Thursday, May 31, 2007

"Keep it Real"

Bill Bryan is a film and television writer who admits to having "stolen vast sums from all of the major media companies: Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, Disney, Sony, and Fox." He has written and produced many series, including the long-running comedies Night Court and Coach.

His new book is Keep It Real,
to which he applied the "page 69 test" and reported the following:
I wouldn’t call page 69 of Keep It Real representative of the whole book – it’s not funny or active enough for that – but it is part of a key turning point, and it offers some insight into how I constructed the story. I knew I wanted to write a first-person comic mystery, with a down-on-his-luck journalist as the narrator. I found the plot by making a Nixon-style Enemies List – a catalog of all the things I hate about modern life. It got pretty long pretty fast, so I gave greater priority to those that seemed most ripe for ridicule. Reality TV and gangsta rap thus emerged as top contenders, and I thought about how I could bring them together, and shove ‘em down the throat of a guy who can’t stand either one. About ten minutes later, I had the essentials of Keep It Real: Ted Collins, the disgraced reporter, is forced to take a job as a reality TV producer. By chance, he witnesses a badass rapper beating and threatening his girlfriend, a smoking hot model. When she goes missing, Ted gets an idea for how he can use Reality to go after rap.

The transition is tricky and a bit complicated, and that’s why it wasn’t as fun or fast to write page 69 as most of the other ones in the book. But it was worth the effort, because mashing two scourges of contemporary culture together generated a lot of laughs – for me and I hope for you too.

Page 69 also happens to be where I go out of my way to piss off the three of the most powerful people in the entertainment business:

The unofficial bios of some of the biggest names around – David Geffen, Brian Grazer, and Steven Spielberg – feature stories of shameless fraud and impersonation used to advance their early careers.

So this whole book-writing thing better work out for me. Know what I mean?
Visit Bill Bryan's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"You're Not the Boss of Me"

Erika Schickel is the author of You're Not the Boss of Me, to which she applied the "page 69 test" and reported the following:
Page 69 in my book, You're Not the Boss of Me, is a good representation of the book as a whole. It falls in the middle of the essay "Tossing the Cookies" in which I attempt to bake some Christmas cookies for teacher gifts with my friend Rae. The idea was to bake a variety of traditional Christmas cookies and present them in little white boxes hand-decorated by our children. It's a half-baked plan both literally and figuratively - completely exceeding Rae's and my limited domestic skill set. (I am going to cheat a little and start the excerpt which begins on the bottom of page 68, where I pull a pan of "Dream Bars" out of the oven):

I looked down into the pan and was confronted by what looked like a 9" x 12" slab of joke vomit. Pieces of coconut floated in a shining, flesh-colored stew. It was clearly too wet to ever be a bar. "Well, maybe we need to cook it a little more?"

"Yeah?" My friend, usually so confident, so sure of herself, was clearly at a loss.

"Sure, let's put it back in the over and crank it," I said, faking authority.

Okay, that right there - bogus authority? Motherhood is built on that. You act like you know what you're doing, but really, you have no clue.

We finished the sugar-cookie batter, molded it into logs, and wrapped them in plastic. It felt good putting the wrapped dough in the fridge to harden, like putting money in the bank.

"Damn, we're good!" I proclaimed. That's when we smelled smoke.

"The Dream Bars!" Rae yelped. We yanked them out of the oven to find they had darkened to the color of old scabs. The coconut flakes were singed and smoking.

"They're done," I declared.

"Gee, you think? deadpanned Rae.

Here's another key point: you must have funny friends, or this job will kill you.

Rae is a recurring character in my book because she is everywhere in my life. She just gets it and will never for a moment bullshit me about anything. She is Ethel to my Lucy (though of course she would say I'm Ethel to her Lucy).

I think it was then we began to realize we were out of our depth. Our training was in liberal arts, not the womanly arts. But we were in too deep to quit, so we trudged on to the grim business of mixing up the Fudgy Nuttty Drop Cookies.

Okay, here is an issue that totally rubs my guff: the loss of the Home Economics class. I never had one because they were seen as archaic and sexist by the 1970's and were phased out of the school curriculum. But in trying to liberate us girls, they hobbled us. Because let's face it, motherhood is a domestic job. As long as girls continue to grow up to have babies, they are going need a little cooking and sewing game.

When a recipe says, "Prep time: 20 minutes, "that is assuming you know what you're doing. It also assumes you have bought sweet butter, not salted, and don't have to make yet another trip to the grocery store. The checkout girl [who we met on the first grocery run on page 68] greeted me like an old friend.

"Still baking?" she asked sympathetically.

"Yep," was my terse reply.

You imagine your life with kids as a seamless symphony of teachable moments, tender caresses, a beautiful, spontaneous exercise in creativity - when really it's about going to the supermarket over and over and over again.

I return to find my home in chaos. The kids had lost interest in the gift boxes and Rae was surveying the crafting wreckage strewn out on the dining room table. The kids hadn't exactly drawn designs with the glitter glue. Rather they had simply squeezed great glops of glue on to the tops of the boxes and smeared the puddles with their fingers. Little, shining stars floated in a thick mucus that dripped down the sides.

Okay, I cheated again and let the 'graph end on p.70 - but you get the picture. It's a big, ugly mess, and there is just so much that situation that is funny to me. The story ends with us just completely breaking down in helpless, hysterical laughter.

I love the mess and the mishaps of motherhood (and personhood) and I really believe our humanity is found in our flaws. So I try to describe my own so that other people can recognize themselves and we can all take a deep breath and relax. It's okay! We're all a bunch of fuckups! And we're raising kids! So I write to let myself and everyone else like me off the hook. That, and I like to write. I really loved writing this book. It was a survival tactic to get me through early motherhood and it worked.
Visit Erika Schickel's website and read an adapted excerpt from You're Not the Boss of Me.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"Salty"

Mark Haskell Smith's new novel is Salty.

The author applied the "page 69 test" to his book and reported the following:
For obvious reasons I wish that page 69 of Salty featured some mouth on genital action. How cool would that be? Even better if the characters were actually doing a “69” on page 69. Or is that too meta? But in my new novel there’s not a mention of oral sex until page 2, and then not a real description of a character in “the act” until page 159.

So what happens on page 69?

It’s a half page, at the end of a chapter.

“I apologize.”

He walked back to his spot on the floor and sat down. He refilled his bourbon and lit another cigarette. Sheila watched him. She could sense that he was suddenly troubled by something.


“Where are you from?”


“The United States.”


“But there are black people, brown people, in your country. Not everyone is white like you.”


Sheila nodded.


“My mother was from Denmark. My father is Norwegian.”


Somporn considered that for a moment as the water in the shower slowed to a trickle and stopped. Sheila grabbed a towel – a nice one too, pilfered from a four-star hotel – and began to dry herself. Somporn was watching her, entranced, and yet she could tell that his thoughts were elsewhere. Finally he spoke.


“Scandinavia.”


He said it like it was a magical word.

My novels are about, among other things, what constitutes identity. In Salty, a fading rock star and his supermodel wife, Sheila, are jolted out of their pampered and privileged universe by Sheila’s kidnapping. As the story unfolds they discover several truths about themselves, their marriage, and the nature of monogamy. It is a journey of self-discovery, although I’m not sure Dr. Phil would approve.

In the scene on page 69, Sheila has taken a shower with her abductor, the Thai pirate Captain Somporn, watching her. She is exposed, vulnerable, and scared, yet Somporn’s reaction to her nudity – and in particular to her alabaster skin – disarms her. The seeds of a nascent and kinky Stockholm Syndrome are planted. And for Captain Somporn, well, he has just discovered that he is deeply and erotically moved by the sight of her pale skin – the color of raw squid - a fetish he didn’t know he had.
Learn more about Salty at the author's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 28, 2007

"When the Press Fails"

When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina by W. Lance Bennett, Regina G. Lawrence, and Steven Livingston, is now out from the University of Chicago Press.

The authors applied the "page 69 test" to their study reported the following:
The page 69 test works fairly well with our study of the news media and political power. Page 69, focusing on how anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan was able to grab media attention in the summer of 2005, offers an intriguing portal into the larger argument of the book.

The larger argument is that the news media are profoundly dependent upon government spin and the governmental “flywheel” of legislative debates, congressional investigations, etc. for their daily coverage of policy issues. We argue — and a mound of academic research also indicates — that mainstream journalism has abdicated the responsibility of raising and sustaining (especially sustaining) critical questions about U.S. foreign policy. In short, if Congress, administration officials, and/or military leaders do not raise alarms, the media are unlikely to do so, even when knowledgeable critical voices exist. The run-up to the Iraq war and on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal offer pointed examples in which the media largely reported the Bush administration’s claims without sustained critical evaluation. (Bill Moyers’ recent documentary, Buying the War, illustrated the same dynamics).

Cindy Sheehan’s ability to temporarily command mainstream media attention is an exception that proves the rule. Sheehan gained momentary prominence in the national news with the help of an experienced public relations team (including Joe Trippi of Howard Dean fame), a (rare) lull in administration-generated news, and the sheer luck of good timing. As we say on p. 69 (well, starting on p. 68 to be exact):

Cindy Sheehan entered the news as the embodiment of an entire anti-war movement in the summer of 2005. It helped, of course, that she operated with the kinds of conditions that favor outsiders making the news: summer is the slow news season, the President was at his ranch on vacation, the press contingent hovering around the president had little news to report, and suddenly there was a dramatic story with the potential for episodic developments camped right outside the ranch.

In other words, Cindy’s 15 minutes of fame illustrates well why we call the mainstream media the “semi-independent press.”
Learn more about When the Press Fails at the publisher's website, and read an excerpt from the book.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"The Virgin's Guide to Mexico"

Eric B. Martin is the author of the novels Luck and Winners, which was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award.

His new novel is The Virgin's Guide to Mexico, to which he applied the "page 69 test" and then reported the following:
Page 69 is the eye of the storm.

By the time we get there, our young heroine — Alma Price, age 17, Texas runaway — has been humiliated, hunted, nearly raped. She’s disguised herself as a boy, survived Mexican cops and whorehouses, been unmasked by a transvestite, spoken with ghosts.

Soon she will be in Mexico City, racing through lost cities in the subway, facing down private eyes in the rock n’ roll market, snorting cocaine with the big city literati. Soon her parents will tangle with wild pigs and peyote lords, rich kids and street vendors, as they try to bring her back.

But right now: calm. The air is hot and still. The hunt for her roots — her father’s Texan, her mother’s Mexican, but never spoke about her past — has brought her here, to a little town called Bustamonte.

There is a moment in every chase when the pursued and the pursuer come to rest. They stop moving, and look around, and in that moment all the ordinary colors of the world pulse with unexpected life. The small beauty of existence comes briefly clear. Happiness seems possible, even assured. There is a moment in every chase where the pursued and the pursuer realize that they have found what they were looking for, but it’s not what they expected, and the great machinery of desire is still in motion, and the chase must go on.

Alma might be disguised as a boy; she might be looking for her grandfather; she might be searching for an identity she’s never had as a rich, Harvard-bound girl from Austin, Texas. But for right here, right now, at this family barbeque where a random hitchhiked ride has landed her, Alma is content:

Family stories flow. What would if be like to have a history of one thousand relatives from both sides of the border who all knew each other’s names and faults and business? For all Alma knows they’re out there. Not in the burnt out shell of Nuevo but in the elephantine heart of Mexico. This could be mine, she thinks.

Meeting the family, huh? Lalo and Cristobal materialize when her new friends disappear.

Everyone’s really nice,

Cristobal snorts and snores. Dull ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Man’s jealous, Lalo confides. He leans in close and Alma breathes in at least fifty hours of consecutive beer. Always wanted to fuck our cousins.

They say cousins fair game now, says Cristobal.

Mexico ever said otherwise? They who?

Scientists.

Yeah, well. Too late, What is that, a Coke?

Yep, says Alma.

That’s what I mean, Cristobal complains, he’s over with the Coke and baby crowd.

With a flick of his wrist, Lalo produces a beer like a magician’s dove. EmborrĂ¡chate, kid. They clink bottles and he watches until he takes a shallow altar sip. That’s better.

And then the chase goes on.
Check out Eric B. Martin's website to read the novel's first line, its last word, and a favorite paragraph.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"Knock Off"

Rhonda Pollero is the USA Today bestselling author (writing as Kelsey Roberts) of more than 25 contemporary romances.

Her new novel is Knock Off, a mystery featuring
Finley Anderson Tanner (F.A.T. to her enemies), "the most delicious sleuth ever to solve the crime, get the guy, and save a bundle on discount Gucci, all at the same time."

Pollero applied the "page 69 test" to Knock Off and reported the following:

Wow, this was quite an eye-opener for me! So much so that I called a friend who hadn’t read the book, read her the page, then asked her what kind of novel she thought it was. She guessed it was a romance.

Page 69 is a set-up to the introduction of Finley’s boyfriend. Her personal life is not the focus of the story. To this point, Finley is not quite committed to the idea that Marcus Evans’s death was a murder, nor is she even committed to the idea of doing the heavy lifting required to conduct a proper investigation. While I don’t think this single page captures the plot points, it does capture Finley’s main character flaw – lack of inspiration. So I suppose I could argue that it reveals character development and motivation – 2 major and necessary elements of fiction.

So, if this was an actual test, I failed miserably. This snippet is a snapshot of Finley at her worst, mired in indecision. Out of context, she reads a little shallow. Okay a lot shallow. I can only hope that potential readers will read on – or back, or ... take a different test!

Visit Rhonda Pellero's website and read an excerpt from Knock Off.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 25, 2007

"Hurting Distance"

Sophie Hannah is a bestselling poet, short story writer, and author of two psychological thrillers, Little Face and Hurting Distance.

She applied the "page 69 test" to Hurting Distance and reported the following:
I'm afraid Hurting Distance completely fails the page sixty-nine test! It's a psychological thriller about a woman, Naomi, whose lover Robert disappears. Convinced something terrible's happened to him, and thinking the police aren't taking it seriously enough, Naomi accuses Robert of a terrible and sadistic crime, believing that they will have to look for him urgently if they're convinced he's a psychopath - her plan is to admit she was lying as soon as they find him. The police start investigating, and find evidence that seems to corroborate Naomi's story. But how can that be, when she knows it's not true?

I like crime novels where the mystery/suspense is the main focus, and I love mysteries that are particularly intriguing - not so much 'Who killed so-and-so, and why?', because, let's face it, you can always imagine a range of plausible answers to that question, but 'How can this possibly be happening? What can possibly be the explanation?' That way, psychology starts to assume more importance - readers must focus on the psyches of the individual characters in order to get to grips with what's going on.

Anyway, page 69 of Hurting Distance does not feature Naomi, or any of the main plot! It's about Charlie, the female police protagonist, who is on holiday with her fussy sister, Olivia (though she is about to be dragged back by the Naomi-and-Robert drama)....

Page 69:

‘I mind that it’s not sunny and I mind that it’s colder than it is in London.’ Olivia sat straight-backed on her bar-stool, legs crossed. She looked elegant and disappointed, like a jilted spinster from one of those long, boring films Charlie hated, full of hats and sullied reputations. ‘But there’s nothing I can do about it, and I’m certainly not going to sit by an outdoor pool in the pissing rain.’ Her eyes lit up suddenly. ‘Was there anywhere with a nice indoor pool? And a spa? A spa’d be great! I fancy one of those dry floatation treatments.’

Charlie’s heart plummeted. Why couldn’t everything have been perfect, just this one time? Was that too much to ask? No-one was more fun to be with than Olivia, if the conditions were right. ‘I didn’t look,’ she said. ‘But I think it’s unlikely, unless you want to spend a small fortune.’


‘I don’t care about money,’ Olivia was quick to say.


Charlie felt as if there was a coiled spring inside her, one she had to keep pushing down or else it’d leap up and destroy everything. ‘Well, unfortunately, I have to care about money. So unless you want me to look for two separate hotels...’ Olivia was less well off than Charlie. She was a freelance journalist and had a colossal mortgage on a flat in London’s Muswell Hill. Seven years ago she’d been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The operation to remove both ovaries and her womb had been immediate, and had saved her life. Ever since, she’d been throwing money around like the spoiled child of aristocrats. She drove a BMW Z5 and took taxis from one side of London to another as a matter of course. Getting the tube was one of the many things she claimed to have given up for ever, along with compromising, ironing and wrapping presents. Sometimes, when she couldn’t sleep, Charlie worried about her sister’s financial situation. It had to involve a lot of debt – an idea Charlie hated.
Visit Sophie Hannah's website and read the beginning of Hurting Distance.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 24, 2007

"Hot Rocks"

Lev Raphael is the author of Tropic of Murder, Burning Down the House, Little Miss Evil, The Death of a Constant Lover, The Edith Wharton Murders, and Let's Get Criminal.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his latest novel, Hot Rocks, and reported the following:

Page 69 of Hot Rocks certainly has nouns, verbs, adjectives (and of course punctuation), that you'd find elsewhere in the book and is in that way representative. More to the point is the issue it raises about my professor sleuth Nick Hoffman involving himself once more in a murder investigation. This time he's discovered a body in the steam room of his up-scale health club, and is an obvious suspect. The investigating detective doesn't like him or his reputation so Nick feels compelled to do his own sleuthing. Unlike other amateur mysteries, this one spends significant time following the impact of the discovery on Nick, who is deeply traumatized. That’s a deliberate contrast to many amateur sleuth mysteries where the person finding the body is almost immediately over the shock and it's barely referred to again over the course of the book. That lack of emotional authenticity has always bugged me as a reviewer and mystery fan. Even seeing a car crash where nobody was killed haunted me for months afterwards – finding a body, even in a comic mystery, should mean something.

Visit Lev Raphael's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Zoology"

Ben Dolnick -- who has worked as a zookeeper at the Central Park Zoo, a bookseller, a research assistant in an immunology lab, and a tutor -- is the author of Zoology, his first novel.

He applied the "page 69 test" to the book and reported the following:
At page 69 of Zoology, the narrator, Henry, is trying to track down the cute girl he just met at the pool.

Sameer didn't know about a little boy and a tall girl, so I came back again after the shift change and asked Richie. Richie was the oldest doorman, and he took the job more seriously than anyone else. If you walked in with a suitcase, he practically tackled you to get it out of your hands. Whenever he saw me he gave a hard, short nod and said, "Sir."


"Do you know if there's a little black-haired boy who lives in the building with a tall girl with brown hair?"


He nodded, not taking his hands from behind his back. "You're looking for Matthew Marsen in twelve-F, I believe. And the young lady -- whose name, unfortunately, slips my mind -- is the Marsens' goddaughter. Just here for the summer."


That night David and Lucy were out to dinner with friends, and when they came home David was a little drunk. He laughs a lot when he's drunk, and his cheeks get splotchy. He sat down with me on the couch, smelling like alcohol and cologne.


Doing this test (which I'd applied to hundreds of other peoples' books, but never my own), reminds me of a great speech about Saul Bellow by Martin Amis -- who I think is one of the smartest critics around. Amis says: "When Bellow reads More Die of Heartbreak he isn't reading; he is squirming and smarting, feeling the pulls and shoves and aftershocks of a million decisions. For him the book is a million clues to a million skirmishes -- scars, craters, bullet-holes." I'm no Saul Bellow, it goes without saying, but that's how rereading page 69 -- or any page -- of my book feels. It's like looking at old snapshots of yourself; only other people can do it with enough distance to have any insight.
Read an excerpt from Zoology and visit Ben Dolnick's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Accidents Waiting to Happen"

Simon Wood's Bloody Dagger Award-nominated novel is Accidents Waiting to Happen.

He applied the "page 69 test" to the book and reported the following:
The editor who bought Accidents Waiting to Happen remarked he loved the pace and the action. “There’s no let up,” he remarked, “It keeps building and building.” So does the page 69 test fall slap bang in the middle of a breathless scene featuring my protagonist under pressure? Nope. Page 69 falls in the middle of a birthday party scene which is fraught with trouble. My protagonist’s blackmailer gatecrashes the party. The story’s antagonist gets access to the party under the guise of an assumed identity to set up the protagonist up for a future crime. There’s foreshadowing for an impending disaster. There’s plenty going on, but even so, page 69 is the calm before the storm. It contains nothing more than small talk between these events. Page 69 serves as no banner headline for the story. Crap.

Seeing as my page 69 test misses the mark, here’s a small glimpse into what happens before and after page 69 in Accidents Waiting to Happen. Josh Michaels lives in suburban bliss with his wife and daughter until he’s run off the road by an SUV and into the river. The SUV driver doesn’t call for help. Instead, he simply watches Josh and gives him the thumbs-down sign before driving off. This bizarre act ignites a series of problems for Josh. His ex-secretary invades his life. She’d blackmailed him out of fifty thousand dollars when she’d learned of a kickback he’d taken to pay for his daughter’s medical expenses. Her hush money has run out and she wants more. Josh had cashed in his life insurance to pay her. There lies his problem. Accidents are befalling a number of people who’ve cashed in their life insurance. Josh has to keep his blackmailer at bay, his indiscretion a secret and a killer off his back to unearth the truth.

There’s a lot happening in Accidents Waiting to Happen. It’s a shame page 69 didn’t show it.
Visit Simon Wood's website and read Chapter One from Accidents Waiting to Happen.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 21, 2007

"The Lisbon Crossing"

Tom Gabbay is the author of a new thriller, The Lisbon Crossing.

He applied the "page 69 test" to the novel and reported the following:
If you opened to page 69 of The Lisbon Crossing, you’d get the flavor of the book, but you would have missed a lot of story by jumping in here. I’d like to think that you’d be intrigued enough to want to go back and find out why Jack Teller is sitting in a dusty bar at ten o’clock in the morning, and why he’s plying British newspaperman, Harry Thomspon, with one gin & tonic after another. Jack is after something -- information -- but page 69 wouldn’t tell you what.

It’s the summer of 1940. The Nazi war machine has overrun most of Europe, and the world is on a knife’s edge waiting for the invasion of England. The information Jack is looking for could change the course of coming events. But, of course, that kind of information doesn’t come cheap. Particularly in Lisbon.

From page 69:

“I thought you might be able to point me in the right direction.”

“What made you think that?” He dug the lime out of his glass and squeezed it out onto his tongue. It made my back teeth cringe.

“You seem to know things.”

He gave me a long look. “You’re right about that. How’d you know where to find me?”

“You don’t exactly keep a low profile. I asked over at the casino.” He grunted and looked longingly into his empty glass. I signaled the barman for another.

“I have to come up with something in...” He looked at his pocket-watch. “Christ. Less than two hours. I hate my life. No, I hate my editor.” The G&T arrived and Harry helped himself to a healthy dose.

“How about an interview with Lili Sterne?” I said.

“Are you serious?”

“Why not?”

“It’s not front page but at least it’s something,” he ruminated. “It’d keep them off my back for a few days, anyway. Would she do it?”

“No chance,” I said.

“Oh, well, then...up yours.” He saluted me with his glass and threw it back.

“You write what you want and as long as she comes out looking okay, there won’t be a problem.”

“Jack, boy, if she gets onto the paper they’ll have my nuts for lunch.”

“No problem,” I assured him. “I’m signing off on it.”

“Can you do that?”

I shrugged. “She won’t see it anyway.”

He weighed the idea. “I suppose I could do the ‘good German’ angle. She could say lots of nasty things about Hitler. Repulsive little man with a Napoleonic complex, that sort of thing.”

“There you go,” I encouraged him. He picked up the pen and scribbled the thought onto the pad.

“Be a good chap and order another one, will you?” he said, pushing his empty glass across the table. “I write much better when I’m sloshed and I’m not even close yet.”
Read excerpts and learn more about The Lisbon Crossing at the publisher's website, and check out Tom Gabbay's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 20, 2007

"Prophet of Innovation"

Thomas K. McCraw, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, is the Isidor Straus Professor of Business History, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his new book, Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. The test fails the book, so McCraw drew from other pages and reported the following:

Because most of p. 69 is a photograph, I've picked excerpts from p. 6 and p. 9:

Like nearly everyone who has thought deeply about capitalism, Schumpeter came away with mixed feelings. He regarded himself as a conservative and planned to write a book on the meaning of conservatism. But, as he told his fellow economist John Kenneth Galbraith, "I am pretty sure that no conservative I have ever met would recognize himself in the picture I am going to draw." Schumpeter abhorred some of the banalities of business culture and revered the artistic attainments of the Old World....

Capitalism has a dreadful reputation for robbing the poor to profit the rich, and it has never achieved what most people regard as a fair distribution of its bounties. In some countries it still represents a curse to be resisted and overcome. Even its fortunate beneficiaries in rich countries often have a guilty feeling that capitalism is an unworthy pursuit -- something to be accepted but not celebrated. As Schumpeter himself put it, "The stock exchange is a poor substitute for the Holy Grail."

[Yet in the end he favored capitalism.] At a high tide of anti-capitalist feeling just after the Great Depression, Schumpeter wrote: "It is the cheap cloth, the cheap cotton and rayon fabric, boots, motorcars and so on that are the typical achievement of capitalist production, and not as a rule improvements that would mean much to the rich man. Queen Elizabeth owned silk stockings [in the 16th century]. The capitalist achievement does not typically consist in providing more silk stockings for queens but in bringing them within the reach of factory girls in return for steadily decreasing amounts of effort ... the capitalist process, not by coincidence but by virtue of its mechanism, progressively raises the standard of life of the masses."

But capitalism is not the natural state of human existence. If it were, it would have emerged much earlier in history and would now prevail almost everywhere. Instead, it is an uncommonly difficult system to construct and sustain.... Without constant promotion by entrepreneurs and careful monitoring by regulators (a necessity much underestimated by many advocates of the free market, including Schumpeter himself), it cannot achieve or maintain its full potential. Like the actual engines that loom so large in creative destruction -- steam, electric, diesel, gasoline, jet -- the capitalist engine can slow down, sputter, overheat, explode, or die.
------------
This excerpt expresses Schumpeter's ideas pretty well, but it conveys none of the high drama of his personality and his life. One of the tremendous joys of writing this book was in rediscovering that life, through a trove of private letters, diary entries, and character sketches by about a dozen of his friends and students, including three Nobel Prize winners; and in visiting most of the seven countries in which he lived.

Starting as a boy wonder, Schumpeter astonished his teachers with seminal books he wrote during his twenties. Then he interrupted a brilliant academic career to serve as the first Finance Minister of the
Republic of Austria. Just after that, he made and lost a fortune as an investment banker. An irresistible conversationalist, he liked to say that he aspired to be the world's greatest economist, horseman, and lover. He would then pause before delivering his punch line: things weren't working out well with the horses. Schumpeter had affairs with scores of women, but at the same time he was an obsessive scholar who devoted five decades to figuring out the essence of capitalism.

Like many geniuses, he held himself to impossibly high standards, and gave himself numerical grades each day for his intellectual "performance," as he put it. His system ranged from zero for no accomplishment to one for good achievement. He gave himself many zeroes (on one occasion for 98 consecutive days, even though he was working hard), and almost no ones. Benjamin Franklin had a similar grading system for himself, and Schumpeter, like
Franklin, is one of those historical figures that you'd love to have dinner with. You couldn't possibly come away without feeling somehow enriched by the experience. Throughout his life, which had much more than the usual share of personal tragedies (he lost his 23-year-old wife in childbirth, and his newborn son four hours later), he battled persistent melancholy. But he always presented an upbeat, cheerful exterior.

I've written about dozens of historical figures, but never one as interesting or as intellectually challenging as Joseph Schumpeter.

Read an excerpt and learn more about Prophet of Innovation at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 19, 2007

"Patriotism and Other Mistakes"

George Kateb is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics, Emeritus, at Princeton University and one of the more respected and influential political theorists of the last quarter century.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his book Patriotism and Other Mistakes and reported the following:

Patriotism and Other Mistakes is a collection of essays held together by an effort to understand the causes of large political ambitions, and the patriotic readiness of ordinary people to lend their indispensable support to these ambitions. Societies with a lot of organized political energy seem to be almost automatically driven to launch extraordinary enterprises like the building of empires and the domination of neighbors. Concentrated political energy can also show itself in projects of radical change in the structure and orientation of society at home. Political life is thus often characterized by unpredictable eruptions of activity that initiate new directions in human affairs. That is how political greatness is commonly defined. When trying to grasp politics, we should be guided by the motto “expect the unexpected.”

Page 69 of the book gives an indication of my approach in regard to recent radical and imperialistic American policies. In the background are the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001. The essay deals with two connected matters: the anti-constitutional attempt by the Bush Department of Justice, under John Ashcroft and his successor, to abridge fundamental rights, especially in the field of criminal law; and the war of aggression against Iraq that began in earnest in March 2003. Neither policy was or is appropriate to guarding against terrorism, but may even increase its likelihood.

Here is page 69:

“Yes, I offer a conspiracy theory; it would be culpably innocent to disallow it a priori...

“One use of an enemy is to inspire fear in the people.... The gift of terrorism to American imperialism, to the overarching aim of maintaining the national security state and economy, is that the terrorists killed American civilians on American soil. Hence, the fear is not so apocalyptic or remote as to feel largely unreal, as for most people the nuclear threat did and does much of the time.... In contrast, terrorism created a more palpable fear, if not entirely real except to New Yorkers. Where there is fear, there is demand for greater security. What is the national security state but a state intended to provide security against any kind of threat?”

My account of the excesses and pathologies of political life is not confined to the present administration, which is only the latest example of adventurism in human history. In trying to explain these occurrences, I give a large place to the urge to coerce reality: to make reality conform to a new pattern or work itself out into a new narrative. I think that a good deal of the impetus is a partly unconscious aestheticism, a concept I discuss in a number of the essays. Needless to say, violence or its threat is a necessary instrument of political aestheticism.

I also examine some kinds of non-violent resistance to these projects. The resistance is in the name of decency and moderation, and it may sometimes require the moral and physical heroism of a figure like Socrates or Thoreau, or the grim skepticism of a theorist like Hobbes. There is greatness in resistance also.

Learn more about Patriotism and Other Mistakes at the Yale University Press website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 18, 2007

"The Conjurer"

Cordelia Frances Biddle is the author of The Conjurer, the debut novel in her Martha Beale series.

She applied the "page 69 test" to her novel and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Conjurer exposes the difficult position of women in early-Victorian society, and is representative of only one aspect of the book - albeit an important one. As my protagonist, Martha Beale, faces the seemingly insurmountable hurdle of prevailing against the machinations of her father's confidential secretary, the socialite Emily Durand, a person of rank within her illustrious circle, also begins to feel the constraints of her accepted role.

These two characters' lives are interwoven with many others representative of the period: the escaped convict Josiah, the shady financier Rosegger, the well-born women who manage an orphanage, Thomas Kelman who serves as a quasi-assistant to the city's mayor and has been assigned to investigate the disappearance of Martha's father, even the famed conjurer of the title, Eusapio Paladino. None of these people appear on page 69, however, so a reader beginning at that page might imagine he or she had wandered into a tale about manners and mores during the 1840s.

Research into the mid-1800's was vital for the creation of The Conjurer. It's imperative for me to get inside each character's skin, to know not only their emotional life but also the external forces that make for rich reading: the feel of fabric, the taste of the food, the smells on the streets, spoken or unspoken political innuendo, as well as the colliding worlds of the affluent and most impoverished.

As history, The Conjurer is true to fact. The period was one of great foment; the city, as yet unconsolidated, was made up of disparate boroughs and townships which often allowed criminals to escape prosecution simply by crossing a street. Conjuring or mesmerism or somnabulism, as it was variously called, was a vogue sweeping the nation; and Philadelphia, then hailed as "the Athens of America," eagerly embraced the practice.

Interestingly, page 69 shows little of the plight of the poor which I've exposed in the novel, nor does it reveal Martha's eventual transformation into a person of strength and determination - or the relationship between her and Kelman. But that requires an additional 234 pages of reading.
Visit Cordelia Frances Biddle's website and read an excerpt from The Conjurer.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"Matters of Exchange"

Harold J. Cook is the Director of The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London and the author of, most recently, Matters of Exchange: Commerce, Medicine, and Science in the Dutch Golden Age.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his book and reported the following:
When Marshal Zeringue invited me to contribute to the page 69 test, I was quite sceptical. But being the kind of bloke who can’t pass up a chance to learn something new, I pointed my browser to the webpage indicated and found Marshall McLuhan being invoked. So I turned to page 69 of the book I’d written. Much to my surprise, it actually contained one of the chief arguments of the book.

On page 68 a new section of a chapter begins. The chapter overall makes to case for interpreting many aspects of the economy of the Dutch Golden Age as an information economy. The part of the argument beginning on p. 68 shows that people in the 17th century recognised, self-consciously, that the classical opinion about how no knowledge of truth can come from entanglements with commerce was wrong. On page 69, then, there is mention of the high rates of literacy in The Netherlands, and especially in Amsterdam, before the main body of the page, which begins to introduce the extraordinarily Caspar Barlaeus and his views. Upon the opening of a new Atheneaum in Amsterdam in 1632 (a kind of university although it could not award degrees), Barlaeus gave an address that was attended by the grandees of the city, who were mostly wealthy merchants. The theme he chose for his speech was on the marriage of Mercatura (trade) and Sapientia (wisdom). At the beginning of the last paragraph, I wrote:

“Barlaeus was therefore bold in his intention to refute the common assumption that commerce stood in opposition to virtue and the pursuit of wisdom.”

This argument is in fact at the core of the book, which is about how a revolution in knowledge (in this case knowledge of nature) grew from the new global commerce of the 16th and 17th centuries. There were plenty of nasty things that happened as well, such as the extermination of the people of the Banda islands so that the Dutch East India Company could monopolise the nutmeg trade. But the focus of both consumers and merchants on the goods that came from objects helped to make the knowledge of objects itself good, even virtuous. Barlaeus spoke to that point, and there he is on p. 69.

Now I will have to go back to the typescript of the manuscript and see what shows up on p. 69. No doubt the magic comes from the composing and printing rather than the writing? Materiality again! Nuts …
Learn more about Matters of Exchange at the publisher's website, and read an excerpt.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Anatomy of a Boyfriend"

Daria Snadowsky's debut YA novel is Anatomy of a Boyfriend.

She applied the "page 69 test" to her novel and reported the following:
Page 69 of Anatomy of a Boyfriend has only four sentences, but it’s totally representative of the novel’s “first love” theme. By this point, seventeen-year-old Dominique has fallen hard for fellow senior Wes, who’s been giving her mixed signals for the past two months. At wit’s end, Dominique writes Wes a bare-all email:

I finish by telling him he’s one of the closest friends I’ve ever had, but in my heart I’m wondering if he could be even more than that.

I opt not to proofread because I don’t want to give myself the chance to edit down my emotions. I press send, inhale deeply, and resume writing my English paper with vigor. Of course, I still manage to check e-mail every three minutes for Wes’s response.

Page 69 marks the end of the only chapter which I uploaded to my website, so I bank wholly on page 69’s cliffhanger ending to entice readers to see for themselves whether Wes will email Dominique back.

One point I hope the book gets across is that even the brainiest, most rational people can still fall prey to “obsessive” behaviors when they fall in love. Prior to meeting Wes, Dominique never could have imagined that she’d “wait by the phone” for any guy. And the fact that she’s learned and level-headed is no bar to her genuinely believing that the world will end if Wes doesn’t return her affections. In school, health class warns us about all the physical consequences of sex, but it doesn't do the most thorough job of preparing us for the emotional consequences of love. And unlike pregnancy or STDs, there’s no fool-proof way to abstain from a broken heart.
Visit Daria Snadowsky's website and the Random House website for Anatomy of a Boyfriend where you can find a "build your own (ex)boyfriend" game.

Read an excerpt from Anatomy of a Boyfriend.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"The Faithful Spy"

Alex Berenson is a reporter for the New York Times who has covered topics ranging from the occupation of Iraq to the flooding of New Orleans.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his debut novel, the Edgar Award-winning The Faithful Spy, and reported the following:
Page 69 is as good a place as any to see the soul of The Faithful Spy. Not much is happening. No car crashes, explosions, bugs being planted, or diplomatic intrigue. Just John Wells, the lonely CIA agent who is The Faithful Spy, making his way back to Montana to see his family, after 10 long years living with the Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan -- though when he finally does get home he'll discover that his mother is dead and his ex-wife no longer wants to see him. And the saddest part is that Wells won't be surprised.
Learn more about The Faithful Spy at the publisher's website, and read an excerpt.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 14, 2007

"The Narrows"

Daniel Tobin is the author of three books of poems, Where the World is Made (University Press of New England 1999), Double Life (Louisiana State University Press, 2004) and The Narrows (Four Way Books, 2005).

He applied the "page 69 test" to The Narrows and reported the following:
“One must start from home,” John Montague writes in his preface to The Rough Field, his classic long sequence about his ancestral townland in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. My own book, The Narrows, took some of its initial impetus from Montague’s ambitious poem, though the Narrows I grew up beside — with its ships passing in and out of the harbor, its confluence between a vast continent and a still vaster ocean — evokes more a world of routes than of roots. As a body of water it is Janus-faced, looking backward toward a sea of emigrant crossings — my own people among them — and ahead into a continent forever changed by those endless arrivals. The Narrows is a threshold, physically marked by the enormous bridge that spans it, itself ultimately a gateway to the West and the far coast with its own vast ocean — an Interstate in every sense, one that has some traffic with Hart Crane’s ambitious structure: at once retrospect and prospect, and not unlike Thomas McGrath’s attempt to span history and the metaphysical in his Letter to an Imaginary Friend: “I am a journey toward a distant wound.” They present the self as journey, the old story that never leaves but is always new.

The poem that appears on page 69 of The Narrows comes at a crucial moment in the sequence where the speaker — let’s call him the poet as protagonist — returns home to the apartment where he grew up and hears the song of a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer from a make-shift mosque. Written two years before 9/11, the poem embodies the book’s effort to confront the complexities of history and its legacies in our own time, as well as the fraught desire to transcend history as cultural fate. And it does so — as finally it must be done — through the prism of a personal encounter with otherness:

A MOSQUE IN BROOKLYN

There is no prayer that can abolish history,


though in this basement mosque the muezzin's history


gathers in his throat like a tenor's aria


and he calls to God to put an end to history.


From my courtyard room I hear his song ascending,


the divine name whirling its rebuke to history--


Allah, Allah--above the crowded rowhouse roofs.


Their rusted antennas, stalled arrows of history,


would transmit a daily riot of talk and news,


the world boxed inside a glowing square of history.


I've seen them on the street, the faithful in their robes


walking along store-fronts, a different history


clothing them, like me, in our separate skins,


though here we are at the scope-end of history:


Goodness is timeless, the great English poet wrote,


and not just for himself--the crime is history.


But as if to prove the old Sufi fable true


these prayers are lifted on the thermals of history,


and sound strangely like that congregation of birds;


no, the remnant who survived a blighted history,


having stayed their quest into the final valley


where a Great Tree rose, its branches thick as history.


And there they lost themselves, flourishing into the One


without division, without names, without history.

This poem, like each poem in The Narrows, is part of a whole that comprises a mural in verse in which individual poems and sequences link together recursively to form a single dramatic arc, a suspension of movement in time. The Narrows begins where I began, in the life given before it is chosen, and ends on the threshold of the one life that is always an afterlife of lives that went before. Page 69 captures that intention surprisingly well.
Read more about The Narrows at the publisher's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 13, 2007

"Impotence"

Angus McLaren is a professor of history at the University of Victoria and the author of, most recently, Impotence: A Cultural History.

He applied the "page 69 test" to Impotence and reported the following:
In the first part of chapter 3 of Impotence: A Cultural History I examine the reasons why in the seventeenth-century male sexual failures were considered a joking matter. On page 69 the discussion turns to the possible legal consequences.

"In some American colonies unconsummated marriage were considered neither complete nor valid. And unlike Britain, the civil courts in the New England colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut allowed divorces. Although sterility and impotence were often regarded as the same thing, married couples did not have to be fertile, but they were expected to be able to provide each other with “due benevolence.” The community recognized the importance of pleasure and sexual performance. When a woman claimed that her husband was impotent an examination might take place. In a 1728 Pennsylvania case the Examiners reported: “Being met in a proper Room for the intended Examination, the forsaid George Miller retired to a Corner of the same; and in a short space of time returned & presented himself before us; He then having a full Erection of the Penis, with some Semen virile (vel similline quid) newly emitted upon the Palm of one of his Hands, and also at the extremity of the Glans issuing out of the Urethra.” A review of eighty seventeenth-century New England divorce petitions found that in fourteen references were made to male sexual incapacity. These were serious charges inasmuch as the man, if he were found impotent, could not remarry."

Page 69 provides a fairly representative portion of my book. We tend to think that only since Viagra has impotence become a topic of public discussion, but I demonstrate that the failure of men to rise to the occasion has been a recurrent preoccupation in western culture. In investigating the history of impotence we discover that male sexuality has a history. Countless studies have tracked the ways in which women’s sexuality was “constructed” or repressed or policed. In contrast next to nothing has been said about how normative standards of male performance were established. Fiascoes in the bedroom have been attributed at one time or another to witchcraft, masturbation, homosexual desires, shell-shock, sexual excesses, feminism, and the unconscious. The arrival of new explanations did not necessarily displace older ones. Even in a scientific age some would still attribute failures to irrational forces. As was made clear in songs, plays, novels, and movies, western culture has simultaneously regarded impotence as life’s greatest tragedy and life’s greatest joke. A history of impotence not only allows us to locate these discussions in their cultural context; it provides a compelling way in which to understand male power and the configurations of male desire. What precipitated ideas of masculine vulnerability? How was male anxiety assuaged? What sorts of women were regarded as posing a threat to virility? In seeking to answer these questions we are led to see how cultures constructed their particular notions of sexuality’s pleasures and dangers, its private and public functions. Every age turned male sexual dysfunctions to its own purposes; every culture created, combated, and in some fashion cured the forms of impotence it found most alarming.
Visit the publisher's page for Impotence and read excerpts from Impotence and view a 1920s advertisement for the The Vital Power Vacuum Massager.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 12, 2007

"The List"

Tara Ison's first novel, A Child out of Alcatraz, was a Finalist for the 1997 Los Angeles Times Book Awards, "Best First Fiction."

She applied the "page 69 test" to her new novel, The List, and reported the following, starting with the text from page 69:
“Don’t tell me how I’m being.”

“You’re being a fucking Venus Fly Trap. Just stop it. Just shut the fuck up.”


“Don’t talk to me like that.”


“Oh, look,” says Stu. “They’re bringing a tram around. You guys coming to the—”


“Let’s just leave,” says Isabel. “There isn’t any point. I don’t want to be here. Let’s just go home.”


“You sure? You ready to cross this one off? Item 9? I don’t want to get home and find out this didn’t count or something. Do you mutually agree?”


“Yes, fine, I mutually agree.”


“The list,” Al offers to Stu, in explanation.


“Oh,” he says.


“We’re just going to go,” Isabel says to Stu. “It was nice meeting you.”


“Yeah,” he says. “Listen, Al, if you change your mind, call Teal. She’ll set up time for us with the guys, and we’ll talk, okay? But no pressure. I mean, only if that’s what you want to do. If it feels good for you now, you know? Or call me…” he glances at Isabel, “…even if you just need to talk, right?”
* * *
Back in film school, when he and Jules were briefly, erratically, going out – that phrase isn’t right, but they never came up with a better one, although she liked “fuck buddies” – she showed up once at his and Griff’s apartment with a plastic dropcloth and an industrial-sized bottle of storebrand baby oil, and the key to a syphilitic-looking motel on Cahuenga near Universal. She’d picked up the idea from some article on lesbian bed death, she told him: “How to Keep The Edge Alive” between you and your lover. He didn’t know whether to be hurt or honored that she felt they were suffering from lesbian bed death, but then she said she’d never have the

Ah – page 69 of The List. It’s an oddly critical moment in this love story, actually – prior to this, mismatched but madly-in-love couple Isabel and Al have decided to make a list of 10 things to do together before finally breaking up. Starts out fine and fun – but soon goes awry. They’ve just completed Item #9 (first half of p. 69, above), where they’ve had a huge fight, and run into an old work friend of Al’s (Stu). Isabel and Al are now barely speaking to each other. And yet they feel compelled to keep going…. (A metaphor for the relationship as a whole, of course.)

They’re about to do Item #10, a seemingly fun sexual encounter (something Al did with a previous girlfriend, Julie, many years earlier.) The scene continues in the tone of the above – explicitly sexual, angry, emotionally detached. But this “Item” takes a significant turn in the coming pages – Isabel and Al, in fact, will wander into a greater intimacy, tenderness, and understanding than they’ve ever experienced together before. And so what was supposed to be “the end” (Item #10) simply raises the stakes of this relationship. Now they really can’t bear to let go - and so decide to let The List continue for a while longer….

While the above might be a bit confusing, and Isabel and Al don’t seem to have a lot of “page time” (the characters of Stu and Julie probably seem more significant than they are), I think the central theme of the novel is indeed hinted at: the intensity and complexity of romantic and sexual love, its conflicts and confusions, its horrors and hopes.
Visit Tara Ison's website and read an excerpt from The List.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 11, 2007

"Weapons of Mass Seduction"

Lori Bryant-Woolridge is the author of the best-selling novels, Read Between the Lies and Hitts and Mrs.

She applied the "page 69 test" to her new novel, Weapons of Mass Seduction, and reported the following:
When I first saw the email in my box about writing something for the “69 Test,” my first thought was, okay, another freaky website that thinks my book is some lusty erotic tale full of sexually aggressive women performing unspeakable sexual acts. Instead I learned that the 69 Test was an interesting and legit concept, and that based on page 69 of my new novel, I’ve passed the test. Not an A but definitely a solid B-.

Weapons of Mass Seduction is about three women of varying ages and races, who attend a workshop of the same name, in an attempt to find and/or revive the lost side of their sensual selves. Page 69 gives you some hint as to who the main character, Pia Jamison, is and what state her personal life is in. This fortysomething woman has given up on men and marriage but not motherhood. She wants to have a child but after five years of celibacy she lacks the confidence go after the man she wants to father her child. This is the moment towards the end of the four day workshop that Pia decides it’s time to climb back into her stilettos and get her flirt on.

WMS is a fun and sexy book that explores the excitement and struggle of what it means to be a confident sensual woman. Part flirt-manual, part fiction, readers have the chance to work on their own sensuality levels and flirting skills right along with the characters.

After getting Becca to bed, Pia headed back to her own room. Too wound up to sleep, she reached for the remote. She surfed channels for a few minutes before the talented cast of Waiting to Exhale captured her attention. As her eyes watched Robin try to shake off her no-good ex, Pia’s mind replayed her evening.

So far, tonight had been a complete bust. First, that idiot bore, Mike, followed by little girl lost, Rebecca. Surprisingly, Pia felt more disappointed than she’d have thought. Initially she’d been so apprehensive about going, and now she was upset that it had ended so abruptly. Now she would have to return to New York with all the cobwebs she’d arrived with still clogging up her dating game.

“You know the baby is going to have more than one mama, girl.”

The familiar line turned Pia’s attention back to the movie. The characters were all gathered around a bonfire, raising a toast to the New Year and the new life Robin was about to bring into the world. The scene was a harsh reminder that Pia was in the uncomfortable position of needing the exact things she claimed she no longer wanted.

“Screw this,” she declared, turning off the television and grabbing her purse and hotel key.

Pia stepped into the elevator certain that the bubbles in her stomach alone could lift her to the penthouse bar. She was nervous. It had been an awfully long time since she’d been on the prowl, but Pia refused to leave California the same woman as when she arrived.
Read an excerpt from Weapons of Mass Seduction.

Check out Lori Bryant-Woolridge's website and the Weapons of Mass Seduction blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"The Scarlet Ibis"

Susan Hahn is a poet, playwright and the editor of TriQuarterly literary magazine. She has published seven volumes of poetry: Harriet Rubin’s Mother’s Wooden Hand (1991), Incontinence (1993), Confession (1997), Holiday (2001), Mother In Summer (2002), Self/Pity (2005), and The Scarlet Ibis (2007).

She applied the "page 69 test" to this new collection of poems and reported the following:
It was interesting to write this for Page 69 because, in fact, The Scarlet Ibis ends on page 64 and, since this book is about invisibility, disappearance, and, ultimately, extinction, Marshal Zeringue's initial invitation seemed wonderfully strange.

The book starts out with some amount of descriptive language about plumage, cages, illusions, and invisibility -- either by blending into the environment or going along with what is asked of one for protection and safekeeping. (Many of the sections deal with a clever Magician who tries to control -- with tricks -- a wise Bird and a determined Lady.) Halfway through the book is the beginning of a more stripped language of illness.

Using poetic license at Marshal's suggestion, I turned to pages 34 and 35 (halfway to what would have been a page 69). Since this book was just published I was not that familiar with those pages and wasn't exactly sure what was there. (Also, it takes me awhile to get comfortable with a new book -- corrected page proofs cause me
little concern, but a book is "forever" so this was the first time I had actually opened it.)

At the bottom of page 34 I found that the last stanza of "Lady" Section V began the escalation of the entire meaning of the book:

tape held tight, the wound
where the dug scab once lived --

the crater where I now sleep

curled around the fevered wings

and quiver of a bird with black tips.

"Lady" Section VI, at the top of page 35, further developed this:

Hunting for the margins of the wound,
trying to get past the rancid place

to a paradise of garden...

Here was the beginning of final disappearance -- the real one -- and by page 69 it's all over.
Read more about The Scarlet Ibis at the publisher's website.

Several of Hahn's poems are available online at the Illinois Poet Laureate page.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

"Secondhand World"

Katherine Min’s short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, and Prairie Schooner, and have been widely anthologized, most recently in The Pushcart Book of Stories: The Best Short Stories from a Quarter-Century of The Pushcart Prize.

She applied the "page 69 test" to her highly-acclaimed debut novel Secondhand World and reported the following:
Page 69 of my novel Secondhand World turns out to be an encapsulation of Isa's (my 17-year-old Korean American narrator's) central difficulty -- the longing for acceptance by her Caucasian friends versus the filial bonds she feels toward her Korean immigrant parents. In her best friend Rachel's basement, Isa makes fun of her parents -- their accents and predilections -- for the pure amusement of her
peers.

"I would mimic my father cruelly," Isa says, "exaggerating the l's instead of r's, leaving out articles, making him sound like some dim-witted M*A*S*H extra." Later, Isa admits, "Oh, it was terrible what we did. My laughter was studded with guilt, pricked with shame. I watched Rachel laugh and could hate her for a moment, even as I laughed too, knowing that I was pandering to her racism, that my betrayal cost her nothing, that she was aware of no truth about my parents beyond what I told her. It made the laughter more pungent, more bracing. It made it necessary."

The book is about many things, but it is essentially this straddling of two cultures that leaves Isa feeling isolated from her friends and estranged from her family. I have thought about Isa more and more in the wake of the terrible tragedy at Virginia Tech, and I wonder, under different circumstances, what role this sense of disconnection -- from both adolescent American culture and more traditional Confucian Korean values -- could have played in Cho Sang-Hui's own dark sensibility.

Isa finds a kind of redemption at the end of her struggle; tragically, Cho Sang-Hui did not. I only wish that he -- like Isa -- was fictional.
Visit Katherine Min's website, and read an excerpt from Secondhand World.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue