"turn to page 69 of any book and read it. If you like that page, buy the book."
December 11, 2007 7:17 PM   Subscribe

The Page 69 Test --inspired by Marshall McLuhan's suggestion to readers for choosing a novel, a new blog, inviting authors to describe what's on page 69. One says: Not the best, but not the worst. If my pages were presidents, I’d put page 69 somewhere in the James K. Polk range.
posted by amberglow (28 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
it's part of the Campaign for the American Reader, a network of blogs encouraging reading.
posted by amberglow at 7:20 PM on December 11, 2007

Problem with this test is that it's very spoiler-ish. Check the bottom of page 69 of the 7th book of Harry Potter, for example. British Ed, natch.
posted by Phire at 8:02 PM on December 11, 2007

Great idea for a blog. It should be possible to actually read page 69 using Google Books or Amazon's Look Inside. Or at least some random page, if not 69. I'm partial to 42.
posted by stbalbach at 8:05 PM on December 11, 2007

It works for MetaFilter.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:06 PM on December 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

It works for MetaFilter.

It's so funny to read the early MeFi posts, many of which would be greeted with "are you fucking kidding me??!?" if they were posted today. And it's even better because so many of them are from mathowie.
posted by dhammond at 8:24 PM on December 11, 2007

I'm not a big fan of the page 69 test. My page 69s are perfectly good, so I'm not worried about someone opening randomly to those pages, but I think it's a far better thing to read how the author treats you on page one. How the author draws you into the story (or doesn't) gives you some idea of how she's planning to treat you the rest of the way through the book.

Page 69s are random; page ones are intentional. Page 69 could be about anything, and may or may not be essential to plot, or character or even understanding what's going on. Page one is the about the reader, and the story, and the author putting the two together.

If an author has a not great page 69 (or page 48, or page 207) it doesn't mean much to me because I know as an author that sometimes you have a page where you're just pushing through to something else. If an author has a bad page one, I don't buy the book.
posted by jscalzi at 8:29 PM on December 11, 2007 [3 favorites]

For Burroughs, LaVey, RAW, or Crowley, turn to page 23.
posted by Tube at 9:15 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's so funny to read the early MeFi posts . . .

Yet, it's educational, too. Maybe the new MeFi membership requirement should be five bucks and you're required to read each and every post, starting at the beginning.

With a quiz at the end.
posted by Kibbutz at 9:16 PM on December 11, 2007

It works for MetaFilter.

Can we get a NSFW put onto that link? It seems the site has changed.
posted by ALongDecember at 9:26 PM on December 11, 2007

Polk? Polk was a giant among American presidents. Top five, definitely. Maybe top three. The man was responsible for the shape of America today; he was responsible for the West.

And he refused to run for a second term, having accomplished all his goals in his first term.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:36 PM on December 11, 2007

Don't judge a book sixty-nine pages after its cover.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:37 PM on December 11, 2007

Lol 69, GET IT???? GET IT????
posted by parallax7d at 9:41 PM on December 11, 2007

*turns to page 69*

With limited exceptions, the cases state that where an adequate administrative remedy is provided by statute, resort to that forum is a "jursidictional" prerequisite to judicial consideration of the claim.

...I knew I shouldn't have bought this book.
posted by Maxson at 9:47 PM on December 11, 2007

*looks at jursidictional*

...especially since I apparently can't preview, much less study, at 12:50 in the morning.
posted by Maxson at 9:49 PM on December 11, 2007

if you left the initial "j" off of "jursidictional", you would get a word which refers to the language of bears!
posted by bruce at 11:47 PM on December 11, 2007

if you left the initial "j" off of "jursidictional", you would get a word which refers to the language of bears!

That'd make a book with a beary interesting page 69.
posted by Maxson at 12:21 AM on December 12, 2007


Does that mean "talking like Tony Soprano"?
posted by Grangousier at 2:12 AM on December 12, 2007

Absolute bollocks.

Page one of any novel is enough.

For example, here's an insightful analysis of the opening to The da Vinci Code.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:04 AM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I always see page one as not terribly indicative of a book--all authors want to draw you in from the start--while a random inside page gives you a better sense of flow and style and action, etc.
posted by amberglow at 6:53 AM on December 12, 2007

Polk? Polk was a giant among American presidents. Top five, definitely. Maybe top three. The man was responsible for the shape of America today; he was responsible for the West.

Polk was one of the worst presidents in American history. His fanatical imperialism and support of slavery hastened, and made inevitable, a war that cost more than 600,000 American lives. It is no wonder that Abraham Lincoln, then an Illinois congressman, called Polk, "a bewildered, confounded and miserably perplexed man" and denounced the the Mexican War Polk manufactured as "from beginning to end, the sheerest deception." Polk's reputation has been boosted, undeservedly in my view, because historian Thomas Bailey lionized him in his book The American Pageant, and millions of high school students (including me in the 1980s and my father in the 1960s) have been forced to read Bailey for years.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 6:53 AM on December 12, 2007

Well, and TMBG wrote one great fucking song.
posted by cortex at 7:45 AM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

also, inside pages (as opposed to beginning ones) usually aren't setting up plots or describing characters and settings, etc -- that intro stuff is already dealt with, and the story's chugging along. Dipping into a book from the middle throws you right into the meat of it all, i find.
posted by amberglow at 7:57 AM on December 12, 2007

posted by the quidnunc kid at 3:15 PM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Interesting method. Nancy Pearl has a nice approach: "One of my strongest beliefs is that no one should ever finish a book that they're not enjoying. Reading should be a joy. So, you can all apply my Rule of Fifty to your reading list. Give a book fifty pages if you're under fifty years old. If you don't like it, give it away, return it, whatever. And then read something else. If you're over fifty, subtract your age from 100 and that's how many pages you should read. You know what that means, right? When you turn 100 you can judge a book by its cover."

However, I'm more given to the late Noel Perrin's approach:
"I used to teach a course on the twentieth-century American novel. Writing a description of it for the college catalogue one year, I decided to skip the usual pomposities and truthfully describe one of the course's limitations. So I wrote, "Of the roughly 175,000 American novels published so far in the twentieth century, this course includes ten." I then named the ten: Willa Cather's My Antonia, Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby, a Faulkner, a Bellow, and so on.

The 175,000 figure (which went up another 10,000 before the century ended) is, of course, debatable. Does every pulp romance count? The lower reaches of science fiction? How about novels published by vanity presses? A stern judge might cut my figure in half.

That would still leave a formidable list. Even a person with a diet as specialized as a silkworm's, a person who read nothing but American novels, night and day, who ignored all British, Canadian, and West Indian fiction, who despised nonfiction and never read any--even that improbable person could not cover the field. Not if he or she read twenty novels a week, starting at the onset of literacy and continuing until death at an advanced age.

What's my point? A very simple one. No one, not one person, knows the full range of American literature. All of us are in the position of the man who came up to Samuel Johnson after church one Sunday about 250 years ago. He wanted to praise the sermon. ("A most excellent discourse, Dr. Johnson.") Johnson fixed him--so I imagine--with a cold eye. "That may be so, Sir, but it is impossible you should know it."

Since none of us does know the full range--'tis impossible--I think anyone who reads has a standing invitation to go exploring. Of course there is a lot of rubbish in that vast pile. But there are also a good many jewels scattered through it. They are easy to prospect for. All you have to do is spend an hour or two in a secondhand bookstore. Or in a medium-sized--not a big and not a tiny--library. (And not one that does a lot of weeding.) In either place, you're cruising fiction, and what you're looking for is books that show unmistakable signs of wear. In the case of novels, what the wear probably means is that at some point in the past--maybe in 1903, maybe 1988--the book was loved. It might be lovable still. Read the first chapter and find out.

I think it important that the search not be systematic. It should be capricious. I won't go mystical and claim that if you're hunting in the right zen-ish frame of mind you'll start receiving emanations from some of the once-loved books. But I will say that it sometimes feels that way. It did when a book in the Skidmore College library titled Yankee Surveyors in the Shogun's Seas dropped to the floor as I was pulling out a book next to it.

Naturally I took a look before putting it back on the shelf. In about one minute I realized that it had a story to tell, and that story would give me the long-sought lead for the best book I have ever written. Rationally I'm aware that it was friction on a tight shelf that extracted the book and made it fall to the floor. But what it felt like was a present from some minor Japanese god. Though the point is obvious, I can't resist also noting that this kind of serendipity occurs only with actual books. Web sites are useless here. So are catalogues." (from "Unlisted", American Scholar, 03/22/2003 -- read the whole thing if you have access to it through a database, it's worth it.)
posted by cog_nate at 3:42 PM on December 12, 2007 [3 favorites]

Wow, cog_nate, they said 69th page, not 69 pages.

posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:09 PM on December 12, 2007

goodnewsfortheinsane, yeah. I tried to quote as little a block as possible out of the article, but quoting any less than the above didn't seem to make much sense. I probably shouldn't have quoted as much, regardless, but I really admire Noel Perrin and his writing and wanted to share.
posted by cog_nate at 7:54 PM on December 12, 2007

Please, I'm just kidding. Interesting read.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:26 PM on December 12, 2007

The Page 69 Test

A novel by former Congressman Mark Foley?
posted by darkstar at 9:54 PM on December 17, 2007

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