Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Peter Pouncey's "Rules for Old Men Waiting"

Peter Pouncey was born in Tsingtao, China, of English parents. At the end of World War II, after several dislocations and separations, the family reassembled in England, and Pouncey was educated there in boarding schools and at Oxford. He is a classicist, former dean of Columbia College, and president emeritus of Amherst College.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his first novel Rules for Old Men Waiting, and reported the following:
I quite like my page 99, on which my bluff Scottish hero MacIver tells his painter-wife Margaret a bed-time story about another young woman painter who rescues a sailor from his wrecked yacht in a storm, in the cove she is painting. Page 99 slides slipperily past the rescue to a small erotic completion in a snug cottage out of the wind, which then MacIver and Margaret re-enact, to their joint satisfaction. Quite apart from the fact that MacIver is the sort of man who can barely open his mouth without telling a story, the point of the small episode is to show, in fairly concrete terms, the kind of tension between imagination and memory in a man trying to make sense of his life and his world. He is a Professor of History (especially of World War I) with a lot of anger, even violence in his makeup, but he brings himself, in his last reclusive weeks, past grief and rage to peace at the end.
Read an excerpt from Rules for Old Men Waiting and learn more about the novel at the Random House website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Daniel Solove's "The Future of Reputation"

Daniel J. Solove is an Associate Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School. He is the author of The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age (2004) and Information Privacy Law (2006).

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet, and reported the following:
Open to page 99 of The Future of Reputation, and you're ensconced in shame. My book explores the privacy implications of the rise of blogging and social network websites. Today, anyone can create a blog or social network website profile in any name that says anything at all. For the first time in human history, any person can broadcast information to millions of strangers across the planet. Each of us has a permanent, searchable record — available instantly via Google for the rest of our lives to every employer, colleague, relative, neighbor, date, or friend. This is the future of reputation, and it will profoundly affect our lives.

The social practices of gossip and shaming have existed since antiquity, but they are taking on profound and alarming new dimensions when they occur online. What was previously fleeting is now permanent. What was previously localized is now accessible around the world.

Page 99 focuses on shaming, and it discusses one of the major problems of online shaming: "Internet shaming can devolve into vigilantism and violence." Shaming can and does serve valuable functions in society — it is a way of punishing people for transgressing norms. Shaming serves to maintain order in society by ensuring that norms are followed. But online shaming, because it often spirals out of control and takes on features of mob justice, can ironically thwart social order. It lacks due process or any sense of proportionality to the transgression.

In the book, I discuss what's at stake as people are increasingly expressing online details of their private lives — and the lives of their friends, family, co-workers, and others. The book contains numerous stories of people who were shamed or gossiped about on the Internet, and it discusses what we should do to protect people from being harmed. The rise of Internet speech is a truly wonderful thing, but there's a dark side that we must reckon with. We must establish a better balance between privacy and free speech, or else the freedom the Internet promises us will result in shackling people forever to their past mistakes or tying people to spurious rumors.
Read an excerpt from The Future of Reputation and learn more about the book and author at Daniel Solove's website, the Concurring Opinions blog, and the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 26, 2007

Terryl Givens' "People of Paradox"

Terryl L. Givens is Professor of Literature and Religion and James A. Bostwick Chair of English, University of Richmond. His books on Mormonism and American religious culture include The Latter-Day Saint Experience in America, By the Hand of Mormon, and Viper on the Hearth.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture, and reported the following:
Paradox is rife in any number of philosophical systems, faith traditions, and cultural practices. It could be that paradox is just a euphemism for the inconsistency so often at the heart of human ways of ordering experience. Paradox could be a sign of immaturity, an indication that our ways of articulating our values and preferences have not yet found a synthesis free of fault lines. Or one could see paradox as the sign of a voracious Faustian appetite, a response to Hegel’s tragic universe in which, confronted with competing Goods, we insist on having it both ways, and manage, perhaps, to do just that.

Levi-Strauss believed that all cultures are riven with fundamental contradictions at their heart, and myth becomes a way to overcome such contradictions. I have chosen to expand his approach, and look at a range of cultural expression in Mormon history, to find in art, music, literature, architecture, and the life of the mind, forums for the imaginative exploration and creative resolution of such contradictions. I call them paradoxes to reflect Mormon belief that, ultimately, the contradictions are more in appearance than reality.

Page 99 of People of Paradox provides a sampling of some of those manifestations of apparently irreconcilable difference in Mormon attitudes toward the life of the mind in particular. The practice of polygamy struck most observers as prima facie evidence of Mormon patriarchal dominance and devaluation of women. But Utah in the late 19th century sent more female students to medical college than any state in the Union. (Women comprised 50% of the class of Deseret at a time when the national average was 15%). Joseph Smith exhibited one of the boldest speculative imaginations of his age. But his successor Brigham Young wanted education more geared to producing turnips than thinkers. Mormon editorialists railed against “book-learning,” even as Utah children attended schools to get just that at a higher rate than children in New York, Pennsylvania, or the birthplace of public education, Massachusetts.

Journalist James Gordon Bennett’s jibe that Mormonism produced “saints and crockery ware” with equal enthusiasm actually hit the nail right on the head. Joseph Smith’s collapse of sacred distance created a theology in which commerce and consecration were fully compatible. Young’s remark that the transformation of the earth into a celestial sphere would be accomplished by angels well instructed in chemistry was but one further evidence that in Mormon conceptions of the universe, the supernal and the mundane blended into one another in sublime synthesis.
Learn more about People of Paradox at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Richard Halpern's "Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocence"

Richard Halpern is Sir William Osler Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University. His books include Shakespeare's Perfume: Sodomy and Sublimity in the Sonnets, Wilde, Freud and Lacan, Shakespeare Among the Moderns, and The Poetics of Primitive Accumulation: English Renaissance Culture and the Genealogy of Capital.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his most recent book, Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocence, and reported the following:
Page 99 occurs in the middle of an especially weird chapter, on Norman Rockwell’s portrayals of children. Here I’m discussing a painting in which Tom Sawyer is getting flogged by a schoolmaster, who has picked Tom up, slung him over his thigh, and begun whacking away at his bottom. We don’t allow flogging today, and it was always a bit depraved. Rockwell’s portrayals of children, like this one, are often edgy and strange:

The looming schoolmaster, switch poised to strike (several broken ones already litter the floor) holds a screaming Tom aloft as he prepares to deliver another blow to the boy’s derriere. The girls look on in sorrow while the boys watch the whipping with unconcealed glee. A blood-red kerchief which emerges from the schoolmaster’s backside (and matches the dress of the girl at bottom right) embodies in its color the violence of the moment, and makes it look, oddly, almost as if the schoolmaster bore welts on his backside. This illustration, like many of Rockwell’s, owes a debt to the tradition of Dutch genre painting, such as a painting by Jan Steen depicting a schoolmaster rapping a young, weeping boy on the palm with a spoon. (Among Steen’s onlookers, it is a girl who, interestingly, seems most to enjoy the spectacle of punishment.)

Whipping had, of course, been a staple of education for centuries. The assumption of the painting, I think, is that it is an essentially harmless and quite possibly character-building practice. Sometimes rambunctious boys just need a good tarring. Good behavior enters through the rear end. But on the other hand, schoolmasters were sometimes appallingly cruel, and their paddling of boys’ bottoms took on a sadistic, even sexual cast. The renowned Renaissance schoolmaster Richard Mulcaster, for instance, made liberal use of his birch rod, which he named “My Lady Birchley.” Mulcaster jokingly referred to beatings as marriage ceremonies between his Lady Birchley and his students’ buttocks. Thus the practice of whipping could–and often did--take on a perverse character. And this ambiguity of whipping, which employs a young boy’s bottom either for punishment or for pleasure in punishment, acts as the hinge on which the disavowal of Rockwell’s painting turns.

In my book I argue that America’s Favorite Illustrator has been badly misunderstood by both his fans and his detractors. Rockwell is not culturally or artistically naïve. Above all, he does not portray a bland style of American innocence. Rather, he is a canny diagnostician of innocence, which he exposes as a fiction based on various forms of denial and disavowal. Rockwell fills his apparently mayonnaise world with dark and disturbing details which he then dares the viewer to acknowledge. In exploring the underside of Rockwellian innocence, however, I do not aim to denigrate Rockwell or his work. Instead, I try to show that he’s a smarter, more complex and more accomplished painter than people generally recognize. His work is challenging in ways that we have yet to face.
Read an excerpt from Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocence and learn more about the book at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Jennifer Lee Carrell's "Interred With Their Bones"

Jennifer Lee Carrell has won three awards for distinction in undergraduate teaching at Harvard, where she taught in the History and Literature Program and directed Shakespeare for the Hyperion Theatre Company. She is the author of The Speckled Monster, a work of historical nonfiction about battling smallpox at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her debut novel Interred With Their Bones, and reported the following:
Applied to Interred With Their Bones, Ford Madox Ford’s test brings us up short at the end of a chapter, very nearly at the end of the first act, on a page that sports only a few lines. Oddly enough, they coyly hint at a great deal of what my novel is about … though not, I believe, the quality of the whole.

In many ways, page 99 reaches back to the opening lines: “We are all haunted. Not by unexplained rappings or spectral auras, much less headless horseman and weeping queens — real ghosts pace the battlements of memory, endlessly whispering, Remember me.” Interred With Their Bones is about discovery, loss, and remembering — on many levels.

It is also a fast-paced thriller. On page 99, Kate has just made a major discovery, only to be interrupted by the sudden arrival of a British Detective Chief Inspector:

But Roz had known
, of that I was suddenly sure. “I’ve found something, sweetheart,” she’d said. “Something big.” Bigger than Hamlet at the Globe, she’d insisted, her green eyes gleaming. And I had scoffed at her in smug derision.

The door buzzed, and I jumped.

As it opened, a voice that I recognized twined through it with strange clarity.

DCI Sinclair

First and foremost, what’s on display here is the voice of my heroine, Kate Stanley — a young American stage director working in London. Layered within is the remembered voice that haunts both Kate and the narrative: that of Rosalind (or Roz) Howard — a Harvard professor who is “part Amazon, part earth mother, part gypsy queen.” Roz was once Kate’s mentor and a mother-figure, and her words (“I’ve found something, sweetheart”) hark back to a mysterious refrain that Kate finds even more potent: If you open it, you must follow where it leads.

The plot revolves around the perilous search for a literary treasure — but it’s also a modern take on the extreme passions and violence of Renaissance revenge tragedy. Hamlet, given passing mention here, is wound deeply through this novel’s soul, if a novel can be said to have a soul. It’s lightened here and there, however, with moments of comic — or at least absurd — relief.

That said, you don’t need to know any Shakespeare to enjoy and understand my novel. At the very least, Mr. Ford’s test shows that I haven’t written a book full of “forsooth’s” and “prithee’s.” I hope that Interred With Their Bones will entertain anyone who enjoys a good tale — and maybe, along the way, provoke readers to ponder what makes Shakespeare, or any great storyteller, so endlessly enthralling.
Read excerpts from the novel and learn more about the book and author at Jennifer Lee Carrell's website and MySpace page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mark Lamster's "Spalding's World Tour"

Mark Lamster is Editor-at-Large at Princeton Architectural Press in New York. His writing on baseball, history, design, and architecture has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, the New York Times Book Review, Metropolis, I.D., and Architecture.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his book, Spalding's World Tour: The Epic Adventure that Took Baseball Around the Globe - And Made it America's Game, and reported the following:
Page 99 is a fitting enough place to drop into my book, which is the story of a group of itinerant baseball players and their trip around the globe. There's actually a summary sentence on the page that had been in the original proposal when it was sent out to publishers:

In place of Phileas Fogg, [Jules] Verne's punctilious British protagonist, Spalding would be leading a charismatic gang of working-class heroes on a mission to spread the gospel of baseball, that most
beloved and potent symbol of the American way.

There's something further on down about one of the great deceptions of the trip, and I think it generally captures the tone of the book in its entirety.
Read an excerpt from Spalding's World Tour and an author's note, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 19, 2007

Maud Casey's "Genealogy"

Maud Casey lives in Washington, D.C. and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Maryland. She is the author of two novels, The Shape of Things to Come and Genealogy, and a short story collection, Drastic. Her stories have appeared in Beloit Fiction Journal, Confrontation, The Gettysburg Review, The Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Sonora Review, and The Threepenny Review.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to Genealogy and reported the following, beginning with the text from the page:
called him, and later he would hear the hint of relief, as if she was glad it wasn’t true that Marguerite’s first word was her brother’s name and not mama or papa. But Marguerite had spoken, Ryan knew it. She spoke his name. Soon after, she said “bzz” for fly and “caw, caw” for bird in front of their parents. But she only said “Ry” in front of him so no one ever believed him, and when Marguerite learned to say “mama” and “papa” before she ever said “Ry” in front of Sam and Bernard, Ryan learned for the first time to be content for a thing in and of itself and not in the sharing of it.

Then one day Marguerite stopped talking altogether. “She’ll talk again soon,” Sam reassured him when Ryan told her, alarmed. “You have to be patient.” Her parental tone, one she seemed to slip over her voice like a costume, made Ryan so angry he went into his room and punched a small dent in the wall. Bernard came down and tried to read him that young boy who wanted to learn what fear was bullshit, but only succeeded in making Ryan hide his head farther under the pillows. “Well,” Bernard said, laughing so that Ryan burrowed deeper under the pillows, “there’s a fellow who will give his father some trouble.”

Ryan watches as Hyuen connects the tubes to the incisions in the dead man’s neck and the gallons of embalming fluid begin to find their way into his artery. The language Hyuen is teaching Ryan is somehow comforting, even “ripping the corpse.” But Ryan’s favorite so far is the honey running through Alexander the Great’s veins. He imagines honey in his own veins, slow and thick and sweet.

“You don’t look so good,” Hyuen says, his voice cutting through the honey.

“Hangover,” Ryan says, and it’s mostly true.

Ryan dreads getting home later and shooing the fruit flies from his face, holding his nose to keep the dead-meat smell at bay. The pumpkin has nearly rotted through; the gray concrete laid almost bare.

When he calls for his messages from the pay phone in the hall, there are two hang-ups on his machine, and when the third message

I once read an essay by Alice Munro in which she claimed she could start reading a story from any page. Stories are not like roads, she said. They are like houses, built around the whispery, unnameable essence at its core (I think she called it the “soul” of the story; Flannery O’Connor would call it the “mystery”). So what room have I
wandered into on page 99? This is a terrifying test — what if it sucks? You hope you’ll pick it up and there will be a lovely room, beautifully appointed, and maybe a hallway filled with lots of beautiful light that will lead the reader to the next room and make sense of the room that came before. Yikes. That’s a lot of pressure. My first reaction, upon reading this page, was relief that it was not gibberish. My next was a sense of unfamiliarity — this isn’t a page I’ve ever read from at a reading. At first it seemed inconsequential, but as it turns out, it’s a page where a lot of the ships passing in the night collide, or at least pass each other on their way to eventually colliding. The title of the novel, Genealogy, refers to this falling-apart Hennart family and its hopeless genes, but it also refers to the very particular language they speak as a family, and gestures (I hope) to the inherited language of all families — jokes, gestures, stories, verbal tics.

There are a lot of references to language here. It actually makes the book seem coherent! The first word(s) of Marguerite, the mentally ill daughter who has run away from home — her brother’s name was her first word, but then her mother, so jealous of her daughter’s adoration of her brother, couldn’t bear to believe it. There’s a reference to the scary fairy tale — “The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was” — that the father, Bernard, also on the lam when the book begins, tells his son. There’s the language of the morgue, of embalming, a new language for Ryan, the son who has also fled the family (the only person who hasn’t left the state when the book opens is Samantha, the mother, and she drops dead in the first chapter).

So that’s the room we’ve entered on p. 99: a portrait of this talk-y family via Ryan’s memory as he listens to his new friend, Hyuen, describe the factoid about Alexander the Great being embalmed with honey. And there is, in fact, a hallway into another room, too, though it’s a little dim and menacing, not filled with luminous light: the hang-ups on Ryan’s answering machine will turn out to be Thompson, the carpenter with whom the mother has been having an affair, calling to inform him his mother has died. Thompson arrived on the scene to redo the bathroom in accordance with the dictates of a 19th c. article by Dr. Edward Strecker, “The Continuous Bath In Mental Disease,” because Samantha — before Marguerite took off — was trying to heal her through baths, having eschewed pharmaceuticals. And that, in a convoluted nutshell, is page 99.

Learn more about Genealogy and its author at Maud Casey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Charles Perrow's "The Next Catastrophe"

Charles Perrow is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Yale University. His books include Organizing America: Wealth, Power, and the Origins of Corporate Capitalism and Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies. He has worked as a consultant for the U.S. military, the White House, and the nuclear-power industry.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters, and reported the following:
The third paragraph of page 99 goes as follows, illustrating just one of the many problems with the new Department of Homeland Security:

A glaring example of thoughtlessness, on-the-fly reorganization occasioned by the birth of the new department concerned a particularly important sector of first responders -- the effective National Disaster Medical System (NDMS). It deployed and coordinated volunteer teams of doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel in a crisis, some 7000 volunteers. It had been moved from the Department of Health and Human Services to FEMA by the original DHS designers. HHS felt it belonged in HHS, not in FEMA, and tried to wrest control of the NDMS during Hurricane Isabel (September 2003). It did not do well in FEMA and was starved of resources. Its paid staff had shriveled from 144 to 57 and did not even include a physician. NDMS volunteers complained about FEMA’s unpaid bills, faulty equipment, and intransigent leadership.... It warned that two years after their move to FEMA, they were less prepared than ever.

This quote is representative of my criticism of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. The failure of these organizations and many others in the public and private sectors is a major theme of the book. It argues that we cannot expect much from organizations when it comes to preventing disasters of all sorts -- I discuss natural, industrial, and terrorist disasters -- and thus we should spend more of our resources reducing the size of the targets of nature's fury, the industrial accidents, and vulnerable parts of our critical infrastructure. Instead of the Department of Homeland Security, which should be dismantled, we should establish a Department of Homeland Vulnerability that examines the risky concentrations that are vulnerable to all three sources of disasters.

We should deconcentrate populations that live in risky areas instead of waiting for more Katrinas to do it for us at immense human cost. We should deconcentrate the hazardous substances in urban centers; our cities are littered with weapons of mass destruction. And we should reduce the concentrations of economic and political power that sit astride our electric power system, our nuclear power plants, our concentrated food supply and our telecommunications, in particular the Internet. They present easy targets for nature, accidents, and terrorists.

This will require stricter regulations and meaningful enforcement, something we have been able to do in other sectors of society, notably in the areas of health and crime, where our government is moderately strong. It is weak regarding settlements in risky areas and building standards and evacuation routes. That could be changed. We once had antitrust laws that stemmed the concentrations of economic power that favor the concentrations of hazardous materials. We could re-enact them. Until very recently we considered the Internet to be a common carrier open to all, but concentration in telecommunications will make it more vulnerable to hackers, terrorists, and accidents. The domination of operating systems by Microsoft's Windows, which domination allowed it to pay little attention to security, has made our banking system, military establishments including intelligence, and even our power plants vulnerable to hackers, terrorists, and software failures. We could require secure operating systems and software for our critical infrastructure.

We have not been able to prevent or greatly mitigate disasters, and never will be; our organizations are simply not up to it. We will always have disasters from the three sources, but we can greatly limit their size and consequences by reducing concentrations.
Read an excerpt from The Next Catastrophe and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Eric Nuzum's "The Dead Travel Fast"

Eric Nuzum is a recovering pop culture critic, VH1 pundit, and author of Parental Advisory: Music Censorship in America.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula, and reported the following:
Unfortunately, the page 99 thing holds for The Dead Travel Fast … here’s why: Page 99 of my book features me trying to find a way out of attending a vampire-themed topless revue in Vegas with my Dad. Oh, I was planning to attend. I just didn’t want to go with him.

Here is why I say it is “unfortunately” accurate. When I was a little boy, I dreamed of being an author when I grew up. In my little brain, that meant sitting around in a big comfy chair, probably smoking a pipe, stroking my professorial beard, snacking on cheese cubes, and thinking big author thoughts (basically, being lazy for a living). The unfortunate reality of my real-life authorship (if that’s even a word) is that I spend my time drinking my own blood, hanging out at chain restaurants with people who like to drink other people’s blood, running off to Romania with a tour of vampire enthusiasts, and attending a Dark Shadows fan convention (filled with people who don’t even have the social skills to be Trekkies). All this to answer a relatively simple question (or what I thought was a relatively simple question): Why are vampires interesting?

Alas, despite the book’s success, I don’t have a comfy chair, I don’t have any time to sit around (let alone think), and I don’t even have the damn beard. I do love cheese cubes though, so that part worked out okay, I guess.

So, if someone were to pick up The Dead Travel Fast, turn to page 99, and see this situation play out…they’d get a good taste for the nonsense that fills the other 235 pages.

Actual text from page 99 of The Dead Travel Fast:

It was my dad who first told me about Bite. “You know, they have an adult revue in Vegas about vampires,” he offered, almost managing to suppress the smile on his face. “If you are interested in going, I’d be happy to go along with you.”

I jumped into the other room to do some quick online research and learned that, yes, there was a topless show in Las Vegas called Bite. At least two other times that evening, my dad offered to attend the show with me.

My father is a great guy and I love him a lot, but there was no way in hell that I was going to attend an adult revue with my dad. There are lots of fun things to do with dads: fishing, baseball games, carrying heavy things for Mom, lawn work — the list goes on and on. However, nowhere on that list is staring at naked breasts. Going to a topless show with him just felt creepy. Once I’d heard about it, there was no doubt that I was going — the question was how to deal with Dad.

“Why can’t your dad come? When did breasts become creepy?” asked Katherine, who had already decided she was coming too.

“Okay, imagine this,” I offered. “You’re sitting there watching this show, then you look over at your father-in-law and you see a big grin on his face.”
Read an excerpt from The Dead Travel Fast and learn more about the book and author at Eric Nuzum's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 15, 2007

E. Lockhart's "Dramarama"

E. Lockhart is the author of The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, Fly on the Wall, and Dramarama.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to Dramarama and reported the following:
Dramarama is the most glittery, most ridiculous, most theatrical of my books, and as such it's dear to my heart. It's about two theater-mad, self-invented fabulositon Ohio teenagers.

One boy, one girl.

One gay, one straight.

One black, one white.


It's a season of hormones, gold lamé, hissy fits, jazz hands, song and dance, true love, and unitards -- that will determine their future, and test their friendship.

Page 99 is an audition scene. Sadye, our narrator, is describing the "meat market" -- an initial dance audition at drama school that will determine placement -- and romantic possibilities.

Farrell, Demi's hall counselor and a voice major at Carnegie Mellon, stood by the door with a clipboard and made sure that our names and numbers matched up properly. "Keep your number through tomorrow!" he barked loudly. "You're going to need it! Don't throw it away or you'll have to have a makeshift one and everyone will know you lost it!"

When everyone had filed in, Tamar taught the whole school an easy jazz combo, and then had us come up in groups of twenty to perform it four times, each time sending the front line to the back so new people could step up. Nanette was number 14, Demi was 15, and I was 16 – so we were in the first group.

Nanette was good. I couldn't see her much out of the corner of my eye, but I could tell she had years of lessons behind her.

Demi was his usual ridiculous self, sticking his butt out and wiggling it like a lunatic when he messed up the steps.

I nailed it – if I do say so myself. We took our seats again, flush with the thrill of dancing to Kander and Ebb (the song was "All that Jazz") in front of more than a hundred people – and glad to have gone early because now we could watch the meat.

Blake from Boston was in the next group, and he looked ridiculous.

"Oh, I have to shut my eyes!" whispered Demi. "I'm losing all desire for that poor man."
Read an excerpt from Dramarama and learn more about E. Lockhart and her books at her website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Janet Fitch's "Paint It Black"

Janet Fitch is the author of White Oleander and Paint It Black, now available in paperback.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to Paint It Black and reported the following:
In the case of Paint It Black, Page 99 in the paperback edition finds us at precisely the crux of the novel's central problem.

The book revolves around the suicide of Michael Faraday, an art student and Harvard dropout, in 1980s punk rock LA. Page 99 finds his punk girlfriend, art model Josie Tyrell, sitting outside the Los Feliz mansion belonging to Michael's mother, Meredith, a concert pianist and diva extraordinaire. It's Christmas eve, a week after the funeral, and Josie remembers the day his famous mother summoned Michael home, after discovering he has left Harvard.

Now, sitting outside the great dark mushroom wall of the house, Josie understood exactly why Michael had brought her along that day. She had thought he wanted to introduce her to his mother, show her there was going to be a new setup. Announce they were together. But now she saw he was afraid he would weaken, give in, if she wasn't there to remind him of what he wanted, who he'd become in the months his mother had been away. He had drawn courage from her. She thought of Cal: Storming of the Bastille, you don't even know.

His father, Cal, knew what Josie knows now but at the time did not, how dangerous emotionally this moment would be for Michael.

The exchange between the three characters in the scene that follows is charged with all the issues of the novel: the mother's possessiveness of Michael, her impossible standards, Josie's disruption of the family romance, her support of Michael but her ignorance as to the depth and nature of his familial difficulties, and her introduction to Michael's elegant world, with its haunted overtones -- the house belonged to Meredith's father, an exile from Nazi Europe and a suicide as well. In the scene, Josie senses that this is the world from which Michael had to free himself from if he was ever to have a creative adult life.

The dance of attraction and repulsion which unfolds between the two women begins at that first meeting, and forms the spine of the novel. Natural adversaries, they are also strangely drawn to one another after Michael's death, for they were the only ones who knew him, and loved him, each in her own way. Each has a piece which the other wants. They pick through the minefield of their mutual revulsion for what each represents to the other -- permission vs. perfection, raw reality vs. high culture -- to reach out at a time of extreme vulnerability.

At at the heart of the book is Michael, a boy who only showed others what he wanted them to see. In life, Josie loved him enough to let him have his secrets, but now, she is driven to understand what brought him to his violent end.
Read an excerpt from Paint It Black and learn more about the book and its author at the publisher's website and the Paint It Black MySpace page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mary Beard's "The Roman Triumph"

Mary Beard has a Chair of Classics at the University of Cambridge and is a Fellow of Newnham College. She is classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement and author of the highly enlightening and engaging blog "A Don's Life."

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book The Roman Triumph, and reported the following:
The best history is not just about WHAT we know about the past. It is also about HOW we know it.

My Roman Triumph explores an amazing ancient ceremony: the lavish parade held after all major Roman victories (or “massacres” – depending on whose side you were on). It could be mind-blowing in its extravagance. Famous works of art, despondent or proudly unbowed prisoners, piles of bullion, captured weapons, even exotic trees were carted through the streets. It is a ceremony that has been imitated by successful generals ever since – including Admiral Dewey who had a triumphal parade, including a cardboard and plaster triumphal arch, down Madison Avenue in 1899.

But my book is also about HOW we reconstruct the ancient ceremony – and whether we can believe what either ancient or modern historians choose to tell us. In fact I explode an awful lot of myths about the triumph.

So on page 99 I am in the middle of an intriguing quest to discover the route that the parade took through Rome and the position of the so-called “triumphal gate.” This has been the holy grail of triumph studies for a couple of hundred years and there are plenty of maps of Rome that plot it confidently. Here I’m showing – with a dash of humour – what a fragile edifice this is:

We may judge these arguments and identifications a brilliant series of deductions, a perilous house of cards, or a tissue of (at best) half truths and (at worst) outright misrepresentations and misreadings. But impressed or not, we will find it hard to reconcile this reconstruction with the single surviving piece of ancient literary evidence that provides an explicit context for the gate....

Or more succinctly:

Why stretch the argument to such tenuous lengths?

Here, it’s true, I’m being pretty negative, clearing the ground of some sloppy mistakes. But my overall aim is very positive. I hope that specialists will sit up and take notice of my Triumph. But I’m also writing for non-specialists – who so often get cheated of the best bits of history. I’m fed up with writers who think that the “general readers” just want a good story, and don’t want to bother their heads with the problems and controversies. Here I’m assuming no prior knowledge, but I’m putting the fun of disagreement, of “how we know,” back into the book.

To be honest, page 99 isn’t my favourite page. But then I’d be hard pressed to pick a single highlight. In this case, though, I hope you can tell the book by its cover. I just love Tiepolo’s vision of the glamorous prisoner Jugurtha, upstaging his beefy Roman Roman conqueror, lurking in his chariot in the background.
Read an excerpt from The Roman Triumph and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

T.D. Thornton's "Not by a Long Shot"

T.D. Thornton has written for several newspapers, most notably the Boston Globe and the national Thoroughbred daily the Racing Times. His work has appeared in an array of literary journals, and he often comments on racing on television and radio.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his book Not by a Long Shot: A Season at a Hard Luck Horse Track, and reported the following:
When an email landed in my inbox with a request to challenge Not by a Long Shot to the infamous “Page 99 Test,” I was hesitant to crack the spine of the book to see what was there: It was eerily like fooling around with a Ouija board — such an outlandish concept, but still….

Truth be told, the Page 99 Test does work for Long Shot. Sort of. You have to sift and squint a bit, but it’s there.

Not by a Long Shot is a nonfiction narrative detailing the glorious underbelly of horse racing, openly challenging the myth that the game is the regal and royal Sport of Kings. In reality, racing’s most gripping tales come from obscure racetrackers who toil under the radar, and page 99 in the first hardcover edition underscores that notion in caustically honest fashion.

In writing Long Shot, I tried to juxtapose different viewpoints alongside one another. The result (hopefully) is that the reader sees the sport through a clash of divergent perspectives. The top of page 99 wraps up a section in which the general manager of a hard-luck horse track in New England is trying to convince the industry’s biggest trainers to run their star, million-dollar Thoroughbreds in a race of historic significance at his downtrodden racecourse. “I mean, why wouldn’t these guys want to come back…” is his wishful summation of a somewhat desperate, bleak proposition that only he believes can be parlayed into an embarrassment of riches.

After the section break, a new storyline emerges that chronicles the quirky, offbeat idiosyncrasies of the grizzled, gritty denizens of that same venue, where “the atmosphere resembles a freaky circus sideshow” populated by “two distinct types of Boston racetrack personalities: Scary-looking regulars, who are, in fact, totally harmless, and another subset of souls who are, without a doubt, truly troubled.”

These bit players are not just cogs of a single, struggling horse track. They are the unseen supporting cast for an entire $15 billion betting industry. The way these raucously Runyonesque characters play the game might not be the prettiest, but it’s as close to reality as you’re going to get in horse racing literature. The fact that small-time racing remains alive at minor league tracks all across the country has to count for something, and that “something” is embodied in page 99 of Not By A Long Shot.

Page 99:

…Behrens and Running Stag, the one-two finishers from last year. Back again. In Boston. MassCap 2000.”

The Suffolk Downs racing boss pauses briefly in his rapid-fire delivery and I get a mental picture of Lou standing in the sunny Florida paddock, impeccably dressed in one of his custom suits, framing words with outstretched hands on an invisible marquee, scheming and dreaming for a race that is most definitely his baby, a MassCap that is three months away at a racetrack currently sleeping under the dark chill of winter and a brittle crust of snow.

“Think about it,” he continues, slowing down as if considering all the other plausible scenarios before snapping back to the first notion that entered his head. “I mean, why wouldn’t these guys want to come back to Suffolk Downs?”

* * *

On a bright mid-winter Sunday I am cruising through Legends, the stale, dank, paradoxically named sports bar on the second floor of Suffolk Downs. Phlegmy coughs and foul language rule here, and the atmosphere resembles a freaky circus sideshow. Over the past decade, the room has come to attract two distinct types of Boston racetrack personalities: Scary-looking regulars who are, in fact, totally harmless, and another subset of souls who are, without a doubt, truly troubled.

Thanks to the public’s demand for increased smoke-free space elsewhere in the track, Legends has also become a concentration of carcinogens, one of the few remaining areas where lighting it up is not only permitted, but enthusiastically encouraged. A thick, blue haze of secondhand tars has tinged the enclosed room’s previously white tiled ceilings a perpetual yellow, its worn industrial carpet is pockmarked with burns, and the large windows that front the clubhouse turn are layered with accumulated cigar and cigarette grime while a liberal spattering of gull droppings ornaments the exterior. When no other passage through the building is convenient, I try to rush through the room as quickly as possible because the stagnant cloud of exhaled tobacco instantaneously permeates one’s clothes, hair and eyes; an unwelcome accompaniment that will linger for the remainder of the day…
Read an excerpt from Not by a Long Shot and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Elizabeth Currid's "The Warhol Economy"

Elizabeth Currid is an assistant professor at University of Southern California's School of Policy, Planning and Development.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art, and Music Drive New York City, and reported the following:
Page 99 discusses one of the central points of the Warhol Economy: the importance of socially "being there" to participate in the spontaneous, ad hoc interactions that are intrinsic to the creative economy. It also shows how the seemingly frivolous and superficial worlds of nightlife and entertainment are a crucial nexus for the creative economy where artists, designers, musicians not only interact with each other but get jobs and collaborate with one another. In the creative economy, as one artist put it, business deals get done on the dancefloor, not in the boardroom. One nightlife entrepreneur explained, "[We get] young T-shirt designers and jeans designers, Rogan, Earnest Sewn kids, kids from Levis and Puma up to the big guys who work for Hugo Boss ... They do [talk business]. Weird unspoken line but you'll say 'Oh, I'm working on a project' [And they'll say] 'Oh really? Drop me a line tomorrow' ... talking shop is big but it's unspoken but talking shop happens"...
Read an excerpt from The Warhol Economy and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 8, 2007

Nina Vida's "The Texicans"

The Texicans is Nina Vida's seventh novel.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to the book and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Texicans the clock is turned back to the Texas of the 1840’s. It is a scene in a Mexican cantina, a piece of the mosaic of Texas history, and is an example of what I had in mind when I wrote the book. I wanted to place the common people of Texas front and center.

The Denver Post review:

For those tired of the old Texas story with cowboys and cattle drives, Rangers with white hats and the Alamo, ‘The Texicans’ is a must read…Spanning 12 years, ‘The Texicans’ is an imaginative and thoroughly researched tale driven by intriguing characters, reminders of the largely overlooked but rich mix of men and women who helped shape the Lone Star State.

In The Texicans I write about Aurelia, a Mexican girl who some people thought could see the future. And about Katrin, a naïve Alsatian girl at the beginning of the novel who is the wisest of all at the end. And about Henri Castro, a land-grant entrepreneur from France who brought European immigrants to Texas, founded the town of Castroville in the Texas hill country, then saw his dreams wither. And about the European immigrants who came to Texas with Castro and became Texans as surely and deeply as those who were native born. And about Joseph, a Jewish schoolteacher and trapper from Missouri who came to Texas to settle his late brother’s estate, married Katrin to save her from a Comanche chief, fell in love with Aurelia, and prospered despite himself.

In the research for The Texicans I made many trips to Texas, read Texas history, and interviewed a lot of Texans. Frances Kallison and Connie Crook, descendants of Texas pioneers, opened their hearts to me. Their family histories were invaluable. What I finally came away with was the idea for a book about Texas that would spotlight those people and those corners of history that had been neglected. And, of course, as in all my books, I strive to keep the reader off balance. Nothing is what it seems. Everything grows out of character. And character in The Texicans is tested mightily by adversity.
Learn more about The Texicans and Nina Vida's other books at her website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Edmund White's "Hotel de Dream"

Edmund White may be best known for his trilogy of autobiographical novels, A Boy's Own Story, The Beautiful Room is Empty and The Farewell Symphony, and the bestselling The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new novel, Hotel de Dream, and reported the following:
Page 99:

... hammer and nails. He stood on the chair and banged it into place.

“So no daylight for me then?”

“You can use some string to tie the sides together during the daylight hours. I’ll bring you a lamp tomorrow.”

Day after day Theodore added one little thing after another -- a washcloth, dried biscuits, a second pillow, a clean set of sheets, a book about Ragged Dick the Newsboy by Horatio Alger, subtitled Street Life in New York. It was supposed to be edifying.

Theodore always came at five now; he lied and told his wife he was studying Italian with an elderly gentleman from Florence because he wanted to have the best accent when they made their grand voyage to the Continent in another year.

It wasn’t that Theodore hoped to be rid of Christine or to live with Elliott. He didn’t think ahead, though usually it was in the nature of love to plan. Rather, he wanted everything to continue exactly as it was -- his position at the bank, his hour a day with Elliott’s warm naked body seated on his lap, the substantial meals at home on 16th Street, his goodnight kisses with his children, the half hour alone in bed before he fell asleep during which he could think about Elliott’s tiny, sensitive ears he nibbled while he stood behind him, the deep, bluish shadow hollowed out above his prominent clavicles, the high instep of feet that were marred by a farmer’s horny nails, the way his face looked at once so young and so weary. Weary because of the dark circles under his eyes and the down-sweep of his mouth. Young because his nose and ears were still diminutive with youth, and the wings of his nose were oily and rough with nearly invisible bumps that could...

I think the Ford Madox Ford test is accurate in my case. Hotel de Dream is about Stephen Crane during the last two weeks of his life; he died at age 28 from tuberculosis in 1900. My idea is that he was dictating a novel, The Painted Boy, to his common-law wife Cora so that she would have something to sell after his death. This page is from that inner novel. In it a middle-aged paunchy banker named Theodore Koch has fallen in love with a sixteen-year-old runaway, Elliott, who has become a newsboy and prostitute. They are both stunned by what has happened to them -- Elliott because he understands very little of New York, life or sex; Theodore because his passion for Elliott has awakened him from a very somnolent and conventional form of married life.

In this scene Theodore, who has rented a room for the boy, is helping him to furnish it. One of the first things he has bought is a heavy curtain on a rod that will keep out all prying glances. Of course there is no way to keep the world at bay for long and the tragic demise of this inner story happens when the world takes notice of the couple. The emphasis on Elliott's body is characteristic of Theodore's thoughts, as well as his refusal to contemplate the future, which can only be bad news.

Theodore's studying Italian foreshadows his later violent involvement with an Italian sculptor and an Italian hit man.

Does the style in this passage sound like Crane? Some critics say yes, others say no....
Read an excerpt from Hotel de Dream, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Jeffrey Miller's "Murder on the Rebound"

Jeffrey Miller’s work has been described as "Mark Twain meets Rumpole of the Bailey." In his many years as a columnist for The Lawyers Weekly, he has chronicled the tragicomic intersection of law and the human condition. His non-fiction books include Where There’s Life, There’s Lawsuits and Ardor in the Court!

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to Murder on the Rebound, the latest novel in the successful Amicus Curiae mystery series, and reported the following:
Some wag called Hamlet a bunch of famous quotations strung together, which is the impression you would get from reading just a page a third of the way through the play. The quality of any fiction is in its narrative whole: if it doesn’t work organically it doesn’t work at all. But you can often get a sense in a page or two about whether you’ll connect with the narrative voice, and whether the author is a writer – whether he works with language in a craftsmanlike way.

Page 99 of Murder on the Rebound concerns a discussion about Francis Bacon (the Elizabethan philosopher, essayist, and lawyer) among attendees at a memorial service. It gives you some feeling for the book’s substance, in that Bacon’s downfall – his ultimately disastrous attempt to combine the intellectual life with getting great wealth – figures largely in both the main theme, regarding truth and how we bend it to our ends, and in the plot.

It also suggests the book is a comic novel. But it provides only a limited impression of the novel’s overall tone, and no idea of its sub-themes (e.g., how we make outcasts of the unconventional) and subplots. The page is almost all dialogue, although the sardonic (wise-ass, really) narration is there if you squint:

Josh Peacock, seated next to Skaldpedar, throws the judge an over-the-shoulder glance of disapproval. At the same time, Reg Holdsworth, seated in front of Justice Mariner and ear-wigging as usual, turns to advise, in not much of a whisper at all:

“Apparently Mack had the kid following up an old canard about that – how Bacon didn’t really die at all, you know.”

“Show some respect!” Skaldpedar says, fully viva voce in her public outrage, making half the assemblage jump in their pews and effectively ending the conversation until the reception following, in the student union.

Mind you, when I talk about the series publicly, Amicus the courthouse stray can seem even more rascally than I’d planned for him as feline narrator: I find myself explaining reflexively that there is nothing “cutesy” about the novels, that the cat is there mostly to give deeper narrative color and perspective, like Falstaff in Shakespeare. Page 99 doesn’t reveal this – that I chose such a voice because crime fiction generally has limited narrative range – hard-boiled and tea-and-cakes, and not a lot in between. As I want my novels to be more than mind candy – to have substance beyond a ripping “genre” yarn – I try for narration that stands out while being fun to read (and write).

In the result, some kind people have compared the series to Sarah Caudwell’s very witty novels, and to John Mortimer’s Rumpole books. These are wonderful compliments, particularly as Mortimer’s work has been a source of delight and inspiration. In fact, his writing motto has become my own: Try not to bore yourself and you won’t bore your reader.
Read more about Murder on the Rebound at the publisher's website, and learn more about Jeffrey Miller and his other books at his website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Will Shetterly's "The Gospel of the Knife"

Will Shetterly writes novels, screenplays, short stories, and comic books.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest novel, The Gospel of the Knife, and reported the following:
I love the page 99 test! Page 99 of The Gospel of the Knife is one of my favorites:

Chapter Two

The water's cool. Chlorine stings your eyes. The pool lights are
dim. You float in pale green space, infinite beside and below you, capped by a translucent ceiling where the water meets the air. You're surprised, not afraid. Falling into water hasn't scared you since you were five.

You swim easily upward. You must've misunderstood. Jonathan must
have bumped you, then said, "Forgive me." You'll apologize for being clumsy, and he'll insist it was his fault, and everyone will laugh. Will he get in trouble for bumping you? You hope not. Accidents happen.

As you rise at the side of the pool, you see a silhouette above you.
The shadow of a hand reaches out. You smile. Everyone will be surprised when you ignore the help and burst from the pool like a seal.

But as you reach the surface, the hand catches the top of your head,
holding you under.

This must be a joke. The hand will let go in a second, so you don't
struggle. Why embarrass everyone by panicking?

Your lungs throb for air. Your heart pounds, filling your ears with
the sound of drums. You've been held too long for a joke. You kick to drive yourself upward. You only churn water. You sweep both arms to sink below the reach of the hand. The fingers hold your skull too tightly.

The reason it's the start of Chapter Two is because the book is divided into four parts. This is Chapter Two of Book Two: The Academy.

I'm not sure what else I should tell you, except that Book Three is very different than the other three sections, but since it doesn't have a Page 99, you'll have to take my word.
Read an excerpt from The Gospel of the Knife and learn more about the book at the publisher's website. Visit Will Shetterly's website and his LiveJournal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Corey Redekop's "Shelf Monkey"

Corey Redekop's new novel is Shelf Monkey.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the book and reported the following:
It’s a strange coincidence, I’m sure, but page 99 is precisely where the offbeat nature of the plot of Shelf Monkey becomes apparent.

After 98 pages of exposition and character development (read: the boring stuff), my characters gather around a bonfire, and the leader intones:

“Do we have any montages for the fire this evening?”

This one statement reveals the true nature of the Shelf Monkeys; they are a book club that meets to discuss works of literature, and choose the ones they deem undeserving of life. After an introduction of the participants, all of whom have adopted a persona based on their favourite literary characters, the festivities begin:

Ignatius pulled a large hardcover from his backpack. “Well, this,” he said, showing the book to the group, “is a new one from Terry Pratchett.” A collective gasp shot out. Not Pratchett! “Hey, hey,” he sputtered apologetically, noticing a visibly angered Warren. “I love the guy, too, but he’s just stretching out this Discworld crap too far. It just came out, called
Monstrous Regiment. I think he must have written it in his sleep or something, it’s really thin. He’s relying on his name to sell the thing. The nerds’ll gobble it up. I’d like to nominate it, please.”

“Has anyone else read the accused?” Aubrey asked. The Monkeys looked at each other expectantly. No one volunteered. “Alright then. May I have a volunteer to read it?”

“Aw, Aubrey,” said Ignatius. “I never get to burn anything, c’mon!”

“The rules, Ignatius, must be obeyed. No montag unless read and seconded. Anyone? Kilgore? Scout?”

“Hey, don’t look at me!” exclaimed a slight woman, Scout. She mimed spitting something bitter onto the ground. “I like Pratchett and everything, but I’m still trying to get the taste of that Andrew Greeley out of mouth from a month ago.”

These ‘montags’ (based on Bradbury’s hero in Fahrenheit 451) are then consigned to the flames of a bonfire, while the acolytes sway, moan, and generally get off on it.

While I wrote Shelf Monkey to a) make myself laugh, and b) exorcise my personal hatreds through writing, there evolved from my rants a peculiarly pointed satire of mob mentality, as well as a few side-swipes at fundamentalism of all sorts. At this point, the cult is fairly harmless, but as they begin to take themselves too seriously, their lives invariably descend into a morass of paranoia against all those they view as the enemy. I never intended there to be such a parallel to certain current events, but as many people have noted, that’s just the way it turned out.
Read more about the novel and author at the Shelf Monkey blog and listen to podcasts of two excerpts.

--Marshal Zeringue