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07 December 2013 @ 04:43 am
Text, Pretext, Context  
Last week my Twitter feed led me to an article in SLATE which compared HUNGER GAMES, TWILIGHT, and HARRY POTTER through text analysis. Here is the link to the piece, but be forewarned: it is sloppy "science" at best: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2013/11/hunger_games_catching_fire_a_textual_analysis_of_suzanne_collins_novels.html.

I would like to suggest to the author of the article that he might apply (or, more accurately, misapply) this textual analysis to any 3 works from the bestseller list for adults and come up with much the same sort of conclusions. For this is not textual analysis as the author suggests. Instead this is an exerccise that looks only at words without their full context. Most frequently occuring adjectives, etc. is interesting for certain. But what does it really mean in terms of analyzing text and, as the author of the article suggests, in terms of the audience for said works? What it means in this case is that the author has the chance to sneer at the books he purports to analyze. The analysis in this case is pretext for pointing out the "silliness" or "simplicity" of YA books. And it misses the point entirely because it focuses on PARTS and not the WHOLE.

This is the problem with levels and lexiles as well: we reduce a work to components, analyze syllables, stence length, syntax, semantics. We dissect and then pronounce the viability of the work. Thus, NIGHT is determined to be at an elementary school reading level. Levels and lexiles do not and cannot come close to "measuring" how the reading of NIGHT (or any other book for that matter) might affect the reader. Measuring is a curious thing. I learned to cook many things by watching my Mother and then by cooking with her supervision. There were no real recipes for soup and sauce and such. And I never make the same soup or suace or such twice. When baking, though, measurement is rather key. But even in baking, there is room for some variation from recipes.

I know this post is wandering. I am trying to work through why someone would use such an analysis to discuss the appeal of movies. It seems to me that this is a pointless exercise: it does not provide much insight. If he had read the books, perhaps he would not label THE HUNGER GAMES as having spare descriptions or HARRY POTTER as "Waiting for Voldemort" but might have noticed classic motifs and archetypes that are, perhaps, also part of the appeal of the books. A true content anaylsis would be more illuminating. A careful reading and discussion might have yielded more in terms of examining audience, complexity, etc. However, this glimpse into pieces does little to elevate the discourse about these (and other) books.
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