So write and so very wrong

I was hoping for Nabokov, but I'll settle for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The website I Write Like is the hot spot of the moment in Internetland. God help me, but I've been hooked on the damn thing lately.

It's simple: You cut and paste a few paragraphs (or however much you want, really) into I Write Like's magic word box and the Great Machine processes your prose and makes an instant determination as to what great author your style most resembles.

The site is the work of a smart Russian fella named Dmitry Chestnykh, a 27-year-old software programmer.

It's OK to hate Chestnykh already. I do.

He dreamed up the site between freelance programming jobs and just, you know, decided to throw it on the Internet. Because he was bored. Facebook will soon link to it — if it hasn't already. It will receive millions of hits per day. Chestnykh will appear in Wired magazine, the Web's first bona fide literary voice. Then some network will develop it into a show and he'll move to Malibu and live a life you will never know.

The program breaks prose down into simple computer code, analyzing word and sentence length to make its assessment. Chestnykh claims it has something to do with sentence algorithms, or something.

Once upon a time, I was a literary guy. Every semester I immersed myself in the works of Twain, Ellison, Faulkner and, my personal literary touchstone, Melville.

I envisioned my life as a celebration of letters. I would retire a distinguished professor at some large Midwestern university with an impressive lot of journal articles and a string of romantic dalliances with impressionable young English coeds half my age.

It would have been beautiful, man.

Alas, it was not meant to be. Academia is a land of poisoned souls, and university life is not a good fit for a blue-collar dude from rural Illinois. Turns out, I'm too much of a poet type for the football players and too much of a football player for the poet types.

I commend I Write Like for at least putting names such as Nabokov and Virginia Woolf in the limelight, however briefly.

The mad Russian uploaded works from 50 of history's greatest scribes, both literary and popular.

I plugged a few of my past columns into the box and was told my closest literary suitor is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I'll take that.

I was big into the Sherlock Holmes books as a young man and every now and again pull "Hound of the Baskervilles" off the shelf to peruse before bedtime.

Interesting, too, that I approach this column like a detective. I rarely know what conclusions I'm going to draw about my subjects from week to week. The act of writing allows me to search through the evidence of my thoughts, bringing me closer to my own truth when it comes to important topics such as the metal poetry of Ronnie James Dio or the political implications of KFC's Double Down meatwich.

I ran a few of my news articles through I Write Like and found that my journalism style echoes the work of Chuck Palahniuk, of "Fight Club" and "Survivor" fame.

This makes perfect sense. Palahniuk's obsessions — sexual deviance, self-mutilation, murder, etc. — are common in my crime stories.

(I just ran what I've written so far past I Write Like and the machine has told me this column reads like David Foster Wallace. Cool. I've read only one thing by Wallace, his brilliant appreciation of tennis god Roger Federer, and I can only assume the machine is paying me a compliment. This has inspired me to absorb the bulk that is "Infinite Jest" sometime within the next year.)

This is not to say I Write Like is perfect in its findings. Or even competent.

I shot it a page of Herman Melville's "Billy Budd" and it said Melville, in fact, reads like Stephen King and not Melville.

It will be interesting to see where the website goes in the coming months. The Russian needs to bring quite a few more authors into the mix to make it more interesting.

Go see for yourself at

It's a good time waster. Be sure to check out the bottom of the results page for an Amazon box pimping the novels of the author whose work yours most resembles. Then do yourself a big favor. Buy a book and turn off the Internet.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail

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