Friday, May 4, 2007

The Page 69 Test

I've been thinking about writing a post on Books About Reading, but I can't really get worked up about the topic one way or another. However, in my half-hearted research I came across references to John Sutherland's How to Read a Novel in which he describes Marshall McLuhan's method of choosing a book to read: turn to page 69, read it, and if you like it, buy the book.

So I've tested it a few times, and you know what -- it really works.

On page 69 of my Penguin Don Quixote, Don Quixote has just attacked a windmill with his lance and been dragged off his horse. "O my goodness!" cries Sancho Panza. "Didn't I tell your worship to look what you were doing, for they were only windmills? Nobody could mistake them, unless they had windmills on the brain."

That's a great bit.

On page 69 of Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine, the main guy is talking about shoelaces, which he has just bought at the CVS (before he proceeds to spend the whole book on the escalator). He says, "Another thing I did even into adulthood was to retie my shoes on the escalator -- making it a little challenge: How late in the ride could I successfully tie both shoes without seeming rushed before I arrived at the top?"

It does seem as if page 69 is the point at which the book moves from preliminaries to real substance.

I haven't read Martin Amis's Money, but should I? Let's see what page 69 advises...

"What was all this take-me-back stuff? What were those terrible things I was supposed to have said? Not for the first time I tugged myself back to the eve of my departure for New York. What happened? I took Selina out for an expensive dinner. We had a vicious row about money. Back home, there followed a detailed bout of valedictory lovemaking ... I might have given her a bit of lip last thing, but that was pretty standard too. When I woke at noon the next day Selina had taken her leave. I didn't give that a thought either."

Hmm... so the narrator's a self-deluded jerk. Maybe I'll reread Don Quixote instead.


Anonymous said...

I like that idea.

But I was thinking, it probably does make a huge difference depending on the length of a work. I mean, it should be a percentage instead--something like "page 25% of the book." Because page 69 of a 800 page novel is very different from page 69 of 200 page novel or a 70 page novella. ;)

Anonymous said...

There's a blog out there with over 200 books to which the test has been applied. See:

rmellis said...

Wing -- Yes and no. No matter how long a book is, the writer has still written 68 pages by page 69...