Thursday, May 31, 2007

Matt Wray's "Not Quite White"

Matt Wray is co-editor of White Trash: Race and Class in America, Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life, and The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness, and author of Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to Not Quite White and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book Not Quite White describes the discovery of hookworm disease among poor rural whites, the so-called “crackers” and “poor white trash” of the Southern states. This discovery — a brief episode in the history of medicine — was to have significant and lasting effects for poor whites in the United States.

The parasitic disease, picked up by contact with dirt contaminated with human excrement, often resulted in severe anemia, which sapped the strength and energies of the infected, leaving them dull and listless. Headlines hailed the discovery of the biological cause of the “disease of laziness,” and “the cracker disease” and poor whites became firmly linked to dirt and excrement in the public imagination. Ever wonder why present day stereotypes of poor whites so often make reference to dirt and filth? The hookworm episode tells the tale.

As a whole, the book describes over two hundred years of stereotyping and stigmatization (which I call “stigmatyping”) of poor rural whites, from the 1720s to the 1920s. The goal is not only to uncover a much neglected history — the poorest whites never figured in the multiculturalist histories that swept intellectual life in the 1980s and 1990s, except perhaps as racist villains — but to also offer some theoretical considerations about two areas of growing interest: the changing nature of white identity and the role of group boundaries and social categories in everyday life. What was the meaning of whiteness in the past? When and how do group identities become important and why? And what about the social categories used to label people — cracker, redneck, and poor white trash? What did these categories mean and, more importantly, what did they do?

Asking what categories and labels do; that is, asking what their social, cultural, and political effects are, led me to track not only the different ways that poor whites have been portrayed by others, but also the many ways that these portrayals served the interests and identities of the portrayers. The book is not given over to sentimental or romantic fantasies of what the lives of poor whites must have really been like — how they struggled, fought for and won dignity and respect. Instead, I opt for an account that focuses on the brute force prejudice and discriminatory actions of middle class and elite whites: how they marginalized the poorest whites, economically and politically; how they mobilized collective anger, contempt, and disgust towards those they deemed trash; and how even their reform efforts aimed at uplifting poor whites resulted in increased stigma, shame, and social exclusion. What did other whites gain from these exercises in social domination? Among other things, they gained a sense of moral entitlement to a privileged form of white identity, the very group identity they refused to extend to people of color and to the not quite white. As a nation, we have not even begun to acknowledge this complicated past. As a consequence, we fail utterly to grasp its significance for the present.
Matt Wray, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is currently a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at Harvard University.

Learn more about Not Quite White at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Maureen Jennings's "A Journeyman to Grief"

Maureen Jennings has written seven Detective Murdoch novels: Except the Dying, shortlisted for both the Anthony and the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Awards, Under the Dragon’s Tale, Poor Tom Is Cold, Let Loose the Dogs, shortlisted for the Anthony Best Historical Mystery Award, and Night’s Child, shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award, the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award, the Barry Award, and the Macavity Historical Mystery Award, and Vices of My Blood.

The latest book in the Detective Murdoch series is A Journeyman to Grief, to which Jennings applied the "Page 99 Test" and reported the following:
I was most intrigued by the "test." I must admit I was tempted to cheat. My p. 99 quoted below is representative of the book in that it is Victorian in detail and tone but it is a necessary bit of plot carrying, workman like I hope but not sizzling. The tone is rather jovial but that is not typical of the rest of the book except at moments. I did have fun slipping in a little bit of learning about the times with Musgrave's telling of cab rates and so on but I prefer p. 327 which comes near the end of the book. Even though I wrote it myself and it is completely made up, I found it one of the saddest passages to come out of my brain. Can we institute a last chapter test?

A Journeyman to Grief is a murder mystery and as such obeys the conventions of the genre. My detective, William Murdoch has a crime to solve and pursues his investigation. However, the theme of the book for me is betrayal. Terrible personal betrayal by one human being of another but in the background, the huge and tragic betrayal of slavery, the repercussions of which are still with us.

Here's p.99:

"Come in," Murdoch called, and George Crabtree entered. If he was surprised to see Murdoch sitting behind the desk, he didn't show it.

"George, Mr Musgrave is about to give me his formal statement. Write it down for me will you?"

Crabtree would spot any discrepancies or embellishments to what he'd already heard. "Mr Musgrave, will you proceed? Start with your name and address please?"

The cabbie removed his tobacco plug from his mouth and wrapped it in his handkerchief, which from the look of it had been used this way many times before.

"My name is Paul Musgrave and I live at 210 Wilton Street."

"How long have you worked for Daniel Cooke?"

"Oh, 'bout three years now."

"What sort of employer was Mr. Cooke?"

Musgrave slapped his hand on his knee. "As good as they come. Conscientious to a fault. He was there when we booked out and sitting waiting when we booked in. Mind you, he kept his distance, which is only proper in my opinion. People take advantage if you don't, it's only human nature. But you always knew where you stood with him.Pay your dues and he was pleased as could be. We rents out the cabs, see, and we pay that no matter what. One dollar a shift, which you've got to make up in your fares. We keeps what we take in, but we pass over five per cent of that to Cooke for wear and tear, as he calls it." He rubbed his hand over his face. "Or should I say, called it, may he rest in peace. That's why he was always on us to look at our dockets, which as you know the city council has strict rules about. In the first division, which is city limits, it's fifty cents. If you go to the second division, that is to Dufferin street west or Pape in the east, it goes up to seventy-five cents."
Visit Maureen Jennings's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Simon Haynes's "Just Desserts"

Simon Haynes is the author of three Hal Spacejock novels, a number of articles on writing and publishing, and several short stories, one of which collected an Aurealis Award in 2001.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the latest Hal Spacejock novel, Just Desserts, and reported the following, starting with the text from page 99:
Hal and Clunk hurried along the Orbiter’s carpeted passageways, following overhead signs to the Luna Rose’s boarding gate. At every sign they passed Hal expected the status to change from ‘boarding’ to ‘departed’. At the gate his fears appeared to be confirmed — a thick red cord stretched across the airlock doorway and there was no sign of either staff or passengers. ‘Don’t tell me we’ve missed it.’

Clunk shook his head. ‘They’re probably cleaning up after the last run.’

‘Cleaning up?’

‘To be precise, hosing down. For the average traveller, space sickness and zero gravity aren’t the best combination.’

Hal winced.

‘On the plus side, there’ll be plenty of hot meals going around.’

There was a snick, and Hal saw a smartly dressed woman removing the red cord. ‘You cut it fine. We’re just leaving.’ She looked at them expectantly. ‘You are flying with us today?’

‘More than just flying.’ Hal gestured at Clunk. ‘He signed us on. We’re crew.’

The woman’s eyebrows rose, and Hal copped a double blast from her attractive green eyes. ‘Crew?’

‘Positions 14-69 and 24-T,’ said Clunk. ‘They were advertised on Cathua.’

- - -
As luck would have it this is the first page of chapter ten, and it features the major characters in one of their bantering conversations. Clunk is dispensing the kind of information he's good at, and as usual it's something Hal really didn't want to know. I enjoyed the twist in 'plenty of hot meals going around', even if the visual image is something that, like Hal, I'd rather not dwell on.

There are lots of misunderstandings in my books, and they often involve cutting Hal and/or Clunk down to size. Although they run their own spaceship they're often mistaken for gardeners, cleaners and mechanics, most likely because Clunk is a beaten up old robot and Hal insists on wearing a flight suit which has seen better days ... and which looks like a pair of overalls. On the plus side, their appearance allows them to impersonate gardeners, cleaners and mechanics from time to time.

The final gag is in the last line of dialogue. Positions 14-69 and 24-T: one for sixty-nine and two for tea.

I'm not happy about the two sequential sentences starting with AT though. That sometimes happens in editing when I cut out a line or two in between, and don't notice the two I've joined start or end the same way.

A couple of gags, some juvenile humour, a misunderstanding and a double-entendre: I'd say the snippet encapsulates the Hal books perfectly.
Check out Simon Haynes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 25, 2007

Heather McElhatton's "Pretty Little Mistakes"

Heather McElhatton is a writer and independent producer for Public Radio International. Her commentaries and stories have been heard nationally on This American Life, Marketplace, Weekend America, Sound Money and The Savvy Traveler.

Her new radio show is called “Stage Sessions” and is held in front of a live audience at the Fitzgerald Theater in St Paul, Minnesota.

McElhatton’s debut novel is a choose-your-own-ending book for adults called Pretty Little Mistakes.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to the book and reported the following:
Strange. At a reading two nights ago I read page 99 of my book, which in itself is a coincidence. My book is a choose-your-own-adventure for adults, and when you read one "thread," you skip all over the book – so you never know which pages you'll read, and which you'll skip over. That night the audience chose which way to go, and we went directly to page 99. When I read the page aloud, I noticed one bit in particular gets oddly straight to the marrow of the book.

Do you go right or do you go left? Will both roads lead to the same destination? Most certainly not. And how will you choose? No one knows. Who can know the mathematical equation of choice, or the intricate configuration of the one who is choosing? Perhaps only God can know why a willow branch grows one way and not the other, why some fish dive deeper into the fathoms and other towards the light.

Page 99 of Pretty Little Mistakes is only a half-page, and while I don't think it represents my strongest writing, it does actually seem to stop, drop the storyline, turn to the reader, and whisper the book's direct message. Perhaps even though I hadn't heard Ford Madox Ford's quote - my book had.
Read more about the book at the author's website and at the Pretty Little Mistakes site.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ann Crittenden's "The Price of Motherhood"

Ann Crittenden is an award-winning journalist, author, and lecturer. Her latest book, If You've Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything, received critical praise and was featured in People magazine. Her previous book, The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued, was named one of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year in 2001.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to The Price of Motherhood and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Price of Motherhood (hardcover) I discuss a relatively unrecognized form of discrimination: discrimination against parents. Today, blatant sex discrimination is becoming less common, but we are gradually becoming aware of a more subtle form of discrimination against women and men with children. A growing mothers’ movement has documented many examples of this "family responsibility discrimination:"

* the single mother in Pennsylvania who was turned down for job after job because employers didn’t want to have to offer health insurance for her family;

* the employer who took a working mother off a career track because he assumed she wasn’t as ambitious or hard-working as another woman without kids;

* the computer store owner who fired a manager after she said she couldn’t work nights and Saturdays because she had a seven-year-old son;

* the state trooper who was let go because he asked to stay at home for a few months after his wife became disabled after child-birth.

When I wrote about this in The Price of Motherhood there were only eight states with laws specifically prohibiting discrimination against parents in the workplace. And today, six years later, nothing has changed. Except that there is now a mothers’ movement demanding that anti-discrimination laws in all states include a ban on discrimination against people with family responsibilities.

The Price of Motherhood actually played an important role in launching this new mother’s movement, by calling attention to the anachronistic situation confronting American mothers. The book shows how conscientious child-rearing makes an enormous economic and social contribution to our society. Yet this work is still invisible. Virtually every institution, from the workplace to family law to government social policy, ignores this work and in effect, values it at zero. As a result, we have a fundamental unfairness: women who raise children are more insecure economically than comparable men at every level. Women with a college degree can easily lose $1 million in lifetime earnings if they have a child. Less educated women can end up in poverty just for having children. The Price of Motherhood makes this all this clear, and shows how things can be changed.
Visit Ann Crittenden's website and read an excerpt from The Price of Motherhood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 21, 2007

Stephanie Elizondo Griest's "Around the Bloc"

Stephanie Elizondo Griest has "volunteered at children’s shelters in Russia, polished propaganda in China, and belly danced with rumba queens in Cuba" -- and she wrote about it in her award-winning memoir: Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to the book and reported the following, starting with the text from page 99:
CHAPTER 8: Nastayashii Russkii Muzhik: Real Russian Men

Just a few weeks before I departed for Moscow, I got dumped by the love of my life: a sultry colombiano named Mario. Eight years my senior, he'd combed South America and Cuba by motorcycle and North America by thumb and spun stories that rivaled those of my father and that CNN correspondent from long ago. Mario could have won me over with his adventures alone, but he also had an aquiline nose, Che Guevara hair, disarmingly blue eyes, and hands that stayed warm even when it was cold outside (from milking so many cows as a kid, he said). Those hands were the first to ever undress me, to touch, stroke, palm, caress me. I used to imagine those beautiful hands slipping a ruby ring onto my finger at an altar someday. Holding our thick-haired, olive-skinned children.

But then those very same hands reached deep inside my chest, yanked out my heart, slam-dunked it into a trashcan, and incinerated it.

I put up with far more grief than any woman ever should from Mario, and only in retrospect do I realize I did so because he was exactly the person I aspired to be: a traveler and a storyteller with a deep sense of home and family and culture. Mario.....

Page 99 commences the most (personally) painful piece of writing in Around the Bloc: an act of sexual violence I experienced while living in Moscow in 1996 as an exchange student/volunteer at a children’s shelter/girlfriend of a Mafiosi. This particular page represents the body of work in an ironic way, as Mario inadvertently inspired its creation. (He lured me back to the USA with promises of eternal togetherness, only to smash my heart a second time upon my arrival. Three days later, I started writing this book to heal and to forget.) Otherwise, page 99 strays significantly. Although I am an involved “narrator,” my memoir focuses on the lives of the extraordinary people I encountered over a four-year journey through the communist and post-communist bloc, and the adventures therein. And I don’t waste nearly as much ink mourning the men along the way!
Read an excerpt from Around the Bloc and visit Stephanie Elizondo Griest's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lydia Millet's "My Happy Life"

Lydia Millet applied the "Page 99 Test" to her third novel, My Happy Life, winner of the 2003 PEN-USA Award.

Here is the text from page 99, followed by the author's exegesis:

When I got back to the city where Mr. D. had found me, it was no longer there.

Excuse me: there was a city of the same name, but the city I knew was gone. Bare avenues with blank, square buildings stretched where there had once been narrow curved roads shaded by old trees. Even the park was gone, and the bronze man that used to stand at its center. This man had been extremely large and strict. He had a handlebar mustache, rode upon a rearing horse of bronze and stiffly held up his sword in a challenging fashion. But where the bronze man had sat on his horse with his sword raised was a Long-Term Parking Structure with four stories. I thought sadly: Poor father, your sword was not so sharp after all.

Anyway the streets and buildings were transformed, and there was nothing that I knew. And while I had never wished to leave my traces on the world, yet I always assumed it left its imprints on me. I thought I was at least a place where memories reposed. But here it seemed that I had fished my memories from one great dark whirlpool surrounded by banks of sliding sand, whose pull was always shifting. And swiftly all the time I had known was a figment, much like me. I was nothing without memory. And I felt dizzy and fell down, with everything disappearing.

I think the page represents. With other novels of mine I would guess a single page might not, but this book is short and of a piece and the tone remains fairly consistent throughout. The story is of a good person. Her heart is pure, unlike, say, my own. This page shows much that is typical of the book — its vague setting in a place that seems part European, part American; the way the protagonist has a sense of humor that seems more acute than her sense of right and wrong, or at least of social responsibility and blame, and a diction more sophisticated than her logic; the contrast between her smallness and the vast agency of the outside world, in which she plays little part. When I read this page, which is the beginning of a chapter that tells how she haunts cemeteries looking for her lost child, I remember who she is. I wish things would get better for her and I wait for them to.
Read more about the novel at the publisher's website, and visit the author's website for an excerpt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Paul Schneider's "Brutal Journey"

Paul Schneider is the author of The Adirondacks: A History of America's First Wilderness, The Enduring Shore: A History of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket, and Brutal Journey: The Epic Story of the First Crossing of North America.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to Brutal Journey and reported the following:
Page 99, as it turns out, may well be the most brutal page in Brutal Journey. In the course of a couple of paragraphs, the conquistador Balboa orders his dogs to eviscerate forty native Panamanian cross-dressers, Cortes severs the thumbs of seventeen Tlaxcalan "spies," De Soto sends six native North American prisoners back to their village without their hands, and Narvaez -- the commander of the expedition the book traces -- slices off the nose of a gloriously tattooed Floridian cacique named Hirrihigua. Hirrihigua begins to get his revenge at the bottom of the page by sending a few of Narvaez's men running through the village naked while his warriors pot shot them with arrows, but has to wait until page 100 to carry out his more creative tortures.

From a technical standpoint, re-reading page 99 reminds me of how wide a net I cast in order to find contemporary sources that could fill in the blanks and contextualize the incredible journey of Cabeza de Vaca and his fellow survivors across North America in the 1520s, and how vivid those other sources proved to be. From a dramatic perspective, the page fits into what I might call the “Heart of Darkness” sub-theme of the book, in which individual capacities for both violence and kindness are exposed as somewhat malleable entities, not tied to race or class, but that bend and morph as the expedition in question seeps ever deeper into the continent. Given the world we currently live in, I couldn’t help but notice that all of the acts described above were essentially terroristic in nature, designed not so much to punish their specific victims as to send a political message to an absent audience.

Though the journey is surely brutal in places, the violence of the page is not necessarily representative of the entire book. During the writing I didn’t call it “Brutal Journey,” but rather, “Lost in the New World.” To me, it’s mostly a story of survival against all odds, which is to say a story of obsession, innovation, collaboration, and hope. For the four who lived, and made it from Florida to Mexico City, it’s a story of shedding their preconceived identities as foreign conquerors and slaves, and becoming something altogether unexpected and new. Not “going Native,” exactly, but cobbling together some new amalgamated identity tuned to their new surroundings. Becoming, I suppose you could say, American.
Visit Paul Schneider's website and read the Introduction and Chapter One from Brutal Journey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

David Weinberger's "Everything Is Miscellaneous"

David Weinberger is the co-author of the international bestseller The Cluetrain Manifesto and the author of Small Pieces Loosely Joined.

Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder is his new book.

Weinberger applied the "Page 99 Test" to the book and reported the following:
This test is simply too, well, miscellaneous to resist.

Page 99 happens to be about the miscellaneous of bits. That's an extreme edge of the book's argument, which is far more interested in the miscellaneousness of meaning. So, I would not have picked page 99 as representative of the book. Nevertheless, by the end of the page, it's lifting its head back into the air it wants to breathe.

Page 99 is in Chapter 5, which is the hinge of the book. The first four chapters have tried to convince the reader that categorization is an important topic and that the obvious ways we organize our world actually have a history. Chapter 5 introduces four principles of organization that change radically once we move from the physical to the digital. The next four chapters discuss those new principles and their implications.

On page 99, I'm trying to show that the digital realm is miscellaneous all the way down to the level of the bits, using Wikipedia as the example. The page the user sees is assembled from contents - text and graphics - stored on several servers. In fact, here's the middle of page 99:

Another level down, Wikipedia, like all computer applications, is even more miscellaneous. The computer may decide to store any single element of an article — say, the text, or a photo of an elephant — in discontinuous sectors of a hard drive in order to fit the most data onto the drive and to optimize the time it takes to retrieve all those bits. That’s why when I asked the chief technical officer of the Wikipedia organization where the text information for the elephant article is actually stored, he replied, in the chat room we were in:

god only knows.

On the disk somewheres

A shame-faced admission of an appalling ignorance? Not at all. The gap between how we access information and how the computer accesses it is at the heart of the revolution in knowledge. Because computers store information in ways that have nothing to do with how we want it presented it to us, we are freed from having to organize the original information the way we eventually want to get at it. The bits and pieces of Wikipedia are, in effect, an enormous reserve of miscellaneous information that can be assembled in precisely the ways we need at precisely the moment we need it. That’s true all the way through Wikipedia, from the microscopic bits stored on the hard drives to the finished articles we read.

Now, I'd worry that page 99 depicts Everything Is Miscellaneous as a techie book about how computers work, except that the very last lines bring the discussion back up to where it should be:

At the top level of this hodgepodge of bits, images, text, articles and ideas, something remarkable happens. The million articles in English are not arranged alphabetically. They are not put into a...

The book is way more concerned with the remarkable ways we are putting our ideas together, and the effect that has on business and authority, than in the bits and bytes. Page 99 leaves off exactly where the real interests of the book are about to be restated.
Read an excerpt from Everything Is Miscellaneous, and visit the Everything Is Miscellaneous website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 14, 2007

Charles Tilly's "Why?"

Charles Tilly is Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University.

His 2006 book Why? (Princeton University Press, 2006) is about the explanations we give and how we give them -- a fascinating look at the way the reasons we offer every day are dictated by, and help constitute, social relationships.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the book and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book Why? talks about codes. The book as a whole asks two questions: 1) How do people give each other reasons for the things they do, things other people do, and things they see happening? 2) When they give reasons, how and why do the reasons vary for the same things vary from one pair of interlocutors to another? "Codes" is one answer to the first question. People generally choose among four different ways of giving reasons: conventions such as that's the way things go, eh?, stories such as Jenny hit Billy and he got a bruise, technical accounts such as here's the best medical knowledge we have on how contusions form, and codes such as here are the rules for judging whether Jenny had the right to hit Billy. Whenever people give each other reasons, they are simultaneously confirming, denying, asserting, or negotiating their relationships to each other, which is why you explain the exact same mistake differently to your spouse and your neighbor on the train. The choice among conventions, stories, technical accounts, and codes does the same thing in a bigger way. Lawyers and rabbis claim authority over their listeners by citing codes, geologists and anthropologists claim a different kind of authority by constructing cause-effect technical accounts, but most of the time we handle reasons with the equivalents of shoulder shrugs I call conventions or (when the situation calls for more coherent explanation) nicely crafted stories. Stories are one of the great human inventions, radically simplifying causes and effects but neatly fixing responsibility as they provide reasons.
Learn more about Why? at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 12, 2007

James Oakes's "The Radical and the Republican"

James Oakes is professor of history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and the author of, most recently, The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the book and reported the following:
Page 99: It is the winter of 1859-1860. Frederick Douglass is in Europe, in part because authorities have found evidence of his connection to John Brown, who has just been executed for treason against the state of Virginia after his abortive effort to provoke a slave uprising at Harpers Ferry. Douglass is defending Brown vociferously, excessively — even though Douglass himself had refused to participate in a plot he considered “desperate.” Why is he doing this?

Think of what’s going on back in the United States. The most momentous presidential election on the nation’s history is getting underway — an election that would determine whether the country would split apart, whether there would be civil war, whether slavery would survive. Douglass’s praise of Brown’s antislavery radicalism sets the black leader apart from the political mainstream. The Democrats are divided between proslavery southerners and belligerently racist northerners. The antislavery Republican Party is committed only to halting slavery’s expansion into the western territories. That’s not good enough for Frederick Douglass. In pronouncing Brown an antislavery hero — virtually a saint — Douglass is staking out a position at the left flank of American politics. It is the classic stance of the reformer — to needle the consciences of elected politicians who must temper their ideals as they answer to a broader constituency.

