Thursday, August 30, 2007

Whitney Terrell's "The King of Kings County"

Whitney Terrell is the New Letters Writer in Residence at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His first novel, The Huntsman (Viking) was a New York Times notable book and was selected as a best book of 2001 by The Kansas City Star and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His second novel, The King of Kings County (Viking) won the William Rockhill Nelson award from The Kansas City Star and was selected as a best book of 2005 by the Christian Science Monitor. In 2006, he was named one of 20 “writers to watch” under 40 by members of the National Book Critics Circle.

Terrell applied the "Page 99 Test" to The King of Kings County and reported the following:
Page 99 in The King of Kings County appears during one of the most scatological, curse-ridden, and violent passages in the book. It was also, for these reasons, one of the most enjoyable to write. I like to read it in public. It’s the early 1960s in Kansas City. The narrator, Jack Acheson, is playing in his prep school’s mandatory intramural football league. His team, the Trojans, is composed “of every goof . . . in our entire class.”

Their only decent player is Lonnie Garaciello, also known as the Garbage Man. He’s the class outcast, an Italian in a WASP prep school, and after years of beatings, he has finally outgrown many of his original tormentors -- most of whom are playing on the opposing team, the Crusaders. By page 99, Lonnie has become so intent on revenge that he ignores a handoff and simply rushes through the line to attack his opponents, leaving the quarterback Billy Eckstein and the narrator alone with the ball. They are dogpiled.

“That’s it,” Eckstein said after he and I were finally plucked from the turf at the bottom of the pile. Instead of handing the ball to the referee, he threw it at Lonnie, so that it glanced off his shoulder pads -- his best and longest pass of the year. “I’m sick of you, Garbage. Why don’t you shut up or get off the field.”

Lonnie ignored the ball entirely; it was probably the least painful hit he’d taken all day. Instead he just limped silently back to the huddle, put his hands on his knee pads, and waited for Billy to call the next play.

“He’s right, Garbage,” I said. “You’re out.”

Lonnie spit through the bars of his face mask, a long, viscous string that dangled in the grass between his feet. There was blood in it, I could see.

“Garbage is a faggot,” Freddy said.

“At least I play,” Lonnie said finally. From the creaky way he talked, I guessed he’d had the wind knocked out of him in the pile.

“But you don’t
follow the play,” I said. “That’s the whole problem.”

It’s also the problem of the whole book. The King of Kings County’s “adult” plot largely centers on real estate deals, racial covenants, and various illegal and wildly inventive shenanigans that the parents of these children -- especially Jack’s father -- come up with to develop the city. Thanks to these plans, the city is painfully segregated by race and class roles, just like Jack’s prep school. Most of the characters in this scene are unconscious actors, ventriloquists’ dummies in a way, speaking lines, playing roles, and “following the play” that their school and parents have provided for them.

Lonnie is the first of Jack’s friends to understand that following the play might be a bad idea. At the same time, despite his actions, he’s completely aware that not following the play will also be a bad idea -- the definition of a tragic consciousness. And in this scene, he begins to transfer this knowledge to Jack.
Visit Whitney Terrell's website to learn more about the author, his novels, and his non-fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Henry Nicholls' "Lonesome George"

Henry Nicholls' first book, Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon, was published by Macmillan Science in April 2006, was longlisted for the 2006 Guardian First Book Award and shortlisted for the Royal Society's prestigious General Book Prize.

Nicholls applied the "Page 99 Test" to the book and reported the following:
Page 99 covers the most dramatic moment in the extraordinary life of Lonesome George, the sole-surviving giant tortoise from the Galapagos Island of Pinta. Ever since 1972, George has been kept in captivity at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the central island of Santa Cruz in the hope that conservationists would find other members of his species. They haven’t yet.

His plight has made him a huge tourist attraction, visited each year by over 50,000 ecotourists and a poster-boy for conservationists trying to preserve the weird and wonderful biodiversity of these islands. And this popularity has earned him several death threats.

In the early 1990s, the dwindling supply of sea cucumbers off the West coast of South America began to fail the rising demand in the restaurants of Southeast Asia. For the fishermen, the rich and untouched waters around the Galapagos promised rich pickings – quite literally. Conservationists in the islands attempted to contain the exploitation by imposing quotas on the sea cucumber fishery.

This did not go down well and twice, in 1995, fishermen caused unrest, taking control of the islands’ airports and disrupting the work of the Charles Darwin Research Station and its sister organisation the Galapagos National Park Service. At around midday on 4 September, the leader of the fishermen made an impassioned broadcast on public radio, encouraging his disgruntled mob to enter, sack and burn the CDRS and GNPS buildings. Within minutes of his address, a crowd brandishing machetes and bludgeons ran into the compound, threatening to kill the iconic Lonesome George and the GNPS director unless fishing restrictions were lifted.

I used this story, the meat of which appears on p. 99, to explore how such conflicts between conservation aims and the interests of local people are being played out the world over.

This is something I tried to do at every possible opportunity throughout the book – to take the reader out from George’s fascinating but narrow narrative, away even from the mesmerizing Galapagos Islands and onto a far wider conservation landscape. In this way, I hope George’s story is not just a tale of a rather special tortoise but, more importantly, a fact-filled, entertaining insight into the complex challenges facing conservation biologists in the 21st century.
Read a sample chapter from Lonesome George and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 27, 2007

J.A. Konrath's "Dirty Martini"

Dirty Martini is J.A. Konrath's fourth thriller in a series featuring a Chicago cop named Jack Daniels.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the novel and reported the following:
My page 99 uses the villain's POV, while the other 90% of the book is written from the hero's perspective (first person past tense with a lot of humor), so I wouldn't say it's an entirely accurate representation of the book as a whole.

Page 99:

The bar is packed too, but he sees the cop standing between several men, trying to get the bartender’s attention.

He moves in closer, getting to within a few feet. Up close, she seems smaller, less substantial than she appeared on television.

“Dirty martini, up,” she orders.

My my my. Our city’s finest, drinking while on the clock. Still, who can blame her? It’s been a tough morning.

A stool opens up, and she goes to it, and then does something that proves to the Chemist that fate is truly on his side: She takes off her gray jacket, places it over the stool, and asks the bartender where the ladies room is.

He points over his shoulder, and she heads in that direction. A moment later, the bartender sets down her drink by her stool.

The Chemist doesn’t hesitate. He opens the lens case, palms it in his right hand, and approaches the bar. With his left hand he reaches over, snagging some cocktail napkins from the bartender’s side of the bar, and with his right he dumps the toxin into the drink.

Now it’s a really dirty martini, he muses.

He shoves the napkins into his pocket, backs away from the bar, and finds a vantage point from several yards away. No one gives him a second glance.

A few minutes later she returns from the bathroom and sits atop her jacket. Grabbing the martini in one quick motion she brings it up to her lips—

—and drinks the whole thing.

He ticks off the seconds in his head.






She touches her head.



She wobbles slightly on the bar stool.



She rubs her eyes, then stands up.



He cranes his neck up for a better look.



She’s bent over now, a line of drool escaping her mouth. It’s followed by a flood of vomit.

Too late. Vomiting won’t help.

At fourteen seconds, she falls over.
Read an excerpt from Dirty Martini and learn more about J.A. Konrath and his writing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Don Bruns's "Stuff to Die For"

Don Bruns is the author of three Caribbean mysteries and Stuff To Die For, the first novel in a new series.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the new book and reported the following:
Page 99 of a novel is supposed to reveal the quality of the whole. Who knew? I'm going to have to go back and read all of the books I've written and see if page 99 captures the spirit, the plot and the characters. Sept. 1, 2007 introduces a new series titled Stuff To Die For. It's about two 24 year old kids who have dead-end jobs, start their own company and get involved in an international plot that could get them killed. Skip Moore and James Lessor buy a used box truck and start a moving company. The first load that they carry contains a severed body part. So I went back and read page 99 of Stuff To Die For, and I couldn't believe it. It conveys the body, the spirit and the characters of the novel. But do me a favor. Start at page one. For some reason, it just seems to move a lot better!

Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and other publications have been more than kind. The reviews are extremely positive, and I hope the reading public agrees. Stuff To Die For is to die for! Oh, go ahead. Find a copy and read page 99. While there are other pages I'd probably steer you to, this page whets the appetite. And you'll fall in love with Skip and James. Funny, exciting, moving and sad. Stuff To Die For will stick with you. For an even better understanding of the book, go to and view the movie trailer. You'll meet Skip and James, actually get a brief glimpse of the severed body part (Ooohhhh!) and see what kind of action takes place. Borrow the book, buy the book, but read the book.
Read more about Stuff to Die For and view the video trailers for the novel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 24, 2007

Anthony Holden's "Bigger Deal"

Anthony Holden’s book Big Deal: One Year as a Professional Poker Player has become a cult classic, enjoying no fewer than six editions since its first publication in 1990, with worldwide sales now well into six figures.

Holden applied the "Page 99 Test" to Big Deal's long-awaited sequel, Bigger Deal: A Year on the New Poker Circuit, and reported the following:
As a huge fan of Ford Madox Ford – The Good Soldier is, for me, one of the great novels of the 20th Century – I was delighted to discover that my new book Bigger Deal survived his page 99 test pretty well. It’s not ideally representative, of course, but it does touch on all the book’s main themes: poker facts and figures, the personalities of the modern game, the fact that I have a part-time job back in the UK (as a music critic) which keeps me jetting back and forth between London and Las Vegas.

Also, it carries the conclusion of a trip I made to Yale University, for a lecture on poker given by an American writer-friend of mine. This is another perfect example of the new respectability of poker, which is one of the themes of the book.

Did I prefer poker in the old pre-internet, pre-TV days, when it was less respectable, more shady, played by dubious figures in smoke-filled rooms? Well, you’ll just have to read the rest of the book to find that out.

This, of course, applies only to page 99 of the US edition of Bigger Deal. In the UK edition, it’s a completely different matter…
Read an excerpt from Bigger Deal and learn more about the book, the author, and poker, at Holden's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Carol Anne Davis's "Sob Story"

Carol Anne Davis is the author of four true crime books and five realistic crime novels, the latest being Sob Story.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to Sob Story and reports:
What would you do if you found that your shy, new flatmate Amy was writing to a male prisoner? Dana, a confident young university student discovers this on page 99. She’s amused and phones her fiancĂ©e, a trainee hospital doctor, with the details. He’s immediately alarmed - and, by the following page, we discover why.

It transpires that he’s recently treated a girl who lost six pints of blood after being stabbed by a man that she’d never met. He was her new flatmate’s misogynistic boyfriend who’d just been released from jail...

Page 99 is potentially vital to the plot in that, for the first time, realists become aware of Amy’s actions, can warn her about her pen pal. So far, she’s been seduced by Jeff’s honeyed letters but now other, more worldly people can point out that he’s an unknown quantity. They ask why he’s serving such a long sentence for a supposedly minor escapade. They ask when he’s getting out.

Will Amy distance herself from this sexually-motivated killer who plans to kill again? Or will she meet the same fate as his previous girlfriends?
Read more about Sob Story at Carol Anne Davis's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Amy Cohen's "The Late Bloomer's Revolution"

Amy Cohen was a writer/producer on the sitcoms Caroline in the City and Spin City, a dating columnist for the New York Observer, and the dating correspondent for cable TV's New York Central.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The Late Bloomer's Revolution, and reported the following:
I have to admit, I was so happy when I saw my page 99, as it was a pivotal scene not only in the chapter called “Heartbreaker,” but my life. Growing up, my father and I had a very rocky relationship. I always felt like such a failure in his eyes, believing that I wasn’t the daughter he would have chosen. I spent years in therapy discussing and bemoaning my relationship with him. So many years, in fact, that I was reminded of that great line from “Annie Hall,” where Alvy, referring to the many years he spent in therapy, says about his psychiatrist, “Pretty soon when I lie down on his couch I won’t have to wear the lobster bib.”

I assumed for a long time that my relationship with my father would always remain difficult and real adulthood would mean finally accepting that.

Then, when I was thirty-two, my sweet, funny mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. My father and I spent our every free moment together. We were like one of those old, bickering couples who fought constantly but couldn’t live without each other. Both of us were aware no one else understood our particular pain – losing the person we loved most in the world-- the way we did. “Your sister and brother have their own families,” he’d say. “But we just have us.”

And he was right.

Then a year after my mother died, within a few months, I got fired from my sitcom writing job of three years; my boyfriend, the one I was intending to marry, broke up with me; and then I got a virulent rash on my face for eight months.

Yet again, my father and I were inseparable.

“Your rash isn’t so bad,” he said one day, trying to cheer me up. “Just put a little make-up on it.”

“I have make-up on it,” I answered.

What I love so much about page 99 is that you get my father’s particular dialect and brash honesty (“no one’s interested in your sex life” and “men are going to think you’re on the schnide.”), but also his incredible sweetness and goodness. Page 99 depicts the moment when I realized just how much had changed in our relationship. Hearing him say, “You’re very special. You’re much stronger than I thought,” and “You used to be such a pain in the ass,” shows in one speech just how far we’d come.

It was also the moment I knew with certainty that our closeness was not temporary or circumstantial, which trust me, was a big moment in my life.

My relationship with my father is one of the many ways in which I was a Late Bloomer. He was there for other Late Blooming milestones, like when I taught myself to ride a bike at Thirty-five. Our relationship remains one of the great surprises of my life and in so many ways, it all began on p.99.

Page 99:

“Could you, please?” I said, pressing my hand in the air to signal my father to lower his voice.

“You think anyone here is so interested in your sex life? They couldn’t care less.”

He took a bite of Cobb salad between sentences, spearing a cube of Canadian bacon. “Now, a lot of men are going to hear that you haven’t had a boyfriend for a long time and think, ‘She’s been on the schnide,’” he said, using his term for lack of sexual activity. “They might think, 'It’s going to be easy to go to bed with her, because she’s desperate—‘”

“On the schnide?” I said, annoyed.

“Can I make my point, please? Please?”

“Go ahead.”

“What I’m telling you is, you can’t let that happen, because you need someone who’s going to be good to you and take care of you. You’re very special. You’re much stronger than I thought. You used to be such a pain in the ass. Oh, you drove me nuts, but haven’t had such an easy time lately.” He looked closer. “But your skin in looking better. Anyway, any young man would be very fortunate to get you. So don’t forget that. Capeesh?”

At that moment, I remember feeling lucky, but guilty that we’d only found each other this way because my mother died. And then it occurred to me that maybe that’s how my father felt. Lucky, but guilty that he had found someone first.

Excerpted from The Late Bloomer's Revolution by Amy Cohen. Copyright 2007 Amy Cohen. All rights reserved.
Read an excerpt from The Late Bloomer's Revolution, and learn more about Amy Cohen and her book at her website and her MySpace page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Callum Roberts's "The Unnatural History of the Sea"

Callum Roberts is Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of York in England. He is a prolific author and researcher and has advised U.S., British, and Caribbean governments on the creation of marine reserves.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Unnatural History of the Sea, and reported the following:
The Unnatural History of the Sea is an account of the effects that 1000 years of fishing and hunting of marine life have had on the oceans. Page 99 provides the opening scene for a chapter on hunting seals in the 18th and early 19th century:

On a remote island in the southern Indian Ocean in 1817, New Englander William Phelps squared up for battle:

“I knew nothing of the habits of the elephant [seal], had never seen one killed, and there I was, with a lance two feet long on a pole-staff of four feet, and seal club, a butcher’s knife and steel, with orders to kill, butcher and cook one of those enormous beasts, the smallest of which looked as if he could dispose of me at a meal. After the boats’ crews were out of sight I took a survey of the amphibious monsters, and selecting the smallest one, commenced the battle according to orders. When I hit him a rap on the nose he reared up on his flippers, opened his mouth, and bellowed furiously. This gave me a chance at his breast; plunging my lance into it, in the direction of where I thought his heart ought to be, I sent the iron in ‘socket deep’. This was all right so far, but I was not quick enough in drawing it out again, and stepping back. He grabbed the lance by the shank with his teeth, and drawing it from the wound, gave it a rapid whicking round; the end of the pole hit me a rap on the head, and sent me sprawling.…My next resort was the seal-club. With this I managed to beat the poor creature’s eyes out, and then, fastening my knife on the pole, I lanced him until he was dead…”

Page 99 gives a taste of the book, although this is one of the most graphic descriptions of the slaughter of marine life I give. Few people today realise just how much fishing and hunting have transformed the oceans, or how far back in time these impacts go. Throughout the book I breathe life back into the seas of old by quoting from eyewitnesses who experienced the abundance first hand. Historical accounts and archaeological remains show us that the oceans once supported throngs of fish, mammals, birds and other wildlife that seem miraculous to us today. The pages of ancient books provoke wonder and excitement with their descriptions. The Caribbean that Columbus sailed into supported millions of turtles. He described the sea as looking like a field strewn with stones so abundant were these creatures. Sailors told of whales so numerous they threw water on deck when they blew and stifled them with the cadaverous stench of their breath. Migrating totoaba shoals of two metre long fish made the waters of the Gulf of California boil, as if shaken by some earth tremor. In the eastern United States and Canada, alewife and salmon pressed upstream to spawn like rivers of molten silver, in some places so thick there seemed more fish than water.

In most places, the bounty has long gone. The seas of today are less diverse, less productive and less beautiful than they were a hundred years ago. But the optimistic message from my book is that marine ecosystems can bounce back when we protect them well in marine reserves. Reserves across the world have shown ample proof of the resilience of our seas in increased fish stocks, recovering habitats and better catches in surrounding fisheries. Establishing national and global networks of marine reserves, together with a few simple reforms to the way we fish, would put the oceans on the road to recovery. They are essential if humanity is to avoid a future without fish.
Visit the official website for The Unnatural History of the Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 20, 2007

Peter Sacks's "Tearing Down the Gates"

Peter Sacks is an author, essayist, and social critic who writes and speaks extensively on education and American culture. He is author of Generation X Goes to College: An Eye-Opening Account of Teaching in Postmodern America and Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We can do to Change it. His essays have appeared in The Nation, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Boston Review, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and other publications.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education, and reported the following:
At first, when Marshal asked me to do this, I read page 99 and thought, “Oops, it’s not very sexy.” There were a lot of other pages of interesting writing and storytelling that I would have picked to reveal my book’s whole. But I discovered that Ford Madox Ford was right in a sense. I looked more closely at 99, and there it was, the genetic code of my book. In fact, I could pick any page at random, and I would be able to find the same strands of DNA that held my book together.

My 99 comes in Chapter 5 of my book, Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education. I call that chapter “Public Schools, Private Privilege,” and it ties together a couple of earlier narrative chapters in which I tell the stories of some students and teachers at schools in Berkeley, California and in Boise, Idaho. Politically, the towns and the school systems couldn’t be farther apart. One is an American archetype of political liberalism and the other is as red-state conservative as it gets.

But I picked Berkeley and Boise to write about the class divide, not the political one. In that sense, the two towns shared far more in common than either Berkeleyites or Boisians would dare admit. I found that class differences transcended politics. Class transcended race, and also ethnicity. I found that, when it comes to schools, affluent liberals in Berkeley had a lot in common with with affluent conservatives in Boise.

Bear with me as I explain what page 99 is about in my book. Americans like to think of schools as the great equalizers of educational opportunity. But in both Berkeley and Boise, schools were doing just the opposite. They were deeply engaged in practices that actually made the class divide worse. Despite official policies supposed to close the achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students, schools were heavily committed to programs that accomplished just the opposite.

How could this happen? I found that schools in Boise and Berkeley were under constant pressure from affluent and well educated parents to create various havens of privilege for their own children, including gifted and talented programs, advanced and enriched classes, elite math and science centers, and so on.

But while schools were providing the already-privileged children with a Mercedes education, they were content to provide a Ford education to the ordinary children on the other side of the class divide.

Page 99 began to intrigue me in ways that I hadn’t thought about before, simply because it was among the more pedestrian of the pages in my book. On my page 99, I referenced the classic work of Jeannie Oakes, an education professor at UCLA, whose 1985 book, Keeping Track, revealed the widespread use of tracking in American schools to sort the supposedly bright kids from the dull ones. It just so happened that the “bright” kids were also the economically, socially and culturally advantaged kids. Back then, schools were blatant about their tracking systems. What’s different now is the subtlety of all various sorting devices that separate the smart kids at the top from the dumb kids at the bottom. As I write that sentence, I’m reminded of another book that I referenced in that chapter. The author is Ellen Brantlinger, whom I’ve never met but feel that we have a lot in common, just as I feel that there’s something deep within me that shares what Jeannie Oakes has deep within her. It’s odd to think that each of our page 99’s, however much they differ in style or method, share some essential traits that define us as people, and as authors. In her 2004 book, Dividing Classes: How the Middle Class Negotiates and Rationalizes School Advantage, Brantlinger describes how highly educated professionals in "Hillsdale," the pseudonym for a university town in the Midwest, manipulated public schools to serve their best interests, at the expense of working-class or poor families. Because smart and dumb are thought to be objectively measurable in the universe of public schooling, who could possibly argue with these self-serving arrangements?

My page 99 is essentially about tracking, in a broad sense. Generally, tracking is the practice of sorting students into different levels for the same course based upon “ability.” It’s hard to find a school administrator who will admit to doing it nowadays. Schools call it by other names. Take the Treasure Valley Math and Science Center in Boise, Idaho, actually a very cool public school for the best and brightest math and science students. To gain admittance to this wonderful school, students must pass standardized tests that are pre-ordained to identify the most culturally and socially affluent children -- such as the sons and daughters of the Micron Corp. executives that gave the Boise school district $1 million to start the school.

As handmaidens to elite interests, the schools were behaving in exactly the manner that social reproduction theorists, such as Pierre Bourdieu, would predict. The elegance of this system of self-perpetuating privilege is its widely perceived legitimacy. Backed up with “scientific” aptitude testing and other methods, the Boise school district could claim educational legitimacy in providing a wonderfully enriched learning environment for a few elite kids versus the dumbed down and boring schools it provided for all the other kids.

I probably gave Marshal far more than he wanted. But the question he posed began to really intrigue me. If just one page, page 99, revealed the essence of my 350 page book, which took me three years to complete, did I need to write the other 349 pages for readers to get my point? Why do we need books anyway, whose arguments can be condensed into a single blog post?

But can a book’s essential quality really, truly be revealed in a single page? Ford was right but he was also dead wrong. Yes, my page 99 contains a basic idea that winds its way throughout my book: that the class divide in American education is no accident and that it is perpetuated according to a systematic process of institutions -- schools, colleges, universities, even the government -- responding to the demands of political and economic power.

But to believe that a strand of a book’s genetic code reveals all there is to know about the whole is to say that I can know my yellow lab, Diego, from just his chromosomes. Dogs -- and people -- are more complicated and beautiful than that, and so are books, because books, not pages of books, nor blog posts of books, reveal who we are as both authors of books and readers of books and characters in books.

On my page 99, you will never know Ashlea Jackson or Gillian Brunet or Dayle Mazzarella, people whose stories I tell on other pages of my book. You’ll never know my book without knowing who they are, and you’ll never know me without knowing who they are. You’ll never know about us from single page or a blog post. And most important of all, without books, you’ll never know you.
Read more about Peter Sacks and his writing at his website and his blog. See a description of Tearing Down the Gates, the table of contents, and praise for the book, at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Caitlin O'Connell's "The Elephant’s Secret Sense"

Caitlin O'Connell is a research associate at Stanford University, in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery. Her discoveries have been published and reported in various periodicals, including Science, Science News, Natural History, National Geographic, The Economist, and Discover. She has appeared on National Geographic, the BBC, PBS/Nature, and the Discovery Channel. O'Connell and her husband direct the nonprofit organization Utopia Scientific, which promotes elephant conservation and scientific understanding around the world.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her book, The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa, and reported the following:
When I opened my book, The Elephant’s Secret Sense, to page 99, the text fell two pages into the chapter entitled “The Mother of all Elephants” which starts out:

“They called me ‘the mother of all elephants’”. The women of Lianshulu village thought this was fitting since I had no children of my own, and I protected the elephants’ food and defended their land. These local women loved to tease me, sometimes out of malice, sometimes as a compliment, and sometimes out of pure wonder at the world of the white man and his magic. When it came to elephants, however, the women had only anger. Why would I care about how much nourishment the elephants were getting from these women’s mealie fields unless these animals were my own? Naturally, all elephants must have been my children; it was the only logical explanation.

It was the plight of these indigenous women farmers and the hope that I gained from working with them that originally inspired me to write this book, so it is particularly fitting that page 99 describes the interviews that I conducted to hire my first interpreter.

There were many applications for the position scrawled on stained and yellowing notepaper torn out of a schoolbook and carefully delivered by foot or bicycle to Lianshulu Lodge. The brief essays were filled with assurances like, ‘I am health, happy and strong,’ or ‘I am very much interested in animals and I am having good health.’ In retrospect, it was kind of ominous to think about a preoccupation with health: a foreshadowing of the coming plague of AIDS.

The page then goes on to describe the kinds of questions that I had asked these women and how one particular woman, Janet Matota stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Janet Matota answered the questions with a clarity that seemed out of context to her rural village background.

Our relationship grew and flourished, allowing me a unique window into the political and socio-economic complexities of society in the Caprivi that served as an important motivating influence for both the women and me.

Women did not have much power in the village, but they did exert a lot of pressure within the household, which indirectly affected decision making within the community.

At first, the overwhelmingly negative attitude these women had toward elephants made me wonder what hope elephants might have in the future within the region. How could I blame the farmers when elephants were coming in on a nightly basis during the harvest and eating a whole years worth of food in one fell swoop? It was no wonder that no one was concerned about making sure that there was enough land for elephants as well as the farms. And the biggest threat to elephants in many countries where poaching is minimal is the loss of habitat. And as farms expanded every year, so did the conflict with elephants. I could see the writing on the wall. Something had to change.

In as much as the book is journey of scientific discovery about elephant communication and their societies, The Elephant’s Secret Sense chronicles the hopeful efforts of both government and NGO’s to address rural farmers and see them as custodians of elephants and other wildlife by providing benefits which would offset any negative impact from their interactions. These efforts promise to ensure more habitat for elephants, which in the end will protect both elephant and traditional farming societies.
Read an excerpt from The Elephant’s Secret Sense and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 17, 2007

Beth Kohl's "Embryo Culture"

Beth Kohl has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, an MA from Northwestern University, and a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work has appeared in Tulane Review and Chicago Reader.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Embryo Culture: Making Babies in the Twenty-first Century, and reported the following:
I love you, Page 99, encapsulating as you do my thesis that going through in vitro fertilization forced upon me a reckoning with previously assumed ideas about health, religion and romance. Plot-wise, my husband Gary responds to an email I sent on page 98, a regular old page without any sort of thesis on it, in which I’ve questioned his firm belief of religious teachings that suddenly strike me as impossible, considering what artificial reproductive technology is capable of when nature and/or miracle prove futile. As I do throughout the book, I look at my present circumstances – having a failed reproductive system and suddenly rocky beliefs about lots of things I once believed in unquestioningly – through the lens of my past. Oh, and I also ruin any chance I have of ever being President by admitting not only to having smoked pot, but to doing it every Friday for some time.

Subject: Re: Angst


You are going to hell. And it’ll be especially hellish because not only will you have an eternity of the usual hell stuff – fiery pits and pitchforks, Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer – but because they’ll be no pigs in hell, vilified on earth as they’ve been by the Jews and Muslims. By the way, the last time I checked, catfish are still fish. Not pigs. Not horses or whatever other animals the rabbis specify, but fish, as in Gefilte.

Your Loving Husband

As the weeks passed, it became nearly impossible for us to talk about anything without me turning it into something deep, heavy, freaky. This gravitas reminded me of college, my earnest self nestled in a beanbag chair in somebody’s dorm room, passing around a bong plastered with band stickers. On Friday nights, I’d hang out in the room of this guy at the end of the hall, talking about the Sandinistas, migrant workers’ shameful living conditions, and the tattered ozone layer. The room would be packed, filled with UW Badgers waiting for their turn with the The Smiths bong, so enormous only the T and s dipped out of one’s bleary-eyed, head-on view. But as serious as the issues we discussed, as many Fridays as I’d spent in there, these conversations were easy. We were strident, solid in our convictions, and knew that however tragic, Nicaragua and fruit farms and the stratosphere were a bazillion miles away from the warmth of our dorm, the coziness of our student union.

My current crop of issues was dead serious and deadly intimate. Older now, and sobered, I was being forced to reconsider my assumptions – about my health and my religion, about God, romance, and the meaning of life. Perhaps polycystic ovaries were just the tip of some disordered iceberg, I worried, and I had a mother lode of abnormalities lying in hibernation....
Read an excerpt from Embryo Culture and learn more about Beth Kohl and her new book at her website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ehud Havazelet's "Bearing the Body"

Ehud Havazelet is the author of two critically acclaimed short-story collections: What Is It Then Between Us? and Like Never Before. He teaches creative writing at the University of Oregon.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new novel, Bearing the Body, and reported the following:
Interesting notion you and this Ford guy have come up with. I have my own test, called the three sentence test, where you blindly pick three different sentences from a book and see what that tells you. Often, not much; sometimes, everything.

So what would you think about Bearing the Body if you read pp 99 first? You'd see police are involved, someone may have been murdered. You'd think warmly that this may be a page-turner, police drama kind of thing, the kind of book you love. You'd be wrong. You'd learn that the main character is a tense young man on the edge of some kind of breakdown. You'd see, in his grim joke about the Holocaust, whether this is the kind of person you'd want to keep company with for 300 pages or not. For those inclined, you'd get a small pop culture hit with a reference to the best TV drama ever. You'd find, as I did, to my immense relief on re-reading pp 99, no typos or sentences demanding a recall of the novel.

Too bad it isn't the pp 100 test, because that's when it really gets exciting.

Page 99:

to a desk in a corner. Over Rivera’s desk the walls were bare. He stood until Nathan reached him, a hand out toward the chair, inviting him. Nathan sat. Rivera sat as well, turned his chair toward Nathan, smiled, waited for him to speak. What was he supposed to say? I’m here to identify the remains. Or would the be collect? A joke Daniel used to tell: How many Jews can you fit in a Volkswagen? A thousand: two up front, two in the back, the rest in the ashtray. A thousand and one now, room for one more. Begin with that? Maybe the inspector liked jokes, jokes were always good icebreakers. Rivera, a trim man, muscular, good-looking, waited patiently.

It wasn’t giddiness, after all, Nathan realized, but hostility. Why bring a knife to a courthouse? What better fucking place?

For one thing, Rivera was too young. Neatly dressed in a shirt and tie, hair fashionably cut and combed. He looked like one of the smart young interns at the hospital, the ones who should have M.B.A.’s, not M.D.’s. Nathan would have preferred Sipowicz.

Rivera flinched first. “Sorry to keep you,” he said, sounding just like a junior executive.

“It’s alright,” Nathan said quietly.

“How’s your father?” Nathan had called yesterday, postponing their meeting.

“Better. He’ll be out of the hospital tomorrow.”

“That’s good news,” Rivera said. Nathan said nothing.

Rivera opened a file on his desk and turned a few pages. The phone rang and he told somebody, “Right. Thanks for checking.” He gave Nathan a look when he hung up and made a notation in the folder. When he was done, he smiled briefly.

“Again, Dr. Mirsky, I want to tell you how sorry I am for your loss.”

The tight, rueful smile, the subtle lean in his upper body, all very convincing. No wonder he’d gotten the part. “Yes,” Nathan said. “Thanks.” On a wall over the desk near Rivera’s was an antidrug poster, “D.A.R.E.” written in slashing blood-red letters, like the title of a horror movie.
Learn more about Bearing the Body at the Farrar, Straus and Giroux website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pat Shipman's "Femme Fatale"

Pat Shipman is the author of eight previous books, including The Man Who Found the Missing Link and Taking Wing, which won the Phi Beta Kappa Prize for science and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and named a New York Times Notable Book for 1998.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Femme Fatale: Love, Lies, and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari, and reported the following:
Page 99 is an excellent page to look at because it is one in which I present some evidence that has been overlooked about the cause of death of the future Mata Hari's son and start to evaluate it. This is a crucial point in her life that had an enormous impact on her future. Whereas most biographers have been interested in the question "Was she a spy?," I am more deeply interested in WHO the future Mata Hari was and WHY she transformed herself from an ordinary girl in rural Holland to the sexiest woman in Europe. To answer my own questions, I concentrated on researching her life in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and how that might have influenced the persona of Mata Hari which she created for herself.

One of the discoveries I made in researching this book was that, emotionally, the keys to her identity seem to be tied up with her father, her husband, and her son. As a child, Margaretha (the future Mata Hari) was her father's favorite child, ridiculously spoiled with magical gifts, extravagant clothes, and the best education. When he left his wife and family during Margaretha's adolescent years, ostensibly because of bankruptcy but also because of another woman, Margaretha's golden world collapsed. The man who loved her more than anyone else, who praised her and spoiled her, had abandoned her and left her (and the rest of the family) in miserable poverty and humiliation. When her mother died of grief and shame a little over a year later, Margaretha's beloved father returned, as she had doubtless been hoping. But instead of taking her back to Amsterdam with him, he pawned her off on reluctant relatives and took her twin, younger brothers. Psychologically, this is a classic set up for becoming a woman with an enormous need to seek and win approval and admiration from men -- which is what she did.

Her first attempt at gaining such admiration was her impulsive marriage to a much older career officer, Rudolf MacLeod. Doubtless in part the attraction was that he had many of the features of her father and that he treated her as a highly desirable partner and sexual prize. She knew so little about the man to whom she became engaged 6 days after meeting him that she did not realize he was hugely in debt, drank too much, would be wildly jealous of any man who looked at her (and there were many), and was most unlikely to be a faithful husband. The marriage was probably doomed from the start by their difference in age and experience. He gave her a good name, a rank, a home, but he also gave her syphilis, then an incurable and much-dreaded disease. Rudolf probably believed that the treatment he had received before meeting her had cured him, as many did in that era. From Margaretha's point of view, the man who had promised to provide a magic world of luxury and adulation had cruelly disappointed her, again. From Rudolf’s, the young, pure bride he had sought to enhance his status had proved to be a whore. Both were angry, bitter, and outraged.

On page 99, I am describing how her son, then not three years old, died in Sumatra. The story she and Rudolf gave out at the time was that he had been poisoned by his babu or nursemaid who conveniently died 2 weeks later and confessed on her deathbed -- a story that is so patently improbable that it must have been disbelieved at the time. There was no police investigation of the death, no newspaper stories about it, and no mention of a death by poisoning of a European child in that province in that year (though European deaths were meticulously registered and their son was the only such child to die at all during that year). The true story, for which I present the evidence, is more probably that the child, like his infant sister, was inadvertently poisoned by the garrison physician who was treating them for congenital syphilis. That he had congenital syphilis had to be covered up lest his parents' reputation be ruined and they refused to permit an autopsy; that the garrison physician was to blame had to be covered up lest his career be ruined. Despite the cover-up, Rudolf was demoted and transferred to another post within weeks of the child's death. Clearly his superiors were highly suspicious and disapproving. Rudolf and Margaretha each blamed each other for their son's death and their marriage went from quarreling and anger to a horrible bitterness in which each wished the other dead. Rudolf started beating Margaretha and refusing to let her have any money beyond the minimum to run the household; his drinking and rages increased in frequency; and she gave vent to her resentment and anger on every possible occasion.

From her Javan experience, Mata Hari was born. She was determined never to put herself at another man's mercy, which drove her to seek an independent career. There were few options available to a woman in the early twentieth century. The one she was good at -- the one she had practiced from the time she was a child -- was charming men. From her Javan experience, she borrowed a name, a general style of dancing, and colorful costumes more revealing and transparent than any ever worn in traditional Javan dance. But she knew how to charm, and charm she did. Her brilliance was shown in how well she calculated how to dance and how to dress -- and how to explain that hers were sacred temple dances from the mysterious East. Those who thought them "dirty" were too ignorant to recognize art when they saw it! But everyone recognized her beauty and sensuality, which were the keys to her success.

She became a true celebrity on the order of Marilyn Monroe -- a woman recognized and desired by every man in Europe, a star whose daily goings-on were reported in gossip columns of the newspapers. Why then was she recruited as a spy by the head of the French Deuxieme Bureau, the counter-espionage unit? How could he hope she would be clandestine? And did she ever spy against France, for Germany, as she was accused of and executed for? Ah, for those secrets, you must read the book!
Read more about Femme Fatale at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Laura Moriarty's "The Rest of Her Life"

Laura Moriarty is the author of two novels, The Center of Everything and the just-released The Rest of Her Life.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to the new novel and reported the following:
Page 99 in The Rest of Her Life marks the end of a chapter, so it only has eight lines of text on it. But I have to say, the story's major conflict might very well be contained in those eight lines. The novel is about a high school senior who accidentally hits and kills a pedestrian. The story is narrated by the driver's mother, who has a fragile relationship with her high-achieving, idealistic daughter even before the accident. The daughter has always had a strong relationship with her father, however, and so the mother has grown used to feeling left out around the two of them, though she has never completely understood why she feels alienated from her daughter.

After the accident, however, the family dynamic starts to change. And sure enough (Ford Madox Ford is perhaps on to something) that change starts to occur on page 99. The narrator, her husband, and their daughter have just returned from meeting with a lawyer to discuss the legal consequences of the accident, and while the parents are reasonably concerned with possible criminal and civil cases, the daughter is too consumed by guilt to worry about her future. After announcing to her parents that she will not take a diversion as the lawyer suggested, she surprises her parents by turning to her mother, not her father, for understanding. The narrator is slow to understand why her daughter, with whom she has never been able to feel close, would suddenly seek support from her in particular.
Read an excerpt from The Rest of Her Life and learn more about the book at Laura Moriarty's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 13, 2007

Harold Lee Wise's "Inside the Danger Zone"

Harold Lee Wise is an adjunct professor at Elizabeth City State University.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Inside the Danger Zone: The U.S. Military in the Persian Gulf 1987-88, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Inside the Danger Zone is indeed representative of the whole in this case. It features action, first person accounts, and shows one of the major turning points of the period in question. The book is a non-fiction history of the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf during 1987 and 1988, the last years of the Iran-Iraq War, when both sides attacked oil tankers in the Gulf. For various reasons explained in the book, the United States stepped in to protect tankers belonging to Kuwait. Following a deadly Iraqi attack on the USS Stark in May 1987, the situation settled into a cat-and-mouse game with Iran.

In late summer, Iran began a stealthy mining campaign that damaged tankers and sank smaller vessels in international waters. Stopping the mine campaign, which Iran denied and the U.S. could not prove, became a priority for the Americans. Finally, the Americans took the initiative to strike back. This led to a series of operations and eventually became a quasi-war between the United States and Iran, including the largest naval battle since World War II.

Page 99 depicts the tense moments leading up to the first American offensive action of the time. In September 1987, after several weeks of waiting to catch the Iranians in the act of laying mines, a team of ultra-quiet U.S. Army attack helicopters equipped with night vision located a suspicious Iranian ship, the Iran Ajr, and reported back to their CO, Colonel Robert Codney. Codney was on the flagship with Admiral Harold Bernsen, the overall commander of U.S. forces in the Gulf as they listened to the helicopter pilots report their findings.

Page 99:

Minutes ticked by. Codney recalled, “The FLIR (forward looking infra-red) helicopter reported nothing unusual as they flew a close approach to this ship and didn’t see anything that could cause alarm. The team started to depart the area when just by luck, one of the pilots turned around and saw all the lights go out on Iran Ajr. The team lead [senior pilot] called over the radio, ‘Hey they just shut all of their lights off.’ I said if they shut the lights, then go back and see what they are doing.” Iran Ajr went completely dark at about 10:50 pm, and once again, the observation helicopter flew in close. Codney stated the Iran Ajr crew was still unaware of the presence of the American helicopters. “Because of the wind, noise of the ship, and darkness of the night, they did not hear or see the Little Birds at all.”

This time, watching in the dark using their modified night-vision goggles and FLIR, the MH-6 pilot saw something strange. Codney heard him say, “It looks like they are dropping supermarket baskets into the water, like shopping carts or something like it.” In addition, they saw six Iranians pulling back the canvas to reveal “at least ten more of these items.” The 55-gallon drums on the deck were only a cover for these mysterious objects. Iran Ajr had an eight-foot sheet-metal ramp on the starboard side and three Iranians were manhandling these heavy unidentified objects from the deck to the ramp and then over the side. The helicopter crew dutifully attempted to record this activity using infrared video equipment. Admiral Bernsen wanted a better description of exactly what they dumped in the water. Codney asked for more detail and the pilot replied, “It is a tall rectangular thing [3-4 feet high] with a large round thing on top. It is very round with protrusions all over this ball.”

That was all the information the admiral needed. Bernsen now knew he had caught the Iranians red-handed. Despite Iran’s public stance of half-denials and vague threats, here was proof-positive that the Iranian navy conducted mine-laying operations in an area of the Gulf almost never frequented by Iraqi shipping, giving lie to Iran’s claims that it only used mines in its own waters against Iraq. From his earlier meeting with Admiral Crowe, Bernsen knew the policy of the United States was that laying mines in international waters was an act of war. Indeed, it was an illegal act by any legal standard. Now was the long-awaited opportunity to strike back. One of the men in the room with Bernsen said the objects seemed, “mine-like.” The admiral responded, “Bullshit, they’re mines!” Bernsen quickly asked, “How many have they put in the water so far?” Codney checked with the pilots and reported three mines were overboard.

The admiral had no doubt about his next move. Bernsen recalled, “I felt very confident when I ordered the helicopters to take Iran Ajr under fire. I felt very confident that in fact I was doing what was right and that I would be backed up.” Bernsen turned to Codney and said, “Stop them from dropping the mines.”
Read the Prologue to Inside the Danger Zone and learn more about the book at Harold Lee Wise's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Christine Kenneally's "The First Word"

Christine Kenneally is a freelance journalist and author who has written for The New Yorker, the New York Times, Discover, Slate and Salon, as well as other publications.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language, and reported the following:
P99 of The First Word begins with the second half of a dolphin story from researcher Diana Reiss, who at one time worked with dolphins. If the animals misbehaved, Reiss would give them a time-out. This involved getting up from the edge of the pool, walking back about 20 feet, and looking at the dolphin but not interacting with it. One day when feeding a dolphin, Reiss accidentally let a tail with fins -- a disliked food -- slip through. In response, the dolphin swam to the other side of the pool and rose vertically out the water to look at Reiss for a minute or two. P98 ends like this: "'This feels a lot like a time-out!' thought Reiss." P99 begins:

She decided to test the dolphin, and a few days later she let an uncut fish tail slip through on purpose. The dolphin did the same thing, giving her another time-out. Reiss repeated the experiment three additional times, each with the same result. Dolphins are natural imitators, said Reiss, and imitation is an important part of the ability to learn. They are what Reiss calls "contingency testers," forever probing and exploring objects, and extremely adept at recognizing and generating patterns. The intentions behind their actions can be as obvious as our own.

This page sits halfway through chapter 5 -- a crucial segment of the book. Called, "You have to have something to talk about," it lays out a series of experiments conducted on animals as diverse as chimpanzees, elephants, belugas, African Grey parrots, orangutans, and New Caledonian crows. The central idea of The First Word is that we have always thought of language as a discrete human trait. But it isn't. The same applies to 'thought.' Many non-human creatures have been shown in rigorous, scientific experiments to have sophisticated mental abilities that overlap with our own. This is particularly useful in working out how language evolved. We can see which of the cognitive abilities that underlies language are shared with other animals and which only we have.
Read more about The First Word at Christine Kenneally's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Barbara Maria Stafford's "Echo Objects"

Barbara Maria Stafford is the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her latest book, Echo Objects: The Cognitive Work of Images, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Echo Objects, aptly for a book about the cognitive role of images, is half illustration and half text. Alexander Roslin's Portrait of his Wife (1768) -- with face seductively and partially hidden by a veil -- marks the mid-point of Chapter 3, entitled "Mimesis Again!" It concerns so-called mirror neurons and the revolutionary findings coming from the brain sciences showing that primates (such as monkeys) as well as humans habitually and automatically internalize the actions of others. While watching someone else perform an action, we spontaneously tend to imitate or mimic those social behaviors by virtually replaying them. For most of us, part of the process of understanding another being involves the simulating ability to routinely and subconsciously empathize or make emotional inferences about the physiognomy and gestures of others. Roslin's portrait of his wife in masquerade, for example, plays upon our intuitive impulse to imagine the inviting rewards of completely unveiling obscured, but potentially attractive, facial features.

In interesting ways I had not thought about before hearing of the "p. 99 test," Roslin's portrait encapsulates the larger theme of my book. I argue that the exciting findings coming from the brain sciences have much to teach the humanities, and vice versa. Cognitive psychology, neurobiology, and the evolutionary and developmental sciences are revealing how brain networks self-organize to produce complex mechanisms giving rise to behavior that is further enriched and complicated through biological and cultural evolution.

What interested me is how those evolving sensory and motor maps that represent the natural and artificial environments they interact with are largely subconscious. My book tackles the fundamental problem instantiated in Roslin's simultaneously concealing and revealing portrait. If the subconscious brain is far more active, purposeful, and independent than previously thought, what sorts of sights and sensory data make us pay deliberate, considered attention to the external world? How do certain kinds of artwork -- or consideration-evoking images -- support conscious noticing and evaluating, not just unconscious registration?

Echo Objects explores the uneven give and take between the bottom-up illusionizing, flowing story of consciousness we continuously generate and the top-down conscious construction of mental representations. To that end I analyze a wide range of compounded or doubled image formats, proposing that these make us notice and judge the subliminal priming process of knowledge construction. This is what I mean by the cognitive work of images. I argue that smoothly narrative types of composition play on the unconscious behavioral guidance systems (like the allure of Roslin's sitter's "half-dressed" features). While other, conspicuously synthetic genres or pieced-together patterns, that is, episodic types of visual organization -- blazons, mosaics, emblems, montage -- make conscious our unconscious perceptual pursuits.

At a time when so much scientific research is being devoted to nonconscious effects, and electronic media are being tailored to enlist them, there is special urgency in demonstrating how images (not just language) can help us gain conscious awareness. The array of graphic genres, past and present, high and low that I explore, prove that consciousness actually does things These deliberative sensory formats let us know when, why, and how a particular decision about our subjective experience has been reached.
Read more about Echo Objects at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 10, 2007

Brian Foss's "War Paint"

Brian Foss is Professor, Art History Department, Concordia University.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, War Paint: Art, War, State and Identity in Britain, 1939-1945, and reported the following:
Page 99 of War Paint is from the chapter “‘These Most Exacting Jobs’: Women’s Work in Art and War.” Like the rest of the chapter, it examines the often contradictory process by which Britain defined itself, and ultimately justified its very existence, at a time of massive upheaval and threat of invasion. On the one hand the art – like the society of which it was a part – recognised and celebrated women’s supposedly “unfeminine” contributions to war work. At the same time, though, both art and society often soft-peddled those contributions by characterising them as variations on pre-war gender traditions and stability. To what degree did the drastic recasting of gender roles during the war threaten the conservative pre-war definitions, and how did war art contribute to that discussion? Page 99 is thus a part of the examination – present throughout the book (and not limited to consideration of gender) – of how war art helped articulate a British identity that responded to the chaotic present. Related but briefer discussions of the correlation between wartime national identity and gender are also present in chapters on images of air raid damage and of military combat.

But page 99 does not touch upon other major themes of the book. The most important of these is War Paint’s analysis of how war art revitalised and restructured the relationship between British art, state patronage (which before the war had been extremely weak), and public interest (which before 1939 had widely seen art – when the subject came up at all – as being largely irrelevant to daily life). While these ideas are minor themes in the chapters dealing with images of air raids, military actions and “women’s work” (including page 99), they are more highly present in the chapters on artists’ finances, on war art as cultural propaganda, and on debates about the advantages and dangers of state involvement in the arts.
Read more about War Paint at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Cornelia Read's "A Field of Darkness"

Cornelia Read's A Field of Darkness earned nominations for the Edgar, RT Book Club Critics Choice, Gumshoe, Audie, Macavity, and Barry awards for best debut novel.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to the novel and reported the following:
Page 99 of A Field of Darkness refers to several things which are central to the novel as a whole: fire, memory, history, murder, and Struwwelpeter, Heinrich Hoffman’s creepy 1845 collection of German-language children’s poems.

But the crux of the book is the clash of social classes in America, personified by the marriage of young Long Island WASP Madeline Dare — whose “money is so old there’s none left” — to upstate New York farmboy-genius inventor named Dean Bauer.

Dean claims he’s “danced her into the ranks of white trash” of Syracuse, though Madeline prefers the term garbage blanc.

Page 99 finds Dean telling Madeline over dinner about the nasty attempt to sabotage his afternoon’s work in a local train-yard shed. I think it captures the clash between what Madeline refers to as “his Sparta, my Athens” pretty cogently:

He’d been lying underneath a tank car, welding, and someone poured gasoline into one of the steel tracks crisscrossing the concrete floor, so that it flowed across the room and down near his head. A spark from the welder ignited the stuff, but he rolled away fast and grabbed a fire extinguisher.

My hands started shaking. “Did you see anyone?”

“I think I heard a truck pulling out of the lot, but after I put the fire out there was no one there… just wind blowing through the yard. Scary as shit.”

“Is it worth it? I mean, last time you were there they’d spray-painted ‘scab’ all over everything, and now they’re starting in with the flammable liquids. Are you sure you want to do this?”

“It’s an open shop. Says so right there in the contract. This isn’t work they can do, and they’re trying to screw me out of a living. The union can suck my dick.”

I wanted to weigh in with Cesar Chavez, the Haymarket riots, to point out that unions benefited us all, raised the bar for everyone. But I knew part of my vehemence was family guilt for screwing over “the working man” in the abstract, while here was an actual and specific working man who had an opinion of his own, thank you very much.
Read Chapter One of A Field of Darkness at Cornelia Read's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

John Ray's "The Rosetta Stone and the Rebirth of Ancient Egypt"

John Ray is Herbert Thompson Professor of Egyptology at Cambridge University and is also a Fellow of Selwyn College.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Rosetta Stone and the Rebirth of Ancient Egypt, and reported the following:
In the Rosetta Stone I started to tell the story of how Egyptian hieroglyphs were first deciphered. There was an Englishman, Thomas Young, who was a brilliant polymath, but whose work has been dismissed by recent biographers. I tried to show that he is the Dr Jekyll of the Rosetta Stone and not the Mr Hyde. Then there was the younger Frenchman, Jean-Francois Champollion, who was both a genius and a born Egyptologist at the same time. Page 99 of my book explains how the Catholic church thought Champollion was an upstart revolutionary, who was overthrowing the chronology which was found in the Bible. At one point his discoveries actually came to the aid of the Church, which puzzled him, but eventually relations with the authorities became reassuringly sour again.

This story led me to bigger questions. How does writing work, and what is its history? What did the decipherment of hieroglyphs tell us about one of the world's earliest, and greatest civilisations? The Rosetta Stone is in the British Museum, along with the Elgin Marbles. But who really owns it, and who should own it? What happens if we start giving works of art back to their places of origin? Big questions - but I hope those who read my book will come to their own conclusions. Finally, if the pleasure I had writing the book comes over to the readers, it will have been worthwhile.

Page 99:

Before Champollion, the only ancient voices from the ancient world that could be heard were Greece, Rome and the Bible. Now the Egyptians were beginning to speak with their own voice. This was a triumph for understanding, but it was clear even in Champollion's own lifetime that parts of the new story would turn out to be divisive. Before the decipherment, Champollion's work on the chronology of ancient Egypt had started to provoke the Catholic Church, which had an uneasy relationship with the revolution in France and those who supported it. As his work progressed, and he found more and more Pharaohs with higher and higher regnal years, it became increasingly clear to Champollion that the traditional time-scale taught by the Church was too short. The thirty dynasties given by the chronicler Manetho could not be reconciled with the received dates for Old Testament figures such as Abraham and Solomon. The Church retaliated by declaring that the advanced dates for Egyptian civilisation which this pipsqueak was proposing were far too close to the period of Noah's flood, which as every one knew was a time of primitive ignorance. In the case of the Dendera zodiac, however, which Champollion had shown to be very late by Egyptian standards, the paradoxical result was that the same pipsqueak was hailed by the Church as a champion of its cause. Here we have a foretaste of the bitter debate about science and religion which was to occupy much of the nineteenth century, and whose echoes are still with us in the twenty-first. Champollion found something of the controversy and opposition which was later to beset Darwin in the realm of evolution. The authority of Holy Writ was a mighty opponent to take on.
Read more about The Rosetta Stone, including an excerpt, at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Sophie Gee's "The Scandal of the Season"

Sophie Gee is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Princeton and the author of The Scandal of the Season, her debut novel.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to The Scandal of the Season and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Scandal of the Season reveals the following important details:

The story is set in the past — in London in 1711, to be exact — but the novel is written like a modern comedy of manners.

The first character we encounter here, the enigmatic, risk-taking Lord Petre, is involved in a clandestine political conspiracy, the details of which are unknown. He and his accomplice are trying to hide their misdeeds by meeting at a fashionable society ball, hoping to be lost in the crowd.

But Lord Petre is engaged in more than political subterfuge. He is presently on his way, late at night, to meet a woman called Lady Castlecomber — a woman we know is married to somebody else.

Other important characters make an appearance, all of them guests at the masquerade ball. Two sisters, Martha and Teresa, and their beautiful, rather spoilt, cousin Arabella. The girls climb into a carriage to drive home, and begin gossiping about the evening’s diversions. What we don’t find out here is that Arabella has started to fall in love with Lord Petre, and she is deeply disconcerted by discovering that he is involved in an affair with Lady Castlecomber.

A final, crucial character appears only fleetingly, the person named Alexander. He is Alexander Pope, the famous poet.

Most readers won’t realize that all these characters were real people. The drama we are watching unfold is the real-life scandal behind Pope’s celebrated poem “The Rape of the Lock.” Martha and Teresa are Alexander’s close friends, the Blount sisters, and Lord Petre and Arabella are the real-life hero and heroine of “The Rape of the Lock.” “Lady Mary,” the character mentioned as you turn to p.100, is Lady Mary Montagu, perhaps the most famous aristocratic women of her day.

As you can see, p.99 is really a “transition” page — the characters are all on the move. But transition and movement, are important motifs in the book. Scandal is about a social world that’s unstable, unpredictable, constantly changing. The characters find themselves in precarious, dangerous positions. Almost everyone will turn out to have made a vital miscalculation. It’s also important that the central rivalries and conflicts emerge in the context of ensemble scenes — the idea is that society, not solitude, provides the context for characters’ crucial perceptions and decisions.

Page 99:

English throne. Future ages would remember the Jacobites not as assassins but as heroes — honorable men. The hero’s course awaited him.

In a steady voice he said, “If I can be persuaded that such a course of action will achieve the outcome we seek, there is nothing that I would not do on behalf of James Stuart’s — His Majesty’s — cause.”

He then pushed the carriage door open — it was a fraction too soon. A careless slip; Douglass had still been checking the notes. Tonight no one had been about to observe them. Even if they had been seen, nobody would have guessed the cause for their meeting; people did exactly as they pleased at masked balls. But at this moment Lord Petre’s train of thought was cut short. He had arrived at Lady Castlecomber’s town house.

When Alexander had left the room in pursuit of Douglass and Petre, neither of the Blount sisters paid much attention to his departure. Teresa joined Jervas and Martha after Douglass’s departure, and Jervas continued to talk, turning to one lady and then the other, flattering and charming them. But the girls had grown listless and silent, their happy energies dissipated.

As the supper room began to empty out, Teresa said to her sister, “Shall we ask Arabella for the carriage home?”

And Martha replied, “Perhaps Mr. Jervas will hand the three of us inside.” The girls went in search of Arabella, and as soon as they found her Jervas escorted the ladies downstairs.

When the girls’ carriage had left Jervas turned back inside in search of Alexander, hoping that he, at least, would not be ready for bed.

Inside the coach, Arabella shook open the fur blanket to spread across their knees. But it was not quite large enough for three, so while Arabella’s lap was amply covered, the other two sat stiffly, feeling slightly too cold.

Arabella broke the silence. “I have heard that Lady Mary

Excerpted from The Scandal of the Season by Sophie Gee. Copyright © 2007 by Sophie Gee. Reprinted by permission from Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Read an excerpt from The Scandal of the Season and more about the novel at Sophie Gee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue