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November 29, 2006

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The 69 Test

Want a quick-and-dirty measure of a book’s quality? Open it to page 69 and see what you find. (Another variation is the page 99 rule but, come on.)

I like how John Freeman at the National Book Critics’ Circle blog puts it:

So that’s what I began doing from time to time when the first page of a galley sunk into that logey, comfortable, throat-clearing prologue rhythm — I’d flip to page 99 and see what I found.

Note to self: Never write anything “logey.”

Posted November 29, 2006 at 4:49 | Comments (14) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Briefly Noted


I love this! just went through my entire bookshelf looking at all the page 69's. maybe it's just me, but I find that doing this often yields a much more accurate snapshot of my feelings for the book. it's like, when you go on holiday, if it's sunny for most of it and then drizzles nastily for the last two days, you generally have a worse overall impression of your holiday than if it happens the other way around (rain first, then sun). it's like that, I feel, with books. and so the page 69 thing gets you right in the middle of your holiday, which makes you much more objectively honest.

so for example, a book I always think I adore -- 'A Handful of Dust' by evelyn waugh -- often I forget how skeletal much of it is. same with sartre's 'Nausea'. but I couldn't stop myself reading on from the page 69s of 'Catcher in the Rye', 'A Confederacy of Dunces', 'Tales from a Thousand and One Nights' (three of my genuinely all-time favourite books).

and fittingly, page 69 on my copy of 'The Little Prince' is a beautiful picture.

Would you believe the only book I have on my desk right now is 'Great Chess Victories and Defeats'? Lame. Although... 'Andersson's doubling rooks on the c-file led him nowhere, because the White Knight at c3 effectively blocked any infiltration.'

I'll have to look up some more when I get home.

I love the fact that the Little Prince opens up to a picture! What a great book.

This is pretty nice. A good variation on the "if a book isn't good by page 50, put it down" school of thought.

It reminds me of reading Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. I used to keep that book lying around my house years after I had finished it just to open to random pages. It always felt fun and comforting to know where I was and know that at any moment, I was to be surprised with some labyrinthine passage about the main character's awesome car, the history of California to be, or Babylonian creation myths....

I'm traveling now, does anyone have a copy and know what is on page 69?

Neal Stephenson will probably fail this test, as he takes a good 300-400 pages to really get going.

This is a pretty good indicator for the closest book I have at hand, though, the Rhino Book:

The actual behavior of this operator is somewhat more complicated. It starts by evaluating its first operand, the expression on its left. If the value of this expression can be converted to false (for example, if the left operand evaluates ot null, 0, "", or undefined), the operator returns the value of the lefthand expression. Otherwise, it evaluates its second operand, the expression on the right, and returns the value of that expression.

Huh, I didn't know that, actually. Pretty cool.

Bonus points for guessing which operator the above paragraph refers to.

Oh, I didn't even read the above comments before posting that. Snow Crash is obviously an exception to my above generalization, since it's only about that long anyhow. :-P Will post page 69 when I get home, if I remember ...

Snow Crash is my all time favorite example of the 50 pages or bust idea. I routinely tell people that if they don't like Snow Crash after the first chapter, they might not have a soul.....


Of course, I say the same things about Zelda games.

You know, I actually lost Snow Crash a little less than 30 or 40 pages in. It was my sister's copy and I was totally mortified about it, and I think the embarrassment was why I never picked it up again. . .I remember liking it until that point. Stupid BART.

I was into Snow Crash IMMEDIATELY. The passage introducing "the deliverator" is one of the best pieces of sci-fi writing ever.

I just finished "Friday Night Lights". The book is better than the movie. From page 69:

gut check. Do you really want to play football? Can you really come back from it?

It meant adjusting to a knee brace. It meant not flinching an inch when the knee was hit full-speed by a helmet, not succumbing to the perpetual fear of pain, not running with the slightest tentativeness... And it meant doing all these things at the age of eighteen.


If Permian was to go to State, they would have to perform in ways that no one had ever imagined, rise to heights beyond even the expectations of the fans. But no one would have to have a greater year, be more superb, than Mike Winchell at quarterback.
Now, more than ever, it was up to him.

This is rapidly becoming a contender for my favorite comment thread ever.

Sure sure, of course hyperkinetic Snow Crash shines on page 69... what about something a little more intimidating? Something a little more... MOBY DICK?

The Whale, page 69:

Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouse. Look at it -- a mere hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a background. There is more sand there than you would use in twenty years as a substitute for blotting paper. Some gamesome wights will tell you that they have to plant weeds there, they don't grow naturally; that they import Canada thistles; that they have to send beyond seas for a spile to stop a leak in an oil cask; that pieces of wood in Nantucket are carried about like bits of the true cross in Rome; that people there plant toadstools before their houses, to get under the shade in summer time; that one blade of grass makes an oasis, three blades in a day's walk a prairie; that they wear quicksand shoes, something like Laplander show-shoes; that they are so shut up, belted about, every way inclosed, surrounded, and made an utter island of by the ocean, that to their very chairs and tables small clams will sometimes be found adhering, as to the backs of sea turtles. But these extravaganzas only show that Nantucket is no Illinois.


P.S. Nori, I have no idea what in the world that operator could be. And as much as I don't want to encourage the practice of bringing *programming reference books* into this sort of discussion, I am sort of dying to know what it is.

As promised:

"I know. That's exactly the problem. Ninety-nine percent of everything that goes on in most Christian churches has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual religion. Intelligent people all notice this sooner or later, and they conclude that the entire one hundred percent is bullshit, which is why atheism is connected with being intelligent in people's minds."

Come to think of it, I plant-sat for a friend who had named his plant Hiroaki. Yes, he was a geek.

Heh. Glad you asked -- it's &&. :)

How exactly do you go about "plant sitting"? Sounds like a sweet job to me. I mean, unless it's Audrey II. Then it might suck. Come to think of it, that might be like a rite of passage amongst good friends. You might get a T-Shirt.

"I fed this ravenous, man eating plant, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt and about 5 bucks."

The last three books I've been reading:

We asked if the decrease in delivered oxygen meant that she was getting better.

There was a pause.

This was when the ICU doctor said it: "We're still not sure which way this is going."

The way this is going is up, I remember thinking.

-- The Year of Magical Thinking, page 69

The fact is that for fourteen centuries, the science of Quranic commentary has been the exclusive domain of Muslim men. And because each one of these exegetes inevitably brings to the Quran his own ideology and his own preconceived notions, it should not be surprising to learn that certain verses have most often been read in their most misogynistic interpretation.

-- No god but God, page 69

People don't like to admit how much they resent other people's children, but this kid made it easy for you. She was miserable, self-righteous, little shit was no good from the time she was born. Look, I've got kids, kids galore -- I know what kids are like growing up. The black hole of self-absorption is bottomless. But it's one thing to get fat, it's one thing to let your hair grow long, it's one thing to listen to rock-and-roll music too loud, but it's another to jump the line and throw a bomb. That crime could never be made right.

-- American Pastoral, page 69

Actually, before No god but God, I read The Areas of My Expertise, which is technically optimized for flipping to a random page and happening on something extraordinary. (Somewhat less optimized for reading cover-to-cover in the typical style.) Page 69, which opens the chapter "What you did not know about the past," contains a lycanthropic transformation timetable.

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