SIP Chains

I had a call on Sunday from an NPR reporter looking for more background on Amazon’s Statistically Improbable Phrases. While talking to her, I had the idea of finding SIP chains: interesting sequences of books that are connected by their SIPs (think of it as “Seven Degrees of Jeff Bezos”). For example:

Discover the hidden transexual tie-in to Da Vinci Code. Take “Corporal Mortification” to Their Kingdom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei, take “million pesatas” to The Blind Man of Seville, take “sight lesson” to Genderqueer: Voices from Beyond the Sexual Binary.

Learn how Excel 2003 is connected to magical realism. From One Hundred Years of Solitude take “insomnia plague” to Breast Cancer, There and Back: A Woman-to-Woman Guide, take “toxic friends” to 365 Reasons to Stop Dieting, take “tie way” to Excel 2003 Formulas.

I also did some research into the SIPs of fiction vs non-fiction. As you might guess, fiction SIPs tend to be literary tics of the writer (Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist: “bookstall keeper”, “merry old gentleman”, “replied the girl”) because while fiction has themes, those themes generally aren’t made explicit and hammered home with repetition of direct phrases and newly-minted buzzphrases, the way non-fiction writers love to do.

  • Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “harmony with correct principles”, “gofer delegation”, “unique human endowments”.
  • David Allen’s Getting Things Done: “your open loops”, “nonactionable items”, “natural planning model”, “next physical action”.
  • Guy Steele’s Common LISP : The Language: “global function definition”, “logical pathnames”, “setf symbol”, “list whose car”.

This often means you can get wide leaps in your SIP chain by leaping through a fiction title, though it can be hard to find a fiction title with interesting enough SIPs. After all, you don’t get bonus points in Word Geek Heaven by relying through “fat gentlemen”. That said, it does get you to The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking, which has the delicious “cannibal princess” as its first SIP and from which you can get to Musical Comedy in America: From the Black Crook Through Sweeny Todd. And that’s a triple nerd score (kid lit, anthropophagi, musicals).

What are the coolest SIP chains you can find?