Saturday, September 22, 2018

Rachel Plotnick's "Power Button"

Rachel Plotnick is an Assistant Professor of Cinema and Media Studies in The Media School at Indiana University Bloomington. She received her PhD from the Media, Technology and Society program in the School of Communication at Northwestern University. Her research and teaching focus on information, communication and media technologies from an historical and critical/cultural perspective.

Plotnick applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Power Button: A History of Pleasure, Panic, and the Politics of Pushing, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In an article titled '"The End of War," author J.F. Sullivan envisioned a world where "war seemed to grow ever more terrible; until it came to such a pass that a single human being could destroy a whole nation by simply pressing a small button with his finger." As Sullivan imagined, it was not a crazed dictator or power-hungry politician who blew up the world, but rather a bumbling gentleman who unwittingly and effortlessly pushed a button that he happened to encounter without realizing what effects the button would trigger.
This passage details a couple of core themes that repeat throughout the book. First, it points to the fact that dystopian fears have often manifested around button pushing because buttons' effects are perceived to be swift and irreparable - once you push a button you can't undo the process you've set in motion. In this imagining, buttons function more like triggers because they can't be "unpressed." Second, and related, those potentially catastrophic effects can (theoretically) be controlled by any person and by any person's hand. The subtext, here, is that you don't need special strength, skill or knowledge to push buttons, and this notion of universality - anyone can push a button - has made buttons both seductive and terrifying for more than a century.

While manufacturers and advertisers of consumer goods have sold this concept of accessibility to the masses, I note throughout Power Button​ how the potent simplicity of buttons destabilized social relations in really important ways. The act of button pushing occurred in the context of a late nineteenth and early twentieth century society grappling with big questions about machine labor versus manual labor, bureaucracy, and skill, and buttons were perhaps one of the most iconic (and lasting) technologies to come from that time period which challenged what human beings could (and should) do with their hands.
Visit Rachel Plotnick's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Clare Mulley's "The Women Who Flew For Hitler"

Clare Mulley is an award-winning biographer, and contributes to various historical and current affairs journals, TV and radio.

Her latest book, The Women Who Flew for Hitler (2017), is a joint biography of two extraordinary women whose skills put them at the heart of the Third Reich but whose choices meant they ended their lives on opposite sides of history.

Mulley applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Women Who Flew for Hitler and reported the following:
Melitta posed for British press photographers “where the huge ‘D’ for Deutsche was painted, rather than beside the swastika on the tail” of her light aircraft, page 99 of The Women Who Flew for Hitler opens. In a way, this gets right to the heart of things.

This is a book about the only two women to serve the Third Reich as test pilots during the Second World War. That they were both brilliant pilots is a given; the Nazis would not have let any women near an aircraft if they did not need their skills. As the only female Flight Captains in Nazi Germany, and recipients of the Iron Cross, Melitta von Stauffenberg and Hanna Reitsch were also great patriots and shared a strong sense of honor and duty. Their concepts of ‘patriotism’, however, were very different. Hannah was a fanatical Nazi. Melitta was secretly Jewish and loyal to an older, pre-Nazi Germany. In 1944 she would become closely involved in her brother-in-law Claus von Stauffenberg’s plot to assassinate Hitler.

Back in 1938, where page 99 finds us, Melitta had been sent to England to show the British what German female pilots were made of. As it happened, her visit coincided with Chamberlain’s trip to Munich. British journalists were on standby for major news, and rather frustrated to be reporting on “two pretty young German pilots in cotton skirts and light woolen cardigans”. So when Melitta was suddenly ordered to report to her Embassy without delay, it caused something of a media frenzy.

“Nervous excitement grew around the possibility of being the first to hear the news, and break the story, that the whole country was dreading…”

By the end of the page, however, we know that the intriguing urgent call to the Embassy has come from Melitta’s husband, unexpectedly on business in London and hoping to arrange a dinner date with his wife. “We trust that the dinner went off satisfactorily”, the British papers dryly concluded their reports.

This is a book full of high drama in the skies, and collaboration but also courage and defiance down below. There is also plenty of humor and humanity in the small details of life. Above all, this is the true story of two real women with soaring ambitions and a searing rivalry, making seemingly impossible choices under the perverting conditions of war and dictatorship. While Melitta chose to position herself by the ‘D’ for Deutschland, Hanna would always stand by the Nazi swastika. They would end their lives on opposite sides of history.
Visit Clare Mulley's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Women Who Flew For Hitler.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Marcia Bjornerud's "Timefulness"

Marcia Bjornerud is the Walter Schober Professor of Environmental Studies and Professor of Geology at Lawrence University. She is the author of Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth and a contributing writer for Elements, the New Yorker’s science and technology blog.

Bjornerud applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, and reported the following:
From page 99 of Timefulness:
There were oceans on this ancient Earth, and the nearness of the Moon would have made tides significantly higher. Tides would also have been more frequent, because the day was shorter, probably less than 18 hours (making a year of about 470 days). Over time, friction between the ocean-atmosphere system and the solid Earth has acted like a soft brake that has gradually slowed the planet’s rotation.
Page 99 falls in the early part of a chapter called “Changes in the Air”, about the evolution of the atmosphere and ocean over geologic time. My hope is that by taking a deep dive into the story of the atmosphere, readers might better appreciate each breath they take and understand that the clement and hospitable conditions that prevail today on this planet are not the only mode Earth has.

A central idea in the book is that Earth and Life have co-evolved, and that as long as the surface environment has not changed too quickly, lifeforms have been able to adapt. Occasionally, however, a rogue asteroid or a ‘perfect storm’ of internal factors has led to such rapid changes in climate, atmospheric composition, and/or sea level that the biosphere has not been able to keep pace. These mass extinction events are sobering reminders that there are limits to life’s resilience -- and cautionary tales for a species that is cavalierly altering the atmosphere and hydrosphere at rates almost unprecedented in Earth’s history.

More broadly, understanding the history of the atmosphere is part of “Timefulness” – seeing the back stories that are embedded everywhere in the natural world, and shifting our perception of our place in the cosmos.
Learn more about Timefulness at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 17, 2018

Eric Jay Dolin's "Black Flags, Blue Waters"

Eric Jay Dolin is the best-selling author of Leviathan and Brilliant Beacons. His new book is Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates. Dolin and his family live in Marblehead, Massachusetts, from which the pirate John Quelch departed in 1703, and returned to in 1704, only to be hanged in Boston.

Dolin applied the “Page 99 Test” to Black Flags, Blue Waters and reported the following:
Black Flags, Blue Waters is about the so-called Golden Age of Piracy, which started in the late 1600s, and ended in the mid 1720s. This was the most dramatic era of maritime marauding the world has ever known, when pirates wreaked havoc across the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. Much has been written about that time period, and this book adds to that literary lineage, but with a twist. Rather than focusing broadly on this era, Black Flags, Blue Waters zeros in on the history of the pirates who either operated out of America’s English colonies or plundered ships along the American coast.

The following excerpt from page 99, introduces us to the infamous Captain Kidd.
The battle against piracy was furthered by the English government’s reaction to the ill-fated voyage of Captain William Kidd, arguably the world’s most famous pirate, who really wasn’t much of a pirate at all. Kidd’s story is full of many twists and turns and a cast of hundreds, if not thousands. Entire books have been written about his exploits, and no doubt there are others to come. But, for the purposes of our tale, only the outline of his story is necessary, just enough to understand how his actions in the Indian Ocean affected the course of piracy in America.

Born in Dundee, Scotland, in 1654, the son of a mariner, Kidd was a powerfully built and voluble man with a quick temper, and a streak of arrogance that was often on display. He served as a buccaneer and then privateer in the Caribbean before arriving in New York City in 1691, where his help in putting down a political rebellion made him a favorite of the incoming governor. His entrĂ©e into the upper reaches of local society was further cemented by his marriage to Sarah Bradley Cox Oort, a recent widow who brought with her a considerable estate. With his strong ties to the sea, Kidd, however, soon grew tired of his patrician life and, at the age of forty-one in 1695, desirous of adventure and a highly reputable position, he set sail for London to obtain an officer’s commission in the Royal Navy.
As for Ford Madox Ford’s pronouncement, I think it holds fairly well for this book. After all, you have a bit of mystery, a bit of debunking of mythology, and a taste of the beginning of a really good story – and this book is, more than anything, a narrative compilation of great and surprising stories.
Learn more about the book and author at Eric Jay Dolin's website.

Writers Read: Eric Jay Dolin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Tanya Marquardt's "Stray"

Tanya Marquardt is an award-winning performer and the author of ten plays, which have been produced across Canada and the United States. Transmission was published in the Canadian Theatre Review, and Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep was the subject of an episode of NPR’s Invisibilia. A Hertog Fellow and graduate of the MFA creative writing program at Hunter College, Marquardt splits her time between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Brooklyn, New York.

Marquardt applied the “Page 99 Test” to Stray: Memoir of a Runaway, her first book, and reported the following:
From page 99:
...After Liz and Kristian had asked me to leave, I'd asked everyone I knew if I could stay with them. Garret's place was a no - there was no room and his father was still grieving the loss of his wife. Abby was a kind-of - her parents said I could spend the occasional weekend there if I needed to, but were noncommittal. I went back to Garret to see if I could stay for a couple of weekends a month and started to plan a piecemeal schedule - a night here, two nights there. I was trying to stay focused on the task, furiously committed to staying away from Mom. But as the deadline loomed, I stopped sleeping altogether, lying on the couch, thinking that maybe the painful springs weren't that painful and wondering where I would be sleeping next.
When I was a runaway, food, shelter, and a place to sleep caused me anxiety on a daily basis, and I was constantly in search of what most of my friends took for granted. In this paragraph I am attempting, and failing, to provide myself with some kind of structure, a modicum of security in the midst of my life at that time, which was chaotic and unpredictable. Here I let the sentences have a kind of runabout quality to them because I wanted to let the reader see how I was frantically trying to find a home, doubling back to people who had said no, begging and pleading and not getting anywhere. The language acts as to stand in for my emotional life when I was sixteen - high strung, in survival mode, with little support. Things change later, and obviously, since I am writing this, I did survive, and even thrive. Stray is about that survival, and about the process of discovering oneself and ones chosen family.
Visit Tanya Marquardt's website.

My Book, The Movie: Stray.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Adam Kotsko's "Neoliberalism’s Demons"

Adam Kotsko is on the faculty of the Shimer Great Books School at North Central College, where he teaches widely in the humanities and social sciences. His research on political theology, continental philosophy, and the history of Christian thought. He is the author of The Prince of This World, a study of the political legacy of pre-modern Christian ideas about the devil, and the newly released Neoliberalism’s Demons, which argues that the contemporary political-economic order functions on the basis of a logic of moral entrapment that echoes the theological concept of demonization.

Kotsko applied the “Page 99 Test” to Neoliberalism’s Demons and reported the following:
On page 99 of Neoliberalism’s Demons, I am discussing Will Davies’ periodization of the neoliberal era, as laid out in his New Left Review article “The New Neoliberalism.” He characterizes the late 70s and 80s as the era of “combative neoliberalism,” when Reagan, Thatcher, and others were implementing the profound political and economic changes—most notably, the dismantling of the welfare state and the reduction in taxation and regulation—that would mark the shift from the postwar economic model to neoliberalism. By the 90s and early 2000s, the neoliberal mantra of “there is no alternative” shifted from being an aspiration (or a threat) to a reality: essentially all developed nations had adopted neoliberal reforms and the general ethos of endless competition. At this stage, which Davies calls “normative,” more progressive parties took the lead and aimed to ensure that the competition was fair. Finally, though, in the wake of the financial crisis, neoliberalism enters into a “punitive” stage characterized by endless austerity, justified by public debt.

This page exemplifies my approach in a few ways. First, it highlights the importance of the development and transformation of the neoliberal regime over time, and the shift to “punitive” neoliberalism lays the groundwork for my account of how the right-wing reaction (represented by Trump and Brexit) grew out of the neoliberal model. It also obviously illustrates my debt to Will Davies, whose Limits of Neoliberalism is one of the few books prior to my own to ask about the sources of the legitimacy of neoliberalism. Many books can tell you where neoliberalism came from, how it developed, and what (mostly negative) effects it has had on people around the world—but very few have asked the question of why people would go along with the neoliberal system. That is the core question of my book and, though he approaches it from a very different disciplinary background, of Davies’ as well.
Visit Adam Kotsko's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Prince of This World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Timothy Larsen's "John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life"

Timothy Larsen is McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life, and reported the following:
I must admit I had never heard before of Ford Madox Ford’s page ninety-nine test, but I think my John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life passes it reasonably well. The book is actually in Oxford University Press’s Spiritual Lives series and thus it is really about the collision in Mill’s own life between the series title (spiritual) and the book’s subtitle (secular). In other words, the book is about the extraordinary amount of religion in Mill’s thought despite his being a famous rationalist.

Page 99 is in a section analyzing Mill’s classic work, A System of Logic (1843). This book is surprisingly filled with religious examples, discussion, and language. Mill actually refers to God directly over eighty times in it. This seems rather gratuitous given that there are even entire books of the Bible that never mention God. Page 99 offers as evidence some of the syllogisms that Mill uses to teach the principles of logic. I show how in just one, short chapter, “On Propositions”, he repeatedly uses startlingly religious examples such as “Peter and James preached at Jerusalem and Galilee” (the point being to discern that it contains four, separate propositions) and “The Founder of Christianity was crucified.” There is even a discussion of the filioque clause in the western version of the Nicene Creed. As I write on page 99, “I defy anyone to find a modern work on logic being used as a textbook in national universities today that includes a reference to the question of the double or single procession of the Holy Spirit in the Triune Godhead!”

In fact, throughout the mature decades of his life, Mill believed that it was perfectly rational on the grounds of strict logic alone to hope in God and in Jesus Christ. He repeatedly confessed his reverence for Jesus and his teachings. This book is about the Mill that you never knew; the Mill that even some of his closest disciples never knew. This is John Stuart Mill the Saint of Rationalism—a secular life and a spiritual life.
Learn more about John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 10, 2018

Mohamed A. F. Noor's "Live Long and Evolve"

Mohamed A. F. Noor, besides being a Trekkie, is a professor in the Biology Department at Duke University. He is the editor in chief of the journal Evolution and author of You’re Hired! Now What?: A Guide for New Science Faculty.

Noor applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Live Long and Evolve: What Star Trek Can Teach Us about Evolution, Genetics, and Life on Other Worlds, and reported the following:
Although Live Long and Evolve uses Star Trek to engage readers, the purpose of the book is to teach fundamental concepts in genetics and evolution. Page 99 introduces the concept of "genetic drift".

The term "genetic drift" appears twice in Star Trek, but it is used inappropriately, both times referring to an individual. Instead, genetic drift is an evolutionary process that occurs in a population of individuals, just like the more familiar "natural selection". With natural selection, often called "survival of the fittest" in popular media, individuals bearing a particular trait or attribute are more likely to survive and pass on their genes to the next generation than individuals lacking this particular trait or attribute. For example, natural selection happens because an individual has keen eyesight for hunting, or a color that matches their tree's bark so they're not easily spotted by predators, or a particular tail ornament that's attractive to females. Because the best-surviving or reproducing individuals have that "fittest" trait, those individuals have more offspring, and more individuals in the next generation will inherit that trait.

Genetic drift also changes the abundance of variants (and their underlying genes) in natural populations, but the changes are random rather than directional. Genetic drift is similar to the concept of "sampling error"—if few samples are studied, then one can have a very different view of a population than was true in the original population. Imagine one wants to know the frequency of heads vs. tails in a coin flip. If you only flip a coin twice, you may decide that the coin "always" lands on heads. If you flip it 4 times, you may decide that the coin lands on heads 75% of the time. However, if you flip it 1000 times, you'll know that very close to 50% of flips result in heads.

The same sampling error happens in natural populations based on the number of individuals. If a population is very large, then the next generation (assuming it is also large) will have similar representation of whatever feature (e.g., red hair, and its underlying genes). However, if the population is very small, then big changes can happen each generation. Those changes resulting from small population size are "genetic drift", and that is the subject of page 99 of my book.
Learn more about Live Long and Evolve at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Candice Delmas's "A Duty to Resist"

Candice Delmas is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at Northeastern University and the Associate Director of the Politics, Philosophy, and Economics Program. She previously served as a Dworkin-Balzan Fellow at New York University School of Law from 2016 to 2017. She works in moral, social, political, and legal philosophy.

Delmas applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A Duty to Resist: When Disobedience Should Be Uncivil, and reported the following:
Page 99, which is situated toward the end of the third chapter, is representative of the book. The book argues for political obligations in the face of injustice, on the basis of several grounds that philosophers commonly use to support the moral duty to obey the law. It also conceptualizes and defends uncivil disobedience, that is principled lawbreaking that deviates from the standard norms of civility (publicity, nonviolence, nonevasion, and decorum).

Chapter 3, “Justice and Democracy,” uses the natural duty of justice—which requires supporting just institutions—to defend a duty to resist injustice in basically legitimate states. The chapter develops a typology of injustice ranging from democratically sanctioned violations of basic rights to official abuses, and defends a series of political obligations corresponding to the contexts of injustice identified: obligations to engage in education efforts, protest (including civil disobedience), covert disobedience, vigilante self-defense, and whistleblowing. Page 99 discusses this last political obligation:
The duty of justice can thus support special obligations to blow the whistle against public ignorance, even if doing so involves breaking the law by disclosing state secrets. Snowden’s leaks educated the public about digital rights infringed upon by government surveillance; and the Panama and Paradise Papers exposed systematic tax evasion by the wealthy and politicians’ conflicts of interest. Government whistleblowing can remedy significant cognitive deficits in the public sphere, thereby enabling a deliberative environment. It can also frustrate injustice by halting or diminishing the wrongdoing in question as soon as it is exposed. These functions make it a particularly powerful way of addressing democratic deficits (in the form of public ignorance) and enhancing justice and the rule of law (when the state uses secrecy in order to conceal its own wrongdoing). Government whistleblowers can thus appeal to the duty of justice to justify their actions.
On my view, government whistleblowing should not be understood as a kind of civil disobedience. Indeed it often fails to satisfy the basic norms of civility, especially publicity (the Panama Papers were leaked anonymously) and nonevasion or acceptance of legal sanctions (Edward Snowden sought asylum in Russia to escape U.S. prosecution). In addition, whereas civil disobedients protest laws without being able to change them, government whistleblowers unilaterally undo state secrets, imposing serious national security risks in the process. It is thus important to keep these two kinds of principled disobedience distinct—and to evaluate them using different lenses.
Learn more about A Duty to Resist at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Sarah Anne Carter's "Object Lessons"

Sarah Anne Carter is the curator and director of research at the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee. She has published, lectured, and taught courses on material culture, museum practice, and American cultural history.

Carter applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World, and reported the following:
Page 99 brings readers directly into some of the most challenging aspects of my book: the racist implications of object lessons. The larger study considers the history of object lessons, a nearly forgotten pedagogy that was employed across the United States to teach children about the world. This approach had been designed to open children’s minds, to teach them how to think broadly and expansively rather than relying on rote learning and memorization. It intended to teach students how to move from concrete observations to abstract thinking. By the turn of the twentieth century the actual practice disappeared from common school curricula into metaphor, becoming a way to talk about object-based reasoning more broadly. In chapter 4, “Object Lessons in Race and Citizenship,” I focus on the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia. There, African American and Native American students were taught using object lessons and referred to as living object lessons in the transformative potential of these educational methods.

The top of page 99 describes the Native American prisoners of war brought to Hampton by Captain Richard Henry Pratt from Fort Marion:
When Pratt first brought the group of Plains Indian prisoners of war to Hampton in 1878, the school responded with “object lessons.” Ludlow described the curriculum intended for students in the Indian Department as initially centered around the study of things, “The methods of teaching are those in modern use for their grades, with adaptations to the conditions: Language and number lessons with objects, geography with molding sand and map drawing; reading.” Later they were to move on to “arithmetic, history and drawing.” Only then did they enter the normal school’s junior year, usually spending five years in all at the school. For younger native students, objects and object lessons, lessons on pictures, and basic drill usually replaced books for the first three years of classroom study. Because of their perceived abilities to observe, these Native American students were believed to have a “native keenness of perception” that fitted them to the study of natural history, which they pursued through Prang’s lithographs.
This passage explores how those students were educated and the ways teachers at Hampton linked the presumed benefits of object-based learning to the perceived, racially determined abilities of Native American students. Not only does it remind us that some students at Hampton arrived as prisoners of war, but it also highlights the connections between the assumptions teachers made about students’ needs and abilities and the methods and topics used to teach those students. These choices were often based on racial stereotypes.

Page 99 continues by addressing the application of object lessons as a new and popular pedagogy at Hampton, and how parents of African American children in Virginia, many of whom had been denied education under slavery, may have viewed this approach:
Hampton was, as its name indicated, also a normal school. Teachers were trained in pedagogical methods and permitted to teach and observe instruction in the school’s practice school in preparation for their own mandatory teaching experiences. In 1878, Armstrong invited Colonel Francis Parker and his students from Quincy, Massachusetts, known for the “Quincy method” of object teaching, to give a teacher’s institute. Parker’s hands-on methods emphasized students’ real-world knowledge and skills. For example, Quincy was known for its granite quarries. Parker used a specimen of granite from their quarries and another from a New Hampshire quarry as the foundation of a conversation lesson in comparison for his students. The children of granite men could tell the difference between the two samples, and in looking closely at the materials with this in mind, were able to understand the nature of physical evidence.

Through the work of Parker’s teachers, the students in the normal school were explicitly instructed in how to teach with objects. Of course, this mode of teaching was not exactly what some parents were expecting, even though it was employed in various forms in northern schools. In 1879, the Southern Workman, Hampton’s newspaper, reported on the new pedagogy: “The object lessons given to the little children of the Butler School this winter by a trained teacher from Col. Parker’s famous schools in Quincy, Mass. have proved quite trying to the faith and patience of some of the parents, who thought that because the little ones did not bring home books to study they could not be learning anything.” Directing the focus away from literacy was clearly troubling to parents who viewed it as the central goal of primary education and a tool they had been denied under slavery.
For some African American parents at Hampton, many of whom had once been enslaved, a pedagogy that did not focus on reading did not meet their expectations for their children’s education. Many prioritized the development of their children’s literacy skills.

While page 99 does not encapsulate the whole book, it still passes the test. It reminds us that researchers should endeavor to understand the ways instruction and learning unfold in real classrooms for diverse students. We must be attentive to these realities and responsibilities both as scholars and as teachers.
Learn more about Object Lessons at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Anne Balay's "Semi Queer"

Anne Balay graduated with a PhD from the University of Chicago, after which she promptly became a car mechanic. Though in subsequent years she returned to academia as a professor both at the University of Illinois and Indiana University Northwest, she never lost her interest in blue collar work environments. Balay moved to Gary, Indiana to teach, and was immediately interested in the steel industry of the region. Her coworker and mentor, Jimbo Lane, suggested that she would be perfectly suited to meeting with and writing about the LGBT workers within the mill community, and Steel Closets was born. Balay then attended commercial truck driving school, got her CDL, and drove over the road. Oral histories of truck drivers she did in 2015/16 have led to her new book, Semi Queer: Inside the World of Gay, Trans, and Black Truck Drivers. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Haverford College.

Balay applied the “Page 99 Test” to Semi Queer and reported the following:
Page 99 opens with a general claim about the contradictions of trucking: though truckers are exposed to trauma via the road accidents they witness, they receive no training in how to handle this, and in fact typically avoid getting treatment because they believe their employers will let them go if they have a history of seeking mental health support.

It then makes a further claim about how queer, trans, and black truckers add this under-treated trauma to the extra weight they carry of family rejection, outsider status, low pay, medical neglect or worse. I allude to the fierce pride they feel in persevering in spite of all this, and the way the movement – the transitoriness – of the job echoes their sexual/gender expression or their racialized visibility in ways that feel affirming and fun.

And then it turns to the story of one particular trucker: Donovan. Though her story extends through many pages and weaves through many of my book’s themes, here I emphasize how her low pay combined with her company’s flagrant disregard for her need to make it home for medical appointments target her. If she can’t maintain her hormone regimen, she is prone to panic attacks and to depression. She is so lonely out there on the road. After we had talked for about 20 minutes, she started to cry. I asked why, and she said this was the longest conversation she had had with a human in months.

I try to impart a sense of Donovan as a person, on page 99 and elsewhere. We can know things as readers, but I also want us to feel these stories as they shape the lives of my narrators. If I can leave readers with a sense that they “met” Donovan, it might change their queer activism, their policy work, or their engagement with others in this brutal, beautiful world.
Learn more about Semi Queer at The University of North Carolina Press website.

Visit Anne Balay's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 3, 2018

Brian Murphy's "Adrift"

Brian Murphy is the Russia and East Asia editor at The Washington Post. He is the author of four nonfiction books, including The Root of Wild Madder: Chasing the History, Mystery and Lore of the Persian Carpet and 81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska’s Frozen Wilderness.

Murphy applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Adrift: A True Story of Tragedy on the Icy Atlantic and the One Man who Lived to Tell about It, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Over the next half hour or so, the commotion on deck grew more troubling. More movement. Shouting. Heavy footfalls.

This didn’t seem routine at all.
Page 99 comes just before the heart of the book: the sinking of the ship John Rutledge and the life-and-death struggles of 13 people on a lifeboat. The page, however, touches on a critical part of the narrative. We get a glimpse of the harrowing conditions and great risks for emigrants crossing the Atlantic in the mid-19th century.

Let me set the scene for page 99.

Hours earlier, the hull of the ship John Rutledge had been gouged open by an iceberg. It is February 1856. They are 450 miles off Newfoundland, an area of the North Atlantic known as Ice Alley. Down in the steerage, more than 100 emigrants – mostly Irish bound for New York – are listening to the chaos on deck as the crew struggles to save the ship. The steerage passengers do not yet know the ship is doomed. But the sounds from above are ominous. Panic begins to feed more panic. Soon – later in this chapter – the ship begins to slip into the sea. Five lifeboats get off, quickly disappearing into the fog. Thirty other souls are left onboard to be taken by the Atlantic.

I came across the story of the John Rutledge at an exhibit on shipwrecks in Centerville, Mass., the hometown of the captain. There was the obvious tale of the lone survivor, a young sailor from near New Bedford, who was picked up by a ship after nine days adrift. It was remarkable on many levels. There were rarely survivors from wrecks on Ice Alley. And Nye was from a prominent family in shipping and whaling, adding another element to his brief celebrity and the subject of sensational headlines. He was the man who watched 12 others perish around him from cold, exposure and the horrible madness and pain brought on by drinking seawater.

But I hope this book is considered more than just a survival story.

I strived to give readers a sense of the incredible perils of sea travel in the 19th century age of immigration.

Tens of thousands of people were lost at sea in those decades. It became so common that the loss of ships merited little more than a passing notice. Early 1856 was particularly cruel. The ice was heavier than anyone had seen in generations. Three other ships were lost without a trace about the same time as the Rutledge: two American clipper ships and a transatlantic steamer, the Pacific, carrying many well-known figures from Britain and New York. More than 800 people were gone. (In an incredible twist, one of the owners of the John Rutledge was on the Pacific.)

As I wrote in the Author’s Note: “The sea is good at swallowing lives without a trace. This is my belated elegy for them all and the risks they faced on the North Atlantic.”
Learn more about Adrift, and follow Brian Murphy on Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Siobhan Lambert-Hurley's "Elusive Lives"

Siobhan Lambert-Hurley is Reader in International History in the Department of History at the University of Sheffield.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Elusive Lives: Gender, Autobiography, and the Self in Muslim South Asia, and reported the following:
Elusive Lives is a book about gender, autobiography and the self in Muslim South Asia. A consciously feminist project, it focuses on women who refused to respect cultural taboos against women speaking out and instead told their life stories in the form of written autobiography. Because I am a historian, the sources are highly varied in temporal terms – dating from the sixteenth century to the present in order to give a sense of how autobiography as a literary genre has evolved over time. They also cover a broad geographical area, including present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Women’s voices and stories are thus recovered in a wide range of South Asian languages, including Urdu, English, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi and Malayalam.

Page 99 outlines the structure and question for Chapter 3 on ‘The Autobiographical Map’:
This chapter… is divided into three main sections, each of which addresses autobiography’s geography in a different way. In the first, I map authors in regional, local, and religious terms in order to understand how specific locations may have stimulated autobiographical production… The second section then turns to autobiography’s linguistic geography for what it reveals about changing readerships and forms of expression… Readerships are addressed again in the third section, but with a more particular aim of identifying how real and imagined audiences shaped the way in which a life was written… I conclude by considering the model of performance as a theoretical frame.
It is revealing of the book as a whole in that, like each of the five chapters, it asks a simple question of women’s autobiographical writing in Muslim South Asia – in this case, where? Other chapters consider, in turn, what, who, how, and why – with when, the eternal question of the historian, woven throughout.

The quotation above points to how I interpret geography – the where – broadly. How does an author’s physical location, religious affiliation, linguistic choice, and (un)intended readership affect why and how South Asian Muslim women write their lives?

In terms of motivation – the why – I come to two main conclusions. First off, I suggest that the reformist and princely locations that acted as hubs for women’s autobiographical expression reveal autobiography’s important links to sharif redefinition – in other words, the reworking of elite status among Indian Muslims after 1857. An explicit link is thus uncovered between women, reformism, and autobiography in Muslim South Asia.

Secondly, I point to how the socioeconomic, cultural and historical characteristics of different localities enabled women’s autobiography to flourish in certain Muslim locations in the modern era – for example, Bangladesh over Pakistan, Bombay over Lahore, or even one Delhi neighbourhood over an another.

In terms of construction – the how – I employ performative models to show how specific audiences shaped how South Asian Muslim women crafted their autobiographical outputs in terms of content, tone and language at different historical moments: from the colonial to the postcolonial, the reformist to the nationalist, the regional to the global.
Learn more about Elusive Lives at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Lilian Calles Barger's "The World Come of Age"

Lilian Calles Barger was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and immigrated to the United States as a child. She received her PhD from The University of Texas at Dallas and is the author of Eve's Revenge: Women and a Spirituality of the Body and Chasing Sophia: Reclaiming the Lost Wisdom of Jesus.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology, and reported the following:
The intellectual origins of liberation theology that includes the first generation of Latin American, Black and feminist theologies of the late 1960s and 70s, are diverse and multiple. On page 99, I examine one of those streams of thought. Theology crossed paths with the American philosophy of pragmatism espoused by Charles Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, liberal theologians took up the challenge of pragmatism that experience was the test for any proposition. Theologians moved away from an abstracted concept of truth, or revelation, to social ethics as the measure of good religion. The theologian Douglas C. Macintosh, an alumnus of the influential Chicago Divinity School, embraced the claims of pragmatism in his book Theology as an Empirical Science (1919) and argued that belief “can be transformed into a categorical knowledge only by empirical verification.” The pragmatic approach to theological reasoning inspired the popular social gospel, in which the social effects of any belief determined its truth and value.

Pragmatism spread quickly to Latin America where quick translation allowed it to join the currents of positivism, the philosophy that had the greatest influence on the continent. The hemispheric spread of pragmatism prepared the intellectual environment for conceptualizing liberation theology in which the experience of the oppressed became the interpretive lens for reading the Bible. Unlike Protestant liberation theologians, Latin American Catholics had to transverse a greater distance between a pragmatic stance and Catholic orthodoxy. The Magisterium rejected pragmatism and in the words of Pope Pius X, it was the Protestant “synthesis of all heresies” that set the active virtues above passive values. The global spread of pragmatism also influenced the work of the Catholic French philosopher Maurice Blondel with his idea of truth as “critical reflection on action.” Blondel contributed a key idea later taken up and developed by liberation theologians.
Visit Lilian Calles Barger's website.

--Marshal Zeringue