One-Minute Book Reviews

November 16, 2006

Does Mitch Albom Think He’s Jesus?

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:08 pm
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Albom delivers his message at a third-grade reading level, according to the Microsoft Word readability statistics. Guess who else did?

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

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
James Boswell The Life of Samuel Johnson Grade 8.6
Stephen King
Lisey’s 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

FYI: 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. Janice Harayda wrote the comic novels The Accidental Bride (Grade 10.5) and Manhattan on the Rocks (Grade 10.0).

Published: September 2006 Albom also wrote Tuesdays With Morrie (Anchor, 2005) and The Five People You Meet in Heaven (Hyperion, 2006)

How to find the reading level of a book: Go to the Microsoft Word pull-down “Help” menu. Search for “Display Readability Statistics.” This will walk you through the process of finding the grade level for any text you enter.

Posted by Janice Harayda
© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. I learned about readability statistics while typing up executive summaries for a corporate V.P.
    He instructed me to make sure everything was at 4th grade level or below, because the big brass boys are “busy” and prefer the KISS method.
    (Keep It Simple Stupid)

    Ahhh, So THAT’S why they earn six figure incomes!

    Comment by kelleybell — November 28, 2006 @ 7:09 am | Reply

  2. Try the test on Hemingway. The king of the simple sentence.

    Comment by kelleybell — November 28, 2006 @ 8:35 am | Reply

  3. It’s interesting. Celebrated poets such as Virgil, Dante, Homer and Whitman have only a second grade writing level according to the Flesch-Kincaid test. After having myself dissected and studied the writings of these authors, I wonder if this test has any signification at all.

    The above comment scored at a 10.2 grade level. However, my written observation doesn’t come close to being as inspired and well thought out as Dante’s works. You question if authors, who’s work falls below an arbitrary grade level, should receive the same sort of review as those writers who meet your arbitrary levels. My answer; read Virgil and then come to a conclusion.

    Comment by ninjacat — November 29, 2006 @ 2:25 pm | Reply

  4. Well put, ninjacat.

    You have cleverly identified the reason why I didn’t include the grade levels of poets in my post on Mitch Albom. Grade levels are apparently determined partly by sentence length. So I didn’t measure Albom against poets, because I thought the verse form might throw off the measuring system. For example, suppose a poet wrote a lot of lines of iambic trimeter. All those lines of three feet would read as three-word sentences if they used complete words and had a period at the end.

    Glad you raised the point, because (in the interests of keeping my reviews as short as realistic) I don’t always deal with issues like this that were much on my mind while writing the post. And I appreciate having a chance to discuss them in these comments.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — November 29, 2006 @ 2:51 pm | Reply

  5. Wow, I love it! I guess Mitch is just trying to sell books these days.

    Comment by extrapolater — November 30, 2006 @ 10:14 am | Reply

  6. I find it very humorous that Jesus spoke on a 3-4 grade level, yet people still don’t understand him. Mitch had people who read and decide whether or not he book goes out, so as long as books of that nature keep slipping through hands then you will keep having something to review right? I have seen people make money doing all sorts of things that I thought a 3rd grader could do, such as find something negative about everything in existance. I honestly thought that it was a bit humorous that Mitch being on ESPN every Sunday morning, would be writing books about life to begin with. But hey, he is obviously selling books pretty well because he continues to come out with one pretty regularly. I also find it amazing how someone could compair an author to a Savior. There could be some great reviews about that I’m sure.

    Comment by sethssentiments — December 1, 2006 @ 3:01 pm | Reply

  7. Fascinating. I just tried the first four pages of my novel RATTLED and it was a measly 5.5, but my new novel in draft, ONE GOD AT MOST, came in at 11.6. Does that mean I’m now literary?

    Comment by debbiegalant — December 5, 2006 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

  8. […] a fun new book blog by former NBCC board member Janice Harayada. Among other things, she has this fascinating post, where she uncovers the fact that Mitch Albom actually writes at a third grade level: “I know […]

    Pingback by » Mitch Albom Writing at Third Grade Level — March 18, 2007 @ 9:57 pm | Reply

  9. […] Flesch-Kincaid: Threat or Menace Ruminations on writing and the Flesch-Kincaid reading scale How Easy is it to Read The Wages of Wins? I like Mitch Albom a lot…but those books of his…yeesh Does Mitch Albom Think He’s Jesus? […]

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  10. […] the Renaissance Learning report. You may also want to read this One-Minute Book Reviews post on how Mitch Albom is writing at a third-grade reading level, which compares his level to that of other bestselling […]

    Pingback by Are School Reading Assignments Making Your Child Dumber? « One-Minute Book Reviews — March 26, 2012 @ 12:50 am | Reply

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