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The Page 99 Test
Personality testing for books
Marshall Zeringue, surely one of America’s most devoted readers, has been writing about books at Campaign for the American Reader for many years. He interviews authors, asks what they are reading, and in the case of nonfiction, he suggests they try the Page 99 Test. I applied it to my first book, The First Word, in 2007. Zeringue reached out again and asked me to try the test for Ghosts of the Orphanage.
He asked: “If browsers open your book to page 99, would they get a good or an inaccurate idea of the whole work?”
Reader, it worked. See the results here.
Zeringue has a Page 69 Test for novelists. He explains that it is based on John Sutherland’s advice in How to Read a Novel:
Dust jackets, blurbs, shoutlines, critics' commendations ("quote whores", as they are called in the video/DVD business) all jostle for the browser's attention. But I recommend ignoring the hucksters' shouts and applying instead the McLuhan test. Marshall McLuhan, the guru of The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), recommends that the browser turn to page 69 of any book and read it. If you like that page, buy the book. It works. Rule One, then: browse powerfully and read page 69.
I, personally, am an extremely naive reader and enormous fan of quote whores. I have picked up many a book, and if, say, Kate Atkinson, wrote the blurb, even if the blurb is, “The brilliant writer of this amazing book paid me a delightful $10 to blurb her,” I will buy it immediately.
It was a bit of a shock when I opened The Lost Art of Mixing to page 69 – its contents there only because of the vagaries of editing and typesetting – and found the small scene that had started the whole book going in my imagination.
You can visit Zeringue’s site here. It is great place to find your next read, and if any of you try the Page 99 test on your favorite nonfiction, or the Page 69 test on your favorite novel, let me know.
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