Midterm meeting

In the last week of January 2014 the Riddle team held a two-day meeting with the members of their Think Tank. During these two days the project members presented the first accomplishments within the overarching project, as well the results achieved within the individual PhD projects, in order to discuss the progress and to be advised on the proposed next steps.

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First results of reader survey online

Recently, the first results of the large reading survey that is part of the project The Riddle of Literary Quality were published on the website of Het Nationale Lezersonderzoek. The survey could be filled in from March 4 until September 27 2013. We are very happy that in total 13,782 readers did this.Some of the first results (in Dutch) can be found on the survey site. More will follow. And ofcourse, we are now starting work on the analysis of as many of the 400 novels in the list as is possible, to find out whether we can find any correlations between features of the texts, readers’ opinions, and also readers’ predominant reading role. Results in this area will take some more time, but we are sure that they will yield interesting new insights into what a book needs to be evaluated as literary or not, good or bad, by different kinds of readers.

Siegenbeek Lecture at Leiden University

Whodunit? The appreciation of the “literary crime novel”

Since the beginning of the new millennium a new prose genre has gained much popularity in the Netherlands: the literaire thriller (‘literary crime novel’). The question that puzzles many is whether this is really a new genre that in terms of literariness outranks other crime novels, or that we should speak of a clever marketing strategy. Furthermore, some professional readers doubt the literary quality of the novels. Are we dealing with women’s suspense, “chick lit for well-educated blondies”, or with actual Literature? In other words, to what extent do these particular crime novels deserve the adjective ‘literary’? On November the 19th I shall elaborate on this question by shedding light on the appreciation and value of the literaire thriller during the annual Siegenbeeklezing (‘Siegenbeek Lecture’) at the University of Leiden. This lecture will be in Dutch.

For the website of the Siegenbeek Alumni Association, click here

When: Tuesday, November 19th 2013
Where: Snouck Hurgronjehuis, Rapenburg 61, Leiden
The doors open at 19:30 and the lecture starts at 20:00
Admission: free of charge for members of the Siegenbeek Alumni Association and students, € 5,- for other interested
Registration:  siegenbeek@gmail.com

The Riddle goes to Atlanta

The 2013 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (NAACL2013) and the 2013 Workshop for Computational Linguistics for Literature (CLFL2013)

Corina Koolen, Kim Jautze and Andreas van Cranenburgh

For a brief while, Atlanta (Georgia) was flooded with computational linguists from over the world—to the extent that border security sighed of boredom when we announced our intention in entering the USA. Machine translation, summarization, sentiment analysis, etc.—many specialisms were represented. But we came with prose fiction in mind. Continue reading

Vacancy internship

Description of internship:

Huygens ING has a vacancy for an internship in the research project ‘The Riddle of Literary Quality’. This project explores the assumption whether formal characteristics in contemporary Dutch novels may be of importance in calling a novel literary or non-literary, and good or bad. In order to discriminate between the fictional texts that have been included in the corpus, the opinion of readers is being asked in an online survey, Het Nationale Lezersonderzoek (http://www.hetnationalelezersonderzoek.nl). An associated research project at Huygens ING is into online reception of literature. This project investigates among other things what online reception can teach us about literary appreciation.

The intern will perform reception analysis of a small selection of the ‘Riddle’-corpus, which will complement the online survey. To this end, the intern will perform research on online forums, combined with book club interviews. He/she will be working with the team members, especially with two PhD Candidates who are engaged in the survey and the activities on social media concerning the PR. The intern may therefore be involved in these activities as well.


– Master student in Literary Studies or a closely related field
– Dutch native proficiency
– Affinity with empirical research

The duration of the internship will be about 3-5 months, on a part-time basis, depending on the requirements of your master programme.

Those who are interested can send an e-mail to riddle@huygens.knaw.nl

Launch of The National Readers’ Enquiry

On March 4th 2013, the survey of the project The Riddle of Literary Quality was launched on http://www.hetnationalelezersonderzoek.nl/ . This “National Readers’ Enquiry” hopes to reach many thousands of respondents. As can be expected based on the nature of our project, the language of the survey is Dutch. All readers of Dutch among you are welcome to give your ratings on a set of novels (originals and translations) published during the last five years in The Netherlands. The list of novels contains those that were borrowed most from public libraries and that ranked highests on the bestseller lists of the last three years. Enjoy!

New members of the project team

The Riddle team has recently become a lot larger. PhD-student Corina Koolen was liaised to the project starting in September 2012, project assistant Fernie Maas joined the 1st of November, and Kim Jautze started work on her PhD on 15 November. More news is sure to follow, the team now being complete!

Computational Linguistics for Literature

Andreas van Cranenburgh represented The Riddle at The North-American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (NAACL, June 3–8 2012, Montreal). He writes:
In the main conference, the first paper that caught my eye was one about a
task called “multiple narrative disentanglement.” This is simply the problem
of recognizing in running text the different narratives with their own sets of
characters and storyline. A method is introduced which is applied to the
famously complex novel ‘Infinite Jest’ by David Foster-Wallace.
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EACL 2012, Avignon

Last week, Andreas van Cranenburgh attended the 13th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (EACL). EACL is one of the foremost conferences in the field of computational linguistics; this year’s acceptance rate was well below 30%. There were only 5 other works about parsing, and all of these were about dependency parsing instead of constituency parsing (different representations for expressing the syntactic structure of sentences). This meant that Andreas’s poster on discontinuous parsing was the only one to focus on constituency structures, which are commonly used in Data-Oriented Parsing and thus relevant to our project.

One paper in particular stood out due to its relevance to our project: Character-based kernels for novelistic plot structure. The paper presented a method to analyze and compare plot structure of novels. For example the relations of characters in a social network can be extracted, as well as their `emotional development’ based on a list of emotion-related words. The resulting information is used to produce a similarity metric for texts. One graph, for example, plotted the emotions of the protagonist of a Jane Austen novel, showing strong peaks corresponding to a proposal, elopement, and marriage of the protagonist. It is encouraging to see that even with a relatively superficial linguistic analysis, interesting details can be revealed of literary texts.