Monday, December 31, 2007

Junot Díaz's "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao"

Junot Díaz's fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Best American Short Stories. His debut story collection Drown was a national bestseller and won numerous awards. Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times called his recently-published first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, “a book that decisively establishes him as one of contemporary fiction's most distinctive and irresistible new voices.”

Díaz applied the "Page 99 Test" to the novel and reported the following:
My luck: page 99 doesn't really tackle any of the major themes of my book. Except, I guess, youth and love and history. The mother character in the book, Belicia, was one of my favorites and the one I had to work the hardest in making REAL. Her adolescent love affair (which page 99 touches upon) was actually based on a couple of similar 'falls' I heard about while interviewing folks in Santo Domingo. Throughout Latin Amerca lightskinned upperclass boys historically made it a habit to 'practice' their sexuality on darker skin girls; it was part of their prerogative (for a real life example see the life and birth history of Carlos Fonseca.) Anyway: it always surprises me how first loves can set the stage, romantically, for so much that is to come in a person's life. The ultimate in presentiment, I guess. That's what's going on in the upper text, Beli and her first love Jack the Ripio; in the lower (or footnote) text we get a quick capsule history of the First Son of the Trujillo Dictatorship: the evil Ramfis Trujillo. He was one of those messed up historical personas I could have gone on about for pages. His life really was as twisted as he ended up being himself. He killed so many people, crippled so many lives -- I enjoyed the shadow that Ramfis casts on the upperclass boys Belicia ends up always being attracted to. His impunity is in some ways an extreme version of what these other boys enjoyed.
Read an excerpt from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and learn more about the book and author at Junot Díaz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 28, 2007

Marzluff & Angell, "In the Company of Crows and Ravens"

John M. Marzluff is Denman Professor of Sustainable Resource Sciences and professor of wildlife science, College of Forest Resources, University of Washington. Tony Angell is a freelance artist and writer in Lopez Island, Washington.

Marzluff applied the "Page 99 Test" to their book In the Company of Crows and Ravens, and reported the following:
Certainly asking any author if their book could be adequately experienced from a single page will elicit my initial response: “of course not!” But taking the challenge I opened In the Company of Crows and Ravens to page 99. To my delight there was not a single word on page 99, simply a beautiful image of crows feasting on trash spilling from an overflowing urban garbage dumpster. This is just one of Tony Angell’s amazing images in our book. Does this image convey the whole of our book? Many readers may think that garbage guzzling accurately conveys all that there is to know about crows — they are often reviled as pests, vermin, or worse yet, omens of evil. But, while this is certainly part of our story, it is only a small part of the story about crows and people. Yes, crows take advantage of our waste and in so doing they have changed their fundamental behavior to increase their diet and live in a wide range of environments. Their dietary habits, however, have also affected our basic value system and language, spawning phrases such as “to eat crow.” It is this back and forth influence of nature on people and people on nature that is the crux of our book. We argue that our agriculture, wars, wasteful habits, and urban life have molded much of crow life — their diet, voice, defense of nest, and such — AND that the ability of crows to live with us has inspired our religion, literature, art, language, and various edicts and policies. More simply put, our culture has affected crow culture and vice versa. Our cultures continue to intertwine, mutually shaping both species. Page 99 of our book shows one modern aspect of this co-evolution. But the rich history of interaction, beginning as long ago as the caves of modern-day France, that helped shape Scandinavian, Asian, European, and American cultures, cannot be inferred from page 99. Neither can the fact that some of our actions have endangered and even extinguished a few crow species, notably those on Hawaii and other small islands. So you see, an important nugget of our story can be inferred from page 99, but much, much more is contained in the other 407 pages.
Read an excerpt from In the Company of Crows and Ravens and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

David Fulmer's "The Blue Door"

David Fulmer is the author of, among other works, the acclaimed Storyville mysteries featuring Creole detective Valentin St. Cyr. The first volume of the series, Chasing the Devil's Tail, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Mystery/Thriller Book Prize and the winner of the Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new novel The Blue Door, and reported the following:
Once again, I lucked out, this time with page 99 of The Blue Door.

It's a scene - something of a confrontation, in fact - between Eddie Cero, the main character, and Valerie Pope, his nemesis. Or at least she is at this point. The setting is South Philadelphia in the spring of 1962.

The back story here is that Eddie halted his boxing career after being cut badly, and then stumbled into a job working for detective Sal Giambroni. Sal sent him to a club called the Blue Door to do some surveillance, and it's there that he saw and heard Valerie singing sad songs for the cocktail crowd. Seeing her piqued his interest in the unsolved disappearance of her brother Johnny, the lead singer and the songwriter for a hot R&B group called the Excels. That's R&B in the 1940s-1960s sense, by the way.

Valerie has learned that Eddie has been poking around the disappearance of Johnny, which happened three years prior. She first tells him to back the hell off and leave her family's private business private. When he won't relent, she issues a clipped invitation for him to meet her at fried chicken joint, hoping to take to run him off once and for all.

Page 99 is the heart of this scene and the beginning of a dance between these two that will play out as a powerful dramatic thread through the rest of the narrative.
Read Chapter One from The Blue Door and learn more about the author and his writing at David Fulmer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 23, 2007

D.P. Lyle's "Forensics and Fiction"

D. P. Lyle, MD is the Macavity Award winning and Edgar Award nominated author of the non-fiction books Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers, a compilation of the most interesting questions he has received over the years, and Forensics For Dummies, an in depth look into the world of forensic science. His published fiction includes the thrillers Devil’s Playground and Double Blind.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, Forensics and Fiction: Clever, Intriguing, and Downright Odd Questions from Crime Writers, and reported the following:
I’m not sure that the Page 99 Rule holds for all books, but it seems to for Forensics and Fiction. This book is the follow up, or sequel, to my book Murder and Mayhem, which was also in the Q&A format. Both books are a compilation of the best questions I have received from novelists and screenwriters over the years. The question on page 99 of Forensics and Fiction from Paul Yuell, a staff writer for the TV series Cold Case, about with whether the coroner can determine the type of alcohol a deceased person might have consumed prior to death, is typical of the types of intriguing and clever questions that writers ask. Forensics and Fiction contains nearly 180 such questions. And even more, as well as forensic articles of interest to writers, can be found on my website, The Writers Medical and Forensic Lab at

The question that begins on Page 99:

Can the Type of Alcohol a Victim has Consumed Be Determined at Autopsy?

Q: I am working on a story in which someone drowns while being very intoxicated. Can a medical examiner determine how much and what kind of alcohol is present in a victim's blood? If the corpse is not found for eight hours will there still be alcohol in his blood or does it break down?
Paul Yeuell

Hollywood, California

Television writing staff, researcher, CBS's Cold Case

A: The short answer is, most likely.

If the victim had taken enough alcohol to cause intoxication, his tissues and stomach contents would reflect this. Since all metabolism (the breakdown of toxins and foods) ceases at death, the alcohol would not undergo any conversion by the body itself. At least, not enough for its level to decline appreciably. Toxicological testing for alcohol is done easily and highly accurate, so the ME could determine the exact level of the alcohol within the victim. In suspected alcohol-caused deaths, or in deaths where alcohol intoxication might be a factor, the ME can measure the alcohol level in the cadaver’s blood and urine (typically blood is used and is the most accurate determinant) and tell if the intoxication level was high enough to have caused or contributed to the death. In your scenario if he found a very high level of alcohol he might conclude that the intoxication was an important factor in the drowning. If he found a low level he might conclude the opposite---that alcohol had little or nothing to do with the drowning.

There are, whomever, a few situations where this testing may be inaccurate. If the body undergoes putrefaction (decay due to bacteria), and if this process is so far along (days or weeks, not eight hours) that the tissues are severely broken down, then the alcohol may also be consumed in this decay process to a degree that the ME can’t be sure what the pre-mortem level actually was. And with severe decay the alcohol level may actually increase due to the action of the putrefying bacteria, some of which produce alcohol as a by-product of their activity. Go figure.

To get around this, a determination of the alcohol level in the vitreous fluid of the eye would be done. This is the fluid within the eyeball, and it is called the vitreous humor — not as in funny but as in the old humors of Aristotle. Some things in medicine never die. The alcohol level in the vitreous humor reflects the blood alcohol level with a 1 to 2 hour lag. That is, it can tell the ME what the blood level was one to two hours before death, but not right at death. This allows him to make a “best guess” as to the level of intoxication at the time of death, and since this is all ballpark anyway, this estimation usually suffices.

In your scenario the ME would have a fairly intact corpse, since little decay would occur in only eight hours. He would test the blood, urine, stomach contents, and possibly the vitreous fluid, and uncover the type and amount of alcohol present.

Regarding the type of alcohol, he could determine that the alcohol was ethanol (drinking alcohol) as opposed to methanol (wood or denatured alcohol) or isopropanol (rubbing alcohol). But using blood, urine, or vitreous fluid, he could not tell what type of drinking alcohol was consumed. Ethanol is ethanol. Beer, wine, and whiskey all contain the same alcohol and all look the same in the blood. But if the stomach contents are analyzed it is at least possible that he could distinguish beer from wine from vodka. Not from the alcohol in these beverages but from the other chemicals that make wine wine and beer beer. Or he may not be able to determine this. It can go either way.

Read an excerpt from Forensics and Fiction, and learn more about the author and his work and writing at D.P. Lyle's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 21, 2007

Stanley Coren's "Why Does My Dog Act That Way?"

Stanley Coren is a Professor Emeritus in the Psychology Department of the University of British Columbia. He is the author of numerous books including The Intelligence of Dogs, How to Speak Dog, The Pawprints of History, and Why We Love the Dogs We Do?.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his book, Why Does My Dog Act That Way?: A Complete Guide to Your Dog's Personality, and reported the following:
Why Does My Dog Act That Way? is a book about the personality and temperament of dogs. It covers a broad range of topics including how to test your dog’s personality, how a dog’s early experience can change its personality, how breeding can create better dogs or even “devil dogs,” and also a unique analysis of more than a thousand cases of canine heroes – namely dogs that have saved human lives. An important part of the book has to do with recently declassified data from the U.S. Army’s “Superdog” Program, and how you can apply some similar techniques to create a more intelligent, sociable and obedient dogs of your own.

Page 99 of the book is a transition point in a chapter about personality testing for dogs. It is at the end of a description of an afternoon in which I took my Flat Coated Retriever, Odin, through a version of the “Canine Mentality Test” which is used to assess service and protection dogs. The test proved that Odin, although courageous and unflappable, would have made a rotten protection dog because he was simply too friendly and sociable -- even when threatened. The results of Odin’s test serve as a launch pad for a discussion of the nature of canine personality and some recent scientific findings which have tried to compare the personality of dogs to the personality of humans, ultimately concluding that although a psychologist can see similarities there are some major differences that are important.

The nature of a dog’s personality includes some of the same behavioral predispositions that we find when we analyze human personality. However, in some ways it is much simpler. Dogs have the basic emotions, such as fear, anger, joy, surprise and so forth, but none of the later learned emotions, such as guilt. Overall, dogs have a mind that is equivalent to a human two or two and half year old child, with the social consciousness of human teenager (with concerns about sex and how they fit into their social group). The bottom line, however, is that dogs do have personalities. These are predictable in part from the dog’s genetic nature as shown by his breed and in part from its individual history. Dogs are not four-footed people in fur coats, but they are also not unfeeling biological machines.
Read an excerpt from Why Does My Dog Act That Way? and learn more about the author and his work at Stanley Coren's website.

See Stanley Coren's list of the five best books about dogs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

David Wann's "Simple Prosperity"

David Wann is the author or coauthor of nine books including Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle (St. Martin’s Press, 2008) and the bestseller Affluenza (Berrett-Koehler, 2005).

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to Simple Prosperity and reported the following:
Page 99 of Simple Prosperity discusses a favorite topic of mine: food as joy, clarity, and vitality rather than just “fun.” A century ago, Americans spent more than a third of household income for food. But our new-millennium priorities and values have shifted; we now spend only 12% for food, more than half at restaurants and fast food bars rather than grocery stores. And the food itself has radically changed. In 1900, wheat was 90% protein, compared to only 9% today. Where did the lost nutrients go? Into the toast, down the drain, and into the ocean rather than back into the soil.

Americans may spend the least for food, but we also spend more on healthcare per capita than any other country in the world, with embarrassing results. We now rank 42nd among the world’s countries in longevity, just above Albania. And we are no longer the world’s tallest population, only its fattest. “Even wild monkeys have healthier diets than most Americans,” according to anthropologist Katharine Milton. In our money-mad world, the focus is on snackability, convenience and shelf life rather than human life.

Yet the benefits of real food are literally right in our faces. At Appleton High School for developmentally challenged students, administrators dramatically reduced vandalism, aggression, police surveillance, and littering by simply replacing pop machines with water coolers, and foods high in fats and sugar (like hamburgers, French fries and soft drinks) with fresh vegetables and fruits, whole-grain bread and a salad bar.

A professor at California State University orchestrated a similar change at eight hundred schools in low-income New York City neighborhoods. With better food in their bodies, the number of students passing final exams rose from 11 percent below the national average to five percent above.

Counsels journalist and nutrition scholar Michael Pollan, “Pay more, eat less. And don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” Your life, and your sense of contentment, depend on it.
Learn more about Simple Prosperity at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 17, 2007

D. Graham Burnett's "Trying Leviathan"

D. Graham Burnett is associate professor of history at Princeton University, where he recently held the Christian Gauss Preceptorship and directed the Program in History of Science.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature, and reported the following:
So we flip open my new book to page 99, and find ourselves in the opening of the fourth chapter, “Naturalists in the Crow’s Nest.” This is convenient, since I am in the middle of recapping where the book has been and where it’s going. Hence the page-99 reader gets a bit of an overview: Trying Leviathan is about a trial held in New York City in 1818, Maurice v. Judd, in which a jury had to determine whether a whale was a fish (it all started with a dispute over a tax on fish-oil, which whale-oil merchants refused to pay). This Burnett-person seems to think that the case merits attention because the testimony (which is weird and wonderful) dramatizes changing ideas about natural order between Linnaeus and Darwin. New taxonomic groupings in this period (mammal, for instance) threw human beings together with some strange kin (“the sperm whale is my cousin?”), and this got some people pretty agitated, particularly those concerned to protect biblical ideas about “man’s place in nature.” Throw in some anxiety about French atheism (the new natural history was coming out of Paris), a simmering fear of racial differences (were human beings one species or several?), and a lot of conversation about women’s breasts (the key part of a mammal), and the stage was set for a risqué, high profile showdown of science and religion in the early United States — a sort of nineteenth-century Scopes Trial, if you like.

But who are these naturalists up in a crow’s nest? Skimming page 99 answers the question: the “naturalists” at issue in this chapter are not book-trained men of science at all, but rather whalers, folks who knew a good deal more about whales, practically speaking, than any university professor inspecting a few dry bones in his museum. Trying Leviathan, it turns out, is organized around four core chapters that dig up what different groups of people knew about whales in 1818: first, the “men of science” (naturalists who studied taxonomy); second, “men of affairs” (businessmen who dealt in whale products); third, “ordinary New Yorkers” (who had no obvious stake in the question); and finally, the whalemen (who spent a good deal of time up to their necks in whale guts). All these folks testify in Maurice v. Judd, and all of them have very different ideas about whales. Trying Leviathan is thus a little like that joke about the blind men and the elephant: everybody comes away with a different idea about the creature, and when they all meet in a court of law it is pandemonium.

Upshot? I think the reader of page 99 could come away with a reasonable sense of both what my book is about, and the sort of book it is. Ultimately, I think it is fair to say, it’s a quirky book from which they will learn some quirky things about the past (example from page 99 itself: there was a whaling captain in the early nineteenth-century who became a Fellow of the Royal Society, the most prominent club of scientists in the world at that time — who knew?). The book wants to have fun (there is a long section about an old-time showman who charged New Yorkers a quarter to get peek at a dead whale — and yes, there was a band!), but it has some serious claims to make: about science and society, about the history of the United States, about how we know what we think we know.

So I give the “Page-99 Test” a thumbs-up. Though I will add as a post-script, that I myself am partial to the “Index Test”: flipping through an index will always be my preferred technique for assessing a new book. How does it work on Trying Leviathan? Well, I think you have to like a book that has an entry for “whale bacon,” especially when that entry thoughtfully redirects you to “see bacon, of a whale”!
Read chapter one from Trying Leviathan and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Donald Critchlow's "The Conservative Ascendancy"

Donald T. Critchlow is Professor of History at Saint Louis University.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, The Conservative Ascendancy: How the GOP Right Made Political History, and reported the following:
Nixon, Wallace, and the Election of 1972

Richard Nixon was a masterful politician and he feared that a third party run by George Wallace in 1972 might cost him the reelection to the presidency. In 1968, Wallace had run on the American Independent party ticket, which attracted less-educated white voters, who shouted with rollicking enthusiasm at his attacks on pointy-headed intellectuals, government bureaucrats, black militants, hippies, welfare mothers, and “bearded anarchists.” In 1968 Wallace carried five Southern states, while winning 13. 5 percent of the vote.

Early polls in 1972 revealed that Nixon’s reelection was by no means certain. Furthermore, Nixon realized that many conservatives in his own party were upset with his expansion of the welfare and regulatory state. He set out to force Wallace to run in the Democratic primaries.

To accomplish his ends, Nixon pressed the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Wallace and several of his aides in Alabama. After one of Wallace’s closest aide was sent to prison, it looked like Wallace’s brother Gerald would be next. Shortly after John Mitchell announced in January 1972 that the government would not pursue its prosecution of Gerald Wallace, George Wallace announced he would run as a Democrat and not as a third-party candidate.

Nixon displayed similar hardball tactics against his Democratic opponent George McGovern in the general election. Without Wallace in the general election, Nixon carried every one of the thirteen states of the formerly solid Democratic South. Nixon swamped McGovern winning 60 percent of the popular vote and carrying every state but Massachusetts.

Nixon’s tactics won him reelection, but Watergate caught up to him. In August 1974, he resigned from office. Following Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency in 1974, Gerald Ford stepped into the White House, an accident of politics. The Watergate scandal left Republicans demoralized and conservatives isolated. Less than 20 percent of the electorate in 1974 declared itself Republican and many spoke the Republican party going the way of the Whig party. Conservatives within the GOP stood as a minority within a very minority party.
Learn more about The Conservative Ascendancy at the Harvard University Press website and more about Donald Critchlow's scholarly publications at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Diana Abu-Jaber's "Origin"

Diana Abu-Jaber is the author of Crescent, which was awarded the 2004 PEN Center USA Award for Literary Fiction and the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award and was named one of the twenty best novels of 2003 by The Christian Science Monitor, and Arabian Jazz, which won the 1994 Oregon Book Award and was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her latest novel, Origin, and reported the following:
In Origin, p. 99 is an emotionally intense scene for Lena, the main character, in which she reveals her pain over her ex-husband's betrayals. She and her ex, Charlie, are out at a restaurant, and while Charlie confronts Lena over her connection to a new man, she muses over the way their marriage had devastated her. It's a scene that goes to the heart of some of the greatest vulnerability and pain in the novel, dished up over a simple dinner of prime rib and potatoes.
Read an excerpt from Origin, and learn more about the writer and her work at Diana Abu-Jaber's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pat MacEnulty's "From May To December"

Pat MacEnulty is the author of four books as well as numerous short stories, essays, poems and plays. She is also a teacher, workshop leader, writing coach and freelance editor.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her latest novel, From May To December, and reported the following:
At the top of page 99 in my book, Jen, one of the four point of view characters, is staring at her sister, Lolly, “in horror.” And this reflects Jen’s overriding feeling about Lolly and the reappearance – after almost twenty years remission – of Lolly’s cancer. It is a feeling of horror that most of the time she is trying to dodge. I think about this horror now as my own husband has to deal with his sister’s cancer. To watch this woman who was once a golf pro, a tall woman with a wicked sense of humor and a love of poker, vodka and cigarettes now emaciated and bald with a red scar across her head, unable to walk, barely able to speak is horrifying and heartbreaking. What Jen hasn’t admitted by page 99 of the book is the heartbreak. Rather she is focused on what Lolly has done to her hair:

“What have you done to your hair, woman?” she asked as Lolly approached the Blazer. It looked as if she had whacked it all off with a pair of blunt scissors.

Lolly stood before her and answered, “Well, I remembered how I lost it all the last time. It was probably the worst part of the whole thing. Maybe not the worst, but it was bad. And I just couldn’t go through that again.”

Jen remembered once getting in the shower while Lolly was going through her chemotherapy treatments. She had found a mass of long, dark hairs covering the drain, and in a rage stormed into Lolly’s room to scream at her for being so gross. But when she threw open the door, she found Lolly curled up in a ball on the floor in front of the full-length mirror hanging on the closet door, shaking with sobs. Her hair was so thinned out that patches of her scalp were visible.

Lolly’s hair had been a source of pride, and even Jen had to admit it was gorgeous until it disappeared strand by strand. Lolly became a bald teenager which was almost as bad as later becoming a one-legged teenager. Jen had been young and angry and even ashamed, unable to feel much sympathy for this person who required so much. Now it seemed that Lolly didn’t require anybody or anything, least of all a head full of gorgeous hair.

“I’m going to beat the bastards to the punch before even one chemo treatment. I’m going to the barbershop in Frenchtown and have the barber shave it off.”

So I suppose that this little snippet tells a lot about these two characters, and certainly shows the main dynamic of the book, which is how these two women come to terms with the cards they’ve been dealt. What’s missing is any reference to their work in the women’s prison or the other two point of view characters. But I think Ford’s point is well taken. If these two characters and their situation interests a reader, then the rest of the book will, too. I think you get the sense that these characters are dealing with hard stuff, but they’re going to do it with courage and maybe even some humor.
Read about From May to December and learn more about the author and her work at Pat MacEnulty's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 10, 2007

Margaret McMullan's "When I Crossed No-Bob"

Margaret McMullan is the author of four novels: When I Crossed No-Bob (2007), How I Found the Strong (2004), In My Mother's House (2003), and When Warhol Was Still Alive.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to When I Crossed No-Bob and reported the following:
Page 99 starts with a mean, yet funny stunt Pappy pulls on a passing farmer. Pappy has just reclaimed his daughter Addy, our heroine, and they are walking back home to No-Bob, Mississippi. This is during the Reconstruction and everyone is looking for food. Pappy knows there'’s nothing to eat back at home. Addy watches as Pappy cheats a farmer out of his two goats by rubbing snuff in their snouts and telling the farmer the goats have “black snout” which is a “catching sickness.”

Addy knows her father is mean, ruthless, and both feared and liked by all their people in the town of No-Bob. When the farmer allows Pappy to “dispose” of the goats, and Pappy chuckles, Addy rationalizes to herself that what her father has done is not stealing because the farmer agreed. “Tricking him is not the same as stealing. I say this to myself over and over, as though I am trying to talk myself into something.”

Later, Pappy tells the story of the farmer and his goats over and over, as a joke. It's a funny story and people laugh, but Addy is bothered by it. Addy learns a lot about the difference between good and mean-spirited joking throughout the book as well.

Addy’'s struggle with Pappy is at the heart of the book. There is a saying I heard in Mississippi about certain relatives: He’'s a crook, but he'’s our crook. Family loyalty often outweighs all else, including doing the right thing. But eventually, Addy must make her own decisions and her own way in No-Bob and in the world. She has to find her own inner strength to do the right thing which is much more difficult than doing nothing at all.
Read an excerpt from When I Crossed No-Bob, and learn more about the author and her books at Margaret McMullan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Michael Levi's "On Nuclear Terrorism"

Michael A. Levi is a Fellow for Science and Technology and Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book On Nuclear Terrorism, and reported the following:
A good defense against nuclear terrorism is like a good baseball team – no single player can win a game alone, but a strong group that works together makes for a powerhouse club. If I’m scouting a baseball team, it doesn’t matter what position I start with, so long as I eventually look at the whole group. The same applies to nuclear terrorism. There’s no starting or ending point to nuclear defenses and nuclear plots – and that means that page 99 is as good as any other page to begin reading my book.

By the time I get there, I’ve already taken the reader through a tour inside nuclear terrorism, exploring the challenges and choices a terrorist group would face, and in the process I’ve identified a host of ways they could fail. Page 99 starts to pull the pieces together. If Pakistan, today in a state of crisis, collapses, what should our response be? If a terrorist group steals plutonium from a Russian facility, how should the rest of our defense react? Should we blanket the borders with radiation detectors? Should we deploy masses of coast guard cutters to stop nuclear smugglers at sea?

Just like a shortstop needs to react when the ball comes off the bat, a defense against nuclear terrorism needs to be ready to respond to developing terrorist plots. Start reading from page 99 and you’ll begin to understand how to do that.
Learn more about On Nuclear Terrorism at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mark Gimenez's "The Abduction"

Mark Gimenez is the best-selling author of The Color of Law.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest novel, The Abduction, and reported the following:
In a way, the Page 99 Test does hold true with The Abduction because page 99 is a turning point in the story.

The central theme of the novel is the theory of life: Are the events of our lives just a series of random coincidences without purpose, plan, or connection? Or, are the events of our lives connected, purposeful, and pursuant to a plan; that is, are they steps along our journey that prepare us for what is yet to come? A Ph.D. friend of mine believes in the chaos theory; my mother, a devout Catholic, believes in the plan theory. And so did the mother of Ben Brice, the main character in The Abduction. In 1964 when he was eighteen and boarding a train in West Texas bound for West Point, his mother told him that "God has a plan for Ben Brice." And Ben believed her, right up until that dark night in 1968 in the Quang Tri province of South Vietnam and a massacre he could not stop and a child he could not save.

Now, thirty-years years later, Ben lives alone in a remote cabin in New Mexico, estranged from his family; he builds wood furniture by hand during the day and drinks himself to sleep each night; and he wonders what God's plan had been and why it had gone so wrong. The only light of his life is his ten-year-old granddaughter, Gracie, who lives outside Dallas. They share a bond he neither questions nor understands -- until she is abducted after her soccer game.

Ben is sure his dark past has come back to haunt her.

On page 99, FBI Special Agent Eugene Devereaux is holding a press conference to ask for the public's help in finding Gracie. We learn that the FBI's investigation has come up empty; they have no leads. Gracie simply disappeared. But Ben knows otherwise. The pieces of his life that never seemed to fit together are starting to fall into place like a complex puzzle to reveal the whole life that he will soon understand. And he will soon realize that his mother had been right all along.
Read an excerpt from The Abduction.

Visit the official website for the novel and Mark Gimenez's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

P. Keet & Y. Manabe's "The Tokyo Look Book"

Philomena Keet is a British anthropologist whose PhD is on Tokyo Street fashion. Yuri Manabe is a Tokyo-based photographer whose distinctive portraits have appeared in a variety of prestigious music and fashion magazines, including Marie Claire, GQ, Rockin' on, Coyote and Switch.

Keet applied the "Page 99 Test" to their new book, The Tokyo Look Book: Stylish to Spectacular, Goth to Gyaru, Sidewalk to Catwalk, and reported the following:
The Tokyo Look Book presents a wide range of fashions, not in any narrative or chronological structure, but through various stylistic groupings. In a sense, therefore, what is on p.99 can give little or no idea of the looks to be found throughout the rest of the book which include everything from gothic lolita gear to business suits. Having said that, the designer interview which starts on p.99 is a particularly apt encapsulation of some of book’s thematic undercurrents. The designer of Takuya Angel laments the lack of traditionally Japanese clothing modes in Tokyo today, as well as expressing anxiety about the state of society in general. He sees his spectacular designs, combining traditional shapes and patterns with futuristic club gear, as connected with such concerns. Not everyone pictured in the book may feel the same way, but looking through it, there are certainly some extreme styles that may represent a certain unease present in Tokyo youth culture.

P.99 happens to have quite a lot of text on it, since it contains an interview with a designer, of which there are 13 throughout the book. Chapter introductions are also text heavy, but otherwise most pages have more space devoted to photos than text. Each photo has a caption to it that describes the clothes in the picture as well as the person wearing them. I knew the designer Takuya before I started the book and his clothes are one of the reasons I became interested in Tokyo street fashion in the first place, so I’m glad he was on p.99! He’s as good an introduction to the book as any.
Learn more about the book and its creators at The Tokyo Look Book website, blog, and MySpace page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Harold Schechter's "The Devil's Gentleman"

Harold Schechter is a professor of American Literature and culture at Queens College, the City University of New York. Among his nonfiction works are the historical true-crime classics Fatal, Fiend, Deviant, Deranged, and Depraved. He also writes a critically acclaimed mystery series featuring Edgar Allan Poe, which includes The Hum Bug and Nevermore and The Mask of Red Death, and studies of popular culture, including Savage Pastimes: A Cultural History of Violent Entertainment.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, The Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century, and reported the following:
I can't say p. 99 is more or less illuminating than any other page of The Devil's Gentleman, though of course it reflects the overall genius of the book, as does each and every one of its meticulously crafted and lapidary sentences. Certainly, a reader limited to p. 99 wouldn't get a sense of the book's main subject, which is a sensational double poisoning case, known as the Molineux affair, that riveted New York City -- and indeed much of the nation -- at the turn of the last century. The page in question is part of a chapter dealing with the birth of yellow journalism and the beginnings of the famous newspaper war between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, who together turned the Molineux case into the biggest media circus of its day. In any case, Ford's statement strikes me as one of those clever-sounding epigrams that, upon the slightest reflection, make no sense at all.
Read an excerpt from The Devil's Gentleman, and learn more about the book and author at Harold Schechter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue