Thursday, July 31, 2008

Charles Barber's "Comfortably Numb"

Charles Barber was educated at Harvard and Columbia and worked for ten years in New York City shelters for the homeless mentally ill. The title essay of his first book, Songs from the Black Chair, won a 2006 Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared in the New York Times and Scientific American Mind, among other publications, and on NPR. He is a senior administrator at The Connection, an innovative social services agency, and a lecturer in psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation, and reported the following:
Here is the entirety of page 99. As it happens, it is a short page, perhaps the shortest page in the book, as it ends a chapter.

The text:

What does this say about us? What does it say about how we, as a culture, live now and how we choose to solve problems? What does it say about how we view our emotions? Why does it say about our psyches, and our souls? In other words, why did it happen?

I suspect the answer has something to do with misery.

The "it" I am referring to is the astonishing rate of usage of antidepressant prescriptions in the U.S. In 2007, more than 230 millions prescriptions were written, more than any other class of medication.

And the last sentence -- "something to do with misery" -- leads to the next chapter, "American Misery," which is about social dislocation and disconnection in contemporary America.

So p. 99 is not exactly representative of my book -- it is more of a bridging device.

But I like my page 99, and am happy that it is my book's representative in this little exercise. I like to think that there is something soothingly modest and a little refreshing about a page that is largely involved with exploratory questions, and then merely suggests an answer to those questions. In other words: this is all for your consideration.

For me, the best books raise and explore issues, but don't settle them.
Read an excerpt from Comfortably Numb, and learn more about the book and author at Charles Barber's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ed Lynskey's "Pelham Fell Here"

Ed Lynskey is the author of Pelham Fell Here, The Dirt-Brown Derby, The Dirt-Brown Derby, Out of Town a Few Days, and A Clear Path To Cross (all detective mysteries). His work has also appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Washington Post, and New York Times.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest novel, Pelham Fell Here, and reported the following:
From Page 99:

Chapter 21

He’d overshot the farmhouse driveway. I screeched, waved, and fumbled in my small steps down the driveway. The woods at the landfill from which I was supposed to emerge attracted Chet’s attention. Frantic, I pumped the sawed-off and reeled off three salvos, but hurting too much I couldn’t manage a fourth.

My aggressive stunt did the trick. I saw no K-9 dogs, but Chet’s brake lights flared on. The Barracuda notched a U-turn to fly back and scream up the driveway. I flipped out the Barracuda’s door and eased my bones down into the black velour upholstery. I shut the car door. The wiry, short Chet toed the gas and shot me a glance.

“Does the other dude look as bad?”

I took a moment to quiet my tremors. “I just got my bell rung. Was anybody else on the road?”

“Just some fool in an orange car. Is that a rat? My dad won’t like rat shit soiling these new seat covers.”

“Mr. Bojangles is a ferret.”

“What are you doing with a ferret, Frank?”

“I found him at the farmhouse. He’s the only good thing in there.”

“Okay, but where were you?”

“I was right here. Mr. Van Dotson was supposed to tell you we’d meet at the old landfill.”

“He did. He also said you tore off. What’s up, dawg?”

Ford Madox Ford, a contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creating the great detective Sherlock Holmes, may’ve been on to something about page 99 in a novel. Page 99 in my newest P.I. Frank Johnson mystery, Pelham Fell Here, finds Frank, a little battered and bruised, having just escaped from a jam. He’s linked up with his trusty, young sidekick, Chet Peyton, and they’re beginning to map out what next moves to take.

This opening scene in Chapter 21 strikes me as a pivotal one where Frank’s quest has been pretty much set. He’s gotten his reinforcements in Chet, and their chase is now joined after the bad guys, a neo-Nazi sect he’s managed to antagonize. It’s a duel to the death.

One further detail arises on page 99. Mr. Bojangles, the ferret Frank has rescued from the neo-Nazis, offers a bit of comedic relief. Well, he’s supposed to lighten up the mood in an otherwise dark chronicle. I went back and forth on whether to include a pet. In the final manuscript’s shakedown, Mr. Bojangles was a keeper. Frank deserved the pet to help keep his sanity and humanity intact.

Frank isn’t yet committed to working as a private detective (this is really the first book in the series). On page 99, he’s taking the steps to investigate the murder of his cousin Cody Chapman if only because Frank is made the prime suspect. He has to prove his innocence before he’s arrested.
Read an excerpt from Pelham Fell Here, and learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website.

Ed Lynskey's The Blue Cheer, the movie.

The Page 69 Test: The Dirt-Brown Derby.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 28, 2008

Iain Gately's "Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol"

Iain Gately's books include Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization. Raised in Hong Kong, he studied law at Cambridge University and worked in the financial markets of London.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol, and reported that "by happy co-incidence p 99 of Drink is indicative of the style and content of the rest of the book."
The text for p 99 is set out below. The page begins with an illustration from the codex Mendoza with the caption "An Aztec Matron enjoys the milk of old age."

quantities of pulque. The results, according to a Spanish source, were ugly: “Once drunk, they would quarrel among themselves, they cuffed one another and fell on the fl oor on top of each other, or else they would go embracing each other.”

In addition to the aforementioned exceptions, some people were cursed by the stars to drink. Rabbit served as an astrological marker—it was one of the signs of the Aztec zodiac, and anyone born on the day of Umetochtli—2- Rabbit—was destined to become a drunk, who “would not look for anything else in life save alcohol . . . and only drink it . . . in order to get intoxicated . . . even before breakfast”. Two- Rabbits were easy to spot, as they were notoriously unkempt: “They totter along, falling down and getting full of dust, and red in the face. . . . They do not care, although they may be covered in bruises and wounds from falls, provided they can get drunk, nothing else matters.” Interestingly, the Aztec legal process was unusually sympathetic toward them. Their drunkenness was a valid alibi for any crime. “He has become his rabbit” would be the judgment, and punishment would be left to fate. The defense of possession by one’s rabbit was proof against every charge, though at the price of stigma—people born on luckier days had nothing but “loathing and hatred” for 2- Rabbits.

The Spanish did their best to exterminate Aztec and other New World religious practices and to replace them with Christianity. All the traditional drinking occasions were prohibited, as were the intricate laws governing who might drink and when. This cultural apocalypse resulted in an increase in tippling among their new subjects, to whom it became a secular, as opposed to ritual, pastime.
Read more about Drink at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 27, 2008

John Darnton's "Black and White and Dead All Over"

John Darnton has worked for forty years as a reporter, editor, and foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He was awarded two George Polk Awards for his coverage of Africa and Eastern Europe, and the Pulitzer Prize for his stories that were smuggled out of Poland during the period of martial law. A best-selling author, his novels include Neanderthal and The Darwin Conspiracy.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new novel, Black and White and Dead All Over, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Black and White and Dead All Over, which is a satire about today's newspaper business set in the guise of a murder mystery, presents background about a single character. He's a minor character who plays only a minor role in the plot, but he does represent something larger. He's an old-time newspaper columnist, a shoe-leather man, who smokes, drinks, remembers riding in police cars with Walter Winchell and is about to get sacked -- in other words, the last of a dying breed. He grew up poor in Hell's Kitchen, drifted into newspapering by accident and stuck with it because it gave him a living and he was good at it. That, in essence, is the book's entire view of the profession today: the great golden days are over -- that is, the days before the Web stole the ads, the Ivy League became a recruiting ground, reporters became journalists, food critics became celebrities and editors buckled under to business pressures. I admit, it's a view tainted by romance, but journalism, to those who engage in it, has always been this remarkable balancing act between cynicism and optimism.
Read an excerpt from the novel, and learn more about the author and his work at John Darnton's website and his blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pat Willard's "America Eats!"

Pat Willard's books about food include: Pie Every Day, sited by Atlantic Monthly, Bon Appetit, and, as among the top ten cookbooks of 1997; A Soothing Broth (1999), about old recipes to feed the sick; and Secrets of Saffron, nominated as "Best Literary Cookbook in 2002" by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, America Eats!: On the Road with the WPA-The Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chitlin' Feasts that Define Real American Food, and reported the following:
America’s culinary history is used to getting no respect. We think of ourselves too often as a nation of deep-fry-loving idiots, too used to fast-food and processed ingredients to know–let alone care–about the finer points of cooking and eating.

Thank God, then, for America Eats!, the manuscript written for the Federal Writers’ Project by out-of-work writers (some of whom, such as Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, and Nelson Algren would go on to greatness), during the Great Depression. Beginning in 1935, the writers produced such famous works as state travel guides and oral histories of former slaves and general laborers–from stone cutters to circus dancers.

In the later years, they were asked to produce “an account of group eating as an important American social institution; its part in development of American cookery as an authentic art.” It was to be called America Eats!, that final exclamation point a critical cue for the exuberance the subject was intended to arouse.

The manuscript, however, was never printed. Congress cut the Project’s funding in 1943. State offices were told to box up writers notes, research and unfinished manuscripts–including all of America Eats!, which had been in the final editing stages–and send them off to the Library of Congress.

My book, America Eats! On the Road with the WPA: The Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials and Chitlin’ Feasts that Define Real American Food, dusts off the original manuscript to explore our culinary roots and to use as a guide to discover how we eat and think about food today.

Page 99 finds us on the second page of the chapter “Political Gatherings”–what were once considered great occasions to barbecue. It starts with the ending of the FWP’s story about Bluebill, a barbecue God, and the beginning of my own reporting:

his sauce and mop. And, as the brown hunks of meat approach perfection, Bluebill grows as proud as a monkey with a tin tail. As the main speaker booms forth, his sonorous voice damning taxes and the Republican party, the fourteen hours of preparations come to an end, and the attention hitherto given the candidate is divided between him and eating. While the speaker is describing his opponent as a “shallow-brained, slack-jawed liar, a bull ape of Mississippi politics, a big baboon cavorting like a fat pony on high cats,” teeth are already sinking into fresh bread, thick slices of beef, and Bluebill’s incomparable sauce, the ladies are seeking glasses of lemonade from Uncle Si Curtis’ stand, and the men are passing out the corn liquor.

Speeches over, the speakers move over to the table themselves, and the crowd makes way a little, but just a little. Dead enemies, who were a moment ago blackening each other for all eternity on the platform, meet, help each other to the delectable, tantalizing beef, the bread, and the potato salad, sample each others’ whiskey and chat as if food and drink have eradicated all differences–at least for the moment.

–Mississippi Office

It is close to noon and as the day heats up, blistering the swampy land to a dry scab, the two sisters take a break from shelling beans to listen to the politicians swirling around the pavilion in Founders Square at the Neshoba County Fair. Whether it’s an election year or not, if you want to be within fifty feet of a politician and hear a political speech, then the Neshoba County Fair is where you end up traveling to. The Square is packed–almost standing-room only–with people who have come down for the day to listen to the political speeches, and with those who live in rows of wooden cabins or in trailers on the fairgrounds for the week. The sisters have been attending the Fair since 1936 when Marie, the oldest sister at 93, was a bride. She proudly points back across the Square to what looks like nothing more than a two-story shack leaning in a line beside other shacks.

“That’s Dr. Jay Stribling’s cabin,” she says, speaking proudly of her husband’s father, both men long dead. Marie turns back and looks around the Square, trying to recall how many speeches she’s listened to over the years.

“My mind’s not as sharp as it used to be,” she smiles and shakes her head a little indifferently, brushing a white curl away from her forehead. She turns to her sister for help. “How many do you consider, Cecilia?”

Read an excerpt from America Eats!, and learn more about the author and her work at Pat Willard's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Howard Jones' "The Bay of Pigs"

Howard Jones is University Research Professor of History at the University of Alabama. His books include Mutiny on the Amistad and Death of a Generation.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Bay of Pigs, and reported the following:
On April 17, 1961, a small band of 1500 Cuban exiles invaded their former homeland at the Bay of Pigs in an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. The amphibious operation had been the brainchild of the CIA, which had assumed an aura of invincibility after its covert successes in Iran and Guatemala. The agency had planned the entire operation—a path-breaking venture that hinged on covert action, a preemptive strike, and, incredibly, an arrangement with the Mafia to assassinate Castro and set off a popular insurrection. In approving the invasion, the Kennedy administration had taken a new direction in foreign policy, one that rested on assassination and military force.

The landing, as is well known, was a spectacular failure. Castro not only survived the invasion but outlasted ten presidents despite every effort to force him from office—including at least six attempts at assassination.

This fiasco—a word that has become synonymous with Bay of Pigs—provided ample warning of the unpredictable dangers inherent in an interventionist foreign policy. Yet the warning remains unheeded—as shown in Vietnam and Iraq.

When I applied the “Page 99 Test” to my work, I was amazed at how much that excerpt revealed about the Cuban operation. Despite President Kennedy’s stipulations, the first invaders to hit the Cuban beaches were Americans. The CIA ignored his directive, believing that only Americans could do the job right and that military considerations must have priority over White House concerns regarding plausible deniability. So sure of itself, the agency had gone beyond its expertise in covert action to engineer a military operation that, by all measures, belonged to the Joint Chiefs of Staff but seemed certain of success because of its belief that the White House would resort to U.S. military intervention if necessary. The initial events on the Cuban beaches highlighted on this page starkly exposed the deficiencies in the CIA’s intelligence gathering apparatus that suggested further flaws in the plan—a chilling portent of the disaster to come:

… Just before midnight preceding the landing, the operation began as two small underwater demolition teams in rubber rafts stealthily motored toward shore, each group—one of five Cubans, the other with three—led by an American and hence in violation of President Kennedy’s directive against U.S. participation. With blackened faces and wearing black outfits and rubber sandals, the larger UDT team headed to Blue Beach, the other to Red Beach, their missions the same: Mark the best channels for the ships’ approach with red and white lights visible only from the sea and turned on when the vessels came within a half mile of shore.

The two Americans were vocal and highly visible. At Blue Beach was Grayston Lynch (known as Gray), a muscular, wide-bodied former member of the Special Forces in Laos who had twice been wounded in World War II, during the Normandy invasion and at the Battle of the Bulge, and again in the Korean War at Heartbreak Ridge. And at Red Beach was William “Rip” Robertson, called by the Cubans “the Alligator” because of his rough and scaly sun-dried skin. A flamboyant and irreverent battle-hardened marine in World War II, he had had paramilitary experience with the CIA in Korea and Guatemala and later became a close friend of Somoza. Both Americans were CIA case officers, Gray on the Blagar and Robertson on the Barbara J.

As Gray’s frogman team eased toward Blue Beach, the men gawked in disbelief at the tall lights beaming onto the beach from Playa Girón. It “was lit up like Coney Island,” Gray sputtered. Didn’t the CIA’s home office assure them that no one inhabited the resort houses? Indeed, the agency had failed to note the construction workers and their families living in Playa Girón while building the new vacation mecca scheduled to open in less than a month—nearly 200 buildings similar to motels in the United States. And of all things, they were having a party that had spilled onto the beach. No turning back now. The team drifted a short distance from the original landing site. From a thousand yards out, Gray scanned the beach with his binoculars, spotting six figures standing outside the buildings and peering toward the water. He quieted his boat’s engine, trying to determine whether they had been seen. Everything remained still and black in the moonless night. …
Learn more about The Bay of Pigs and its author at the Oxford University Press website and Howard Jones' faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Stephen V. Ash's "Firebrand of Liberty"

Stephen V. Ash is a professor of history at the University of Tennessee and the author of several books on the Civil War, including A Year in the South: Four Lives in 1865.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Firebrand of Liberty: The Story of Two Black Regiments That Changed the Course of the Civil War, and reported the following:
I’m not sure my new book, Firebrand of Liberty: The Story of Two Black Regiments That Changed the Course of the Civil War, would pass FMF’s page-99 test. That page, while it does mention several major characters, would by itself leave readers pretty much mystified about the book’s subject. Whether the page reveals the “quality” of the book, I leave to readers to decide.

The book is about a small-scale, nearly forgotten, but quite extraordinary Civil War military expedition. In March 1863 two regiments of black Union troops commanded by white officers invaded Florida and seized Jacksonville, deep inside Confederate territory. It was a daring undertaking whose aim was not purely military. It was intended to provoke a slave insurrection that would destroy the Confederacy from within.

For three weeks the expeditionary force waged war in Florida, fending off Confederate counterattacks and liberating slaves. Then, suddenly and inexplicably, it was recalled by higher authorities. Though abruptly terminated and seemingly a failure, the expedition nevertheless had profound consequences. Apprised of the two regiments’ accomplishments in Florida, President Lincoln decided to go forward with full-scale recruitment of black troops (up to this point, the use of such troops was a very limited and controversial experiment). Ultimately some 180,000 black troops served, giving the Union a crucial manpower edge that helped it win the war.

This story has a fascinating cast of characters, as I discovered doing research. Not all were soldiers, and not all were men. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the expedition’s commander, had before the war been an ally of the fanatical abolitionist John Brown; he envisioned this expedition as a chance to redeem Brown’s failure to stir up a slave rebellion at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, four years earlier. Prince Rivers, a former slave, was Higginson’s most trusted sergeant, a man with a brilliant though untutored military mind. U.S. Treasury agent Lyman Stickney was a liar and con man who accompanied the expedition in the hope of lining his pockets. Charlotte Forten, a cultured young black woman from the North, came south to educate the freed slaves and became involved in a passionate affair with the expedition’s surgeon, who was white, married, and old enough to be her father.
Learn more about Firebrand of Liberty and its author at the W.W. Norton website and Stephen V. Ash's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lisa Chamberlain's "Slackonomics"

Lisa Chamberlain is a regular contributor to the New York Times and the executive director of the Forum for Urban Design. Her writing has also appeared in Salon, New York magazine, and the New York Observer. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of a Village Voice-owned weekly paper.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Slackonomics: Generation X in the Age of Creative Destruction, and reported the following:
Slackonomics shows how technological innovation and globalization have radically changed everyday life for Generation X -- from how we work, where we live, how we play, and when we marry and have children, to our attitudes about love, humor, friendship, happiness, and personal fulfillment. Through pop-culture, personal narrative and economics analysis, Slackonomics is about how Generation X has bridged the analog and digital worlds, and learned how to survive and even thrive in this era of financial insecurity and flourishing creativity.

People have asked me how I came up with the idea for Slackonomics (I'm not an economist), and I like to say that the book is essentially a memoir, even though I reveal nothing about my own personal life. And page 99 in fact pretty well reflects this fact (a brilliant concept, btw!). At the age of 34, I moved from Cleveland to New York City to essentially start over. I did this for any number of reasons, but one critical factor was facing down a stagnant job market in Cleveland, where it is easy to hit the career ceiling pretty quickly. What's more, the creative economy -- where Gen X has thrived the most -- is not exactly booming in the Midwest. And yet, uprooting oneself after having invested a lot of time and energy in one place is not easy, and downright scary. Of course, making new friends gets more difficult later in life, but more importantly, friends and social networks have become critical to succeeding in the creative economy, and that's what this section from Slackonomics is about (first graph of page 99):

Even more significant, innovation and cultural production are extremely reliant on the spontaneous sharing of ideas and information in random, unscripted ways. As Elizabeth Currid documents in
The Warhol Economy, "Creativity would not exist as a successfully or efficiently without its social world. The social is not the by-product--it is the decisive mechanism by which cultural products and cultural producers are generated, evaluated and sent to the market." As Currid's research shows, people working in technology innovation, arts, music, fashion, design and media are far more likely to live and work in close proximity to each other than people in finance, medicine, law and other "golf course" professions, which are still heavily dependent on the old boys' network method of doing business.

So that is just one of many ways that life has really changed for Generation X as a result of shifting economic circumstances!
Read an excerpt from Slackonomics, and learn more about the book and author at the Slackonomics website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 21, 2008

M. Gazzaniga's "Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique"

Michael S. Gazzaniga is the director of the University of California–Santa Barbara's SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, as well as its Summer Institute in Cognitive Neuroscience. He serves on the President's Council on Bioethics and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. His publications include The Ethical Brain: The Science of Our Moral Dilemmas.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique, and reported the following:
Whether the page 99 test hypothesis would stand up to the scientific method would be a fun problem to tackle, and in the case of my book Human, The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique, it would garner support. By definition, a species is unique, and has adapted to different conditions to survive. Adaptive changes that occurred to both the physical body, and how the human brain is hooked up, have allowed Homo sapiens to be both highly sociable and have a unique type of intelligence. Page 99 is from the chapter about social relationships and how our brain, a product of natural selection, is connected to promote social exchange. First there is a quote from the evolutionary psychologist Leda Cosmides making the point that when we understand that the human mind is a product of natural selection that occurred in a hunter-gatherer environment, selected to deal with problems that hunter-gathers faced, we are better able to present modern information to it in formats that are easier to understand:

Let's say you have a positive mammogram. How likely is it that you actually have breast cancer? The typical way of presenting the relevant data - in percents - makes this difficult. If you said that 1% of women randomly screened have breast cancer, and all of these test positive, but there is a 3% false alarm rate, most people mistakenly think a positive mammogram means they have a 97% chance of having breast cancer. But let me give you the same information in absolute frequencies - an ecologically valid information format for a hunter-gatherer mind: Out of every 1000 women, 10 have breast cancer and test positive; 30 test positive but do not have breast cancer. So: out of every 1000 women, 40 will test positive, but only 10 of these will have breast cancer. This format makes it clear that, if you had a positive mammogram, your chance of having breast cancer is only 1 in 4 - that is, 25%, not 97%.

The rest of the page begins Cosmides research on cheater detection in social exchanges. She has found evidence for a specific brain module, or circuit, that allows humans to detect cheaters in social situations, but the same type of problem, if not in a social context format, is much more difficult for people to solve. Here is the example from page 99, and I am going to cheat myself and include part of page 100 to let you see the whole deal.

There are four cards on a table. Each card has a letter on one side and a number on the other. Currently you can see R Q 4 9. Turn over only those cards that you need to, to prove whether the following rule is true or false: If a card has an R on one side, then it has a 4 on the other. Got it? What's your answer? The answer is R and 4. OK, now try this one: There are four people sitting at a table. One is sixteen, the second is 21, the third is drinking coke and the fourth is drinking beer. Only those over 21 can drink beer legally. Who should the bouncer check to make sure the law isn't being broken? That one is easier isn't it? The answer is the 16 year old and the beer drinker.

Reciprocity is the basis of our social structure, but it can't exist if cheaters go undetected. To find out why and learn what other modules we have.... Read on!!!
Read an excerpt from Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique, and learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website and Michael Gazzaniga's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Thomas B. Cavanagh's "Prodigal Son"

Thomas B. Cavanagh is author of the novel Murderland as well as the first Mike Garrity novel, Head Games, which won the Florida Book Awards 2007 Gold Medal for Popular Fiction and was named a 2007 “Killer Book” Selection by the Independent Mystery Bookseller’s Association.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new novel, Prodigal Son, and reported the following:
The conventional wisdom typically offered to writers of commercial fiction is to have a really strong opening ten pages. We are constantly told to “hook” the reader. And it’s certainly true. However, it’s often even more difficult to sustain that level of engagement for another 290 pages.

I have read books (certain copycat techno-thrillers come to mind) where the opening sequence is gripping and establishes a clever and chilling premise. Unfortunately, my interest quickly wanes when the characters are revealed as two-dimensional cutouts with no real authenticity. Perhaps we are willing to accept a little more style than substance to get started, but we need that substance to carry us to the end.

Well-developed characters are the key ingredient to sustaining a narrative for the long haul of an entire novel. Establish interesting and believable characters, give them something they need, and then throw everything you can in their way.

So, when I look at page 99 of my latest crime novel Prodigal Son, I ask myself if I have delivered both style and substance. I certainly hope so. But it isn’t up to me to decide. It’s the reader’s job. I leave it up to you:

“Mike,” said Gary in a calm, even tone. “Why don’t you tell us about your client?”

So I did. I told them about meeting Debbie Watson at the support group. About her leukemia. About her request to find her son so she could meet him before she dies. I left out the sex. I told them about going to the mayor’s office (but I omitted Sally’s role). I told them about talking with Jack O’Malley and then Steven Schumacher. About surprising Debbie and how that had backfired. Then I went through the whole, detailed sequence of the night’s events that led me to this interrogation room.

“You have Debbie Watson’s phone number?” Gary asked.

“It’s in my cell phone. You guys have that. It’s her cell number.” I also described where she lived.

“Okay, Mike,” Gary said, standing. “Give us a few minutes.”

Gary and Joe exited the room, leaving me alone in the bright fluorescent lights. I glanced at my now empty coffee cup and immediately realized that I should have asked to use the men’s room.

* * *

By the time they returned almost thirty minutes later, I was close to having an embarrassing accident in my shorts. They escorted me through the stares of the bullpen to the rest room and then paraded me back through my former colleagues like a big game trophy. They returned me to the room and locked me again to the table.

“So where’s the knife?” Joe said. I rolled my eyes and sighed. “Don’t make this any harder than it has to be, Garrity. Tell us where the knife is.”

“It’s up your ass. With your head,” I said.

Joe pointed his finger at me. “You’re goin’ down.”

“Here’s the thing, Mike,” Gary said. “You have a prior history of asking about the guy. You talked to him on the phone. You’ve been seen lurking around the apartment. Your fingerprints are all over the inside, including on the guy’s wallet. You were found standing in the room with the victim at three-thirty in the morning.”
Prodigal Son is the sequel to the award-winning Head Games and continues the story of curmudgeonly Orlando detective Mike Garrity.

Learn more about the author and his work at Thomas B. Cavanagh's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 18, 2008

Jonathan Evison's "All About Lulu"

Jonathan Evison has worked a wide array of jobs from syndicated talk radio host to rotten tomato sorter--in the former role, his comedy show "Shaken Not Stirred" was nominated for two Peabody Awards. He has received two Silver Microphones, and two Communicators and was frequently nominated for the Soundie Award.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his debut novel, All About Lulu, and reported the following:
From the top of page 99:

It was a photograph of Lulu and me at Cabazon, standing before Dinny the brontosaurus. I could intimate the photographer, just barely, in the form of Big Bill's ghostly reflection in the gift shop window. Lulu and I were ten years old. Lulu had the red ring of a cherry popsicle around her mouth, and was wearing oversized sunglasses. I was squinting, pre-Martian glasses, but smiling ear to ear in my World Gym shirt from Uncle Cliff, the one with the gorilla holding the world above his head like he wanted to throw it.

As to Ford's assertion that the quality of the whole shall be revealed on page 99, I must confess that I've labored for years under the misapprehension that page 69 held the key. What does that say about me? Don't answer that. In the case of "All About Lulu," I don't know whether page 99 speaks to the 'quality' of the whole, per se, but I do think the above passage speaks to the emotional core of the book, to that place William's heart longs forever to re-inhabit. When in adulthood William sets out on his pilgrimage to Seattle, it is "the ten year old heart" of Lulu which he seeks to recapture. Also, the passage from page 99 is set in Cabazon, which occupies a very significant place in the novel. As William states an earlier passage: "Cabazon was my favorite not because it captured my imagination, but because it captured Lulu's. The way she put it was, 'It's a lovely dream, because it's nobody else's.' And that's how she saw the thing, not as a brontosaurus, but as a dream."
Read an excerpt from all About Lulu, and learn more about the book and author at Jonathan Evison's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Matthew Pratt Guterl's "American Mediterranean"

Matthew Guterl is Associate Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies, and Director of the American Studies Program, at Indiana University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation, and reported the following:
In my case, page 99 is both memorable and meaningful. That page falls in the middle of a book about Southern slaveholders and the Caribbean before, during, and after the Civil War. It also sits near the mid-point of a chapter about Eliza McHattton, a Louisiana planter’s wife who fled the war-torn South to establish a vast sugar plantation in Cuba. There, she struggled to reconcile an enslaved African population with Asian “coolies,” or contract laborers brought from China. She ultimately established a very carefully calibrated racial division of labor on her plantation.

To dramatize the plight of the Chinese, I used a logbook from the journey of The Forest Eagle, a “coolie ship” arranged by New England merchants and bound to reach Havana at nearly the same moment as Eliza. The journey of the Forest Eagle ends on p. 99. It was a disaster – well over twenty percent of the Chinese on board died, either at sea or in quarantine. The ship suffered an outbreak of disease. The profit-oriented captain of the ship was worried that the “cargo” was being fed too much, and so instructed the “coolie master” to limit the food intake of the group. And there were, perhaps not surprisingly, a series of rebellions and schemes that needed to be put down.

I remember writing this section of the book very well. I had been looking for a way to make use of the Forest Eagle logbook, and decided to just lay the story out for the readers and let the details do the work. The passage of that ship is, in a word, haunting. So, too, is Eliza McHatton’s memoir, From Flag to Flag.
Read an excerpt from American Mediterranean, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Richard Ellis' "Tuna: A Love Story"

Richard Ellis is the author of more than a dozen books. He is also a celebrated marine artist whose paintings have been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. He has written and illustrated articles for numerous magazines, including Audubon, National Geographic, Discover, Smithsonian, and Scientific American.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Tuna: A Love Story, and reported the following:
When he said "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you," Ford Madox Ford probably wasn't thinking about illustrated books. In Tuna: A Love Story, page ninety-nine is about Ernest Hemingway's experiences with the bluefin tuna, but half the page is occupied by a photograph of Hemingway and a very big fish. The excerpt may reveal the "quality of the whole," but it suggests that the book is about fishing, which it isn't. It's actually about the plight of the mighty bluefin, being fished to extinction by the demands of the Japanese sushi market.

Here's the text from pp. 98-100 and the photo from pg. 99:

Ernest Hemingway never wrote a non-fiction book about fishing, but he did write the introduction to Kip Farrington’s Atlantic Game Fishing, in which he bemoaned the lack of “sportsmanship” in the activity and criticized those anglers who spend vast amounts of money in pursuit of world records. He wrote, “Seriously though, it is a grand sport, but it needs some simple and decent rules if it is to continue competitively. It will be all right with me. I would like to go back to fishing for fun and take a day off and go snapper fishing over by the concrete ship.” Hemingway truly admired the great billfishes, and his experiences with marlin and swordfish were woven into his novels, The Old Man and the Sea (1952), and Islands in the Stream (1970). According to Farrington, who also wrote Fishing with Hemingway and Glassell, Hemingway “was one of three men who turned down the honor of fishing with the U.S. Tuna Team after the international matches were begun in 1937. He never fished up there at all.” However, from his boat Pilar, off Bimini in 1935, Hemingway landed two bluefins weighing 310 and 381 pounds. George Reiger wrote that “Hemingway evolved a theory for the successful capture of an unmutilated tuna. From the instant the fish took the bait, he argued, you simply had to fight the animal like there was no tomorrow. He believed that once any fish ‘understood’ that it was dealing with a superior force, then the job of landing it became half as hard.”
Read an excerpt from Tuna: A Love Story, and learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tessa Pollard's "Western Diseases"

Tessa M. Pollard is Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and member of The Wolfson Research Institute at Durham University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Western Diseases: An Evolutionary Perspective, and reported the following:
As a group, western diseases - such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, allergies and mental health problems - constitute one of the major problems facing humans at the beginning of the twenty-first century, particularly as they extend into the poorer countries of the world. My aim in this book is to show how the use of an evolutionary perspective can enhance our understanding of these diseases.

For example, the rise in the prevalence of allergies in the affluent west has been linked by biomedical scientists to a lack of exposure to infection in childhood. Research on the evolution of disease in human populations points to the presence of intestinal worms throughout human (and primate) history. As a result of following this lead, scientists have shown that the absence of exposure to worms may be key in explaining the increase in allergic disease in populations living in affluent and hygienic conditions.

Page 99 is the first page of Chapter 6, in which I focus on three aspects of female reproductive life: reproductive function and infertility; the consequences of a lack of breastfeeding for mothers and children; and the menopause. On p99 I start to examine the links between obesity and high testosterone levels in women - women with high testosterone levels may have difficulty conceiving. Obesity is a central concern of the book and in an early chapter I show why humans evolved to be particularly good at laying down fat tissue, and how changes in our diets and activity levels have brought about the current obesity ‘epidemic’. Impaired reproductive function in women is an example of one of the lesser known effects of obesity.

In some cases these evolutionary insights can lead us to possible preventive strategies, some of which coincide with established public health wisdom, such as increasing levels of physical activity and of breastfeeding, and some of which are less mainstream, such as manipulating reproductive hormone levels in young women to reduce breast cancer risks.
Read an excerpt from Western Diseases, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 14, 2008

Elaine Szewczyk's "I'm with Stupid"

Elaine Szewczyk's work has appeared in The Financial Times, Playboy, and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications. Currently she is the editor of Kirkus Reviews.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her debut novel, I'm with Stupid, and reported the following:
I was outraged by what I found when I turned to page 99 of the novel. It was boring. I mean the whole page was a snooze-fest. I wildly scanned the lines in a panic. It was almost as if someone else had written them. I began to read aloud in disbelief: “The princess glanced at her watch, and saw that she was already five minutes late for clavichord practice.” What is this crap?! Clavichords are for nerds and beaver-toothed dorks! I slammed the book shut and gave it a dirty look, which is when I noticed the cover. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Oh. Okay. Seems I grabbed the wrong book. An honest mistake. I took a few moments to locate my glasses. I thoroughly polished and buffed the lenses with the end of my boyfriend’s tie, which he was wearing. “Clean those with something else!” he protested. I let the tie drop and stared at him. He’s lucky we’re madly in love because sometimes he can really be nervy. But I’m getting off track. This is about me. I walked to the bookshelf and pulled down I’m with Stupid. I opened it to page 99. Much better—at least this time I recognized the words.

On page 99 of I’m with Stupid Kas and her friends Max and Libby are at a safari lodge in South Africa. It’s their last day, and they are having breakfast. The night before, on a brandy-soaked whim, Kas slept with hot park ranger William. At this point Kas thinks William is dreamy. He won’t stay dreamy for long (see page 121). Kas’s thoughts of William are interrupted by Manuel, a 17-year-old heir to a tube sock fortune who approaches the friends’ table. Manuel has a crush on Libby, who is 13 years his senior. He is about to return home to Mexico and has come to say goodbye. Some might call Manuel annoying. Enter Manuel:

Manuel straightens his silk tie while standing over Libby. He plucks a pink flower peeking out from his breast pocket and rests it near her plate. “I have been looking for you,” he says. “I leave this afternoon for Mexico. There is a great deal of work to be done at the tube sock factory. I am overseeing the installation of a state-of-the-art sprinkler system. One can never be too careful. I am relieved that you have not yet departed; I worried that I would be denied an opportunity to say good-bye.”

“You won’t see her again,” says Max. “Buenas noches.”

“I will initiate a correspondence,” Manuel continues. “I will compose sensual poetry in an impeccable hand. It could very well result in a volume—a book of poetry for my lady. Tell me your home address. I have a photographic memory.” Max blurts that we’re all homeless. “I am not surprised that you are,” Manuel says to Max. He hands Libby a sheet of stationery filled with writing. “Here are my addresses in Mexico City and around the world. We have a number of residences. One home is made almost exclusively of mother-of-pearl…”

After rereading the passage a few times I gently closed the book and hugged it, then ate a banana. Had I passed the 99th page test? No idea. But I’m a positive person and quickly decided I had. I passed! Congrats Elaine! Plus: No clavichord references. I strolled over to the couch where my boyfriend was sitting. I sat down next to him and took his hand in mine. What a wonderful day. “Can we hold hands later?” he asked. “I’m trying to finish my book.” I looked down at his lap. He was reading War and Peace. I gripped his hand tighter and pretended not to hear him. I was celebrating my win.
Read an excerpt from I'm with Stupid, and learn more about the author and her work at Elaine Szewczyk's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Allan J. Lichtman's "White Protestant Nation"

Allan J. Lichtman's books include Prejudice and Old Politics: The Presidential Election of 1928; Your Family History; Ecological Inference; The 13 Keys to the Presidency; and The Keys to the White House: 2008 Edition.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement, and reported the following:
My book, White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement (Grove/Atlantic, 2008) explodes the conventional wisdom that modern conservative politics began with Barry Goldwater's campaign for the presidency in 1964 or William F. Buckley's founding of the National Review in 1955. Rather the book shows that modern conservatism began was born in the 1920s out of fears that secular, cosmopolitan, and pluralistic forces threatened America's national identity.There is far more continuity than other accounts would suggest between today's movement and conservatism in the early twentieth century. Both the earlier movement and today's version are dedicating to the conserving both traditional white Protestant values and American private enterprise.

The information on page 99 of the book helps validate this thesis. I point out that "Thirty years before Richard Nixon's 'silent majority' and Jerry Falwell's 'moral majority'" ... conservative activist and newspaper publisher Frank Gannett "envisioned forming a 'great middle-class bloc' committed to the Constitution and the enterprise system." This group would consist of "'thrifty, frugal, hard-working, self-respecting and God-fearing men and women who built America.'" The group would be "'anchored to the point of view of the middle class American ... who believes in the American Constitution and the King James version of the Bible.'"
Read an excerpt from White Protestant Nation, and learn more about White Protestant Nation at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 11, 2008

Judith Nies' "The Girl I Left Behind"

Judith Nies has worked as a journalist, teacher, historian, researcher, and speechwriter, and is the author of several books, including Nine Women: Portraits from the American Radical Tradition. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, Ms., the Harvard Review, and other publications. She teaches writing at Massachusetts College of Art and is a member of PEN America.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Girl I Left Behind: A Narrative History of the Sixties, and reported the following:
Love, Death, War, Travel. These, I have been told, were the great subjects for ancient writers, especially the ancient Arabic poets. I do understand love, death and war (blood) as great subjects, but travel? According to my source, it is because philosophers believed that it was only in travel that we are forced to confront ourselves, to step out of the known world that reassures us about who we are. As travelers we learn that our identity is a fragile container, the solidity of our identity greatly overrated. Plunged into different concepts of time and space, we change.

So yes, I recently published a memoir and history about my life in the 1960s. The overarching themes are about race, gender and war (Vietnam). But what happened when I turned to page 99? I discovered it was about travel. I was not yet twenty-one and working as a research assistant for an anthropologist in Turkey. As a young woman who had barely left New England, where meaningful time starts in 1620, I was so overwhelmed by the mysteries of time and space that I stretched out on the marble steps of the great ancient Greek city of Ephesus and fell asleep in the noonday sun. My employer thought I might have narcolepsy. It was then that I learned that I was not in Turkey, but in the ancient Greek capitol of Asia Minor; and that if I were Chinese, I would understand that the year was 4661, not 1963.

Page 99:

From Istanbul, Mrs. Baity and I took a boat out to Turkey’s Elizabeth Islands, where Sephardic Jews had settled after the Spanish Inquisition expelled them from Spain in 1492, and then we traveled down to the Dardanelles and the ancient city of Troy. From the port of Izmir, from which thousands of Armenians escaped during the Armenian genocide, we traveled along the coast to Miletus, Didyma, Ephesus, Bodrum, and Kas into another world and another dimension of time. Today I see them as names on a map, but then they were my route into the world of myth, a world so ancient and so overpowering that my under-developed imagination simply quit. In the full noonday sun I sat down on the marble steps of the great library at Ephesus, stretched out on my back and fell into a deep sleep. No one could wake me up.

“What happened to you up there?” Mrs. Baity asked when we were back in Selcuk, the ragged little village, where I had negotiated the cab and guide to take us to the site at Ephesus. She looked worried.

“I don’t know. I just became exhausted. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. How long was I asleep?”

“Maybe twenty minutes. Maybe a half an hour. I think it took a while for the guide to find me. Has that ever happened before?” She told me later she thought I might have narcolepsy.

“Well, look,” I said, trying to explain the confusion I felt. “Here we are in this scabby little Turkish town” – I gestured to encompass our immediate surroundings, which were very third world -- “that is supposedly part of our modern civilization. And there” – I pointed up toward the heights of the ancient city of Ephesus -- “is a city from thousands of years ago whose people we call primitive, and yet it’s made of marble and it’s gorgeous.”

“Aha,” said Mrs. Baity. “Yes!” She didn’t look worried any more. In fact, she had an amused twinkle in her eyes. A little cognitive dissonance was only to the good, as far as she was concerned. “I don’t think anyone has ever called the Greeks primitive. The Greeks knew everything. But how we order time and space are fundamental differences between cultures,” she said, ordering two more cups of tea. “If we were Chinese, we would be living in the year 4661 rather than 1963. On a Chinese map, Ephesus would be labeled as the capital of Roman Asia, which it was. Before that it was a major city of Greece. It’s just part of a different time line. You know, like translating a language. You need a different vocabulary for time.” She realized what I didn’t: that I ….
Read an excerpt from The Girl I Left Behind, and learn more about the author and her work at Judith Nies' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 10, 2008

M. Gigi Durham's "The Lolita Effect"

Meenakshi Gigi Durham is an associate professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. For more than a decade, she has been conducting research on adolescent girls and the media.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What You Can Do About It, and reported the following:
The Lolita Effect, as I define it in my book, is a media myth that promises girls they can experience joyful sexuality and femininity, but only at a price: the price of conforming to the restrictive ideals that the corporate media impose on the entire landscape of female sexuality.

My analysis of this phenomenon begins with the premise that sex is a normal, natural and wonderful part of the human experience, and that children’s sexual development is a key aspect of growing up that can and should be handled thoughtfully and in age-appropriate ways. But the mainstream corporate media hypersexualize girlhood in ways that actually counter girls’ healthy sexual growth and contribute to a myriad of social ills, from teen pregnancies to eating disorders. I argue that we need more diverse, progressive and factual understandings of girls’ sexuality in order to move forward and truly empower girls. My book is not about censorship or prudery: it’s about positive, ethical reconceptions of girls and sex.

Page 99 of the book only focuses on one aspect of the Lolita Effect: the persistent image of the real-life Barbie doll as epitomizing the female sexual ideal. We all know that the Barbie body is one not found in nature — it’s a very slender, yet voluptuous, body, so there’s a basic contradiction at work that requires extreme dieting and exercise combined with plastic surgery to attain. Beyond that, the images of sexy girls in the media are digitally altered so that the models themselves bear little resemblance to the final images. Yet this body is presented as attainable to the girls who are targeted as viewers and consumers of these media. Page 99 actually deals with a commercial anomaly, the highly rated Disney ’tween show, That’s So Raven, which features a girl with a heavier body. In a way, the example on page 99 stands in stark contrast to the wide-ranging analyses of more pernicious pop culture products throughout the book.

So in fact, nothing on this page even begins to address the range of issues explored and synthesized in the book, or the media literacy strategies I provide for helping girls negotiate them. Alas, The Lolita Effect doesn’t meet the Page 99 test, but page 99 may pique a reader’s curiosity about what else the book contains!
Learn more about the book and author at The Lolita Effect website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Robert Whitaker's "On The Laps of Gods"

Robert Whitaker is the award-winning author of The Mapmaker’s Wife and Mad in America. His manuscript of On the Laps of Gods won the prestigious J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation, and reported the following:
I was quite curious to see what would turn up on page 99 of my book, On the Laps of Gods, and it so happens that this page relates the book's first climatic moment. The first third of the book details the massacre of black sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta in 1919, and page 99 brings the killing on the first day of the massacre to a close (the killing went on for several days). On page 99, there are several eyewitnesses who recall the killing that went on that day, and perhaps the most powerful testimony comes from one of the white posse members. "During that afternoon," he recalled, "a crowd of men came from Mississippi and began the indiscriminate hunting down, shooting and killing of Negroes. They shot and killed men, women and children without regard to whether they were guilty or innocent of any connection with the killing of anybody, or whether members of the union or not. Negroes were killed time and time again out in the fields picking cotton, harming nobody."

At the very least, I think you could read page 99 of On The Laps of Gods and gain a pretty quick sense of whether this might be a book you would like to read.
Read an excerpt from On The Laps of Gods, and learn more about the author and his work at Robert Whitaker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 7, 2008

David Kyvig's "The Age of Impeachment"

David Kyvig is Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of History at Northern Illinois University and author or editor of ten other books, including Explicit and Authentic Acts: Amending the U.S. Constitution, 1776–1995, winner of the 1997 Bancroft Prize.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Age of Impeachment: American Constitutional Culture Since 1960, and reported the following:
This book examines the surge in the use of impeachment that began with the 1961 John Birch Society campaign to impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren and has since produced as many serious impeachment efforts as had been seen in the previous 171 years of U.S. history. In its detailed narratives of thirteen executive and judicial impeachment attempts, including those involving Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, three Supreme Court Justices, and five federal judges, the book explores the increasingly toxic political culture of which impeachment was both cause and result. Page 99 reflects the book’s recurring demonstration of the connections between various impeachment episodes as well as their implications. The page falls in the middle of a chapter discussing the effort of Republican House minority leader Gerald Ford and the Nixon administration to achieve the impeachment of longtime Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.

In part, page 99 reads:

The Nixon administration proved eager to make public its willingness to assist in the investigation of Douglas after earlier surreptitiously providing FBI files to Ford. In sharp contrast to his response later when his own conduct was under investigation, the president announced that the administration would make every effort to provide all the information it could on the justice. Nixon himself wrote to Celler,

The power of impeachment is, of course, solely entrusted by the Constitution to the House of Representatives. However, the executive branch is clearly obligated both by precedent and by the necessity of the House of Representatives having all the facts before reaching its decision, to supply relevant information to the legislative branch, as it does in aid of other inquiries being conduct by committees of the Congress, to the extent compatible with the public interest.

Celler asked the president for access to tax returns for Douglas and Parvin, as well as the latter’s foundation and corporation returns. Nixon promptly agreed to provide them. Douglas himself estimated that forty federal agents devoted the equivalent of fifteen man-years to the investigation and turned over hundreds of documents to the House judiciary subcommittee.

The assault by Ford and the White House had the reverse of its intended effect of pushing Douglas to resign to avoid impeachment. The justice, who had undergone three operations in the previous year, including the installation of a heart pacemaker, had been contemplating retirement at the end of the Court’s term. But the Fortas experience affected his decision. “I’m not resigning,” he told his staff. “That would look too much like a confession of guilt, and I’m not guilty of anything.”
Read more about The Age of Impeachment at the University of Kansas Press website, and learn more about David Kyvig's research and publications at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 5, 2008

David Maraniss' "Rome 1960"

David Maraniss is an associate editor at The Washington Post. He is the winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting and has been a Pulitzer finalist two other times for his journalism and again for They Marched Into Sunlight, a book about Vietnam and the sixties. The author also of bestselling works on Bill Clinton, Vince Lombardi, and Roberto Clemente, Maraniss is a fellow of the Society of American Historians.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, and reported the following:
The page 99 test is an interesting one in the case of Rome 1960. I try to give each paragraph in a book equal care, but there is a rhythm to every section and every chapter is meant to build upon what comes before and lead to a payoff later. Readers turning to page 99 of Rome 1960 will find themselves starting not only in media res but in the middle of a sentence and in the middle of a larger riff. The chapter is about the Parade of Nations at the Opening Ceremony of the 1960 Summer Olympics, and the point of the chapter is to take the reader through the various political and cultural threads that were weaving through the world during that tense summer. One would have to back up a page to realize that the East Germans mentioned in the beginning of the page were competing on a supposedly unified team with the West Germans, months before the Berlin Wall went up. The page ends with the introduction of the African nations, who were gaining their independence that summer and who would make a statement in Rome with the victory of Ethiopian Abebe Bikila in the marathon, the first black African to win a gold medal. So in the sense that the page mixes sports and politics, it represents the book, though the payoff sections of the chapter come before and after page 99, which like the parade itself mostly helps get you from here to there. On Page 100, for instance, Rafer Johnson appears carrying the U.S. flag, the first black ever to do so for the Americans, and that is one of the central sections of the chapter.

Still, the 99 test is worthy and interesting...
Read an excerpt from Rome 1960, and learn more about the book and author at David Maraniss' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 4, 2008

Christopher Benfey's "A Summer of Hummingbirds"

Christopher Benfey is Mellon Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College and author of several books about the American Gilded Age, including Degas in New Orleans and The Great Wave.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade, and reported the following:
In my books, I like placing familiar historical figures in strange circumstances: Degas in New Orleans, Henry Adams in Japan. The great thing about writing non-fiction is that it doesn’t have to be remotely plausible, it just has to be true. In my new book, A Summer of Hummingbirds, I’ve drawn a looping (and maybe a little loopy) historical narrative around two eccentric artists: the stay-at-home poet Emily Dickinson and the nomadic painter of hummingbirds Martin Johnson Heade. On page 99, you’ll find me trying to figure out what makes Heade’s paintings of hummingbirds so magically vivid. Heade aspired to be the Audubon of hummingbirds; during the Civil War, he spent a few months in Brazil, where he wanted to experience the hummingbird habitat firsthand. His paintings of hummingbirds are almost shockingly immediate; they’re also highly sexual and sometimes a little gothic in their evocation of how life breeds on death. I found myself thinking about other bird painters in America, and I discovered that three of the greatest among them—the eighteenth-century explorer William Bartram, Audubon, and Heade—all (as I write on page 99) “came of age in Quaker settlements on the outskirts of Philadelphia.” All three artists, I concluded, “adopted some of the reverential and visionary attitude of the Quakers toward the natural world”—even when, as in the case of Bartram, they were handling rattlesnakes. Since I myself was born a Quaker on the outskirts of Philadelphia, page 99 has a very personal feel for me.
Read an excerpt from A Summer of Hummingbirds, and listen to Christopher Benfey read Emily Dickenson's poem, "A Route of Evanescence."

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Caroline Murphy's "Murder of a Medici Princess"

Caroline P. Murphy is a cultural historian and biographer. Her books include Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-Century Bologna and The Pope's Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice Della Rovere.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Murder of a Medici Princess, and reported the following:
Murder of a Medici Princess is the story of the extravagant and full life, and horrific death, of the 16th century Florentine noble Isabella de' Medici. If this book was what one might think of as a biography in the traditional sense, one might concede the failure of the page 99 test, for the book's protagonist does not make an appearance here. But I was drawn to biography as a historical medium by its inherent flexibility, as the life of a subject allows for investigations into the surrounding fabric. In this case, much of page 99 concerns itself with the issue of malaria in Renaissance Italy. The word malaria is itself Italian - mal aria - and "bad air" was then believed to be the cause of the disease, carried on the "vapors" emanating from swampy land, rather than the mosquitoes breeding in such terrain. It was a disease from which the elite were not immune, as the Medici family would find out to their cost, and Isabella in particular. Page 98 recounts the almost excessive anxiety of the 19-year-old Medici cardinal, Giovanni, about a newly announced pregnancy of his 20-year-old sister Isabella, who was married, but who saw her husband infrequently. By contrast, the love between Isabella and Giovanni was "infinite" as another of their brothers, seemingly jealous, remarked. In the last lines of page 99, on Sunday, November 15 of 1562, Giovanni goes out hunting in Tuscany's wooded coastline, a haven for mosquitoes. He returns feverish, yet "happy and full of good will." But by Tuesday, as the very last words on this page record, "Giovanni's fever had grown." What happens next will dramatically alter the course of his sister Isabella's life, ultimately contributing to the motives for the murder of this Medici princess.
Learn more about Murder of a Medici Princess at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Carrie Vaughn's "Kitty and the Silver Bullet"

Carrie Vaughn is the author of four novels about a werewolf named Kitty.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to the latest installment in the series, Kitty and the Silver Bullet, and reported the following:
My one-sentence tagline description of the Kitty series is this: Kitty is a werewolf who hosts a talk radio advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged. Kitty and The Midnight Hour is the first novel in the series. The fourth, Kitty and the Silver Bullet, came out earlier this year, and the fifth and sixth will be out early next year.

Kitty and the Silver Bullet wraps up a lot of threads that developed through the first three books. The overall arc of the series is something of a coming of age story. Starting with the first book, Kitty learns to stand up for herself, and to be independent. In Silver Bullet, she comes full circle and confronts some of the people who have threatened her and abused her in the past. Now, she has the skills and strength to be able to stand up to them.

Page 99 has one of my favorite scenes in the book. Kitty is a rather unusual werewolf in that she tries to avoid violence. She prefers to talk her way out of situations whenever possible. But by now, it's becoming clear that that isn't going to be an option this time around. Because she's facing down a whole group of werewolves and vampires, all of whom have it in for her, her werewolf strength and abilities aren't going to be enough to protect her. So, her friend Ben is going to teach her how to shoot a gun.

"What's this?" My voice seemed small.

"Nine-millimeter Glock semiautomatic, weapon of choice of law enforcement officers everywhere. Compact, light, has some kick because of that, but it's worth the trade. It can still do a fair bit of damage."

Dread fell like a weight over me.

He continued. "We're not strong enough to take on Carl and Meg hand-to-hand. We need other advantages."

Like hell. "Ben, no, I've never touched a gun in my life--"

"That's why I'm taking you to a range where you can practice."

"No. No no no. It's cheating..."

I like this scene for a lot of reasons. We hardly ever see this kind of character--the kick-ass heroine--actually learning how to shoot. You can't just pick up a gun and be good at it, and I wanted to show that. It's also a fun bit of interaction between two of the series' main characters. Both of them are snarky and funny, and watching them together is a hoot. I have a lot of fun writing scenes with Kitty and Ben.

All in all, this really is pretty representative not just of the book, but of the series. There's a hint of menace--Kitty is learning to shoot because her life is in danger. But the humor and character interaction, which I like to think are some of the strengths of the series, come through as well.
Read an excerpt from Kitty and the Silver Bullet, and learn more about the author and her work at Carrie Vaughn's website and journal.

--Marshal Zeringue