The Daily Dump

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Thursday, April 13

100 Things About Me: #7

I’ll bet you forgot I was doing this list, which is a real shame because I rely on you to remind me that I’m doing things like this, which is doubly shameful because like I said before YOU NEED TO KNOW THESE 100 THINGS ABOUT ME. If we have any chance of making this relationship work where I write things and you read them while talking on the phone at work, it is indispensable that you read this informative, timely list. To that end, I bring you number seven – a little known fact about me that may surprise you seeing as how my writing isn’t dripping with intellectual content. It would seem, I admit, that opting for stories about “huge bunnies” and “poop” would give off the impression that I am, how should I put this, ignorant. Actually though, I am a learned man. I went to college. I get British humor. And . . .

#7 I read hard books.

You may peg me for a romance novel kind of guy (it wouldn’t be the first time), but the fact is I read the classics with no regard to size or stature. From Voltaire to Joyce I’ve struggled through books deep and dense and light and allegorical. I was an English and Philosophy major in college, so that means you know I am smart. And if a fine arts education taught me anything, it’s that a fine arts education is worthless. If it taught me anything else, it’s that there is a rich reward in tackling difficult works. Thus my motto has always been: “The harder they are, the longer it may take you to read them, and you might not understand it 100%, but that’s OK because it’s worth it.”

At least that’s what I thought until recently when took a figurative steaming dump right on my the top of my ego’s head.

It seems some years ago, a man named Dr. Rudolf Flesch developed a “formula” with which to determine the inherent difficulty of any written work.

Little known fact: Dr. Rudolf Flesch, who was also a pirate, could not read.

Dr. Flesch even wrote a book about his formula entitled “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” Johnny, devastated by shame, subsequently committed suicide and sales of the book declined. Dr. Flesch’s follow-up, the dark comedy “Why Johnny Can’t Move,” received little attention by critics.

Reading isn’t for everyone.

Some time after Dr. Flesch’s discovery that young children can’t read hard books, J.P. Kincaid, who wasn’t a doctor, reaffirmed the hypothesis and teamed up with the disgraced Dr. Flesch to create the official “index” which measures a text’s difficulty according to a number that corresponds with a grade level. For example, a text whose statistical data yields an 8.3 on the Flesch-Kincaid Index means that a child in the 8th.3 grade will be able to read it.

This late Picasso actually depicts J.P. Kincaid, although historians are unsure which one he is.

For some of their books, now offers statistical data, including the Flesch-Kincaid Index level. And, wouldn’t you know it, all this time I thought I was reading the most difficult books ever written it turns out I was reading at an approximate 9th grade level. Take the last five books I have read:

5. In Cold Blood* by Truman Capote

True story of the brutal massacre of a family in a Kansas farmhouse in 1959.

Flesch-Kincaid Index: 7.9

4. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

One of three brothers kills their father for money and revenge. The longest book I’ve ever read, clocking in at 364,467 words. Gets good in the last two to three hundred words.

Flesch-Kincaid Index: 9.0

3. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Six different narratives, including tales of a bisexual power struggle between composer and apprentice and a futuristic tale of Armageddon and a reversion to tribal rule, wind together through a complex journey to and fro in time.

Flesch-Kincaid Index: 7.4

2. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

The hardest book I’ve ever read, it took me almost a year to get through the 325,648 words, which are arranged no so much into coherent thoughts as in ramblings of an articulate yet senile swashbuckler. Includes an infamous sentence that runs on for two pages. The premise involves a GI soldier in London whose erections cause enemy Blitz bombs to fall from the sky.

Flesch-Kincaid Index: 9.5

1. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

Pages and pages of dense philosophical discourse between people who think they are ill, but really aren’t because they have come to the magic mountain to be “healed.” Regrettably, their “disease” is WW2, and their “cure” is love, and the “metaphor” is 337,525 words long.

Flesch-Kincaid Index: 11.3

All told, those intense labors of intellectual stimulation average out to a 9.02 on the Flesch-Kincaid Index. I think I can say with confidence that in the ninth grade, at age 15, reading the majority of those books would have caused me to drop out of school and devote my life to a trade. I can also say with confidence that Dr. Flesch and J.P. Kincaid have developed one of the worst indexes ever. Sadly, all this proves is that Johnny’s death was indeed in vain.

The humiliation was too great to attend Johnny’s funeral.

So, while my ego may have taken a hit, I am buoyed by the knowledge that this index is a little more than a literary parlor trick meant to amuse small minded people who, like me, now spend hours going through trying to find the hardest book ever written (Chomsky gets a 15.4 so far). Also, Microsoft Word can compute the Flesch-Kincaid Index level for a document, and this blog post reads at a 10.4, so at least I’m writing at a higher level than I am reading.

* Yes, it was embarrassing to read a great American classic after it had won an Academy Award. My only recourse was to never read it in public and, when I was done, to bury it under other books on my shelves to make it seem as though I had owned it for years.


And # 8 would be what? You're a procrastinator. I'd nearly forgotten about this list! ;)

By Blogger Trix, at 1:48 PM  

"Dr. Flesch’s follow-up, the dark comedy “Why Johnny Can’t Move,” received little attention by critics."


By Blogger wunelle, at 2:24 PM  

Since the word "dude" can be read with so many varying connotations, I'm going to take that one as meaning "Dude, that was so funny I stabbed myself in the leg with a pen just to stop laughing."

By Blogger the belligerent intellectual, at 2:31 PM  

I just finished reading Capote's In Cold Blood. Although I did not find this book hard to read on a literate level. I did find it hard to read on an emotional level. I found myself feeling sorry for Perry (one of the killers).

Capote is an excellent writer. Right up there with the Belligerent Intellectual.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:38 PM  

What's up with ridiculous formulas? This sounds oddly similar to the story in the Post today about the formula that calculates how nice your butt is.

Apparently it's not well received among ass connoisseurs:

" really settles nothing, says booty expert Sir-Mix-A-Lot.

They got to be juicy, round, with a little jiggle to it," the "Baby Got Back" rapper told The Post yesterday, laughing hysterically. "The bubbliness does matter."

By Blogger T.G., at 2:47 PM  

Ugh, I have been working on Atlas Shrugged for about two months. It's soooooooo loooooong.

By Blogger Carrie Broadshoulders, at 2:55 PM  

Wow, you can certainly call bullshit on any index that places Pynchon at a 9th grade reading level-- in 9th grade honors English, I had to read To Kill a Mockingbird. The index must just scan for hard words or something.

It would kick ass if the hardest book was something like The DaVinci Code or some chick lit.

By Blogger mysterygirl!, at 3:09 PM  

If I computed this index on my blog, I'd break into the negative index.

By Blogger Tim, at 4:28 PM  

when you have the time, perhaps in between your 100 posts, can you please tell me what happen with brothers karazamov? i vaguely remember thinking about reading the book and fell asleep.

By Blogger treespotter, at 5:43 PM  

and btw, i found this thing here, your rabbit post measured 14 on Readability and worth $16.95. may be you should start selling.

By Blogger treespotter, at 6:18 PM  

That's funny, I had the exact same experience awhile back, only with the lexile measure of readability ( I was having a hard time reading a scientific article, so I lexiled it, figuring I didn't have the ability to comprehend it. So then I compared the article's lexile count (1300) to my writing (1550). I was experiencing a blow to my ego as well until I found the best segment of my writing to analyze. Try the lexile analyzer on the website. You can upload your own writing (some fabulous essay you wrote in college). It might make you feel better.

Plus, these readability measures can't take emotional nuances and profound themes into account, which require a more advanced reader to comprehend.

By Blogger kiki, at 6:46 PM  

"And if a fine arts education taught me anything, it’s that a fine arts education is worthless."

if there was such a thing as stabbing my heart, you just did it. it was ALMOST as devastating as when mike, in my global class, told me, to my face! that he hates modern art with a passion.

but this just leaves me no hope.

- the younger sister. the artistic one.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:03 PM  

... hold on... now i'm confused. if our writings actually scored higher than some readings we failed to understand, does that mean we write better or worse?

By Blogger treespotter, at 8:43 PM  

The problem with the index is that it does not take into account(at least I don't think)the fact that 9th grade curriculum's are not similar across the board. Simiarly, all 9th graders do not share a similar educational background. "X" book may be appropriate for a person in 9th grade who was educated in private schools all their lives, but that same book may seem way too overwhelming for a student educated in the less ambitious public schools in our country.

By Blogger Rune, at 9:01 PM  

I don't think that the scale has anything to do with school curricula. It has to do with a person's ability to understand the basic plot of the novel.

Whether or not one knows what happens in a book certainly does not indicate that they can speak or write articulately about the subject matter handled in a book.

The FK scale is silly.

By Blogger Momentary Academic, at 10:40 AM  

The index is an index of readibility, not complexity. One can express complex thoughts in simple sentences, i.e. "Become who you are" - while that may be easy to comprehend on a literal level, it is a lot more difficult to really understand what Nietzsche meant. Thus, while the index may grade that as at a 6th grade level, no one would say that Nietzshe is appropriate for a 6th grader. In fact, the best authors as those individuals who can make complex ideas easy (for us non-geniuses) to understand. Thus, paradoxically the best works of literature, those that delve deep into religious, moral or emotional problems, are the ones that may very well get the lowest grade on the index.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:11 PM  

According to that index, Ulysses (6.8) is easier than Pride and Prejudice(10.3). Obviously, the scale is full of crap.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:58 PM  

You are all dorks.

And I love it.

*note - this comment scores a 2 on the whatever whatever scale*

By Blogger Carrie Broadshoulders, at 12:59 PM  

Is that the scale used to determine the genius of the Barry White Song with the lyrics "Whatever whatever..." best song to go all night to. Whatever that means.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:18 PM  

Thank you, anonymous, for clearing this up a bit. This is why in my previous position we commissioned teachers to read passages in order to evaluate the appropriateness of the subject matter and conceptual difficulty, among others. We certainly couldn't rely on readability measures alone to determine what passage would be appropriate for which grade level.

Unfortuantly, fomulas cannot yet substitute for human judgment. But, I do like the lexile framework because it is based on item response theory, which is so sophisticated that I'm in love with it. If a person could be in love with stats, it would be me.

Yes, I'm a nerd.

By Blogger kiki, at 10:28 PM  

The guy in Picasso's painting on the right is the real JP Kincaid (shown as a young man). As the developer of the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Grade formula, I can tell you that it was never intended to be taken as seriously as it has been.

By Blogger J. Peter Kincaid, at 12:19 PM  

My poor father. Not only did you identify him as not having been a doctor (he was and is - Ph.D OSU, 1971), but you also describe his index as "one of the worst ever".

It is useful to know that the formula analyses the grammer, syntax, and vocabulary, but not the content, of a document. Therefore a work with very sophisted content might be analysed as being written on a high school level, as long as it uses simple grammer and vocabulary.

So don't worry, you are as bright as you think you are. I would definitely rethink some of your reading choices, however (Seriously, Joyce??).

By Anonymous John F. Kincaid, MD, at 7:54 AM  

Joyce is brilliant. Arguably the greatest author to ever draw breath. Just don't read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It's miserable. Ulysses is the only place to go when you dive in. Dubliners is just not the same level of magic.

By Blogger Carnivore, at 7:29 PM  

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