Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"The Law of Dreams"

Peter Behrens' collection of short stories, Night Driving, was published in 1987. His stories and essays have appeared in Tin House, Brick, Best Canadian Stories, Best Canadian Essays, the Atlantic Monthly, and many anthologies. After his first story published in the US appeared in the Atlantic Monthly and was optioned in Hollywood he began to work as a professional screenwriter.

He applied the "Page 69 Test" to The Law of Dreams, his first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69. Well, it's a good test page for The Law of Dreams because it is a crucial scene. My protagonist Fergus, an Irish teenager (teenager was a concept not yet invented in 1846, but he is 15), has fled from the workhouse and set off for god knows where (his sense of geography is very limited; he's not exactly sure he lives in a country called Ireland; has hardly heard of Dublin). The law of dreams is, keep moving. He has stowed away on a wagonload of brand-new, empty, pine coffins (a bustling trade at the height of the Famine). It's the middle of the night on a bleak icy stretch of road in bogland, when the wagon is halted by a gang of would-be highwaymen, calling themselves the "Bog Boys," who are mostly children led by a girl dressed as a boy -- a former milkmaid -- calling herself Luke. The Bog Boys would like to think of themselves as a rebel gang but they are really confused orphan children led by Luke and Shamie, a young deserter from the British Army. They are "living rough" in the bog, feasting on stolen sheep and rabbits and birds' eggs and boiled nettles.

Luke asks Fergus to join them, and he thinks about it and agrees.

Luke is one of three girls in the story who are essential to Fergus' survival, to the development of his ability to feel a passionate erotic connectedness with life; a fierce desire to stay in life, not leave it.

While Luke is trying to persuade Fergus of the glamor and romance of the highwayman's life, the younger Bog Boys are "houghing," that is, using a thorn to opening a vein on the wagon horse's neck, and lick the blood for nourishment.

The scene was inspired by a line in a report written by a rural policeman to his superintendents in Dublin, during the Famine era: "Lawless children are infesting the highways."

It gave me a vision that Ireland in 1846-47 probably wasn't so different from Sierra Leone in the 1990s or Ethiopia or, now, Darfur. Any society breaking down, through famine or civil war, when orphaned children are cast away and forced to live outside the law, must band together to stay alive.

Nowadays, in East Africa, those outlaw rebel kids carry AK-47s; that's about the only difference I can see to what was happening in western Ireland in 1846/47.
Visit Peter Behrens' website and read an excerpt from The Law of Dreams.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 30, 2007

"Still Summer"

Jacquelyn Mitchard's novels include The Most Wanted, A Theory of Relativity, Twelve Times Blessed, The Breakdown Lane, Cage of Stars, and The Deep End of the Ocean, the first novel selected for the book club made famous by the TV host Oprah Winfrey.

Still Summer, her new novel, is about four friends who ruled the school twenty years ago gathering for an idyllic sailing vacation. Instead, after two days at sea, a single small mistake turns paradise a sun-baked hell.

Mitchard applied the "Page 69 Test" to the new book and reported the following:
On page 69 of Still Summer, Cammie Kyle explains why she feels it's almost her destiny to drive her mother crazy. Lenny Amato advises the girl to cut loose after college and stop being such a goody girl -- as it's obviously a source of resentment. In this context, he mentions his first mate, Michel, whose flirtation with Cammie on 'The Opus' will lead to disaster. He tells tales of the sea, of its amazing peace and power, of the horrible and yet awe-inspiring moments when the kindly mother ocean turns into a punishing madwoman. All of these elements that Lenny describes will shortly comprise his doom; and all the key elements of the story -- Cammie's relationships, Lenny's confidence and the women's friendships -- come together in what is shortly to a be harrowing race to survive. And they are all ready to combust.
Read more about Still Summer at Mitchard's website and at the Still Summer MySpace page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 28, 2007

"Fleeing Hitler"

Hanna Diamond is Senior Lecturer in French History and European Politics at the University of Bath. Her new book is Fleeing Hitler: France 1940, to which she applied the "Page 69 Test" and reported the following:
I was a bit taken aback when p.69 of Fleeing Hitler turned out to be an illustration which takes up the entire page. However, on reflection, I decided that this photo of peasant carts beautifully captures the main themes of the book. We can sense the slow progress made by these huge farm horses and the enormity of the efforts these people were making to distance themselves from the battle zone represented by the abandoned tank in the foreground of the picture.

This flight of French civilians from Hitler’s invading armies in 1940 reached monumental proportions and affected both those in rural and urban areas. Totally unaware of what lay ahead of them, people loaded up as much of their worldly possessions as they could carry or push along in prams and wheelbarrows or whatever they could find to enable them to leave their homes. As we can see, peasants piled their carts with all sorts of goods, including mattresses, furniture, cooking utensils as well as livestock. They tended to be much better prepared for this traumatic journey. By contrast, Parisians were ill equipped, having set out in inappropriate clothes and with little in the way of supplies as they had imagined that they would be able to buy food and petrol in the normal way. Towns in the south and west were swamped by the arrival of thousands of refugees from the capital and surrounding areas in addition to those who were already on the roads from Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland and the north of France. Shops soon emptied. People struggled to get enough to eat and to find adequate shelter; most were forced to sleep rough. Many were machine gunned down by the German planes and families became separated from each other in the chaos.

What would become of them? Why did these people leave the safety of their homes? Where did they go? What would be the consequences of the largest displacement of population Europe had seen since the middle Ages? I believe that the p.69 test holds good for my book. If you are intrigued by this photo and the scene it portrays, you can learn more about this previously untold story of the civilian experience of May-June 1940 in France.
Read more about Fleeing Hitler at the Oxford University Press website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"In Secret Service"

Mitch Silver is the author of In Secret Service, his debut novel which blends historical facts and figures with a fictional espionage plot.

He applied the "Page 69 Test" to In Secret Service and reported the following:
I've just had a chance to re-read Page 69 of In Secret Service and, yes, it's pretty representative of my book. It seems to be written in English and, as far as I know, the rest of the novel is, too.

The one little kink is, my book is really a dual story: Half is the secret manuscript called Provenance that Ian Fleming has written for posterity; and half is the story of the woman who opens this dangerous time capsule -- Amy Greenberg, an Associate Professor of Art History at Yale. As soon as she does, Amy finds bad guys coming out of the woodwork to get at her and her precious cargo. Page 69 is one of the modern pages about Amy; if you had chosen Page 68 for your blog, we would have heard my Ian Fleming character describing the somewhat twisted love life of Wallis Simpson before she became the Duchess of Windsor. And before she had her afternoon tryst in Kitzbuhel with Ian Fleming (my Page 83).

Page 69 also could have been (but isn't) one of the pages with showing one of the 30 or so historical documents woven into my story, from a picture of Hitler receiving the Windsors at Berchtesgaden to Rudolf Hess' dental records to a particularly incriminating note (written in German) on the Duke of Windsor's notepaper.

Still, it has Amy musing on how to counterfeit an illuminated manuscript like The Book of Kells, so yes, I'd have to say it's fairly representative.
Read an excerpt and learn more about In Secret Service at the official website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Four Seasons in Rome"

Anthony Doerr is the author of three books, The Shell Collector, About Grace, and Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World.

He applied the "Page 69 Test" to Four Seasons in Rome and reported the following:
Page 69 of Four Seasons starts with the words, “St. Peter’s altar” and ends with “Caligula.” In between, I puzzle over eighteen-hundred-year-old columns, the fourth-century Baths of Diocletian (a 32-acre bathing complex that included libraries, gyms, theaters, and, of course, plunge baths of every temperature), the color of ancient statuaries, and the Palazzo Farnese, a high Renaissance palace that took 74 years to build. Here are three paragraphs:

This city swirls with stories — the deeper into the library stacks you go, the more stories pile up around you. One pope’s nephew beats another pope’s nephew at cards in 1485 and the winnings finance the construction of the Cancelleria, a 3-story palace just off the Campo dei Fiori that is the size of a city block. Can this possibly be true? Does it matter?

Here’s something you can spend a day considering: At least 220 plaster flowers the size of patio tables hang from the underside of Michelangelo’s cornice of the Palazzo Farnese, staring down at whoever cares to look up. Not one of these flowers is the same as any other. How long would something like that take?

Here’s something else: most of the ancient temples, monuments, and statues were originally painted. The color of classical Rome was not chalky white but electric blue, strawberry blond, sunshine yellow: a seven-year-old’s coloring book, magenta temples, violet skies.

Is page 69 representative of the entire book? In one sense, it is. It’s certainly representative of Rome; the way, in a single block, whole centuries are heaped atop one another, apocrypha swirling invisibly in every doorway. On page 69, we move from St. Peter to Caligula in the space of 13 sentences, and that’s precisely how I’d feel when I’d walk down a street in Rome: I was constantly tripping backwards through time. What I try to suggest on this page, and elsewhere in the book, is that the more you learn about Italy’s capital city, the more bewildering and fascinating it becomes.
Read an excerpt from Four Seasons in Rome, and learn more about the book at Doerr's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 22, 2007

"China's Brave New World"

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom is Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine.

He applied the "Page 69 Test" to his latest book, China's Brave New World — And Other Tales for Global Times, and reported the following:
Most of the “tales” in my book were inspired by trips I took. Page 69, though, comes in a rare chapter devoted to journeys taken by others. In addition, most chapters focus on the present or the very recent past. But page 69 comes in one titled “Around the World with Grant and Li,” which looks back to the 1870s. So, in two basic ways, page 69 is far from representative.

Still, in two other ways, reading it gives the reader an accurate sense of China’s Brave New World. The first representative feature relates to content. A recurring theme in the book is links between China and America, and page 69 refers to the time in 1876 when Ulysses S. Grant (who would soon, after his presidency ended, take a trip around the world) met Li Gui (a Chinese man midway through circumnavigating the globe). And as readers learn from an earlier page, General Grant and Mr. Li encountered one another at a World’s Fair that was held in an American city (Philadelphia) and included an exhibit from China that, according to one guidebook, made visitors feel they “had suddenly landed in some large Chinese bazaar.”

The other thing at least fairly representative about page 69 is its whimsical tone. It is rare for a professor of history to be described as writing in a playful manner, but in China’s Brave New World, I often do just that.

The top of page 69 concludes a series of fanciful speculations about what Grant and Li might have talked about (battles, for example, as the latter’s life had also been changed by a civil war) in 1876. (The historical record tells us that they met at a fairground reception, but not what — if anything — they said to each other.) Then, building upon my earlier quotation of a favorite line by Henry James — which differentiates between the historian (“who wants more documents than he can really use”) and the dramatist (who “only wants more liberties than he can really take”) — page 69 continues as follows:

In the end, there might be so much that a dramatist as opposed to a historian would want to do with Li and Grant that limiting their contact to a single meeting, even one with a lot of conversation, would begin to feel too constricting. Why not, one might wonder, take a very big liberty, while still remaining within the realm of the possible if not the provable or even the probable, and imagine that Grant and Li saw each other a second time, when the General stopped in Shanghai? Li Gui was back in China by then and working nearby in Ningbo, so there is no reason why it could not have happened, even if there is not a single shred of evidence that it did.

A dramatist imagining the dialogue for such a reunion on the other side of the world from Philadelphia could have a field day, as there would be so many things for the two men to talk about…
Read more about Wasserstrom's China's Brave New World — And Other Tales for Global Times.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 20, 2007

"Nightmare in Napa"

Paul LaRosa is an Emmy Award-winning producer for the CBS newsmagazine 48 Hours. He won a Primetime Emmy for the acclaimed CBS documentary 9/11, and has also won a Peabody Award, a Christopher Award, and an Edward R. Murrow Award. For sixteen years he was reporter for the New York Daily News, where he was the co-winner with Anna Quindlen of the Meyer Berger Award given by Columbia University's School of Journalism.

LaRosa is the author of Tacoma Confidential and Nightmare in Napa, to which he applied the "Page 69 Test" and reported the following:
“A collective gasp filled the room.”

That’s the first sentence of page 69 of my non-fiction book Nightmare in Napa so I guess I feel pretty lucky. I think that’s a pretty darned good start for the page but let’s continue.

“No one could believe what they were hearing and before anyone asked the question, the human resources woman said, ‘Leslie was murdered along with her roommate last night by someone who broke into their house. We really don’t know anything else.’”

That paragraph basically sums up the story of my book. Two young women killed in their home and no one knows who did it. In my mind, it’s like an Agatha Christie mystery and we (you and me, dear reader) are going to solve this crime together. I think as a reader, if I were subscribing to the Page 69 test, I would probably buy the book at this point.

The rest of the page goes on to talk about how Leslie got her job at the Niebaum-Coppola winery and how well-liked she was. Now here is another interesting tidbit on that page – the famous Coppola name, as in Francis Ford Coppola. He owns the winery where Leslie worked and in fact the two had met each other on several occasions. Everyone is interested in the Godfather of the Godfather movies, aren’t they? Here you know you’re going to get at least some information about what it was like to work at the famous man’s winery which is, by the way, one of the most beautiful tasting rooms in all of Napa.

On this page, you also find out a bunch more about Leslie, how sociable she was and how she formed a small posse with women her own age.

In this case, this page works very well to whet one’s appetite for the rest of the book, I think.
Read an excerpt from Nightmare in Napa and learn more about the book at Paul LaRosa's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Joanna Kavenna's first book, The Ice Museum, was short-listed for the Ondaatje Prize. Her writing has appeared in the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and the International Herald Tribune, among other publications.

She applied the "Page 69 Test" to her new novel, Inglorious, and reported the following:
By p 69 of Inglorious my protagonist Rosa Lane has left her job and her relationship and embarked on a mock-heroic quest for meaning in her life. Rosa is 35, and her mother has recently died. This causes her to question some of her assumptions. Her job as a journalist, which has supplied her with a sense of purpose for over a decade, seems suddenly inexplicable; she finds she can no longer produce confident opinions, elegant phrases. She realises she knows very little about anything.

By p 69 some months have passed since Rosa left her job and relationship, and she is really out on a limb. She has fallen into debt, and is trying to find work, while living in a borrowed room in North-West London. She undergoes a daily series of minor trials, all part of her comical mock-quest for meaning: she roams around London, seeing the city anew after all these years, meeting contemporary gorgons and battling miniature demons.

On p 69, she is describing a visit she recently made to a doctor, Dr Kamen. She goes to see the doctor in the hope that her malaise might have a physical cause, which can be cured with medicine, but the doctor disappoints her. He tells her she is not physically unwell. He asks her to tell him what she is feeling, and so on p 69 Rosa is trying to explain that she is troubled by an ‘unseen impediment’, some ‘basic fact. Or conjunction of facts. Perhaps not even facts, just things. And then some days,’ she adds, ‘I think that maybe this is what I’m trying to get to, this fact – or facts, this thing – or things – that would explain everything.’

The doctor doesn’t really understand. He tells her not to fret so much, that her prince will come. He assumes that she is simply questing for love. This causes Rosa to retreat, aware that he has judged and misunderstood her, that he can supply no answers.

P 69 points up some of the concerns of Inglorious: Rosa’s sense of the mingled seriousness and absurdity of her quest, her self-consciousness, her sense that people like her are simply not meant to trouble the stream, are rather meant to go into work and be obedient. It also displays Rosa’s fears that revelations will not be forthcoming, that she will fail in her mock-quest.

P 69 also suggests how Rosa is constantly told to stop making a fuss, to get a grip. I thought this might be a likely response to a young woman who acts in this way. I felt there was a chance she would be told to buck up, to stop being self-indulgent. Rosa, who feels violently ill at ease in modern consumerist society, and yet can find no alternative, is sent into exile, but no one finds anything heroic or admirable in this exile. Everyone she encounters sees her as merely perverse, or confused, and advises her to submit to normality, the rules of her society.
Read an excerpt from Inglorious and more at Joanna Kavenna's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"The Tin Roof Blowdown"

James Lee Burke, a rare winner of two Edgar Awards, is the author of over twenty novels, including such New York Times bestsellers as Bitterroot, Purple Cane Road, Cimarron Rose, Jolie Blon's Bounce, and Dixie City Jam.

Invited to apply the "Page 69 Test" to his new novel The Tin Roof Blowdown, Burke weighed in with the following:
The Tin Roof Blowdown is probably my best work. I write a novel or a story as well as I can and I don't look back on it later. Kerouac once said that every piece of writing is a work of art if the writer gives it his best. He went on to say that it's best the reader make the determination about the book's success or lack of it, and the writer shouldn't have a say in things once the work is completed.

I was a great admirer of Kerouac and always felt that his career and life were a tragedy. But regardless of the afflictions he may have suffered, he left behind one quote that will always remain with me. He was drunk in a bar in Lowell, Massachusetts, when out of nowhere he said to an old friend of mine*, "Your art is the Holy Ghost blowing through your soul."

In my opinion, Jack said it all right there.

[*His name was Bruce Cook, a really fine fellow and gentleman of the old school. He had great reverence for Kerouac's work and wrote some of the best criticism on it.--JLB]
Visit James Lee Burke's website and read an excerpt from The Tin Roof Blowdown.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Dead Connection"

A former deputy district attorney in Portland, Oregon, the novelist Alafair Burke now teaches criminal law at Hofstra Law School.

She applied the "Page 69 Test" to her new novel, Dead Connection, and reported the following:
In Dead Connection, NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher gets a temporary assignment to the homicide squad when a publicity-seeking detective, Flann McIlroy, decides that she can help him catch a killer who finds his victims using an Internet dating website called FirstDate.com. Although the bulk of the book follows Ellie and Flann as they track the First Date killer through modern-day Manhattan, page 69 gives a glimpse into Ellie's past, as the daughter of a Kansas cop who was haunted by another elusive killer:

In a letter mailed to the Wichita Eagle in 1981, he included a sketch of one of the murder scenes – so graphic and accurate that police speculated it was drawn from a photograph. After another the next year, he sent the police an actual photograph along with an audiotape of the victim struggling to breathe. For years, that package was the College Hill Strangler's last known communication.

Then precisely twenty years later, a reporter at the city newspaper received an envelope containing a necklace and a Polaroid picture. The necklace was one police had been looking for since 1978 – stolen from the single mother who was the College Hill Strangler's first victim. The picture was of the corpse of another woman, the victim of a still-unsolved murder in 1997. With hopes of revival, EMT's had rushed her immediately from the bedroom where she was found strangled to the hospital where she died. Only her killer could have a photo of her body.

The College Hill Strangler was back. The anonymous mailing was his way of announcing that to the police. While the city was comforted by false theories of his death or incapacitation, he still lived among them, killing. Over the next eleven months, he would dole out six more envelopes of surprises – letters, drawings, even poems. His desire to gloat finally led to his own capture when an alert teenager jotted down the license plate number of a car peeling rubber as it sped away from the neighborhood mail drop.

When the First Date killer starts to taunt Ellie using the same tactics as the College Hill Strangler, Ellie wonders if her connection to the Wichita killer was the only reason Flann wanted her on the First Date investigation. It also raises all of her old battles with the Wichita police, who labeled her father's death a suicide, even as Ellie and her mother Roberta insisted his death was at the hands of the killer, later identified as William Summer:

"They're trotting out the same old story," Roberta said. "He was meticulous about his mementos and his diaries. They found evidence linking him to the eight named victims, and that's all."

"That's bullshit," Ellie said, quickly apologizing to her mother for the language. It would be just like Summer to gloat to the police about all his other killings, except for the one cop who almost caught him.

"Maybe you could help if you came down here," Roberta offered. "I have a hard enough time on my own without all of this going on."

"Mom, I told you I'd come down once there was a reason to. I'll take as much time off as I have to. If we get access to the evidence, I'll go through it myself, piece by piece. Or if they'd just let me talk to him – "

"You know I don't like that idea."

Ellie's past grew out of my own experiences as a child in Wichita, Kansas in the late 1970's, when a man who called himself BTK murdered at least seven people and then gloated to the media about it. For years, that small midwestern city was terrorized by the idea of a man who walked into houses in the light of day, cut the phone cords, and then calmly called 911 when he was finished. Bind, Torture, Kill.

When BTK resurfaced in 2004, twenty years after his last known communication, I knew I wanted to write about the case. I eventually went so far as to contact the defendant's criminal lawyer to explore the possibility of an interview. In response, I received a handwritten letter from the defendant, making clear that my inquiry had made him feel important. I felt sick to my stomach.

Neither that man nor his horrible acts made their way into Dead Connection. Instead, I chose to write through fiction about the toll that crimes such as his take upon the victims' survivors and, indeed, upon an entire city. Ellie Hatcher is thirty years old. She's tough and smart and an experienced cop. But at night, alone in her bed, she is still a little girl who wonders what her father's final moments were like and whether she will ever know the truth about what happened to him.
Read more about Dead Connection, including an excerpt, at Alafair Burke's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 14, 2007

"Safe and Sound"

J.D. Rhoades lives, writes, and practices law in Carthage, North Carolina.

He applied the "Page 69 Test" to his new novel, Safe and Sound, and reported the following:
Safe and Sound is the third book in the Jack Keller series, about a bail bondsman/bounty hunter operating in Southeastern North Carolina. Jack's a military veteran still suffering nightmares from his experiences in the first Gulf War, when he saw his entire unit wiped out by so-called "friendly fire." The three books so far detail Jack's journey in trying to create a normal life for himself and re-learn how to connect with the people in his life, even though he's addicted to the adrenaline rush he gets from hunting people down.

Page 69 of Safe and Sound is the end of Chapter Nine. DeGroot, the book's antagonist, is looking for his former partners in crime, who've disappeared with an object he considers vital to his financial future. DeGroot is a South African mercenary whose specialty is extracting information from prisoners by torture. He doesn't consider himself an evil person, merely a professional doing a tough job that most people don't have the stomach for. But he's begun to worry that he's enjoying his work a little too much, and he's decided to retire. The object he seeks is the key to that. He's just obtained a clue to the whereabouts of the object via court records.

So. Find the child, find Riggio and Powell, get the other key. He’d probably have to kill them. They weren’t likely to be cooperative after Lundgren had tipped them off. Once he had the other key he’d have what he needed to finance his long awaited and, to his mind, richly deserved retirement. Someplace warm, with a beach. DeGroot had waited a long time for an opportunity like this, and there was no way he was going to just give up now.

He considered the child. She was no threat, and applying “pressure” to her probably wouldn’t have the same effect on Riggio and Powell. Still, one never knew. People got attached. He mentally filed her under the category of things that might be handy later. But how to find her? Unless the police found Lundgren’s body, they were liable to give searching for her a low priority. So far, for all they know it was a family squabble. But the lawyer … ah, the lawyer probably had people looking. He’d try to find out what they knew.

With that thought, and with a plan forming in his mind, DeGroot stood up. It was good to be back on the hunt.

One of the themes I explore in Safe and Sound (and the other Keller books) is the effect that violence, even so-called "justified" violence has, not only on the victim, but on the person committing it. The quotation in the front of the book is from one of my favorite works, Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest: "Play with murder long enough and it gets you one of two ways. It makes you sick, or you get to like it."
Read more about Safe and Sound, including an excerpt, at the publisher's website. Check out J.D. Rhoades's website, his blog, his MySpace page, and his Crimespace page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 13, 2007


Shannon Hale is the author of five award-winning young adult novels, including the bestselling Newbery Honor book Princess Academy. She applied the "Page 69 Test" to Austenland, her first book for adults, and reported the following:
This test works quite well, actually! Page 69 is its own, separate little entry. Interspersed throughout the book are snippets about the main characters past boyfriends, and page 69 gives us Boyfriend #3:

Dave Atters, age 16

She really liked this one, the power forward on the high school varsity team and the beginning of her unhealthy infatuation with basketball. She giggled and sighed and dreamed. He said jump, and she leaped. But when he parked his spoiled boy convertible in front of her house after a date and thrust his hand up her skirt, she pushed him away. When she wouldn’t relent, he ordered her out of the car. At school, he acted as though they’d never met.

Years later, she considered seeing a therapist about this one until she realized that Dave “Fancy Hands” Atters wasn’t the guy holding her back — the blame really lay with Fitzwilliam “I love you against my better judgment” Darcy. Besides, there’d been the night of Homecoming when she and Molly had spray-painted SHE-MALE on the side of Dave’s convertible. That had been fairly therapeutic.

The failure of each boyfriend leads Jane to lean more and more on her obsession with the fictional character Mr. Darcy, and eventually to Pembrook Park, an Austen-themed resort, where balls, park walks, and madness ensues. Tallyho!
Read more about Austenland -- including an excerpt --at Shannon Hale's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"The Business of Books"

James Raven is Professor of Modern History at University of Essex.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his new book, The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade 1450-1850s, and reported the following:
Page 69 offers characteristic themes from the early part of my Business of Books, a new one-volume history of booksellers and the booktrade in England from the mid fifteenth century (and the introduction of printing) to the mid nineteenth century. Publishing and bookselling was a high-risk business, not just in economic terms (where huge gambles had to be taken on the market place, just like today) but also (unlike today - at least in the civilised world) in terms of personal safety. P 69 considers the Tyburn hanging of the printers and booksellers Peter Bulloch and James Duckett, despite the latter turning state’s evidence, for selling and circulating books deemed subversive to State and Church. But some of these brave and bloody-minded individuals survived – and contributed to the far-reaching and fast-changing debate about religion and politics in pre-Civil War England. We learn on p. 69 of the triumph of the Puritan-sympathising William Waldegrave, who, despite being pursued across the country for his treasonable publications, eventually found relief on the accession of James I. Rivalry within the book trade was increasing and the potential profits from lucrative monopolies to print, granted by the Crown, became huge. Page 69 also opens my account of these ‘privileges’ and the tussle between members of the trade – a theme that looms large, in various guises for the next 300 years of the book trade in England and for the remainder of my book.
Visit the Yale University Press website to learn more about The Business of Books.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"Inside the Red Mansion"

After studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University, Oliver August joined the Times of London and became its youngest-ever New York correspondent. He spent seven years in China as Beijing bureau chief and is now reporting from the Middle East.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his new book, Inside the Red Mansion, and reported the following:
Who comes up with the design for the small type marks used by publishers to separate major sections in a chapter? In my book, they look like dollar signs that have fallen on their side, spilling the two crossed-through lines that signify currency. So, there it lies, monied and broken, on page 69 of Inside the Red Mansion. The section above the separation mark is a bit of dialogue. As in much of the rest of the book, I am interviewing someone about the main character, Lai Changxing, who happens to be China's most wanted man. Mr Lai is an illiterate peasant-turned-entrepreneur who embezzled $3.6 billion before going into hiding. But he is no straight forward criminal. The more people I talk to during my search for him, the more I get the impression that the government at one time cooperated with him, or perhaps even used him for its own purposes. To me, Mr Lai is the epitome of China's complicated and often bizarre journey from state control to hyper-capitalism. That's confirmed by the conversation on page 69. I am talking to Bill Brown, a former US Army intelligence officer who now teaches business studies in China. He tells me, "Some [government] officials felt they needed people like him [Lai]." He goes on to explain that only entrepreneurs like Lai were flexible enough to do the sort of business that could propel China to its current position as a new economic superpower. He said, "If you want to keep growing you need people who take risks." The rest of the page, below the fallen and broken dollar sign, is a description of one of Mr Lai's colorful hobbies. In the late 1990s, he bought one of China's top soccer teams, disbanded it, transferred all the players to his hometown and resurrected the team there. They went on to win a major league. Every boy's dream. China can be like that.
Learn more about Oliver August's books and journalism at his website, and read an excerpt from Inside the Red Mansion.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"Revenge of the Homecoming Queen"

Stephanie Hale is the author of Revenge of the Homecoming Queen, to which she applied the "page 69 test" and reported the following:
I was surprised when I flipped open to read page 69 just how many themes in the book were captured. On most of page 69, my main character, Aspen Brooks, is stressing about not having a date to the homecoming dance. She is obsessing about the geeky guy, Rand Bachrach, who was mysteriously named homecoming king. Would it make the reader read on? See what you think.

I suppose Rand would trip over his own feet to be my escort. Part of me feels like showing up with Rand just to shock people. But he knew about Lucas and Angel and didn't tell me. So no way is he getting off that easy. Besides, I'd look like a joke if I showed up at the dance with geeky Rand by my side. I've got a reputation to uphold. Even though he's kind of cute, and funny, and an amazing kisser.

Wouldn't you want to know why mega-popular Aspen Brooks had been kissing mega-geek Rand Bachrach? And what were Lucas (Aspen's boyfriend) and Angel doing that Rand saw?

The really weird thing about all of this is that I'm more upset that Rand didn't tell me than that Angel blew my boyfriend. I thought Rand was so sweet. I mean, we kissed. Doesn't that make him obligated to disclose any humiliating information he knows about me? Why am I obsessing about King Geek Rand anyway?

Okay, so I guess we know what Rand saw Lucas and Angel doing now! This page is showing the growing connection between Aspen and Rand. Theirs is the most significant relationship in the book. So I would have to say that page 69 is absolutely representative of my book. That was so fun!
Read more about Revenge of the Homecoming Queen at Stephanie Hale's website, and check out the Books, Boys, Buzz blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 9, 2007


Thomas Perry is the author of the Jane Whitefield series as well as the bestselling novels Nightlife, Death Benefits, and Pursuit, the first recipient of the Gumshoe Award for Best Novel. He won an Edgar Award for The Butcher’s Boy, and Metzger’s Dog was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his new novel Silence and reported the following:
The page 69 test is a fair one, because it's arbitrary. Understanding page 69 of Silence requires some background. Jack Till, a former Los Angeles cop turned P.I. helped a restaurant owner named Wendy Harper to vanish after she was almost-fatally attacked by an unknown assailant.

Now, six years later, Till has learned that Wendy's former fiance and business partner, Eric Fuller, has been charged with her murder. Evidence found in and around Eric's house indicates he's guilty. But Till knows that the people who were after Wendy must have planted the evidence to lure her out of hiding. Till must find Wendy and get her to make one appearance to prove she's alive. Then he has to keep her that way.

On p. 69, Till is in Santa Barbara, the city where he left her on an August day six years ago. He's used a connection in the local police department to obtain airline passenger lists for that day. He knows she flew out under a false name, but not what the name was. He taught her to use low-tech i.d. -- birth and marriage certificates -- as a foundation for her identity, starting by changing her surname in a marriage, then erasing her first name, keeping her middle name. What we see on page 69 is Till as he eliminates the last few women passengers from that day. He realizes that Wendy flew to Las Vegas as Ann Delatorre, and still has a phone registered in that name. The final line on the page: "He felt pride in Wendy Harper. She had done well."

The scene isn't like many other scenes in the book, which are full of action or conversation, but it is representative of Till's way of thinking as he traces her movements. It also presents a hint of the ambiguous relationship he had -- and will have -- with Wendy.

As for whether a reader who opened the book to this page would decide to read the book, I'm not sure. I would hope it's good enough to make him want to read a few more pages.
Read more about Silence, including an excerpt, at the publisher's webpage.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 7, 2007

"The Last Nightingale"

The mysterious Anthony Flacco applied the "page 69 test" to his new novel The Last Nightingale and reported the following:
I’ve never tried this before, but it is fascinating. The page begins on a broken sentence, but makes sense in context of the paragraph. By the time we finish the first three lines of page 69, we know that this is a police matter, and that the narrative is currently told from a police point of view. (We…”)

“Moses” steps forward in the next paragraph, and even as we watch him speak with authority, relaying orders, we also observe that something is out of place with him.

The next paragraph is all dialogue from Moses, and it indicates that he is speaking for some source of corruption in the Police Department: “You just put the story in a nice box…”

We meet Blackburn in the fourth paragraph, and I love the fact that he is introduced while he is in the act of questioning an authority that we already suspect. He uses logic to contradict what Moses has told him.

The next two-line paragraph is classic Randall Blackburn: keeping his voice low, he wants to know exactly who is calling for this.

I love the fact that we don’t need to know anything at all about his backstory, in order to observe that he is the Protagonist, by virtue of his behavior. He takes exactly the kind of action that we want any solid protagonist to take in the face of official corruption.

The next paragraph reveals that Moses’ position of power comes after a long career as the Departmental record keeper, an important but anonymous job. He has a hard time making eye contact with a man like Blackburn, who is revealed at that point as being so tough that he fights ten rounds with the local thugs every time he goes to work. So we see that Blackburn is also physically strong, in addition to being strong in the face of misused authority.

Best of all, for me, was seeing that page 69 enunciates the essential conflict that is suffered by Randall Blackburn throughout this story – he is alone amid the falsehood and corruption of his own Department.

Whether or not this page 69 theory has its true origins as a well-lubricated joke told somewhere around closing time, this has been a fascinating challenge. Perhaps we can find similar elucidation by flipping to page eleven, which every crime writer, cop, and coroner will recognize as 69 for worms.
Learn more about The Last Nightingale at Anthony Flacco's website and at the publisher's website; read an excerpt from the novel.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 6, 2007

"Charm Offensive"

Joshua Kurlantzick is special correspondent for The New Republic and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his new book, Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World, and reported the following:
Charm Offensive analyzes how China has used “softer” tools of influence, like aid, investment, and cultural promotion, to win friends around the world in recent years. I spent years on the ground in many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America looking at China’s specific actions, so page 69 is relatively representative of that reportage. On the page, I write about China’s promotion of Chinese language studies in many nations.

While promoting Chinese studies in other nations, Beijing also has tried to lure more foreign students to China. The Ministry of Education has done so by advertising Chinese universities abroad, creating new scholarship programs for students from the developing world, loosening visa policies for foreign students, and increasing spending to lure elite foreign scholars from the West to teach in China, thereby upgrading China’s university system. Beijing has focused intensely on Chinese-born scholars working in the West, creating national programs named rencai qiang guo (Strengthening the Country Through Human Talent), charging the Finance Ministry to make funds available to entice these Chinese-born scholars, or haigui pai, to return, and pushing select Chinese universities to use 20 percent of their government funding on hiring scholars from abroad.39 Returnees have been welcomed from the very top: Hu Jintao himself announced that the returnees would be “irreplaceable” in China today.

The incentives may be working. In places like Cambodia, a kind of feeder system has been created. Students who do well in China-backed primary schools in Cambodia often can obtain assistance from China to continue studies in the People’s Republic, in either middle school, high school, or university. (China has opened roughly five hundred of its primary and middle schools to foreign students.) The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the Chinese government has provided scholarships for poor Cambodians to study in China since 2000; in Laos, the Chinese government hands out some 230 scholarships per year for students to attend Chinese universities. One study found that the number of Chinese returning to the mainland from Hong Kong, to take one example, rose from seven thousand in 1999 to thirty-five thousand in 2005, though China is not yet attracting back the top echelon of Chinese scholars. Meanwhile, in 2006 China landed one of its university MBA programs in the top twenty-five on the Financial Times’ ranking of the world’s finest business schools, alongside such luminaries as Wharton and Insead in France.

So page 69 gets at the “what” and the “how” – what China is doing on the ground in many nations. That reporting certainly was exciting. But page 69 does not get at the “why.” The second half of the book examines the impact of all of China’s new soft influence. How has it improved China’s image in many countries? What is China able to accomplish as its image improves around the world? What will China do with this goodwill it is amassing, and what will a more powerful China mean for nations around the globe?
Read more about Charm Offensive at the Yale University Press website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

"The Dark River"

John Twelve Hawks is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Traveler and its sequel, The Dark River.

He applied the "page 69 test" to The Dark River and reported the following:
The Dark River is a fictional vision of our world based upon real facts. I wanted to show my readers familiar settings in a completely different way. The scene on page 69 takes place in the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal, which millions of people pass through every year. When I was doing research in New York City, I happened to look upward and wonder why the zodiac painted on the ceiling was reversed.

In my new novel, the ceiling is seen through the eyes of Nathan Boone, a mercenary working for the Brethren, a powerful group of men that use the power of our computerized information systems to track and monitor the population. One of the Brethren's strongest supporters in America during the early twentieth century was William K. Vanderbilt, the railroad tycoon who had commissioned the construction of Grand Central Terminal. Vanderbilt requested that the main concourse's arched ceiling be decorated with the constellations of the zodiac, five stories above the marble floor of the station. The stars were supposed to be arranged as if they were in a Mediterranean sky during Christ's lifetime. But no one - not even the Egyptian astrologers of the first century - had ever seen such an arrangement: the zodiac on the ceiling was completely reversed.

The most popular idea as to why the stars were shown this way was that the painter had duplicated a drawing found in a medieval manuscript and that the stars were shown from the point of view of someone outside our solar system. No one ever explained why Vanderbilt's architects had allowed this odd conceit to appear in such an important building. The Brethren knew that the ceiling's design had nothing to do with a medieval concept of the heavens. The constellations were in the correct position for someone concealed inside the hollow ceiling, looking downward at travelers hurrying to their trains.

In the novel, the reversed zodiac becomes a symbol of the way we are continually watched in our contemporary society. Only a few people notice what's really going on as the rest of us hurry to our trains.
Visit the website for The Dark River, and read an excerpt and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

"The English National Character"

Peter Mandler is Reader in modern history, University of Cambridge, and fellow of Gonville and Caius College.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his most recent book, The English National Character: The History of an Idea from Edmund Burke to Tony Blair, and reported the following:
Page 69 addresses one of the first moments at which the very *idea* of a 'national character' - the idea that all the people of a nation might have in common some basic psychological characteristics - became conceivable. Before the mid-19th century, it seemed a nonsense to almost everyone that the duke and the dustman could be considered so intimately alike. But with the rise of democracy in the 19th century, even basically elitist thinkers - Thomas Carlyle, Charles Kingsley and Alfred Tennyson all feature on page 69 - came to re-evaluate the common people and to see in them characteristics like courage, tenacity and independence. 'Even between different classes living in the same age', James Fitzjames Stephen is quoted as saying on page 69, 'the moral identity is more important than the intellectual disparity.' This was the kind of insight that made democracy - though it also made nationalism.

Once democracy has been made, however, the idea of national character may no longer seem so powerful. The rest of the book tells a story not only of the rise but also of the unravelling of the idea of national character. Today, when we all like to think of ourselves as unique individuals, we are less prone to consider ourselves *psychologically* similar to our fellow nationals. We might still, though, see ourselves as sharing common values or common loyalties. One of the things I try to show in this book is that there are lots of different ways of feeling 'national' - 'national character' is only one.
Read more about The English National Character at the Yale University Press website, and visit Peter Mandler's faculty webpage at the Cambridge University website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 2, 2007

"The Virgin of Small Plains"

Nancy Pickard is the author of seventeen popular and critically acclaimed novels and dozens of short stories. She has won the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and Shamus awards for her short stories and the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards for her novels. She is a 4-time Edgar Allen Poe award nominee, a Mary Higgins Clark award finalist, and a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement award for suspense fiction, from Romantic Times.

She applied the "page 69 test" to her latest novel, the Agatha Award-winning The Virgin of Small Plains, and reported the following:
Page 69 is one of those pages in a novel where it looks as if nothing important is happening, but it is, at least from the writer's point of view.

It's a kind of summary page that novels require every l00 pages, or so, to ground readers in the basics of the story. This particular page does that in several ways, and I remember thinking about each of them as I wrote it. I did it on purpose, in other words. This isn't a page where I let my muse fly; this is a page in which I had specific things to accomplish.

First, it functions as a reminder of a lot of things such as the confusion surrounding the death of "the Virgin" of Small Plains, and the burden that confusion has placed on the principals. The wrong people have been blamed for the wrong things, or they've been idealized, or both, but nobody knows the whole truth about them or the events. People jump to conclusions, as people do, they give unneeded and unwanted advice, they make up stuff to fill in the blanks, they talk confidently of nonsense. On page 69, we're reminded that people have a tendency not to examine the contradictions in their own thinking. It subliminally reminds readers not to jump to conclusions, themselves, or to take anything about the story or the characters for granted.

It's also a page that reminds readers of Abby's character, that she is a woman who was willing to risk her own life to help another person. It reminds them of her strength of mind and will, and reminds them that somebody they like -- Rex -- admires her. It is, in fact, a page with a lot of clues about various people's character... Nadine was a snob who turned up her nose at small-town funeral feasts; Rex is a down-to-earth and loyal guy who loves green beans topped with fried onion rings; Abby is not only lovable, but also tough-minded when she has to be; and Mitch has a lot of abilities, but he's not a saint.

It’s not the most dramatic page in the book, but it’s necessary.
Visit Nancy Pickard's website and read an excerpt from The Virgin of Small Plains.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 1, 2007

"Honey with Tobacco"

Peg Boyers is author of two books of poems, Hard Bread and Honey with Tobacco.

She applied the "page 34/35 test" -- which is the blog's modified version of the "page 69 test" for poetry collections of fewer than 100 pages -- to the latter and reported the following:
Turning to page 34 of my new book of poems, Honey with Tobacco lands the reader in the second section of the book, a completely discrete 14 poem sequence having nothing to do with either part one or with part two, thematically, tonally or formally. Section one contains very autobiographical poems dealing with my Cuban heritage, while the poems in the final section reflect on the matter of being a woman and an artist. One would get very little idea indeed of the entire book from turning to page 34, though I would hope that the poem would entice the reader to read on.

The sequence, “Deposition,” employs imagery derived from the New Testament via medieval and Renaissance art to explore the painful family dynamics between two parents and their son whose life choices at the time seemed to be propelling him toward certain death. The titles of these poems therefore intentionally evoke the familiar iconography of the “Annunciation,” “The Agony in the Garden,” “Pieta” and so on, while aiming to dramatize contemporary situations. The title poem “Deposition,” for example, is spoken in the imagined voice of the mother of Matthew Shepard, a young man who was crucified on a fence in Wyoming some years ago for the terrible crime of being gay.

The poem on page 34, entitled “Palm Sunday,” depicts the Holy Family entering the crowded streets of Jerusalem, more or less without fanfare. The mother is the one on the donkey and though she carries a scepter made of palms she has no crown and knows herself not to be the Queen of the Happy Few. She realizes that what in her mind are events of seismic proportions accompanied by torment of the same scale, are of no interest to anyone but the players in the drama. This is a consoling thought to the speaker who concludes: “I can live with this.” Read in isolation this conclusion does not have much weight, but coming after “Annunciation” (in which she realizes that she is “not full of grace./ … not blessed among women.”) and before “Pieta” (which records a recurring nightmare in which the speaker confronts the anxiety that she will not be equal to the task of forgiving her son for following his destiny: though she knows that as a mother she must and will forgive, in the dream her response is “the impossible no.”) they mark an important turn in her apprehension of her own destiny.
Read more about Honey with Tobacco -- including the poem "Pietà" -- at the publisher's website.

Peg Boyers teaches Creative Writing at Skidmore College and is the Executive Editor of the quarterly, Salmagundi. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, The New Republic, Slate, Ploughshares, Raritan, Daedalus, Notre Dame Review, Southern Review, Southwest Review, New England Review, Ontario Review, Partisan Review, The New Criterion, Michigan Quarterly Review, Guernica, and other magazines.

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

--Marshal Zeringue