Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Marion Nestle's "Pet Food Politics"

Marion Nestle is Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and Professor of Sociology at New York University. She is author of the award-winning Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism, and What to Eat, among other books. She serves as nutrition coeditor of The Bark magazine.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine (University of California Press, 2008), and reported the following:
A visit to the website of Shandong Flourishing in late April 2007 was a disconcerting experience. Here, for example, in direct quotation, is how Shandong Flourishing explained its management philosophy:

"Our company’s management idea is: The good faith for this, by guaranteed the product quality strives for the survival, by creates the enterprise core competition to make every effort to develop, Persisted the user supreme principle, “thought the user thought, the anxious user is anxious”. Our company seriously pledged to you that, Most superior quality! Most inexpensive price! Most arrives service! ... Shandong luck Switzerland auspicious biotechnology limited company zealous welcome general new and old customers presence instruction, discussion service!

A description like this one readily explains why American companies would be grateful to be able to buy Chinese ingredients through experienced intermediaries such as ChemNutra and Wilbur-Ellis

Pet Food Politics tells the story of the massive recalls of pet foods that occurred between March and May 2007. The story begins with a few cats getting sick with kidney disease soon after eating foods produced by a Canadian manufacturer, Menu Foods. It continues to this very day with reports of infant formulas making thousands of infants in China sick with kidney disease.

The common ingredient in these incidents is an industrial chemical called melamine, usually used to make plastic dinnerware. Chinese manufacturers fraudulently added melamine to wheat or rice protein ingredients in pet foods or to milk in infant formula to make these foods look higher in protein. Melamine is high in nitrogen. Tests for protein look only at nitrogen and don’t care where it comes from. When asked, Chinese manufacturers said they did this because melamine was cheaper and didn’t matter for pets.

The book investigates the pet food scandal. It asks the usual questions: who knew what and when did they know it? In this case, because this was “just pet food,” nobody took the problem seriously at first. But as the recalls grew to encompass not only pet foods but also pigs, chickens, and fish intended for human food, the scandal became major.

They also produced many striking revelations. Who knew that 100 brands of pet foods were made by one manufacturer? Who knew that surplus pet foods were fed to farm animals—pigs and chickens? Who knew that many of the ingredients in pet and human food were imported from China? Who knew that the FDA only inspected 1% or less of imported foods and ingredients? Who knew that China hardly had any control over the safety of its food supply? Hence: Pet Food Politics.

By page 99, I am tracing the chain of production and distribution of melamine-laced rice protein concentrate through an intermediary, Shandong Flourishing Biotechnology Company. This company then shipped it to another company which, in turn, shipped it to the American distributor, Wilbur-Ellis. No wonder pet food companies had no idea where their ingredients came from! The manufacturer of “wheat gluten” did something even more creative: to avoid inspection it shipped the ingredient via a textile company that exported it under the guise of silk scarves.

The moral: until China gets its food safety act under control, buy local. Hence: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine.
Learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website, Marion Nestle's website, and the What to Eat blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 29, 2008

Chelsea Cain's "Sweetheart"

Chelsea Cain's first novel featuring Detective Archie Sheridan and killer Gretchen Lowell, Heartsick, was a New York Times bestseller. She is also the author of Confessions of a Teenage Sleuth, a parody based on the life of Nancy Drew, several nonfiction titles, and a weekly column in The Oregonian.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new novel, Sweetheart, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Sweetheart, Det. Archie Sheridan’s partner has just told Archie that he is having the serial killer Gretchen Lowell transferred and that Archie will not be allowed to visit her in prison anymore. Archie is the former head of the Beauty Killer Task Force and hunted Gretchen for ten years before she kidnapped him, tortured him, and then let him go and turned herself in. They have – how to say this? – a deeply fucked up relationship, twisted and sexual and obsessive. Archie visits Gretchen every week in prison under the pretense of getting her to tell him where her victims are buried – but he is really just so addicted to her that he can’t stay away. Henry has picked up on this and decided to put an end to it. Archie is distraught. It’s funny reading the page as somehow representational of the book, because it’s not, really, in terms of style. It’s a crucial scene that I think sort of loses its power out of context. The characters actions don’t have the weight they should because we don’t know where they’re coming from – how long this has been coming. Also, the prose style is choppy – lots of sentence fragments (“He hated how he sounded. Desperate. Frantic.”) – my attempt to communicate Archie’s dislocation and escalating panic – and short sentences (“The pills burned. Archie coughed. The TV droned on.”) – also an effort to show Archie’s state-of-mind. He’s high on painkillers and I think that being high on opiates creates this weird rhythm to perceptions, like everything is suddenly echoing your pulse. But it doesn’t really sound like the rest of the book. Plus, and this is petty, I have “Debbie” and “Buddy” both on this page, and I don’t really like how those names look together – the two double “b’s,” followed by the “e” sound. I generally try not to have those kinds of pairings because I think it’s subliminally irritating to the reader. On a positive note, there are way more embarrassing scenes we could have stumbled into. Though I guess that opening the book to page 99 and finding hot cop on serial killer sex might make someone more likely to buy the book. (Oh, you know you like it.)
Read an excerpt from Sweetheart, and learn more about the author and her work at Chelsea Cain's website and MySpace page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 28, 2008

John Ehrenfeld's "Sustainability by Design"

John R. Ehrenfeld, who before his retirement was affiliated with the MIT Center for Technology, Policy, and Industrial Development and the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Civil and Environmental Engineering, now serves as executive director of the International Society for Industrial Ecology and is senior research scholar at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming Our Consumer Culture, and reported the following:
Since flourishing is etymologically derived from flowering, natural systems seem like a very good place to begin a search for inspiration. Nature, the wellspring of human life, is the source of mystery and enchantment. In discussing the foundations for the definition of sustainability, I noted that flourishing is one of several emergent properties of natural living systems, along with resilience, health, and others. Is there anything about these systems that can explain these properties or cause their appearance?

This passage opens Chapter 9 of my book, Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming our Consumer Culture. Its appearance marks a key place in the development of a set of cultural beliefs and values that must replace those currently driving our unsustainable societal patterns of activities. The central thesis of my book is that unsustainability arises out of the unintended consequences of normal cultural activities: an unavoidable result of living. In the past, these unintended consequences might have been insignificant, but today their impact on the world and all who live in it has grown so large that it threatens the possibility of a future where we can flourish.

Sustainability, as I define, it is just this thought: the possibility that human and other life will flourish on the planet forever. Human flourishing goes beyond the biological and includes the attainment of time-proven values such as justice or dignity. Sustainability is definitely not the same as sustainable development, which is little more than a continuation of the cultural patterns of the present albeit perhaps more eco-efficient. But delivering more of the same even with less impact cannot change the fundamental trajectory of the modern world. Sustainable development is a technological and technocratic package of “solutions” that cannot fix the underlying causes of unsustainability. Some symptomatic improvements will certainly result by applying these kinds of solutions but they are only quick fixes.

It will take a complete shift in basic beliefs and values to alter the present cultural trajectory. And to do that people will need new metaphors based on different fundamental stories of how the world works and what makes us human. This chapter offers up a new story for nature, following a previous discussion of what makes us human: caring rather than needing; being instead of having. Nature is seen as a complex system, where the future cannot be predicted as present day science would presume. Organic, holistic, qualitative, bio-centric, and communitarian replace mechanistic, atomistic, quantitative, anthropocentric and individualistic in the nature story. By encoding these and other values and beliefs in the artifacts and societal processes, cultural patterns can slowly shift subversively toward sustainability.
Read an excerpt from Sustainability by Design, and learn more about the book and author at the Yale University Press website and the "Sustainability by Design" blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Maria Wyke's "Caesar: A Life in Western Culture"

Maria Wyke has taught classics at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Reading, and she currently holds the chair of Latin at University College London.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Caesar: A Life in Western Culture, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Caesar describes the affair between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra as it was told in a medieval history of the Romans. In that history, Cleopatra is no better than a prostitute. She seduces Caesar because she is greedy for power. She shows off her beautiful palace and her voluptuous body, and the Roman general falls into her arms thoroughly corrupted. For two shameful years, the medieval history says, Caesar submitted to his base desires, wallowed in adulterous love, gave in to Cleopatra the decorated whore. Only Caesar’s knights understand the moral damage being done to Rome and to medieval chivalric values. They ride after him as he sails up the Nile, and reproach him for his forgetfulness of duty to wife and country. This version of Caesar’s stay with Cleopatra in Egypt is meant to be a history lesson for aristocrats. It teaches them what chivalry means – marriage and valour in war – because Caesar fails the test. The conqueror has been conquered by the folly of love. The story demonstrates to us how important Caesar has been in Western culture as a means to teach lessons about politics, war, or love. The life of Caesar isn’t just an interesting story – it is a warning to avoid or an example to follow. Caesar teaches us what to do. But different teachers offer different lessons. Later in the same chapter, we see Caesar inviting us to spend money, buy goods, enjoy luxury, and stay with our Cleopatra. Or, at least, that’s how the casino-hotel Caesars Palace have put him to use. Every night, actors dressed up as Caesar and Cleopatra tour the hotel inviting guests in a very different direction from the medieval history, away from duty and towards pleasure. Page 99 shows how Caesar has been used to teach lessons, but it doesn’t show up their variety. Lessons in how to be a good and brave soldier, a conqueror or a liberator from conquest, a revolutionary, a dictator or a killer of tyrants, a lover and a libertine. Or even, in the end, a celebrity and a legend.
Read an excerpt from Caesar, and learn more about the book at the University of Chicago Press website.

Learn more about Maria Wyke's research and publications at her faculty website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lilith Saintcrow's "Night Shift"

Lilith Saintcrow's books include The Dante Valentine Series, which was featured last year at My Book, The Movie.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Night Shift, the first book in The Jill Kismet Series, and reported the following:
So I opened up Night Shift to page 99, and found a page that encapsulates the protagonist Jill Kismet's relationship with her Mephistopheles, Perry the hellbreed. I think it's a fair representation of the quality of the book, because on one page we have Perry and Jill's relationship boiled down to essentials--he wants her to turn a little, just a very little, so he can own her. We get to see Jill's upbringing, and a little of what makes her who she is. The whole utility/hate relationship these two have really stands out starkly for me--it's definitely utility/hate, not love/hate.

What fascinates me about Perry and Jill is not a love/hate relationship, because we've all seen that before. What I'm interested in is two characters who hate each other almost as much as they need each other--Jill needs the strength Perry's mark grants to her in her fight against evil; and who knows what Perry wants from her yet? I want to ask the question, "How far can you go down the garden path without losing your soul and becoming like the things you fight?"
Read an excerpt from Night Shift, and learn more about the author and her work at Lilith Saintcrow's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Steven Stoll's "The Great Delusion"

Steven Stoll is Associate Professor of History at Fordham University, where he teaches environmental history. He has written for Harper’s, Lapham’s Quarterly, and the New Haven Review.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Great Delusion: A Mad Inventor, Death in the Tropics, and the Utopian Origins of Economic Growth, and reported the following:
“Everyone seemed to be rethinking the nature and purpose of work. Stollmeyer tried to cut through the question (and grab some attention) by challenging the ‘erroneous notion … that the people want work; that man ought to work … The people do not want work. Work is not the end ... The end is provisions, happiness, the satisfaction of all our rational desires.’”

--The Great Delusion, Page 99

Conrad Stollmeyer had one thing right. The people want happiness though the satisfaction of all their desires--rational or otherwise. Stollmeyer (not a familial relation of mine) was among the first people to express progress as material accumulation, as ever greater provisions without a thought about the origin of the materials themselves. Stollmeyer confronted English socialists of the 1840s, attempting to persuade his working-class audience to turn away from politics and protest and embrace a technological utopia, a scheme that would liberate them from wage slavery without conflict. On page 99 of The Great Delusion, Stollmeyer has just arrived in London from New York to publicize the vision of his business partner and philosophical leader, a brooding and inscrutable German engineer named John Adolphus Etzler. Imagine one trillion people enjoying endless food and endless energy delivered to them by an all encompassing machine that would perform all their work. Etzler called this mysterious machine The Satellite. The partners gather adherents and make their plans for a colony in the tropics. It’s all part of the biography at the core of The Great Delusion. But the book is also a history of what became of Etzler’s thinking: the seemingly reasonable pursuit of economic growth. Think about it for a moment. Growth is the notion that a society can--even that it must--increase in wealth and population without end. No matter what evidence the tired and picked-over planet provides to supporters of growth, they continue to wave them away. In other words, Etzler and Stollmeyer might seem crazy, but they were no crazier than the most sober-thinking political economists of their time and of ours. Our presidential candidates might not use words like “infinite abundance,” but when they talk about prosperity without regard to planetary limits, when they promote growth as the cure for income inequality, they participate in the very same delusion.
The Great Delusion is Steven Stoll's fourth book. Learn more about his research and publications at his faculty webapge.

Read more about The Great Delusion at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Michael Kimmel's "Guyland"

Michael Kimmel is the author or editor of more than twenty volumes, including Changing Men: New Directions in Research on Men and Masculinity (1987), Men Confront Pornography (1990), Manhood in America: A Cultural History (1996), The Gender of Desire (2005), and The History of Men (2005).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford might have been a good novelist, but he would have made a crummy social scientist. For us, you see, context matters. One can no more take a single page out of context from a complex argument than one can understand a work of fiction by reading only biographies of the author and histories of the writer's era.

That said, here is p. 99 of my new book, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men (HarperCollins, 2008). The chapter is one of several that describes the various elements of what I call Guyland -- the new developmental stage between adolescence and adulthood, and arena of social relationships that guys develop. These are moments in Guyland, episodic and including binge drinking, fraternity initiation, sports, video games, pornography, hooking up, and sexual assault. This particular page is the beginning of the discussion of initiation and hazing, and sets up the discussion by describing the function of initiations in religion and in Freud's theories.

Page 99:

reborn into the community of the Church. And though baptism is not gender-specific, as both males and females are baptized, it is nonetheless a meditation about gender. (After all, the original baptisms were for men only.) The old "feminized self," born of a woman, is destroyed, and the priest, always a man, brings the new self to life. In a sense, then, the male priest has given birth to the new man. The mother may have given birth, but the child does not become a member of the community until the priest confers that status. Women are pushed aside, and men appropriate their reproductive power.

Freud made such a moment the centerpiece of his theory of child development. Before the Oedipal crisis, Freud argued, the child, male or female, identifies with mother, the source of love, food, and nurturing. To become a man, a boy must leave his mother behind, and come over to his father's side. The successful resolution of the Oedipal complex is identification with the masculine and "dis-identification" with the feminine. Whether or not one subscribes to Freudian theory, all theories of initiation pivot on uncertainty, anxiety, indeterminancy. It is an unstable moment, what anthropologist Victor Turner called a "liminal" stage--a stage of in-between-ness, "neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned an arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremony."

Initiations in Guyland are about the passage from boyhood to manhood. Boyhood is the world of women--Mama's boys, wimps, wusses, and losers--or the world of men who are considered women--gays, fags, homos, queers. Or babies. One guy told me of the "Baby Dinner" at his fraternity house at a large public university in the Northeast. Pledges dressed in diapers, with little white bonnets on their heads, The pledge-master would put gross previously chewed food on their heads, simulating pabulum, and the pledges would scoop it off with their fingers and eat it. Many fraternities have equally infantilizing rituals. If initiation is going to validate your manhood, first you have to regress to babyhood.

Initiations, then, are all about masculinity--testing it and proving it. It's not that women don't initiate girls into womanhood. But rarely does becoming a woman involve danger, or threats, or testing. A girl might be inducted into womanhood when her mother explains menstruation
Learn more about the book and the author at the official Guyland website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ann Cleeves' "White Nights"

Ann Cleeves' Raven Black, the first volume in the Shetland Island Quartet, received crime fiction’s highest monetary honor, the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new novel, White Nights, the sequel to Raven Black, and reported the following:
White Nights takes place in Shetland in mid-summer, when it never quite gets dark. It’s about shifting perceptions, pretence, performance, the glitter of celebrity. In one sense page 99 represents the theme. It introduces an Englishman, Peter Wilding, who has rented a house in Biddista, the small community where a stranger has been found hanged. Wilding is a writer of fantasy fiction, something of a celebrity himself.

He was tall, rather good-looking, Perez saw now. He was wearing a striped collarless cotton shirt and jeans, canvas shoes. The writer smiled. He didn’t speak, but waited for his visitor to explain himself. Perez found the silence disconcerting.

Perez supposed he should show his warrant card but couldn’t remember what he’d done with it and introduced himself instead. ‘I wonder if I could ask you a few questions?’

‘Oh, please do. Any excuse to stop staring at a blank laptop screen.’ It was a rich voice, as if he was constantly amused by a private joke. Perez had imagined a writer with a deadline to meet as brooding, self-absorbed, but now there was no hint of that. The man stood aside. ‘I noticed that there’s been some activity on the jetty. Is it about that, I wonder?’ Perez remained silent. ‘Oh well,’ Wilding went on. ‘No doubt you’ll tell me when you’re ready.’ His eyes were so blue that Perez wondered if he was wearing coloured contact lenses. It pleased him to think of Wilding as vain.

Perez has seen Wilding on a previous occasion. The writer was present at the party to celebrate the opening of an exhibition of Fran Hunter’s paintings. The party is disrupted when a stranger, dressed in black, falls to his knees and begins to weep. The man claims not to know who he is or where he’s from. We meet him next as the murder victim, with a mask covering his face.

Fran appeared in the first of the Shetland novels, Raven Black, and we know that the detective, Perez, is attracted to her. At the gallery party Wilding and Fran seem to enjoy each other’s company. That’s why it pleases Perez to think of Wilding as vain. The jealousy hinted at here becomes more relevant later in the book; it clouds Perez’s judgement. He wants Wilding to be the murderer.

It would be convenient for everyone in Biddista if Wilding turned out to be the killer. He’s an incomer, who’s intruded into the small community unsettling the residents. While the theme of what it takes to belong is more important in Raven Black, it’s still there in White Nights. The last paragraph of page 99 emphasises the difference between Wilding the newcomer and the previous occupant:

Willy Jamieson had been born in this house and lived in it until he’d moved into sheltered housing. He’d scratched a living from fishing and, when he was younger, from odd bits of work from the council.

Willy belongs; Wilding is distrusted, an outsider.
Learn more about White Nights at Cleeves's website and read her online diary.

The Page 99 Test: Raven Black.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Jonathan B. Imber's "Trusting Doctors"

Jonathan B. Imber is the Class of 1949 Professor in Ethics and professor of sociology at Wellesley College. He is the author of Abortion and the Private Practice of Medicine.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Trusting Doctors: The Decline of Moral Authority in American Medicine, and reported the following:
On p. 99 of my book, Trusting Doctors, I come to the end of the first part of the book, entitled "Religious Foundations of Trust in Medicine." A few short pages later, the second part of the book opens, entitled "Beyond the Golden Age of Trust in Medicine." My argument on p. 99 ends a long discussion about how Protestant ideas about vocation influenced the public perception of the physician as trustworthy and beneficent. On the same page, I point out that at a meeting of the American Medical Association in 1964, Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel was asked to speak on "The Patient as a Person." His talk, more a jeremiad, was not at all well received by the assembled group of doctors. He criticized them for all those faults that would become much more widely pointed out over the next several decades. Listen to Heschel (in 1964): "It is terribly embarrassing to know that some individual doctors seem to think that it is highly improper for a patient to get sick during weekends ... The patient is haunted with fear, but some doctors are in a hurry, and above all impatient. They have something in common with God; they cannot be easily reached, not even at the golf course."

My aim in Trusting Doctors is to describe not the immorality of doctors, but the decline in their moral authority, that is the decline of their presence in our lives as people we trust with our whole lives. I do not argue this decline is by any means all negative, but it is not all positive either. And this is my hope for readers: to be more aware and more acknowledging of what is at stake in trusting others, not only when we should not, but when we should.
Read an excerpt from Trusting Doctors, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Learn more about Jonathan B. Imber's work at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Declan Burke's "The Big O"

Declan Burke is the author of Eightball Boogie (2003) and The Big O, newly released in the US.

Earlier this year he applied the "Page 99 Test" to the Irish edition of The Big O; now he has applied the test to the American edition and reported the following:
When I was writing The Big O I wanted it to be a fun read, one that played around with the conventions of the crime novel a little. I think that that’s there on page 99, where we have the two main characters, Karen and Ray, chatting over lunch. Ray’s telling Karen how as a kid he developed a tolerance for pain courtesy of a school bully. She’s a stick-up artist, and Ray’s into kidnap, but I wanted to undermine the stereotypes of the tough guy operator and the manipulative femme fatale …

Karen couldn’t help but feel disappointed, expecting a big finale, Ray finally getting around to stomping the bully. Not liking the way Ray deflected her expectations, sending them off on new tangents. Making Karen rethink, a couple of times already, like Sundance, who is this guy?

‘You could have at least fought back,’ she said.

‘I did. Caught him some good ones, too, nearly broke my fucking arm for him. You ever punch marble?’

‘And that’s it? That’s the story?’

‘What do I look like, Rocky? I’m knocking the guy down in the last round?’

Karen lit a fresh cigarette. ‘Don’t get me wrong, Ray. I’m not saying it’s not an interesting story. But I’m wondering, you take a girl out somewhere flash, then tell her you’re this six-stone weakling, how you let some bastard break your arm three years in a row …’ She exhaled to one side, keeping her eyes on his. ‘I think you’re missing the point here.’

What Ray doesn’t know is that Karen has come to lunch with the intention of cooling him off in the romance stakes, because she’s got too much on her plate planning a stick-up. Instead, by the end of the page, with Ray confessing a strength-through-weakness, Karen changes her mind. But that’s very much a feature of the story – while I wanted The Big O to be a hybrid of hardboiled noir and comedy crime caper, I also wanted the characters to be realistic, just ordinary folk struggling to make the most of their ever-changing circumstances. There are no real heroes in The Big O, just as there are no real villains – as in real life, everyone’s capable of doing the wrong thing if that’s what it takes to get by. And the characters aren’t particularly clever or ruthless – as often as not, they benefit from happy accidents, or because the person they’re dealing with has an agenda that chimes with their own. Ray, without ever knowing how close he came to being blown out by Karen, just gets lucky …

‘Put it this way. If you can blot out pain, you can blot out pleasure.’ He winked. ‘It’s why I can go all night. Just switching it off.’

‘And you’re not using this technique on me – why?’

‘Maybe I don’t want to wear you out right away.’

‘Take a chance. I mean, if I’m hating it, I’ll let you know.’

Ray shrugged. ‘It’s your funeral.’

‘I’ve always liked the idea,’ Karen said, ‘of dying happy.’
Read an excerpt from The Big O and learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website and Declan Burke's Crime Always Pays blog.

The Page 99 Test:: The Big O (Irish edition).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Regina Kunzel's "Criminal Intimacy"

Regina Kunzel is Professor in the departments of History, and Gender, Women, Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality, and reported the following:
Astonishingly, page 99 of my book gets at the heart of some of my largest claims. The preceding pages discuss accounts of sex in prison and efforts to explain the phenomenon in which predominantly heterosexual prisoners engaged in same-sex sex. The first partial paragraph on page 99 concludes:

Together, these accounts worked to deexoticize and depathologize same-sex sex in prison, presenting it as inevitable, understandable, and fundamentally human.

Page 99 is in a chapter that explores the mid-20th-century U.S.; in it, I describe the interpretative strategies used by a variety of historical subjects – sociologists, physicians, psychologists, journalists, prison administrators, and prisoners themselves – to explain the phenomenon of sex between prisoners. That phenomenon elicited new interest and anxiety at this particular historical moment, when the concept of sexual identity was coming into prominence. One of the defining assumptions of the sexual regime that announced itself as “modern” was the belief that the object of sexual desire reflected an individual’s essence. Who one desired, and what one did sexually and with whom, came to define, importantly, who one was. But if sexual identity was so fundamental, how was sex between prisoners to be understood?

Page 99 of Criminal Intimacy goes on to discuss the explanation of prison sex “as a compensatory response to heterosexual deprivation,” as well as the understandable result of “the irreducible and irrepressible nature of the human (and especially male) sex drive.”

To many at mid-century, prison sex was simply the natural and inevitable expression of a normal sex drive, temporarily and understandably rerouted. In their defensive insistence on drives, nature, and biology over psychology, personality, or identity, these writers worked to sever the connection between perverse desire and individual identity. More ambitiously, they endeavored to unburden sexual object choice, at least as manifested behind bars, from the weighty significance it was coming to assume.

That final passage gestures to my largest purpose in the book, which is to look to one of the most marginalized of American spaces -- the prison -- and its most stigmatized practice -- same-sex sex -- to illuminate questions about the cultural and ideological center and the making of the normal. Because as observers came to acknowledge, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, the essence of the problem of prison sex was less the practice of homosexuality among prisoners than its implications for the nature of heterosexuality. Indeed, much of what was at stake in the anxiety over homosexuality in prison concerned its potential to reveal heterosexual identity as fragile, unstable, and, itself, situational.

What the reader won’t get from a scan of page 99 is a sense of the historical sweep of the book. It charts the fascinations and anxieties that the phenomenon of sex in prison inspired over the course of a couple centuries -- the different kinds of trouble that prison sex made for people in different historical moments -- from the early 19th century through the late 20th, in order to illuminate the uneven process of the making of sexual modernity.
Preview the Table of Contents of Criminal Intimacy, and learn more about the book at the University of Chicago Press website.

Regina Kunzel's other publications include Fallen Women, Problem Girls: Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work, 1890–1945. Learn more about her work at her faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 15, 2008

I. McNeely & L. Wolverton's "Reinventing Knowledge"

Ian F. McNeely and Lisa Wolverton teach at the University of Oregon.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet, and reported the following:
Reinventing Knowledge dissects the six institutions in the Western tradition that have determined what knowledge is and how we should pursue it. Page 99 falls midway through the chapter on the university, whose origins lie in the Middle Ages. It finds medieval scholars congregated at Salerno, on the coast of Italy, trying to figure out why beans “increase the venereal powers,” why gaping wounds ooze in the presence of murderers, and why cheese putrefies “if its maker gratifies a secret passion.”

The questions these scholastic physicians were debating clearly did not lead to what we would call “knowledge.” But our book is not about the march from folly to progress. It draws attention away from the content of knowledge and toward the intriguingly different methods and rationales our ancestors adopted in its pursuit.

Throughout the book, we use concrete illustrations to highlight different practices of knowing. We show how these practices coalesced into new institutions. Then we see each institution give way to its successor, in a series of “reinventions” stretching from the ancient library and the Christian monastery to the modern laboratory and beyond.

If the medievals asked questions we find ridiculous, at least they were asking questions, debating and discussing them, and enlivening teachers and students in the scholastic equivalent of knights’ tournaments. Today’s universities bear little resemblance to the medieval universitates. They instead house academic disciplines – our fifth institution – whose gold standard is written scholarship, not verbal disputation.

But if the pattern of reinvention continues, the values and practices of the laboratory stand poised to reform and reshape those of the disciplines in our most prized institutions of higher education. The Internet is not in itself a new institution, but part of this much larger transformation, rooted in the democratization, commercialization, and globalization of knowledge.
Learn more about Reinventing Knowledge at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Andrew Warnes' "Savage Barbecue"

Andrew Warnes is Senior Lecturer in American Literature and Culture at the University of Leeds. He is the author of Hunger Overcome? and Richard Wright's Native Son.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Savage Barbecue: Race, Culture, and the Invention of America's First Food, and reported the following:
Judging by some of the blogs that have appeared very recently, some readers are starting to see Savage Barbecue as one big anti-American rant, a kind of prolonged English sneer at vulgar and violent US ways. Page 99, I'm glad to report, shows that the truth is a bit more nuanced than that. Accompanied by one of the book's few photographs--a shot Arthur Rothstein took of a BBQ drive in Fort Worth in 1942--the analysis here is actually trying to complicate the anti-American belief that McDonaldization is the number one evil in the world, ruining everything it touches. I’m trying to suggest that this attitude (as much a hallmark of liberal America as Europe, I find) can’t quite cope with the phenomenon of the interwar barbecue joint, can’t quite figure out how such places managed to mix the usual American suspects—Coke cans, plastic cutlery, etc.—with the ethic and sheer grassroots passion of a fullblown culinary tradition. And I think this reflects the position I’m trying to take throughout this book. After all, my basic thesis is not that everyone who enjoys barbecue today is a genocidal maniac—though, of course, some may be. Rather, it is that, uniquely in the English vocabulary, barbecue began life as a verb for cannibal cookery, only subsequently entered the repertoire of cookbooks, and remains to this day haunted by a lingering, unacknowledged, barbaric association. But actually I quite like a bit of barbarism now and then!
Read more about Savage Barbecue at the publisher's website.

Learn more about Andrew Warnes' research and publications at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tobias Buckell's "Sly Mongoose"

Tobias Buckell is a Caribbean born SF/F writer. His short fiction has appeared in magazines (such as Nature) and various anthologies. His books include Ragamuffin and Crystal Rain.

He applied “the Page 69 Test” and “the Page 99 Test” to his new novel, Sly Mongoose, and reported the following:
The pg 99 test -- Is Ford Madox Ford's statement "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you," accurate for your book?

Page 99 is a blank page between the 'parts' of my book, so I certainly hope not! LOL.

The pg 69 test -- is it representative of the rest of the book? would a reader skimming that page be inclined to read on?

I think that page 69 would a be a good page. On this page one of my main characters, Pepper, is in a room full of people aboard a spaceship full of people getting infected by some sort of virus. One of the infected tries to break through a door and attack the people hiding away, and it's a tense situation. Hopefully people would be compelled to read on!
Watch the video trailer for Sly Mongoose.

Learn more about the book and author at Tobias Buckell's website and his blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 12, 2008

Evan Kilgore's "The Children of Black Valley"

Evan Kilgore's debut novel is Who is Shayla Hacker.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new novel, The Children of Black Valley, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford makes an interesting point. I have to admit to some initial skepticism that the whole of a novel can be encapsulated on its ninety-ninth page, but I think the guy may be onto something.

On page 99 of The Children of Black Valley, things are really beginning to heat up. Sam, our dutiful hero, is about to go looking for a professional colleague who is in danger because he has been helping Sam to search for answers about his missing son. But there is a lot more going on, even just on page 99, than a frantic manhunt. Sam and his erstwhile wife, Ann, are grappling with a renewed tragedy, and it’s tearing them apart. Sam borrows Ann’s car, and the mere act of stepping into something so familiar – her threadbare seats, her CDs, their son’s toys – reawakens a thrashing sea of emotions, old arguments, promises, losses, the shattered shell of a broken marriage. It captures a number of the elemental plot and character relationship components that come to define their journeys over the rest of the story.

That’s probably not true for absolutely every page of the book, but I think that’s also part of the genius of Ford’s choice. By page 99, most novels are free of the early, foundational groundwork that takes place in their opening chapters. We are past the point of discovering bodies on carpets or watching would-be heroines get hacked to pieces in cabins. There has been time to get acquainted with the characters, yet by page 99, most novels have not yet come to those moments of darkness or despair that put their them to the ultimate test – nor the wild celebration that follows, in victory, at the end.

No, page 99 teeters on the brink of a unique precipice, having traveled just far enough to glimpse the valley of the rest of the story spreading out below without yet understanding what demons may lurk in the craggy nooks and crannies it still harbors in shadow.

I won’t give anything away about the plot of my book, but needless to say, the are a number of demons in Black Valley, and the darkness and the frantic urgency and also the glimmer of hope that appear on page 99 are but glimpses of what lies ahead.
Read an excerpt from The Children of Black Valley, and learn more about the book and author at Evan Kilgore's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Amy Shearn's "How Far Is the Ocean from Here"

Amy Shearn's work has appeared in Jane, West Branch, Salt Hill, and elsewhere.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to How Far Is the Ocean from Here, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Opening my book to page 99 reveals a page swallowed mostly by an enormous ramble of a paragraph excavating Susannah Prue’s confused thoughts. It’s a paragraph that turns Susannah inside-out, at first literally: “She carried with her at all times her own weather, a temperature she invented herself; she was always overheated, the engine of her belly emitting waves of warmth like the breeze from a space heater, crackling around her vast interior spaces. Since becoming pregnant, since being implanted, injected, whatever, Susannah had come to feel that she was living in the world without quite being of it; she was bobbing along the earth’s surface, being blown across the plains of the globe as ponderously as a hot-air balloon.” I like the writing itself here, probably because this is one of the passages in the book inspired by one in Moby Dick and I am often more interested in other peoples’ writing than my own.

Then there is a little rush of back-story, turning her inside out in a whole new way: “She found herself avoiding friends, throwing away Aaron’s letters unopened, not answering Rose’s calls—she didn’t have to deal with any of that anymore, wasn’t that the joy of it? She was a new breed now, entirely distinct from the world they inhabited.” In starting to write this, I hadn’t really known why Susannah was doing the things she did – why she would decide to be a surrogate, why she would then run away (although the running away makes the most sense to me of anything, really). The challenge and the fun of writing lay in exploring this, in probing her bad decisions, in living with a character who, like many people, doesn’t quite make sense.

“’Well,’ said Julian, when neither of them had spoken for a few beats.

“’Well,’ said Susannah.” I do like this part. This is an obvious (to me) nod to the great, uncomfortable conversation between newly-weds in Dorothy Parker’s “Here We Are.”

The whole rambling paragraph above has been an interjection in one of Julian (the father of the baby) and Susannah (the surrogate mother)’s many awkward, heated, charged conversations. And then: “The baby bobbed, a drip of mercury poisoning a length of glass.” It’s almost as if Julian and Susannah can convince themselves for instants at a time that they are an ordinary flirting couple until the baby stirs, and Susannah remembers what their relationship really is.
Read an excerpt from How Far Is the Ocean from Here, and learn more about the book and author at Amy Shearn's website and the blogs Moonlight Ambulette and Cloud Train.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

JT Ellison's "14"

JT Ellison is Murderati's Friday columnist, a short story writer, and a novelist.

Last year she applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, All the Pretty Girls. Now she has applied the “Page 99 Test” to the sequel, 14, and reported the following:
I believe page 99 of my new novel, 14, is indicative of the whole of the book. Homicide Lieutenant Taylor Jackson and FBI profiler Dr. John Baldwin are having a quiet dinner at home, talking about their day. Two major points are made that drive the story – first, Taylor tells Baldwin she’s missing a piece of vital evidence from a twenty year old murder case, and second – Baldwin reveals that a woman named Charlotte Douglas is coming to town. I love that the page ends with the revelation – seemingly innocuous – that a woman named Charlotte Douglas is coming to Nashville to participate in the Snow White Killer case. Taylor has never heard the woman’s name, but is about to meet a formidable opponent, both in the Snow White case and from Baldwin’s past. I hope the reader is driven to the next page, and the next, to find out why it’s important that Charlotte is getting involved in the Snow White case.

Without giving it all away, the missing evidence that Taylor mentions ties directly to the solution of the case, and to understanding Charlotte Douglas. Here’s an excerpt from page 99 of 14.

“Do I need a special occasion to bring flowers to my almost wife?”

“No, of course not.” She dropped the holster on the counter and buried her nose in the flowers. “Mmmm, they smell great. I better get them in some water. Where’d you find the Gerberas this time of year?”

“A man must protect his secrets.”

She rolled her eyes at him, eliciting a laugh. It was all so comfortable, it didn’t feel right. She got the flowers into water, set them thoughtfully on the kitchen table. Baldwin watched her; she felt his eyes on the back of her neck. Jesus, what was wrong with her?

“How was your day?”

“Other than the fact that we’re missing a piece of evidence from the Snow White case? The old cases, I should say.”

“What kind of evidence?” He opened the refrigerator. “Oh good, you got dinner.”

“Like I’d let you starve.”

They bustled around the kitchen, getting their salads on plates, buttering bread, pouring wine, and Taylor told Baldwin about her afternoon. He listened with sympathy until she asked about his day. They sat on the floor in the living room, their plates on the coffee table, their backs propped with pillows, and talked while they ate.

When they were settled and Taylor was a few bites into her salad, Baldwin answered her question.

“Well, it was interesting, I’ll say that. Tomorrow might be a little crazy.”

She just raised an eyebrow. As if anything could be crazier in this case, in their lives.

“Charlotte Douglas is coming to town.”

Read an excerpt from 14, and learn more about the book and author at J.T. Ellison's website and MySpace page.

Watch the video trailer for 14.

The Page 69 Test: All the Pretty Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dick Meyer's "Why We Hate Us"

Dick Meyer was a reporter, producer, online editor, and columnist at CBS News in Washington for more than twenty-three years. He is now the editorial director of digital media at National Public Radio.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the 23rd worst page in the book.

Just kidding.

Page 99 comes toward the end of the chapter called “OmniMedia.” The gist of the chapter’s argument is that our everyday life and cognitive bandwidth has more “media” – information available only in mediated form, not direct – than ever. We tend to focus on the quality of media (biased, tawdry, etc.), but the quantity is what is new and overwhelming. And while new media has potential to take many virtuous paths, thus far it is bringing more marketing, more consumerism, more anonymity, more isolation and more toxic culture into our life. It devours time. As such it has become another thing we “hate,” wittingly or not. It’s part of “why we hate us.”

In discussing whether new media can ever foster profound human connection and community, I wrote, “The single greatest explanation for why we hate is the decline of organic community. Replacing that… is vital.” This is a core argument of the book: Our deep disenchantment with our own culture comes from our mobility, geographic and spiritual, which has left us without either a community of kin and intimates or a community or values. Before the 1960s, Americans essentially inherited both, but have since rejected the idea that it is wise and natural to inherit wisdom, values and tradition from history and family. Americans thought the ideal was to invent or discover all that from the Self. It hasn’t worked and we are left isolated and disconcerted.

Contrary to what post-Me-Decade self-help recipes instruct, authenticity comes from outside your Self, from community, belonging and respectful treatment of others, which was once called morality. But in a mobile society, this does not happen organically or easily. It takes great and enduring effort.
Read an excerpt from Why We Hate Us, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 8, 2008

Jeremy Mercer's "When the Guillotine Fell"

Jeremy Mercer is a former writer for the Ottawa Citizen and the author of Time Was Soft There and two crime books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, When the Guillotine Fell: The Bloody Beginning and Horrifying End to France's River of Blood, 1791-1977, and reported the following:
A Bible lay among the books on my desk when I was contacted about the Ford Madox Ford experiment and I couldn't help but be curious. In my copy (a Cambridge University Press edition of the King James), page 99 includes this particular statement from Exodus:

"The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth."

Wow. That's quality, that's the kind of God I want to love, that's everything the Bible is and should be. So, if The Page 99 test works on the Bible, I figured I might as well try it on my latest book, When the Guillotine Fell.

And guess what? Bingo! Page 99 covers the very moment in 1789 when Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin announces his plans for a humane new invention that will painlessly decapitate prisoners.

"The mechanism falls like thunder - the head flies - the blood spurts - the man is no more," Dr. Guillotin boasts to the National Assembly.

Considering my book is about the history of the guillotine and the philosophy of executions, you couldn't ask for a more representative page. Of course, The Page 99 test fails to illustrate my cunning narrative structure (I interlaced the history sections with the grisly true crime story of the last man guillotined in France); but, hey, that would have been really too much to ask.

So, I toast thee Ford Madox Ford, even if you were a bit of a cad to Jean Rhys.
Learn more about the book and author at Jeremy Mercer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Rick Wartzman's "Obscene in the Extreme"

Rick Wartzman is the Director of The Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University and an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He spent two decades as a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He is co-author, with Mark Arax, of the award-winning bestseller The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Obscene in the Extreme plunks the reader down in the middle of a work stoppage gripping the cotton fields of central California in the late 1930s—an event organized by the Communist-led United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America. Whether this was a bona fide strike, however, was a matter of considerable dispute. The reason: If those staying off the job were deemed by the state to not actually be on strike—and were thus simply refusing to accept jobs being offered them—they wouldn’t be eligible for government relief. And that, in turn, would give the growers the upper hand.

By early October, the number of strikers had grown to seven hundred, and UCAPAWA rushed in an organizer from San Francisco to help the workers further their agenda—as well as the union’s own. UCAPAWA set up a strike committee, which upped the workers’ formal demand by a dime, to one dollar per hundred pounds picked. In addition, it insisted on having drinking water made available in the fields, the testing of all cotton scales to ensure that pickers weren’t being bilked, and an arbitrator at every ranch to help settle any disputes that might arise. The union also dispatched “flying squadrons”—automobile caravans filled with pickets—across the county.

The growers fought back by closing off roads, while the Associated Farmers collected license-plate numbers and compiled a blacklist of strikers. The employers’ strongest weapon, though, was pure intransigence. Associated Farmers officials refused to negotiate with UCAPAWA representatives, reiterating over and over that they couldn’t meet the union’s demand on wages. End of story. Still more maddening to the union, the Associated Farmers wouldn’t even acknowledge that a walkout was underway.

The virtue of focusing on Page 99 is that it makes clear that Obscene in the Extreme is about much more than simply what its subtitle might suggest: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Indeed, the book uses the censorship of Steinbeck’s novel as a window into a much bigger topic: the class politics of 1930s America.

The downside of focusing on this particular page is that it doesn’t give any sense of the book’s wonderful cast of characters. Nor does it necessarily convey the full richness of the writing—that this is a narrative that provides, as Anthony Lewis has put it, “a dramatic glimpse of a dark American past.”
Read more about Obscene in the Extreme at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Farnaz Fassihi's "Waiting for An Ordinary Day"

Farnaz Fassihi is the deputy bureau chief for Middle East and Africa for The Wall Street Journal, now based in Beirut, Lebanon. She joined the Journal in January 2003 and was immediately sent to Iraq. Her family is Iranian-American; she has degrees in English from Tehran University and in journalism from Columbia University.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Waiting for An Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq, and reported the following:
At first I was skeptical about the page 99 test and reluctantly opened up my book and began reading page 99. I was surprised to discover that it accurately conveyed a flavor for the narrative and the theme of the book. Page 99 is about Samarra’s soccer team practicing at the city’s only Youth Club, caught in the crossfire between the Sunni insurgency and the American military. It also spoke of how ordinary Iraqis, in this case athletes, were desperately trying to cling to normal life.

From page 99:

When I ask him what is making the residents here so angry at the Americans, his reply is brisk: “The way they treat us.” I ask him for an example.

“There are many examples but I will give you one. We have only one soccer field in this province and it’s a place for young people to play sports and have fun. But Americans don’t let them. They are bombing the soccer field every night and warn people not to go to the youth club. They say the resistance is there. It’s a sports club, not a military base; why are they attacking it? I tell you why, because they are evil.”

What if the insurgents are really using the sports club as a shield, I wonder. The frontlines of this war are undefined and insurgents often do use civilian enclaves. Hassan’s breathing gets heavy and his eyes dart about. When he finally speaks, he first corrects me by saying, “Stop calling them insurgents, they are resistance,” and then settles the argument, as Iraqis often do, by launching a counter-blame strategy. He shoots off a list of mistakes by the American military, concluding that they are as bad as any insurgent group.

The Samarra Youth Club, less than half a mile away from Hassan’s shop, is a shabby structure that looks more like a Soviet gymnasium than a place for youngsters to have fun. The pastel paint is peeling off the walls and the flimsy wooden doors are punctured with holes. The entrance leads into an empty hallway with small rooms used for body building and martial arts. Equipment is limited to a few basic weights and jump ropes. We climb a set of steep steps to get to the bleachers overlooking the soccer field behind the building. Samarra’s soccer team is playing against a visiting team this afternoon. Players clad in shorts and numbered jerseys spread out across the field but they are not warming up as you’d expect. Instead, their backs are hunched, some are on their knees, and they are inspecting the grass closely, sifting through it with their fingers.

When I ask Jamal Jassem, the club’s gregarious director, what the men are doing, he announces matter-of-factly that they are collecting bullets and shrapnel left from an early morning attack by American Apache helicopters. For the past month, the helicopters have opened fire on the field. The stadium light is blown out and the goalposts are riddled with bullets.
Read an excerpt from Waiting for An Ordinary Day, and learn more about the book at the PublicAffairs website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cynthia Hudley's "You Did That on Purpose"

Cynthia Hudley is professor, Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, University of California, Santa Barbara.

She applied “Page 99 Test” to her new book, You Did That on Purpose: Understanding and Changing Children's Aggression, and reported the following:
I had never heard of the Page 99 test and was sufficiently intrigued to open my own book to p. 99. I honestly say that while it does nothing to capture the sense of the book as a whole, it does speak well of the quality of the book. That page, as do all pages, I hope, speaks in a conversational, jargon-free tone that presents scholarly evidence to a non-academic audience.

You Did That on Purpose is a reader friendly look at an important scholarly topic – the theory and practice of reducing childhood aggression. Then heart of the book is an intervention program directed toward elementary school students that I have developed, although my desire was to present a much broader discussion of the issues than this single intervention program. Thus, by page 99, I have moved beyond a review of the presence and problems of aggression in elementary school for children, their families, and the schools and also beyond a comprehensive discussion of the intervention program.

Page 99, which falls in the chapter “Looking Beyond the Individual Child”, is a part of the discussion of what schools can do to change an environment that supports childhood aggression.

“Highly aggressive recess games (e.g., dodge ball) or intensely competitive activities with no adult supervision (e.g., basketball games during physical education class) might be either structurally altered or eliminated from the recess repertoire.”

“New contingencies might also include changes to instructional routines. It may be that aggressive students are most disruptive on test days in a given middle school. The school might stagger exams across various days, rather than having all classes test students on Fridays (a very stressful practice for teachers and students). Or perhaps, as discussed earlier, teachers’ efforts at cooperative learning are creating conflict among students, and some students are being actively rejected by peers in academic tasks and in the broader social environment of the school.”

I do believe, as my book states elsewhere, that interventions must attend to the many environments (families, communities, peers, schools) of children or they will be of limited usefulness. The best programs will be those that positively and comprehensively engage the individual, family, school, peer group, and community. Page 99 accurately represents that belief, and so is entirely consistent with the spirit of the book.
Read more about You Did That on Purpose at the Yale University Press website, and learn more about Cynthia Hudley at her faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 1, 2008

Shannon Lee Dawdy's "Building the Devil’s Empire"

Shannon Lee Dawdy is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago.

She applied “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Building the Devil's Empire: French Colonial New Orleans, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book happens to fall on the opening page of Chapter Three, entitled “A Backwater Entrepôt.” Like the other chapters, I begin with an opening vignette of a real-life New Orleans character, an innkeeper and smuggler’s wife named Elizabeth Real Marin. I begin with a quote from her last will and testament:

“Today twenty-seventh of April one thousand seven hundred sixty nine, three o-clock in the afternoon . . . being entered into the hall of the said House in which we have found the said Lady Widow Marin, seated between the two courtyard doors in the coolness, who seemed to us to be ill in body because of her great age, but sound in spirit, memory and understanding.....”

From this exergue, I go on to develop a quick sketch of her life:

Thus begins the last will and testament of Madame Elizabeth Real Pascal Marin, whose life spans the experience of surviving and then thriving in French colonial New Orleans. Both documentary evidence and artifacts excavated from her courtyard in the French Quarter suggest that Madame Real’s fortunes rose with those of the colony. During the charter period of John Law’s Company of the Indies in the early 1720s, Elizabeth arrived in the stumptown that was New Orleans. She was then a teenager, from the Oleron district of Charente-Inférieur in the Bordeaux region. Though her exact arrival is uncertain, it is likely that she immigrated as an indentured servant transported to work for one of the concessions. From these humble beginnings, Madame Real transformed herself into a respectable colonial matron through two marriages and fifty years as a successful businesswoman.

The widow Marin’s life parallels the story I tell in this chapter about the speculative economy of early New Orleans and how over time it emerged as a major smuggling port. On this front, as on many others I outline in the book, the city succeeded, but never exactly according to the plan of European powers.

Page 99 reveals the effort to integrate archival, archaeological, and literary sources to produce as vivid a portrait of the town as I can. This page also reveals the narrative strategy I chose to reflect my philosophical approach to history. I believe history can often be most accurately depicted as a “picaresque” rather than a romance or a tragedy. That is, a combination of grand plans, follies, shenanigans, and unexpected triumphs involving a diverse and contentious cast of characters.

Probably no one expected this illiterate French maid from the countryside to become the friend and confident of some of the most powerful men in the colony, and owner of a large house with a lush courtyard and interiors decorated with gilt mirrors. And probably no one expected New Orleans to thrive after it was abandoned by the French state in 1731. One lesson for the post-Katrina future is that no one should doubt the city’s ability to reinvent itself in surprising ways.
Read more about Building the Devil’s Empire at the University of Chicago Press website.

Learn more about Shannon Lee Dawdy's teaching and research at her faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue