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 www.foronemoreday.com 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.