In this case, Douglass’s enthusiastic encomiums to John Brown sharply distinguish him from Abraham Lincoln’s cautious dismissal of Brown’s insane and criminal act. And therein lies the central theme of the book — the difference between two men whose historical reputations rest on their shared hatred of slavery, one of them a radical and the other a Republican.
Visit the publisher's website to learn more about The Radical and the Republican.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 11, 2007

Stacey Richter's "Twin Study"

Pushcart Prize-winning author Stacey Richter applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new collection of stories, Twin Study, and reported the following:
I freakin’ love my page 99! It’s from “The Long Hall, ” a story about Salt Lake City punk rockers. In this scene, the fifteen year-old narrator is playing with her big sister’s band for the first time and she’s really nervous. I especially love the last line of the paragraph because it contains a minature seed of the story as a whole — which is about a young person’s sense that the world is full of open doors, and how she feels those doors slam in her face. It’s a little darker and less funny than the book overall but representative of my work in that it touches on my interest in female characters, rock and roll, isolation, and sadness.

By the time we start to play, a few more kids have begun skulking around or climbing up on the bleachers — mostly though, I try not to look at the people. I look at my hands or I look at Shane, singing with her mouth touching the microphone. I’m trying to play right but I have an unhealthy spelling-bee feeling. C C C C, D D D D — aren’t those the right letters? Maybe it’s okay; Shane seems to be singing and Paula seems to be hitting the drums. I try to play in time. I try to listen when Paula clicks her sticks together at the beginning of each song. This is the best moment — right before the music starts, before we’ve had a chance to fuck anything up.
Visit Stacey Richter's website for more about Twin Study and to read several of her stories that are available online.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Lore Segal's "Shakespeare's Kitchen"

Lore Segal has worked as novelist, essayist, translator, and writer of children’s books. Her novels include Other People's Houses, serialized in The New Yorker and published by Harcourt Brace in 1964, currently available from The New Press, 1994; Lucinella (FSG, 1978); and Her First American, which won an award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (Knopf, 1985, The New Press, 1995).

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Shakespeare’s Kitchen, and reported the following:
"Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you," says Ford Madox Ford. Is this true of Page 99 of my interrelated stories called Shakespeare’s Kitchen? 99 happens to be one of a two page sketch, an affectionate jab at an old leftist friend who lives in a gated community. My characters, the members and spouses of members of Concordance, a Connecticut think tank, assemble to deal with the proximity of the black ghetto. Only the director’s dog, Cassandra, has the right moral responses; the judgment of the humans depends on their politics: left, right, feminist. My protagonist Ilka, straddles as many sides of the argument as can be argued. Here it is in part:

“Please!” said Leslie. “We’re talking about a sudden wave of crime. The standing lamp disappears from my office, the copier walks itself out of the mail room, Betty and Barbara are mugged coming out of the Pancake house and so are Alvin and Alicia walking down the middle of the street! A robber squeezes past the Bernstines’ air conditioner and turns on the light on! Yvette is accosted on campus at noon.”

“The girl from the project steals my wallet,” Eliza added.

“You don’t know that!” cried Ilka.

Ahmed was arranging the stand for Mr. Charley’s charts and maps. "You're fortunate," said this gentleman, "that Concordance University, originally conceived as the Concordance School for Higher Women, was a gated community. There's still a quarter of mile of wall here, on the right side of Southgate, and another hundred feet here." The man from the Planning Commission flipped to a new map, "and here and here."

“A wa-all!" said Alvin, Alpha, Ilka, and the two Bernstines on a descending note. "A wall?" mused Zack, Maria, Yvette and Eliza Shakespere with rising interest.

The lawyer said, “Leslie wants me to check the charter: The city might have been liable for the upkeep of the wall for half a century. The city might be liable for rebuilding.”

"A wall is a thought!"

"We’re not having a wall!”

"You put a layer of cement on it and embed broken glass," said Officer Right.

What does page 99 reveal about its writer? That I think human beings, including myself, are comical. That I’m rather fond of us. That story is a metaphor for what we mean and dream; that my own first loyalty is to the word, which is honor-bound to be neither larger nor lighter, nor noisier nor cleverer, etc., than the idea to which it refers; that my sentences would like to be shapely.
Learn more about Lore Segal, and visit the publisher's page for Shakespeare's Kitchen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 7, 2007

Mil Millington's "Love and Other Near-Death Experiences"

Mil Millington has written for various magazines, radio, and the Guardian (he also had a weekly column in the Guardian Weekend magazine). His website has achieved cult status, and he is also a co-founder and co-writer of the online magazine The Weekly.

His novels include A Certain Chemistry, Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, and Love and Other Near-Death Experiences, to which he applied the "Page 99 Test" and reported the following:
I often say that context is everything. (Though, of course, what I mean by that depends on the situation in which I say it.) Here the first question I had was, do I take Page 99 of the UK version, or Page 99 of the US one? The former coincides with the start of Chapter 12; the latter is towards the end of Chapter 11 (so much for American get-up-and-go). The British edition's page is full of the protagonist's anxiety about a strange character who's previously accosted him on the street in the early hours of the morning; he's full of doubts and uncertainty (which is very LAONDE), and it also contains a joke about furniture polish that I quite like. However, with apologies to Surrey-born F. Mad' Fo', I'll concentrate on the version published in the former colonies.

I write comedy, and my main interest is characters and (oh dear) themes. In LAONDE an eclectic group of people are confronting that old puzzler, 'Why am I alive?' especially vividly because - for unrelated, and stupidly prosaic reasons - they've all narrowly missed being killed in accidents where others weren't so lucky. Apart from the main character, they're dealing with their oddly still having pulses in the ways that - if you look - people in that position tend to, with worrying regularity. It's not really a thriller - and absolutely not (as some have thought) a mystery riddle. It's a sort of existential, comic frolic with a serious point tugging at its coat. By Page 99, though, the pieces are still being assembled, and we're merely eavesdropping on the protagonist fretting to his best friend in a pub: things are a lot different by fifty pages later. That's not very representative of the novel, I don't think. Though the word 'wank' is used four times, so it is quite 'me'.

Actually, I'm not sure that any page - or even an isolated selection - can quite convey the feel and thrust of the book. I had this problem when doing readings: what ten or so pages should I choose?

It's not funny, which is uncharacteristic, but the opening of the novel is possibly more indicative:
"Hello. My name is Robert, and I haven't been dead for sixty-three days now."
Read an excerpt from Love and Other Near-Death Experiences.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Viviana Zelizer's "The Purchase of Intimacy"

Viviana A. Zelizer is Lloyd Cotsen ‘50 Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and author of The Purchase of Intimacy (Princeton University Press, 2005).

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her book and reported the following:
Here is the mid section from p. 99 of The Purchase of Intimacy:

Boundaries between intimate relationships have some remarkable characteristics. Although participants, observers, and third parties commonly mark such distinctions with moral discourse and moral practice, rarely are the defining interactions on one side of a boundary or the other universally acceptable or unacceptable in themselves; they depend on context. Sexual intercourse, for example, becomes an enforceable obligation for spouses, an option for lovers, and a forbidden transgression for lawyer-client pairs. Similarly, expensive gifts become obligations in some relations, options in others, and forbidden transgressions in still others. The matching of relation, transaction, and medium matters crucially. Such boundaries also include temporal limits, so that questions arise concerning what relation a couple occupied at the time of a certain transaction: were they then a married couple, engaged to be married, unmarried lovers, spouses of other persons, business partners, lawyer and client, patron and prostitute, or acquaintances on a date? All these relations have fairly clear beginnings and endings. Between those temporal limits, participants, observers, third parties, and boards of discipline work to match relations, transactions, and media. When it involves intimacy, relational work takes plenty of effort.

The book pursues this kind of interplay through three areas: coupling, paid care, and household economies, asking how people mingle their intimate relations and economic practices in everyday life and what happens when some of these issues go to court. I use a range of materials, including court cases, reports on compensation for 9/11 victims, Web sites on financial management, and advice books.

Page 99 may look like common sense but it contradicts widespread ideas concerning the mutual contamination of intimacy and rationality. People worry that mixing economics and intimacy will corrupt both spheres. Think of the concerns with prenuptial agreements, loaning money to friends, or workplace romances. If you mix the cold world of economic activity with the warm world of friendship, marriage, or parent-child relations, many people think, you will turn it into a calculating market. It also works in the opposite direction. People worry that if workers get too chummy on the job, they will spend more time with each other than with their work. Intimacy interferes with efficiency. So, people warn, mix intimate relations with economic activity at your own peril.

My book challenges all these taboos. The Purchase of Intimacy shows that the world does not divide into two segregated spheres of intimacy and economics. All of us routinely mix our most intimate relations with economic activities. In fact, we owe economic support to our children, our spouses, our parents, and often our friends. The separation of spheres is a myth.

Sexual intimacy is only one example. That’s why my book gives a lot of attention to how couples and families behave. But the whole point is that different kinds of intimacy call for different economic arrangements. In quite distinct ways, without any sexual contact whatsoever, people often establish intimate relations with their doctors, their lawyers, their priests, their nannies, or their best friends. Each one of these relations has its own special meaning and involves its own distinct economy.

All of us are living one version or the other of the purchase of intimacy every day; from paying for a dinner out with a new romantic partner, to discussing our household budget with our spouse, negotiating an allowance with our child, deciding on what sort of care we want and can afford for our elderly parents.
Read more about The Purchase of Intimacy at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Marc Acito's "How I Paid for College"

Marc Acito's debut novel, How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater, won the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction, was selected an Editors' Choice by the New York Times, and is in development at Columbia Pictures.

Acito applied the "Page 99 Test" to the novel and reported the following:
What mysterious, mystical force is at work here? Page 99 begins my single favorite scene in my book, the one of which I'm proudest, and which politeness demands I not discuss in explicit detail. Here's a hint — in a book with a subtitle "A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater," which kind of scene do you suppose it is? Suffice it to say it's a scene about a character who can't talk when his mouth is full.

In a culture saturated with sexual imagery, sex is still a subject we rarely discuss honestly. And it makes me apoplectic that we live in a country where the unrestrained violence of the Super Bowl is deemed acceptable while Janet Jackson's nipple during the half-time show can bring down the wrath of the FCC. Hell, I'm still angry that Congress impeached Bill Clinton because he lied about a nooner with an intern.

So I'm committed to writing as frankly about sex as I can. And with laughs. 'Cuz face it, nothing's funnier than getting caught with your pants down. So while Page 99 may only represent 25% of what How I Paid for College is about, it's the one page you'll hear me read out loud any chance I get.
Visit Marc Acito's website and read an excerpt from How I Paid for College.

Acito is an irregular contributor to All Things Considered, the New York Times, and Live Wire Radio.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Steven Conn's "History's Shadow"

Steven Conn is Professor and Director of the Public History Program at The Ohio State University's Department of History. His 2004 book, History's Shadow: Native Americans and Historical Consciousness in the Nineteenth Century, is "a study of how the study of Native Americans shaped a variety of intellectual discourses including linguistics, archaeology, anthropology and history from the late 18th century through the 1890s."

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the book and reported the following:
As it happens, p. 99 of my book History's Shadow: Native Americans and Historical Consciousness in the Nineteenth Century features one of the earliest known American daguerrotypes, a spectral portrait of Stephen DuPonceau. DuPonceau was one of dozens of American intellectuals who studied various aspects of Native America in the 19th century. Indeed, part of my purpose here is to demonstrate just how central the study of Indians was to the intellectual life of the United States.

In studying Native American languages, customs, archaeological remains etc these intellectuals tried to figure just who these people were, where they had come from and when. In so doing they shaped a distinctively American historical consciousness and by the end of the century had created a division between Euro-American, who had a history, and Native Americans who did not.
Learn more about History's Shadow at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Judith Kelman’s "The First Stone"

Judith Kelman applied the "Page 99 Test" her new novel, The First Stone.

Here is an excerpt from page 99, followed by Kelman's analysis:
Everyone had gone still, even the youngest ones. Every eye in the room was on Brent.

“Has to be almost midnight. See the moon?” He pointed the bandaged knob of his hand at the large silver button mounted high on the shirt cardboard sky. “His nose starts burning, that’s the first thing. Something smells funny, strong. Then all of a sudden it’s so bright, he can see a whole galaxy of stars and comets flashing right through his eyelids.

“He tries to wake up, but he can’t. He’s stuck in this incredible nightmare…

In The First Stone, page 99 is set in a children’s hospital ward. Emma Colten, the story’s protagonist, is a professional artist who has volunteered to do a project with the kids. Her choice, a found-object collage featuring a monster, is the catalyst that induces a horribly burned little boy named Brent to tell the story of his monster father, who set fire to his bed on Halloween night.

At the novel’s heart lies a series of such unintended consequences. In this case, Emma’s attempt to divert the sick and injured kids at the hospital leads to a crucial emotional breakthrough. In another pivotal scene, the unintended consequence proves catastrophic. Emma innocently confides in a friend about disturbing words she heard from an upstairs neighbor’s child. “Daddy, please,” said the little girl, “I’m begging you.”

The “Daddy” in question happens to be the world famous chief of cardiology at the hospital where Emma’s husband is a cardiac surgery resident. Emma’s revelation unleashes a chain of events that threaten to destroy her husband’s future and far worse.
Learn more about The First Stone at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue