What Google Thinks of the Great Books

Google autocomplete is where word association meets global group-think. Renee DiResta of the no upside blog recently asked Google “Why is [State] so” and let the search engine fill in the rest. Jim Romenesko did the same thing with major media figures.  The results are both amusing and unsurprising. The New York Times and NPR are liberal; Fox News is biased; North Dakota is cold and boring while Florida is hot and trashy

Why not try this with famous literature and see what we get? I typed into Google “[Word of literature] is” and let it autocomplete. Below are screen captures of some famous novels, and – just for fun – some of the world’s most recognized religious texts (including Shakespeare, whom many English professors would likely argue is a religion unto himself).  

Immediate takeaways: The words that pop up to describe these books are largely negative. It’s not surprising to find books labeled “boring” and “overrated” but it’s noteworthy to see debate in autocorrect. Are Huckleberry Finn and Heart of Darkness racist or not? Is Jane Eyre a feminist novel? Brave New World has the Internet clutching its pearls, while Autocorrect thinks Holden Caufield, hater of all phonies, doth protest too much. The harshest criticism comes in for the religious texts. The most common word for all of them? Bullshit. But that says more about the tenor of the Internet conversation than much else. I have to say I laughed with pity for poor Confucius, who may be either Korean or Chinese, but is definitely confused.

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