Thursday, February 28, 2008

Joel Waldfogel's "The Tyranny of the Market"

Joel Waldfogel is Chair and Ehrenkranz Family Professor of Business and Public Policy at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his book, The Tyranny of the Market: Why You Can't Always Get What You Want, and reported the following:
My book does poorly on the page 99 test in two senses. First, the single paragraph on 99 is a summing-up tail end of a chapter. Second, the point being made in the part culminating on page 99 runs counter to the book’s main thrust.

So, cheating on the test, here goes: Broadly, there are two ways of choosing who gets what, government or markets. Markets are widely believed to allow each person to choose what he wants while allocation through government promotes a tyranny of the majority. But when preferences differ across groups, and there aren’t very many products, then market allocation, like government, is also subject to a tyranny of the majority.

I first noticed this at the city-level by studying radio listening over 10 years ago. I noticed that blacks listen to the radio more in cities with more blacks, and whites listen to the radio more in cities with more whites. As it turns out, blacks and whites have different tastes in radio programming, so blacks benefit blacks, and whites benefit whites (as radio listeners), but they don’t benefit each others. Some examples are more extreme. For some products, like newspapers, having more people around who share your preferences causes its producers to target your group, at the expense of consumers with different tastes. So, blacks get more satisfaction out of the daily newspaper in a heavily black city, while whites get more satisfaction from the paper in a heavily white city. But crucially – and in contrast to the usual assumptions about markets – as one group gets relatively bigger, the other group gets less satisfied with the product. This is the tyranny of the majority translated into markets.

The book challenges the unregulated markets in a subtle way. Because I am a card-carrying mainstream economist – a professor at the Wharton School, no less – my arguments rely strictly on carefully collected evidence structured around conventional views.
Read an excerpt from The Tyranny of the Market and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Visit Joel Waldfogel's personal website and his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

John Lescroart's "Betrayal"

John Lescroart is the bestselling author of the "Dismas Hardy" thrillers and other works.

He applied
the "Page 99 Test" to Betrayal, the new novel in the series, and reported the following:
From Page 99:

Now Evan and his very disgruntled guys were in a Baghdad neighborhood called Masbah, where Nolan was to meet up and conduct some business with a tribal chief who was a friend of Kuvan. They’d already passed the checkpoint into the wide main thoroughfare that was now choked with traffic. On either side, storefronts gave way to tall buildings. Pedestrians skirted sidewalk vendors who spilled over into the roadway on both sides of the road.

But in contrast to many of their other trips through the city, today they’d encountered quite a bit of low-level hostility. Kids who, even a week before, had run along beside the convoy begging for candy, today hung back and in a few cases pelted the cars with rocks and invective as they drove by. Older “kids,” indistinguishable in many ways from the armed and very dangerous enemy, tended to gather in small groups and watch the passage of the cars in surly silence. The large and ever-growing civilian death toll from quick-triggered convoy machine gunners – in Evan’s view, often justifiable, if tragic – was infecting the general populace. And in a tribal society such as Iraq’s, where the death of a family member must be avenged by the whole tribe, Evan felt that at any time the concentric circles of retribution might extend to them – all politics and military exigencies aside.

Riding along with Nolan on the big gun above him, Evan was more than nervous. He honestly didn’t know his duty. He hadn’t been briefed on this exact situation, and had no ranking officer above him to tell him the rules. Should he have stood up to Nolan and forbade him to man the machine gun, alienating him from his men even more? Could he just continue to let him ride up there and hope the problem would go away? But playing into all of his ruminations was the fact that since the unauthorized raid into the BIAP neighborhood, everything about Nolan had him on edge.

The more Evan reflected on it, the less defensible that attack seemed, the more like some variant of murder. Evan had been a cop long enough in civilian life that he was sensitive to the nuances of homicide and the raid had certainly been at the very least in a dark gray area.

Betrayal tells the story of two men who meet in Iraq, and the woman that both of them love. Evan Scholler is a policeman from Redwood City, California, whose National Guard Unit got called up in the first weeks after the invasion of Iraq. Ron Nolan, by contrast, was a career soldier, a Navy SEAL, and now works as a private contractor for Allstrong Security in the war zone. Evan winds up being assigned to ferry Ron around the wartorn country in his armored convoy.

Meanwhile, Tara Wheatley is a beautiful schoolteacher who breaks up with Evan Scholler because of his involvement in the war. He continues to write to her, hoping to reconcile, but he receives no answer. When Ron Nolan gets sent back to the States for a confidential mission, he tries to hand-deliver a letter to Tara as a favor to Evan. At first, she refuses to accept it, which doesn’t break Ron’s heart, since he’s incredibly attracted to her.

While, unknown to Tara, Evan is severely wounded and expected not to recover from a traumatic brain injury received during an attack on his (and Nolan’s) convoy, Nolan presses his case with Tara, and the two become romantically involved. Evan, however, does recover, and as he tries to reconnect with Tara, the lies that Ron Nolan had told Tara begin to come to light.

When Ron Nolan is killed, Evan Scholler is the main suspect.

Page 99, above, recounts the beginning of the climax scene of the first part of the book, as Evan’s convoy of HUMVEES, charged with protecting Ron Nolan, moves out into a dangerous neighborhood in Baghdad. I don’t think too many people would stop reading after starting on this page, as the tension in the scene is palpable. Even if we don’t know Evan and Ron, it’s clear that Evan is very nervous about both Ron’s place in the convoy and about the neighborhood through which they’re travelling. Clearly, something big and portentous is going to happen, and I can’t imagine not keeping on reading until whatever that is becomes clear.
Read an excerpt from Betrayal, and learn more about the book and its author at John Lescroart's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Lauren Groff's "The Monsters of Templeton"

Lauren Groff 's short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in a number of journals, including The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, Hobart, and Five Points as well as in the anthologies Best American Short Stories 2007, Pushcart Prize XXXII, and Best New American Voices 2008.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her newly-released debut novel The Monsters of Templeton, and reported the following:
Odd that only two days ago, during an interview with a book journalist, I first heard the mention of the page 99-test -- the journalist used it, too, to figure out if she wanted to read the heaps of books that she was always sent. But it absolutely makes sense -- page 99 is where the fire and zest of the initial chapters may begin to lapse, before the writer gears up again for the grand finale. Writers have very little control over how a book is set, so we'll never know what will eventually appear on page 99 -- but I guess we'd all hope that every page is interesting.

As for my book I'd say this: Page 99 of The Monsters of Templeton is square in the middle of Sarah Franklin Temple's journal entry, just at the moment when she meets Asterisk "Sy" Upton, the man who will soon be her husband. It's a bit of a fractured narrative, full of ellipses and full-stops, which is close to Sarah's mindset at the time (she's a neurasthenic, hysterical, recent graduate from a woman's college who is brushing dangerously close to full-blown psychosis), and she's beginning to feel her world cracking to pieces around her. Though this page is definitely not representative of the book as a whole (because Monsters has so many different narrative strands and modes of telling the story, I don't know if any single page is actually a good sample), it does show that Monsters is a narrative of pastiches -- many individual characters and voices that together make up the chorus of the novel. I tried to make the novel as joyous and ebullient as possible -- I wanted it to be the representation of how I felt about my hometown, Cooperstown, New York, on which the town of Templeton is modeled -- and the best way I found of doing that was to allow the historical characters to speak in their own voices. Poor Sarah's voice just happens to be one of the edgiest in the entire book -- it's not easy to live inside the brain of a (maybe) slightly loony girl.
Read an excerpt from The Monsters of Templeton and learn more about the book at the official The Monsters of Templeton website.

Visit Lauren Groff's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lee and Bob Woodruff's "In An Instant"

Lee Woodruff and Bob Woodruff live in Westchester County, New York. Bob Woodruff was named co-anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight in December 2005. On January 29, 2006, while reporting on U.S. and Iraqi security forces, he was seriously injured by a roadside bomb that struck his vehicle near Taji, Iraq.

Lee Woodruff, a public relations executive and freelance writer, applied the "Page 99 Test" to their book, In an Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing, and reported the following:
On Page 99 of In an Instant, my husband, Bob Woodruff, then a teacher of American Law in Beijing, China, meets Susan Zirinksy, a top producer for CBS News. Bob and I had been married just a few months before in New York and had left for China the day after the wedding to begin life in Peace Corps-like conditions at a poor university on the other side of the world.

At the time, Bob had no classes, as all of his students were protesting in Tiananmen Square. He asked Susan for a job as a Chinese translator for the American news crews covering the student protests and she gave him a shot.

Susan, or “Z” as she is known, would prove to be a fulcrum person in our lives because it is she who gave my husband the opportunity to witness journalism first-hand as the amazing and soon-to-be tragic events of Tiananmen Square unfolded and were played and re-played on television screens around the world. Bob’s experience of being on Tiananmen Square when the protesters were attacked and the tanks rolled in, and what he witnessed in the aftermath of the attack galvanized his desire to change careers and pursue a life in journalism.

On this particular page, you can see the way a moment, a chance encounter and the taking of a risk changed the direction of not only Bob’s career, but our life as it unfolded down to the very moment Bob’s APC was attacked in Iraq by an explosion that shattered his skull, would rip into all of our lives and take us on a year long journey to heal.

Bob is a risk-taker and a driven, motivated, brilliant person. Meeting "Z" at CBS in Beijing was the turning point that set him on a course of hard work, fame, tragedy and, ultimately, true loss and recovery.
Read an excerpt from In An Instant, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Peter J. Spiro's "Beyond Citizenship"

Peter J. Spiro is the Charles R. Weiner Professor of Law at Temple Law School. Before going to Temple, he was the Rusk Professor of Law at the University of Georgia Law School and a former law clerk to Justice David H. Souter of the U.S. Supreme Court.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Beyond Citizenship focuses on jury duty as a data point for the meaning of citizenship. As a general matter, noncitizens are ineligible to serve on juries. The practice doesn't make much sense, I argue, insofar as noncitizens comprise a significant part of the existing community on the ground. Think immigrant who commits a crime against another immigrant within the confines of an immigrant community -- why exclude true "peers" from the judicial process?

But in any case, jury duty is now the only responsibility peculiar to U.S. citizenship. (Taxes and military service obligations now apply equally to resident aliens.) That helps demonstrate that there isn't much left to citizenship as a legal matter. That reflects, in turn, the irreversible erosion of American identity.

From page 99:

Even assuming its perpetuation, the jury duty differential doesn't give much heft to "the obligations of citizenship." Resident aliens occasionally cite jury duty as a deterrent to naturalization. That might show the obligation to be substantial. On the other hand, it might just further demonstrate the low perceived value of citizenship. If noncitizens are unwilling to "pay" for the status with a day or two's inconvenience every three or four years, then they probably don't see much advantage to citizenship. In any case, those who invoke the obligations of citizenship would find their arguments deflated if the question reduces to a measurement of the burden posed by jury duty. This is not the stuff of civic revival.
Read more about Beyond Citizenship at the Oxford University Press website, and learn more about Peter Spiro's research and publications at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kathleen Ann Goonan's "In War Times"

Kathleen Ann Goonan's first novel, Queen City Jazz (the start of her Nanotech Quartet), was a New York Times Notable book. The Bones of Time, her acclaimed second novel, was a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2000. Crescent City Rhapsody (third in the Quartet) was a Nebula nominee, and Light Music, also a Nebula finalist, was described by Booklist as the "brilliant conclusion to a tetralogy as consequential in sf as Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy."

Goonan's latest novel, In War Times, was named the Best Science Fiction Novel of 2007 by the American Library Association.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to In War Times and reported the following:
Page 99 of In War Times does, in fact, contain a microcosm of the novel's intelligence aspect.

Sam and Wink, the main characters, have just been brought to Blechley Park, where the British are trying to break the Enigma Code, by a mysterious "driver." The British suspect the American soldiers of being in possession of a device that might well change the course of the war.

"Rather astounding place," remarked Wink.

"Amazingly . . . ugly."

It had sprouted many wings which were visually
unconnected to one another, and had a vaguely German air because of the half-timbers. Bicycles littered the front steps, and at least one was propped next to each of the multitudinous doors.

"This is it?"

"Not quite yet, sir."

Behind the manor were long, low buildings, obviously
war-built. The driver parked the Rolls. They followed him to a back door. The guard took one look at him, said "G'day, sir," and nodded them in. The driver then led them up two flights of stairs and down a wide hallway. Opening the door, he motioned them in, hung his hat and jacket on the coat stand, and took a seat behind the desk.

"Just the driver?" asked Wink.

"Don't worry. You didn't give anything away. Can't
blame me for trying." He offered them cigarettes, which each accepted. Leaning back in his chair, he propped up his feet, lit his own, put out his match with a flourish, and tossed it in the ashtray he'd settled on his lap.

"So who are you?" asked Sam.

"You don't need to know."

"Your child's bedroom?" asked Wink, glancing around.

"Someone else's child, I'm afraid, although I find the
Peter Rabbit wallpaper comforting." He tilted his head as smoke drifted upward. "You know, of course, that we have radar. It's a war secret, but you are in a position to know about it, so I presume I'm giving nothing away in telling you that."

"Correct." Sam smoked his cigarette in a leisurely
fashion, leaned forward to flick the ashes into the ashtray on the desk.

"It helped us survive the Blitz. The Germans knew we
had something, of course, but couldn't figure out its exact nature. However, something happened to radar the night of last Saturday. All of our stations picked up an object at the same time, and that object was triangulated as being in your shop. Your very shop, gentlemen. It was a radio object, some sort of transmission that canceled our beam. What was it?"

Wink, uncharacteristically, said nothing.

The man took his feet on the desk and resumed an upright
position with an accompanying screech and thump of the chair mechanism. He scooted to the desk and took out some papers from the top drawer, tapped them on the desk to straighten them, and handed them to Sam. "Might it have been something like this?"

Wink leaned over Sam's shoulder.

The contents of the paper resembled Dr. Hadntz's plans
to a startling degree. There were differences, though, and omissions. Sam paged through the papers, studying each one, trying to decide what to do, what to say. He was pretty much on

And that's page 99 of In War Times.

The novel is based on my father's memoirs of WWII. Having completed three years of a chemical engineering curriculum, he was in the 610th, an ordnance company. His Army training was in the setup, maintenance, and repair of the M-9 fire director, which, as part of the SCR-584 (radar), was the top-secret weapon that shot down all of the V-1 buzz bombs the Germans fired at England during the last month of V-I use.

Paragraphs of his actual memoirs are set into novel, which, of course, is fictional.

Dr. Hadntz had, in fact, passed her plans to Sam, the character loosely based on my dad, in Washington D.C., the night before Pearl Harbor. Sam and Wink deny any knowledge of this device, but actually, Blechley Park is on the right track; their prototype failed, rather spectacularly, at the moment in question.

In War Times is about the quest to build this device, designed by Hadntz, that will interact with human consciousness to end our propensity to wage war. The British, and, later, other governments, know that someone, somewhere, has plans that may work.

There is no mention of jazz on page 99, but the novel links the development of modernity in the arts -- and, in particular, bebop -- to the revelations of science in the twentieth century and the
technologies that resulted.

And the Peter Rabbit wallpaper? Obsessive research!
Read an excerpt from In War Times, and learn more about the author and her work at Kathleen Ann Goonan's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Katie Estill's "Dahlia's Gone"

Katie Estill is a graduate of Kenyon College and has an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her first novel, Evening Would Find Me, was published by Joyce Carol Oates's Ontario Review Press.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her latest novel, Dahlia's Gone, and reported the following:
From page 99, Dahlia's Gone:

In a dream Patti Callahan climbs the stairs of her big new house. Her hand glides along the polished banister up to the third floor, the floor with a ballroom for dancing. Tonight the floor is a black, boundless space paved like the Milky Way, and Patti feels inspired to dance. Deputy Callahan is dancing to a waltz, steps she vaguely remembers from Miss Arnett’s dancing school. Her problem even then had been her inability to follow a boy’s lead. The whole notion of trying to follow someone else’s steps was perplexing to her and made her self-conscious. She had been clumsy and stepped on toes. But on the top floor of the house in her dreams, her three steps sway with a liquid grace as her toes flit among the stars.

"Is the quality of the whole revealed on page 99?"

Page 99 is an interior moment in Dahlia's Gone, but yes, something essential about the novel is revealed. Dahlia's Gone is the story of three women whose lives are profoundly changed by a murder. In the end, it is this thread of their lives, their souls, as much as anything else, that moves the characters toward a resolution. There is an element of mystery here in the deepest sense, and one critic suggested there are moments in novel that move the book "into the realm of mysticism."

Read an excerpt from Dahlia's Gone, and learn more about the author and her work at Katie Estill's website.

Dahlia's Gone has been nominated for the Hammett Prize by the North American Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 15, 2008

Roberta Bivins' "Alternative Medicine? A History"

Roberta Bivins is Wellcome Lecturer in the History of Medicine at Cardiff University.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her latest book, Alternative Medicine? A History, and reported the following:
“Page 99…”, I wondered. “Page 99? Let’s see. It will be somewhere in Chapter 2, so it’s bound to be about homeopathy and mesmerism… That's sex and drugs at least, if not rock and roll. Hey: maybe there’ll be an illustration! I’ll get a chance to see if a picture is worth a thousand of MY words. Neat!” And I crossed my fingers and went to hunt out a copy of my book.

Sadly, there was no picture on page 99, so I couldn’t test that particular truism here. In a way, the absence of an illustration also renders the page less accurate as a reflection of the volume as a whole: I use quite a few images -- not just to make my comparisons of global and alternative medicine prettier, but to open another door on the often-unfamiliar cultures and periods I describe. Page 99 is unusual, too, in that it deals only with western medical culture. Generally, I can be found describing and comparing western and non-western systems and approaches.

On the other hand, page 99 does open with a long and delicious quotation from an ordinary British doctor, responding – reluctantly – to his patients’ demands for homeopathy. Only his impeccable grammar gives away the vintage of the quote: 1827. Otherwise, his reactions are identical to those of so many doctors today irked by their patients’ annoying enthusiasm for alternative medicine. “Such men as these have been requiring me, for the last eighteen months, to try, as they call it ‘Homeopathy’, at which I only smiled incredulously, and I fear, contemptuously.” But like his contemporary counterparts, my 19th century doctor gave in to patient pester-power, and agreed to explore the new system of medicine. He wanted to be fair, and to do his best for his patients, whatever that ‘best’ turned out to be. And he needed their business.

Both the presence of a long quote, and its content fairly represent the book as a whole. I want readers to hear the history speak for itself. Listening to the voices of the past is the best part about being a historian, and it seems cruel to keep them all -- variously grumpy, cantankerous, witty, charming, lugubrious, insightful – to myself. And I want to give readers the material they need to assess my claims. By including so much of the material on which I based my analysis (my doctor’s grumbles fill half of the page), I feel you have a fair chance to make up your own mind, and to apply the experiences of the past to your own individual present. On page 99, as elsewhere in the book, this commitment, at least, is clear. Read on! Decide for yourself: have we learned from the past, or are we busily repeating it?
Learn more about Alternative Medicine? A History at the Oxford University Press website, and visit Roberta Bivins' faculty webpage to read about her research and other publications.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

David Anderegg's "Nerds"

David Anderegg, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Bennington College in Vermont, and has worked extensively with children and teens while practicing as a psychotherapist. He is also the author of Worried All the Time: Rediscovering the Joy of Parenthood in an Age of Anxiety.

He applied the Ford Madox Ford-inspired "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them, and reported the following:

I'm here to tell you that you're wrong, Mr. Ford. At least in my case.

I was initially horrified to discover that page 99 of my book contains not a word of original text. The entire page is an extended quote from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -- the Bible of the American mental health industry -- giving the diagnostic criteria for Asperger's Syndrome. I was trying to make a point, and it was a fussy point, but one that needs making. Here's the fussy argument (think of it as page 99a):

People labeled as nerdy are now often described as "Aspergy." This unpleasant adjective suggests that certain features of the nerd stereotype, like less-than-perfect eye contact or "excessive" interest in arcane subjects, overlap with the high end of the autistic spectrum. So nerd-labeled people are now seen as "sick" as well as undesirable.

But a mental illness is supposed to entail impaired functioning. If one's behavior falls within the range of normal, and if one's functioning is not impaired, then one does not have Asperger's syndrome, or high-end autism, or any other disorder. Freud's humane insight was that we, the well, should have compassion for the mentally ill because our underlying mental mechanisms are the same as theirs. But the current version of this humane insight is more sinister: only the perfect are well, and everyone who is not absolutely perfect is slightly mentally ill. And so people with less-than-perfect social skills are not only creepy, but sick. Thus the canard that nerd-labeled people are "Aspergy."

I know this is a fussy argument. But fussiness is another theme of the book: people with a passion for precision are also frequently labeled as nerds (that's why knowing the value of pi to more than three digits gets you extra credit on "Are you a nerd?" self-tests.) Writers who get too fussy are similarly punished: for an example, look at the New York Times review of Steven Pinker's book The Stuff of Thought, in which the reviewer castigates Pinker for being way too geeky and nerdy when the book becomes a little too riotously detailed. Detail is for nerds, and so those who make detailed arguments become ridiculous.

Sorry, Mr. Ford. Sometimes it takes more than a page to make a point. In my case, try a range: pp. 94-104. That ought to give you the idea.

Read an excerpt and watch a QuickTime trailer for Nerds.

Take "The Last Nerd Self-Test You’ll Ever Need!" and learn more about Nerds and its author at David Anderegg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Doris Marie Provine's "Unequal Under Law"

Doris Marie Provine is a professor in the School of Justice & Social Inquiry at Arizona State University, currently on leave as a Fulbright Scholar at the Centro de Investigaciones sobre America del Norte.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Unequal Under Law: Race in the War on Drugs, and reported the following:
From p. 99:

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics was another agency that refused to accept any softening in its opposition to marijuana, although it did adjust its anti-marijuana propaganda to fit the new user profile. [college kids] Officials now focused on public health as the central problem. The marijuana user would no longer be portrayed as a criminal, but rather as troubled and emotionally unstable, suffering from lack of motivation and alienation. Federal officials began to emphasis what they did not know about marijuana as argument against decriminalization.

My reaction to this passage:

Mind-altering substances – we love them and we fear them, especially in the hands of people whom we do not like or trust. Marijuana started out as a medicine, and was transformed, by the diligent efforts of Harry Anslinger and other public officials, into a fearful drug favored particularly by untrustworthy Mexicans. A problem arose for the drug warriors when college students began to use marijuana – the old exaggerations had to be toned down and re-shaped in line with the new user profile. I trace the unfortunate history of drug criminalization and note the way officials constantly linked drugs to racial groups feared and disliked by middle-class white Americans. Crack cocaine is the poster child for racialized fears about drugs. Penalties for its use far exceed any others, an aberration that can only be blamed on race. The incredible buildup of African Americans in prison for offenses associated with crack cocaine is well known. Less understood is the way race played into the formation of the law. Why has it been so hard to abandon this hard-line approach? Why haven’t the courts intervened? And more fundamentally, why do we insist that drug use be criminalized when most families would do their best to avoid sending a loved one to prison for drug abuse? This book suggests how racial fears insinuate themselves into harsh legislation and why we refuse to talk about it. It also suggests that America can do better, if we take racism seriously.
Read more about Unequal Under Law at the University of Chicago Press website, and learn more about the author and her work at Doris Marie Provine's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Betty Webb's "Desert Cut"

Betty Webb is the author of Desert Run, Desert Shadows, Desert Wives: Polygamy Can Be Murder, Desert Noir, and the newly released Desert Cut.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to Desert Cut and reported the following:
After checking my own page 99, I decided that Ford Madox Ford was right -- and wrong -- when he said “Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.”

Desert Cut’s page 99 -- the beginning of Chapter 11 -- opens in the Geronimo Lounge, a dingy Arizona bar where P.I. Lena Jones is interviewing an old man who knows more than he’s willing to tell.

When I strode into the Geronimo Lounge, I saw Clive Berklee, my elderly informant, sipping slowly at a Molson’s while he worked a crossword puzzle.

“It’s not Sunday,” I said, sliding into the chair across from him. (In an earlier scene, Berklee claimed he only drinks on Sundays)

“I’m pretending it is.” He drained the rest of his glass, then called to the bartender.

“Another beer. And put it on the blonde’s tab.”

“You’ll need to work for that.”

He called to the bartender again. “Make that three Molsons.”

Here’s my first quibble with Ford. By checking only Desert Cut’s page 99, the reader would come away with a misleading notion of the book’s content and tone. Old guy and young gal bantering in a bar? Whee! There could be no way for the reader to know that particular scene was added for what Shakespeare called “comedy relief.” Remember the gatekeeper in Hamlet?

Shakespeare put him there because his tale about things being rotten in Denmark was so unrelievedly grim that he knew his audience needed a breather. Shakespeare employed this device will all his tragedies, and it worked well. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I did the same with Desert Cut, a book about a series of child killings.

I have another quibble with Ford’s thesis. When Ford was writing in the early part of the last century, novels were different. There was no television, no Internet, few movies, and no yards-long list of entertainment events waiting to seduce away prospective readers. In those days, people had more than a twenty-minute attention span (oh, how well TV has trained us). Paragraphs could be longer, chapters could be longer, novels could be longer -- and they usually were.

Desert Cut’s page 99 is -- as are most chapter beginnings -- short, at only 24 lines (not all quoted here). And because it’s a conversation, there are no descriptive passages, no interior thoughts. In fact, the page contains few of those devices which usually display the writer’s ability. As a professional book critic (Mystery Scene magazine) as well as a reader, I would need to turn the page to find those.

However (and thanks for nothing, Ford, old buddy), upon re-reading page 99, I found the dialogue nifty.
Read an excerpt from Desert Cut and learn more about the author and her work at Betty Webb's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Nicholas Carr's "The Big Switch"

Nicholas Carr, a former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, writes regularly for the Financial Times, Strategy & Business and the Guardian. His 2004 book Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage initiated a global debate about the role of computers in business.

Carr applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google, and reported the following:
One of the central themes of The Big Switch is how technological revolutions bring unintended consequences, which can reshape society and culture in surprising, and not always happy, ways. The book explores, in particular, the far-reaching changes that are taking place as the Internet becomes our universal medium for finding and exchanging information of all sorts.

But on page 99 I'm looking not forward but backward, to the economic and social effects of the rise, a century ago, of the electric utility grid, a precursor to the Net's computing grid. I've just discussed how one of the first popular electric appliances, the lightweight electric iron, made the pressing of clothes much less physically draining than it had been when homemakers had to use heavy wedges of real iron heated over hot stoves. But that seemingly small transformation in the nature of work quickly led to much broader changes:

As it turned out, though, the electric iron was not quite the unalloyed blessing it first appeared to be. By making ironing “easier,” the new appliance ended up producing a change in the prevailing social expectations about clothing. To appear respectable, men’s and women’s blouses and trousers had to be more frequently and meticulously pressed than was considered necessary before. Wrinkles became a sign of sloth. Even children’s school clothes were expected to be neatly ironed. While women didn’t have to work as hard to do their ironing, they had to do more of it, more often, and with more precision.

As other electric appliances flooded the home through the first half of the century — washing machines, vacuums, sewing machines, toasters, coffee makers, egg beaters, hair curlers and, somewhat later, refrigerators, dishwashers, and clothes dryers — similar changes in social norms played out. Clothes had to be changed more frequently, rugs had to be cleaner, curls in hair had to be bouncier, meals had to be more elaborate, and the household china had to be more plentiful and gleam more brightly. Tasks that once had been done every few months now had to be performed every few days. When rugs had to be carried outside to be cleaned, for instance, the job was done only a couple of times of year. With a vacuum cleaner handy, it became a weekly or even a daily ritual.

The early predictions of an electrified domestic utopia didn't quite pan out. And we can expect, as I go on to explain after page 99, that the grandly optimistic forecasts about the Internet's ultimate effects will also be proven wrong.
Read excerpts from The Big Switch -- "Where did the computer go?"; "Among the dynamos"; "A spider's web" -- and learn more about the author and his work at Nicholas Carr's website and his blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 7, 2008

James Dawes' "That the World May Know"

James Dawes is Associate Professor of English and American Literature and Founder and Director of the Program in Human Rights and Humanitarianism at Macalaster College.

His latest book, That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity, "tells the powerful and moving story of the successes and failures of the modern human rights movement. Drawing on firsthand accounts from fieldworkers around the world, the book gives a painfully clear picture of the human cost of confronting inhumanity in our day."

Dawes applied the "Page 99 Test" to the book and reported the following:
On page 99 I am interviewing a delegate at the International Committee of the Red Cross about her experiences in war zones. She is describing how she and her colleagues tried to bring food and medicine to vulnerable civilians in Liberia.

“Often you had small boys of seven or eight years manning the checkpoints and wishing to be quite brave,” she began. Her voice was so gentle I at first interpreted it as timid.

Children are the most dangerous because they do not know that they can die, so they fear nothing. And they are trained to kill. They usually had adults behind them watching them, and they had to prove something to these adults. We had, as well, some older ones: eighteen, nineteen. They were often high on alcohol or drugs…

You had to remain very calm. The children could shoot you without understanding what they were doing. The older ones would sometimes want to keep you as hostage. So you try to calm down the situation and make them see that you appreciate them as human beings. With children, for example, it was quite easy because you just had to play with them. Children there were playing quite easily. So we just mentioned a nice T-shirt they had or nice shoes they had, or we’d say ‘How fast can you run?’ and things like this. After a while they would even smile at you. They would let you go through if you treated them gently, as children, but at the same time you respected them.

With adults, it was a bit more complicated. We always told them that we respect them. To protect you need to be able to come again. It’s no use coming in and out once, as if then it is finished. You have to build a relationship of trust. So if they tell you to open up the trucks, you do it. If they tell you they want to see things, you let them. It takes time, of course. Once, in the middle of nowhere, they had three checkpoints in ten meters: the so-called customs, the police, and the army. For a trip that would take two hours, it took about ten days. But we worked, and they let us pass.
Read more about That the World May Know at the Harvard University Press website, and learn more about James Dawes's teaching and research at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Christian Fritz's "American Sovereigns"

Christian G. Fritz is Professor of Law at the University of New Mexico.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, American Sovereigns: The People and America's Constitutional Tradition Before the Civil War, and reported the following:
While page 99 of American Sovereigns is important to the book’s narrative, it is not representative of the work’s central message. That page finds Fisher Ames, a crusty Boston lawyer, on the eve of the 1787 Federal Constitutional Convention, addressing the novel question that Americans struggled with after declaring independence: how could a collectivity – a people rather than a monarch – rule as the sovereign over a region larger and more diverse than Europe?

Ames lambasted those who believed that the people, after giving consent to a government, could by majority action speak clearly and with one voice on matters of state as well as national concerns, as might a monarch, the only other form of sovereignty familiar to Americans. For Ames, a written constitution bound the people to its provisions and limited their power to act. Ames’s words resonate with modern readers because his view is consistent with how American constitutionalism is understood today.

The “Traditional” Story

Based on page 99, a reader might fear another historical rehash drawing a straight line between early doubters of the people ruling as sovereign to our modern doctrine of rule by the constitution. And there’s the rub – the book finds no such straight line. Ames’ view was in the minority.

Page 99 is part of an examination of America’s early struggles to give life to the idea of a collective sovereign. It suggests that traditional accounts of American constitutional history, theory, and jurisprudence neglect how real the concept of the people ruling as the sovereign was for most Americans before the Civil War.

A Different Constitutional History

It seems puzzling today that Americans once considered their sovereign to be the people acting collectively. Modern scholars consider the sovereignty of the people a mere rhetorical flourish lacking practical application as a constitutional principle.

The book demonstrates that most accounts of American history overlook the constitutional authority once imputed to the people as a collective sovereign. In disagreements after Independence involving taxes, court procedures, government reform, decisions to wage war, and the scope of dissent, Americans struggled to answer the question of how the people could act as the sovereign.

What’s Lost on Page 99

The book tells a forgotten story of how Americans and their leaders before the Civil War tried to plot a course between twin dangers of anarchy and tyranny as they struggled to answer how in America “the people” might rule.
Read an excerpt from American Sovereigns and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

Visit Christian G. Fritz's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 4, 2008

Kelly Oliver's "Women as Weapons of War"

Kelly Oliver is W. Alton Jones Chair of Philosophy and Professor of Women's Studies at Vanderbilt University.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her latest book, Women as Weapons of War: Iraq, Sex, and the Media, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Women as Weapons of War: Iraq, Sex and the Media:

The real tragedy [of 9/11/2001] was compounded by media hysteria that included the infamous CNN advisory for New Yorkers to use plastic and duct-tape to seal themselves inside their apartments to prevent the effects of chemical weapons. In addition to the real horror of the attacks of September 11th, was the imagined horror of media speculations on what could happen if terrorists attacked nuclear power plants, or released bio-pathogens into drinking water, or detonated chemical weapons in subways. Along with the governments various red, orange, and yellow alerts, the fantasies of disaster were as terrifying as the real thing. Even now, years after the attack, the media and government keep reminding us of the danger, the threat, the urgency. Years later, the state of emergency continues. The rhetoric of emergency, crisis, exceptional circumstances is used to justified military action and making exceptions to national and international law. In this indeterminate time/space created by the perpetual present of emergency, prisoners are detained indefinitely. Our national identity becomes linked to the time of emergency such that we are “a nation at war”; and it is this state of emergency that gives us a sense of nationalism and patriotism…The nation at war operates within the time of crisis or emergency that extracts the present moment from its historical context, from any relation to past or future, and suspends its relation to narratives about that history. By declaring a state of emergency, we become justified in suspending law, particularly international law, in the name of national crisis. The time of emergency makes the present moment exceptional and therefore not bound to law…this state of emergency is indefinite and thereby justifies indefinite detention of prisoners (now called “detainees”) and “war without end.”

Commentary on Page 99 by the author:

The language of exception is fundamental to the war against terror. The prisoners held in Iraq and Cuba are not called prisoners, but are called “detainees” because, as we are told, these are exceptional times that require exceptional measures for exceptionally bad enemies. And, abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay prisons were said to be the result of exceptional individuals, the few bad apples. But, the young soldiers who committed the abuses photographed at Abu Ghraib were just normal kids from the rural U.S.. What is particularly striking about these photographs, and about reports of interrogation techniques at Guantánamo Bay prison, is the involvement of -- perhaps even use of -- women as part of an attempt to “soften-up” Muslim men detained in the war against terror.

In my book, I argue that these “shocking” images are not only familiar to us from a history of colonial violence, but also from a history of associations between women, sex and weapons. The very idea that women can be interrogation tools plays on age-old fears of women and the fantasy of female sexuality as threatening. From mythological characters such as Medusa and Jocasta, to Biblical figures such as Eve, Salome, or Delilah, to Hollywood femme fatales, women’s sexuality has been imagined as dangerous. Perhaps the most extreme example of this fantasy as it appears in recent military engagement is the intentional use of female sexuality as a top-secret “classified” interrogation technique in Guantanámo Bay prison, where women interrogators stripped off their uniforms, rubbed up against prisoners, and threatened them with fake menstrual blood. When these methods were revealed, military officials claimed they were “classified,” suggesting that menstrual blood has become a top-secret interrogation technique. In my book, I show how news media repeatedly describes women soldiers as “weapons.” Women warriors are not referred to as women with weapons or women carrying bombs, but their very bodies are imagined as dangerous.
Read an excerpt from Women as Weapons of War and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Visit Kelly Oliver's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Micki McElya's "Clinging to Mammy"

Micki McElya is an Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Alabama.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America, and reported the following:
While the “quality of the whole” cannot be ascertained by reading only page 99 of Clinging to Mammy, it does elaborate an interesting aspect of one of the most surprising and heartbreaking histories in the book. The page falls within a chapter entitled “The Line Between Mother and Mammy” that details a 1917 custody case in Chicago in which the court removed a 14-year-old white girl named Marjorie Delbridge from the custody of her adoptive mother, Camilla Jackson, solely because Jackson was black and was raising Marjorie in a predominantly black neighborhood. The case became a tabloid news phenomenon splashed across the front pages of white and black-owned newspapers first in Chicago and then all around the region, becoming particularly heated when Marjorie disappeared from the home of a white couple who had been granted temporary custody.

Page 99 details the efforts of that couple to locate Marjorie and one possible event that, along with her desire to be reunited with the only mother she had ever known, might have prompted the young women to flee:

“I have had Marjorie’s pictures reproduced on slides,” Mrs. Brock told the Tribune, “which are now showing in the moving picture houses with the printed request that anyone knowing of her whereabouts will communicate with me.” The public display of these slides as moviegoers settled into their seats spotlights the links between news and entertainment that drove the tabloid story. It suggested that the Brocks were indeed Marjorie’s rightful guardians, casting the white couple, not Camilla Jackson, as the parents who had lost a child. This facet of the search anticipates the intersection of publicity, danger, and perceptions of childhood in the contemporary “have-you-seen-me?” visual culture of television ads, mass mailings, and milk carton photos.

The real and the reel intersected again in an account given by Mrs. Brock of a shared experience at the movies that might have prompted some of Marjorie’s distress. Just days after the courts severed her relationship with Jackson, Brock took Marjorie to see D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, his blockbuster follow-up to Birth of a Nation. Perhaps she did not realize that the film involved the story of a young woman whose baby is taken away from her when she is deemed unfit by the state because of a series of assumptions, misunderstandings, and injustices grounded in stereotypes about the white urban poor.

Throughout the custody battle, the white-owned press and court officers referred to Camilla Jackson as Marjorie’s “mammy,” not her mother. They spoke of the pair’s southern origins and gloried in Marjorie’s ultimate return to the South to live with an elite white family who may have been no relation to her. Honeyed testaments of a mammy’s supposed love for her white charges flowed through this case, which illuminates the racially constrained ideas of sexuality, domesticity, and motherhood at the heart of twentieth-century mammy stories. The faithful slave narrative policed black behavior and civic claims, shaped representation, and carried within it the deadly violent repercussions of the failure to enact devotedness. Yet this custody case makes clear, there were sharp limits to the acceptability of a black woman’s maternal devotion to whites, as the state stepped in to police literally the color line between the “mother” and the “mammy.”
Read an excerpt from Clinging to Mammy and discover more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Learn more about Micki McElya's research and other publications at her faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue