Thursday, April 30, 2020

Sopan Deb's "Missed Translations"

Sopan Deb is a writer for The New York Times, as well as a New York City-based stand up comedian. Before joining the Times, Deb was one of a handful of reporters who covered Donald Trump's presidential campaign from start to finish as a campaign embed for CBS News. He covered hundreds of rallies in more than 40 states for a year and a half and was named a “breakout media star” of the election by Politico.

Deb applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new memoir, Missed Translations: Meeting the Immigrant Parents Who Raised Me, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Shyamal's apartment had a small sunroom off the living room filled with an array of potted plants, with other greenery peering in through floor-to-ceiling windows, not unlike the porch at Bishakha's. Shyamal's had a livelier view, though. There was the constant stream of tuk-tuks, cyclists, and foot traffic, but the pitter-patter of the rain against the windows made it sound almost peaceful.
The test sort of works for my page 99. Missed Translations tracks a year of my life as I try to reconnect with my estranged South Asian parents, who had divorced after a three-decade long toxic arranged marriage. My father, Shyamal, as I found in the course of this journey, was living in Kolkata, while my mother, Bishakha, was in suburban New Jersey. My mother, whom I hadn't seen in four years, lived in an apartment seemingly bereft of life. There were no pictures on the walls, very little in terms of decorations. Without the existence of some rundown furniture, it would not have been clear someone lived in the apartment. My father, who had unexpectedly moved to India more than a decade prior, had rebuilt his life - and it showed in his apartment. Plants. Paintings all over. In many ways, Shyamal's reflected a livelier view - both metaphorically and physically.

But as I found in the course of this journey, whether my parents had decorations hanging on the walls or not, they were both fundamentally empty - alone on opposites of the globe. This journey was my attempt to change that. On some fronts, I was successful. In others, we are a work in progress.
Follow Sopan Deb on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Lis Wiehl's "Hunting the Unabomber"

Lis Wiehl is the former legal analyst for Fox News and the O’Reilly Factor, and has appeared regularly on Your World with Neil Cavuto, Lou Dobbs Tonight, and the Imus morning shows. The former co-host of WOR radio's WOR Tonight with Joe Concha and Lis Wiehl, she has served as legal analyst and reporter for NBC News and NPR’s All Things Considered, as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s office, and was a tenured professor of law at the University of Washington. She appears frequently on CNN as a legal analyst. She lives near New York City.

Wiehl applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Hunting the Unabomber: The FBI, Ted Kaczynski, and the Capture of America's Most Notorious Domestic Terrorist, and reported the following:
Of the hundreds of pages in Hunting the Unabomber, it turns out that page 99 contains the single most significant decision in the dramatic history the book recounts. If that decision had gone another way, then the Unabomber might never have been caught – and this book wouldn’t exist.

The hunt for the Unabomber remains the longest running and most expensive investigation in FBI history. Ted Kaczynski managed to elude detection for nearly two decades, carrying out his reign of terror from a remote cabin in the woods of Montana.

His nearly two-decade spree began in Chicago in May 1975. Nine years and ten attacks later, investigators were still in the dark as to the identity of this serial bomber. In 1987, an eyewitness claimed to have seen the man who had left a deadly package in the parking lot of a computer store in Salt Lake City, Utah, and she was able to provide investigators with their first hard clue. The woman’s description led to the infamous sketch of a hooded man with aviator sunglasses, and breathed new life into the stalled investigation.

But, by 1993, the team of investigators “was no closer to arresting someone than they were six years earlier” -- when the Unabomber sketch had been released to the public. The lack of any real progress in the case prompted some at FBI headquarters to question whether the bureau should continue the investigation. “There was speculation that the Unabomber might never resurface either because he was no longer alive, or he had been arrested or was incarcerated for some other crime.”

Then, in December, FBI Agent Patrick Webb, who had been at the center of the investigation, was asked to organize a UNABOM conference in San Francisco. At that conference, Webb and others working the case learned that headquarters intended to shut down the investigation. But Webb would have none of it.

The entire premise of this book is to go behind the headlines and tell the real story about what it really took to unmask and apprehend the Unabomber. Page 99 concerns the pivotal moment in the case when a decision to disband the FBI’s efforts to catch this serial bomber had been made at the top (at headquarters in D.C.) yet, was turned around by a handful of heretofore unnamed agents in San Francisco, who had been valiantly working the case and who believed this killer would strike again.
Visit Lis Wiehl's website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Gerardo Martí's "American Blindspot"

Gerardo Martí is L. Richardson King Professor of Sociology at Davidson College. Active in several research collaborations, he publishes broadly on religion and social change. His book, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity, was awarded the 2015 Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Martí applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Blindspot: Race, Class, Religion, and the Trump Presidency, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test on American Blindspot does not encapsulate its broader message, a narrative that traces the long trajectory of profound sociological support for the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Yet the chapter where the page is found, titled “A ‘True American’ Identity”, recounts the crucial history of restrictive immigration policies in the United States, and how nativist assumptions have always guided the criteria by which only certain ethnoracial groups would forever be favored as qualifying to become truly American. Indeed, among the many enthusiastic supporters of the Trump presidency lies a profound conviction that America needs to be protected from dangerous foreign invaders who threaten “our” way of life, “our” religion, and, perhaps most essentially, “our” safety.

The last line of page 99 says, “The implications of granting legitimacy to persons as white, and therefore more truly American, has always translated into various programs for employment, ownership of property, eligibility for loans, access to business capital, and other economic opportunities.” The evidence for allocating privilege to those deemed as “white” is overwhelming. Not only were Africans in America, whether during enslavement or later after becoming freed persons, continually excluded and oppressed, but also the many other groups like indigenous Indian nations whose lands were taken, indigenous Mexican Americans who occupied lands after the Mexican-American War, Asian migrants from China, Japan, and other countries denied citizenship and actively deported, the Irish Catholics demonized, and the Southern and Eastern Europeans who, migrating in large waves toward the turn of the Twentieth century, ultimately provoked the most sweeping immigration restriction acts in American history.

From the very beginnings of the American republic, there arose a belief that Americans were a type of new race, a new people that combined the best qualities of the initial European countries that colonized the land, including British, Dutch, French, and German settlers. The prosperity of America would rest on the land being populated with this strong emerging race of civilized and hard-working people, and they would most assuredly be white people. So while this new race—what one famous writer called “the new man”—was ambiguously defined, it always assumed that this new American race was “white.” This racialized assumption of what constituted a “true American” reverberated through the rest of the country’s history, with economic opportunities and political power being allotted along racial lines.

In the broader narrative, American Blindspot reveals the existence, development, and consequences in the United States of racialized and religiously inflected economic and political power. By providing a longer historic context for the Trump presidency, the book draws together race, class, and religious dynamics because they are critical—yet often misunderstood—dynamics implicit to our current political climate.
Learn more about American Blindspot at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Marie Mutsuki Mockett's "American Harvest"

Marie Mutsuki Mockett is the author of a novel, Picking Bones from Ash, and a memoir, Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye, which was a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, American Harvest: God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland, and reported the following:
Page 99 of American Harvest depicts the one time I visit a mega-church while on the road. The book details a five month long road trip I took with a group of custom harvesters who cut wheat in America, beginning in Texas and continuing to Idaho. The harvesters are Christians who attend church each Sunday--I go with them. And on page 99, the character Juston has suggested we go to a mega-church in Oklahoma which has long intrigued him. I'm curious about anything and everything that makes up the world of the harvesters, and so I go too. We've missed the in person appearance of Pastor Craig, who has numerous franchises around the country; as a result of this, his sermons are always recorded so they can be beamed into the sanctuaries of the branches of his church. On page 99, we are getting the heart of his message that day, just before he does his rapid fire closing speech to get us to be part of his congregation.

I can't say that this page encapsulates the book; it is a small part of the book's experience. It is true that a big part of the book is in trying to understand what evangelical Christianity is--and what it is in America--and if anything about this experience is valid. But while that is one question the book asks, it's really only one facet of a much larger lens. So, no. I don't think it's a great idea to turn to page 99. But I also don't think this page could have been excised, because the mega-church is an American cultural phenomenon and it would not be appropriate to talk about Christianity in the US without at least mentioning mega-churches and how they function and what they do and why people go.

The driving question behind American Harvest was: why do my friends in the city who want to eat organic food also believe in evolution, while conservative Christians believe in Creationism and farm GMOs? When I put this question to the main character, Eric, who is a farmer and a Christian, he told me my question was really about the divide in America. So while I set out on the road to look at farming, God, atheism and US history, I was asking broader questions about the divide. And I was also asking if it was possible, through conversation, to bridge that divide. We have numerous tough conversations in the book that address the concept of the divide pretty head on. And those conversations, I think, are the driving force behind the book. But it's also just a great road trip through some beautiful country filled with coyotes and cowboys and tornados and resplendent sunsets and men who make deadly machines work for our benefit.
Visit Marie Mutsuki Mockett's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's "Pop Star Goddesses"

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is the New York Times bestselling author of Seinfeldia: The Secret World of the Show About Nothing that Changed Everything; a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted; and Sex and the City and Us: How Four Single Women Changed the Way We Think, Live, and Love. She spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly and has since written for many publications, including BBC Culture, The New York Times Book Review, Fast Company, Vulture, and Billboard. She also speaks about pop culture history and creativity.

Armstrong applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Pop Star Goddesses: And How to Tap Into Their Energies to Invoke Your Best Self, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Pop Star Goddesses comes in the middle of my essay about “goddess” Gwen Stefani. In fact, it’s a critical point in the essay that summarizes what’s to come and lays out the case for Gwen’s goddesshood, pointing out her contrasting qualities:
She represents the ultimate girly girl who has spent her career hanging with the boys in her band; she’s sometimes a rock star with a pop accessibility, other times a pop star with a rock edge. She wrote and sang the feminist pop anthem (or as close as we could get to one on mainstream radio in 1995) ‘Just a Girl’ and has rarely been without a steady, high-profile man throughout her adult life in the spotlight. She symbolizes female empowerment, though she has never hidden her adherence to some of the conservative values of Orange County, California, where she grew up—her lyrics long for a settled-down, American Dream life with a husband and kids.
This provides a great snapshot of the book, which explores 35 “pop star goddesses” in terms of what their careers and public narratives represent to fans. It aims to be substantive and smart, but also fun, which comes across here. I chose the goddesses carefully, looking for artists with not only catchy hit songs but also unique narratives that resonate with fans. The concept of the book was born of the fact that we regard our female pop stars very much like traditional goddesses: We want to emulate their strengths, and we look to their stories to find inspiration in our own hardships. I named Gwen the Goddess of Following Your Muse because she has consistently defied expectations of what she should be doing, saying, and believing. Just because she has a rock-tinged style doesn’t mean she has to be a rebel. Just because she wrote a feminist song doesn’t mean she can’t long for a husband and kids.

Like the most powerful goddesses—pop star goddesses and traditional goddesses—Gwen has also found her strength through her worst public trials, which included the breakup of her widely admired marriage to fellow Rockstar Gavin Rossdale. This echoes other such trials endured by fellow goddesses Adele, Ariana Grande, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Demi Lovato, Jennifer Lopez, Kesha, Mariah Carey, Miranda Lambert, Rihanna, and Taylor Swift. And like the greatest of the goddesses, Gwen has survived the business for 25-plus years, a true testament to goddesshood.
Visit Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 23, 2020

John G. Turner's "They Knew They Were Pilgrims"

John G. Turner is professor of religious studies at George Mason University and the award-winning author of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty, and reported the following:
On page 99, I narrate the aftermath of a massacre, in which the Pilgrims treacherously murdered the pnieses Wituwamat and Pecksuot near a small English colony on Massachusetts Bay. In all, the Pilgrims, led by their military captain Miles Standish, killed six Native men. Afterwards, the Pilgrims knew they would face recriminations for their actions, prompting Mayflower passenger Edward Winslow to prepare a defense for publication in England.

Here’s a taste:
Standish and his company sailed their shallop back to Plymouth, where the settlers placed Wituwamat’s head on top of their fort. William Bradford explained that the severed head served ‘for a terror unto others.’ The decapitation and display were conventional English punishments for traitors, vile criminals, and military enemies. Within a culture of violent punishment, what the Pilgrims did was brutal but in many respects unexceptional.
As it turns out, this test works very well for my book. One of my goals is to write an unvarnished history of Plymouth Colony, one that does not lionize the Pilgrims as saints but also does not impugn them as sinners. In this chapter, the Pilgrims find themselves confused by Native politics and relationships that they understand very dimly. Readers should recognize their very human fears. At the same time, they clearly wanted to establish themselves as the foremost military power in the region and were glad that their operation terrorized other Natives.

This episode gives readers a fair taste of what the book is about and the style in which I’ve written They Knew They Were Pilgrims. My expectation is that readers will find many of the narrative episodes in this book compelling. Most readers do not know much about the history of Plymouth Colony after the “First Thanksgiving.” Elsewhere they’ll read about other conflicts between English and Natives, and they’ll also read about contentious debates within Plymouth Colony about both religious and political liberty. I want to help readers approach seventeenth-century history on its own terms, to think through what liberty meant to various groups of English settlers, to reckon with the reality of servitude and slavery, and to imagine themselves alongside parents who grieved an infant’s death or rejoiced at their child’s baptism.
Visit John G. Turner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Margaret K. Nelson's "Like Family: Narratives of Fictive Kinship"

Margaret K. Nelson is the A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Sociology Emerita at Middlebury College in Vermont. She is the author of Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times and the co-author, with Rosanna Hertz, of Random Families: Genetic Strangers, Sperm Donor Siblings, and the Creation of New Kin.

Nelson applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Like Family: Narratives of Fictive Kinship, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the last of five pages of introduction to a type of fictive kin relationships examined in this book. Page 99 finishes the characterization of relationships between what I call “unofficial children” and “informal parents” – better understood as relationships between children who have their own parents but spend much of their time (and sometimes live) with people who are not their parents. On this page I make three points: a) that these relationships “involve adults and children who live in different social class settings when they first meet; b) That “[m]any of these relationships cross lines of race/ethnicity as well”; and c) that “relationships between informal parents and unofficial children have the most uncertain and varied trajectories of the three sets of fictive-kin relationships.”

I don’t like to think that this page is a good representation of my book. It only deals with one type of fictive kinship. The other two I examine are relationships between peers or “like sibling” relationships and short-term relationships between “guest children” and “host families.” Even more unfortunately, the tendentious and boring parts of the book are found in its various introductory materials (as on page 99) where I categorize and explain these relationships rather than in the case studies where these relationships come to life.

I fear a reader who started here would put the book down without moving on to the next page. On that next page, a young woman with the pseudonym Nicole Evans tells her story. That story begins when she was a young girl, and a wealthy couple stepped in both to “save” her from negligent care and to offer her advantages well beyond those her parents could ensure. The chapter then explores Nicole’s deep ambivalence about being “rescued” in this way. In the following chapter, Nicole’s “informal parents” – whom I call the Nowaks – describe their own understanding of their complex relationship with Nicole. There’s lots to intrigue a casual reader in the description of the dynamic interactions between Nicole and the Nowaks.

Although many scholars have assumed that only marginal peoples engage in relationships in which they treat people who are not family members as if they were family, I argue that these kinds of relationships can be found among the white, middle class as well. The book provides ample evidence for this argument, in the examples among the seventy-five people I interviewed and in my reanalysis of other studies. In my conclusion I discuss how insights into relationships in which people think of each other as being “like family” help us understand the meaning and significance of kinship within a broad swath of the U.S. population.
Learn more about Like Family at the Rutgers University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Parenting Out of Control.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Feisal G. Mohamed's "Sovereignty"

Feisal G. Mohamed is Professor of English at The Graduate Center, CUNY, where he also serves as coordinator of The Program in Global Early Modern Studies. His previous books include In the Anteroom of Divinity: The Reformation of the Angels from Colet to Milton (2008) and Milton and the Post-secular Present: Ethics, Politics, Terrorism (2011). He is a past recipient of a Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellowship, which provided second-discipline training in law.

Mohamed applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sovereignty: Seventeenth-Century England and the Making of the Modern Political Imaginary, and reported the following:
As it happens, page 99 does reveal a thing or two about Sovereignty, even if it also thrusts us into the middle of details requiring some explanation. Here I point to the First Earl of Bridgewater’s worries about the future of the court over which he presided, that of the Council in the Marches of Wales. The court was wrangling over jurisdiction with the ecclesiastical courts and the common law courts, and the four English counties of the Marches were clamoring to be removed from the Council’s jurisdiction altogether. More generally, because the Council was a prerogative court, like Yorkshire’s Council in the North, it was seen as over-extending the crown’s powers in a way impinging upon the liberty of the subject. All of this meant that Egerton feared losing the bulk of the court’s revenue, leaving him unable to maintain Ludlow Castle.

We have never recognized this as an important context for John Milton’s Maske, which Egerton commissions to celebrate his installation and which is first performed at Ludlow Castle in 1633. Milton is celebrating a somewhat embattled judge, and at the same time can be seen as defending a controversial branch of royal prerogative. That is especially surprising in that we often view Milton through the lens of his later anti-Stuart sentiment, so visible in his defenses of the regicide and the English republic established in its wake.

Re-evaluating Milton’s political engagements contributes to one of the major themes the book, which aims to decenter the royalist-republican divide from analyses of the period’s political culture and to emphasize instead the question of sovereignty: over his career, Milton’s affinity for unitary sovereignty could attach itself to the crown, to Parliament, or to Oliver Cromwell in his role as Lord Protector. In its theoretical moments, the book argues that unitary sovereignty is one of the basic postures of modern political thought.

Below is the main text of the page. I do hope that Ford Madox Ford would have been moved to turn to page 100.
Adding to Egerton’s headaches on the status of his Council was its association with the Council in the North, led by the not-yet notorious Thomas Wentworth, later Earl of Strafford. Egerton recognized that his fate was shackled to that of his counterpart in Yorkshire, who enjoyed little popularity. In a letter of 1633, he complains to Strafford that a litigant in Star Chamber had “cast out words of disrespect” toward the Council in the North, and makes clear his fear that he might “receive prejudice by being ... wounded through [Wentworth’s] sides.” Resentment of the two councils did not abate, and objectors seized the opportunity to eliminate them with the advent of the Long Parliament in 1640, led by MPs from the four English counties under the jurisdiction of the Council in the Marches. Parliament considered the fate of the two Councils alongside that of Star Chamber. All of these, the argument ran, denied freeborn Englishmen the right of access to common law courts. And the two Councils in particular rankled as the kind of obtrusive exercise of royal prerogative to which Charles was prone.

But the fate of the Councils in the Long Parliament is a later development. The moment with which we are concerned is that of the performance of Milton’s masque, roughly two years after Egerton is appointed president of the Council in the Marches. Even at this earlier juncture, Egerton was cognizant of the precarious position of his Council. Mixed in with papers from the first year of his tenure as president are detailed demonstrations of the Council’s jurisdiction over the four English counties. A 1632 letter from Charles suggests that the king was not insensitive to Egerton’s plight, and that he was willing to press for the jurisdiction of the Council.
Learn more about Sovereignty at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 20, 2020

David Martin Jones's "History’s Fools"

David Martin Jones is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Queensland, and Visiting Professor in War Studies, King's College London. His works include Sacred Violence: Political Religion in a Secular Age. He is a contributor to The Daily Telegraph, War on the Rocks, The Australian and The Spectator (Australia).

Jones applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, History's Fools: The Pursuit of Idealism and the Revenge of Politics, and reported the following:
Page 99 of History’s Fools discusses the growing tension between US and European approaches to just war, international law and multilateral institutions after 9/11 and particularly after the Iraq War (2003). It observes that a hitherto neglected unilateralist tradition in United States’ foreign policy reasserted itself after 2001. It clashed with the dominant liberal or Wilsonian approach to foreign policy during and after the Cold War that promoted international institutions, liberal norms and human rights to advance an enlightened conception of both the national interest and the global order. This liberal tradition accommodated and endorsed the evolving European Union approach to international affairs, as that federation came to define itself after 1993. This liberal institutional perspective, premised on the need for negotiated consensus before resolutions could be passed, or actions taken, morphed in the last decade of the twentieth century, into an idealist practice to advance universal norms and international law.

This page captures a dominant theme in the book, namely how a progressive worldview transformed politics, economics and international relations after 1990. This evolving orthodoxy assumed that history was driven, by the West, in a coherent direction where ideological conflict abated and liberal democracy constituted the best possible solution to the human problem. History had ended with the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and a new world order founded on liberal secularism, economic globalization and international law would regulate an increasingly borderless and enlightened secular future. Or so it seemed.

Thirty years later, this progressive vision, premised on shared norms, open markets, open borders and an abstract commitment to social justice lay in tatters. The post-historical order that lay before us, lay like a land of dreams, mutated after 2016 into a darkling plain where an exhausted West struggled to contend with ignorant armies and new geopolitical forces clashing by night.

History’s Fools examines the economic preconditions of this idealist vision, its political and international lineaments and the challenges in the form of new political religions and financial crises that it dismissed, but which ultimately undermined it. It also considers the resources the West might have to revive in order to live with particularism and contingency in a new age of anxiety.
Visit David Martin Jones's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Scott Newstok's "How to Think like Shakespeare"

Scott Newstok is professor of English and founding director of the Pearce Shakespeare Endowment at Rhodes College. A parent and an award-winning teacher, he is the author of Quoting Death in Early Modern England and the editor of several other books. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee.

Newstok applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, How to Think like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Religious instruction was often staged in the form of a catechism: Make questions and by them answer. Think of Falstaff ’s skeptical turn on “honor,” rephrased here in a Q&A:
Q. Can honor set to a leg?

A. No.

Q. Or an arm?

A. No.

Q. Or take away the grief of a wound?

A. No.

Q. Honor hath no skill in surgery then?

A. No.

Q. What is honor?

A. A word.

Q. What is in that word, “honor” What is that honor?

A. Air. A trim reckoning!

Q. Who hath it?

A. He that died o’Wednesday.

Q. Doth he feel it?

A. No.

Q. Doth he hear it?

A. No.

Q. ’Tis insensible, then?

A. Yea, to the dead.

Q. But will it not live with the living?

A. No.

Q. Why?

A. Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I’ll none of it. Honor is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism.
Our internal dialogue—our conscience (“thinking with”)—is rhetorical too, according to Isocrates:
The same arguments which we use in persuading others when we speak in public, we employ also when we deliberate in our own thoughts; and while we call eloquent those who are able to speak before a crowd, we regard as sage those who most skilfully debate their problems in their own minds.
A good motto for this period would be Erasmus’s audacious modification of the opening words of the Gospel of John: In principio erat sermo.
Page 99 comes from my short—deliberately short—chapter on “Conversation.” I open with Emerson’s assertion that Conversation is the laboratory and workshop of the student, then examine how deeply Shakespeare’s education was suffused with dialogue—and how ours should be, too.

In a book thick with quick, brief quotations, this page reproduces a comparatively long passage from Falstaff’s dialogue with himself. So it’s not characteristic; more typical would be a flurry of some dozen different authors cited in that same space. Throughout, I’ve stitched together an almost endless collection of scattered thoughts and observations into a kind of patchwork, or cento, of passages that have inspired me. Be forewarned: quotations come “swift as thought,” as Homer used to say. I do this precisely because thinking like Shakespeare means thinking with each other’s / harvest. And I’m eager for this eclectic chorus of voices to be the cause that wit is in other[s] (to cite Falstaff again!).
Visit Scott Newstok's website and learn more about How to Think like Shakespeare at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 17, 2020

Morris Ardoin's "Stone Motel"

Morris Ardoin earned a bachelor’s in journalism from Louisiana State University and a master’s in communication from the University of Louisiana. A public relations practitioner, his work has appeared in regional, national, and international media. He divides his time between New York City and Cornwallville, New York, where he does most of his writing.

Ardoin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Stone Motel: Memoirs of a Cajun Boy, and reported the following:
Sweet and Sour

I had a chuckle when I turned to page 99 to see what it would indicate for this test, fully expecting something random and not terribly indicative of what’s in the book. But in fact the page seems a pretty perfect way to get browsers right into the story – telling of a typical summer afternoon of my childhood in the 1970s growing up at a roadside motel in rural Louisiana, and neatly mentioning the four key characters of the book. While the page gives the flavor of the innocence and clumsiness of adolescence, it also reinforces the central theme of my memoir: memories can be sweet, but they can also be marred by things perfectly sour.

Here’s what’s on Page 99:
I mounted the big bike, crunching the grocery bag closed against the right side of the handlebar. Down the road twenty or so yards in the opposite direction of home stood the little yellow and white Catholic church, built in the footprint of a large cross. On Sundays, the white parishioners sat in the long nave; the black parishioners sat in the two little sections that straddled the altar and made up the crosspiece.

Parked in the grass near the church parking area was a beat-up green pickup truck. I recognized one of the parishioners, a middle-aged black man in baggy khakis, a white shirt, and a floppy straw hat. He was propping up a big hand-painted sign that read “Sugartown Watermelons 4 for $1.”

“Four for a dollar. Hmmm,” I said to myself, pedaling down the blacktop towards home. It was another hot July day, and I was lost in a daydream of all those watermelons chilled and sliced open to expose their beautiful, sweet red flesh. I pedaled onward, still clutching the paper bag against the handlebar, and building up a sweat in the heat that at once radiated from above and bounced back up to me from the blacktop. Just a little more than halfway home, totally unaware that the condensing half-gallon of milk was saturating the fibers of the paper bag, I stumbled in disbelief when the wet carton finally tore through the bag and fell, bursting onto the hot asphalt, sending milk all over the road, the bike, and my legs. The Evangeline Maid bread had been mashed on one side, but the unfazed loaf was already expanding itself back into recognizable form, and Mr. Bed-nah’s carefully wrapped baloney parcel was still immaculate.

“Dammit!” I screamed out to the universe. I gathered myself, hammocked the baloney and bread into my tee-shirt, then picked up the busted milk carton and what was left of the paper bag. The milk spreading over the road was already steaming as it seeped into the blistering asphalt. With all that going on—the sun beating down, the baloney and bread scooped up into my shirt held in place with one arm pressed against my belly, and the busted carton and obliterated grocery bag clutched in that same hand—I managed to right the bike.

Still in a state of disbelief, I walked the bike and myself the rest of the way home.

An hour later, after I had gotten home and rinsed myself and the bike off with the garden hose under the big pine tree in the front yard, I was on the bike again, but this time Glenda was pedaling and I was riding double on the handlebar. We were accompanied by Gilda and Dicky, doing the same on Gilda’s bike, all of us heading back down the road towards Mr. Bed-nah’s and the church to get ourselves four watermelons and another half-gallon of milk.
Page 99 is the last page of the chapter “I bet I know what y’all want,” which is the refrain that the proprietor, a Mr. Bernard (in Cajun, pronounced “Bed-nah”) greeted my siblings and me with each time we entered his little store, just down the road from our motel. The second half of that sentiment was always, “Y’all want some can-dih!” and we typically did indeed want some candy. This is one of my favorite chapters in the book because the sour (that bit about the busted milk carton) isn’t nearly as sour as a couple of the other examples I write about elsewhere - of truly sweet memories fully spoiled by unspeakable ugliness. I will leave it at that - so as not to "sour" the browser's interest!
Visit Morris Ardoin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Mark T. Mulder and Gerardo Martí's "The Glass Church"

Mark T. Mulder is Professor of Sociology at Calvin College. He is the author of Shades of White Flight: Evangelical Congregations and Urban Departure (2015) and co-author of Latino Protestants in America: Growing and Diverse (2017).

Gerardo Martí is L. Richardson King Professor of Sociology at Davidson College. He is author of A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church (2005), Hollywood Faith: Holiness, Prosperity, and Ambition in a Los Angeles Church (2008), Worship across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation (2012), and co-author of The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity (2014) and Latino Protestants in America: Growing and Diverse (2017).

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Glass Church: Robert H. Schuller, the Crystal Cathedral, and the Strain of Megachurch Ministry, and reported the following:
The page 99 test applied to The Glass Church captures a cumulative, book length argument mid-stream. While the page does not summarize the growing narrative of how a powerful, 50-year megachurch ministry abruptly crumbled, the page does feature a crucial component contributing to the ministry’s success.

The Crystal Cathedral, completed in 1980, was one of the largest and most significant megachurches in America—before declaring bankruptcy in 2010.

Founded in a drive-in theater by pastor and Hour of Power televangelist Robert H. Schuller, the church continually expanded, dollar by dollar, building by building, through a combination of receiving bigger tithes and taking on much bigger loans. Schuller believed he had cracked the code to church growth, establishing a Leadership Institute and publishing book after book with his principles of management, which included preaching his Theology of Self-Esteem and advocating his brand of Possibility Thinking derived from the positive thinking of his mentor, Norman Vincent Peale. But in actuality, Schuller depended on a synchronization of major donations and audacious debt schemes that eventually shattered his glass church.

By the time the reader arrives five chapters into the book to page 99, much of the foundation for Schuller’s megachurch ministry has been established. Among the most important is the intentional alignment made by the pastor between his message and his audience. The conservatism of Orange County combined patriotism with a strident anticommunism such that “…a milieu of conservative Christian culture in Southern California that identified anticommunism as an in-group adhesive had already coalesced by the time Schuller strode to the top of the concession stand at the Orange Drive-in.” Schuller’s charisma was less a unique invention of a magnetic personality and more of a cultivated resonance with an emerging Christian libertarianism.

Throughout the text, the reader knows the humble beginnings of the ministry, its spectacular growth, and its shocking implosion. Schuller’s charisma rallied his followers to contribute to the rising capital flows of his church, building greater capacity in expectation of growing a loyal constituency who would, in turn, contribute their own tithes and offerings to offset the debt taken on to draw them in. Ultimately, the precarious balance of constituency, charisma, and capital fell out of sync, leading to the spectacular collapse of the seemingly impenetrable stability.

This careful analysis of the relationship between Schuller’s charismatic leadership and its interdependence with precarious flows of capital provides not only insight to behind-the-scenes management of ambitious religious organizations but also a caution to the leaders who have emulated Schuller’s philosophy of management, whether they recognize his influence or not.
Learn more about The Glass Church at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Susanna Moore's "Miss Aluminum"

Susanna Moore is the author of the novels The Life of Objects, The Big Girls, One Last Look, In the Cut, Sleeping Beauties, The Whiteness of Bones, and My Old Sweetheart, and the nonfiction works I Myself Have Seen It: The Myth of Hawai‘i and Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii. She lives in Hawai‘i and teaches at Princeton University.

Moore applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new memoir, Miss Aluminum, and reported the following:
There has been a misunderstanding, I believe, as to what Ford Madox Ford meant when he suggested opening a book at page 99 to determine "the quality of the whole." He was referring not to plot or story, but to the writing itself. If one understands him to mean just that, then I agree with him. One can tell if the writing is good or not by reading a paragraph or two on any page of a book. Unfortunately, page 99 in Miss Aluminum contains just a few lines of text, listing the clothes that I bought after a suitcase of mine was stolen, and a large photograph of me in a pool in Acapulco in 1968. It reveals nothing except my breasts.

The book, a memoir that begins in childhood and continues until I was thirty years old, was difficult to write. I found that I longed to apologize to many of the people about whom I was writing -- apologize for my youthful heedlessness, innocent but often harmful, and for my ignorance. At the same time, as a young woman I blamed myself for the sexual assault and beating that I suffered, as well as for my mother's death. It took many years for me to understand that I was not responsible for much of the trauma I suffered. I've been asked if I will continue my story and write a sequel, but for now, Miss Aluminum is on her own.
Learn more about the book and author at Susanna Moore's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Melissa M. Lee's "Crippling Leviathan"

Melissa M. Lee is an Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at the Department of Politics and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Crippling Leviathan: How Foreign Subversion Weakens the State, and reported the following:
From page 99:

Like Georgia, Estonia since 1994 exemplifies extreme policy incompatibility. Unlike Georgia, upon independence Estonia had no qualms about where its future lay: in the arms of Europe. Tallinn’s Western ambitions put it on a collision course with Russia’s preferences regarding Estonia’s foreign policy orientation. Because of its history of forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union, postindependence Estonia had little interest in joining the Russian-led sphere, worrying that it would fall under Moscow’s subjugation again. Tallinn could not immediately pursue this objective because it first had to secure the withdrawal of former Soviet troops based on its territory. Now under Russian command, these troops posed such a latent threat to Estonian security that Tallinn could not make foreign policy freely until they were withdrawn. In any case, the West was not particularly enthusiastic about welcoming Estonia and the Baltics into the fold, preferring instead to concentrate its efforts on integrating the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, the former satellite states. For the first few years after independence, Estonia expressed the foreign policy aim of geopolitical neutrality—a politically expedient position that was also effectively its only reasonable course of action.

After settling the troop withdrawal issue in 1994, and removing this check on its foreign policy, Estonia made its intention to break with Russia clear. Institutional integration with the West would complete Estonia’s “return” to Europe; NATO membership and the alliance’s security guarantees would free Tallinn from a future Russian threat. In 1994 Tallinn applied for NATO membership, and in the fall of 1995 it applied for EU membership. To persuade Western Europe that it was serious about integration, Estonia and its two Baltic neighbors undertook the painful and difficult transformations necessary to secure their admission to the Western club. Tallinn modernized its military, privatized large parts of its economy, and reformed its political institutions.

This decisive turn to the West precipitated a period of intense policy incompatibility with Moscow. Russia was willing to tolerate Estonia’s EU ambitions, recognizing that it could profit from its economic interdependence with Estonia if the latter eventually joined the EU. Tallinn’s NATO ambitions were a different matter entirely. Unlike the former satellite states, which were already moving toward NATO membership, the accession of Estonia and the other Baltics would bring the alliance into the post-Soviet space proper. Russia’s sensitivity toward that psychological barrier cannot be overstated. Worse, NATO would bring the West to Russia’s very doorstep. Behind the immediate security issues loomed the larger problem of geopolitical competition. By 1995, Russia had abandoned its embrace of the West in favor of maintaining a sphere of influence....
Page 99 of Crippling Leviathan discusses an important foreign policy dispute between Estonia and Russia that began around 1994 and continues through the present. The dispute concerns Estonia’s pro-Western foreign policy orientation: Tallinn’s desire to join NATO and the European Union, and Moscow’s vehement opposition to what it saw as a threat to its sphere of influence.

Readers opening my book to this page might erroneously infer that Crippling Leviathan is about military alliances, the liberal order, or even conflictual international politics in the post-Soviet space. They would be right to hone in on foreign policy incompatibilities between states. But disputes are important less for their specific issues (although the details are fascinating!) and more because severe policy incompatibilities motivate the use of a form of statecraft that I call “foreign subversion” – the empowerment of insurgents to undermine the state. This is what Crippling Leviathan is actually about: foreign subversion and its role in the territorial deconsolidation of the state.

Interestingly, the words “subversion,” “state authority,” and “state weakness” never appear on page 99, despite their centrality to the book and its main claims. In fact, their absence is revealing. The Estonia case is one piece of the larger empirical examination of when and why states deploy subversion in their foreign relations. I argue that two factors are important: policy incompatibility (motive) and proxy availability (means). Only when both factors are present should we observe subversion and its harmful effects on state authority. Estonia exhibits a high degree of policy incompatibility given its pro-Western international orientation, but it lacks local proxies. This helps explain why Russia has not subverted the Estonian state, and why we do not observe a Ukraine-like situation in Estonia’s ethnic Russian northeast.

The Estonian case therefore demonstrates the limits of subversion as an instrument of statecraft. Foreign subversion is war by other means, a way to pursue state interests that is harder to observe, cheaper to use, and more difficult to attribute than military force. It is highly effective; Crippling Leviathan amasses an array of careful evidence that demonstrates the harm that subversion inflicts on governance on the ground. Estonia shows why subversion is not commonplace in the international system. Motive is not enough. Foreign adversaries must also have the means – and fortunately for Estonia, Moscow lacked the means.
Visit Melissa M. Lee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 13, 2020

Stuart P. Green's "Criminalizing Sex"

Stuart P. Green is a Distinguished Professor of Law at Rutgers University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Criminalizing Sex: A Unified Liberal Theory, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Criminalizing Sex considers the question, when should it be a crime to induce another into sex by means of deceit? For example, should it be a crime if Daniel obtains “consent” to sex with Vanessa by falsely claiming that he is single and interested in a long-term relationship? What if he deceives her into thinking that he is free of sexually transmitted diseases, or if he misrepresents himself to her as a cisgender male? Should it be a crime if Daniel obtains sex from Vanessa by falsely claiming to be a powerful movie producer who will make her a star? What if he obtains consent to sex by impersonating Vanessa’s partner, Jim?

Most readers will intuit that some of these acts should be criminalized, while others should not. But how do we explain and assess such intuitions, and how do we ensure that our responses are conceptually coherent, consistent, and principled? Although rape by deceit is just one of many offenses considered in the book, analogous questions recur in almost every chapter. So, in that sense, the Page 99 test works quite well for Criminalizing Sex, which seeks to develop a theoretically rigorous approach to such questions.

The sexual offenses considered in the book are divided into three broad categories. The first category consists of offenses that make it a crime to engage in nonconsensual sex of one sort or another. Of central concern here are rape and sexual assault in a variety of forms (including, in addition to rape by deception, rape by nonviolent coercion, statutory rape, and rape resulting from lack of affirmative consent), as well as sexual harassment, voyeurism, and indecent exposure. The second category consists of putatively consensual offenses such as adult incest, prostitution, and sadomasochistic assault. And the third category contains offenses that I call aconsensual, such as bestiality and necrophilia.

Most work on the sexual offenses has tended to treat these categories as if they were conceptually distinct. Criminalizing Sex shows how they are very much interrelated. Thus, while rape by deceit may not seem to have much in common with, say, voyeurism, and voyeurism may not seem to have much in common with, say, necrophilia, in fact there is a common conceptual thread that informs, or ought to inform, their criminalization.
Visit Stuart Green's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Peter Sloman's "Transfer State"

Peter Sloman is Senior Lecturer in British Politics at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Churchill College. He was a Junior Research Fellow at New College before moving to Cambridge in 2015. His first book, The Liberal Party and the Economy, 1929-1964 (2015) examined how British Liberals engaged with economic thought in the era of John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge.

Sloman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Transfer State: The Idea of a Guaranteed Income and the Politics of Redistribution in Modern Britain, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Transfer State examines the beginnings of the ‘rediscovery of poverty’ in the UK during the late 1950s and early 1960s. In this part of the book, I discuss the growing realization that the ‘welfare state’ established in Britain during the first half of the twentieth century ‘had not managed to eliminate poverty’, even when this was measured by the very limited ‘poverty line’ defined by the means-tested National Assistance scale.

William Beveridge had hoped that the contributory National Insurance system which he devised in Britain during the Second World War would ‘guarantee the income needed for subsistence in all normal cases’, but in fact the number of citizens claiming means-tested National Assistance rose from 842,000 in 1948 to 1.8 million in 1954, ‘largely because insurance benefits did not take account of regional variations in housing costs and had not kept up with inflation’. Survey research by sociologists such as Dorothy Cole and John Utting at Cambridge University and the London School of Economics also highlighted three other ‘major deficiencies in the system’: ‘the incomplete take-up of means-tested benefits, the inadequacy of support for the working poor, and the operation of the “wage-stop”, which restricted Assistance payments for unemployed workers to no more than they would have received in work’.

In itself, the analysis on page 99 of Transfer State does not give a complete picture of the book; indeed, the material discussed here will already be familiar to many historians of British social policy. However, as I go on to say in the next few pages, it helps explain why proposals for a guaranteed minimum income – such as the Negative Income Tax scheme which Milton Friedman popularized in Capitalism and Freedom (1962) – gained wide appeal in Britain during the course of the 1960s. Guaranteed income schemes promised to solve many of the problems caused by contributory National Insurance and means-tested National Assistance by providing an automatic form of income support for all households, using the latest computer technology and drawing on information from the tax system. In many ways, this discussion paralleled the debates which took place during the US War on Poverty, though there were some significant differences in emphasis. Whereas the North American debate over guaranteed income was shaped by concerns about ‘cybernation’ and economic change, British enthusiasts tended to focus more narrowly on the practical issues of poverty relief and administrative simplification.

The 1960s ‘rediscovery of poverty’ is now a long way off, but its legacy continues to shape social policy today. In Britain, as in the USA, conservative complaints about ‘dependency culture’ helped spawn ‘welfare reform’ initiatives during the 1980s and 1990s, but tax credits and other benefits have increasingly become the central tool of anti-poverty efforts in both countries. The integration of the UK’s means-tested working-age benefits into Universal Credit can be seen as a fulfilment of the technocratic goals of the 1960s, though the system has been tied up (until the Covid crisis hit) with a controversial set of job search requirements and benefit sanctions. And, of course, the idea of a Universal Basic Income is now on the political agenda across the western world, as I show in my final chapter. The tangled history of the UK’s ‘transfer state’ thus has powerful lessons for policy-makers as they seek to construct a response to the challenges of automation, precarious work, and inequality.
Learn more about Transfer State at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Nina Sankovitch's "American Rebels"

Nina Sankovitch is a bestselling author, avid historian, and voracious reader. In addition to being profiled in the New York Times (twice), she has written for the New York Times, the LA Times, the Huffington Post, and other media. She is the author of several nonfiction books, including The Lowells of Massachusetts. A graduate of Tufts University and Harvard Law School, Sankovitch grew up in Evanston, Illinois, and currently lives in Connecticut with her family.

Sankovitch applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, American Rebels: How the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Looking out from the windows, it seemed to Abigail Adams as if all of Boston passed by their home, all day long and into the evening; sixteen thousand inhabitants, loud and boisterous and busy, a far cry from the five hundred or so families in Braintree, almost all of whom Abigail had known by name. But despite the “Noisy, Busy Town”—or perhaps because of its liveliness and energy—Abigail was happy those first months in Boston.

As she had hoped, now that they lived in Boston, John was often at home, with his law office set up on the ground floor of their house. The Adams family’s social life, which had once centered on the Quincys of Braintree, with Uncle Norton up on the hill and Josiah Quincy down the road, now expanded to include not only more Quincys—Josiah Quincy Jr. often came by for a meal—but also their new good friend and family physician Joseph Warren (whom they met through Josiah and Ned Quincy), and their old friends Jonathan Sewall and his wife, Esther Quincy Sewall, who lived just over the Boston Neck, in Charlestown.

Despite the published letters of debate that passed between Philanthrop (pen name of Sewall) and Governor Winthrop (pen name of Adams), the two old friends enjoyed spending time together; as John wrote, “although we were at Antipodes in Politicks We had never abated in mutual Esteem or cooled in Warmth of our Friendship.” The two men genuinely liked each other, and Abigail and Esther, cousins and girlhood friends, were also pleased with each other’s company. And yet when Jonathan Sewall came to Adams with a proposal to serve as advocate general in the High Court of Admiralty, upon the direct request of Governor Bernard, John wasted not a moment’s breath in turning down the offer.

As he recalled later, Sewall “knew very well my political principles, the system I had adopted, and the connections and friendships I had formed in consequence of them. He also knew that the British government, including the king, his Ministers, and Parliament, apparently supported by a great majority of the nation, were persevering in a system wholly inconsistent with all my ideas of right, justice, and policy.” He told Sewall, “therefore I could not place myself in a situation in which my duty and my inclination would be so much at variance.”

Sewall begged John to reconsider the offer, and even returned to the Adams home three weeks later to ask again, but John remained firm: “I told him my answer had been ready, because my mind was clear, and my determination decided and unalterable.”
I was amazed by how thoroughly page 99 of my book, American Rebels: How the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution, presents the themes I explore throughout the book. And not only are themes presented but we also meet on this one page many of the main figures of the book, along with friends who played pivotal roles in their lives: Abigail Adams, John Adams, Josiah Quincy Junior, Esther Quincy, and Jonathan Sewall. The only key characters of the book missing on this page are Abigail Phillips, the wife of Josiah Quincy Junior (she’ll appear soon enough), John Hancock, his aunt Lydia, his uncle Thomas (deceased by page 56), and Dolly Quincy, who will become a Hancock just in time to play a pivotal role in the Continental Congress – but has a large role to play even before becoming the wife of John.

One of the main themes of the book, and the one which drove me to write American Rebels in the first place, is the difficult choice faced by colonists during the early 1770s of whether to rebel against England or stay loyal to King and Parliament. On page 99 we read about a dramatic confrontation between two very good friends over the very question. No matter how strong the relationship between John Adams and Jonathan Sewall, and how similar the struggles faced by the two men as they’ve risen in the world, they’ve taken opposite sides on the question of rebellion or loyalty. And despite the length and strength of their friendship, John Adams will not waiver from his choice to protest the measures imposed on the American colonies by the King and Parliament, no matter what Sewall offers or argues. We understand from this confrontation the depth of commitment on the part of the rebels to demand their rights from Britain: even though John Adams is offered a lucrative appointment if he only joins the loyalists, Adams remains committed to the rebel cause. His good friend Sewall promises security, riches, influence – and still Adams is unyielding. He will take the risks of loss of income, security, stability – and potentially, even of life itself - to fight for what he believes is right. He is committed to the rebel cause: “my mind was clear, and my determination decided and unalterable.” The only way forward for John Adams and the other American rebels is the way of revolution.
Visit Nina Sankovitch's website, Facebook page, Medium blog, and and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

The Page 99 Test: The Lowells of Massachusetts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 10, 2020

Bonnie Tsui's "Why We Swim"

Bonnie Tsui lives, swims, and surfs in the Bay Area. A longtime contributor to the New York Times and California Sunday Magazine, she has been the recipient of the Jane Rainie Opel Young Alumna Award from Harvard University, the Lowell Thomas Gold Award, and a National Press Foundation Fellowship. Her last book, American Chinatown: A People’s History of Five Neighborhoods, won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and was a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and Best of 2009 Notable Bay Area Books selection.

Tsui applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Why We Swim, and reported the following:
From page 99:
...myself, newly attuned and alert to the pulse of the bay as an echo of my own.

Why did I do it? I realize that it’s because I want to knock on heaven’s door and have a chat with the devil, too.

I have been afraid of death since I was very small. I remember visiting my great-grandfather’s grave in Brooklyn during the spring Qingming festival, when Taoists honor their dead with ancestral grave sweeping. We burned incense and joss-paper ingots so my bok-gung could have ghost money to spend in heaven. What defined those visits for me, though, was not the story of what we were doing and why we were doing it. It was fear. Fear of the dark, inexplicable unknown; fear of not being. That deep anxiety over dying has stuck with me. Even though I am now grown, it’s what jolts me awake in the night.

Swimming in open water is one small way of confronting that—of getting closer to the fire of wanting to stay alive, of warding off death, without the terror of having to do it for real. Maybe it’s a kind of dress rehearsal. The sea is a deep, alien place. There’s an energy to it, an element of danger that requires a giving over of the self, that makes swimming in heavy water a kind of sacrament. It is a suitable environment to engage with the deep strangeness of the human mind and its fears. Our feet are taken out from underneath us; there are unknowable fathoms below. There are moments of terror. Safety is restored when we set foot on land again back in San Francisco. Though I shiver upon emerging, with the accomplishment comes a powerful sense of hale and hardy vigor, of...
Huzzah! I'm so pleased to find that page 99 approximates the experience of jumping right into the water: it is immediate immersion in some of the most central ideas of the book. The page comes at the end of a section describing the first time I swam in San Francisco Bay with no wetsuit on, in brisk 56-degree waters in the middle of a colossal downpour, with members of the historic Dolphin Club. What is the appeal of open water, and especially of cold-water swimming? Of course we swim for survival -- we first have to learn how to survive the water before we do anything else. But after that, swimming can be so much more: we can swim for health, and well-being. We can swim for community, a sense of togetherness and a shared love of water. We can swim for competition, which takes us back to those survival instincts. After all, what is a race, really, other than the sublimation of our flight-or-flight instincts into that thrilling act? And we swim for flow: the sense of being so immersed in an activity that all time stops, and you are suspended in that moment. That state of mind can take us to new and unfamiliar places. Page 99 manages to touch on the sensory immediacy of swimming and its pleasures at the same time it begins to get at these larger life questions, and explore the idea of the sublime: dancing in the porousness between states, of life and death, of swimming and drowning. Other than telling really great stories about fascinating characters, that's the great goal of the book.
Visit Bonnie Tsui's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Lina Britto's "Marijuana Boom"

Lina Britto is an Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia's First Drug Paradise, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test works magic. Located in the middle of chapter three, page 99 restates and elaborates on one of its central arguments:
Although US buyers and urban elites and middle classes were important in the transition from smuggling to cultivation, the source of the marijuana export economy’s dynamism lay with popular sectors available and willing to adapt such a novel business to their own productive and commercial traditions.
Marijuana Boom has in chapter three its vortex. The book is organized in three parts of Ascendance, Peak, and Decline, following the hurricane-like pattern of evolution of the marijuana export business of the 1970s in the Colombian Caribbean coast, which constituted the first illegal drugs economy in the South American country that is until today one of the world’s largest drug producers.

In chapter three, I address a key turning point. That is, the transition from a small-scale marijuana smuggling business—which was part and parcel of traditions of contraband of agricultural commodities, including coffee—into a robust export sector exclusively oriented toward the United States. On page 99, I analyze both oral history and documentary evidence that proves that colonos (settlers) in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a mountain range located near the maritime port of the same name, were the key historical actors in this transition. By showing how they successfully adopted and adapted new varieties of marijuana to the ecosystems where they had previously cultivated coffee, this chapter examines a national historical change on the ground, namely, when the Colombia coffee republic became a narcotics nation.

And with this argument, my book goes against the grain of the academic consensus. For decades, one of the explanations on the causes of the marijuana bonanza of the 1970s asserted that US hippies were the party responsible for launching Colombia’s first drug boom, after they arrived in the region in search of the intoxicant for their own consumption and petty-export commerce. Instead, I demonstrate that although they played an important role, it was the irruption of popular sectors at the level of marijuana cultivation and commercialization that marked the rise of Colombia as principal supplier of drugs to the United States.

By examining both the synergies and connecting interests among those involved in the novel illegal economy, Marijuana Boom demonstrates how Colombia’s first drug paradise became a temporary solution to deep-seated historical problems of access to land, natural resources, markets and credit, fulfilling the promises of capital accumulation, urbanization, and social recognition that modernizing reforms had put forward but failed to advance to the masses.
Learn more about Marijuana Boom at the University of California Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

David J. Halperin's "Intimate Alien"

David J. Halperin taught Jewish studies in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, until his retirement in 2000. He has published five nonfiction books on Jewish mysticism and messianism, as well as the coming-of-age novel Journal of a UFO Investigator: A Novel (2011).

Halperin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO, and reported the following:
Here’s what someone browsing in a bookstore would see, opening my Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO to page 99:

At the top of the page, the chapter title: the lure of the unremembered. Then a summary of what folklorist Thomas Bullard discovered when he examined the alien abduction phenomenon down to the middle of 1985:
He found that abducting aliens come in different shapes and sizes. They include giants and dwarfs, “humanoids” who couldn’t walk down a city street without creating a sensation as well as beings who look entirely human, with a few stranger, more grotesque entities mixed in.…

“The large compelling eyes of humanoids capture attention like no other bodily feature,” Bullard wrote—we know we’re in Communion territory.
(Referring to Whitley Strieber’s best-selling 1987 book Communion and the face that stares from its cover—shaped like an old-fashioned light bulb, with huge slanted eyes of impenetrable black. This is where we get our standard image, unknown before 1987, of what a UFO alien ought to look like.)

The alien eyes, I go on, are variously described as “elongated,” “slanted,” or “walnut-shaped.” “There were exceptions. In the much-publicized abduction at Pascagoula, Mississippi, in October 1973, the UFO entities were wrinkled gray beings like mummies wrapped up in bandages, with no visible eyes at all. As if in compensation, a huge disembodied eye floated around the two abductees, examining them.”
Bullard’s data didn’t allow him to compare the number of cases in which the eyes had an iris and pupil, like those of terrestrial creatures, with those in which, as on the Communion cover, they were solid black. … He cited several reports that speak of them as unblinking. This point is important because it drives a wedge between the aliens of the abduction reports and those in Steven Spielberg’s box-office smash Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), sometimes proposed as a model that the abductees unwittingly followed.
And that’s my page 99.

It’s not quite the best place for the browser to open to. It gives a picture of the book as drier, more detail-driven than it is. Not that this is wholly a bad thing. My aim in the book is to trace the “hidden story of the UFO,” a story not of ETs but of human beings. This demands close attention to historical and cultural context, which can’t be done unless details are carefully noted.

Still, unless browsers get a sense of where these details are leading, they’re apt to come away with a wrong impression of the book. Not so much a story, they may think, as a catalogue of facts.

So I hope the browser will flip a few pages. Look back to page 97, for example, which tells of the kidnap of a Brazilian farmer and his half-seduction, half-rape by a raunchy space female. Or forward to page 102, where the abductors’ eyes become organs of sex, and not very pleasurable sex. (A female abductee remembers an alien staring into her eyes, “flooding my eyes” while she has sex with an older man. A man associates his abduction to a childhood nightmare of a witch forcing him to look into her “huge eyes” so that “I was all hers and she would whisk me away.”)

Or to page 103, near the end of the section to which page 99 belongs:
Often the abducting aliens would be disguised in memory as animals, behaving in ways no animal ought: the owl at Whitley Strieber’s window, the raccoon that said “Good evening, doctor” to Kary Mullis. It’s no accident that both owl and raccoon are creatures with prominent, staring eyes; no wonder that Mullis, looking into the “large inky eyes” that gazed from the cover of Communion, had the sense that he’d seen this before.

Seen it before: that might be the watchword of the abductions…
Skimming these pages, and page 99 in their context, will convey to the bookstore browser the eerie, uncanny quality of the human story I set out to tell, of which “the lure of the unremembered” is a pivotal chapter. And, hopefully, will make him or her want to read more.
Visit David J. Halperin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Vincent P. Pecora's "Land and Literature in a Cosmopolitan Age"

Vincent P. Pecora is the Gordon B. Hinckley Presidential Professor of British Studies at the University of Utah. He is the author of Self and Form in Modern Narrative (1989), Households of the Soul (1997), Secularization and Cultural Criticism: Religion, Nation, and Modernity (2006), Secularization without End: Beckett, Mann, and Coetzee (2015), and he is the editor of Nations and Identities: Classic Readings (2001), and a founding co-editor of the on-line Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism.

Pecora applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Land and Literature in a Cosmopolitan Age, and reported the following:
From page 99:
nineteenth-century question of the state as institution' (Staat als Anstalt)—a question dependent on the modern assumption that the German nation-state only found its origins in the liberal opposition between state and society:
Today this question has lost its meaning. Why would one want to confine the beginning of this "institutionalness" [of the Reich] to a particular point in time? I believe that Herman Hempel was right when he attributed this institutionalness to something already belonging to the German state, because it had been borne by the people. Here what is actually going on becomes clear. It is not about the state in the modern sense, as an institution, the state as an invisible juridical person, but rather the Reich as an eternal idea, borne by the German people. For in its essence, the Reich is the Reich of the German people and it remains so, throughout all transformation and all decline right up to our own day.
What actually happens in Brunner's account of the rise of the modern nation-state, with its sharp distinction between society and state, is the creation of a bureaucracy designed to administer territory within an absolutist political framework. While he acknowledges that the modern German Reich could be seen as an administered territorial state, consisting of a state apparatus that is an important tool of political order, and presenting all the dangers of a possible statism—a special irony, one might say, given how often the Third Reich has been seen as an example of statism rather than conventional nationalism—Brunner insists that the modern Reich should still be understood instead as an "alliance state" like that of medieval Austria, where the people and not the state are the true bearers of the Reich. Brunner's anti-statism, and his conception of the Relch as an alliance" of peoples resistant to an institutional state bureaucracy, are also what definitively separates his work from the Hegelian conception of the state as the unified, rational/dialectical representation of the eternal spirit of a people, a conception that had its fullest flowering in I. G. Fichte's influential Addresses to the German Nation (1808). Brunner's rejection of this Hegelian unfolding of spirit Into state is of a piece with his rejection of the nineteenth-century consolidation of liberal, capitalist Germany itself. The shift from alliance state to Institutional territorial state is the great historical drama of Brunner's research, one that involves a shift
Page 99 lies near the end of my chapter on the Austrian historian, Otto Brunner. Largely forgotten today outside academic circles, Brunner became an enthusiastic Nazi and supporter of the Anschluss (the 1938 unification of Germany and Austria). His major book, Land and Lordship in Southeast Germany (1939), was a sophisticated historical justification of the Nazi ideal summed up by the phrase Blut und Boden—blood and soil. Brunner’s argument was that the nation-state which eventually came to dominate European political organization was antithetical to the German spirit. Denying the appropriateness for Germany of sovereignty vested in princes, monarchs and finally republics, Brunner claimed that the German nation was essentially rooted in the Volksgemeinschaft—the people’s community. And this community should be guided only by “the good old law” (as in the Old Testament and tribal custom), derived from an innate bond between the German people and their native land. Page 99 summarizes Brunner’s sense that the modern liberal state (the “administered territorial state”), which separated the state as a centralized bureaucracy from the private interests of society, as in the Weimar Republic, is thus inherently anti-German. Instead, he argued, the German spirit demanded an organic “alliance state” of the federated Germanic peoples, for whom no distinction between political state and private society existed.

My discussion of Brunner’s argument on page 99 is more technical than other parts of the book, and is thus somewhat atypical. But the finer details are necessary if we are to grasp the intellectual respectability of nativism in the 1930s—that is, the sense that “we” belong on “our” lands, while other peoples (such as Jews and Roma) do not. This point is central to my book as a whole, which argues that the modern age is less cosmopolitan than we like to think. My account is also an object lesson for our own moment, however, when natively belonging to a region, nation, or civilization has once again gained political respectability.
Learn more about Land and Literature in a Cosmopolitan Age at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 6, 2020

Nancy D. Campbell's "OD: Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose"

Nancy D. Campbell is Professor and Head of the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She is the author of Using Women: Gender, Drug Policy, and Social Justice; Discovering Addiction: The Science and Politics of Substance Abuse Research; and coauthor of The Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of America's First Prison for Drug Addicts and Gendering Addiction: The Politics of Drug Treatment in a Neurochemical World.

Campbell applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, OD: Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose, and reported the following:
Appearing on page 99 is a hand-drawn figure used by Milton Helpern, Chief Medical Examiner in New York City, for a 1972 paper titled “Fatalities from Narcotic Addiction in New York City: Pathologic Circumstance and Pathologic Findings.” That page recounts Helpern’s talk before the British Society for the Study of Addiction in London. Helpern drew attention to the social and economic changes that catalyzed the increase of heroin-related deaths among youth from urban communities of color in New York City. This graph starkly illustrates the increase in such deaths from the early 1950s to the early 1970s, a time when New York Center was the epicenter of overdose in the United States.

OD is a history of the present. Page 99 is crucial to the historical tale, as these deaths became “endemic,” the grounds from which the late 20th and early 21st century overdose epidemic grew. Readers are advised to keep calm, carry on, and carry naloxone. Naloxone or NarcanTM itself emerges as a central character on page 100. In 1972, when the page 99 chart was made, naloxone had just been FDA approved and was in the process of being phased into ORs and ERs for reversing overdose.

Naloxone gradually displaced its predecessor, nalorphine or NallineTM, which the book recounts was used by police to detect if someone had recently used heroin by measuring pupil response. Let’s extend the page 99 test to pages 199 and 299. Don’t be intimidated—the book tells a big story but is punctuated by 40 illustrations ranging from ad campaigns by the Scottish Drugs Forum and NYC Health to ‘zine collages from the early overdose prevention that grew out of AIDS activism and needle exchange.

“Resuscitating Society: Overdose in Post-Thatcherite Britain” begins on page 199. This chapter recounts a very different history of overdose in a nation that maintained a cadre of “therapeutic addicts” via the so-called British System, and thus did not experience the influx of “nontherapeutic addicts” until later than the United States. Plus the UK infused harm reduction throughout the National Health Service. Scotland and Wales implemented the world’s first National Naloxone Programmes in “Trainspotting” country.

Page 299 occurs in the last chapter, “Overdose and the Politics of Redemption,” which argues that the life-and-death politics of naloxone have rendered it a “technology of solidarity.” After decades of proven effectiveness in emergency medicine, harm reduction activists wrenched naloxone out of medical hands and distributed it to drug users themselves and people likely to witness an overdose.

Getting naloxone into the hands of those who need it most took decades of dedication to harm reduction—to change law and policy, produce “proof of concept” and evidence, and build organizational infrastructure. The book captures the spirit of harm reduction because its author became a partisan. As argued in conclusion, “Harm reduction is a broad approach that may be adapted to prevent many kinds of social suffering through close attention to people, places, and things that matter. Starting from what matters most, change the world to reduce harms that we know well.”
Learn more about OD: Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose at the MIT Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue