One-Minute Book Reviews

September 16, 2009

Bella the Doormat – Another Reason to Say Goodnight to ‘Twilight’?

Filed under: News,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:03 am
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Need a reason to skip the “Twilight” vampire-romance series beyond that Stephenie Meyer writes at a fourth-grade reading level … and that’s in her adult novel, The Host? You’ve gotten your excuse from the authors of Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels (Free Press, 2009), a new guide from the creators of a lively Web site.

Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan have identified ten heroine-archetypes in romance novels, such as the Airhead, the Smart-Mouthed Cynic and the Spoiled Hoyden of Historical Inaccuracy. Then there’s the “Doormat: Still out there, waiting for you to wipe your shoes on her.”

Here’s how Wendell and Tan describe this throwback, whom they see as exemplified by Bella Swan, the American teenager who falls in love with a vampire in the first novel in the “Twilight” series:

“She’s malleable, weak, and an utter bore. She doesn’t stand up to anything, much less her own desires, and can be found swooning on the nearest sofa, or lying on the bed while she’s ravished with pleasure she so does not deserve. Might be seen swooning, wringing her hands, whining, or otherwise worrying about something. Any resistance she might mount against the hero is ineffectual, and she couldn’t find her backbone if you showed her an X-ray … “

July 21, 2009

How to Get Teenagers Into Libraries – Late Night With Jan Harayda

Filed under: Late Night With Jan Harayda,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:25 pm
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One way to get teenagers into libraries: Have a party and invite the kids to come as their favorite character in the bestselling “Twilight” series of vampire romance novels. You might show the movie “Twilight” and play trivia games, as the Fairhope Public Library in Fairhope, Alabama, did.

April 29, 2009

Late Night With Jan Harayda — How to Find Out How Dumbed-Down a Book Really Is

Filed under: Late Night With Jan Harayda,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:53 pm
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You know how I reported back in 2006 that Mitch Albom is writing at a third-grade reading level in For One More Day, according to the Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics on Microsoft Word? I’ve since posted the levels of other books, including Stephenie Meyer’s The Host. And it’s always – shall we say? – enlightening to learn how dumbed-down some books really are. It’s also time-consuming: To find a reading level, I have to type passages from a book into my computer, then run the spell-checker or paste the text into a site that has a measuring tool other than Flesch-Kincaid’s.

So I was delighted to learn from a visitor about the site for the Accelerated Reader progress-monitoring software, which lists many popular books and their reading levels. The AR site seems to focus on books schools might use, so you can’t turn to it for the reading level of anything on your nightstand. But if you compute these levels as often as I do, this one could delay the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome for a couple of years.

“Late Night With Jan Harayda” is an occasional series of posts that appear after 10 p.m. Eastern Time and do not include reviews, which typically appear early in the day.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

March 16, 2009

2009 Delete Key Awards Grand Prize Winner — Stephenie Meyer’s ‘The Host’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:02 am
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Stephenie Meyer’s The Host is the grand prize winner in the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books.

Meyer’s novels exemplify the trend that Roy Strong, the former director of the of the Victoria and Albert Museum, called “the rise of the trashocracy.” The teenage vampire-romance series that began with Twilight led the 2008 bestseller lists. And next to Meyer, Mitch Albom almost looks like Isaiah Berlin.

It’s true that Albom’s For One More Day is written at a third-grade reading level while Meyer’s adult science-fiction novel, The Host, has a fourth-grade (9-year-old) reading level, according to the readability statistics that are part of the spell-checker on Microsoft Word. But if both books are dumbed-down, Albom can’t match the spectacular array inanities that have won the grand prize for The Host. Meyer’s unintentionally comic missteps range from mind-numbing redundancies (“It’s a voluntary choice”) to deeply purple prose and dialogue that might have come from television series called The Beverly Hillbillies in Outer Space. If this year’s Delete Key Awards were the Belmont Stakes, The Host would be Secretariat, winning by 31 lengths.

The Host has won the 2009 Delete Key Awards grand prize for lines like:
“It’s a voluntary choice.”

and

“He nuzzled his face against mine until he found my lips, then he kissed me, slow and gentle, the flow of molten rock swelling languidly in the dark at the center of the earth, until my shaking slowed.”

and

“ ‘Well, for Pete’s sake!’ Jeb exclaimed. ‘Can’t nobody keep a secret around this place for more’n 24 hours? Gol’ durn, this burns me up!’”

