Thursday, February 28, 2019

W. K. Stratton's "The Wild Bunch"

W.K. Stratton is the author of several books of nonfiction and poetry. He has written for Sports Illustrated, Outside, GQ, and Texas Monthly, and was named a Fellow of the Texas Institute of Letters in 2017. He is a longtime resident of Austin, Texas.

Stratton applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Officials at Paramount believed that it was time to bring Villa back to the big screen as well. Sam Peckinpah, resurrected by “Noon Wine,” seemed to be the ideal person to write the screenplay. Lansford already was on board with Paramount, having written a treatment. Paramount set both him and Sam up in offices on the studio lot, though they were far from luxurious. James Coburn, who’d acted in Major Dundee, paid Peckinpah a visit at Sam’s cramped writing space. Coburn felt sorry for his old director. He remembered how Peckinpah had lorded over Major Dundee’s production, a general in command of his troops. Now he seemed reduced to groveling for the Paramount brass just to get back in the door. It was anything but a humiliating experience for Peckinpah. Instead, it was as if he’d enrolled in a graduate-degree program in the Mexican Revolution. He was reading everything he could about it, exhausting Paramount’s substantial research department as well as ordering additional books from nearby university libraries. One thing that Paramount wanted in the script was the development of a fictional character, a gringo mercenary well acquainted with the twentieth-century technologies of war. Peckinpah’s fascination with gringos caught up in the revolution grew as he built a script. He was especially affected by the photographs he saw in books and ancient yellowed newspapers.
This paragraph indeed captures much of what The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film is about. The narrative arc of my book is built around whether Sam Peckinpah, who was blacklisted by Hollywood in the mid-1960s, could somehow redeem himself in the eyes of studio executives and return to the director’s chair to create a classic motion picture. He managed to do that with The Wild Bunch. But how? He found his path through a failed project. He had been hired by Paramount to adapt a biography of Pancho Villa written by Bill Lansford for a movie to star Yul Brynner. Peckinpah took the job because he needed the money. It seemed like a humbling experience for a man who’d once directed an epic for Columbia Pictures (Major Dundee). But he made the most of it. He dived deeply into researching the Mexican Revolution. His drafts reflected Peckinpah’s love for Mexico, its people and its history, but it presented Villa as a complicated person, neither all good nor all bad. Brynner, seeking to portray a two-dimensional heroic version of Villa, hated what Peckinpah wrote and had him fired off the picture. But the flames of the Mexican Revolution continued to burn in Peckinpah’s mind, and when he was offered the chance to do rewrites on the script (originally written by Walon Green) for a project called The Wild Bunch, he used much of what he learned about the Mexican Revolution while working on Brynner’s project. The Wild Bunch is the story of a group of Anglo bandits and their Mexican comrade who get caught up in capers along the U.S.-Mexico border at the time of the Mexican Revolution. It involves themes of loyalty, betrayal, the destructive nature of modern technology, and redemption. It also opened the doors for the realistic betrayal of violent death. The Wild Bunch was controversial when it opened, but it was a box office success and, ultimately, came to be regarded as a classic. Peckinpah succeed and made other successful films.
Visit W. K. Stratton's website.

Writers Read: W. K. Stratton.

My Book, The Movie: The Wild Bunch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Elaine Shannon's "Hunting LeRoux"

Elaine Shannon, acclaimed veteran correspondent for Time and Newsweek, is the author of the New York Times bestseller Desperados: Latin Drug Lords, U.S. Lawmen, and the War America Can’t Win, which served as the basis for Michael Mann’s Emmy-winning NBC miniseries Drug Wars: The Camarena Story, and its Emmy-nominated sequel, Drug Wars: The Cocaine Cartel. Shannon is a highly respected investigative reporter, trusted by law enforcement and intelligence organizations, and an expert on terrorism, organized crime, and espionage. She is the author of No Heroes: Inside the FBI’s Secret Counter-Terror Force and The Spy Next Door: The Extraordinary Secret Life of Robert Philip Hanssen.

Shannon applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Hunting LeRoux: The Inside Story of the DEA Takedown of a Criminal Genius and His Empire, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Jack found it bizarre that LeRoux entrusted a dissolute creep like Smith with so much money and property, but then, everything about LeRoux was inscrutable. All Jack could figure was, Smith was not only LeRoux’s alter ego but also his lightning rod. Smith attracted all the attention. If anything bad happened, it was easy to believe that this central-casting bad guy was the guilty one. Nobody seemed to ask who was behind him.

Over a beer or two, Smith satisfied himself that Jack was who he said he was. In a couple of days, he decided it was time for Jack to meet the Boss.

But not at Sid’s. Never at Sid’s. LeRoux never darkened the doors of the pub. For one thing, he didn’t drink. “His brain had to stay clear all the time,” Jack said. For another, he didn’t like to socialize. Smith, Leo, and the other mercenaries who frequented the place were just hired hands—tools. Their conversation, about tits, sausages, and guns, was too basic to interest LeRoux.

Smith escorted Jack to LeRoux’s penthouse for the job interview. At the door, Smith handed Jack off to three Filipino bodyguards who searched him for weapons and wires and ushered him into the cavernous living room.

LeRoux lumbered in, lowered himself onto one of the straight-backed chairs, pulled it up to the square table, and motioned for Jack to sit across from him. He didn’t offer his guest as much as a cup of tea. When he walked into the penthouse, Jack assumed that LeRoux was a fat tech mogul with a boatload of cash and an itch to do something more colorful. A nerd. But when the big man began to speak, Jack changed his mind. This guy was no nerd, and he wasn’t soft. He was a force of nature, like a big wave that bowled you over if you resisted but floated you upward if you gave in. He expressed himself clearly, in complete sentences, no “uhs,” “ums,” “y’knows,” “likes,” or the dreaded “Know what I’m sayin’?” His supremely confident attitude was overpowering. He clearly knew what he wanted and where he was going to get it. When Jack was in LeRoux’s presence, it didn’t occur to him not to obey.
This Page 99 test is uncanny. Brilliant. I’m sure that Hunting LeRoux passes the test.

On page 99 of Hunting LeRoux, a guileless young seafarer in search of adventure finds it, and a lot more. Readers already sense how this will go. The young man chooses the name Jack, but he might have picked Ishmael or Willard or Marlow.

Through Jack’s eyes, we meet LeRoux’s gatekeeper, Dave Smith, a professional killer addled by meth and sex, and then the Boss himself. LeRoux comes into focus slowly, as Jack struggles to assess the hulking, complicated character who is about to take possession of his soul. We see LeRoux’s confident smile and begin to smell what’s behind it, the monster clawing to get out.

Nobody in Hunting LeRoux is what he seems. Paul LeRoux looks like a rich eccentric nerd. In fact, he is a renegade tech entrepreneur who becomes the first Silicon Valley-style organized crime boss. He launches a crime network with a computer and three or four people. His virtual network, globalized and highly efficient and effective, can supply the full range of illegal commodities in ways old-school Mafiosi and cartels never dreamed. He enjoys killing and wants to do more.

On Page 99, when LeRoux begins to speak, he takes control of the room, revealing himself as a “force of nature.” It is a display of psychic power LeRoux will repeat many times. Jack’s confusion and passivity foreshadow an off-balance relationship destined to grow more twisted and intense. We know enough about human nature to ask, when will Jack snap? And what happens then? Because we’re already pretty sure Jack won’t get away on his own.

The question foreshadows the arrival of hunters – Tommy Cindric and Eric Stouch, the DEA partners who find out about LeRoux, climb up into LeRoux's strange big brain, and match him move for move. When they find out he’s a chess player, they call their investigation Operation Checkmate. Their play is far more intricate than chess. They have to figure out what will tempt a man who has almost everything he wants. What’s left? But Tommy and Eric aren’t as simple as they pretend. They have secrets of their own.
Visit Elaine Shannon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Kathleen Day's "Broken Bargain"

Kathleen Day worked for thirty years as a business journalist with the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today before joining the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School as a professor of financial crises in 2013. She lives in Washington, DC.

Day applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Broken Bargain: Bankers, Bailouts, and the Struggle to Tame Wall Street, and reported the following:
Page 99:
states-rights advocates in the Jeffersonian tradition, who feared that branching would create just the sort of large urban money centers they had long mistrusted. These advocates favored deposit insurance as a way of preserving small rural banks. The fight over branching and, by extension, deposit insurance was a much more visceral issue than the question of whether to separate commercial and investment banking, which had almost unanimous support. Arguments over insurance and branching, by contrast, threatened to torpedo all of Glass-Steagall.

As bank runs and closings accelerated in the winter of 1933, proposals to use deposit insurance to protect savings and thus avert runs gathered more support than motions to expand branching. The national and state bank holidays, coupled with snags in the Fed’s role as lender of last resort, accelerated calls for some kind of permanent guarantee for depositors. Deposit insurance addressed a central paradox of banking: when people think they can get their money, they don’t want to. If they think they can’t, they do. Branching would help with this, but a federal guarantee was more concrete, and in many cases it would make a lender of last resort unnecessary. Deposit insurance had many opponents, but its star ascended when the Fed failed to act as lender of last resort from 1930 to 1933.

The idea of insurance wasn’t new. New York State had experimented with deposit insurance in 1829, and between 1886 and 1933, Congress considered 150 deposit insurance proposals. None went anywhere. After the panic of 1907, seven states—Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, Mississippi, South Dakota, and North Dakota—guaranteed deposits at state-chartered banks, but these plans were overwhelmed by the massive number of bank failures in the 1920s. The state funds failed not just because so many banks went under at once, but also because too many had been given coverage without sufficient screening to weed out weaker, poorly run firms.

Beyond these failed efforts, deposit insurance proved controversial for another good reason. Although insurance calmed depositors, it also made them indifferent to how their bank was run. Depositors’ indifference is an instance of what economists call “moral hazard,” a situation where someone receives the benefits of a financial action or decision but is shielded from any downside. Insured depositors, for example, would get their money if a bank prospered or failed. People in this or similar financial situation, opponents of insurance argued, might be not only indifferent to risks, but encouraged to take bigger and
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," is accurate for my book.

This page captures the essence of the nation’s debate in the 1930s over federal deposit insurance: Republican President Herbert Hoover and smaller banks favored it as a way to calm depositors and thus stop the thousands of bank runs and subsequent failures that were plaguing the country, contracting credit and making the depression longer and deeper. Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt opposed it. He argued that while deposit insurance might end runs, it would do so by making depositors’ indifferent to whether the banks into which they put their money were prudently run or not. That in turn could saddle taxpayers with enormous liability.

FDR finally relented, agreeing to federal deposit insurance in exchange for legislation he wanted to encourage home ownership and for tighter oversight of banks to mitigate risks to taxpayers.

FDR proved to be correct: Deposit insurance bred moral hazard—defined on page 99--among depositors, who were willing during the banking crisis of the 1980s to deposit money in increasingly risky “zombie” banks—insolvent institutions that should have been closed. Depositors knew they would get their money whether or not a bank fell into ruin. Instead of closing these dead banks, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George G.W. Bush used bogus accounting to keep them open to hide—until after the elections—a growing liability taxpayers eventually would have to pay. Reagan and Bush could only do this because deposit insurance calmed depositors—so much so they happily put their savings in zombie banks, which in their desperation for cash offered higher-than-market interest rates. Retail depositors knew they wouldn’t lose money, even on these irresponsibly high rates, because their fellow taxpayers would pick up the tab. Knowing this made members of the public, including many policymakers, indifferent to what was going on. That allowed the situation to continue and worsen.

The ensuing $500 billion bailout was 10 times more expensive than if the banks had been closed years earlier, when they first became insolvent. It remains the costliest in U.S. history. The bailouts of the Great Depression 10 years ago were far bigger—$24 trillion by some estimates—but because that money was either repaid or never spent, the 1980s bailout remains the costliest.

This page outlines a key aspect of a debate Americans have had going back to Jefferson and Hamilton over how to prevent the dangers posed by banks and corporations from outweighing their benefits. It sets the stage for one of the grand bargains Congress struck with Wall Street, that of providing a taxpayer-subsidized safety net of deposit insurance in exchange for more oversight. It’s a bargain regulators break when they fall down on the job—which they do repeatedly—and that we as a nation have wrestled with ever since.
Learn more about Broken Bargain at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 22, 2019

Darius Bost's "Evidence of Being"

Darius Bost is assistant professor of ethnic studies in the School for Cultural and Social Transformation at the University of Utah. He applied thePage 99 Test” to his new book, Evidence of Being: The Black Gay Cultural Renaissance and the Politics of Violence, and reported the following:
Page ninety-nine of Evidence of Being explores the significance of my analysis of black gay writer, translator, and scholar Melvin Dixon’s diaries to the field of black queer studies. Dixon died of AIDS in 1992, and his unpublished diaries offer one of the only accounts of gay men of color’s experiences of AIDS amid a plethora of accounts centered on white gay men. More broadly, the diaries provide one of the most extensive historical accounts of black gay life in the 1970s and 80s. By centering the experiences of black gay men like Dixon, my book contextualizes AIDS within a broader field of racialized and sexualized violence that has rendered black men more vulnerable to the virus since its appearance in 1981. But this chapter also seeks to challenge theories of the AIDS diary as predominantly occupied with what it feels like to be dying. Dixon’s diaries, conversely, represent his efforts to move towards life—to make some sense of his relationship to categories like race, sexuality, and (human) being, categories which he never properly inhabited, but which converged in his negotiation of everyday life. Because Dixon was conscious of how race, gender, and sexuality structure whose lives are remembered and whose histories are archived, he was preoccupied with life writing (and other forms of creative writing) as a way of leaving an archival trace of his life for future (black queer) readers. And though his diaries end abruptly, marking his sudden death from AIDS, I theorize the blank pages of the diary as offering the possibility for imagining black queer futures beyond the racial and sexual violence that ended Dixon’s life prematurely and that structures the ongoing epidemic of AIDS in black gay communities. In sum, Dixon’s diaries, like the other literary and cultural works I examine in the book, offer evidence of black gay being that is not tethered to the death-dealing epistemes that continue to mark black gay life for civic and corporeal death. Instead, the diary as a literary form is future-oriented, imagining more utopian political possibilities for black gay life beyond a death-bound horizon.
Learn more about Evidence of Being at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Debra Gwartney's "I Am a Stranger Here Myself"

Born in Salmon, Idaho, a fifth generation Idahoan, Debra Gwartney is the winner of the 2018 RiverTeeth Nonfiction Prize, judged by Gretel Ehrlich. Her new book is a hybrid memoir-history, called I Am a Stranger Here Myself. Gwartney’s first book is a memoir, Live Through This (2009), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, and the Oregon Book Award.

Gwartney applied the “Page 99 Test” to I Am a Stranger Here Myself and reported the following:
Narcissa Whitman was purportedly the first Caucasian woman to cross the Rocky Mountains. She did so in 1836, along with her missionary husband Marcus and another missionary couple, Henry and Eliza Spalding. Narcissa was the first Caucasian woman to settle in the frontier West, to establish a home, a compound, a way-station, a religious mission and school. She was also the first to give birth to a white child in a makeshift mud and grass dwelling, located just a few miles outside of current-day Walla Walla, Washington.

A whole lot of “firsts,” and yet Narcissa is remembered, too, for her stiffness, her stern comportment, her tight-lipped judgment of all ways but her own. The Cayuse Tribe, whose lands the Whitmans settled on—taking up swaths of acreage for themselves—soon began to call her “haughty.” A faction of the tribe grew to despise her, blame her for all they had suffered (a whole lot) and, on a bitterly frozen day in 1847, eleven years after their arrival, Narcissa, Marcus, and a dozen others were struck down by that band of Cayuse, a bloody slaughter that shaped the very formation of the frontier West.

My book is mostly about identity—a need at my ripe old age to understand myself as a Woman in the West, born to ridiculously young parents in the mountains of Idaho and raised in a strictly patriarchal and yet wildly raucous family. I turn to Narcissa to wedge open a keen sense of the early days of the West. She, after all, set the tone for the hundreds of thousands of white people who poured in after her. She was their icon, their martyr, the very symbol of endurance, fortitude. The representative of the tenets of Manifest Destiny. That’s how she’s been cast over the years, anyway, in service to the folklore of the West that trembles, still, through the definition of the region and the definition of my family.

Page 99 is a curious one, reminding me that I discovered, during years of researching this enigmatic woman, was a vulnerability she kept hidden from everyone. Mostly herself. Her hardness a façade that began to crumble in sad and horrible ways after her only child, Alice Clarissa, drowned at age two in the river behind the family’s house. But early on, as described on page 99, she cloaked herself in her service to God, her only meaning and purpose. Her journal is full of praise of Him and the mandate she had taken on—to convert the “savages” of the West. She hides her abject loneliness, her fear, her ultimate sorrow. For instance, in this passage, she gives herself only the smallest opportunity to gripe, and it’s in regard to safe territory, food, “I thot I would tell what kind of dish we had set before us this morning. It is called black pudding. It is not a favourite with us Americans. It is made of blood & the fat of hogs, spiced and filled into a gut.” No one back home was going to fault her for that opinion.
Visit Debra Gwartney's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Noelle Gallagher's "Itch, Clap, Pox"

Noelle Gallagher is Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture at the University of Manchester. She is the author of Historical Literatures: Writing About the Past in England, 1600-1740.

Gallagher applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Itch, Clap, Pox: Venereal Disease in the Eighteenth-Century Imagination, and reported the following:
It was great fun to participate in the experiment of reading page 99 from Itch, Clap, Pox—not least because I suffer from the commonplace writer’s fear of opening my newly-published book to discover a spectacularly flagrant typographical error (“pubic” for “public,” “busty” for “busy”—that sort of thing). Fortunately, page 99 is typo free. It appears midway through a chapter on the relationship between representations of venereal disease and representations of prostitution in eighteenth-century literature and graphic art. In this section of the book, I discuss how prostitutes’ memoirs, graphic artworks (like Hogarth’s 1732 series Harlot’s Progress), and eighteenth-century novels (like Tobias Smollett’s 1748 Roderick Random) ultimately provide a more sympathetic and nuanced portrait of the infected prostitute than we might expect from the imaginative works of this period. In the chapter on “Pox and Prostitution,” I argue that while satiric texts like Swift’s “A Beautiful Nymph Going to Bed” attack the figure of the “pocky whore,” works like Hogarth’s and Smollett’s invite us to see the infected prostitute as an object of sympathy. Just as the heroine of Hogarth’s series, Moll Hackabout, is an innocent Yorkshire lass lured into prostitution and subsequently abandoned to a painful death from venereal infection, so the character of Miss Williams in Smollett’s Roderick Random speaks eloquently on her plight: forced into prostitution by financial necessity after she is abandoned by her lover, Miss Williams contracts venereal disease after years of mistreatment and abuse by cruel—and in some cases criminal—male clients. Smollett’s novel takes care to identify Miss Williams as the equal of the novel’s hero, Roderick, in her resourcefulness and intelligence. As Roderick himself points out, they differ in their fortunes only because of the greater economic and social opportunities afforded to men.

In relation to the text as a whole, page 99 forwards the book’s aim of using imaginative representations of venereal disease to examine some of the broader cultural anxieties at work in eighteenth-century Britain. I argue that literary and artistic depictions of venereal disease ultimately tell us less about the grim realities of infection (indeed, in some cases, imaginative depictions contrast what we know about the realities of infection), and more about attitudes towards prostitution, masculinity, immigration, globalization, racial and religious difference—all concepts that were strongly associated with venereal disease in the literature and art of this period. Each of the book’s four chapters considers a prominent association around venereal disease, with the first chapter, “Officers and Gentlemen,” exploring how and why venereal disease became connected with elite male power and sexual virility; the second chapter, in which page 99 appears, examines the longstanding relation between infection and prostitution; the third chapter considers the foreignness of “the French disease” (as it was sometimes called); and the fourth and final chapter examines the weird and wonderful cultural life of the disfigured syphilitic nose in eighteenth-century literature and art.
Learn more about Itch, Clap, Pox at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Wendy Pearlman and Boaz Atzili's "Triadic Coercion"

Wendy Pearlman is Martin and Patricia Koldyke Outstanding Teaching Associate Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University. She is the author of Occupied Voices: Stories of Everyday Life from the Second Intifada (2003), Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement (2011), and We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria (2017).

Boaz Atzili is associate professor and director of the Doctoral Studies Program in the School of International Service at American University. He is the author of Good Fences Bad Neighbors: Border Fixity and International Conflict (2012) and coeditor of Territorial Designs and International Politics: Inside-Out and Outside-In (2018).

Pearlman applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Triadic Coercion: Israel’s Targeting of States That Host Nonstate Actors, and reported the following:
States often try to combat challenges from nonstate actors by punishing the states that host those nonstate actors. Boaz Atzili and I call this strategy, which they term triadic coercion. Traditional discussions of interstate conflict assume that the greater a state’s power compared to its opponent, the more it is able to coerce it. Turning that logic on its head, we show that triadic coercion is actually more effective against a strong host state than a weak one because host regimes need internal cohesion and institutional capacity to move against nonstate actors.

In Triadic Coercion: Israel’s Targeting of States That Host Nonstate Actors, we demonstrate this argument by investigating Israel’s use of triadic coercion from 1949 to the present. The first chapter presents our generalizable theory and the second chapter shows how Israel’s use of this strategy took shape in early conflicts with Jordan. The next four chapters explore Israel’s use of triadic coercion against each of its other neighbors: Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority.

Page 99 falls early in the chapter on Syria. It discusses Syria’s profound political instability in the 1950s, a period characterized by class conflict, ideological ferment, successive coups, and rapid turnover of fragile governments, as well as regional competition that played out over and through the Syria state.

This backdrop sets the scene for the Baath Party to seize power in 1963. During the next seven years, Syria would become a key supporter of the incipient Palestinian guerrilla movement. This was due not only to the Baath’s ideology, but also to its regime weakness. Internal factionalism and institutional incapacity drove competing Baath elites to provide Palestinian groups unprecedented support, access, and autonomy. As those groups increased attacks on Israel, Israel carried out intense military strikes on Syria in the demand that it “take responsibility” for securing the border. We show that triadic coercion failed to achieve Israel’s objectives precisely due to the same Syrian regime fragmentation that enabled nonstate actors in the first place.

In previewing these dynamics, Page 99 illustrates our approach and communicates a fundamental lesson: analysis of counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism strategies must give the utmost attention to the domestic political complexities of the entities that they target.
Learn more about Triadic Coercion at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 15, 2019

Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman's "Sounds Like Titanic"

Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman is the author of Sounds Like Titanic: A Memoir. Her recent writing has appeared in McSweeney's, The New York Times Magazine, Brevity and Hippocampus. She holds a BA in Middle Eastern studies and an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and a PhD in English from the University of North Texas. She teaches creative writing at Northern Kentucky University, where she recently won the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award. In her spare time she enjoys cooking (Italian), dancing (Beyoncé), and dreaming up clever Halloween costumes (Large Hadron Particle Collider).

Hindman applied the “Page 99 Test” to Sounds Like Titanic and reported the following:
From page 99:
At some point I realize that the lyrics to The Composer’s musical mention Jesus, even though the Book of Ruth is from the Old Testament. At some point I realize that The Composer has merely played some chords from his keyboard into a sophisticated computer recording system and emailed us an MP3. He has no idea how to write a violin part, which is why he’s asked Harriet and me to do it. The pit violinists of this Christian musical I’m transcribing will never know that The Composer didn’t fully write the music in front of them, couldn’t have if he wanted to. They’ll never know that the violin part was composed by a 23-year-old amateur violinist working for free, and not for love of Jesus but for love of Dolly Parton. Whatever. I want to go to Dollywood. I want to eat something else besides stale bagels and slices of Supreme, which I order from Pepperoni’s because it’s the only way I can think of getting vegetables and protein.
In this section of the book, I am describing what life was like on the God Bless America Tour of 2004. My fellow musicians and I have been stuck at a hotel in rural Georgia for days. We’ve been eating the hotel’s complimentary breakfast and ordering delivery pizza and going stir-crazy. The Composer makes us a deal: If we, his musician employees, transcribe the violin parts for the Christian musical he is working on, he will take us to Dollywood.

This passage offers an example of the ways in which musicians in The Composer’s ensemble found themselves exploited. We completed days of free transcription work, a task that, had we been charging per hour, could have amounted to hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars. And we never made it to Dollywood. It’s a small example of the idea of false promises, which is a larger theme in the book.

Sounds Like Titanic is a nonfiction account of my life as a fake violinist. When I performed with The Composer’s ensemble, the microphones in front of me weren’t plugged in and a CD recording of a far-more-talented violinist was blasted toward unsuspecting audiences. But on a deeper level, the book is about class, gender, geography, mental illness, and American culture in the years immediately following 9/11. It is an investigation between the real and the fake, and what happens when an individual, and the society she lives in, can no longer tell the difference.
Visit Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Katharine Smyth's "All the Lives We Ever Lived"

Katharine Smyth is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY. After graduating magna cum laude from Brown University, she worked as an editorial assistant and researcher at The Paris Review and Radar Magazine. In 2010, she received her MFA in nonfiction from Columbia, where she was awarded a Dean’s Fellowship, the university’s highest merit-based award. Her essays and articles have appeared in The Paris Review, Literary Hub, The Point, DuJour, Poets & Writers, and Domino, among other publications. In October 2014, her essay “Prey” was selected as a Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2014.

Smyth applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf, and reported the following:
I should be honest about the tiny stab of disappointment I felt on first opening my book, All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf, to page 99 to find the tail end of one of my parents’ most vicious fights. The page also includes my response to that fight, which was to distance myself from my beloved, alcoholic father more deliberately than ever before, and concludes with a nighttime scene in which he approaches me shyly, hoping to discuss an essay I was writing on Antonioni—whom he had loved when he was younger—and I banish him downstairs. The page’s final words, “And yet,” gesture toward the pain of doing so: as I write on page 100, “how badly it hurt to send him away like that, evening after evening, terrified, terrified, that we didn’t have much time together, that he would soon be gone.”

It’s not necessarily that the page doesn’t reveal the quality of the book as a whole—though I did revise again and again the moment at which I comfort my mother, worried it was too sentimental (as Virginia Woolf worried of To the Lighthouse)—but rather that my father’s worst acts no longer hold for me the currency they did; that, as I conclude in the following pages, both my loathing and my absolution “feel like stories attached to someone else.” Indeed, page 99 marks a turning point, the moment in the book at which I bid goodbye to the narrative of my parents’ discord and focus instead on more Woolfian themes—loss, grief, homecoming, and the limitations of knowledge, to name a few. And while the scenes that convey my family’s intermittent unhappiness were necessary to the story that I sought to tell—one in which my father, a minor god to me when I was younger, is revealed to be deeply fallible—I far prefer the passages in which I got to write about him as the father I knew best: a man gentle, loving, and kind.
Visit Katharine Smyth's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 11, 2019

Deonnie Moodie's "The Making of a Modern Temple and a Hindu City"

Deonnie Moodie is Assistant Professor of South Asian Religions at University of Oklahoma. Her research has been funded by her home institution as well as by Fulbright and Harvard University, where she earned her PhD. Moodie is especially interested in religion in urban India and the ways people of various class backgrounds negotiate urban spaces as sites of devotion, memory, monumentality, labor, and leisure.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Making of a Modern Temple and a Hindu City: Kalighat and Kolkata, and reported the following:
Page 99 begins the third chapter of The Making of a Modern Temple and a Hindu City and outlines the most recent and accessible modernization projects launched at the Hindu temple, Kālīghāṭ, dedicated to the dark goddess Kālī in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). Upper-middle class city residents have generated public campaigns and public interest lawsuits over the past twenty years in order to clean up the physical space of the temple. Without regard for the formerly all-important issue of purity, they seek to remove beggars, sweep up dirt, and conceal the practice of animal sacrifice. In so doing, they build upon modernization projects launched before them (and that I examine in the previous chapters) – those that worked to bring the temple into the realm of modernist history and make it a symbol of Hindu identity in this former British colonial capital; and those that worked to make this a public temple in the eyes of the law so that it could be managed by public representatives rather than priests.

When I was living in Kolkata conducting fieldwork for this project, it was the efforts to physically cleanse the temple that most captivated me. Men and women were working so hard to make their city better – to make it something they could be proud of, and a place their kids would want to live. But then I began speaking with the priests who work at the temple. They felt that the goddess had empowered them to discern what ought to happen at Kālīghāṭ, and these outsiders were trying chip away at that authority. Then I sat with the beggars who live in the shadow of the temple – women who were born there and had never known another existence. The only means of subsistence to which they had access was being taken away. They want to be proud of their city too, and they want good opportunities for their children, but they also want to eat, and to maintain their close relationships with the goddess. The fourth chapter of the book features their stories.

What emerges is a picture of modern India that is both complex and raw. The modernization of this – among many other temples across India – signifies a deep cultural pride that refuses to give way to a homogenized and sterile version of modernity. Yet it also touches on the deep divisions among the “haves” and “have nots” and between the state and religious authorities in the world’s largest secular democracy.
Learn more about The Making of a Modern Temple and a Hindu City at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Lior B. Sternfeld's "Between Iran and Zion"

Lior B. Sternfeld is Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at Penn State.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Between Iran and Zion: Jewish Histories of Twentieth-Century Iran, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Between Iran and Zion: Jewish Histories of Twentieth-Century Iran ironically takes me back to the beginning of my research. This page presents the bylaws of the Association of Jewish-Iranian Intellectuals (AJII). This association was crucial in building the alliances between the Jewish community and the revolutionary forces before 1979 in Iran. If a reader opened the book in page 99, he could find details about the operation that the Jewish leadership ran with one of Iran's top clerics, Ayatollah Sayyed Mahmud Taleqani. In this operation, the Jewish Dr. Sapir hospital in Tehran, together with Taleqani, had rescue teams that roamed in the city during demonstrations and picked up wounded protesters so they will not have to be taken to the other state hospitals in the city. The state hospitals had to turn in protesters to the hands of the notorious secret police, the SAVAK.

I think that this page gives a good idea of what the book is about. We do not tend to think about the Jews in Iran in the second half of the twentieth century as a minority with any political agency, let alone in revolutionary movements. The chapter on the revolution (in which page 99 is found) tells the story of the second and third generation of politicized Jewish communities. Communities that sought and embraced multiple identities and allegiances that did not interfere with each other, but instead complemented one another. Iranian Jews saw themselves as Iranians, and at the same time could be nationalists, communists, and even Zionists. All depends on the context of any given situation and various interpretations of each concept and a highly nuanced manner.
Learn more about Between Iran and Zion at the Stanford University Press website.

Writers Read: Lior Sternfeld.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Jack Kelly's "The Edge of Anarchy"

Jack Kelly is a journalist, historian, and one-time screenwriter. His latest book The Edge of Anarchy: The Railroad Barons, the Gilded Age, and the Greatest Labor Uprising in America was praised by the New York Times as “timely and urgent ... a thrilling description of the boycott of Pullman cars and equipment by Eugene Debs’s fledgling American Railway Union.

Kelly applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Edge of Anarchy and reported the following:
The Edge of Anarchy is the story of the largest and wildest labor uprising in American history. In 1894, hundreds of thousands of railroad workers shut down virtually all commerce in the country in order to pressure George Pullman to address the demands of the workers in his rail car factory. The workers were led by Eugene V. Debs, one of the most dynamic labor leaders in the country’s history and president of the huge American Railway Union.

Page 99 relates the “blistering six-hour debate” that erupted during the union’s convention on the eve of the strike. One of the main issues on the agenda was whether to admit African American members to the union. Pullman operated sleeping cars on rail lines and hired black workers to serve as porters, essentially servants for the passengers. If these men joined with the other railroad workers, it would give the union much more clout.

Debs, a strong advocate of the solidarity of all workers, pleaded that “if we do not admit the colored man to membership, the fact will be used against us.”

But it was not to be. One man rose to say he “would not ‘brother’ the negro under any circumstances.” By two votes, the delegates refused to admit black members.

This incident, although not a central theme of the book, is an excellent example of how the race issue forms an underground current through so many aspects of our history. By rejecting blacks, the white rail workers helped defeat their own cause—a pattern that recurred again and again during the later history of the labor movement.

The book mentions how it took another forty years for black workers to form their own union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and win recognition from the Pullman Company. The leader of that union, an admirer of Debs, was A. Philip Randolph, who became an important figure in the civil rights movement.
Learn more about the book and author at Jack Kelly's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Edge of Anarchy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Edward Humes's "Burned"

Edward Humes is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author whose books include Garbology, Mississippi Mud, and the PEN Award-winning No Matter How Loud I Shout.

Humes applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Burned: A Story of Murder and the Crime That Wasn’t, and reported the following:
Burned moves back and forth in time from the present day at the California Innocence Project, where Raquel Cohen labors to free Jo Ann Parks through new discoveries in the field of fire science and arson investigation, to 1989-1993, when Jo Ann Parks’ home in Bell, California, burned, her three children died, and she was convicted of their murder.

Page 99 of Burned is part of a deep dive into Cohen’s past, her fears, and her motivations as an innocence lawyer. Captured on page 99 is a scene depicting Cohen’s review of grisly police photos of the Parks home after it was devastated by fire, which leads her to reflect on some uncomfortable parallels between her and Parks’ lives:
She made notes of photos she wanted her expert to examine closely. And then came photo “AA029.jpg.”

Cohen froze, at first not quite sure what she was seeing. The fire had distorted the form and coloration of the subject of the photo, which showed a portion of a fire-ravaged kid’s bedroom. Then the charred objects at the center of the photo resolved into something recognizable and Cohen recoiled. She had stumbled on a photo of one of the dead little girls, RoAnn, sprawled across her burned twin-sized bed. And this battle-tested lawyer, who blithely marches into the nation’s most dangerous prisons to interview convicted killers, who faces off with seasoned prosecutors and cops with far more experience and resources at their disposal, had to fumble to clear the screen and flee the room—anything to avoid looking at any of more of those images of Parks’s dead children.

She would try very hard never to look at them again. And she would have nightmares for weeks about seeing the one.

That’s when Cohen started to realize People v. Parks might differ from her other cases. There were several reasons for this. There was her own family history and its slight parallels with Parks’s, in the form of a disappointing and dysfunctional father figure. Cohen’s biological father had been an alcoholic and an abuser who left the household when Cohen was five. In the years that followed he would regularly promise to visit, or to attend one of his daughter’s gymnastic competitions. And each time, she’d wait, looking through the window for his car to pull in the driveway, or craning her neck in some gymnasium, peering over the crowd to see if she could spot her dad in the stands. Almost every time, he disappointed her. Only later did she learn that he had lived just two long Vegas blocks from the family for five years, yet he never let them know, never came by. His final act, after announcing to a sixteen-year-old Raquel that he was dying of cancer and promising a lavish inheritance for her and her two brothers, was to leave behind an old wallet with five dollars inside, to be split three ways.
Learn more about the book and author at Edward Humes's website.

My Book, The Movie: Burned.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Alexandra Natapoff's "Punishment Without Crime"

Alexandra Natapoff is Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, and a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal, and reported the following:
Every year, 13 million misdemeanor cases are filed across the United States. Although those cases make up 80 percent of the American criminal system, we pay shockingly little attention to them. Typically written off as “minor” and “petty,” misdemeanors actually have very serious consequences, both for the individuals who encounter the petty offense process, and for the integrity of the entire justice apparatus. Punishment Without Crime analyzes the full scope and influence of that enormous misdemeanor machinery.

For example, the misdemeanor system does not always work the way it should. Thousands of defendants are rushed through a legal process that puts heavy pressure on them to plead guilty. Sometimes defendants cannot afford to pay bail and so they plead guilty simply in order to get out of jail. Misdemeanor defendants also routinely do not get lawyers. When they do, public defenders are often overwhelmed with hundreds of cases and therefore cannot investigate or litigate meaningfully on behalf of their clients. As a result, many people accept minor convictions without challenging the evidence, exercising their legal rights, or understanding the full consequences of their decisions.

Page 99 of Punishment Without Crime is part of the chapter entitled “Innocence,” which explains in detail how this fast and sloppy process naturally generates wrongful convictions. On page 99, for example, a New York public defender describes how innocent misdemeanor defendants often plead guilty. “[I have] a disgraceful number of innocent clients,” he says. His clients are innocent because misdemeanor arrests and minor criminal charges can too easily be triggered by unreliable evidence—a flawed drug test, for example, or an arrest that lacks probable cause. All too often, that evidence will never be checked for accuracy. Defendants can thus experience strong pressure to plead guilty to crimes they may not have actually committed. Because such dynamics are common, misdemeanor wrongful convictions probably occur thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of times every year.
Visit Alexandra Natapoff's website.

The Page 99 Test: Snitching.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sheri Berman's "Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe"

Sheri Berman is Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University. She has written extensively on democracy, authoritarianism, populism, fascism, the history of the left, and European politics for both scholarly and non-scholarly publications.

Berman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Régime to the Present Day, and reported the following:
Page 99 in Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe in right in the middle of a chapter on the 1848 “wave”: during the “springtime of the peoples”—as this year was called—citizens across Europe rose up against dictatorships. This wave was initially at least remarkably successful, toppling what seem to be even the sturdiest dictatorships in places like Prussia and the Austrian Empire. Yet within a year or so, all the liberalizing and democratizing experiments had been crushed, and dictatorships were back on place. Why did this wave succeed and then fail so spectacularly? This is the type of question Democracy and Dictatorship seeks to answer.

At the end of the twentieth century, many believed the story of European political development had come to an end. Modern democracy began in Europe, but for hundreds of years it competed with various forms of dictatorship. Now, though, the entire continent was in the democratic camp for the first time in history. But within a decade, this story had already begun to unravel. Some of the continent's newer democracies slid back towards dictatorship, while citizens in many of its older democracies began questioning democracy's functioning and even its legitimacy. And of course it is not merely in Europe where democracy is under siege. Across the globe the immense optimism accompanying the post-Cold War democratic wave has been replaced by pessimism. Many new democracies in Latin America, Africa, and Asia began "backsliding," while the Arab Spring quickly turned into the Arab winter. The victory of Donald Trump led many to wonder if it represented a threat to the future of liberal democracy in the United States. Indeed, it is increasingly common today for leaders, intellectuals, commentators and others to claim that rather than democracy, some form dictatorship or illiberal democracy is the wave of the future.

Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe traces the long history of democracy in its cradle, Europe. It shows that in fact, just about every democratic wave in Europe initially failed, either collapsing in upon itself or succumbing to the forces of reaction. Yet even when democratic waves failed, there were always some achievements that lasted. Even the most virulently reactionary regimes could not suppress every element of democratic progress. Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe takes readers through two centuries of turmoil: revolution, fascism, civil war, and—finally--the emergence of liberal democratic Europe in the postwar era. A magisterial retelling of modern European political history, Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe not only explains how democracy actually develops, but how we should interpret the current wave of illiberalism sweeping Europe and the rest of the world.
Learn more about Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 1, 2019

Dian Fox's "Hercules and the King of Portugal"

Dian Fox is a professor emerita of Hispanic studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Brandeis University. She is the author of Refiguring the Hero: From Peasant to Noble in Lope de Vega and Calderón and Kings in Calderón: A Study in Characterization and Political Theory.

Fox applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Hercules and the King of Portugal: Icons of Masculinity and Nation in Calderón’s Spain, and reported the following:
From antiquity, Hercules was considered a native son on the Iberian Peninsula. Traditionally, two of his Twelve Labors took place there; he expelled tyrants; and he founded Seville and Barcelona, among other cities. His statues, architecture, and other symbolism abounded (and still do). He signified Christ in medieval church friezes and sermons. In the Renaissance, with imperial Spain at the height of power, voices of authority conscripted the “Hispanic Hercules” to represent Spanish nationhood, the Hapsburg monarchs even claiming descent from him.

But there was a problem with this commanding figure so deeply embedded in the cultural landscape: although a hero, Hercules was also a wild man. His myths express his extreme masculinity, with violence, indiscriminate sexual energy, and sometimes hostility to mother-figures. The challenge to elite articulators of nationhood was how to tame Hercules’s image in support of elite control. His stories needed to teach the right lessons to Spanish subjects, how men and women should behave to uphold and perpetuate hierarchy. The flourishing court and public theater was a crucial medium for such messaging.

Page 99 begins with the English translation of a princess’s command, in Pedro Calderón’s 1672 Love Feminizes Beasts. Staged before Charles, ten-year-old heir to the Spanish throne, and based on the myth of Omphale, the play schools Hercules on proper manliness by cross-dressing him.

Here, although misbehaving in other ways, Hercules’s great transgression is hating women. Venus and Cupid take revenge by making him fall madly in love with the princess, who despises him and dresses him in women’s clothes. Shamed, he vows to mend his ways. (Among other great deeds, the chastened hero will go on to father 72 children and eventually ascend to heaven.) The moral of the story for the young royal in the audience: non-reproduction threatens hierarchy and the state.

Spanish theater discerns a similar lesson from the fate of King Sebastian of Portugal (1554-78). His aversion to women and escape from matrimony got him killed invading Morocco, resulting in Portugal’s loss of sovereignty to Spain until 1640. Cultural voices on the Iberian Peninsula and in Brazil are still wrestling with the implications of Sebastian’s behavior.

And certainly, interrelationships between public “performances” of manliness and political power are hardly irrelevant to our lives today.

Below is most of page 99. English prose translations of passages from the Fieras afemina Amor (Love Feminizes Beasts) appear in parentheses, which is my practice throughout the book, because I want it to reach a wide audience while still respecting the original texts. Because early modern Spanish drama is composed in verse, line numbers are included.
(You take away that hammer, while I cinch this spindle to him; and now the three of you arrange his unkempt mop of hair with ribbons in grubby braids.) (3988–94)
Upon awakening, Hércules is put on display incrementally: he is again shown himself in the mirror; then despite his sobs and pleas, his army is summoned to see him; and finally, his metamorphosis becomes a spectacle for all of Libya to behold. Aristeo exclaims, “¿Hércules postrado en tierra / con viles armas llorando?” (Hércules prostrate on the ground, with vile arms and weeping?) (4061–62). The hypermasculine hero, now feminized, begs for mercy, weeps, and flees. When the pursuing crowd calls for his death, Calíope and the other Muses come to his defense in order to bring on his anagnorisis: “queremos / que viva para que sienta” (we want him to live, so that he can be sorry) (4105–6). At the behest of Venus and Cupido, Hércules is captured and caged in a cart so that
en fantástica apariencia
se deje mirar triunfante,
bien como le representan
ya pinceles y ya plumas.

(in his fantastic appearance he will be triumphantly displayed, just as paintbrushes and pens represent him.) (4117–20)
Learn more about Hercules and the King of Portugal at the University of Nebraska Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue