One-Minute Book Reviews

July 22, 2009

Mitch Albom Writes at a 3rd Grade Reading Level, Stephen King at an 8th — The Reading Levels of Your Favorite Authors

[This post first appeared in November 2006 and ranks among the 10 most popular posts of all time on the site. I am on a short semi-vacation.]

For One More Day: A Novel. By Mitch Albom. Hyperion, 197 pp., $21.95.

By Janice Harayda

It’s official: Mitch Albom writes at a third-grade reading level, according to the readability statistics on Microsoft Word 2004.

I know this because For One More Day struck me as so dumbed-down – even for Albom – that it fell below the level of the sixth-grade books I once edited for a test-prep company. So I typed a couple of paragraphs from the novel into my computer and ran the Word spelling and grammar checker, which gives you the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Statistics at the bottom. Albom, it showed, writes at the level of Grade 2.8. This was startling enough that I wondered if the paragraphs I had used, from page 24, were atypical. So I typed in the full text of pages 24 and 25 and found that they were atypical. Albom actually writes at a third-grade level, Grade 3.4, according to Flesch-Kincaid.

I used pages 24 and 25 because the first pages of a book sometimes don’t represent the whole of it: Authors may be clearing their throats or writing in a different tone than they will use after they have found their rhythm. So it’s often fairest to look not just at the first chapter but also at something that comes later. A chapter typically has about 20 pages, so I used the first full section of Albom’s book that follows page 20, a total of 305 words.

All of this raised a question: Does a novel written at a third-grade level deserve the same sort of review as books by authors who write at higher levels? Especially if the book appears to be a naked attempt to combine the theme of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life with the kind of framing device Robert James Waller used in The Bridges of Madison County (which tries to lull you into believing that a novel tells a true story)? Maybe not. So here instead are the grade levels I got for a half dozen other authors when I checked the readability statistics for 305 words of their prose:

Nora Ephron I Feel Bad About My Neck Grade 12.0
Alex Kuczynski Beauty Junkies Grade 10.3, an exposé by a New York Times reporter
James Boswell The Life of Samuel Johnson Grade 8.6
Stephen King Liseys Story Grade 8.3
Danielle Steel Toxic Bachelors Grade 4.8
Emily Arnold McCully An Outlaw Thanksgiving, a picture book for 4-to-8 year olds by a Caldecott Medalist Grade 4.3
Mitch Albom For One More Day Grade 3.4

I also ran the statistics for the Lord’s Prayer, using the punctuation in a 20th century edition of The Book of Common Prayer. And it turns out that Jesus, too, “wrote” at a third-grade level, Grade 3.8, according to Microsoft Word (although he spoke the prayer). So there you have it. Mitch Albom, writing at the Grade 3.4 level, doesn’t quite come up to the level of Jesus at Grade 3.8. But who would know it from all the attention he is getting?

Best Line: A quote from Louis Armstrong: “If ya ain’t got it in ya, ya can’t blow it out.”

Worst line: Many. Samples: “He chuckled.” “My mother chuckled.”

Editors: Leslie Wells and Will Schwalbe

Furthermore: This review has a reading level of Grade 9.5, excluding the supplemental information at the end, according to the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Statistics on Microsoft Word 2004.

Published: September 2006. Albom also wrote Tuesdays With Morrie (Anchor, 2005).

How to find the reading level of a book: Go to the Microsoft Word pull-down “Help” menu. Search for “readability statistics.” Select “display readability statistics.” This will walk you through the process of finding the grade level for any text you enter, including your own writing.

Grade levels and their corresponding ages in American schools: In the U.S, children typically begin grades at these ages: kindergarten, 5; first grade, 6; second grade, 7; third grade, 8, fourth grade, 9; fifth grade, 10; sixth grade, 11; seventh grade, 12; eighth grade, 13; ninth grade, 14; tenth grade, 15; 11th grade, 16; 12th grade, 17.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 11, 2009

James Frey writes like this should he get a Delete Key Award on Monday Terry McMillan wrote like this too but she was only a finalist has Frey surpassed her?

There’s usually at least one Delete Key Awards finalist that reads like an entry in a Bad Hemingway Parody contest. This year that spot on the shortlist goes to this passage from James Frey’s Los Angeles novel, Bright Shiny Morning:

“He said she would have a better life the sun shining every day more free time less stress she said she would feel like she had wasted a decade trying to get to the major leagues only to demote herself once she got into them.”

Should Frey’s effort be among the winners named on Monday?

Consider this: Terry McMillan made the 2007 shortlist for the passage below. But she didnt win, because the competition from Mitch Albom and Danielle Steel was just too tough even for this jawbreaker from her The Interruption of Everything:

“We tried you on your cell but you didn’t pick up so we got a little worried since we didn’t know where your appointment was and we tried calling Leon at work but his assistant said he left early to pick up his son at the airport and against our better judgment we tried your house and Hail Mary Full of Grace answered and after she deposed us, I asked if she knew your doctor’s number and she said she had to think for a few minutes and while she was thinking I started thinking who else we could call and that’s when I remembered your GYN’s name was a hotel: Hilton!”

Should Frey win — even though McMillan didn’t — given that Bright Shiny Morning isn’t up against a novel written third-grade reading level (Albom’s For One More Day) or brimming with stereotypes of Jews (Steel’s Toxic Bachelors)? If you would like to try to tamper with the jury, you have until Saturday.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

March 15, 2007

Steel, Albom and Messud Win Top Awards for the Worst Writing in Books

Toxic Bachelors, For One More Day and The Emperor’s Children finish win, place, and show in the first annual bad-writing contest sponsored by One-Minute Book Reviews, www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

Three novelists have won top honors in the 2007 Delete Key Awards competition for the worst writing published in books in the preceding year. Danielle Steel won the Grand Prize for Toxic Bachelors. Mitch Albom was first runner-up for For One More Day and Claire Messud second runner-up for The Emperor’s Children.

The blog One-Minute Book Reviews announced the winners earlier today. Steel, Albom and Messud defeated seven other books, including Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Rising, James McGreevey’s The Confession (with David France) and Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval’s The Power of Nice. Each winning book received a separate post on March 15 that described the reasons for its selection. The March 16 post will explain why some of the also-rans didn’t win the competition, the results for which were announced only on the Internet.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Grand Prize Winner 2007 Delete Key Awards: ‘Toxic Bachelors’ by Danielle Steel

The grand prize winner of the 2007 Delete Key Awards competition for the year’s worst writing in books is …

Toxic Bachelors by Danielle Steel

C’mon, you’re probably saying, this one was too easy. Sure, Danielle Steel writes at a fourth-grade level (technically, grade 4. 8), according to the readability statistics that are part of the spell-checker on Microsoft Word. But don’t we all know how bad her writing is? Not if you haven’t read Toxic Bachelors. You may not be surprised to hear that this novel has plenty of unintentionally comic lines like: “‘Yes,’ he said succinctly.” But it’s worse than you think.

Nobody expects social realism from Steel, but it’s still shocking to find Jews portrayed as monsters in this novel. Toxic Bachelors is about three men single men, each of whom represents a spiritual as well as social type. Charlie is WASP-y, Gray makes a religion of art, and Adam is Jewish. Guess which one has a weak father, a mother who is “a nagging bitch” and a spoiled sister? That’s right, Adam. His parents are cruel enough to make the Portnoys look like candidates for a lifetime achievement award from Parents magazine. And he has a special contempt for a sister who committed the ultimate sin: “She had never done anything with her life except get married and have children.”

Steel gets away with this because most critics have written her off and no longer review her. Why review somebody, the thinking goes, who writes only mindless romances? Toxic Bachelors presents an answer: If nobody holds her accountable, she’ll keep serving up nasty stereotypes, masquerading as a fairy tale.

Original review on One-Minute Book Reviews: Oct. 28, 2007, “Danielle Steel Gets Toxic,” archived with the October posts and in the “Novels” category.

The first and second runners-up were announced earlier today. The full short list appeared on Feb. 28 and the titles of books that received Honorable Mentions for the list on March 2. A list of questions and answers about the Delete Key Awards appeared on Feb. 27. All of these posts are archived with those of the month in which they appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews. Thank you for visiting this site.

Visit www.janiceharayda.com for information about the creator of the Delete Key Awards, Janice Harayda, a novelist and award-winning journalist has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 376 other followers

%d bloggers like this: