Just what I didn’t need the first “work” (using that term in a writer’s sense, extremely loosely) day after a relaxing vacation in Maui. In the course of checking on my book’s miniscule sales status, I discovered that the geniuses at Amazon.com have added some new features to their already filled-to-the-gills web site that can make an author anxious:
Readability statistics for books included in their Search Inside the Book program (where authors/publishers send Amazon a book to be scanned, after which every darn word can be searched for and sample pages perused). Plus a concordance of the 100 most frequently used words in a book. And a statistically improbable phrases feature helpfully described by Amazon in a pop-up window:
“Amazon.com's Statistically Improbable Phrases, or ‘SIPs’, show you the interesting, distinctive, or unlikely phrases that occur in the text of books in Search Inside the Book. Our computers scan the text of all books in the Search Inside program. If they find a phrase that occurs a large number of times in a particular book relative to how many times it occurs across all Search Inside books, that phrase is a SIP in that book.”
I was thrilled to see that “Return to the One” garnered five SIPS: mystic philosophy, mystic philosopher, intuitive intelligence, first emanation, inward contemplation. I would have been disappointed if there weren’t any interesting, distinctive, or unlikely phrases in my book.
I also enjoyed looking at the graphically enhanced concordance (elsewhere on the page linked above). Of the 100 most common words in a book, Amazon apparently puts the most common of the common in a larger, bolder font. So I could quickly see that my book talked a lot about soul, Plotinus, spirit, and spiritual—which is absolutely true.
It wasn’t quite as much fun to anxiously analyze the readability statistics. At first I fantasized that my score of 14.6 on the Fog Index sounded admirably low. But then I saw that 7-8 is considered ideal, and anything over 12 means the book is difficult to read. OK, I’ll admit to “Return to the One” being more or less guilty as charged.
Yet let’s see the developer of the Fog Index write a really easy to read book about one of the densest and most profound philosophers of all time. (Oops, make that “mystic philosopher”—might as well use my special Statistically Improbable Phrases as much as I can.) So I decided to check out some of the related competition, a few of the Books on Related Topics that Amazon lists on my book’s page.
Yeah, baby. Let’s go head to head with Pierre Hadot’s “Plotinus or the simplicity of vision,” which is one of the most popular (in the sense of both best-selling and easy to read) books about this Greek philosopher.
Fog Index: Hines scores 14.6 and Hadot 17.5. Yay, a point for Hines!
Flesch Index (90-100 appropriate for 5th-6th graders, 0-30 means you need a college degree to understand the book): Hines scores 51.5 and Hadot 44.0. Boo, a point for Hadot.
We’ve got a tie, one point each. It all comes down to the Flesch-Kincaid Index, a refinement of the Flesch Index that relates the score to a U.S. grade level. You would think that Hadot would win out again here, but no…
Flesch-Kincaid Index: Hines scores 11.5 and Hadot 14.2. Yay, another point for Hines! He wins 2-1! If you just made it halfway through your senior year in high school, you can still enjoy “Return to the One”—no need to plow onward into the junior year of college just to be able to understand Hadot’s book.
Plus, take a look at Amazon’s Fun Stats: with my book you get a whopping 10,324 words per dollar; with Hadot’s book you just get a measly 2,755. Where can you get 10,324 of anything for just a buck? And here you get 10,324 words of profound mystic philosophy for your $1 (to work in another SIP; by the way, Hadot only managed to come up with two SIPS, “total presence” and “our true self”; you get five in my book.
Sure, you could get your philosophy from the “Tao of Pooh” and only need a 6th grade education to understand it. But come on: the concordance shows that you’re going to read “Pooh said” over and over and over. For about $4 more you can get almost 100,000 additional words in “Return to the One” and learn about a mystic philosopher who wrote that the nature of God, the One, can’t begin to be expressed in language.
To get at the root of that paradox you’re going to have to buy the book.