by and I’d wonder if the book really deserved a five-star rating. Should I go back and change it? Or rate based on that initial reaction? And what did these stars even mean, anyway? Were five stars for books that I had all around positive feelings about, or should they be reserved for my all-time favorites? How bad does a book have to be for it to get one star?

For me, it’s hard to quantify the reading experience. When I try to rank books by stars, I end up feeling like J. Evans Pritchard in Understanding Poetry*:

A few things I find problematic. First, books aren’t necessarily like a dinner out or a futon–they stay with you and change you, and they have the potential to keep changing you over time. When I was in fourth grade, the American Girl books would have been at the top of my list. (Samantha’s in particular–Victorian era for the win.) If I were to give them a star rating now, should I take into account how I loved them in fourth grade and how they developed my interest in early 1900s history? Giving Samantha Learns a Lesson a two-star rating feels cold, even if I’m not necessarily picking up the book these days.

Second, it’s hard to compare books based on numbers. Maybe you loved one aspect of a book but found others less compelling, while another book was just kind of solid. Does that mean they both deserve three-star reviews? Ideally you could explain these reasons in a review, but that review doesn’t go into a book’s quantifiable average star rating. Can you give a literary classic like Ulysses a five-star rating and give the exact same rating to a hilarious and touching picture book like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? They’re very different but both beloved and praised in their own way. But how can a rating system differentiate between the two?

Third, even though ratings are ostensibly to make reviews clearer, they can vary dramatically from person to person. One reader might give three stars to books they enjoyed and save five stars for their very favorites. Another might see three stars as a rating for books that had some major flaws (you are missing two whole stars, after all) and give four or five stars to books they enjoyed. So if the system isn’t standardized, what’s the point?

I couldn’t get over these issues so, a few months ago, I removed all my ratings. Granted, I didn’t have more than a hundred or so books rated anyway, but it gave me a sense of relief. Now I use Goodreads more as a tool to keep track of what books I’ve read (especially helpful for Friday Fifteen reviews).

I know that rating can be a hugely helpful tool and I don’t think anyone should stop rating books if they find it helpful. But for me it doesn’t work, and I feel better now that I’ve stopped trying to make it work.

*Anything for a Dead Poets Society reference, right?

(image: Clarissa de Wet)