Other posts about the Delete Key Awards appear on www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 10, 2009

Should Stephenie Meyer or Jodi Picoult Win a Delete Key Award for Bad Dialogue When the Results Are Announced on March 16?

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:52 pm
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You think it’s easy choosing the worst writing in books published in the U.S. in 2008? Consider the following lines by Delete Key Awards finalists Jodi Picoult and Stephenie Meyer, both from the Department of Bad Dialogue.

From Stephenie Meyer’s novel The Host:

“ ‘Well, for Pete’s sake!’ Jeb exclaimed. ‘Can’t nobody keep a secret around this place for more’n 24 hours? Gol’ durn, this burns me up!’”

From Jodi Picoult’s novel Change of Heart:

“Not that Jesus wasn’t a really cool guy – great teacher, excellent speaker, yadda yadda yadda. But … Son of God? Where’s the proof?”

and

“You don’t think it’s possible that Mr. Smythe was … well … resurrected?”

Should Meyer or Picout win a Delete Key Award for the year’s worst writing on books on Monday? Or should one of the other finalists get an award? (You can read all the shortlisted passages in 10 posts, one for each finalist, that appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on Feb. 26 and that explain why the lines were selected.) If you would like to try to tamper with the jury for the Delete Key Awards, you have until Saturday to weigh in for Meyer or Picoult. The winners will be named starting at 10 a.m. Eastern Time on Monday.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

February 26, 2009

2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist #8 — Stephenie Meyer’s ‘The Host’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:52 am
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Delete Key Awards Finalist #8 comes from Stephenie Meyer’s novel of alien abduction, The Host (Little, Brown, 619 pp., $25.99), a three-way tie:

“It’s a voluntary choice.”

and

“He nuzzled his face against mine until he found my lips, then he kissed me, slow and gentle, the flow of molten rock swelling languidly in the dark at the center of the earth, until my shaking slowed.”

and

“ ‘Well, for Pete’s sake!’ Jeb exclaimed. ‘Can’t nobody keep a secret around this place for more’n 24 hours? Gol’ durn, this burns me up!’”

The Host is a novel for adults written at a fourth-grade (9-year-old) reading level, according to the readability statistics that come with the spell-checker on Microsoft Word. But even 9-year-olds deserve better than the redundancy of the first example, the purple prose of the second, and the cornball dialogue of the third. The Jan. 5, 2009, post on One-Minute Book Reviews tells more about the fourth-grade reading level of The Host.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 5, 2009

Stephenie Meyer’s ‘The Host’ Has a Fourth-Grade Reading Level, Microsoft Word Statistics Show — For One More Day With Aliens

Filed under: Fantasy,Science Fiction,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:17 am
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The dust jacket says The Host is the “first novel for adults” by the author of the Twilight” series of vampire-romances for adolescents, but the readability statistics on Microsoft Word show that Stephenie Meyer is still writing at a fourth-grade level

The Host: A Novel. By Stephenie Meyer. Little, Brown, 619 pp., $25.99.

By Janice Harayda

Mysterious things happen in the books of Stephenie Meyer. Take The Host, a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. The dust jacket calls the book Meyer’s “first novel for adults.” But right away you wonder: How can this be when the novel has a fourth-grade reading level, according to the readability statistics on Microsoft Word?

Not that you’d want your 9-year-old to have much to do with this creepily Freudian tale of a woman who is captured by aliens and wages a host-verses-graft struggle with the new “soul” the extraterrestrials have inserted into the base of her skull. The sexual undertones of the story need little elaboration. (“Would it hurt, having something put in your head?” a character wonders. Kids, ask your mothers!) Let’s just say that the book has more than one “insertion” involving a soul that looked like “a silver ribbon” or “slid smoothly into the offered space.”

For all their repressed sexuality, the characters in The Host never seem to get beyond kissing. This is fortunate given that when lips do meet, Meyer describes it this way:

“He nuzzled his face against mine until he found my lips, then he kissed me, slow and gentle, the flow of molten rock swelling languidly in the dark at the center of the earth, until my shaking slowed.”

You can understand why the captured woman, Melanie Stryder, wouldn’t be in the mood for sex, although the Stockholm Syndrome strikes early in the novel. The aliens have conquered most of the earth and threaten to kill Melanie when she won’t obey Wanderer, the “soul” who inhabits her body. So she and Wanderer hide out in caves with a band of rogue humans who are resisting the takeover of the planet.

Tensions flare as the aliens search for the fugitives. These strains may explain why we often read that characters “barked,” “roared,” “groaned,” “howled,” “muttered,” “growled,” or “bellowed.” Aliens do their share of this. (“I groaned internally,” a “soul” says.) But no one can accuse the novel of portraying extraterrestrials unsympathetically. Meyer spares no effort to show how her aliens are different from – and, in many ways, better than — humans, one of which is that they can decide when to die. “It’s a choice,” an alien says. “A voluntary choice.” Just like, presumably, the “voluntary choice” Meyer made to pad this book with many redundancies.

For all of the overexplaining, some things remain unclear. If this is a novel “for adults,” why does the story reassure you that despite the alien takeover, the planet still has soccer games, Snickers and Pop-Tarts? (Why not golf, Chardonnay and goat cheese?) Why do most of the references to sex read like parodies? (One romantic scene – which could be describing a kiss or more – makes lovers sound like candidates a burn unit: “Gasoline and an open flame – we exploded again.”) And why is the book written at a fourth-grade reading level when Meyer was apparently hoping to attract more fans than the teenagers who read her popular “Twilight” vampire series?

The trouble with all of this isn’t that Meyer is a writer of books for adolescents who has tried to move into the mainstream. Many writers – E. B. White, C. S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle among them – have written beautifully for both groups. Nor is the problem that grown-ups can’t enjoy novels written for younger people. Laurie Halse’s Anderson’s Chains, a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, draws on such extensive research into the Revolutionary War that many adults might learn as much from it as children would.

The Host offers further evidence of the Mitch Albom-ization of America — the glut of dumbed-down books masquerading as profound or at least intelligent. On the evidence of this novel, Meyer lacks either the ability or the inclination to adapt her writing for adults. The flap copy says that The Host is about “the very essence” – not the essence but the “very” essence – “of what it means to be human.” Midway through the book, you find a more revealing line, one that shows Meyer’s love of short sentences consisting of words of one- and two-syllables. Pursued by an angry human, Melanie’s resident soul says: “Maybe I should have run the other way.” Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Best line: “Maybe I should have run the other way.” If taken as advice.

Worst line: Lots of competition here. No. 1: “It’s a voluntary choice.” No. 2: “When we thought of the new planet – Earth, so dry, so varied, and filled with such violent, destructive denizens we could barely imagine them — our horror was overshadowed by our excitement. Stories spun themselves quickly around the thrilling new subject. The wars – our kind! having to fight! – were first reported accurately and then embellished and fictionalized.” No. 3: And here’s how a “denizen” named Uncle Jeb speaks: “ ‘Well, for Pete’s sake!’ Jeb exclaimed. ‘Can’t nobody keep a secret around this place for more’n 24 hours? Gol’ durn, this burns me up!’” No. 4: The line quoted in the review, beginning, “He nuzzled.”

About the reading level: The reading level for The Host comes from the Flesch-Kindcaid readability statistics that are part of the spell-checker on Microsoft Word. To find it, I used passages of at least 300 words each on pages 31–32 (Grade 4.1), 131–132 (Grade 4.6) and 431-432 (Grade 3.3). The reading levels for the three sections averaged Grade 4.0. American children typically begin the fourth grade at the age of nine. The post “Does Mitch Albom Think He’s Jesus?” lists the reading levels of other bestselling or classic novels and tells how to use Word. It tells how to use Word to find the level of a book.

Published: May 2008

About the author: Stephenie Meyer also wrote Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse for young adults.

Answer to Friday’s quiz, “Do You Have What It Takes to Write a No. 1 New York Times Bestseller?”: All of the lines on Friday’s quiz appear in The Host.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

January 2, 2009

Do You Have What It Takes to Write a No. 1 New York Times Bestseller? See If You Can Guess Which Lines Appear in Stephenie Meyer’s ‘The Host’

Filed under: News,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:10 pm
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Do you have what it takes to write a No. 1 New York Times bestseller? Stephenie Meyer does. Her novel of alien abduction, The Host (Little, Brown, 619 pp. $25.99), shot to the top of the Times after its publication last spring.

Can you guess which of the following lines appear in the novel?

1 “He nuzzled his face against mine until he found my lips, then he kissed me, slow and gentle, the flow of molten rock swelling languidly in the dark at the center of the earth, until my shaking slowed.”

2 “‘Well, for Pete’s sake!’ Jeb exclaimed. ‘Can’t nobody keep a secret around this place for more’n 24 hours? Gol’ durn, this burns me up!’”

3 “ ‘It’s a choice. A voluntary choice.’”

Learn the answers on Monday when a review of The Host appears on this site.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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