Saturday, October 2, 2010

The page 99 test by Ford Madox Ford

The internet is abuzz with author Ford Madox Ford's assertion that a book can be deemed good or bad, worthy of reading or not, by opening it to page 99. The Guardian newspaper did a report on this, as well as an upcoming website that will let authors upload their 99th page for inspection.  The original article is at  Excerpts from the Guardian's article, by Lucy Mangan, are below:

Ford Madox Ford recommended instead that readers "open the book to page ninety-nine and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you". A new website,, launches next month to test that premise. It will offer (courageous) authors and aspiring authors the chance to upload the 99th pages of their works and invite readers to comment on whether they would buy, or like to read, the rest.

In many ways, the page 99 test makes sense. By then – between a third and a quarter of the way through most books – the characters should be established, the author should have hit his or her stride (if he or she is ever going to) and it is far enough in to allow glimpses of an unfolding plot but too early to give away any vital clues or twists.

So does it work?  I picked up a few recent review titles, some that I loved, and others that I hated, to see if the 99th page revealed anything:

Strangers at the Feast:  liked the book, but page 99 had really no details that related to theme or impact
A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees (review coming):  loved the book, and page 99 was revealing both in characters and plot
Safe From the Sea:  excellent book, but page 99 was neutral and neither added nor subtracted from story
Everything: hated book, didn't bother to review, page 99 equally meaningless
Horse Flower Bird:  neutral despite good book
Beside the Sea: agonizing page, spoiler as well, probably would have scared me off this amazing book
In the Company of Angels:  didn't even finish this awful book, page 99 insignificant

So for what my two cents are worth, Ford's idea seems more a parlor trick than an actual meaningful way to evaluate a book.  I still prefer reading the first chapter and the 'blurb' to get a feel for a book, and in this the results seem more accurate.

Additionally, despite the recent hype, there's been a website since 2007 with this very topic. ran by Marshal Zeringue.  It has some interesting titles and goes beyond just the page 99 trick.  (Thanks Marshal!)
In other news, sadly, Scholastic did a study of 3-17 year-olds about reading.  Part of their results were as follows:
39% of the kids said that information they find online "is always correct."

25% count texting with friends as reading and 28% consider catching up on Facebook reading.

-------the full article is on Shelfawareness' Thursday issue

1 comment:

  1. What if p.99 has one paragraph because it ends a chapter?