Saturday, March 24, 2018

Susan Goldman Rubin's "Coco Chanel"

Susan Goldman Rubin is the author of many biographies for young people, including Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People and Hot Pink: The Life and Fashions of Elsa Schiaparelli.

Goldman Rubin applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Coco Chanel: Pearls, Perfume, and the Little Black Dress, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Coco Chanel is half of a double spread photograph showing the faceted mirrors reflecting multiple images of the models presenting Coco’s fashion show. Coco, perched out of sight at the top of the staircase that is also lined with mirrors, watches the reactions of the audience to her newest collection. The photo truly represents the book because it captures Coco’s tension as she waits for the response. Coco’s passion was her work.

The following page 100 gives details of her process. Wielding scissors and an unfailing eye for elegance and comfort, she created her clothes directly on the models. Indifferent to their fatigue and suffering, she worked tirelessly as she strived for impeccable tailoring. “Skirts had to move easily, with the pockets falling at the right place for hands to slide into. Zippers were concealed in the stripes of a plaid.” On the night before a show, such as the one she is presenting in the photograph, Coco ripped apart seams and redid them to make sure “the underside is as perfect as the outside.”

This YA biography gives an honest account of Chanel’s climb to success. Born out of wedlock into miserable poverty, she spent difficult years in an orphanage, yet lied and said that she was raised by unmarried “aunts.” Using her wits, talent, and determination, she managed to make her way as a financially independent woman who became one of the most well known fashion designers in the world.

In the early twentieth century she freed women from corsets and girdles with her casual, comfortable clothes. She dipped into her boyfriends’ wardrobe and created feminine versions of their blazers, polo shirts, and cardigans. But she also enjoyed looking alluring. Some of her memorable firsts include “the little black dress,” the quilted shoulder bag with chain strap, and the perfume Chanel No.5. The book is gorgeously produced with photo illustrations of her fashions as well as images of the fussy dresses and hats worn by her contemporaries when she began her career. Like many great artists, Coco Chanel was as flawed as she was unconventional, and wholly original. A fascinating subject for a biographer!
Visit Susan Goldman Rubin's website.

Writers Read: Susan Goldman Rubin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Daniel Livesay's "Children of Uncertain Fortune"

Daniel Livesay is associate professor of history at Claremont McKenna College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Children of Uncertain Fortune: Mixed-Race Jamaicans in Britain and the Atlantic Family, 1733-1833, and reported the following:
Children of Uncertain Fortune tracks the lives of over three hundred mixed-race Jamaicans who left the Caribbean for Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They were the offspring of white men who presided over colonial plantations, and free and enslaved women of color. At the time, Jamaica was a slave hothouse with hundreds of thousands of enslaved individuals of African descent farming sugar, coffee, and other commodities. Less than ten percent of the island’s population was composed of free white individuals, who both took enslaved mistresses, as well as sexually attacked women of color. Most of the mixed-race children born from these unions were kept in slavery, but a small number of them were manumitted and some went on to live with British relatives across the ocean. The book explores why these individuals left, what their experiences were like in Britain, and how their transatlantic migrations helped to shape conceptions of race, and also family belonging, in the English-speaking world.

The page 99 test works fairly well for the book. On this page I discuss one of the reasons why mixed-race Jamaicans were pushed out of colonial society: they had very few educational opportunities. Almost the entirety of Jamaican life was dedicated to making money, to the point of excluding vital components of civil society. Indeed, the island had almost no schools to educate young people. Moreover, racial divides were quite strong in Jamaica, and many tutors refused to train mixed-race people. Jamaica’s most prestigious secondary school was, and still is, Wolmer’s. For most of the eighteenth century, it did allow students of color through its doors, because many of them came funded by their fathers’ substantial sugar estates. As concerns about enslaved uprisings grew, mixed-race people came under stronger scrutiny and Wolmer’s prohibited their matriculation on scholarship in 1777. This left only the best-heeled students of color in the institution, showing how important class position was to one’s racial status in Jamaica. It also pushed other elites of color to travel to Britain when the option of attending Wolmer’s closed up. This page sets up a longer discussion about what a British education was like for individuals related by birth to both enslaved Africans, as well as some of the wealthiest Britons in the Empire.
Learn more about Children of Uncertain Fortune at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Harvey G. Cohen's "Who’s In The Money?"

Harvey G. Cohen is the author of Duke Ellington’s America, which the Washington Post called one of the best books of the year. He writes and teaches about US cultural and political history, especially the art, business and history of the music industry and film industry. He’s also a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King’s College London.

Cohen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Who's in the Money?: The Great Depression Musicals and Hollywood's New Deal, and reported the following:
Who’s In The Money? explores the "winner take all" economy of 1933 Hollywood from numerous vantage points. It connects the Warner brothers, their Busby Berkeley-led Great Depression Musicals (such as 42nd St) & FDR's New Deal programs. While the Warners were close friends and fundraisers for President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1932 election, and supported FDR’s New Deal in their film marketing during the first half of 1933, this book demonstrates how the Warners subtly undermined FDR’s dictates, doing all they could to ensure that the pain of the Great Depression was visited upon movie stars, chorus girls, technicians, screenwriters, etc and definitely not upon executives or owners of the studios.

Page 99 explores the most famous sequence in legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley’s career, and probably in the 1930s Great Depression Musicals as a whole: the “By A Waterfall” number from Footlight Parade, the key film in the book. Warner Bros. files revealed how big the water tanks were that the chorus girls jumped into, how much the sets cost, the sexual imagery employed in this surprisingly racy “pre-code” scene, the hundreds of men who worked on the sets daily, how notorious skinflint production chief Jack Warner tried (mostly in vain) to hold down costs, and more.

But Who’s In The Money? goes deeper into what was transpiring behind the scenes. Those gorgeous chorus girls created those effects with punishing efforts (you can see their tiredness and strain viewing the film closely), working 14 to 15 hours a day, six or seven days a week. They were being paid less money than they were on the previous two Great Depression musicals, 42nd St and Gold Diggers of 1933, even though those films were spectacularly successful, two of the top 5 grossing films of 1933. My book, as well as the first three Warner Bros Great Depression Musicals, focus on labor issues. Those films reflected what was happening in Hollywood at the time: punitive 50% temporary wage cuts for most employees (except owners and executives), fights and resistance over the studios’ exploitive contracts, the controversial birth of the first unions for Hollywood’s creatives (Screen Actors & Writers Guilds) and more. The book explores how Hollywood’s employees began rebelling against the way the oligarchical way the studio moguls preferred to do their business, and events got ugly on and offscreen, leading to the eventual breakdown of the all-encompassing power of the major studios after World War II.

Who’s In The Money? brings readers behind the scenes at Warner Bros. and the federal government during a period of profound tension. The national events surrounding the making of the Great Depression Musicals combine to depict a story of financial survival, political intrigue and backstabbing. Told through the lives and careers of movie stars and film executives whose names have echoed through decades of American culture, the narrative is one that resonates in today’s strange mix of politics and media.
Learn more about Who's in the Money? at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Duke Ellington's America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Alireza Doostdar's "The Iranian Metaphysicals"

Alireza Doostdar is assistant professor of Islamic Studies and the anthropology of religion at the University of Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Iranian Metaphysicals: Explorations in Science, Islam, and the Uncanny, and reported the following:
Is page 99 of The Iranian Metaphysicals a good representative of the whole? I think it is. But then so are most other pages!

By page 99, we are at the end of the tenth chapter, wherein I give an extended account of my encounter with Mersedeh, a self-professed sorcerer in Tehran who blended “prayer writing” with New Age therapy and self-help. When she was not working as a sorcerer-therapist, Mersedeh studied for a master’s degree in psychology and practiced her skills at making espresso drinks.

My book is about how Iranians think about and act on the metaphysical world in ways that they understand to be rational. In Part 1, I look at how it is that many Iranians take occult specialists known as “rammals” seriously, even though they admit that these figures are likely to be charlatans and that their customers are probably “superstitious” dupes. My answer is that when self-professed rational people meet with rammals and witness their incredible feats, it’s difficult for them to write them off as impostors. But because they can’t just shake off the very powerful idea that rammals are charlatans and belief in sorcery is superstitious, they adopt a variety of other attitudes toward them. One of these is to approach the occult with a lot of caution (I spend three chapters explaining what this means). Another is to inhabit a certain sense of hesitation about the occult that produces excitement and delight at the fantastic. Still another attitude is to sift the “scientific” aspects of the occult from its “superstitious” dimensions, something I go on to explore in Part 2.

Page 99 brings these various ideas together in a story about a young occult specialist. Mersedeh expresses doubts about her own metaphysical activities even as she makes a living off of them. She goes to great lengths to explain that what she does is scientific rather than superstitious. To top it off, she is an incredibly fascinating person who perplexes and entertains her customers and gets them to challenge their assumptions about reality.
Mersedeh’s answer to the disorienting picture of the rammal as a purveyor of superstition seemingly in possession of awesome powers was thus to offer an equally paradoxical counterimage: in contrast to the “ignorant” rammals, she claimed a firm scientific grasp of the metaphysics and psychology of sorcery while being prepared to dismiss the whole enterprise as a waste of time. She doubly distanced herself from the rammals even as she made a lucrative business out of rammali. If this seemed contradictory, she was ready to wave off the inconsistency with a mischievous laugh. The question was whether her customers were able to laugh along with her, or if they were disturbed by the rapid and seamless shifts she was capable of effecting in her positions. Perhaps it was both, and therein lay her uncanny power.
This last paragraph from page 99 is a good representative of the chapter, which in turn gives a good picture of the book as a whole.
Learn more about The Iranian Metaphysicals at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 19, 2018

William I. Hitchcock's "The Age of Eisenhower"

William I. Hitchcock is a professor of history at the University of Virginia and the Randolph Compton Professor at the Miller Center for Public Affairs. A graduate of Kenyon College and Yale University, he is the author most recently of The Bitter Road to Freedom: The Human Cost of Allied Victory in World War II Europe, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s, and reported the following:
From page 99:
[Eisenhower] was emotionally and personally attached to the idea of peace. He spoke eloquently about the horrors of war and his desire to turn the productive capacities of mankind away from swords and toward ploughshares. But Eisenhower was not an impulsive man. As a general, he developed a reputation as a master planner, a man who husbanded power, amassed resources, and always fought from a position of overwhelming strength. As president, Eisenhower followed the same strategic principles, choosing to wage a long, patient struggle with Russia in which American power would eventually win out, rather than take any sudden or risky move that could leave the nation vulnerable. There would be many sincere words of peace during his presidency; but Ike was always preparing for war.
This passage appears on page 99 of The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s. It reveals a basic truth about the era: although often taken to be a time of “peace and prosperity,” the 1950s saw the evolution of the permanent peacetime warfare state. In the 1950s, the United States spent about 10% of its GDP on defense—and that, at a time of relative peace in the world following the Korean armistice. Ike wanted to calm international tensions but he also wanted to build American power so that it could impose order and deter any adventurous rivals. Was Eisenhower, then, a man of peace or of war? This riddle sits at the heart of his presidency, and the cold war itself.
Learn more about The Age of Eisenhower at the Simon & Schuster website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Anna Zeide's "Canned"

Anna Zeide is Assistant Professor of Professional Practice at Oklahoma State University, where her research, teaching, and community activism focus on food and food systems.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Canned: The Rise and Fall of Consumer Confidence in the American Food Industry, and reported the following:
One of the realities that characterizes the modern American food industry--and indeed the business world in general--is that it tends to reject government regulation. Which is why it's so interesting to find that the early canning industry actually welcomed government regulation with open arms. Page 99 of my new book, Canned: The Rise and Fall of Consumer Confidence in the American Food Industry, finds California canners in 1921 pleading: "We urgently request [the state] to assist us in policing the industry." So, what's going on here? Why did the canners want to be "policed" by the state, and what can this tell us about the development of our modern food system?

In 1919 and 1920, there were nationwide outbreaks of botulism, a deadly form of food poisoning, which had resulted from canned olives packed in California. The canning industry, and especially California canners, quickly sprang to action. They wanted to identify the root of the problem that had caused this outbreak, and to change their processes in whatever ways they could to make sure it wouldn't happen again. The canners funded the California Botulism Commission, consisting of scientific experts from the U.S. Public Health Service, the University of California, Stanford University, and the California State Department of Health. The findings of this commission produced valuable research about the times and temperatures required to safely process different kinds of canned foods. Based on these findings, California created a Division of Cannery Inspection in 1923. As I write on page 99, "A crucial point here is that these inspection programs were funded entirely by canners--testifying to the rising importance canners placed on government regulation around 1920." Canners in other states followed suit in bringing in government inspectors to maintain oversight over their own industry.

In the book as a whole, I argue that the American canning industry, before the 1930s, was uniquely vulnerable, selling a product that was unfamiliar and often undesirable to American consumers. In this space of vulnerability, the canners sought to partner with any external experts who carried public trust, to convey a stamp of approval upon their still new products. This is why the canners of the 1920s invited government regulation. They needed this external affirmation to rebuild trust in canned food in the eyes of the consumers after the botulism outbreak. As canners grew more confident in the years to come--in part as a result of the scientific work of the botulism commission--they would become less willing to open themselves up to government regulations, and would begin to reject this receptivity to external scientific advice, bringing us to the current state of tension between the federal government and the food industry.

How do we make the industry responsive once more? Show them their vulnerability.
Visit Anna Zeide's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Amy Wallen's "When We Were Ghouls"

Amy E. Wallen is associate director at the New York State Writers Institute and teaches creative writing at the University of California, San Diego Extension. Her first novel, Moon Pies and Movie Stars, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

Wallen applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, When We Were Ghouls: A Memoir of Ghost Stories, and reported the following:
Page 99 of When We Were Ghouls contains one of five of the photos that are included the book, this one is titled Christmas in Nigeria. Me, my brother, my dad and my sister, all of my family but my mother are present in the photo, our tacky 1970s silver tinsel tree in the background.

The page contains only a short paragraph since this is the last page of the chapter.
…a chameleon. I had even pretended to be Mrs. Astor. If I couldn’t be someone else, slip into another skin, I needed to be able to slide out of danger. I needed to be able to go someplace safer. If no one else was around, and that had become highly likely, I needed to know how to disappear.

But not yet—Suzanne and Marty were coming home for Christmas.
Is the quality of the whole revealed? The theme of my memoir is the search for whether or not my family were “hideous people.” The paragraph reveals my secret wish at an early age to be someone else, anyone else, or to disappear. The mother is missing in the photo (she’s probably taking the picture), and she’s the person who is slipping through my fingers the most throughout the memoir. In addition, the photo is also old and faded and the rest of my family is blurred and fading into a phantom pale. No one is looking at the camera, as we are all busy with our Christmas presents. I am sitting right next to my brother who is my protector throughout the book.

My book’s subtitle is A Memoir in Ghost Stories—a play on the theme of disappearance, how my family members continue to come and go in my life like ghosts, until I am left entirely on my own in Nigeria at the age of seven. The full paragraph talks of slipping away, the last line of the chapter mentions the next appearance. Or apparition. This is what I explore in the story—who was this family of flighty ghosts? My own desire to disappear, my missing mother, the phantom figures in the photo, no eye contact—yep, I see truth to Ford Madox Ford's page 99 test.
Visit Amy Wallen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 16, 2018

Alexandra Cox's "Trapped in a Vice"

Alexandra Cox is a lecturer in sociology at the University of Essex in Colchester, England.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Trapped in a Vice: The Consequences of Confinement for Young People, and reported the following:
The 1990s were an important moment in the punishment and welfare landscape in the United States: crime rates were high, punishment harsh, and cuts to welfare provision were severe. This has had long lasting effects on the lives of impoverished individuals born and coming of age in that era. In my research on youth incarceration, I interviewed the teenagers who born during the 1990s and the prison guards who came of age during that time. And I learned that the punitive philosophies of the 1990s have been transformed into an approach to punishment today that is ostensibly more therapeutic on its face, but repressive under the surface.

The 99th page of my book highlights the philosophies of the juvenile prisons of the 1990s, and introduces the story of David Brooks (a pseudonym), who began working in a juvenile facility in the 1990s. As a Black man from an impoverished urban city in New York, he had successfully obtained a college sports scholarship, and his job at the juvenile facility after college became a road to the middle class. The approach to juvenile imprisonment then was harsh: the system’s commissioner added concertina wire to the facility perimeters, introduced boot camp-style facilities, and a behavioral change regime rooted in personal accountability. Brooks was trained into this ethos, and ultimately developed his own approach to punishment, built on the principle of tough love.

Twenty years later, Brooks found himself working in a facility that was trying to undo the approach of the 1990s. Yet he had been trained to emphasize individual responsibility in punishment, and to use instrumental methods of control. Staff like Brooks carve out strong relationships with young people; yet, even though these relationships are sometimes positive, the approach to punishment that emerges in this context of reforms is often confused and contradictory. My book reveals the contradictions that emerge when systems engage in ‘non-reformist reforms,’ or reforms which make changes within the framework of a given system, rather than imagining what is possible outside of it. I argue that the framework of individual responsibility, which assumes that criminalized teenagers change because they have been induced to change, is deeply limited and stultifying for them. Yet ideas and philosophies also become sedimented in systems and through the people that operate within them, and facilities also become stultifying for staff members, in ways that make systems of punishment stick.
Learn more about Trapped in a Vice at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Amanda L. Izzo's "Liberal Christianity and Women's Global Activism"

Amanda L. Izzo is an Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Saint Louis University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Liberal Christianity and Women's Global Activism: The YWCA of the USA and the Maryknoll Sisters, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Liberal Christianity and Women’s Global Activism finds the Young Women’s Christian Association of the USA (YWCA) working a subtle, but significant, transformation in the international social work profession. The YWCA was one of the largest and most influential twentieth century U.S. women’s voluntary organizations. And this example of the association’s on-the-ground efforts provides a window into one of the larger aims of this book: examining the evolving conception of Christian service that guided the interdenominational Protestant YWCA’s journey from a proselytization-minded, middle-class charitable group to a professional social service provider and advocacy organization. Parallel to this story, the book narrates another similar metamorphosis in the outreach of the Maryknoll Sisters, a Roman Catholic religious order.

The YWCA’s social work innovations, I note, offered a “collective-oriented alternative to the casework model of community intervention,” a form of theory in action that invested the small-scale interpersonal encounters of voluntary clubs with the potential for creating cooperative community on a global scale. The example on page 99 features the organization’s involvement in establishing a School of Social Work in Delhi, India in the 1940s. Illustrating the organization’s international pursuit of fellowship, Dorothy Height, a long-time YWCA employee and African American civil rights pioneer, participated in this transnational endeavor, which drew the support of future prime minister Indira Gandhi.

The Delhi project is one indicator of the YWCA’s larger mission of deploying faith commitments rooted in the New Testament in order to catalyze broader social transformations based in ideals of caring human fellowship. Increasingly aimed at bridging the divides of creed, race, and nation, the group’s agenda, I show, grew more politicized as the membership and leaders explored liberal ideals of social democracy and world fellowship.

On page 99, then, we get small but concrete demonstration of how religion could offer both an inspiration and an institutional infrastructure for women to unite in service of a more egalitarian society. In this respect, I hope, the page hints at some of the goals of the work in its entirety: namely, to highlight a neglected history of women’s centrality to activist religion.
Learn more about Liberal Christianity and Women's Global Activism at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Patricia Fara's "A Lab of One’s Own"

Patricia Fara lectures in the history of science at Cambridge University, where she is a Fellow of Clare College. She is the President of the British Society for the History of Science (2016-18) and her prize-winning book, Science: A Four Thousand Year History, has been translated into nine languages. In addition to many academic publications, her popular works include Newton: The Making of Genius, An Entertainment for Angels, Sex, Botany and Empire, and more. An experienced public lecturer, Patricia Fara appears regularly in TV documentaries and radio programs such as In Our Time. She also contributes articles and reviews to many journals, including History Today, BBC History, New Scientist, Nature and the Times Literary Supplement.

Fara applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, A Lab of One's Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War, and reported the following:
Dorothy Parker allegedly once remarked that the Bloomsbury set lived in squares, painted in circles, and loved in triangles. Page 99 of A Lab of One’s Own captures some of that feverish volatility. As well as Duncan Grant and Bertrand Russell, it features Ray Strachey (née Costelloe) who was related by marriage to both Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey. One of Britain’s leading suffrage campaigners, she has been surprisingly neglected by the Bloomsbury industry.

Like many other suffrage scientists discussed in A Lab of One’s Own, Strachey rebelled against her mother’s advice to behave like a refined young lady. My page 99 describes how this Cambridge maths graduate cut her hair short, wore a dirty blouse to a fashionable party, met the future husband to whom she proposed, and enrolled (along with 20 disdainful young men) in an electrical engineering class at Oxford. As soon as the War started, she set up an employment bureau and a welding school in central London, so that women could be trained to take over men’s jobs while they were away fighting. A resolute committee member, Strachey negotiated with government ministers and played a key role in securing suffrage for British women over 30 in 1918.

Getting the vote represented a major achievement, but professional women still struggled for equal pay and equal opportunities. After the War, Strachey dedicated her life to obtaining economic parity. As the men returned, they reclaimed their previous positions, and women were squeezed out of factories, universities and laboratories. Although sometimes it seemed that the country had just reverted to its pre-War state, in reality nothing could ever be the same again: now everybody knew that women were perfectly capable of running the country.

Equality is now enshrined in legislation, yet there are still fewer women than men at the upper levels of science. As a society, we need to examine why that is and what can be done. A Lab of One’s Own celebrates the female scientists who fought so hard to improve the future. Their example demonstrates that change is possible.
Learn more about A Lab of One's Own at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Erasmus Darwin.

Writers Read: Patricia Fara.

--Marshal Zeringue