Thursday, August 21, 2014

The page-ninety-nine test

It is a truth universally acknowledged on the Internets that Ford Madox Ford said or wrote these words:

Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.
That’s the famous page-ninety-nine test, a handy if arbitrary way to sample a writer’s prose. The sentence above is widely cited, but a genuine source seems beyond tracking down. Ford did though describe a habit of sampling prose by turning to page ninety:

[“[A] habit of this writer, of turning to page ninety of any edition of an author . . . and then quoting the first paragraph of reasonable length that he comes upon.” Ford Madox Ford, The March of Literature: From Confucius’ Day to Our Own (1938).]

So it’s the page-ninety test. Adjust your sampling accordingly.

Turning to page ninety-nine has saved me significant sums in bookstores, most recently when I sampled a book on making great sentences, something that might have been useful for teaching. But there on page ninety-nine: a sentence beginning “Having said that.” Like “that said,” “having said that” is a ponderous way to begin a sentence. Now I wonder what page ninety would have shown me.

A tenuously related post
That said,

[The March of Literature has been reprinted by the Dalkey Archive Press (1994). The passage above comes from the reprinted book, found via Google Book Search.]

Music and memory

Fresca asks a great question: What songs will we remember after we forget our names? Go read her post and leave your list.

The context for this question: the film Alive Inside.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Cardboard in its own juices.


There are many such to sleep through.


The Pollen Count
Another numbered breeze.


A Secret Referent
Have a good one.


Fine Garden
North of the sheds.


“I’m not asleep.”




Yours sincerely.


The 19th Century
Mainly yours.


Refrain (2)
“I’m not making this up.”


On a Little Street in Singapore
We’d meet beside a lotus-covered door.

Michael Leddy
September 1995

[Elaine found this sequence of tiny poems in a folder full of cards. I made a single copy, for her, side-stapled, one poem to a page, under the imaginary imprint of One One Books. I just figured out the “One One”: we were celebrating our eleventh anniversary. I’m sharing the poems here with her permission. The nineteenth century is still mainly hers.]

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Marshall Fine (1956–2014)

Marshall was a character, a singular person. He always seemed to me like a man who stepped into our world from the nineteenth century, a learned professor of some -ology or other. (He was in truth a violist, violinist, pianist, conductor, and composer.) As Elaine wrote today, stories about Marshall “are ALWAYS interesting and colorful.” There will be less color in the world without him.

Elaine has posted two photographs of herself and her brother in kidhood and adulthood.


A child, maybe five or six:

“Is this a restaurant?”

And another, younger still:

“Does this have waisins?”

I have been assured, by someone who should know, that I would never make it as a kindergarten teacher, because I’d be writing everything down. Too cute.

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

[Yes, it was a restaurant, of the fast-casual kind. I didn’t overhear the answer about the waisins.]

Monday, August 18, 2014

Congressman compares gubernatorial candidate to Mussolini, favorably

[From a local newspaper.]

That’s Congressman John Shimkus (R, Illinois-15), speaking of the Republican candidate for Illinois governor, Bruce Rauner. Whether Shimkus knows it or not, he’s comparing Rauner to Benito Mussolini — and favorably.

The comparison fails in three ways: 1. Mussolini wasn’t responsible for making trains run on time. 2. The claim that he did make trains run on time is typically advanced as a grim joke: “Yes, but he made the trains run on time.” 3. It is inadvisable to laud an American political candidate by likening that candidate to a fascist dictator.

You may remember Congressman Shimkus making the news in 2009 for his observation that we need not worry about rising sea levels because God promised not to destroy the world by flood.

For more on Mussolini and trains, see

Friday, August 15, 2014

From Invisible Man

[Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952).]

Some context for this passage: Tod Clifton, the unnamed narrator’s former comrade in the Brotherhood (an organization modeled on the American Communist Party) is now working as a street vendor selling dancing paper dolls, Sambo dolls, on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan. Clifton sees a policeman, packs up his box of merchandise, and gets going. The policeman starts walking behind him. On Forty-Second Street, outside Bryant Park, the two men meet, and Tod Clifton’s life comes to an end.

There may be no exact parallel between what happens in Ellison’s novel and what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. But across sixty-two years, the general resemblance is clear and appalling.

Related reading
More Ralph Ellison posts (Pinboard)

[The paper dolls mark one more instance in the novel of black bodies made to move: the Battle Royal, the electrified rug, the narrator’s electroshock treatment (“Look, he’s dancing”), the string-pulling machinations of the Brotherhood. “[H]is hands high, waiting“: is Clifton waiting to fight, or to be arrested? There’s a deliberate ambiguity. But as the novel makes clear, he is unarmed.]

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Former Salinger house for sale

J. D. Salinger’s first New Hampshire house is for sale: four bedrooms, two bathrooms, twelve acres, $679,000. Here’s an article with some background. And here is the real-estate agency’s listing — with thirty-six photographs. My favorite detail: “Land on both sides of the road ensures privacy.”

Sad to think of the conversations — and non-conversations — that must have taken place in this house.

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Many, many rocks

[Nancy, January 1, 1961. Click for a larger, rockier view.]

“!” indeed. It is both dismaying and inspiring to know that it wasn’t always three rocks. It was sometimes one rock, sometimes a pair, sometimes four or more. The variations are dismaying for the obvious reason: because they’re not “some rocks.” And yet they reveal an artist willing to experiment, to explore, to grapple with his materials, to challenge conventional expectations. Yes, inspiring.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[The panel above comes from Brian Walker’s The Best of Ernie Bushmiller’s “Nancy” (1988), now out of print. Thanks to Gunther for recommending the book. Thanks to interlibrary loan for getting it. If the name Brian Walker rings a bell: he’s from the Beetle Bailey / Hi and Lois universe.]

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A value-added post

Rogeting A commenter has left a stunning account of one student’s Rogeting and the work needed to track it down. You have to read peruse it to believe trust it.