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Monday, September 24, 2007

Man Booker Finalist Reads at 3rd Grade Level

Janice Harayda has posted her book review of Man Booker prize finalist Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones. As I discussed in an earlier blog post, I recently won a book called The Writer's Little Helper by James V. Smith, Jr. that recommended keeping your Flesch-Kincaid Reader's Scale level at sixth grade or lower in your manuscript to maximize your audience.

It's pretty clear that recommendation is for genre fiction rather than Man Booker fodder. While I enjoy the snarky tone of Ms. Harayda book review, I still feel a little uncomfortable with the topic because I'm not convinced that simple writing is bad literature. But to speak with any authority, I certainly need to read the book, which I have not done.

The book in question is narrated by a thirteen-year-old girl, so the reading level might be lower. But the review points out quite correctly that most kids in school would be reading at ninth grade level by that point (whether they would be writing/speaking at that level is a separate issue).

Another review from the U.K's Spectator has a more positive view of the book. Bringing the two reviews together raises some interesting questions about what qualities literature must have to be considered worthy of reading. I'll guess I'll just have to get the book and find out.

Flesch-Kincaid level of this blog post is grade 10.1.


Janice Harayda said...

Hi, Tricia,
Thanks again! In my reviews I try to focus tightly on what's actually in a book and avoid dealing tith peripheral issues (because a lot of other sites do that well).

In this case that caused me to avoid getting into one of the things that bothers me most about the Man Booker short list (and I may break down and do a short post about it tomorrow). That is: Because the assumption is that the Man Booker is a prize for an adult book, I'm sure a lot of worthy young-adult books don't get entered. For example, I'd bet that there would have been support for a Harry Potter book if one or more had become a finalist.

It looks as though the Man Booker Prize involves a double standard: Writing simply is OK if a New Zealander does it but not J.K. Rowling. I could be wrong about that. But Britain has a wonderfully rich tradition of chapter books for young people, going back to "Alice in Wonderland," "Winnie-the-Pooh," and "Wind in the Willows." And it seems that their modern counterparts should have been considered if "Mister Pip" was.

So, again, I think I'm agreeing with you: The issue isn't simple writing so much as fair play. I've read only part of one Harry Potter book. But I'd be curious to know what you and your visitors think: Should Rowling have been a finalist?

Tricia Grissom said...

Hi Janice,

Thanks for coming back by.

I've read all the Harry Potter books, and I'd say several of them should be finalists.

So many elements go into a novel that some aspects are neglected. Language is critical, but so is imagination - and the world building J.K. does is formidable.

You don't appeal to that many kids and adults unless you seize their imagination.

I see your point about considering young adult books. But I loved Harry Potter as much as my children - so I'm not sure it's only a YA book.

As for the New Zealand prejudice, every country seems to see books, ideas, and products from other countries as more interesting and exotic.

French-milled soap sounds much fancier than good old Dove to Americans. Maybe that plays into their novel choices.

I look forward to reading more on your site.