Saturday, December 29, 2007

"The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes"

Andrew Lycett studied history at Oxford University. After an early career as a foreign correspondent specializing in Africa and the Middle East, he now writes biographies. His lives of Dylan Thomas, Rudyard Kipling and Ian Fleming have been highly praised.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my biography The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle proves significant.

It starts with Conan Doyle as a medical student experimenting with gelseminum, a poisonous and potentially fatal plant drug. His experiences during this phase of his life were important in the creation of his character Sherlock Holmes, who drew many techniques of observation and analysis from his university mentor Dr Joseph Bell.

Although never a cocaine addict like Holmes, Conan Doyle, as this scene shows, was himself an indefatigable investigator, as he looked into drugs and their properties, and was willing, like Holmes, to test them on himself.

At the time he was working as a locum for another doctor whose wife became so alarmed at this self-abuse that she threatened to tell Conan Doyle's mother -- a dominant presence in his life since his father was incapacitated as an alcoholic and epileptic.

Page 69 also tells of some of Conan Doyle's friends and acquaintances at Edinburgh University, from the mysterious Bryan Waller, who enjoyed a close friendship with his mother, to George Budd, a maverick medic with whom Conan Doyle went into partnership in Plymouth after graduating. Their relationship quickly broke down and Conan Doyle moved to Portsmouth, where he set up his own doctor's practice and began to write stories.

Conan Doyle's student days in Edinburgh were very important in the development of a callow youth just out a Jesuit school into a mature and sceptical man.
Read an excerpt from The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes and learn more about the book at the Simon & Schuster website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 27, 2007

"Good Germs, Bad Germs"

Jessica Snyder Sachs is a contributing editor to Popular Science and Parenting magazines and writes regularly for Discover, National Wildlife, and other national publications. Prior to becoming a full-time freelance writer in 1991, she managed and edited Science Digest.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest book, Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Good Germs, Bad Germs lands us smack in the middle of the new war against “stealth infections.” It's about how a new generation of microbe hunters has begun using DNA fingerprinting to comb through the body for bacteria we never knew were there. Are these bugs causing disease or are they innocent bystanders?

Hopefully, the information is compelling enough to get the page-69 reader to read on. For to stop here could leave the WRONG impression. That's because the idea of eradicating these so-called stealth infections may cause far more harm than good. The danger lies in the possibility that their discovery will set off a call to arms that brings about a historic increase in antibiotic use before we have applied the hard-won lessons of our first Hundred Year War on germs. So here's page 69…

In the early 1990s, while analyzing the joint tissue of arthritis sufferers, Hudson turned up two types of chlamydia -- Chlamydia trachomatis, normally associated with genital and eye infections, and Chlamydia pneumoniae, a common cause of respiratory infections. More famously, in 1996 he began fishing C. pneumoniae out of the brain cells of Alzheimer's victims.

Around the same time, medical researchers began finding the genetic fingerprints of C. pneumoniae and various kinds of mouth bacteria in the arterial plaque of heart attack patients. This finding spurred many cardiologists to begin putting their patients on antibiotics, a practice largely stopped in 2005. That year brought the much-anticipated results of a study involving more than four thousand heart disease patients who had been taking the powerful antibiotic gatifloxacin for two years.

The results of the study confirmed that the treatment failed to reduce the risk of heart attack or the degree of atherosclerosis, or artery blockage. However, the trial did not so much exculpate C. pneumoniae as demonstrate that even long-term courses of strong antibiotics fail to fully eradicate it.

So the study, while it squelched the growing use of gatifloxacin among cardiologists, opened up tremendous interest in developing stronger, more effective drug regimens to eradicate not only C. pneumoniae but also a growing number of other so-called stealth infections.

Clearly, the financial incentives are huge. If, for example, a powerful new antibiotic proved even partially effective in reducing the risk of heart attack, the resulting prescriptions would number in the millions, possibly tens of millions. “We're talking about the majority of the population being on long-term antibiotics, possibly multiple antibiotics,” says Vanderbilt University chlamydia specialist William Mitchell, cofounder of a company pursuing just such a cure. Moreover, if preliminary results are any indication, these would be prescriptions not for a several-day course of antibiotic, but for months, possibly years, of daily use.

More recently, psychiatrists have begun putting young patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder on long-term antibiotics, a trend that …
Read an excerpt from Good Germs, Bad Germs and learn more about the book and author at Jessica Snyder Sachs' website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 24, 2007

"Gods Behaving Badly"

Marie Phillips' new book is Gods Behaving Badly.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the debut novel and reported the following:
Curse you, Marshall McLuhan and your dirty mind! Couldn't you have come up with the page 70 test? No, it had to be page 69. Very funny, very risque. Thing is, my page 70 is great, and full of the snappy dialogue which is probably the forte of this book. But my page 69 has no dialogue at all, and is just so ... so BORING.

Sometimes a writer has to do what a writer has to do and what this writer had to do on page 69 was exposition. There's a lot of action in pages 1 to 67 in Gods Behaving Badly but at the beginning of Chapter 12 (page 68) I slow it down a bit, to spend some time inside the mind of Artemis, goddess of hunting, chastity and the moon.

On page 69 Artemis is out for a jog, thinking about, first of all, how the Olympian gods got their power:

Running up a grassy slope, Artemis almost tripped on a root. There had been a time when they hadn't been gods either. The Titans had been in charge once, but they had weakened, and the Olympians had exploited that weakness. Despite herself, Artemis couldn't help but imagine a world under the control of the sybils. It was a lot pinker than the world was now.

(Argh! That isn't even good grammar! "Would be", surely?)

Her thoughts move on to the imminent arrival of spring, and with it the goddess Persephone:

Spring was coming yet again, and soon Persephone would be home. She made a face. She hoped that they wouldn't have to have Persephone sleeping in their room again this year. She would have a word with Athena, make sure that she crammed even more books than usual into their space, making it impossible to squeeze the spare mattress onto the floor. There simply wasn't enough room for all of them in that house. Fortunately, Persephone had been making her visits to the upperworld shorter and shorter. Long ago, when Zeus had banished her to the underworld for every winter, he had bound her to a minimum yearly period to be spent underground. At the time, there had seemed to be little need to set a maximum limit. Of late, Persephone had begun taking advantage of this loophole.

Both of these topics provide need-to-know information for readers of the novel less versed in the Classics. First of all, I had to make it clear that the gods' power and position was not absolute, to show how much is at stake for them in this story. Secondly, I had to introduce the concept of the underworld, which becomes important later on. We don't actually meet Persephone until page 255. Think Victoria Beckham.

At the bottom of page 69, Artemis spots her cousin Eros, the god of love turned born-again Christian, and a more fun part of the novel is flagged up to commence. But it doesn't commence until you flip that page over and read on. If you still have the inclination to, after those chewy paragraphs....

Page 69 may be a useful page in the world of Gods Behaving Badly, but exposition does mean that sometimes your characters have to be conveniently running through parks, conveniently thinking about things that your readers need to know about. As just a single page in a 292-page novel, one does hope that it blends in, or at least that it's over quickly enough not to hurt. But taken out and read in isolation? Curse you, curse you, McLuhan! I am going to set the Furies on you.
Read more about the novel and watch a video of Phillips talking about Gods Behaving Badly.

Learn more about the author and her writing at the official Marie Phillips website and The Woman Who Talked Too much blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Ron Chudley's books include Old Bones (2005) and Dark Resurrection (2006). He has written extensively for television and for the National Film Board of Canada and has contributed dramas to CBC Radio's Mystery, The Bush and the Salon and CBC Stage.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest book Stolen, and reported the following:
Page 69 of the book is very indicative of the mystery and search that is the body of the book, and is well worth quoting, almost in its entirety ...

By the time the MG was meandering along the near-deserted streets of his destination, it was night. Foothills Industrial Park was huge, an entire suburb of factories, warehouses and miscellaneous industries. John’s stamina was ebbing, his patience just about gone. Nevertheless, when he got to the address he’d written down, immediately – and with vast relief that the journey was done – he found what he was looking for. It was a large corner lot surrounded by a high wire-mesh fence. A number of trucks were parked inside, and some unhitched trailers. To one side there was a freight warehouse. The front section of this was an office. Everything was closed and deserted but on the building was a clear sign: BOW RIVER FREIGHT LINES.

When he saw this, John’s heart began to pound. Also, unexpectedly, he experienced a rush of apprehension. Next door, a lane led deeper into the block. It was dark, shielded from the well-lit yard by the freight office, which backed onto it. Without thinking, John swung into the lane and stopped. He cut the engine and doused the lights. His stomach was in a knot. His hands shook. Simple reaction, he knew, but somehow it didn’t help.

Five minutes later, the shaking had stopped but now he was feeling like a fool. What was he doing, skulking in the dark? Come to that, why had he come here tonight anyway? Even without messing up the route, he’d have arrived long after business hours. He must have known that before starting out.

But he’d had to come. Seeing the company name in the phone book was one thing, being here quite another. Even though there was nothing to be done, arriving at the physical location of the only clue to Nate’s vanishing, made his belief more tangible.

The plot of Stolen is as follows:

John Quarry is on vacation with his small son when a tragedy occurs: during an overnight stop in the Fraser Canyon, the child is lost in the river. The coroner’s verdict is death by drowning, though the body is never recovered.

John stubbornly refuses to believe his son is dead – and he is right: the drowning has been ingeniously staged. A rich couple have stolen the child for their own.

With little hope, zero credibility and but a single clue, John sets out on a desperate search. The quest leads from BC to bustling Calgary, where he is arrested, Alberta’s Badlands, where he is nearly murdered, and ends in the foothills of the towering Rocky Mountains, where he is forced to undertake a last, perilous journey.

To save his son’s life – and his own – John must be more than brave, better than clever: he needs the blind faith found only in a parent-in-extremis. Fortunately, though lacking in much else, John has a lot of that.
Learn more about Stolen at the publisher's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Garden of Darkness"

"Anne Frasier's novels have spanned the genres of mystery, thriller, paranormal, science fiction, and horror. Garden of Darkness continues a dark tale started in Pale Immortal of a spooky Wisconsin town. In Before I Wake, a secret government medical experiment goes wrong. Play Dead plays out amid the voodoo scene in Savannah, Georgia. Sleep Tight, a traditional police procedural, is set in Minneapolis."

Frasier applied the Page 69 Test to the newly released Garden of Darkness and reported the following:
Wow. This was an interesting page 69 test. It’s one complete scene that I think does an excellent job capturing the book. The brief scene conveys the haunting of Tuonela, and the way the past and the dead reach out to the living – and the living reach back.

Page 69, Garden of Darkness:

Gloria Raymond woke up, tossed back the covers, and got out of bed. Without putting on shoes or a coat, without pulling up her hair or even covering it with a hat, she walked out the front door, then down the sidewalk to the center of the street.

A mile took her through the park and through vacant lots and woodland, across railroads tracks and broken glass. Feeling no pain, her feet cut and bleeding enough to leave footprints, she walked to the levee and climbed the chain-link fence that had been put up last year when a three-year-old drowned. Her pink cotton nightgown snagged and ripped as she dropped to the other side.

Even though she would be seventy-five next month, she jumped nimbly to the bobbing dock and walked to the end that jutted over the Wisconsin River.

The moon reflected off the surface.

A full moon, round like a face. The water rippled, creating a pretty, repeating design that was mesmerizing.

Under the surface of the water Gloria saw her husband smiling up at her, his eyes wide open. He reached for her hand, and she reached back….
Read the prologue to Garden of Darkness, and learn more about the author and her books at Anne Frasier's website and her blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"The Re-enchantment of the World"

Gordon Graham is Henry Luce III Professor of Philosophy and the Arts at Princeton Theological Seminary.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest book, The Re-enchantment of the World: Art versus Religion, and reported the following:
In terms of revealing the central topic of the book, p. 69 is not a bad choice. The book is about art’s ambition in the modern period to be something more than either craft or a diversion for its own sake, and to constitute a serious spiritual alternative to religion in general, and Christianity in particular. This is a specially important ambition for a secular world that has in large parts left religion behind. P. 69 quotes Nicholas Wolterstorff who draws a striking parallel between one of the artworld’s institutions – the National Gallery – and the medieval cathedrals that are Christianity’s greatest and most beautiful shrines in which, he says “works of art have replaced relics.” My book systematically explores both the idea of artistic “replacement” like this-- in music, painting, literature and architecture -- and it offers a philosophical assessment of art’s success in this regard. So if someone came across p. 69 only, they would get enough of an idea of the book’s purpose to incline them to read more – if it’s a topic that interests them.
Read more about The Re-enchantment of the World: Art versus Religion at the Oxford University Press website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"The Graving Dock"

Gabriel Cohen is the author of the Edgar Award-nominated novel Red Hook, its new sequel The Graving Dock, and the novel Boombox.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Graving Dock and reported the following:
Sometimes, you just have to laugh. When I open my new novel The Graving Dock to page 69, it starts with this paragraph, which finds the protagonist in bed with his girlfriend:

Later that night, Jack made love with Michelle. Or tried to, at any rate. He propped himself above her, watching her closed eyelids move and twitch. She had disappeared into a deep interior landscape, as if she was searching for her orgasm on some far horizon only she could see. He tried to help her move toward it, but tonight he couldn’t tell how much he was contributing.

There are just a few sex scenes in the book, and I have to credit the book designer for the placement of one of them on this particular page. Reading it, you wouldn’t know that this is a novel about a Brooklyn homicide detective trying to solve several cases — which is fine with me, because I’m always just as interested in exploring his character outside of his job.

Above all, I see any scene as a challenge to show how a particular character thinks and feels, how they would act and react to what’s going on, and I like writing sex and love scenes because they present a great opportunity to do that. Another character might not care about his partner’s satisfaction, or might not feel any insecurity about his own prowess, but Jack does, and I hope that helps make him more real and human in the reader’s eyes.

I sometimes read books where the writer sends his or her protagonist immediately plunging off into some very involved plot, and I think, Whoa, hold on — I need to care about who this person is before I can care about what happens to them. For me, getting the reader emotionally involved with the lives of the characters is Job Number One.
Read an excerpt from The Graving Dock and learn more about the novel and author at Gabriel Cohen's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 14, 2007

"The Lords’ Day"

Michael Dobbs served as Chief of Staff to British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major and was Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party in the mid-1990s. His many books include House of Cards, the first in what would become a trilogy of political thrillers based on the character Francis Urquhart.

Dobbs applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel The Lords’ Day, and reported the following:
I’ve always believed that in order to unravel the secrets of politics and history you need to understand the players - the men and women who make it happen. What motivates him, or her, what are their ambitions, their fears, their loves, their insecurities, their strengths, their flaws? What makes them get out of bed every day, and why do they stumble into the beds of totally inappropriate people so often?

Page 69 of The Lords’ Day has my hero, Harry Jones, being… well, Harry. He’s a former officer in the British Army, was also a Government Minister, too, and a man who irritates his superiors as readily as he inspires devotion amongst those who work for him. Trouble is, it's becoming clear by Page 69 that one of those he’s beginning to rub up the wrong way is his wife, and if a politician’s private life is a mess, sooner or later it’s going to ensure his public life is going to get squidgy, too. In Harry’s case, this is about to happen on the worst day imaginable, when terrorists take hostage all the most powerful people in the country, including the Queen and Prime Minister, and bring Britain grinding to a halt. Harry discovers that he’s the only man who can possibly prevent the entire day ending in disaster, but somehow you know his wife isn’t going to be any help at all…
Learn more about Michael Dobbs and his books.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"Hotel: An American History"

Andrew K. Sandoval-Strausz is assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Hotel: An American History, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Hotel: An American History is totally unrepresentative of the overall work in one respect: it’s a solid field of text with no visual material, whereas the book contains almost 140 illustrations. Telling the story of the hotel is in large part about architecture, and so the images are essential to really showing my readers what this distinctive institution was all about.

In other respects, though, page 69 is indeed representative of the book because it deals with one of its basic themes — how hotels went from being elite, exclusionary establishments to places that were sufficiently open to the public for one newspaper writer to call them “palaces of the public.”

In the first chapter of the book, I explain that the first generation of hotels of the 1790s were built by wealthy entrepreneurs and were specifically intended to exclude workingmen and artisans. These common people understood this perfectly well, and criticized hotels as the haunts of would-be aristocrats, undemocratic supporters of the “ancient colony system of servility and adulation.”

In this chapter, I describe how despite these origins, hotels managed to avoid criticism in the heyday of President Andrew Jackson, who rose to power by criticizing the high, mighty, and well connected — and thereby gaining the support of the common man.

I take up similar themes throughout the book as I explore the meaning of hospitality. One question that arises again and again is, Who is welcome and who is not? I write about struggles for inclusion by women, Jews, and especially black people, whose successful campaign to integrate hotels forms the climactic chapter of the book.

From page 69:

[H]otels escaped the condemnation of Jacksonian Democrats because very few enjoyed state-sponsored privileges. Incorporated banks or steamboat lines might fairly be criticized as private monopolies that barred the common people from fair economic competition, and railway corporations could be accused of seizing land, but there was little about unchartered hotel partnerships that could be attributed to special favors from corrupt legislators.

Furthermore, hotel projects enjoyed little in the way of public subsidies. Historians have long recognized that state governments were heavily involved in promoting economic development in the early nineteenth century ... [y]et there is scant evidence of direct public support of hotels, and with rare exceptions, states and municipalities avoided investing in hotel construction. An 1828 controversy over the financing of the Tremont House suggests that this was the case even in Boston, a redoubt of Federalists and Whigs who believed in economically active governance. A week before construction was to begin, the hotel’s lead investor, William Havard Eliot, petitioned the city for an allocation of five hundred dollars per year for ten years, a sum that would offset the property taxes on the project. When the measure came up before the Common Council, one member protested against the using public funds to aid a project that would benefit only the rich, citing the “danger of the precedent” that would be set by such a subsidy. If the city agreed to aid the wealthy men behind the hotel company, he asked, “Who shall defend the treasury from the assaults of the middling, the poorer, and the numerous classes of society, all of whom abound in projects that promise to increase both the capital and population of the city?” Local newspapers reported on the council proceedings, setting off weeks of arguments in which claims of the hotel’s benefit to the community were answered by remonstrances against the favoritism inherent in publicly funding some private projects and not others. Ultimately, the disagreement was decided by the city solicitor, who concluded that Boston could not spend taxpayer dollars on the hotel without specific authorization from the Massachusetts legislature.

The Tremont House investors’ failure to secure a public subsidy suggests an emergent consensus on state support of hotels…
Read an excerpt and learn more about Hotel: An American History at the Yale University Press website.

Check out a slide-show essay about the history of the hotel at Slate.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 10, 2007

"All the Pretty Girls"

J.T. Ellison is Murderati's Friday columnist, a short story writer, and a novelist.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel All the Pretty Girls, and reported the following:
Page 69 of All the Pretty Girls is in the POV of my secondary protagonist, FBI Profiler Dr. John Baldwin. It is a seminal moment (thank goodness) that sets up a section of subplot that is important to the culmination of the story. Baldwin is on a plane, heading to the crime scene of the fourth victim of the Southern Strangler. He has a mental flashback to the original call he received about one of the earliest victims of the Strangler from his somewhat unstable field partner on the case, FBI Special Agent Jerry Grimes. It gives back story on both Baldwin and his role in the investigation. There’s even a brief mention of Baldwin’s lover, my main protagonist Taylor Jackson, a snippet that sheds a bit of light on their relationship. Basically, this page is chock full of relevant information, and forces you to turn the page for the answer.

The man had been pretty broken up, too broken up. He had phoned Baldwin as soon as they’d cleared out of the Porter girl’s apartment, finished with the statements of family and friends. Baldwin mentally replayed the conversation. It was a knack he had, being able to tap into his brain and extract what he needed with total recall. Taylor sometimes hated him for it, she could never get away with anything. He smiled at the thought, then plugged into his mental database.

It had been a quiet night. For the past few months, Baldwin had been tasked to the Middle Tennessee Field Office, ostensibly working as a regional profiler. Baldwin had been working cases for the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit out of Quantico peripherally, consulting when needed. He wasn’t exactly in retirement, but on a pseudo sabbatical, allowing him to be in Nashville with Taylor. The arrangement was working wonderfully until this phone call, the familiar voice booming in his ear.

“The esteemed Dr. John Baldwin, I presume?” The sharp bite of sarcasm wasn’t lost on Baldwin, even some of the FBI’s own field officers didn’t like dealing with the profilers.

“It’s Jerry Grimes. I’m down here in Mississippi on a case.”

Baldwin remembered how his heart skipped a beat, revving in anticipation. His senses went on high alert. Grimes wasn’t calling him on his own accord, he’d been instructed to do so by a higher up. He had dropped the niceties as well.

“We’ve got a missing girl. Young, brunette. Has all the hallmarks of...”
Read an excerpt from All the Pretty Girls and learn more about the author and her writing at J.T. Ellison's website and MySpace page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 9, 2007

"Not Quite Dead"

John MacLachlan Gray is a writer-composer-performer for the stage, film, television, radio and print. He is well-known for his stage musicals, including the successful Billy Bishop Goes to War, and for his satirical videos on CBC-TV’s The Journal. Gray is the recipient of many awards — a Golden Globe, the Governor General’s Medal and the Order of Canada.

His most recent book is Not Quite Dead, to which he applied the Page 69 Test and reported the following:
Page 69 of Not Quite Dead sits precisely between two major scenes.

I can't reveal the previous scene because to do so would be a bit of a spoiler.

The scene to follow contains a discussion between Chivers and a bartender over the latter's infected thumb. The bartender is German, a reminder that, in America in 1849, other than the Indians, hardly anybody was "from" America. Meanwhile in story terms, Dr. Chivers finds out things that confirm his worst fears about the mess Poe has got him into.

Such scenes-between-scenes are valuable as an opportunity to take the character and the reader back to the base situation, to pull the pieces together before blowing them apart again.

Everything has something to do with the base situation, either in fact or in theme or in atmosphere. The page is too precious to waste on the writer's own thoughts and opinions.

That's about all I can say about Page 69.
Read an excerpt from Not Quite Dead, and learn more about the author and his work at John MacLachlan Gray's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 7, 2007

"The Last Striptease"

Michael Wiley teaches literature and writing at the University of North Florida. The Last Striptease, winner of the PWA/SMP “best first” prize, is his first mystery featuring Joe Kozmarski.

Wiley applied the Page 69 Test to the novel and reported the following:
From Page 69:

[The scene: in a hospital in Chicago]

Eileen came back and her face had hope in it, though her eyes said she’d been crying. “He doesn’t look so bad,” she said. “He wants to see you, too.”

He had breathing tubes through his nose, tubes in his arms, tubes snaking under his medical gown. He looked like he could breathe underwater with no tanks, like he could crap without a toilet. Seeing him like that made me cry, too.

“Looking good,” I said.

The Last Striptease is a mystery novel with guts. In this scene, the guts are Chicago police detective Bill Gubman’s, and they’ve been spilled onto cold concrete in a late-night shooting.

But the guts are also his wife Eileen’s. She’s a minor character in the book, but her hopefulness and love are typical of the other characters. And, most of all, the guts are Joe Kozmarski’s. He’s the private detective who is the voice and the hero of The Last Striptease. He laughs and he wisecracks, but he feels deeply and hurts for his friends like Bill.
Read an excerpt from The Last Striptease, and learn more about the book and author at Michael Wiley's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

"Shooting War"

Shooting War creator and writer Anthony Lappé is Executive Editor of, the web-site for the Guerrilla News Network. He is the co-author of their critically acclaimed book True Lies (Plume, 2004) and the producer of their award-winning Showtime documentary about Iraq, BattleGround: 21 Days on the Empire's Edge. He has written for the New York Times, The Huffington Post, New York, Vice, and Salon among many others, and has been a producer for MTV News and Fuse.

Lappé applied the Page 69 Test to Shooting War, which is illustrated by Dan Goldman, and reported the following:
Page 69 (below, click to enlarge) in my new graphic novel Shooting War has no dialogue. It shows our protagonist Jimmy Burns placing some kind of electronic device in the corner of his Baghdad hotel room. He has just told his producer, a local Iraqi woman, that he think he's under surveillance. He's only been in country for a couple of weeks, and the paranoia is already eating away at his sanity. He will find out soon enough that just because he's paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get him. The year is 2011, and the 26-year-old Burns has found himself in the unlikely position of being a network news correspondent in war-torn Iraq. The Brooklyn-based videoblogger got his big break when he happened to be uploading a live rant in front of a Starbucks when a suicide bomber blew the coffee joint to kingdom come. He becomes an overnight mainstream media star, and is snatched up by a new controversial, no-holds-barred network (Global News: "Your home for 24-hour terror coverage"). The network makes him an offer he can't refuse - a shot reporting from civil war-torn Iraq, where the situation is so dangerous most of their competitors have pulled their star reporters. Burns' greatest dream (to be a war correspondent) becomes his biggest nightmare as he nearly loses his mind in the paranoia, chaos and destruction of the spiraling civil war. On page 69, we see him trying to take matters into his own hands for the first time.
Check out an excerpt from Shooting War and learn more about the book at the official website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 3, 2007

"The Year of Living Biblically"

A.J. Jacobs is the editor at large at Esquire magazine. He has written for the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, New York magazine and Dental Economics magazine, one of the top five magazines about the financial side of toothcare.

His books include
The Know-It-All, the bestselling memoir of the year he spent reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in a quest to become the smartest person in the world, and The Year of Living Biblically, to which he applied the Page 69 Test and reported the following:
Page 69 of my book The Year of Living Biblically is a decent page. Not the best, but not the worst. If my pages were presidents, I’d put page 69 somewhere in the James K. Polk range. It’s no Jefferson or Lincoln, but it’s not Warren G. Harding or Ulysses S. Grant either.

My book is about the year I spent trying to follow the Bible. Everything in the Bible, without picking and choosing. I wanted to follow the Ten Commandments, tithe my income, love my neighbor. But also wanted to try the less famous rules as well – to refuse to wear clothes of mixed fibers, avoid uttering the names of pagan gods, and stone adulterers.

The year was partly a spiritual journey (I grew up with no religion, so this was an attempt to get a crash course in spirituality – and the project did end up permanently changing my life in surprising ways). It was also partly an attempt to figure out what it really means to take the Bible literally, as so many people say they do.

Page 69 is a brief meditation in how traditional Judaism reads the Bible. I talk about the difference between the literal words of the Bible, and the interpretations that the rabbis have come up in the hundreds of years since the Bible was written. The two can be radically different. A quick excerpt from the book:

consider this passage:

“You are not to boil a young goat in the milk of its mother.” Exodus 23:19 (NASB)

If you take this literally, as I’m trying to do, this is relatively easy. I think – with a little willpower and a safe distance from farms – I can make it for a year without boiling a baby goat in its mother’s milk. My friend John suggested that, worse comes to worst, I could boil the baby goat in its aunt’s milk. Thanks, John.

But the rabbis have a far more elaborate interpretation: Exodus 23:19 actually means to separate milk and meat. Which is where you get the kosher rules banning cheeseburgers. Along with the myriad rules about how long you must wait between a meat course and a dairy course (from one to six hours, depending on local tradition) and whether you should separate dairy utensils and meat utensils in a dishwasher (yes).

So there you have it. Page 69. I hope – or pray, I suppose – that it's good enough to inspire you to read more.
Read an excerpt from The Year of Living Biblically and learn more about the book and author at A.J. Jacobs' website and MySpace page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 1, 2007

"Broken Heartland"

J.M. Hayes is the author of The Grey Pilgrim (2000), Mad Dog & Englishman (2000), Prairie Gothic (2003), Plains Crazy (2004), and Broken Heartland (2007).

He applied the Page 69 Test to Broken Heartland and reported the following:
Broken Heartland is the fourth in my seasonal Kansas Mystery Quartet. My theory for this series is that nothing ever happens in small towns. But when it does, everything that can go wrong, will, and all at once. Call it Murphy's Law, squared. That's why each of the books takes place in twenty-four hours or less. The peace and quiet of Buffalo Springs is interrupted by some monstrous crime. Sheriff English, under-staffed and under-funded, sets out to bring the criminals to justice while his half-brother, the town oddball and a born-again Cheyenne, tends to get in the way and seem a likely suspect. Mad Dog also likes to bring his talents as a would-be shaman to unraveling the crime, or further complicating it.

Given the break-neck pace and sense of humor of the average Mad Dog & Englishman novel, one might expect a bit of wacky wildness on page 69. Instead, we find three characters on a farm. At least there's a hint of suspense. Someone is missing and two people are questioning the third. That results in a gun being drawn and confirmation that all is not well here, but it's hardly the high drama I'd like would-be readers to find. At least the man who pulls the gun reveals himself as someone other than your normal, run-of-the-mill bad guy when he curses his accusers with, "Dang! Now see what you've gone and made me do." If only this were a page 82 test we'd find a bit of humorous erotica, or, with a page 94 test, a building body count. Perhaps, next time, I'll have to ask my publisher for an early printout and an opportunity to revise with page 69 in mind. This time, I'll be satisfied with not finding any typos.
Learn more about the author and his books at the official website of J.M. Hayes.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Almost Graceland"

Steve Carlson has been a working actor and screenwriter for more than thirty years. In his varied career, he has been a series regular on General Hospital, The Young and the Restless, and Showtime’s A New Day in Eden. He has also guest-starred in hundreds of hours of television and starred or costarred in ten feature films. He has written feature films, television episodes, and books on working in acting.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel Almost Graceland, and reported the following:
Well, how can any author, when hearing about the page 69 test, not, at least, take a look and see what page 69 reveals in their novel? Mine actually made me laugh when I turned to it.

Elvis Presley was born a twin, but his twin was still-born. My book looks at what could have happened had he lived. My main character, Ray Johnston, was having a pretty rough go at life. The only unique thing about him was that hardly a day would go by without someone saying how much he looked like Elvis. He got pretty tired of it.

About this time in the book, the possibility that there may be a very plausible reason for those Elvis ‘look-alike’ looks are just starting to come to light. His life at the moment, however, was still in the toilet.

The name of my book is Almost Graceland and the first moment in the book that spawned the name … is on page 69. Here it is:

Early afternoon that same day, Ray was straightening up his trailer when he saw Sheree drive up in front. He went out to meet her. “Hey, babe. What’s up?” he asked, not used to seeing her there in the middle of the day.

“Just have a little surprise.” She kissed him ‘hello’ and led him to
the trunk of her car. “I got excited and couldn’t wait.”

She opened her trunk and motioned for Ray to look in. He did … then
looked back to Sheree questioningly.

“I got them at a garage sale yesterday,” she said proudly lifting out
one of a pair of two foot tall porcelain lions with one paw raised. “Aren’t they neat?”

“Well, yeah … but why?” Ray wondered.

“Why? For many reasons,” Sheree began, admiring the lions. “The
lion is the king of beasts and since you are my very own personal king, you should have them. Also, as you’ve told me many times, this is your castle. Your very own personal Graceland… almost. “And this…” she said, indicating the dirt road leading to the trailer, “This is the very fashionable drive over your ‘grounds’ to your castle. Elvis has lions at his Graceland, you should have them for yours. Actually, they should be on top of the pillars by your gates, but since they haven’t quite gotten built yet, I’ll just put them by the turn-off.”

“Aren’t they going to look a little strange out there?”

“They might look a little silly which is exactly what you need, my friend, a little whimsy.”


“Yeah, every time you look at them you’ll think of having fun.

… and it goes on from there. The two men do meet and the uneasy relationship that grows from that is interesting, many highs, many lows. Dealing with the most famous man on the planet did present its challenges.
Learn more about the novel and author at Steve Carlson's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Katherine Howell's first book, Frantic, was released by Pan Macmillan in May 2007 in Australia, and will be published in 2008/09 in France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the UK. Her second book, The Darkest Hour, is scheduled for release in Australia in 2008.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Frantic and reported the following:
Paramedic Sophie Phillips has had a tough time lately. The struggle to juggle fulltime work with home life as mother to ten-month-old Lachlan and wife to police officer Chris is difficult enough, but Chris has become moody and argumentative since being assaulted two months ago. Add in the events of the other day when Sophie lost a mother and baby in an emergency delivery gone horribly wrong, and was then stalked and threatened by the bereaved husband and father, and it’s no wonder she’s stressed.

Now she and colleague Mick are on nightshift, at a drug overdose death in a park in central Sydney, expecting a long wait before police arrive to take over the case. She’s tired and unhappy and just wants the night to be over.

‘Wow. This is what I call service,’ Mick said.

Sophie turned to see two police cars crossing the dark lawns, their beacons going. ‘Why two? And why the lights?’

Mick’s mobile rang. ‘Mick Schultz,’ he answered. ‘Yes ... God, really? Are you sure? ... Of course. Yes, they’re here now. Okay, yes.’ He hung up.

Sophie’s stomach lurched at the look on his face. ‘What is it?’

Mick took a moment to clip his phone on his belt. The police cars drew closer. Their lights threw alternating red and blue beams across Mick’s pale face.

‘Mick?’ Sophie said.

‘You should prepare yourself.’

Sophie thought she’d never heard such a stupid statement from him. ‘What are you—’

‘It’s Chris. He’s been shot.’

‘That’s not funny.’

‘Sophie, I wish I was joking.’

The police cars pulled up beside them. The whole world was now blue and red. Sophie stared at Mick then heard the car doors open. ‘Mrs Phillips?’

She turned to face them. The looks on their faces told her it was true. Her mind teemed with questions – where, how, why – but two stood out. ‘Is Chris alive? Is Lachlan okay?’

A sergeant came closer. It was Hugh Green from Wynyard. He took her hand. His palm was clammy. ‘Chris is alive. He’s in Royal North Shore.’

She waited but he didn’t say any more. ‘Is he okay? Is he conscious?’

Hugh’s gaze was steady but he hesitated before lowering and softening his voice. ‘He was shot in the head.’

Sophie couldn’t breathe. ‘Is — is Lachlan hurt?’

Hugh’s hand tightened on hers. ‘We can’t find him.’

This scene really is the turning point in the book, as it both kicks off Sophie’s desperate search for her child and signals the delivery of the longed-for big case to Detective Ella Marconi. Of course, there’s that old saying about being careful what you wish for....
Read an excerpt from Frantic and learn more about Katherine Howell and her writing at her website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Recovery Man"

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is an award-winning mystery, romance, science fiction, and fantasy writer. She has written many novels under various names, including Kristine Grayson for romance, and Kris Nelscott for mystery. Her novels have made the bestseller lists and have been published in 14 countries and 13 different languages.

applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel Recovery Man, the sixth volume in the "The Retrieval Artist" series, and reported the following:
I think the p. 69 test works. It is representative of the novel with a big however. It’s in the middle of an already convoluted plot, so it does sort of float out there without references.

The point of view character in this section is 13-year-old Talia Shindo. Her mother, Rhonda, has just been kidnapped. Talia was left behind, unwanted, by the kidnapper. Talia’s mother had told her if there was ever any problem, to contact an attorney named Martin Oberholst in Armstrong, on Earth’s moon — which is a strange request, considering Rhonda & Talia live on Callisto, one of the moons of Jupiter.

This section shows the beginning of the conversation.

The Retrieval Artist, Miles Flint, doesn’t show up in this section. But it is his book as well and there are even hints of that in here.

Why the section is representative is that it brings in several plot threads, as well as Talia who is my favorite character in this book. Her voice is pretty strong here. She’s in a terrible crisis which she’s trying to solve herself, without knowing why everything is happening to her. It’s one of the threads of the book — the importance and drawbacks of secrets — and it’s on display here.

Page 69:

Besides, how could Mom have killed people in that wind-swept field? She never went anywhere. Until she came to Callisto, she’d never even been off Earth’s moon.

Unless that was a lie too.

Finally, a voice reached her. It was distant and thin, and it came after some text that warned her someone was going to contact her.

The voice said, “This is Celestine Gonzalez.”

By now, Talia was so annoyed, she almost said, Good for you. But she didn’t. Mom wouldn’t have liked it, and right now, she was doing what Mom told her.

“I wanted Martin Oberholst.” Talia knew she sounded petulant, but she didn’t care. This was an emergency. She’d told them that, and they hadn’t listened.

“Yes, I know, Miss Flint,” Celestine Gonzalez said after a slight delay. “But Mr. Oberholst no longer handles cases.”

“This isn’t a case,” Talia said. “This is my life. My mother’s been kidnapped.”

And my name isn’t Flint, but she didn’t say that either. No sense in confusing the matters any more than they already were.

“That’s what it says here,” Gonzalez said. “When did this happen?”

“I don’t know,” Talia said. “An hour or two ago. Mom told me to contact Mr. Oberholst if anything happened.”

“Our records show that you are contacting me from Callisto. Can’t you contact an attorney there?”

“Can I talk to someone who knows what’s going on?” Talia didn’t scream, but she came close. “Mom told me to call you people if anything happened to her. She said you’d take care of me.”

“Even though we’re on Armstrong?”

Visit Kristine Kathryn Rusch's website to learn more about Recovery Man and her other books and stories.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 23, 2007

"Kenneth Burke on Shakespeare"

Scott Newstok is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Rhodes College and editor of Kenneth Burke on Shakespeare, an annotated volume of "all of the Shakespeare criticism, including previously unpublished lectures and notes, by the maverick American intellectual Kenneth Burke."

Newstok applied the Page 69 Test to the book and reported the following:
Kenneth Burke (1897–1993) meditated at length on the need for selecting a “representative anecdote” when creating any kind of critical vocabulary. Per the guidelines of the page 69 test, is the following passage ‘representative’ of his criticism? I’m the editor, rather than the author, of this book by a brilliant, idiosyncratic American thinker — one whose writings influenced later Shakespeare critics such as Northrop Frye, Harold Bloom, and Stephen Greenblatt. So I’m understandably reluctant to speak for him — although Burke himself made some ingenious ventriloquisms of characters in his Shakespeare criticism. In fact, page 69 of Kenneth Burke on Shakespeare derives from his landmark 1951 essay on Othello, a piece that was first drafted in the voice of Iago (fascinating 1930s versions are to be found at the Burke Papers at Penn State University). While he subsequently abandoned this approach, there are traces of it still present on this page. (Kenneth Gross, no stranger to such projective voicing himself, suggests that Auden’s “Caliban to the Audience” was perhaps inspired in part by Burke’s earlier example of speaking through Marc Antony in “Antony in Behalf of the Play.”) We find Burke here attempting to read roles in the play not as novelistic characters (contra A. C. Bradley — perhaps unfairly identified with this supposed Victorian impulse), but rather as positions, strained against one another; or as clusters, or even as functions. We also see Burke’s ‘socio-anagogic’ impulse, a desire to read Shakespeare as ingeniously absorbing contemporary social tensions and translating them, by analogy, into dramatic tensions. Finally, there is an emphasis on scapegoating, which René Girard would later admire (and borrow) from Burke.

So, yes, there is much that is characteristically Burkean here — an anticipatory “whispering,” perhaps. Just take care not to term this a “psychoanalytic approach,” a later critic's reductive evaluation that purportedly made Burke weep.

From Page 69:

In sum, Desdemona, Othello, and Iago are all partners of a single conspiracy. There were the Enclosure Acts, whereby the common lands were made private; here is the analogue, in the realm of human affinity, an act of spiritual enclosure. And might the final choking be also the ritually displaced effort to close a thoroughfare, as our hero fears lest this virgin soil that he had opened up become a settlement? Love, universal love, having been made private, must henceforth be shared vicariously, as all weep for Othello’s loss, which is, roundabout, their own. And Iago is a function of the following embarrassment: Once such privacy has been made the norm, its denial can be but promiscuity. Hence, his ruttish imagery, in which he signalizes one aspect of a total fascination.

So there is a whispering. There is something vaguely feared and hated. In itself it is hard to locate, being woven into the very nature of “consciousness”; but by the artifice of Iago it is made local. The tinge of malice vaguely diffused through the texture of events and relationships can here be condensed into a single principle, a devil, giving the audience as it were flesh to sink their claw-thoughts in. Where there is a gloom hanging over, a destiny, each man would conceive of the obstacle in terms of the instruments he already has for removing obstacles, so that a soldier would shoot the danger, a butcher thinks it could be chopped, and a merchant hopes to get rid of it by trading. But in Iago the menace is generalized. (As were you to see man-made law as destiny, and see destiny as a hag, cackling over a brew, causing you by a spell to wither.)

In sum, we have noted two major cathartic functions in Iago: (1) as regards the tension centering particularly in sexual love as property and ennoblement (monogamistic love), since in reviling Iago the audience can forget that his transgressions are theirs; (2) as regards the need of finding a viable localization for uneasiness (Angst) in general, whether shaped by superhuman forces or by human forces interpreted as super-human (the scapegoat here being but a highly generalized form of the overinvestment that men may make in specialization). Ideally, in child- hood, hating and tearing-at are one; in a directness and simplicity of hatred there may be a ritual cure for the bewilderments of complexity; and Iago may thus serve to give a feeling of integrity.

These functions merge into another, purely technical. For had Iago been one bit less rotten and unsleeping in his proddings, how could this play have been kept going, and at such a pitch? Until very near the end, when things can seem to move “of themselves” as the author need but actualize the potentialities already massed, Iago has goaded (tortured) the plot forward step by step, for the audience’s villainous entertainment and filthy purgation.
Learn more about Kenneth Burke on Shakespeare at the publisher's website, and visit editor Scott Newstok's faculty webpage.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"The Snake Stone"

Jason Goodwin is the author of Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire, among other award-winning nonfiction. The Janissary Tree, his first novel and the first in a series featuring Yashim, was published in May 2006 to international acclaim.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the second Yashim novel, The Snake Stone, and reported the following:
Set in 1830s Istanbul, The Snake Stone is the second outing for my Ottoman investigator, Yashim, following The Janissary Tree, which won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery 2007.

My own fascination with Istanbul began when I walked 2000 miles across Eastern Europe to reach it in 1990. Later, inspired by that experience and driven by my own ignorance, I sat down and wrote a book called Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire. The Yashim mysteries naturally draw on my research, but they aren't history books with a mystery twist: they're thrillers through and through. The 1830s happens to be an era of tension, between those who would drag the Ottoman empire into the modern world, and traditionalists who look to the glory days of the past. It's a fertile time for murder and suspense.

Presiding over the narrow waters of the Bosphorus which link the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, Istanbul stands at the turnstile of the continents, with Asia on one side, Europe on the other. Not surprisingly, it has a fabulous heritage of good cooking – so, among his other attributes, Yashim is great cook.

He's also a eunuch.

Page 69? It's quiet time, a conversation with the French ambassador. A page earlier, and we're with Maximilien Lefèvre, a French archaeologist who has called on Yashim to help him get out of the city. As Yashim explains to the ambassador: 'I saw him off on a caique from Fener the night before last. I assumed he had left Istanbul.'

Only Lefèvre is now a corpse.

A page later, we realise that Yashim himself is the chief suspect.

The Snake Stone delves into the city's Byzantine past to reveal a shocking secret and a murderous betrayal.

You can find out more about the books – and Istanbul – at my website.
Read an excerpt from The Snake Stone.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Precious Blood"

Jonathan Hayes is an English freelance writer living in New York City, a career forensic pathologist, a Senior Medical Examiner in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manhattan, and a clinical assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel Precious Blood, and reported the following:
Page 69, Precious Blood:

scale were illegible. Jenner suspected the Pittsburgh team had better images.

He skipped through the opening sequence of front door (no force marks), unremarkable living room perspective, unremarkable stairway perspective, unremarkable dining room perspective, tabbing quickly through the images until he reached the kitchen door.

With the door shut, there was little hint of the carnage within – no wonder that responding officer had almost called it in as nothing. There was a small spot of blood at knee level on the kitchen door, but there was no blood on the frame, nor on the paneling on the side of the stairway nor on the wall or the big plate cabinet on either side of the hallway. He flicked back to the shot of the inside of the front door, also clean. Then forward into the kitchen.

Her body was naked, belly down, arms splayed, legs half-crossed. There was an arc of blood spatter low on the counter cabinet near the trunk, and the upper torso lay in a large puddle of maroon to brown blood that spread across the floor. There were thinner smears around the floor, ugly little skids in dry brown clot.

In the closer shots, the backs of her legs were clean, with some smeared blood on the posterior torso, probably from when he’d undressed her. It was likely that he’d killed her in that position, been on her back as he cut her throat from behind, like sacrificing an animal, arterial blood spurting sideways from the left carotid, bleeding out forward onto the floor underneath her.

He would have stayed behind her to sever the head, lifting her up and back with his palm under her chin as he worked on separating it.

Jenner could see no ligature marks on legs or arms.

He moved forward in the sequence. There was a surprising amount of blood on the walls, not large droplets but fine spatter, almost mist. Dowling had said he’d cut her up: there must be injuries on the front of the body. A ceiling shot showed some more of the blood mist on the low pendant lampshade, actually inside the shade.

And then the head, on the island in a coagulating lake of yellow/cream milk,

So, yeah, well… yikes! I don't think Precious Blood is particularly gory, but I'd agree that page 69 is pretty hardcore. In this scene, Jenner is examining a CD-ROM of crime scene photographs from a murder in rural Pennsylvania that he suspects is connected to the serial killer he's hunting in New York City.

Like me, Jenner is a forensic pathologist, and here he's doing something I've done many times. When you look at crime scene photos, you build a model of the death scene in your head, furnish it with bullet impact marks, decorate it with blood spatter, then figure out how the bodies must have moved to create this mark and that stain. At first, it's hard to know what you're really looking at; you start with an overview, then gradually refine it, noting the relative position of the body and the blood spatter, the color and thickness of the blood clot, etcetera – you try to get a sense of the forest before focusing on how they cut down the tree. Page 69 is a solid description of the way a forensic scientist thinks as he examines a death scene.

In Precious Blood, I've tried to show what it's like to do the work I do. One thing I wanted to express was something I see frequently: the unexpected, explosive punctuation of everyday life by intense violence. One night, back in the early 80's when I was a medical student in London, I was coming home from a Buzzcocks concert on one of the last trains of the night, filled with the usual riot of beery post-show types. There was a female punk holding a half-full beer mug, slouching against the partition by the doors. She looked up, saw a young student-y fellow looking at her, and said, "What you lookin' at?" Flustered, he started to stammer something. The train was pulling into the station; as the doors began to open, she smashed her mug against the partition, slashed his face, then ran. He reeled backward, hands pressed to his face as the blood poured between his fingers. I think of that moment often – him, her, how everything went wrong in under five seconds. In Precious Blood, violence suddenly slams into people, just like in real life.
Read an excerpt from Precious Blood -- or listen to an excerpt -- and learn more about Jonathan Hayes and his work at his website and the Precious Blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 19, 2007

"The Story of French"

Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow's work has appeared in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the International Herald Tribune and the French Canadian public affairs magazine L’actualité. Their books include Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong and The Story of French.

They applied the Page 69 Test to the latter title and reported the following:
The Story of French is a popular history of the French language told from the perspective of the entire French-speaking world, and not just France. In it, we tried to explore – and debunk – the many myths about French. The thing we discovered when we were doing our research was that everybody has an opinion about French – they either think it’s a beautiful language and are dedicated to it, or they think it’s a dying language and feel it should give up its pretense of grandeur. In the book, we explain where both these perceptions come from, while we cover the history and evolution of the language “from Charlemagne to the Cirque du Soleil.”

Curiously, the first thing that comes to mind when people think of French is often the French Academy, that crazy, archaic, some would say obsolete group of old men (actually, there have been a few women members) who have been trying to “control” French for centuries. Well, I was a little surprised to see that page 69 is the beginning of our discussion of the French Academy.

This is pretty representative of the rest of the book. The Story of French is more about geopolitics than about linguistics, and here we give the little-known, behind-the-scenes story of the Academy’s formation, which had more to do with political power than language.

“The Academy started out as one of dozens of informal literary clubs in Paris in the early seventeenth century…”

In 1634, France’s prime minister, the infamous Cardinal Richelieu, decided to take it over and give it a sort of monopoly in the hopes of wiping out the other clubs, which were posing a threat to the King’s power. Hence it became “the” Academy. As you can read in the pages preceding page 69, the whole idea of making French “pure” came before the French Academy. The King just sort of cashed in on the movement to consolidate his power.
Read an excerpt from The Story of French and learn more about the authors and their writing at their official website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue