Nanette D. informed us about the site Books that Make You Dumb, which uses a questionable methodology to correlate SAT scores at various colleges and universities with the books Facebook users from those schools list as their favorites, taking the 10 most popular from each school (there’s an explanation of the methodology at the website; the width of the bubble the names are in indicate the standard deviation in SAT scores). By seeing which books are listed by people at schools with higher overall SATs, we supposedly find out which books make people smarter or dumber:


So Their Eyes Were Watching God, by the fabulous Zora Neale Hurston, makes you dumber than Gone with the Wind or A Million Little Pieces? Really?

Nanette says,

I think it reinforces a lot of ugly stereotypes about what type of person reads what type of literature, and the inherent “quality” of particular genres.

It’s a good point. There’s something interesting about designating certain types of books as “genre fiction,” which seems to be kind of a negative label, in general. Isn’t all literature technically part of a genre?

It’s all very Bourdieuian, really. To a great extent, what we read is a reflection of our class and our class is the number one predictor of our SAT score. So what is being measured (if anything) the way that class determines both our “taste” in literature and (or by way of) our educational achievements.

Aside from those issues, you could definitely have some fun talking about meaningless statistics and methodological issues with this graph. Just because you can find some statistics to correlate doesn’t mean they’re actually useful.

[Note: For the record, yes, I get it that the author was being kind of silly, and that he didn’t make up the genre classifications. The reason I find it interesting is that I think it reflects to some degree what a lot of people think–that certain types of books are inherently indicators of bad taste. I have friends who read fantasy and science fiction and get annoyed that it’s considered “genre fiction,” which they feel carries a negative connotation. Black authors have similarly complained about their books automatically going into the “African American literature” section at some bookstores rather than the mainstream “regular” fiction section. So mostly the image was a jumping off point for me thinking about how we often judge people by the types of books they read. And believe me, I’m not immune to this. When a relative gave me a set of three romance novels for Christmas a couple of years ago because I “like books,” I was perplexed. Though part of my confusion came from the fact that they were romance novels set among the Amish, and the concept of Amish romance novels had never in my life occurred to me. And then it turned out the relative didn’t know what they were; she had looked at the cover, saw a woman in the bonnet, and thought they were Little House on the Prairie books, which then left me with the question of why you would buy the Little House books for a 33 year old. But, you know, the thought that counts, etc. etc.]