Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gary Bass' "Freedom's Battle"

Gary Bass, an associate professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton, is the author of Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals. He is a former reporter for The Economist and has written often for the New York Times.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Freedom's Battle is the end of a chapter, about American calls for rescuing the Greeks during their revolt against Ottoman rule. The book is about early experiments with humanitarian intervention, as very rough precedents for today's debates about what to do in places like Rwanda, Kosovo, and Darfur.

The American debate about Greece is a fun one, so it's nice that it squeaked onto page 99. Basically, the story is that lots of Americans--including Thomas Jefferson, William Henry Harrison, James Madison, Daniel Webster--went berserk for the Greek cause in the 1820s, shocked at massacres there and thrilled by the classical echoes (Jefferson couldn't stop mentioning Homer and Demosthenes). Madison even wanted to get Greece included in the Monroe Declaration. The problem is that the United States was still weak and risked getting itself in all sorts of trouble by taking sides in European wars. That's the context for a magnificent statement, by John Quincy Adams, the secretary of state, who in 1821 pours ice water on Madison, Webster, et al. in a July 4 address: "she [America] does not go abroad, in search of monsters to destroy." John Quincy Adams manages to keep the White House out of foreign adventures, although he gets slammed by public opinion and garners an implicit rebuke from his own father, John Adams himself, who publicly backs the New York Greek Committee. (George W. and George H.W. Bush didn't invent this kind of psychodrama.) The chapter ends, on page 99, with John Quincy Adams triumphant. A pro-Greek activist comes by his office to ask for a donation for the Greeks. At the same time, a senator from Missouri walks in, looking for a donation for new church in St. Louis. Adams gives money for Missouri, not Greece.
Read an excerpt from Freedom's Battle, and learn more about the book at the Knopf website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 29, 2008

Thomas Dumm's "Loneliness as a Way of Life"

Thomas Dumm is a Professor of Political Science at Amherst College and author of A Politics of the Ordinary.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Loneliness as a Way of Life, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Loneliness as a Way of Life is both representative of the book and misleading. On that page, from Chapter Three, "Loving," I am beginning to explore the way thinkers have described the politics of the nuclear family, so the top of the page has a quote from John Locke describing parental authority (from his Second Treatise). Now, John Locke is probably one of the most important liberal political philosophers, but he is also pretty dull, and I'm basically using him to show how the real drama of family life, and its loneliness, isn't really dealt with very well by most political thinkers. This page comes after a couple of pages of intensely personal description of the years in my marriage when my wife and I fought over time -- time to ourselves, time for each other -- because these two beings we had created ate up all of our time. It is preface to thinking about some of the extreme pressures and tensions involving family love, which I illustrate through an interpretation of the Wim Wender's film, Paris, Texas, and then, which I further illuminate by revealing why that film means so much to me -- it has to do with my seeking of love from my own mother, and how she was unable to love, for reasons having to do with her own loneliness. In fact, each chapter of the book progressively gets more personal, and in some ways more sad, as the sense of loneliness culminates in thinking about grief (my wife died after a long illness during the long years it took me to write this book, and her dying transformed the project). So in this book I try to make philosophy illuminate ordinary life and loss, and vice versa.
Read an excerpt from Loneliness as a Way of Life, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Simon Baatz's "For the Thrill of It"

Simon Baatz holds a joint appointment as associate professor of history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Chicago, and reported the following:
On page 99 of For the Thrill of It, Nathan Leopold is walking along Ellis Avenue when he meets his former high school teacher, Mott Kirk Mitchell. The previous day, Wednesday, 21 May, Leopold had helped Richard Loeb murder Bobby Franks, a fourteen-year-old boy. That Thursday, as Leopold stops to talk to Mitchell in the street, the Chicago newspapers are reporting that the mutilated body of a child has been found in a drainage ditch south of Chicago. Mitchell is walking toward the Harvard School (where Bobby was a pupil) to meet with the school principal.

“How do you do, Mr. Mitchell?” Nathan inquired sincerely, “I haven’t seen you for a long time; how are you?”

Mitchell peered at the young man in front of him -- who was he? Yes, he recognized him now. Nathan Leopold had been a student at the Harvard School a few years back. Mitchell remembered him as an obnoxious pupil, clever certainly, one of the best students in the class, but too arrogant and cynical to be likable.

“Have you heard,” Mitchell asked, “about the Franks boy?”

“No,” Nathan replied.

Everyone at the Harvard School, Mitchell explained, was worried at the disappearance of Bobby Franks. There was a rumor going about that someone had kidnapped Bobby and now there was news that a boy’s body had been found out by the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks near the Indiana state line.

“Do you know him?” Mitchell asked.

Nathan shook his head, “No.”

“Robert Franks?”


Mitchell stayed a few minutes more on the sidewalk, talking about the murder, as Nathan listened. It was inexplicable, Mitchell proclaimed, that someone would murder Bobby Franks ... and what effect would it have on the Harvard School? Bobby had disappeared the previous day on his way home after school, not far from where they stood -- was any child safe while the murderer was still at large?

Some reviewers have questioned my technique in this book. How can Baatz write a non-fiction book in such a novelistic manner? Is it legitimate for a historian to write with such immediacy and such vividness? In this case, yes. The manuscript sources – the confessions of Leopold and Loeb, the reports of the psychiatrists, and the transcript of the trial – provide such extraordinary detail and so many lengthy passages of dialogue (the conversation reproduced above is taken verbatim from the official record) that I have been able to render the story of Leopold and Loeb in the most dramatic way possible. The murder of Bobby Franks was a brutal crime, a crime committed in the most cynical and calculated manner, an act of depravity that has become part of the history of Chicago.
Browse inside For the Thrill of It, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Helen Tse's "Sweet Mandarin"

Helen Tse graduated from Cambridge University in law and worked as a tax attorney with Clifford Chance (London and Hong Kong) and then with PricewaterhouseCoopers where she won the Young Accountant of the Year Award 2006 for her work on helping companies invest in China.

She applied “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sweet Mandarin: The Courageous True Story of Three Generations of Chinese Women and Their Journey from East to West, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Sweet Mandarin tells the story of 1950s Hong Kong when my grandmother, Lily Kwok worked as an amah to one of the most powerful and privileged families of the colony, the Woodmans. Surprisingly, Lily and Mrs Woodman senior, whom she looked after, became good friends, something unheard of in this master-servant set up. One day, Mrs Woodman senior asked to see where Lily lived. Lily was afraid of disclosing the crumbling, dirty shack which Lily called home but had to oblige this request.

Mrs Woodman gasped when she saw the state her friend lived in. 'How can Hong Kong call itself a British colony when you live in… in this medieval place?' Neither she nor Lily had an answer.

Mrs Woodman senior was instrumental in Lily emigrating to the UK and we are indebted to Mrs Woodman who even in death, kept Lily in the will. My grandmother used the money left to her to become the first Chinese woman to set up a Chinese restaurant in the UK.

Sweet Mandarin, (a real life Joy Luck Club) is a true story about three generation of Chinese women and their journey from East to West. Endorsed by Amy Tan and Oprah's Chef, Art Smith, as "beautifully written," and chosen by Barnes and Noble in their Great New Writers' Selection, Sweet Mandarin has been shortlisted for the Portico Library non-fiction book award. The Wall Street Journal says it is "a tender heart rending story" and Metro says its "fascinating." Also dramatized for the BBC, it is the lead book to celebrate the Beijing Olympic Games. This biography is used in schools worldwide for history and culture lessons.
Learn more about the book and author at the Sweet Mandarin website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 25, 2008

Andrew Bacevich's "The Limits of Power"

Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, retired from the U.S. Army with the rank of colonel. He is the author of The New American Militarism, among other books. His writing has appeared in Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, and reported the following:
Anyone reading page 99 of The Limits of Power will encounter a major theme of the book, namely the incompetence and dysfunction of the national security state. The page begins midway through an illustration of how senior military leaders failed to provide civilian policymakers with the sort of cogent and pointed advice that might have dissuaded them from invading Iraq in 2003. As the page concludes, I am just turning my attention to similar shortcomings in the intelligence community.

What the reader of page 99 will not get is an appreciation of the book's other central themes, namely a "crisis of profligacy" that condemns the United States to a condition of ever-increasing debt and dependency and a "military crisis" that leads us to squander our military power on ill-advised and unnecessary misadventures.

The book's bottom line is expressed in this quotation from the Second Book of Kings in the Hebrew Bible: "Set thine house in order." We can't fix the world; we need to fix ourselves.
Read "Illusions of Victory under Bush," adapted from The Limits of Power; learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bryan Christy's "The Lizard King"

Bryan Christy has written for National Geographic and Playboy.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile Smugglers, and reported the following:
The Lizard King is the true story of a dedicated federal agent who spends five years of his life trying to catch America's biggest reptile smuggler. Mike Van Nostrand owns Strictly Reptiles of Hollywood, Florida, a family business importing hundreds of thousands of snakes, frogs, lizards, and tortoises each year. Strictly Reptiles is the likely source behind green iguanas and baby turtles you've seen on sale at pet shops across the country. But Strictly Reptiles is also the brains and the bank behind an international reptile smuggling syndicate linking Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America—all of it tied to Van Nostrand's warehouse just north of Miami.

Special Agent Bepler of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has sworn to stop the Van Nostrands, not because he loves reptiles, but because of what else he's discovered is at stake from the Van Nostrands' operation. This is a true crime story. On page 99 of The Lizard King, we meet a friend of the Van Nostrands, Hank Molt, a man who pioneered the idea of poaching high-end collectable reptiles, and sold them to the first customers reptile smugglers had, America's top zoos….

Page 99:

Peter Brazaitis at the Bronx Zoo stuck his finger into a sleeping alligator's cloaca and discovered how to sex alligators. You just had to try things. The simplest tricks make the biggest differences. The discovery that even jungle and desert species required a dark, cool period to get their sex hormones flowing opened the door to predictable breeding. Today elementary school children breed in classrooms what herpetologists as late as the 1970s considered impossible. In Molt's era, running a reptile house was like owning a flower shop: some species you expected to take root, but most you threw away, then ordered more.

Molt offered reptile curators a king's reach. By freelancing he bestowed on his customers the same rush that royalty for all of man's history has enjoyed: the charge from opening a crate sent home by an army on crusade, by a Christopher Columbus, or by a Dutch or British East India Company explorer.

His Indiana Jones-like talent for bringing home trophies offered reptile curators a chance for something their mammalian and avian colleagues had known for a century: respect. He focused on five zoos he considered especially competitive with one another when it came to reptiles: Houston, Dallas, Columbus, Fort Worth, and Cincinnati. As if training guard dogs, he sold to them in rationed bits, offering each one just enough treats to keep it aggressive.

At three o'clock on a cold Tuesday afternoon, January 14, 1975, two United States customs agents entered
Read an excerpt from The Lizard King, and learn more about the book and author at Bryan Christy's website and his blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sumbul Ali-Karamali's "The Muslim Next Door"

Sumbul Ali-Karamali grew up in Southern California, earned her undergraduate degree in English, with Distinction, from Stanford University, then attended law school and graduated with her J.D. from the University of California at Davis. She began the formal study of Islam at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). She graduated from SOAS with her L.L.M. in Islamic Law, with Distinction. She taught Islamic Law as a teaching assistant at the University of London, worked as a research associate at the Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law in London, and has lectured occasionally on Islam and Islamic law.

She applied “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Muslim Next Door: The Qur'an, the Media, and that Veil Thing, and reported the following:
I laughed when I read about the Page 99 Test and thought skeptically, “Can that really be true?” So I turned to page 99 of my own book and experienced an epiphany.

The Muslim Next Door: the Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing is the product of my wanting to write an introduction to Islam that was fun to read, hard to put down, filled with stories and anecdotes, and simultaneously academically sound and profoundly thought-provoking. This combination makes the book somewhat difficult to describe, because it doesn’t fit easily into preordained literary boxes – for example, it’s not a textbook and it’s not a memoir. It is an introduction to Islam focusing on the contemporary subjects I’m asked about all the time, and it is written in a candid, conversational style, filled with personal anecdotes about growing up Muslim and female in America.

So, given my occasional difficulty in describing my own book, imagine my surprise when I found that page 99 was a fair representation of its style and cadence! Page 99 begins a chapter called “Religious Hierarchy: Who Makes the Rules in Islam?” It’s not as humorous as many parts of the book, and not as lyrical or touching as other parts of it. But page 99 does illustrate the blend of information and conversational vignette that is characteristic of my book. So here’s page 99 of The Muslim Next Door:

The structure of Islam, or lack of it, confuses some of my friends. A devout Catholic from Mexico asked me distressedly, “But don’t you have a church? Who makes all the rules? Someone must be in charge!” It was hard for her to comprehend a religion in which no central figure, like the Pope, made the rules. And, indeed, Islam is very different from Catholicism, at least as far as its structure is concerned.

Islam has no church and no priesthood. No saints, either, because we have no religious authority to sanctify individuals and authorize their canonization. No popes, no ministers, no rabbis, no curates. No monks, no nuns. In short, no real structured clergy.

At least, we have no clergy in the sense that my friends usually ask about, which is, who marries people? Who gives the sermons? Who performs the funeral service?

Religious authority lies, more or less, with the religious scholars, who have always interpreted Islamic strictures. But there is no central authority, and scholars can (and often do) disagree on the religious guidelines. Although some attempts have been made to establish a top scholarly authority, such as al-Azhar University in Egypt, or the Shi’i designation of Ayat Allah (the anglicized version is “Ayatollah”), no agreement has ever been reached. Not even all Iranians, much less all Shi’i Muslims, regarded Ayatollah Khomeini as their religious leader.

“But,” protested my friend, “who marries people? Don’t you need a priest for that?” Well, no. In Islam, marriage is a civil contract between two people, valid if signed willingly and witnessed. No religious authority need be present. Islam, Muslims have always been proud to say, is a direct individual link to God, unencumbered by religious hierarchy.

“All right, then,” said my friend with abused patience, “how do you all know what to do?”
Read an excerpt from The Muslim Next Door, and learn more about the book and author at Sumbul Ali-Karamali's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Glenda Burgess' "The Geography of Love"

Glenda Burgess is a winner of the Rupert Hughes Award for literary fiction, and a short story finalist for the New Century Writer Award.

She applied “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Geography of Love, and reported the following:
“We lived next door to a temple, and I could go over during services to see the men, and look for my grandfather or father. My friend Paulie was with me. The men made a big deal of us boys and were very loving and inviting. I miss that feeling of belonging. My place. A sense of belonging in the soul…. It is hard not to know what you are but to know only what you are not.”
--page 99, The Geography of Love

The Geography of Love is a memoir, a story of challenges and triumphs, of love and finding oneself in the world. Ken Grunzweig, my husband and the central focus of this memoir, wrote the words above to me in a letter working through understanding the deep chasm in his family and Jewish identity - thoughts that came forward with a host of interior glimpses into the crux and essence of life’s work, loss, friendship, and love. Page 99 marks one turn, one mile post in our journey together through both the halcyon days of love and marriage, and nine months of what would become Ken’s desperate battle against a very serious illness. The scope of this memoir is about our interior geography and the bending influence of the outer world that makes us who we are.
Read an excerpt from The Geography of Love, and learn more about the author and her work at Glenda Burgess' website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sarah Lyall's "The Anglo Files"

Sarah Lyall is a London correspondent for the New York Times.

She applied “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British, and reported the following:
Page 99 comes toward the beginning of a chapter that attempts to make sense of the incomprehensible (to foreigners) game of cricket -- its joys, mysteries and frustrations. It requires a particular temperament to appreciate the thrill of a game in which matches can go on for the better part of a week, with pauses for, among other things, tea; in which perfectly respectable outfield positions have names like “silly mid-off”; and in which a team can score hundreds of runs in a single innings. Not to mention the dismaying fact that innings-with-an-s is meant to be singular.

Cricket is one of those things that Americans, whose country is so young and so focused on the attainment of instant gratification, cannot be expected to grasp fully; it speaks to the old British virtues of patience and fortitude in the face of deathly boredom. But, like so many other things about Britain, cricket is changing with the times, much to the dismay of the traditionalists. Now there are three-hour matches in which players in brightly colored uniforms hustle like steroid-fueled Major League Baseball players for the convenience of those spectators who might have competing demands on their time, such as jobs.

I wrote The Anglo Files after I’d been in Britain for more than 10 years as a New York Times reporter. My husband is English; I have two daughters who unironically use the word “rubbish” and who, despite my best efforts, believe that the American Revolution had to do with British domestic politics and not the legitimate grievances of the oppressed. In the book, which is a mix of memoir, opinion and reporting, I look at topics like the sex lives of British men; the House of Lords’s modernization program; the recent explosion in consumer culture; the British tendency to recoil from overt bragging; and the way some Britons appear to love hedgehogs more then they love their own children. I try to examine things I have found particularly odd or funny or interesting.

For instance: Why do they drink so much? How accurate are the newspapers? Why did Princess Diana’s brother change the pronunciation of his ancestral country estate? What is the purpose of Brown Sauce? Why did Londoners, observing the American illusionist David Blaine’s effort to suspend himself in a see-through box over the Thames without eating for 40 days, respond by throwing things at his box and taunting him with juicy hamburgers dangling from helicopters? And how can you have an unwritten constitution?

Here is a section of page 99:

Like bad weather, Latin verbs, and the threat of succombing to malaria while claiming parts of Africa for yourself, cricket requires the stiff-spine fortitude of the old-school Englishman.

“I don’t think I can be expected to take seriously any game which takes less than three days to reach its conclusion,” Tom Stoppard once said, explaining his opposition to baseball. Or, as my friend Anthony said, “The occasional dullness and boredom is what makes it true to experience.” It is a game, said a fan I once met named Richard Peart, for people who “like to endure things.”

Cricket dates back to the twelfth century and provides a link between Britain and its former international possessions. In its way, it is as important to Britain’s view of itself as baseball is to America’s. Like baseball, it inspires a wealth of philosophizing and is “full of theorists who can ruin your game in no time,” as the England player Ian Botham put it. It also generates an unhealthy obsession with statistics and an inexhaustible supply of literature. Any cricket anthology is sure to include essays about the sport as metaphor for country, empire, the English character, life itself; autobiographical accounts of seasons played and lessons learned; paeans to former players and lamentations on why no one today is as good; pointillistic reproductions of famous past games; affectionate tributes to players whose memorable quirks – taking forever to bat; bowling with a strange chickenlike motion of the elbow – endeared them to the fans; and worse, an unusually high output of doggerel, epic poems, humorous verse, and sentimental ballads.

We have some great baseball novels, but we also have “Casey at Bat.” The English have the cricket poems of Lord Byron, John Betjeman, William Blake, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Harold Pinter, who in addition to being a playwright, provocateur and Nobel Prize winner, is the chairman of the Gaieties Cricket Club. Famous literary cricket enthusiasts from the past include Siegfried Sassoon, who once boasted of his “creditable record for a poet,” and James Joyce, who in a tour-de-force passage from his novel Finnegans Wake secreted the slightly altered names of thirty-one cricketing stars inside the text, like little disguised Easter eggs hidden in the woods.

Read an excerpt from The Anglo Files, and learn more about the book and author at Sarah Lyall's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Jeff Carlson's "Plague War"

Jeff Carlson's short fiction has appeared in venues such as Asimov's, Strange Horizons, Fantastic Stories, and Writers of the Future XXIII. His first novel, Plague Year, was published last year.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new novel, Plague War, and reported the following:
By sheer good fortune, Page 99 of Plague War is pretty heavy stuff! War is a sci fi thriller full of gunfights and chase scenes, but I also like to think it's well-balanced with real, believable characters who act realistically against incredible odds.

To recap: A medical prototype nanotechnology gets loose before it's complete. The nanotech swiftly replicates across the planet... and, in doing so, it devours all warm-blooded life below 10,000 feet elevation, where it self-destructs. The geopolitical map is obliterated. There is famine and war, and the environment is crashing worldwide.

A few heroes have developed a new "vaccine" nano to protect survivors from the machine plague. As Page 99 begins, three of our protagonists have been on the run for days, hiking up from sea-level into the Sierra mountains. They hope to find other people to inoculate with the vaccine tech. Instead, they come upon a desolate peak where a small group appears to have escaped the machine plague... only to succumb to other threats like hunger, cold, and disease. Before they died, however, these people scratched thousands of crosses into the rock as well as arranging boulders in crucifix shapes, as if begging the heavens for salvation.

Confronted with this eerie, unexpected scene, our heroine, Ruth Goldman, begins to second-guess everything she's done.

Some islands would also be thick with rats and fleas, pests that were extinct everywhere else for lack of hosts. "If we find anyone who's obviously sick, we might have to back off. Leave them alone." Ruth pushed her thumb against the patterns etched into the rock, her mind reeling with quiet horror.

There was another threat they were certain to find among the pockets of survivors. Insanity and delusion could prove to be an even greater problem than disease. Aboard the ISS, Gustavo had reported religious fervor in Mexico, Afghanistan, the Alps, and Micronesia. Holy men had risen everywhere in the apocalypse.

Ruth had never had much use for God. People cited the mysteries and wisdom of faith, pointing to the great understanding of their teachings, but what they'd really done was to close their minds against the true complexity of the planet, to say nothing of the incomprehensibly vast universe. The idea was laughable. What kind of half-wit God would bother to create billions of other galaxies if Earth was the focus of His energies?

It was a very human thing to believe. People were lazy. They were egocentric. Ruth understood wanting a small, controlled world. No one liked uncertainty. It tested the boundaries of human curiosity and intelligence. The monkey was still very strong in modern man. The monkey had limited patience, so people resisted time and change. They developed rationales to show that they were the center of everything, fighting to teach "intelligent design" in school instead of biology and science. Nonsense. Tall parents tended to have tall kids. Short parents tended to have short kids. Everyone wasn't identical. It was that easy to see -- evolution in a single generation. Otherwise people would have been perfect clones of each other throughout history. To think that life was immutable was a fantasy. Bacteria grew drug-resistant. Dogs could be cultivated into ridiculously specialized breeds like her step-father's terrier. Religions themselves had evolved with time, some growing more open, some more closed.

There were real answers if you sought the truth. The world was knowable. That was what she'd learned, but it was hard. She would have liked to feel that a larger hand was guiding her, but why her and not the people who died on this mountaintop? Because they were evil?

Ruth's self-doubt is already a problem before this scene, but her inner conflict hits a deeper note here, beginning a secondary character arc for her that builds inexorably to the novel's big finish -- so, yes, I believe the Page 99 Test has done it again. Ford Madox Ford says, "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you." It's true!

Plague War is loaded with personal struggles inside the larger battle, and this scene speaks to that mix of great-and-small exactly.
Read an excerpt from Plague War and watch the video trailer.

Visit Jeff Carlson's website and his blog.

The Page 69 Test: Plague Year.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 15, 2008

David Lebedoff's "The Same Man"

David Lebedoff is the award-winning author of five books, including Cleaning Up, about the Exxon Valdez case, and The Uncivil War: How a New Elite Is Destroying Our Democracy.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Same Man: George Orwell & Evelyn Waugh in Love and War, and reported the following:
Page 99 may be a microcosm of most books, but can't be with mine. That's because my book, The Same Man: George Orwell & Evelyn Waugh in Love and War (Random House) is a dual biography--it's about the lives of two men, perhaps the two best writers of the twentieth century, and told in alternating chapters. And so page 99 deals with only one of them--Evelyn Waugh.

The point of the book is that despite enormous dissimilarities, they were, as the title suggests, the same man. They were united in their hatred of political correctness, their adherence to a moral code, and in admiration of each other's craftsmanship. In the things that really matter they were much the same.

But the details of their lives were fantastically different. They were both born in 1903 into the English upper middle class. And there the obvious resemblance ends. Waugh was a social climber who achieved fame early and married into the aristocracy. He was surrounded by the most glittering circle of his day. He was politically conservative, devoutly Catholic, and highly sybaritic. Orwell hated the class system and chose to live among and identify with the poor. He was an atheist and socialist. Fame came late to him, and his life was lonely and his surroundings grim.

Page 99 does suggest what Waugh's life was like. It has him partying with the rich and famous, and describes his cunning method of bullying others. Not his whole life, but an outrageous slice of it. So maybe Ford Madox Ford had something.
Learn more about The Same Man at the Random House website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Brenda Cooper's "Reading the Wind"

Brenda Cooper is the author of The Silver Ship and the Sea and the co-author of the novel Building Harlequin's Moon, which she wrote with Larry Niven. Her solo and collaborative short fiction has appeared in multiple magazines, including Analog, Asimov's, Strange Horizons, Oceans of the Mind, and The Salal Review.

She applied “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Reading the Wind, and reported the following:
The first full sentence on page 99 is a the last sentence of a journal entry from Joseph’s missing, and maybe dead, father. It reads, “We have fifteen years to get the ship home, and we are wasting the first of them talking to slow humans unwilling to reach their own potential.” This is the beginning of the answer to a mystery that has plagued Joseph all his life.

We then learn this is the last clue available in the journal, and Joseph, the only living being awake on a spaceship flying through stars, floats free. He says, “It felt as if I myself flew between the stars, ship and self indistinguishable one from the other.” This sets up Joseph’s ability to read the Wind of data, to merge with the universe of information in such a way that he later affects the outcome of a battle.

The last half of the page introduces the reader to a heroine from the first book in the series, The Silver Ship and the Sea, who remains important in this book. Joseph has manipulated the world so that he woke before one-eyed Jenna on the starship – so that he could find the journal. And now he has to accept the consequences of making powerful, ruthless Jenna angry with him. So the last sentence on page 99 is “Her voice was sharp as she asked, “What did you do with the time?”

And the reader will have to go on to page 100 to find out.

So Reading the Wind actually passes the Page 99 test pretty well.
Learn more about Reading the Wind at the publisher's website, Brenda Cooper's website, and her LiveJournal.

The Page 99 Test: The Silver Ship and the Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jeremy Salt's "The Unmaking of the Middle East"

Jeremy Salt teaches in the Department of Political Science at Bilkent University in Ankara and is author of Imperialism, Evangelism, and the Ottoman Armenians, 1878-1896.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Unmaking of the Middle East: A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands, and reported the following:
From page 99: ‘On October 10, 1922, the king and the government of Iraq were finally persuaded to sign a twenty-year treaty of alliance with Britain’. The king was Faisal I, put on the throne a little over a year earlier, but already out of favor because of his refusal to endorse any treaty that validated British mandatory rule over Iraq. Britain has created the country, had decided on the form of government (a constitutional monarchy) and had a king, Faisal, the son of the Sharif Husain of Mecca. Useful to Britain during the war, for his help in arousing an Arab uprising against the Ottoman government (‘the Arab Revolt’), the sharif was dumped as soon as it was won. Abdicating as King of the Hijaz in 1924, the sharif fled to Aqaba, where he was kept waiting while the British decided what to do with him. In June, 1925, under protest, he was moved on to Cyprus. There he stayed until November, 1929, when, gravely ill after a stroke, he was allowed to spend the last 18 months of his life with Abdullah. Of the sharif’s other sons, Ali ruled the Hijaz for a year before being driven out by the invading Saudis in 1925. Abdullah was assassinated in 1951. Faisal was chosen as king of Syria in 1921 before fleeing Damascus ahead of the advancing French army. A useful king now being without a throne, the British created one for him in Iraq, which brings us back to the quote which opened this blog and the king’s refusal to do what the British wanted except under duress. Fortuitously, for their interests, Faisal died in 1933. Fortuitously, also, his son and successor, Ghazi, who was strongly sympathetic to Arab nationalism, was killed when he drove his car into an electric light pole in 1939. The British finally got what they wanted, Abdulillah, a regent ruling in place of Ghazi’s son, who was still too young to rule, but their choices were not the choices of the Iraqi people. In the revolution of 1958 the monarchy was destroyed and the British driven out. Now, what the revolutionaries created has in turn been destroyed, following the US-led invasion of 2003, paving the way for an Iraq no one can yet imagine.
Learn more about The Unmaking of the Middle East at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sheryll Cashin's "The Agitator's Daughter"

Sheryll Cashin, professor of law at Georgetown University, writes about race relations and inequality in America. Her book The Failures of Integration was an Editors' Choice in the New York Times Book Review, and was a finalist for the 2005 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for non-fiction.

She applied “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Agitator's Daughter: A Memoir of Four Generations of One Extraordinary African-American Family, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book is the introduction to chapter 9, entitled Manhood. The first two sentences read: "It made sense for a second generation of Cashins to attend Fisk University. As my father and uncle were approaching their college years, most of the adults in their lives considered Fisk to be first among historically black colleges, excepting those who went to Morehouse, Tuskegee, Howard, or wherever educated Negroes had vested their bragging rights."

The book tells the story of how the twin values of political activism and academic excellence were passed down through four generations of my family. From the time I was arrested at the age of four months, along with my mother as she sat-in at a lunch counter, until the first time I entered a voting booth at age 18 and pulled the lever beside my own name, my life was shaped by the activism of my parents. I had an incredible childhood and my parents inculcated values in me that I felt were worth sharing. Dad put his heart, soul, and most of his money into his causes. He was a dentist by profession but agitation was his true calling. He founded a black-led third party in Alabama during the height of George Wallace's hegemony and succeeded in transforming "white supremacy" politics in the keystone state of massive resistance. But by the time I was 18 he was broke and I had to figure out how to pay for college on my own. As a teenager I seethed with anger about his priorities. As I approached middle age and Dad approached his 80s, I simply wanted to understand the origins of his altruism and share my journey in a book that might motivate others.
Read an excerpt from The Agitator's Daughter; learn more the book at the publisher's website and more about the author at her Georgetown Law webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rob Walker's "Buying In"

Rob Walker writes the weekly column “Consumed,” a blend of business journalism and cultural anthropology, for The New York Times Magazine. Previously, he created and wrote the popular “Ad Report Card” column for Slate, and he has contributed to a wide range of publications, from Fast Company and Fortune to The New Republic and AdBusters.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Buying In falls in the middle of a story about the unlikely comeback of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. It happens that this section is one that a lot of readers (and reviewers) seem to react to, and I’ve actually read from this page on the couple of occasions when I’ve had opportunities to do readings.

Buying In is about our relationship to branding, or really to material culture, and how it’s changing in the 21st century. Contrary to the widespread theory that the contemporary consumer is brandproof, I make the case that branding is more deeply entwined in the culture, and in our lives, than ever – and that on some level, we’ve embraced it. I also try to suggest ways "the secret dialogue between what we buy and who we are" might be changed ... by us.

The PBR story is given as an example of consumer basically inventing a fresh meaning for an old brand out of nowhere. As it says on page 99: “At first, even the people at Pabst – which had barely advertised for more than 20 years – were at a loss.”

I’m okay with page 99 representing the book, but I guess that’s mostly because I think it’s a spot where I’m starting one of the smaller tales that I hope add up and built toward to the book’s overall idea. I also think it’s a spot that maybe makes the reader want to turn to page 100. Which I suppose is the real goal of any page 99.
Read an excerpt from Buying In, and learn more about the author and his work at Rob Walker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Cordelia Frances Biddle's "Deception's Daughter"

Cordelia Frances Biddle co-wrote Murder at San Simeon with Patricia Hearst and writes the popular Nero Blanc crossword puzzle mysteries with her husband, Steve Zettler. The Conjurer is the first novel in the Martha Beale mystery series.

She applied “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Deception's Daughter, the second novel in the Martha Beale series, and reported the following:
Deception’s Daughter, aptly, deals with deceptions on many levels. A young lady of means goes missing; ransom notes are delivered to her anxious parents - although there’s a question of authenticity. A wife lies to her husband regarding a robbery in their home. Martha Beale’s ward (Ella from The Conjurer) has her own motives for concealing her actions - as well as a questionable friendship - from her adoptive parent. A son deceives and betrays his father. These events are at the dark heart of the novel.

Page 99 examines the act of deceiving from a more discreet perspective. The hugely popular Traveling Diorama of Monsieur Moissenet of Paris has just opened in Philadelphia. (The year in which the novel is set is 1842.) Sell-out crowds wait in long lines in order to glimpse the imported wonder: a giant circular painting depicting a hilltop view of the French capital.

Ascending into the recreated shade of a three-dimensional teahouse, viewers gaze down at what appears to be the river Seine glistening in the distance while nearer streets meander along the hillside, full of the city’s busy life. The sense of reality and illusion is further confounded by genuine articles artfully arrayed against the pictorial backdrop.

Rereading the page in order to test Ford Madox Ford's statement that on page 99 “the whole [novel] will be revealed to you," I was struck by how valid his words remain and how prescient this small scene is.

When Ella visits the spectacle with Martha, she feels disappointed and cheated by what she denounces as a “trick.” Martha attempts to explain that the display should be interpreted as “fantasy” rather than treachery, but the truth is that the panorama was created in order to deceive.

A supposedly pleasurable outing shared by mother and adopted daughter becomes, instead, a lesson in duplicity.
Read the first chapter from Deception's Daughter, and learn more about the book and author at Cordelia Frances Biddle's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Conjurer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Noelle Oxenhandler's "The Wishing Year"

Noelle Oxenhandler is the author of A Grief Out of Season and The Eros of Parenthood. Her essays have appeared in many national and literary magazines, including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Vogue, Tricycle, Parabola, Utne Reader, and O: The Oprah Magazine.

She applied “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Wishing Year: A House, a Man, My Soul - A Memoir of Fulfilled Desire, and reported the following:
Page 99:


Raking It In

In which, as I set out

to explore the ancient history

of wishing, my own wishes

surprise me by beginning

to come true

At first when I looked at page 99 of The Wishing Year and saw that it was only the dividing page between Parts One and Two, I thought: How could it possibly convey the essence of the book? And yet, when I looked more closely, I realized that it did. For starters, the title of Part Two is “Raking It In” which I believe conveys my ironic approach to the get-what-you-want school of life. Then “as I set out to explore the ancient history of wishing” makes it clear that I’m not simply focused on my own personal story, but on something quite primal and universally human. Craft-wise, that was probably the most difficult thing about writing this book: intertwining my own personal experience with a great deal of research about the art and practice of wishing in different times and places throughout history. Finally, the reference to “surprise” expresses something quite genuinely true of my own experiment in desire, which is that—despite my doubts and reservations—my three wishes really did come true!
Read an excerpt from The Wishing Year, and learn more about Noelle Oxenhandler and The Wishing Year at the Random House website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

J.A. Konrath's "Fuzzy Navel"

J.A. Konrath is the author of the Jack Daniels mysteries: Dirty Martini, Rusty Nail, Bloody Mary, and Whiskey Sour.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to the new book in the series, Fuzzy Navel, and reported the following:
Fuzzy Navel was an unusual book to write. The action takes place within an eight hour period, and every minute is accounted for. In order for it to work, I used eight different point-of-views in the story. While this is a Lt. Jack Daniels thriller and she remains the main character, on page 99 we're in her partner's head. In this scene, Herb is covering for Jack, who left a crime scene because something is going wrong at home. Herb is being grilled by Chicago's deputy chief on Jack's whereabouts. Much of the book is action oriented, and this is lighter to break up some of the tension.

Page 99 of Fuzzy Navel:

“She’s not hiding anything, sir. It went down like I said.”

“I still need her statement. There’s blood in the water, and the sharks are circling the wagons.”

Herb has no idea what that means, and he guesses the Grouch doesn’t either. But he can’t let the Deputy Chief find out that Jack lives outside the city.

“She’s not at her apartment,” Herb says. “She’s with her mother. Her elderly, sickly, mother.”

“Her mother is sick?” the Grouch asks.

“Very sick.”

“Which hospital is she in? I can meet—”

“She’s sick in the head,” Herb says.

“Is it pyromania?” the Grouch asks.


“I had an aunt with pyromania. She’d knit sweaters, then set them on fire.”

Herb tries to judge if the Grouch is being funny, but he sees a tear in the corner of the man’s eye.

“I think she’s just failing mentally,” Herb says. “Jack ran out to the suburbs to check on her.”

“Do you know where?”

Herb shakes his head. The Grouch gets in close, so close his pointy nose almost touches Herb’s. Herb rears back slightly, afraid he’ll lose an eye.

“I will bring your partner before a disciplinary committee if I don’t hear from her within the hour. So if you have any clue where she might be, Sergeant, I suggest you find her.”

“Jack saved lives today,” Herb says, his voice steady.

“I don’t care if she saved the mayor’s daughter from being eaten by sharks...”

What is with this guy and sharks?

“...I want her debriefed right now. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir,” Herb says.

The Grouch backs off a few feet.

“Good. Now I’ve got to talk to the media. They’re having a field day with their cockamamie theories.”

“Are they jumping the shark?” Herb asks innocently.
Learn more about the book and author at J.A. Konrath's website.

The Page 69 Test: Fuzzy Navel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 4, 2008

David Hewson's "The Garden of Evil"

David Hewson is the author of the Nic Costa series of novels set in contemporary Rome. A former journalist with the London Times and Sunday Times, his work has been translated into many languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Thai ... and Italian.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to the latest Nic Costa novel, The Garden of Evil, and reported the following:
It's very easy to understand what's going on when you get to Page 99 of The Garden of Evil. We have by this stage come to realise we've come upon the bad guy. He's going to be hard to nail. But before I establish that fact I want you to know who he is and where he comes from. Crime and thriller fiction is about the meeting of good and evil, and it's important for me to establish that both are real and both are linked. I loathe the idea of people being 'born bad'. They're made bad by something, and here you start to get an insight into what has made the nasty Count Malaspina what he is.

This section also establishes the book is not a whodunnit. Can I shout that loud enough? If you're looking for some standard format, off-the-shelf mystery in which the villain is mysteriously revealed on the last page, please go elsewhere. There are surprises aplenty and twists galore, right to the end. But the identity of the perpetrator is not one of them. I am much more interested in 'why' than 'who', since the latter seems to me to be a question that locks one into a format we know only too well.

From Page 99:

He was a true Roman aristocrat of a dying breed, and came from a family with unusual antecedents. Unlike most of the city's nobility, the Malaspinas had embraced the era of Mussolini, seeing in the dictator opportunity and not the coarse, proletarian Fascism most other ancient families detected and instantly despised. His grandfather had served as a minister for Il Duce. His father had been a rabble-rouser on the fringes of right-wing politics, and consequently had been loathed in Rome, a city that was temperamentally left-leaning, until his death in a plane crash five years ago.

Costa had no recollection of Franco Malaspina being involved in machinations around the parties that formed the continuing, argumentative coalitions at the heart of the Italian state; only the vague memory that he was a notorious player in the money world, one who sailed so close to the wind that the financial authorities had investigated him more than once. Not that these probes had resulted in any form of action, which meant that Malaspina was either innocent or so deeply powerful no one dared yet take him on. There were good reasons for caution. Men of his sort liked to build up fortunes before turning to the Senate and Parliament to lay wider, deeper foundations for their power.
Read an excerpt from The Garden of Evil, and learn more about the author and his work at David Hewson's website.

See the Page 69 Test for the previous Nic Costa novel, The Seventh Sacrament.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Kevin J. Hayes' "The Road to Monticello"

Kevin J. Hayes is Professor of English at the University of Central Oklahoma and the author of A Colonial Woman's Bookshelf, An American Cycling Odyssey, Melville's Folk Roots, and Poe and the Printed Word.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson, and reported the following:
In The Road to Monticello, page 99 occurs partway through Chapter 7, “A Shelf of Notebooks,” in which I discuss the various notebooks Jefferson kept during his early adult life. An illustration of his ivory table books takes up half of page 99. A table book consists of several thin strips of ivory fastened together that could be written on and later erased. Jefferson typically carried one with him and used it to record his expenses. He would later transfer these records into his memorandum books. He recorded lengthier texts in his memorandum books as well, including a description of the Natural Bridge and Chief Logan’s speech. Page 99 briefly mentions both. Later, Jefferson would describe the Natural Bridge at length in Notes on the State of Virginia and recommend that all Virginian visitors see it. For Jefferson, the Natural Bridge became a symbol of Virginia’s natural beauty. Logan’s speech, too, formed a symbol of the inherent potential of North America. Jefferson would publish it in Notes on the State of Virginia, and defend it when his political enemies accused him of fabricating the speech. Introducing the Natural Bridge and Chief Logan’s speech, page 99 presents topics that resonate throughout The Road to Monticello.
Learn more about The Road to Monticello at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Harvey Graff's "The Dallas Myth"

Harvey J. Graff is Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies and professor of English and history at The Ohio State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Dallas Myth: The Making and Unmaking of an American City, and reported the following:
Page 99:

Chronology and conceptualization work together. Defining chronological periods requires us to place myriad discrete events in broader context, attending to processes of change, and enables useful comparisons over time and with other places. Dallas looks different from the perspective of 160 years than one of 80 years or less. Neither changes nor continuities, the sweep of the local, regional, or global, come into clear focus when the lens is too narrow and the frame too close.

From the time of its permanent settlement, Dallas always has been an urban place, a metropole at a crossroads located within an expanding regional, national, and international network. A great deal of Dallas’s history is encapsulated by a series of stages of urban development: from crossroads settlement to county town and service center for a prosperous agricultural region; chartered city, administrative, financial, industrial and, at times, labor center; and metropolitan center, gaining in size, influence, complexity, and diversity. Especially important and glaringly absent from existing accounts are the relationships of those stages or periods to each other, the interplay and influence of successive presents and futures on how we construct their pasts.

Dallas’s history highlights the transformation of the market from a place to an all‑pervasive form of political and cultural as well as economic power. Urban from its conception, the city is a fascinating example of self‑promotion. Exaggerated presumptions of Dallas’s autonomy and misconceptions of history as destiny have long blocked observers from placing the city in appropriate historical context, illuminating such themes as colonization, territorial expansion, slavery, agricultural development, commercialization, migration, and innovations in transportation. Dallas was born on the cusp of world‑making phenomena. Along with other U.S. cities, Dallas was a “gateway to the West,” a site on the “urban frontier.”

Historian Stuart Blumin explains two paths of city development. “In some countries, most notably the United States, much town formation must be attributed to territorial expansion”; the other scenario for city development, often erroneously assumed to be universal, is “the continuing development of long‑settled regions.” Many towns, including Dallas, “sprang not from farming communities but from forts, trading posts, and even the wilderness itself—at fords, at railway junctions, at sites arbitrarily selected as the seats for county government, and at seemingly random points on the faceless prairie, purchased, platted and promoted by the luckier or more skillful of the thousands of speculators who hoped to make their fortunes out of frontier urban development.”

As luck has it, page 99 represents the book’s narrative and arguments remarkably well. A more extended summary reads:

The ninth largest city in the United States, Dallas is exceptional among American cities for the claims of its elites and boosters that it is a “city with no limits” and a “city with no history.” Home to the Dallas Cowboys, self-styled as “America’s Team,” setting for the television series that glamorized its values of self-invention and success, and site of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Dallas looms disproportionately large in the American imagination. Yet it lacks an identity of its own.

In The Dallas Myth, I present a novel interpretation of a city that has proudly declared its freedom from the past. I scrutinizes the city’s origin myth and its governance ideology, known as the “Dallas Way,” looking at how these elements have shaped Dallas and served to limit democratic participation and exacerbate inequality. Advancing beyond a traditional historical perspective, I propose an original, integrative understanding of the city’s urban fabric and offer an explicit critique of the reactionary political foundations of modern Dallas: its tolerance for right-wing political violence, the endemic racism and xenophobia, and a planning model that privileges growth and monumental architecture at the expense of the environment and social justice. Rather than being “different” from most large American cities, Dallas stands in an exaggerated frame.

Revealing the power of myths that have defined the city for so long, I present a new interpretation of Dallas that both deepens our understanding of America’s urban landscape and enables its residents to envision a more equitable, humane, and democratic future for all. Among the lessons is that myth carries great transforming force, regardless of its accuracy or distortion.
Learn more about The Dallas Myth at the University of Minnesota Press website.

Visit Harvey J. Graff's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue