Friday, July 31, 2009

Glenn Stout's "Young Woman and the Sea"

Glenn Stout has written, ghostwritten or edited more than seventy books representing sales in excess of two million copies. He is the author of the text for The Cubs: The Complete Story of Chicago, Cubs Baseball, The Dodgers: 120 Years of Dodgers Baseball, Nine Months at Ground Zero, Yankees Century, Red Sox Century, Jackie Robinson: Between the Baselines, Joe DiMaggio: An Illustrated Life and Ted Williams: A Portrait in Words and Pictures.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World, and reported the following:
In Young Woman and the Sea I tell the story of Trudy Ederle, who in 1926 became the first woman (and sixth person) to swim the English Channel, beating the existing men’s record by nearly two hours and opening the door for women to compete in sports. To give her story the appropriate significance and weight, over the course of the first half of the book, as I introduce the reader to Trudy, I also tell the story of the English Channel, the history of swimming and women’s sports, and the history of swimming the Channel.

On page 99, in a chapter entitled “The Next Man,” the reader meets Thomas William “Bill” Burgess, who in 1911 became the second person in history to swim the Channel. In the summer of 1926, as Trudy was preparing for her swim, Burgess served as her trainer and guide, decoding the tides and currents that even today make crossing the Channel rarer and more difficult than climbing Mount Everest. One of the first Channel aspirants to realize that this was the key to swimming the Channel, Burgess’s ability to read the tides and currents allowed Trudy to make use of her athleticism and perseverance to conquer the Channel and change the world.
Read an excerpt from Young Woman and the Sea, and learn more about the book and author at Glenn Stout's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Maile Meloy's "Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It"

Maile Meloy is the author of the story collection Half in Love, and the novels Liars and Saints, shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize, and A Family Daughter. Meloy’s stories have been published in The New Yorker, and she has received The Paris Review’s Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2007, Meloy was chosen as one of Granta’s Best American Novelists under 35.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, the story collection Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, and reported the following:
This is an exchange from the story “Two-Step,” in my collection Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. It takes place in a kitchen, between a husband, his pregnant wife who suspects he’s sleeping with someone else, and her friend and confidante, Naomi:

“Who was it who said that marriage is a long struggle for moral advantage?” he asked.

“Someone bitter,” Naomi said. “It shouldn’t be. It doesn’t have to be.”

“As I was driving back here from the gym,” he said, “I was thinking about the time I did summer stock at a theater in Colorado, because my older sister was doing it and it seemed like a way to meet girls. And how everyone was isolated, and thrown together in a place they wouldn’t be otherwise, and nervous energy became sexual energy. There was friction, and suspicion about who was doing what with whom, and some of it was founded.”

“I told her we’re having a baby,” Alice said.

“You told her we’re having a baby,” he repeated.

Naomi watched him: his strong hands, the pained look on his face. He had the intelligence that physically beautiful people have, because other people confide in them, but he had real intelligence, too. It was irresistible, even when he was acting indefensibly, as he was now.

It’s the kind of exchange I like, in fiction: not everyone knows the same things, and what they do and don’t know is revealed gradually in the dialogue. The whole story is about that kind of revealing. And the story is definitely about people who want things both ways.

I don’t know who it was who said that marriage is a long struggle for moral advantage. A friend of mine thought it was in Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That, but I looked and couldn’t find it. (Though it might have fit in there.) So it’s in the story as one of those lines that might be misremembered, by someone who reads a lot but isn’t sure where it came from. If anyone recognizes it as a quotation, let me know.
Read an excerpt from Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, and learn more about the author and her work at Maile Meloy's website.

The Page 69 Test: Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Margot Canaday's "The Straight State"

Margot Canaday is assistant professor of history at Princeton University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America, and reported the following:
I fail the Page 99 Test! Not the auspicious beginning I’d dreamt of for my first book, which is a history of the federal regulation of homosexuality from the early to late twentieth century. Contrary to what you may suspect, the process of homosexuality becoming an important issue for state regulation was a long and drawn-out one that occurred over many decades. The state’s response was sluggish in part because the bureaucracy was relatively small and lacked the capacity to police homosexuality aggressively during the early part of the century, but also because officials were themselves murky about the category of homosexuality. They had to “puzzle” before they could “power,” to borrow the political scientist Hugh Heclo’s great formulation. So the book moves through several arenas (immigration, welfare, and military bureaucracies) where federal officials “discovered” homosexuality, came to believe it warranted state intervention, and finally created policies to deal with this “problem.” There were, of course, many surprises along the way. Homosexuality mattered in distinct arenas of the state in different ways; and across the century officials were not only repressive but sometimes tolerant.

None of that will you get from page 99.

What page 99 does have going for it is that it is from my favorite chapter of the book. It focuses on one of the early arenas where federal officials were “schooled in perversion.” More specifically, this chapter examines federal camps set up by the New Dealers for single transient men who had become “unattached” from home and family due to the Depression and were out on the road “bumming.” Such wandering men caused federal officials great anxiety because of general fears about social instability, but also because of a long-standing association between hoboes and bums and “sex perversion.” That association is what this page is about. “Most fags are floaters and move from town to town,” one expert said in 1937. “In the womanless state of transiency,” said another, “the perverted sex instinct and lack of ambition were one.” This notion led critics to charge that the federal transient camps created “state sponsored havens for sex perverts,” and the camp program was eventually abandoned. As I argue later in the chapter, this was a foreclosure in the landscape of federal social provision. Not only would the federal government surrender its responsibility to care for the most destitute, but less and less assistance would be delivered outside of the family economy. (The single and the childless were out; breadwinners and caregivers were in.) Indeed, the idea that social provision should be used to encourage men to settle down with wife and family very much shaped the welfare state created after the demise of these transient camps (which is, as it happens, more or less our welfare state).

For a page that better “reveals the quality of the whole,” try 53!
Read an excerpt from The Straight State, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 27, 2009

Daniel E. Sutherland's "A Savage Conflict"

Daniel E. Sutherland is professor of history at the University of Arkansas. He is author or editor of thirteen books, including Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test works wonderfully for A Savage Conflict. The sixth of its twelve chapters, entitled “Not the West Point Way,” begins on that page, and it describes how, by the mid-point of the Civil War, North and South suddenly realized that a nasty guerrilla conflict, which had sprung up quite spontaneously, was lurching out of control. The generals of both armies, conditioned by their training to think of wars as tilts between grand armies in climatic battles, were confronted by a brand of warfare that no one had anticipated, yet one that threatened to upset all their carefully laid plans. Indeed, as the book’s subtitle suggests, A Savage Conflict shows why it is impossible to understand the Civil War without appreciating the scope and consequences of the guerrilla struggle. The guerrilla ranks included not just Confederates, but also southern Unionists, violent bands of deserters and draft dodgers, and criminals who saw the war as an opportunity for plunder. Together, they made the general conflict a far bloodier and more savage affair than it might have been, and their lack of restraint proved to be a significant factor in the collapse of the Confederacy.
Learn more about A Savage Conflict at the publisher's website, and visit Daniel Sutherland's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Jennifer Mathews' "Chicle"

Jennifer P. Mathews is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Trinity University and is Co-Director of the Yalahau Regional Human Ecology Project.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Chicle: The Chewing Gum of the Americas, From the Ancient Maya to William Wrigley, and reported the following:
Page 99 is revealing about Chicle: The Chewing Gum of the Americas - From the Ancient Maya to William Wrigley, but not in a way that you might think. While the book is a broad overview of the history of chicle-based chewing gum written for a general audience, "Page 99" is a series of detailed footnotes that reveal the more academic side of the book, focusing in particular on the botany of the tree from which the chicle latex comes. For those who crave the minutiae of academic research, this would be the place to look ... otherwise, a place to glance over. The book is written in four parts - the first, covering the prehistoric use of chewing gum and the sapodilla tree in Mesoamerica; the second covering the botany of the plant and its history of use around the world; the third is about the industrialization of the commodity, the relationship between fascinating characters like William Wrigley and Thomas Adams, the impact that they had on Latin America, and the ties that chewing gum has to historic figures like Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and Amelia Earhart; finally, the fourth part focuses on the chicleros - the extractors of chicle, who toiled away in the jungle for nine months of the year so that the rest of the world could have chewing gum.
Read an excerpt from Chicle, and listen to a National Public Radio interview with Jennifer P. Mathews.

Visit Jennifer P. Mathews' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Anna Stilz's "Liberal Loyalty"

Anna Stilz is assistant professor of politics at Princeton University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Liberal Loyalty: Freedom, Obligation, and the State, and reported the following:
One of the facts about the contemporary world we take for granted is that it is a world of separate states. Moreover, we also tend to think that our citizenship in some state makes a moral difference to us, even though most of us were born here and did not choose to “join.” We usually think citizens stand in a special relationship to their state and to their compatriots, and that they ought to do more to uphold their own institutions and support their own compatriots than to uphold institutions and support people around the world. Liberal Loyalty defends this view from two sorts of challenges: one from cosmopolitans, who believe that we do not owe more to our compatriots than to people around the globe; the other from nationalists, who believe that we owe more to compatriots not simply because they share our state but because they share our language and history.

On page 99 of Liberal Loyalty, I discuss why we ought to care more about socioeconomic inequalities between fellow-citizens than between citizens and foreigners. Should Americans be especially concerned about poverty and failing schools in Detroit rather than in Mali? I argue that they should be, and that the reason why has to do with what states are for. The reason why we need states, I claim, is to define and enforce our rights, especially rights of property and contract, in a way that allows all of us allow to enjoy freedom-as-independence from one another. What is freedom-as-independence? Freedom-as-independence, as I define it, requires that other people not be able to interfere with you in an arbitrary way, by forcing you to obey their will and do what they would like you to do.

