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Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Page 99 Test

Okay, here's an interesting idea.

Ford Madox Ford apparently once said something like: "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you." This is a fun idea and maybe even a true one, since certainly there are propensities that a writer will reveal on any given page, as well as particular strengths, weaknesses and so on. But is it true? Well I don't know. It's kind of like saying that any two minutes of a movie will show the quality of the whole movie, which is patently untrue (or else trailers would never give an inaccurate view of the film). Or like one joke will tell you whether you'll enjoy the comedian, or whatever.

On the other hand, there are books of mine--I'm thinking of Samson here--which do have a kind of unity in their tone and outlook and treatment, such that if you did open randomly to page 99, well, maybe you would form an accurate impression of the whole thing.

As it turns out, there's a fellow named Marshal Zeringue, and he has an entire blog devoted to this idea. He asks writers to comment on their own books' page 99, and decide whether Ford's axiom holds true or not. What a great idea. He asked me to do this for monster, and I did, and he posted it, and here's the link:

If you read it and then hit "Home" at the bottom of his blog, you go to his homepage, which has not only my essay but many others by many other writers talking about their books. What's interesting o me is that there's a real range of responses to this page 99 idea. And you thought the internet was only good for You Tube...

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