Monday, December 31, 2007

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 28, 2007

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

David Fulmer's "The Blue Door"

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 23, 2007

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

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

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

The question that begins on Page 99:

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

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

Hollywood, California

Television writing staff, researcher, CBS's Cold Case

A: The short answer is, most likely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 21, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

David Wann's "Simple Prosperity"

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 17, 2007

D. Graham Burnett's "Trying Leviathan"

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

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Donald Critchlow's "The Conservative Ascendancy"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Diana Abu-Jaber's "Origin"

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pat MacEnulty's "From May To December"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 10, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Michael Levi's "On Nuclear Terrorism"

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mark Gimenez's "The Abduction"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Harold Schechter's "The Devil's Gentleman"

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 30, 2007

Emily Martin's "Bipolar Expeditions"

Emily Martin is professor of anthropology and a member of the Institute for the History of the Production of Knowledge at New York University. Her books include Flexible Bodies: Tracking Immunity in American Culture from the Days of Polio to the Age of AIDS and The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture, and reported the following:
In writing Bipolar Expeditions, I thought of the book like a house with many windows through which readers could look at moods, mood disorders, and bipolar disorder in particular. Pg 99 of the book opens one of those windows, beginning a chapter that explores how psychiatrists learn to diagnose bipolar disorder in "affective disorder rounds." Rounds is a teaching setting in which a patient who has been admitted to the hospital with mood problems is "presented" to a group of medical students. In that chapter, we see how fuzzy the lines between different mood disorders are and how difficult it is for psychiatrists and medical students to decide among alternative possibilities. We also see how patients contest the doctors' efforts to extract information from them, which they anticipate will be used to diagnose them in ways they might not appreciate.

By looking through the other windows in the book, the reader will be able to trace the processes by which a psychiatric diagnosis, like the mood disorders in evidence at Rounds, has emerged into a wide territory beyond psychiatry.

Anyone, from a reader of a teen magazine to a high powered CEO, might regularly chart their moods to determine whether they have a “mood disorder.” Workers undergo training in how to be "manic" so that they can recreate “manic” states – high energy, no sleep, innovative thoughts -- later in the workplace. Hollywood actors show up at their psychiatrists’ offices with their agents in tow, the agents’ job being to make sure that any drugs the doctors prescribe will not take the edge off the actors’ “mania.”

Both depression and mania have become fascinating cultural symbols in schools, the workplace and the market place. The low end of the mood spectrum (depression) signifies failure and unproductivity; the high end (mania) signifies creativity and productivity. Bipolar Expeditions argues that mania and depression have a cultural life outside the confines of diagnosis, that the experiences of people living with bipolar disorder belong fully to the human condition, and that even the most so-called rational everyday practices are intertwined with irrational ones.
Read the introduction to Bipolar Expeditions and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Porochista Khakpour's "Sons and Other Flammable Objects"

Porochista Khakpour was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1978. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and the Johns Hopkins University writing seminars MA program. Her writing has appeared in the Chicago Reader, The Village Voice,, Paper, Nylon, Gear, Alef, Bidoun, and, among other publications.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her debut novel Sons and Other Flammable Objects, and reported the following:
Page 99 raises my own eyebrows just for the fact that three characters are involved. Although there are many relationships in my novel, I give pretty one-on-one treatments of each, whether between an immigrant husband (Darius Adam) and wife (Lala), a very Iranian father (Darius again) and his reluctantly Iranian-American son (Xerxes), a struggling New York transplant 20-something-of-color (Xerxes again) and his half-white trust-fund-armored girlfriend (Suzanne). In my mind, much of the novel carries on intimately with characters immersed in moments of watching the second hand in bad hours in dark bedrooms, the tense rides home with a burnt-out father, the silent dinners where the TV would do the talking for a young boy and his mother, the strange and sweet solitude of the many hours of being nowhere but 30,000 feet up in the heavens, the desperate conjuring of memory after memory when you haven’t heard a human voice — including your own — in days....

Rather, Page 99 is set in a loud parking lot, featuring Lala at the onset of her “getting a life” phase (what she regards as her period of eager assimilation to American and even Angeleno life), with Sons-supporting characters: Gigi, the Mexican housekeeper and local busybody of the Southern California apartment complex (Eden Gardens) where the Adam family lives, and Marvin, her affable African-American gay friend. They form a sort of odd trinity with Lala in being her first friends in America and they take her out to pizza parlors, Hawaiian-themed bars, blockbuster movies marathons, etc. She’s pretty hesitant at first, but because she is having trouble breaking out of housewifedom, she slowly begins to look forward to their “nothing nights” out:

“It was a nothing night, nothing much but eating and drinking and talking, and, of course, laughing — she laughed at jokes or sentiments she didn’t understand, or fake laughed at things she did get but couldn’t really get a real laugh out of, or when she felt the urge to put something into the group dynamic where she couldn’t fit words — Oh, never mind, she thought again and again; she was grateful for this life she had gotten.

It happened that one evening when she strutted out of the house
in her jeans, into the parking lot, Gigi’s busted Honda was not there to meet her. Rather, there was an SUV, pulsing with a low bass, presumably from a sound track, hinting of a night out. Inside, a man — dark, obscured by tinted windows, just a silhouette of a large man in his large car — waved at her. She stood frozen, terrified, tried to ignore the driver who had undoubtedly mistaken her. The car honked. She closed her eyes, hoping it would go away. She heard the buzz of rolled-down automatic windows, and the familiar call, “Hell, Lala, it’s me, girl!”

It was Marvin. She was relieved, and yet ... not relieved at
all. He had never picked her up. She had never seen his car. In fact, he knew nothing of her pact with Gigi and their secret outing agreement — hence the blasting of music and honk and holler.

She waved back hesitantly, and he laughed and honked again, motioning her in. She walked reluctantly over, worried that Darius might somehow psychically or just plain physically discover her secret in an incarnation she never anticipated....

Inside, Marvin was laughing to himself and shaking his head at
nothing at all. “Hello, Marvin,” she shouted...”

This first time Lala encounters Marvin solo results in a long outing to Marvin’s favorite “2-for-1 Sushi Nite,” where she tries sushi for the first time. This chapter (“Heavens”) explores race and culture quite a bit and so the episode ends in some unlikely bonding after getting through that rather cringey tale that Lala — a bit drunk — suddenly launches into: the first time she encountered a black person, several years back.

The whole chapter toys with racially-bewildering icons, from the Iranian’s scarlet-suited merry Nourooz mascot — the black-faced tambourine-playing herald Haji Firooz who ushers in Persian New Year — to the book’s celebrity muse fixture, bubbly “I Dream of Jeannie” ingenue Barbara Eden. In fact, I have to confess my interest in this chapter’s, say, Southern California “local color turned Technicolor” at one point made me actually contemplate calling the book Black Santa, Blonde Genie! I suppose other priorities to the plot prevented me from going there, but there is something to it.
Read an excerpt from Sons and Other Flammable Objects at the official book website, and visit Porochista Khakpour's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 26, 2007

McDonagh and Pappano's "Playing With The Boys"

Eileen McDonagh is Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University and Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. She is the author of Breaking the Abortion Deadlock. Laura Pappano is the author of The Connection Gap and an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Good Housekeeping, and The Washington Post. Their new book is Playing With the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports.

Pappano applied the "Page 99 Test" to Playing With The Boys and reported the following:
In Playing with the Boys, Eileen and I try to make a point we think is obvious, but that riles people: Sports are not just for guys, not just for fun, and not just so much background yammering (though sports talk radio sure sounds that way), but a social force that doesn’t merely reflect sex differences, but imposes them.

When I applied the Page 99 test to the book, I landed under “Sex Authenticity.” I’m not sure it reveals “the quality of the whole” but it gets at two central ideas. The first is how itchy “sex” issues make people who want strict gender roles and rules. The second is that we’re still debating the same issue, but now it's sports instead of jobs.

In this section, we explore the shock in the 1970s when courts decided companies couldn’t any longer have sex-segregated job ads under headings like “male” and “female.” Just before this, we give space to “the bunny problem” – as a 1965 The Wall Street Journal article puzzled over what would happen now that males and females had to be given equal access to job opportunities. The writer fretted about a “shapeless knobby-kneed male ‘bunny’ serving drinks to a group of stunned businessmen in a Playboy Club.” The writer also envisioned “a matronly vice president gleefully participating in an old office sport by chasing a male secretary around a big leather-topped desk.” (Did this stuff really happen?)

We offer a fly-over of the government’s struggle to figure out when sex does (and doesn’t) matter. They came up with the Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ) with “Sex Authenticity,” the escape clause that let employers hire women only or men only for certain jobs (think wet nurse). Today, the look back is amusing, revealing – and relevant to the debate about when an athlete’s sex should (or shouldn’t) matter. Why don’t super-power-kicking female athletes become punters and field goal kickers? Why are there different rules for males and females when it’s not about physical difference (men go to 15 in badminton and women go to 11?) Why does Rutgers charge $7 to see men’s soccer and $4 to see women’s (when they’re not trying to make money)?

Just like when the boss could demand a “Gal Friday” but not a “Guy Friday,” we have gender equality work to do in our athletic in-box.
Learn more about Playing With The Boys at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Gary McKinney's "Slipknot"

Gary McKinney is a technical writer, rock 'n roll musician, and the author of Slipknot.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the novel and reported the following:
Reading page 99 of a book will reveal the quality of its whole? Bulls*it! How could it possibly? But I read page 99 of Slipknot anyway and found the statement to be more true than I would have expected. Slipknot is a mystery novel whose main character is both the county sheriff and a Deadhead. As a genre piece, there are certain expectations a writer must meet: a strong furtherance of plot, the creation of tension, and the revealing of character. All these points are found on page 99, where Sheriff Gavin Pruitt finds himself in the midst of a plot development (pressure to solve the crime); tension (a friend's betrayal); and character development (Pruitt's feelings expressed).

So, yes, to some extent the quality of Slipknot can be gleaned from page 99. What a reader will not find is any sense of setting. The forests and farmlands, salt and fresh water, mountains and beaches are missing completely. Missing, too, is the heart of the book: Sheriff Pruitt's reliance on the lyrics and social perspectives of the Grateful Dead to make meaning of both his personal and professional life.

Nevertheless, the page 99 test appears to have some validity -- if not also a degree of glibness. For instance, if page 100 were read, the quality of writing would also be revealed, with the focus shifting to the elements of place and setting. If page 101 were read, the quality would again be revealed, with the focus this time on the Grateful Dead aspect of the book. Nonetheless, Ford's idea is not as much bulls*it as one might think. Page 99 may or may not be the fulcrum of a book, but it certainly should stand up to a close reading.
Read an excerpt from Slipknot and learn more about the novel at the Kearney Street Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 23, 2007

Christopher Coyne's "After War"

Christopher Coyne is Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at West Virginia University and author of the new book, After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to After War and reported the following:
In After War, I explore the constraints facing attempts by U.S. occupiers to “export” liberal democratic institutions abroad. I focus on two broad categories of constraints. The first category consists of constraints that are “internal” to the country being occupied. This includes such things as culture, historical experiences, and so on. The second category consists of “external” constraints, which are outside the country being occupied. One example of an external constraint is the U.S. political system, which directly influences the nature and dynamics of foreign occupations. In many cases the U.S. political system generates perverse outcomes in foreign interventions.

One specific aspect of the U.S. political system, which I analyze, is the various agencies and bureaucracies involved in foreign occupations. These bureaucracies often face competing goals and agendas that contribute to the failure of reconstruction efforts. On page 99 of After War, I note:

Michael Scheuer, in his analysis of the current effort in Afghanistan and the larger war on terror, has highlighted the tensions between the missions of the CIA and the FBI. As Scheuer notes, “At the most basic level, the FBI is meant to enforce U.S. law…The CIA, on the other hand, is authorized to break the law to gather information that helps defend the United States.” Note that it is the clash between missions that leads to these outcomes and not the malevolence of those within these organizations. Members of each agency pursue their respective missions, which do not mesh with the ends being pursued by the other.

Likewise, the journalist Robert Dreyfuss has documented battles between the Pentagon and the CIA as the U.S. prepared to go to war with Iraq.29 The main tension was between those in the Pentagon who supported the war effort in Iraq and those in the intelligence agencies who were largely opposed to the invasion.

David Phillips, who was involved in the early stages of planning for a post-Hussein Iraq, notes that during the postwar reconstruction efforts, “Relations between the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the State Department became increasingly acrimonious. U.S. officials vied for control over the Iraq policy.” Similarly, Larry Diamond, who was also involved in the reconstruction of Iraq, indicates that “A number of U.S. government agencies had a variety of visions of how political authority would be reestablished in Iraq...In the bitter, relentless infighting among U.S. government agencies in advance of the war, none of these preferences clearly prevailed.”

In theory, the various agencies and bureaus in the U.S. government will work together in efforts to “export” liberal democracy abroad. However, in reality, the incentives facing bureaucrats often lead to conflicts between departments and agencies which actually contribute to the failure of such efforts.
Read Chapter One from After War and learn more about the book at the Stanford University Press website.

Find out more about Coyne's research at his website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Kyle MacDonald's "One Red Paperclip"

Kyle MacDonald applied the "Page 99 Test" to his book One Red Paperclip: Or How an Ordinary Man Achieved His Dream with the Help of a Simple Office Supply, and reported the following:
Upon your request, I turned to page 99 of the UK version of my book, One Red Paperclip.

The page talked primarily about Tootsie Pops, Dalmatian dogs, and firefighters named Bobby. I think that pretty sums up the book One Red Paperclip, as I like dogs, and have actually met several people named Boddy. Also, Tootsie Pops are a delicious treat best enjoyed in the company of friends.
Read an excerpt from One Red Paperclip and visit the One Red Paperclip website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Robert Aronowitz's "Unnatural History"

Robert Aronowitz, M.D., is Associate Professor in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book Unnatural History: Breast Cancer and American Society, and reported the following:
On P. 99 of my book, Unnatural History: Breast Cancer and American Society, we are in the middle of a late 19th and early 20th century medical controversy. Who should make the cancer diagnosis, the surgeon or the pathologist? On what grounds? William Halsted, reviled today by many people today for his promotion of radical breast cancer surgery, argued that the surgeon should be in charge and that it should be diagnosed based on the look and feel of the tumor in the examining and operating room. “There is a gap between the surgeon and the pathologist which can be filled only by the surgeon,” he wrote in 1898. “A tumor on a plate and a tumor in the breast of a patient, how different! Its blood, its color, its form, its freshness, its consistency are more or less lost when the tumor is removed.” Halsted also argued that surgeons should be in charge because they were ultimately responsible for the patient.

While Halsted ultimately lost this seemingly narrow, technical debate – today cancer is defined and diagnosed by pathologists – the questions raised, like many other clinical issues in the history of breast cancer, are still with us and remain important to doctors and patients. What exactly is cancer? Who gets to decide? What are the consequences of one definition or another?

Cancer diagnosis remains an act of prediction under great uncertainty. Since Halsted, pathologists have defined cancer “earlier” in its natural history, creating different “pre-cancer” diagnoses which have some (constantly changing) statistical probability of causing harm in the future. These diagnoses often create terrible treatment dilemmas for both doctor and patient. What is their real clinical significance? Should they be ignored or treated?

The two most prominent pre-cancer diagnoses are lobular carcinoma in situ and ductal carcinoma in situ. These pre-cancer diagnoses increased an astounding eightfold between 1975 and 2002. This change has contributed to the widely touted and frightening 1:8 lifetime odds of developing breast cancer. The massive increase in breast cancer diagnoses, trumpeted in cancer education and awareness programs, has radically transformed how women perceive and react to this disease. Cancer fear is more widespread and intense. A recent scientific report showed that the number of women with breast cancer choosing a “preventive” mastectomy in the unaffected breast soared from 1.8 percent in 1998 to 4.5 percent in 2003. That’s an increase of 150 percent in just five years.

So who defines cancer and how we define it matters. I hope that my history of breast cancer in American society will empower doctors, patients, and lay people to see many present ideas and practices as not inevitable and therefore open to debate and change.
Read an excerpt from Unnatural History and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 19, 2007

Katherine Marsh's "The Night Tourist"

Katherine Marsh is managing editor at The New Republic magazine in Washington, D.C., where she edits stories and essays on politics and culture. Her writing has appeared in Rolling Stone magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times magazine.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book The Night Tourist, and reported the following:
The Night Tourist tells the story of Jack, a lonely 14-year-old Classics prodigy, who travels to the New York City version of the Greek mythological underworld to search for his dead mom. His guide is a 14-year-old ghost who calls herself Euri and on p.99 of my book, Jack and Euri are at the St. James Theater looking for a ghost who can help them named Edna Gammon. A performance of "The Producers" is underway before a packed house of both the living and the dead but there is a disruption: A ghost with a red bob takes the stage and begins to sing.

All around [Jack], ghosts began to grumble and shift. "Oh for God's sake," said the silvery-purple-haired old woman. "Do we have to hear The Merry Malones every night?"

"Edna, shut up!" shouted another.

Jack tugged on Euri's sleeve. "They said, 'Edna'! Do you think that's
Edna Gammon?"

The silvery-purple-haired ghost leaned in between them. "You don't
look like you've been dead long enough to remember Edna," she observed.

Jack noticed her giving him the familiar stare. "Well, I…I…wasn't. I
just heard of her once."

"Once! You must know your theater. Most people haven't heard of
her at all. She was the understudy for Polly Walker in The Merry Malones, back in 1927. Horrible musical. She died before she could take the stage."

"That may have been a good thing," Euri remarked as Edna fell
to her knees screeching.

Suddenly, one of the living chorus girls tripped. "She's
interfering with the performers!" someone shouted from near the ceiling.

Page 99 is an accurate snapshot of my book and its themes — it illustrates the way the dead and living worlds interact, integrates real New York City history (The Merry Malones was the very first musical to run at the St. James, then Erlanger's Theater), and shows the constant threat Jack is in of being discovered as a living boy in the underworld. Readers will judge quality for themselves but, for me, the page embodies the combination of page-turning plot, humorous and inventive world, and the integration of history, culture, and mythology, that I hope will make The Night Tourist as a whole an enjoyable read.
Listen to an excerpt from The Night Tourist, and learn more about the book and author at Katherine Marsh's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ronald M. Green's "Babies by Design"

Ronald M. Green is Eunice and Julian Cohen Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values and Director of the Ethics Institute at Dartmouth College.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford's "page 99 test" - "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you" - seems to work remarkably well when applied to my new book, Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice.

My theme on p. 99 is one of the most important of the whole book: that we are entering an era when the human genome has been converted into pure information: a sequence of DNA letters three billion units long. The symbol for this is the "$1,000 genome," which some researchers have promised will make its appearance as early as five years from now. It took ten years (from 1993-2003) and three billion dollars to sequence the first human genome, but automated sequencers are now being developed that will reduce that work to a matter of hours and a cost of around $1,000. What does this mean for the choices that face us?

For one thing, it promises a day when each newborn child could go home from the hospital with its entire genome sequence on a CD. This opens up the era of "personalized medicine," when many decisions about your health care will begin with a glance at your genome. Are you prone to colon cancer? Then start early with a diet high in fiber and low in food toxins. Do you have genes that make you less able to control alcohol? Watch your drinking, or consider one of the new anti-abuse medications likely to be available.

Because the same genomic information will be available at the gamete and embryonic levels, these possibilities also open the door to the genetic selection of our children's characteristics - the main theme of my book. Why should a child or adult spend a lifetime fighting obesity when her parents can either select an embryo with a more favorable DNA sequence or request a simple genetic fix that replaces the obesity-prone gene sequence with one likely to lead to a more balanced metabolism?

Of course, the possibility of embryo selection and gene modification raises many troubling ethical questions. Will gene selection deform parenting, replacing unconditional love with critical appraisal and pressure? Will it produce a "Genobility," as the rich not only get richer but physically and mentally stronger because they are able to buy better genes for their offspring? Does gene modification amount to an arrogant "playing God" that will only end by inviting divine wrath? These are among the questions I examine in this book.

Some fear that human beings' attempts to manipulate the genome will lead to a dangerous reduction in human genetic diversity. Will thousands of parents choose children resembling Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt? As attractive as this couple is, we risk human health and diversity if we create a "monoculture" of people with qualities that are deemed to be desirable from the limited perspective of our own age. Some also worry that by eliminating disease-related genes we risk losing valuable genetic abilities. The example I mention on p. 99 is sickle cell anemia which, though potentially lethal in its homozygous (2-copy) form, protects against malaria in its heterozygous (single-copy) form.

Here, I argue that the conversion of the human genome into pure information is one protection against this loss of human genetic diversity. We do not have to keep every variant of the human genome alive in some individual, especially if that variant causes disease, when it can be recorded as information for permanent storage and retrieval. We are now developing the ability to reproduce any sequence of DNA and insert it into a cell, sex cell or embryo. We do not have to perpetuate sickle cell to protect against a future malaria epidemic. Instead, we can call on our knowledge of the protective sequence to create new drugs or, if necessary, give our children the genes they need to survive and flourish in new environments.

I am no booster for human gene modification. This book is less an argument for it than an effort to show that panicked arguments against it are not as strong as they seem. Basing myself on a solid footing in the science and ethics of genomic research, I try to ease some of our fears and suggest that they derive from too strong a hold on the genetic status quo.

My brief argument on p. 99 epitomizes the direction of Babies by Design as a whole. Thus, it strongly supports "the page 99 test."
Read an excerpt from Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 16, 2007

Craig Davidson's "The Fighter"

Craig Davidson's stories have been published in The Fiddlehead, Event, Prairie Fire, and SubTerrain. His debut collection of stories, Rust and Bone, was called "remarkable ... challenging and upsetting, but never boring" by Chuck Palahniuk and "the best I've read in a long time from a young writer" by Bret Easton Ellis. He also writes horror fiction under a pseudonym.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his novel The Fighter, and reported the following:
I’m not sure if this maxim really applies to my book. Certainly it would to many and certainly, depending on what you take away from my book as a reader, perhaps, weirdly, pg. 99 is emblematic of the book as a whole. Pg. 99 concerns the backstory of one-half of the two sets of characters making up the narrative: in this case, the Tully family — brothers Reuben and Tom, and Reuben’s boy Rob — who live in the Love Canal district of Niagara Falls where Rob(bie) is training to become a boxer. Does it speak for the book in general? I mean, most of the reader reaction I’ve had, be it good or bad, is in reference to the fight scenes, one of which — the final match — goes on for some ten pages. Those are, I suppose, the “showpieces” of a book written by a fellow, me, when he was in his late-twenties and probably over-interested in really going overboard or being terrifically visceral or something ... which is going to appeal to some readers at least in certain frames of mind, as indeed such books often appeal to me. But pg. 99 is one of the softer portions of the book, so someone picking it up and reading only that page might come away with the mistaken assumption there is much cute and cuddly about the work — which, in point of fact, in this book specifically, no, there is not. Hopefully in later books down the line I will be able to find a finer and more temperate balance between viscerality and softness, but with The Fighter that balance is skewed.
Read more about the author and the novel at the official website for The Fighter and at Craig Davidson's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wallace Stroby's "The Heartbreak Lounge"

Wallace Stroby is an award-winning journalist and the author of the novels The Heartbreak Lounge and The Barbed-Wire Kiss.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the former and reported the following:
Page 99 falls at an odd – but fitting – juncture in The Heartbreak Lounge. It bridges two scenes involving Johnny Harrow, a career criminal and borderline sociopath who’s just been released from prison in Florida and made his way home to New Jersey. In the first scene, Johnny is reunited with his natural – albeit deeply dysfunctional – family, including pedophile stepfather and small-time-crook brother. And though I wasn’t conscious of it, I guess it was the first glimpse I was giving into Johnny’s past, as opposed to presenting him as the vengeful force of nature he is at the beginning of the book. During a tense sitdown in the kitchen of the brother’s trailer, the stepfather is trying to make nice with Johnny – who, after all, has grown up to be a dangerous guy – but Johnny isn’t having any of it. He gives the old man some money and tells him not to come back – or else. In the next scene, in an office above a North Jersey porn store, Johnny is reunited with his other father figure, a wannabe crime boss named Joey Alea who sent Johnny on the errand that landed him in prison. Alea and his lieutenants – who have moved up in Johnny’s absence – are Johnny’s other family. “It’s good to be back,” Johnny says when he meets Alea for the first time in eight years. He means it too, but not in a way that will do anybody any good. This prodigal son has major scores to settle.

In retrospect, I think some of the inspiration for these scenes came from James Gray’s great-but-little-seen 1994 film Little Odessa, in which a hitman for the Russian mob (played by Tim Roth) comes back to Brooklyn to visit his troubled family and dying mother after years on the lam. Gray’s movie is very nuanced and character-driven; there are no big gestures, blazing shootouts or operatic violence. Roth’s hitman has come home to try to make sense of the two worlds that shaped him, and finds they’re equally poisonous – and that he’s become the deadliest poison-bearer of all. So if you’re out there James Gray, thanks for that. Even if it is a couple years too late.
Learn more about the author and his novels at the official Wallace Stroby website and The Heartbreak Blog.

--Marshal Zeringue