On this view, one of the state’s basic duties is to make sure our system of property rights is compatible with citizens’ freedom-as-independence. This does not require strict equality. But on page 99, I argue some types of inequalities are worrisome, because they place freedom-as-independence into question. When citizens face poverty that drastically restricts their options, this may force them into subjection to someone else’s will. Think of the domestic servant who must cater to the whims of her wealthy boss, because she has no education and no other options. When this happens, I argue that citizens should be especially concerned because their state—which they together uphold—is failing in its job.
Read an excerpt from Liberal Loyalty, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mary Daheim's "The Alpine Uproar"

Mary Daheim's books include the many novels in her Emma Lord series and her Bed-and-Breakfast series.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new Emma Lord novel, The Alpine Uproar, and reported the following:
A cursory scan of The Alpine Uproar’s page 99 will tell the reader that death in a small town touches everyone, though not always in the same way. Despite the sense of community and interconnection, there are lapses of mutual understanding. Emma Lord, the local newspaper editor and publisher, protects herself by putting up emotional barriers, reacting with professional detachment despite her genuine grief for the young man’s family. Sunny Rhodes is a kindhearted but unsophisticated woman whose verbal gaffe is not atypical of small-town residents who are suspicious of anyone who seems “different.” Leo Walsh, Emma’s ad manager, is a California transplant and a veteran of many wars, including with the bottle. He handles the awkward situation with humor that has a hint of gentle reproach. The scene doesn’t reveal much of the storyline, but it’s consistent with the tone of the Alpine series: For better or for worse, small towns are very different from big cities. Emma has spent almost fifteen years in Alpine, but she’s still an outsider. On the surface, she blames this on the natives, but while this is partially true, deep down she knows that no matter where she lives or what she does, fitting in is not her style. The role of journalist as professional observer suits her to a T. Only Emma can figure out if she can knock down those barriers and find that special place where she belongs.
Read an excerpt from The Alpine Uproar, and learn more about the book and author at Mary Daheim's website.

Daheim has been an Agatha Award nominee, winner of the 2000 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Achievement Award, and her mysteries regularly make the USA Today bestseller list and the New York Times top thirty.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 20, 2009

P. Machamer & J. E. McGuire's "Descartes's Changing Mind"

Peter Machamer is professor of history and philosophy of science and associate director of the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. J. E. McGuire is professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of Pittsburgh, and a resident fellow of the Center for Philosophy of Science.

Here they describe what is on page 99 of their new book, Descartes's Changing Mind, and relate it to wider issues discussed throughout the text:
Critical to Descartes's development is his reflection in the Meditations on First Philosophy (1640-1641) on the nature of God and God's relation to human knowledge. He feels a tension at that time, and works to resolve it over the next few years--succeeding for the most part by the time he publishes the Principles of Philosophy (1644). The resolution comes by noting the limited perspective of human knowledge in relation to the exemplary Divine ideas. The term "archetype" appears in Mediation III and is also used in the Principles [I.18], in the section entitled Principles of Human Knowledge. But in the former work archetype seems to describe the formal containment in God’s divine ideas of the things created in the world. In this way humans could come to know how things are in the world, really and ontologically. In the later work, things in the world seem to be contained in God's ideas only eminently, which reflects our finite and limited understanding of God and his creation. What this means is that we humans are able to know only very limited aspects of the world. We call this Descartes's epistemic stance.
Read an excerpt from Descartes's Changing Mind, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Christina Schwenkel's "The American War in Contemporary Vietnam"

Christina Schwenkel is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The American War in Contemporary Vietnam: Transnational Remembrance and Representation, and reported the following:
This book is about the complex assemblages of cultural memory in postwar Vietnam. It focuses on diverse and intersecting forms of remembrance that different groups of people – both national and transnational – bring to contemporary Vietnamese spaces of memory-making, including museums, photography exhibits, memorial sites, and war tours. The book charts the ways in which memory of the war with the United States has become increasingly pluralized with the emergence of new historical knowledge and memorial practices in an era of post-economic reform.

Page 99 is a good representation of the book’s contents as it gets at one of the key memory dilemmas that I examine in my research: how highly visible acts of war commemoration coexist with silenced histories that aspire to find new venues for self-expression and public circulation. Here we find multiple actors and their dynamic memories shaping an increasingly commodified landscape of history. Page 99 begins with a paradox: international tourists are in Vietnam to consume memory of the war; but soon tire of it. They want more sensory stimulation to recreate “experiences” of the battlefield, but at the same time, they are suspicious of official war scripts that glorify the revolution and the defeat of the United States. Alongside tourist spectacles of memory is another telling concern addressed in the book: the crisis of forgetting. Here is where the role of ARVN veterans, now working as tour guides, becomes important. As men who found themselves on the “wrong” side of the war, their pasts have been officially “forgotten” and their war dead uncommemorated. Yet now, with new economic opportunities, these veterans/tour guides are able to communicate their knowledge and counter-memories to international tourists who anticipate alternative scripts that are critical of the Party and government. But, as Page 99 shows, this is not always the case as lingering postwar animosity and desires for reconciliation are much more complicated than simple, enduring binaries that distinguish between “us” and “them.”
Read more about the book at the publisher's website, and visit Christina Schwenkel's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 17, 2009

Steven Luper's "The Philosophy of Death"

Steven Luper is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Trinity University in San Antonia, Texas.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Philosophy of Death, and reported the following:
The Philosophy of Death is about what it is to live and to die, what it is about death that makes it a bad thing for some of those it takes, and what it is about some killings that makes them objectionable. Death is bad for its victims insofar as it deprives them of life that would have been good for them, and good for its victims insofar as it releases them from life that would have been bad. The wrongness of killing is bound up with the fact that killers give their victims bad deaths, but the full story is complicated. Some killings result in good deaths, and are not objectionable at all.

On Page 99 readers will find themselves in the midst of a discussion of a fascinating puzzle about the harmfulness of death. Suppose Fred died on April 4, 2009 in a climbing accident; had he not, he would have had 25 more good years, and then died. It seems that his death was very bad for him, given that it deprived him of something very good. But now suppose that, had Fred not died, he would have died the next day. Do we really want to say that, under these circumstances, Fred's death was not very bad at all, since he lost so little?
Read an excerpt from The Philosophy of Death, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

Learn more about Steven Luper's scholarship at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Peter Stromberg's "Caught in Play"

Peter Stromberg is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Tulsa. His books include Symbols of Community (University of Arizona Press, 1986) and Language and Self Transformation (Cambridge University Press, 1993).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Caught in Play: How Entertainment Works on You, and reported the following:
I wrote Caught in Play to address an intriguing disparity: there is so much entertainment in our society and so little serious discussion about entertainment. To take an example that is appropriate to the moment I write this (July 3, 2009), currently there is overwhelming public concern with the death of Michael Jackson and comparatively little public concern about the obvious question of why people care so much about the death of Michael Jackson.

Turning to page 99 of the book, I encounter a discussion of anthropologist/psychologist Gregory Bateson’s thoughts on play among otters. This doesn’t look promising, does it? How do we get from otters to Michael Jackson in the space of one blog post?

Bateson, watching otters play at fighting at a zoo, asked himself how the otters knew that the bites and cuffs they were delivering and receiving were not real fighting. He concluded that they must be sending and receiving signals that allowed them to understand something along the lines of “this bite isn’t a real bite, it’s a play bite.”

That even non-human animals are able to engage in what might be loosely termed “pretending,” and that they are able to communicate this “pretend” stance to one another, alerts us to the fact that play is a very basic social mechanism, far older than our species. Play is built into us, and we play for some of the same reasons that animals do, above all to regulate our social relationships. Those playing otters are creating a certain kind of relationship, and the far more complicated play of human beings can create far more complicated relationships; in fact, such play helps to build and sustain our social groups.

So, I’m OK, page 99 really is relevant. The tremendous volume of entertainment in our society is a form of play that accomplishes some elemental cultural functions: it helps us to create a particular sort of community. Entertainment does this by sustaining and strengthening certain values, often the values of consumption.

Back to the otters. They can sort of pretend, we can really pretend, so much so that we can become so caught up in a book or movie that we lose track of time and place. It is in these powerful bodily experiences--experiences that often happen as we engage entertainment--that we learn and indulge the values of consumption. But at the same time, we tend not to take these experiences seriously because, after all, they are not real. Can you think of a better way to ensure that certain of our values and practices—such as treating the death of a popular singer as a world shattering event—remain largely outside the realm of public discussion?
Read an excerpt from Caught in Play, and learn more about the book and author at the official website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kathleen Collins' "Watching What We Eat"

Kathleen Collins is an experienced author and researcher who has studied and written about television, media history, popular culture and food. Her work has appeared in the magazines Working Woman and Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture and in the anthology Secrets & Confidences: The Complicated Truth About Women’s Friendships.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Watching What We Eat: A Long Look at Television Cooking Shows, and reported the following:
I’m always glad to read a random page from my book and to try to be objective for as long as it takes to read it. I would like to imagine what a reader experiences reading my words. Of course, it’s impossible to do so – but it’s still fun to try. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being “This is the one page of my book that I want everyone to read!” and 1 being “This is the worst possible page to choose from my book; no one will ever want to read more.”), page 99 of Watching What We Eat is about a 7. This page comes near the end of chapter 3 which is titled, “Julia Child and Revolution in the Kitchen.” In these 2.5 paragraphs, I’m discussing the cultural changes going on in the U.S. in the 1960s that made a hospitable environment for “The French Chef” and the enormous impact Julia had on the way we Americans eat and cook – and live.

Here’s an excerpt: “Increased self-awareness, both on the societal and individual levels, seemed to express itself in a global sense as well. In addition to a more pronounced and objective interest in American culture and society—coupled with increased international travel—Americans also looked beyond their backyard fences and national borders with more curiosity. The insularity of the 1950s began to dissipate.”

What is representative about this page is that my approach throughout the book is to trace the evolution of the cooking show genre as it corresponds to changes in society. So, that’s good. What is missing on this page is a taste of what I consider to be the really lively bits where I describe the personalities and mannerisms of some of the TV cooking show hosts. There’s lots on Julia Child, for example, just before p. 99. And Joyce Chen, a Chinese host who used the exact same set as the much taller Julia.

In general, the page includes a good sample of my tone and level of discourse. One reviewer described the book as “somewhat scholarly” which I think is dead on. That’s me! It’s a book not just for people who love cooking shows (though it is for them), but for anyone interested in 20th century social history and popular culture in America. I address the topic with this reader in mind: someone who listens to NPR but is overjoyed at the sight of a People magazine in the doctor’s office.
Read an excerpt from Watching What We Eat, and learn more about the book and author at the Watching What We Eat website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 13, 2009

Frances Osborne's "The Bolter"

Frances Osborne worked as a barrister and investment research analyst before becoming a full-time writer. Her first book, Lilla’s Feast: A True Story of Love, War and a Passion for Food, was listed as a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Bolter, and reported the following:
The Bolter is the true story of Idina Sackville, an extremely adventurous English aristocrat who divorced five times in the 1920’s and 30’s, had lovers without number and hosted partner-swapping party games in her farmhouse in Kenya. Page 99 is in fact the turning point that sets her off on this turbulent course. It is July 1918, Britain is four years into the First World War, and Idina realizes that her first husband and lasting love, Euan Wallace, might leave her for a younger, prettier woman. Idina decides that, unlike her mother, Idina was going to do the leaving – the “bolting” - rather than be the one left behind. She went, as she did everything, in style and fled to Africa. This was an era of women’s liberation and several of Idina’s girlfriends were divorcing their “unsatisfactory” husbands and seeking adventure abroad – the new gentlewomen explorers. In Idina’s case this was a decision that she would spend the rest of her life striving to make up for – not least because she was unable to take her two tiny sons with her. The elder of those two sons was my grandfather.

Idina’s first marriage was partly a casualty of the social upheaval of the First World War. Beforehand, extra-marital affairs had been near institutionalized amongst Britain’s Edwardian Upper Classes. There was a strict code of practice which was “you can do what you like in the bedroom, but don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.” Absolute discretion needed to be maintained and this was principally achieved by only becoming involved with other married friends, and never divorcing. The death of so many young men changed all that, and even married men became targets. In the rest of page 99, Euan Wallace returns to the Front and we follow his diaries. Whereas only a year earlier he was spending every spare minute writing to Idina, he now spends up to “half a morning” writing to another woman.
Read an excerpt from The Bolter, and learn more about the book and author at Frances Osborne's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Vincent J. Cannato's "American Passage"

Vincent J. Cannato teaches history at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is the author of The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York and has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Passage: The History of Ellis Island, and reported the following:
Opening American Passage to page 99 puts the reader inside one of the few chapters that does not take place at Ellis Island. This is a chapter that tells the story of the Boston Brahmins, those Anglo-Saxon Protestants of the late 19th and early 20th century who greatly feared the influx of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. These men and women were already losing the demographic fight in Massachusetts to the Irish Catholics and now a new crop of immigrants threatened to destroy even more thoroughly Anglo-Saxon America.

This page discusses the case of Prescott Hall, a young Harvard grad and co-founder of the Immigration Restriction League. A melancholic man, Hall was deeply pessimistic about the future of America.

Insecurity and melancholy went hand in hand with these New Englanders’ fears of being displaced, in terms of absolute numbers as well as political power and cultural influence. By the late 1800s, Boston Brahmin society was in decline. An increase in divorces and suicides and a decrease in birth rates among native-born Protestants—especially when compared with large Irish Catholic families—only added to the sense of loss and pessimism. The new immigration from eastern and southern Europe provided the double whammy to the Brahmin psyche, reinforcing whatever gloom and insecurity was caused by their loss of control to the Irish.

The respected economist Francis Walker tried to give a theoretical interpretation for the decline of the Anglo-Saxons. New immigrants created such degraded conditions in America, Walker argued, that native-born Protestants were simply refusing to bring children into such a world. The page ends with another patrician, New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt, exhorting Americans toward the “strenuous life.” Unlike his Brahmin friends, Roosevelt would try to balance his fears of the new immigrants with a more pluralistic approach.

This backlash of the “nativists” is a common story when discussing immigration. While the fears of these Anglo-Saxons play an important role in the book, I try not to overemphasize them, as so much historical writing about immigration does. I focus much more on how the larger debate about immigration influenced immigration laws and how those laws get implemented at Ellis Island.
Browse inside American Passage, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Visit Vincent J. Cannato's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 10, 2009

Matthew Amster-Burton's "Hungry Monkey"

Matthew Amster-Burton writes frequently for, Culinate, Seattle Magazine, and the Seattle Times. He has been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology repeatedly. His food blog is Roots and Grubs.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater, and reported the following:
Hungry Monkey is about the joys and challenges of sharing food with a baby and young child. Wow, that sounds sappy, doesn't it? Let's open it to page 99 and have a look:

"We can share one cupcake because they're big," said Laurie.

"Sure!" replied Iris. "I can have my frosting and you can have the
bottom. Isn't that a good idea, Mama?"

I did my best to write something other than the typical books about kids and food, which tend to be about making homemade organic purees (boring), vegetables arranged into faces (scary), or allergies and other medical issues (really scary). This is a humor book for parents. It's about having food adventures with your kids. There are recipes and stories and lots of bad jokes.

Page 99 is typical, because it is mostly about cupcakes, and children are mostly about cupcakes. It falls in the middle of a chapter called "Sugar Makes Parents Hyper," which is about how five-year-old Iris and I enjoy sweets together and about how research has consistently shown that sugar doesn't make children hyper.

Yes, as I freely admit in the book, I'm as likely to convince parents of this as I am to convince them that getting hit on the head with an anvil doesn't cause concussions. Relax. Have a cupcake.
Read an excerpt from Hungry Monkey, and learn more about the book and author at the official Hungry Monkey website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Noralee Frankel's "Stripping Gypsy"

Noralee Frankel is the Assistant Director, Women, Minorities, and Teaching at the American Historical Association. Her books include Freedom's Women: Black Women and Families in Civil War Era Mississippi and Break Those Chains at Last: African Americans, 1860-1880.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee, and reported the following:
For those who do not remember the plot of the musical, Gypsy, let me recap. Born in Seattle in 1911 Louise Hovick, as she was known, toured vaudeville with her driven stage mother and her younger sister. When her sister ran off to marry and with vaudeville dying, Louise performed in burlesque theaters. In 1931, Louise, now Gypsy Rose Lee, worked Minksy’s burlesque theaters, where she became one of the very few women to talk as she undressed on stage. Later she was known as the intellectual stripper.

My page 99 (below) refers to her reputation as a sophisticated stripper. The book deals primarily with her life as an adult. Her love affairs, movie career, writings, and her political activism leading to her being blacklisted in 1950 are major topics.

The article from Hobbies described her collections in a manner to make the magazine’s appeal more erotic. It published one of the sexiest articles ever written about Gypsy. A photograph of Gypsy admiring a piece of glassware showed a great deal of her long, slender legs. Such an approach sold magazines--and Gypsy.

When the interview referred to on page 99 was published, Gypsy had purchased a mansion on 63rd Street New York City that showed off her possessions. Her collecting sprang from her insecurity about what constituted home. Possessions helped block out her childhood deprivations. She also hoped her writing, two mystery novels and a play, (years later, she would write her famous memoirs), her collages shown at Peggy Guggenheim’s Century of the Art gallery, and collections would bring her the respectability she craved.

Page 99, Stripping Gypsy:

photograph of Gypsy admiring a piece of glassware showed a great deal of her long, slender legs. Such an approach sold magazines—and Gypsy. The Hobbies author wrote, “Stroking the silky texture of her figure, my hand was following the exquisite curve lines. I was entranced with admiration of her, I was thrilled by the most perfect thing in the world—the divine female form.” He finished, “It was a Satin glass vase with a repousse figure of Venus. It was not Gypsy Rose Lee at all.”

The author did, of course, write about her collections. Eager to talk about her belongings rather than discuss stripping or burlesque, Gypsy proudly showed him her possessions. She owned a few treasured pieces of expensive Meissen porcelain. Her glass collection consisted of Mary Gregory—at least she believed it did. Discovering her first piece of Gregory glass in a secondhand store, Gypsy paid twenty-five cents for it. Since Mary Gregory is very rare, Gypsy’s pieces may have been good fakes, but they were beautiful nonetheless. She loved the characteristic blues of Royal Copenhagen china. She collected and restored frames, matchboxes, and even a small house made from shells. She also bought numerous objects adorned with cherubs, including lamps and vases. With their chubby bodies, cherubs appeared both innocent and sensual.

Remarking that as a child she had few dolls and little time to play, Gypsy described her paper doll collection wistfully. She liked to decorate objects such as tables and trays with paper dolls she purchased. Gypsy even confessed that she enjoyed dressing and undressing the dolls. She preferred “children, but I do have some lovely ladies. Some are partially dressed as actresses ... ballet dancers, I should imagine. Their legs and arms are flexible and they have real hair. Needless to say, they are my favorites.”

Gypsy acquired drawings by the tattoo artists Charles Wagner and John Bonzles, an early practitioner, proudly displaying them on velvet matting in a gold shadow box. The writer for Hobbies wittily observed that while Gypsy was “probably the only one in the country who prefers to see tattoos on paper, she can also appreciate a well-painted arm or chest.”

The Berkshire Museum located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and the Museum of the City of New York displayed Gypsy’s plate collection in special exhibitions. She owned rare plates painted by Charles Dana Gibson, who originated the “Gibson Girl” in pen-and-ink drawings of the epitome of the modern independent white woman at the turn of the twentieth century. From one set of twenty-one plates, Gypsy lacked only three. The series was called Life and Friends of a
Read more about Stripping Gypsy at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kevin Mattson's "'What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?'"

Kevin Mattson is Connor Study Professor of Contemporary History at Ohio University and serves as a faculty associate of the Contemporary History Institute. He is author of Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century (2006); When America Was Great: The Fighting Faith of Postwar Liberalism (2004, 1st edition, 2006, 2nd edition); Engaging Youth: Combating the Apathy of Young Americans Towards Politics (2003); Intellectuals in Action: The Origins of the New Left and Radical Liberalism, 1945-1970 (2002); and Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban Participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era (1998).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, 'What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?': Jimmy Carter, America's 'Malaise,' and the Speech that Should Have Changed the Country, and reported the following:
Ah yes, 99 tells all (I’ve always thought Ford Madox Ford was a smart dude): This page explains how the Moral Majority formed. There’s Jerry Falwell, Jesse Helms, the battle against the ERA and abortion, and numerous activists in the “New Right” pressing Falwell to form an organization. And then the page ends…

In essence, this is the story of the right wing getting organized in the midst of some of the worst times for the Carter administration. So 99 is a quick view of the future victors in the political and culture wars to follow. It’s fascinating to note here that Jimmy Carter was perhaps one of the last, famous liberal evangelists known to Americans. Falwell would talk about America as a “chosen people,” about its mission blessed by God. Carter instead was well-read in the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr who had warned about conflating a nation’s cause in the world with God’s will. Carter was all about national humility – after all, wasn’t this the nation that had battled for ten years or more in Vietnam only to wreck destruction and never accomplish its goals? Wasn’t this a nation that had become too reliant upon foreign sources of oil and too unwilling to talk about “limits” and now faced an energy crisis? Chosen people?, you could imagine Carter wondering.

So the book’s ending is prophesied on page 99. There’s a lot more to come, of course, but once the New Right mobilizes around this message and once they find their candidate – Ronald Reagan – they’re ready to outgun Carter. And they do. But not before he gives the speech that serves as the center of this book. And that’s a good story too. And there’s nothing about it on page 99. For that the book has to be read in its entirety.
Learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website and at Kevin Mattson's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Susan A. Brewer's "Why America Fights"

Susan A. Brewer is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Her publications include To Win the Peace: British Propaganda in the United States during World War II.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq, and reported the following:
“Many of the deeply antifascist men and women already engaged in propaganda work were frustrated that so many Americans had been ambivalent about the threat posed by Nazi Germany. As much as they might have believed in the ideal of the informed citizen knowing the right thing to do, they thought the common man was in need of enlightenment and education.”

Page 99 of Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq addresses a dilemma confronting U.S. government propagandists during World War II. The Office of War Information (OWI), created by President Franklin Roosevelt in June 1942, was charged with instructing and inspiring the nation to mobilize for total war. Headed by the respected CBS broadcaster, Elmer Davis, the OWI dedicated itself to a “strategy of truth.”

The men and women of the OWI believed that democracy must prevail. They despised the Axis regimes for glorifying the leader, crushing dissent, burning books, and spreading hate. After observing the rise of fascist dictatorships, OWI staffers feared the power of propaganda to manipulate people. Yet, they knew they needed to exercise some of that power.

As confident as they were in American potential, officials at the OWI worried that U.S. citizens might be too self-centered to make the sacrifices necessary to defeat the Axis. They also knew that the American public distrusted official propaganda. After World War I, many Americans had concluded that propaganda meant lies and they should stay out of other people’s wars. When World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, most Americans did not want Hitler to win, but they opposed U.S. intervention.

In the months following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and U.S. entry into the war, the OWI sought to regain the trust of the American people and rally them for a long, tough fight. With the help of Hollywood, radio shows, and glossy magazines, propagandists repeatedly told the story of individuals faced with the choice of remaining isolationist or doing the right thing. A selfish Donald Duck or a cynical Humphrey Bogart examined their consciences and committed themselves to the war effort. Such stories showed that the informed citizen can make the right decision. They illustrated the superiority of democracy over political systems where the people had no freedom to choose.

As it portrayed the war as a global contest between the “free world” and the “slave world,” the OWI grappled with issues of democracy, citizenship, and official manipulation. Its adoption of the “strategy of truth” makes U.S. propaganda during World War II stand out in contrast to strategies deployed in other wars. “We stick to the truth,” explained Elmer Davis, “for we believe the truth is on our side.”
Learn more about Why America Fights at the Oxford University Press website.

Visit Susan A. Brewer's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 3, 2009

Jay Wexler's "Holy Hullabaloos"

Jay Wexler teaches at the Boston University School of Law. He studied religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School and law at Stanford, and worked as a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He has published numerous academic articles, and reviews, as well as nearly three dozen short stories and humor pieces in outlets such as Spy and McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battlegrounds of the Church/State Wars, and reported the following:
Kind of the main point of Holy Hullabaloos--though I don't say it explicitly in the book--is that we should see if we can get anywhere in our perennial debates over church and state by just chilling out a little. So much of our "conversation" about these controversial issues takes the form of angry shouting, intolerant badmouthing, and cruel ridiculing. I don't mind ridicule, so long as it's good-natured and parceled out equally to all parties (including to oneself). The experiment of Holy Hullabaloos is to see what happens when we use humor to talk about religion and government. Not "look at what an idiot you are" kind of humor but more of the "boy the world is confusing and difficult and we're all trying like a bunch of goofballs to try to make sense of it" kind of humor.

On page 99 of the book, I wrap up an imagined conversation among the Justices of the Supreme Court regarding a real case from a while back involving a challenge by the ACLU to a holiday display in Pittsburgh. The display included a very large Christmas tree, a large but not quite as large menorah, and a sign about religious pluralism. The question was whether this display, taken as a whole, "endorsed" religion in violation of the First Amendment. Pretty much each justice had his or her own idea of what message the display expressed. It's kind of standard for professors, when teaching cases like this one, to ridicule the justices for engaging in such a silly exercise. But in my little play, when I have Justice Brennan freaking out about the display, Justice Stevens breaking out into a "small dance," and Justice O'Connor adjourning the meeting for lunch, my point is not to criticize, but rather to show that--like all of us--these judges are simply trying their best to navigate the murky mess of our religiously-clothed public square.
Read more about Holy Hullabaloos at the publisher's website, learn more about the author at Jay Wexler's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Chris Grabenstein's "Mind Scrambler"

Chris Grabenstein won the Anthony Award for "Best First Mystery" (given at Bouchercon 2006) for his debut novel Tilt A Whirl—the first in a series of John Ceepak stories to be set "Down The Shore" in a New Jersey tourist town called Sea Haven. It was followed by Mad Mouse, Whack A Mole, and Hell Hole.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Mind Scrambler, the 5th John Ceepak mystery, and reported the following:
As an homage to Barbara Feldon and Get Smart, I decided to put my new John Ceepak mystery Mind Scrambler to the page 99 test.

Open the book to page 99 and yes, I think, the “quality of the whole will be revealed to you.”

I attempt to write the Ceepak mysteries, all named after amusement park rides or Boardwalk games, to resemble a good roller coaster ride: you’re laughing right before you’re scared to death; you’re all giggles as you climb up that first hill -- all screams on the wild ride down.

My narrator, Danny Boyle, the young rookie cop, looks at the world with a somewhat cynical eye and relates what he sees with a smart-alecky mouth. But then he and Ceepak get down to business and figure out whodunit.

On page 99 of Mind Scrambler we have the uphill laughs and the downhill horrors of a police procedural all on the same page.

The top of the page gives us the end of a search for the missing children of Atlantic City casino headliner, Richard Rock, the world famous illusionist. The two kids were the last ones in the room before their nanny (a friend of Danny and Ceepak from Sea Haven) was brutally murdered. They might be witnesses, which means they might also be the killer’s next targets. Our guys, aided by Cyrus Parker (another old friend from a previous book, Hell Hole), the head of security at the Xanadu Casino, find Britney and Richie Rock on the Atlantic City boardwalk and escort them back to the hotel and safety. Britney is, well, a monster. She is also a great character to have some fun with….

The kid talks faster than those TV commercials for prescription drugs listing side effects that may include death and anal leakage.

“Richie, on the other hand, still eats his boogers and blows snot rockets when he isn’t busy floating air biscuits. Air biscuit means fart.”

“Here we go, kids,” says Parker. Holding open a door into the casino. “Your parents would like to talk to you.”

“Why?” asks Britney.

“I guess because you took off like that.”

Britney freezes. Plants both hands on her hips. “We only did what our stupid nanny told us to do!”

“We know,” Parker says, leaning down and grinning like he’s the friendly ol’ bear in a picture book. “I think they want to talk to you about, you know, something else, too. Something pretty serious. Kind of grown up.”

“Oh. Like Jake and Katie doing the nasty?”

Somehow, Parker keeps smiling. “Your mom and dad are downstairs. Uncle Chang’s Ice Cream Parlor. Do you like ice cream, Britney?”

She blows Parker the lip-noise equivalent of one of those air biscuits. “Well, duh.” She marches into the casino, shaking her head, muttering, “Do you like ice cream? Jesus!” like the big man is retarded, too.

And then, after a two line break (ah, a passage of time) we’re right on to the nitty-gritty of the murder investigation.

Unfortunately, on page 99, everybody thinks Danny dunit. His image was the first one captured by backstage security cameras after the magic show curtain came down. He discovered the dead body.

And this time, as they say in movie trailers, it’s extremely personal: the murder victim is Katie Landry, Danny’s girlfriend form the second book in the series, Mad Mouse (no spoiler alert needed -- I give it away in the first sentence of Mind Scrambler).

The Atlantic City Homicide Detective has arrived and wants to talk to us. More specifically, he wants to speak to me -- the guy who discovered the body and, if the digital video in the surveillance control room is to be believed, the only human being to set foot backstage after “Rock ‘n Wow!” started.

Up then down. Twist then turn.

I think page 99 gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect when you read one of my Ceepak books -- a wild and fun roller coaster of a read.
Read an excerpt from Mind Scrambler, and learn more about the book and author at Chris Grabenstein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue