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.]

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