Thursday, July 30, 2015

Paul Moses's "An Unlikely Union"

Paul Moses is Professor of Journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY and former city editor of Newsday, where he was the lead writer for a team that won the Pulitzer Prize. His book The Saint and the Sultan won the 2010 Catholic Press Association award for best history book.

Moses applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians, and reported the following:
Page 99 in An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York’s Irish and Italians has just twelve lines—it ends a chapter—but it includes one of the quotes that made it so much fun to do the research for this book. It’s from a letter written by Terence V. Powderly, an Irish American labor leader in the late 19th century whose earlier comments on Italians—he had viewed them as strikebreakers who were unfit to be Americans—sounded a bit like Donald Trump’s remarks on Mexicans. Powderly wrote the letter while traveling in Italy, where he got to know Italians and discovered that he quite liked them. From page 99:
He decided that “we have not done our duty by ourselves or by our country, in not getting close enough to our immigrants to hear their heartbeats. If we thought they were wrong we could not set them right by remaining aloof from them.”
And indeed, Irish Americans would eventually draw much closer to Italian Americans, leading to intermarriage on a large scale by the mid-20th century. That’s the story An Unlikely Union tells: how the Irish and Italians went from rivalry to romance. From page 99, Powderly’s change of heart is one piece of that story.
Learn more about An Unlikely Union at the NYU Press website.

Writers Read: Paul Moses.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Monique Laney's "German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie"

Monique Laney is an Assistant Professor in the History Department at Auburn University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie: Making Sense of the Nazi Past during the Civil Rights Era, and reported the following:
Page 99 describes a very positive moment for most of the central characters of my book, when the German rocketeers and their families, whom the U.S. Army brought to the United States beginning in 1945, were moving to Huntsville, Alabama. Previously, the rocket specialists who designed the V-2 rocket for Hitler’s regime had lived in military barracks at Ft. Bliss near El Paso, Texas. In 1950, they followed the Army’s rocket development program and moved their families to the Deep South state—a pivotal moment for the rocketeers and for Huntsville, but also the first time that the reader hears directly from the Germans I interviewed for this book as they describe their initial impressions of Huntsville.

In the coming decade, Huntsville would become home for approximately 200 German rocket specialists and their families. Despite their arrival with thousands of other newcomers from across the country, many in the once small cotton mill town believe that the Germans were the driving force that transformed its culture and economics, dramatically changing the lives of locals.

Strikingly, one of the first things the Germans talked about when I asked them to describe Huntsville upon their arrival, were the visible effects of Jim Crow segregation. Most members of the first generation quickly tried to set themselves apart from the local white community, depicting themselves as mere bystanders, i.e., outsiders and newcomers, who were trying to fit in by adjusting to local customs and politics. Their children reported more complicated responses, however, and African American interviewees confirmed that the Germans indeed adjusted well, remarking that they simply blended into the town’s white power structure. Not surprisingly, Jewish interviewees had different concerns about the Germans.

With this book I tried to explain why the Germans were continuously celebrated in Huntsville, even after one of the team members signed an affidavit confessing to war crimes under the Nazi regime. Many locals tried to have his name cleared, taking his case all the way to the U.S. president. They did not succeed, but their actions speak volumes about their attachment to the German rocket team. Given that the Germans arrived as the civil rights movement was gaining momentum, I contend that this story tells us something about the history of American race relations as well as the nation’s relationship to Nazi Germany.
Visit Monique Laney's website, and learn more about German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Philip T. Hoffman's "Why Did Europe Conquer the World?"

Philip T. Hoffman is the Rea A. and Lela G. Axline Professor of Business Economics and professor of history at the California Institute of Technology. His books include Growth in a Traditional Society, Surviving Large Losses, and Priceless Markets.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Why Did Europe Conquer the World?, and reported the following:
Why did Europeans conquer the world? They were utterly powerless 1000 years ago, but by 1914, they had taken over 84 percent of the planet. Why did they rise to the top, when for centuries the Chinese, Japanese, Ottomans, and South Asians were far more advanced?

This question has vexed historians and social scientists. But so far they haven’t found a satisfactory explanation. And the question does matter, because Europe’s power determined who had colonies, who ran the slave trade, and who grew rich or remained mired in poverty.

The answer lies with political incentives that drove leaders in Europe not just to make war, but to lavish huge sums on it. Yes, they built palaces, but even Versailles cost French King Louis XIV less than 2 percent of his tax revenue. The rest went to warfare. All that money, as I show, then gave Europeans an insurmountable lead in advancing the gunpowder technology, which was critical for world conquest.

The other major powers in Asia and the Middle East could not match the Europeans’ military spending; the political incentives their leaders faced were radically different. As I explain in the book, they all therefore fell behind militarily, even if they were as rich as the Europeans or fought just as often with guns. And the book also shows why they could “not simply borrow the latest technology” from Europe “and quickly catch up” (p. 99).

Why were political incentives so unusual in Europe? My argument draws upon an economic model, but the ultimate causes were two millennia of political history that set European states on a distinctive path of development and military rivalry and kept similar political incentives from taking hold elsewhere in Eurasia. That is the real reason why Europe conquered the world.
Learn more about Why Did Europe Conquer the World? at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 26, 2015

David McCarthy's "American Artists Against War 1935—2010"

David McCarthy is Professor of Art History at Rhodes College and author of The Nude in American Painting, 1950–1980; Pop Art; and H.C. Westermann at War: Art and Manhood in Cold War America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, American Artists against War, 1935-2010, and reported the following:
Quoting extant imagery allowed Rosenquist to establish connections between military technology and consumer goods, and between the taxation of U.S. citizens and the ends to which those taxes were put. Literally, he visualized these connections in a space that forced viewers to see that their daily lives were not so far removed from the military-industrial complex. Hence the painting served as an “antidote” (in the artist’s words), one designed to “shift gears” so that the art might be an effective means of challenging the status quo. With subsequent exhibitions throughout the rest of the decade and continuing coverage in the press, F-111 became part of the antiwar movement, not as an event contingent upon community coordination as the artist might have hoped, but as potent image nonetheless.
The above quotation is from page ninety-nine of my book. Although lifted from a longer section on James Rosenquist’s canonical painting F-111, the paragraph is indicative of the chapter on Vietnam and, indeed, of the entire book. How so? Certainly in the use of highly charged content. Anti-war artists often worked with recognizable and topical subject matter. Standing apart from government propaganda and mainstream media reporting and editorializing, these artists reconfigured information to help citizens see armed conflict from strikingly adversarial perspectives. Their practice was based on the knowledge that they were uniquely positioned to challenge the status quo because of their skill in presenting ideas visually. How else? The paragraph draws attention to the exhibition of the painting, meaning that we need to remember that the encounter with works of art occurs in actual places. Our experience of the art is both physical and emotional. Sometimes through empathy we are drawn to feel a sense of community with the victims or war. At other times, as with F-111, we are repulsed by the garish color, congested space, and insistence that our consumer pleasures might be linked with the violent subordination of others. This is but one instance of artists using imagination to protest against the use of violence to further the ambitions of the nation state, and reminds us of the long and ongoing tradition of modern artists bearing witness to the trauma of our age.
Learn more about American Artists against War, 1935-2010 at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Olivia Weisser's "Ill Composed"

Olivia Weisser is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ill Composed: Sickness, Gender, and Belief in Early Modern England, and reported the following:
At first glance, I thought my book failed the “Page 99 test.” On page 99, I attempt to explain a particular pattern in women’s personal writing from the 1600s. After rereading the page, however, I realized that the focused discussion actually illustrates the overarching argument of the book. The page discusses what I call “mimetic suffering.” This is a tendency of women from the period to mirror the illnesses of loved ones. These women claimed to experience the very same symptoms as their dying husbands and children, as though the aches and pains of loved ones were transposed to their own bodies. I have been unable to find comparable examples by men.

On p. 99, I discuss a possible explanation for this phenomenon. Claiming to fall sick in sympathy with an ailing friend or family member was a popular trope in correspondence from the period. For instance, Lydia Dugard wrote the following note to her lover in 1668: “How much am I afflicted at the bad news of your headache it is cruel to me now and tortures me as much as if I really felt it.” Dugard did not actually develop a headache, of course, but she communicated her concern by describing her emotional distress as a comparable pain. As I explain on p. 99, “Such expressions of compassion perhaps informed more literal articulations of the sympathetic relationship between grief and illness in women’s writing. When overwhelming sorrow caused women to mirror the aches and pains of loved ones, they embodied a common discourse for conveying sympathy.”

This discussion offers a clear example of the larger argument of the book, which is that men and women in the period perceived illness in gendered ways. The discussion also nicely illustrates how I attempt to explain and historicize those gender differences: by looking to the intimate details of seventeenth-century life.
Follow Olivia Weisser on Twitter and learn more about Ill Composed at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 24, 2015

Negar Mottahedeh's "#iranelection: Hashtag Solidarity and the Transformation of Online Life"

Negar Mottahedeh is Associate Professor in Literature and Women's Studies at Duke University. She is the author of Displaced Allegories: Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema (2008) and Representing the Unpresentable: Historical Images of National Reform from the Qajars to the Islamic Republic of Iran (2007).

Mottahedeh applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, #iranelection: Hashtag Solidarity and the Transformation of Online Life, and reported the following:
#iranelection: Hashtag Solidarity and the Transformation of Online Life is full of images. It is likely too the only book with QR codes that take you to videos from the post-election protests in Iran in the summer of 2009. My favorite image from the book appears on page 99. The image is of a woman about to throw a stone, defying an ultimatum by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to end the protests following the presidential election in Iran in 2009. It is dated June 20, 2009.

About a week earlier, on June 12, 2009, Iranians went to the polls to cast their vote for a new president. Before the polls were even closed, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was announced as the sixth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran with 63% of the votes cast. Millions believe that their votes were never counted. The days that followed the election witnessed the largest protests in Iran since the Revolution of 1978-79. Some of the protests in the summer of 2009 were silent, others, were more violent. They were all aggressively suppressed by government forces, killing and wounding thousands of people. The images in the book are by and large viral images that were circulated online with the hashtag #iranelection to document the violence of the state against its own people.

The image on page 99 emphasizes the corporality of 2009 protests and the ways in which the camera responded to this corporality by implicating the viewer’s own body in the texture of the viral image itself. Contrasting the 2009 image to images of women in the course of earlier revolts in Iran in the 1950s and 1970s, I write on page 99:
Indeed one could say that a certain corporality is deemphasized by the “objective” distance of the 1950s and 1970s camera and by the sartorial choices, which either situate themselves within the flows of commercial capital and global fashion or squarely take a stand against the same by virtue of the chador. While we must be vigilant in remembering the presence of young women in militant guerrilla movements such as Cherikha-ye Fada’i Khalaq or Mujahedyn-e Khalq in the 1970s and 1980s, what we witness in the photographs of the 2009 protests is the ordinariness of a gesture which is stripped of all but frustration: a young woman readied to “throw a stone with manicured hand.” Stalwart, this image speaks allegorically of an archived melancholy that spans decades of political loss on the public front for Iranian women in protest.
The figure of the young woman readied to “throw a stone with manicured hand” is allegorical of a fundamental loss for women in revolt. But it is allegorical too in that it shuttles at once between an image of the lone woman corporally present in the midst of the crowd, and a concept that we don’t see: a digital collective elsewhere that is sensorially connected and networked by her image online. Part flesh, part data, the figure of the young woman articulates, as allegory, a politics that hinges on the amorphous web of social media. This is the politics of contemporary networked social movements. The image on page 99 captures the essence of the networked protest movement and of that moment in Iran’s history as an allegory of our collective global present.
Learn more about #iranelection at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Irene S. Wu's "Forging Trust Communities"

Irene S. Wu is a senior analyst at the US Federal Communications Commission. The author of From Iron Fist to Invisible Hand: The Uneven Path of Telecommunications Reform in China, she teaches in the Communications, Culture & Technology Program at Georgetown University.

Wu applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Forging Trust Communities: How Technology Changes Politics, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In China the telecom infrastructure is built to meet millions of users’ demands; therefore, it is robust enough to deliver the government’s information and ideas. If the Internet had few users, it would be useless as a tool to survey the public mood.

Al-Jazeera’s programming engages audiences throughout the region. Therefore, Qatar has the opportunity to influence Middle East politics. People watch Al-Jazeera because it presents facts that other broadcasters have skipped, and its talk shows give voice to the previously voiceless. For Qatar, Al-Jazeera and its audience are a trust community, a source of political capital and ammunition worth as much as money or military might.
Picture a revolution today and it isn’t complete without young activists waving their phones in the air – snapping photos, videoing police brutality, Facebooking and Tweeting and networking with the world. It is easy to forget that governments are vigorously doing the same, perhaps not as fleetly, but often with more capital and skill at their easy disposal. Page 99 of the book falls at the end of the discussion of these government efforts. The chatter online in China is one way for the government to hear what the people are thinking and prepare it to respond better to their demands. Al-Jazeera not only keeps audiences up to date on the latest happenings, it raises the profile of the Qatar government. In both cases these governments are using technology to reach out into the world, to establish their reputation, to assess how they are perceived, and to adapt accordingly. They are widening their “trust communities” of the book title to better position themselves for the next event.

Take a look at the book for more on 20 cases from both the activist and government perspectives, with practical suggestions for both.
Learn more about Forging Trust Communities at the the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Vanina Leschziner's "At the Chef's Table"

Vanina Leschziner is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, At the Chef's Table: Culinary Creativity in Elite Restaurants, and reported the following:
Sometime after agreeing to put my book to the Page 99 Test, I anxiously picked up a copy of the book to see what I would find. As I was getting closer to the page, it looked like there was a good chance that page 99 would be blank, marking the transition from one chapter to another. A blank page would have been a pretty ironic result. Luckily, page 99 is the beginning of chapter five, and one of the central chapters in the book. Here is the opening paragraph:
Running a high-end restaurant is not an easy job. There is an incessant expectation of excellence in everything from the food to the wine program, décor, and service. The food must be not just flawless but also creative, and chefs need to keep their menus looking novel. This is not so easily done because chefs typically do not have a lot of time to develop new dishes, and because they do not always have the inspiration. There is no one way to manage these pressures and constraints, and chefs vary greatly in how they deal with them.
This book is about the creative work of chefs at top restaurants in New York and San Francisco. Based on interviews with chefs and observation in restaurant kitchens, it examines how and why chefs make choices about the dishes they put on their menus. To answer these questions, I look at a wide range of factors, including chefs’ careers, restaurant ratings and reviews, cognitive patterns and work processes, and how status and social connections influence chefs’ work and careers. Chapter five is about how chefs think about food and how they go about creating dishes.

The opening paragraph of this chapter, quoted above, actually captures some of the central themes in the book, in particular that elite chefs face competing pressures in their work, and must find ways to navigate an uncertain market and make choices between those pressures. Chefs are responsible for the creation of dishes but also for the management of the restaurant, and this limits the time they can dedicate to the creative part of their job, and the dishes they may conceive. They must deliver complex and creative dishes but also run a profitable business in an industry with exceptionally high costs and low profit margins, which manifests itself as contradictory pressures to create original dishes but also offer the familiar foodstuffs that customers are more likely to order. The book explains how they do it, using this as a case study to analyze characteristics common to creative occupations.
Learn more about At the Chef's Table at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Jane Dawson's "John Knox"

Jane Dawson is John Laing Professor of Reformation History at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She is the author of Scotland Re-formed, 1488-1587 and The Politics of Religion in the Age of Mary, Queen of Scots and has produced editions of a number of primary sources from the period.

Dawson applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, John Knox, and reported the following:
When I checked Page 99 I was pleasantly surprised to find one of the pivotal points in the life of John Knox, the Scottish and British Protestant Reformer. It opens with a description of his predicament in the spring of 1555,
By the early morning of Tuesday 26 March, Knox was setting off on the road south, banished from Frankfurt, with a treason charge hanging over his head and not entirely sure what had hit him. Though at the start of the year he had been looking for a way to leave the city, this was not what he had had in mind.
Having fled England after the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor had come to the throne, Knox had served as minister to the English exile church in Frankfurt and become embroiled in a bitter dispute about worship. These ‘Troubles at Frankfurt’ culminated in a ‘furious fortnight’ following the arrival of additional exiles led by Richard Cox, later Bishop of Ely. As page 99 explains,
The attractive rhyming of the Coxians versus Knoxians has encouraged a tendency to explain the Troubles primarily as a clash of single-leader parties. Cox’s speedy victory over Knox has grabbed the headlines and disguised the longer and far less conclusive battles both before and after that furious fortnight.
The campaign was won when Knox’s opponents complained to the Frankfurt City Council about his strong denunciation of Queen Mary in a tract published the previous year. Knox had also attacked Mary’s father-in-law, the Emperor Charles V, leaving the Frankfurt authorities little option but to defend their Imperial overlord. They gave Knox his marching orders and he travelled to Geneva, the city transformed by the Reformer, John Calvin. Knox’s Frankfurt supporters followed several months later and established a new congregation in Geneva. Knox was one of its ministers and this proved the happiest period of his life. Without the defeat and humiliation Knox had faced at Frankfurt, the positive achievements in Geneva would not have happened.
The treatment of Knox split the English exiles and became part of a breach that never fully healed. As the anonymous 1575 tract proclaimed, the Troubles ‘begun’ at Frankfurt were a foretaste of the divisions besetting the Elizabethan Church and came to be seen as the foundation of English nonconformity and the Puritan movement. The liturgical and doctrinal stance that Knox and his supporters adopted during the Troubles led to the production of a new order of worship that was carried into the Reformed Church of Scotland and the Anglophone Protestant tradition.
The fascinating story of Knox’s life shows how the Reformation upheavals changed individuals. For this particular man the Troubles at Frankfurt and the creation of the Geneva congregation were a turning point but they also altered the religious landscape of the English-speaking world. That Genevan congregation’s remarkable productivity created the building blocks for the Puritan and Presbyterian tradition. Knox’s steps along that road from Frankfurt helped shape the world in which we live.
Learn more about John Knox at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 20, 2015

Siobhan Roberts's "Genius At Play"

Siobhan Roberts is a Toronto journalist and author whose work focuses on mathematics and science. Her new book is Genius at Play, The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway (Bloomsbury, 2015). While writing the Conway biography, she was a Director’s Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, and a Fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City.

Her previous books are Wind Wizard: Alan G. Davenport and the Art of Wind Engineering (Princeton University Press, 2012), and King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, The Man Who Saved Geometry (Bloomsbury, 2006). King of Infinite Space won the Mathematical Association of America’s 2009 Euler Prize for expanding the public’s view of mathematics.

Roberts also wrote and produced a documentary film about Coxeter, The Man Who Saved Geometry, for TVOntario’s The View From Here (September 2009).

And she is the recipient of four National Magazine Awards in the science and technology longform features category (two Silver; two Honourable Mention).

Roberts applied the “Page 99 Test” to Genius at Play and reported the following:
As it happens, page 99 turns us to perhaps my favorite passage. We’ve just learned that “floccinaucinihilipilification” is perhaps Conway’s favorite word:
He reckons it’s longest word in the Oxford English Dictionary, and he recites nearly verbatim the OED’s definition: “the action or habit of estimating as worthless.” And his telling of its etymology checks out as well. It is a Latin-based word, invented circa 1730 at Eton as a schoolboy’s joke. Consulting a Latin textbook, the student found four ways of saying “don’t care” and stuck them together: flocci, a wisp of wool; nauci, a trifle; nihili, nothing or something valueless; pili, a bit or a whit, something small and insignificant.
The relevance is this: Whereas up until now along Conway’s timeline he’d been piddling his life away, playing games and doing, ostensibly, nothing, at this junction in the narrative Conway has triumphed with his annus mirabilis — in roughly one year, circa 1970, he invented the Game of Life, and discovered his Conway group, as well as his surreal numbers.

So, now, Conway could relax and continue on with his trifling nothings, all the stuff that he had formerly feared his fellow mathematicians might…

Conway had long maintained, publicly anyway, that all his noodling around, his compulsion for trivialities—memorizing stars, counting petals, playing backgammon—was worthless for all practical purposes. Regardless, he now could be the living, breathing embodiment of “Don’t Care!”
And as he himself recounted: “Before, everything I touched turned to nothing. Now I was Midas, and everything I touched turned to gold.”
Learn more about the book and author at Siobhan Roberts' website.

The Page 69 Test: King of Infinite Space.

The Page 99 Test: Wind Wizard.

Writers Read: Siobhan Roberts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Dan Stone's "The Liberation of the Camps"

Dan Stone is professor of modern history, Royal Holloway, University of London. He has published fifteen books on the Holocaust, genocide, and twentieth-century European history, including Goodbye to All That? The Story of Europe Since 1945.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and Its Aftermath, and reported the following:
The Liberation of the Camps provides a survey of the end of the Holocaust as experienced by victims, liberators, and, to a lesser extent, perpetrators. There is a large specialist literature on “death marches” (the forced evacuation of concentration camps in the face of the advance of the Red Army, with inmates marched or transported westwards), on the camps in their last days and weeks, and on the Displaced Persons (DP) camps in which many of the survivors found themselves after liberation. This book, however, is the first to offer an overview of the phenomenon in general and to follow the Holocaust survivors through the liberation period into the DP camps, and then to show how the DPs became the subject of international refugee political debates in the context of the Cold War in the late 1940s.

In contrast with the “happy ending” we associate with Hollywood films, the book follows survivor testimonies in stressing that liberation from camps – or from death marches or hiding or other forms of survival – did not mean the end of the victims’ troubles. Quite the opposite was in fact the case, as survivors were usually physically and mentally ill – thousands died after liberation because they were so weak – and as they responded to the shock of the enormity of the Nazis’ crimes. They more often than not discovered that they were the sole survivors of their families, that their communities had been wiped out, and that they could not return to their former homes. Many, especially those from Eastern Europe, spent years learning new languages, travelling and working “illegally”, trying to start new families, and often taking years to arrive at a place where they wanted to live. Most of all, survivors were inflicted by a terrible existential loneliness, a feeling of being left alone in the world, which took years to overcome.

In a book that is full of difficult stories, page 99 occurs in a section that offers some of the most difficult. The topic of revenge amongst survivors is rarely researched; those who have looked at it usually conclude that revenge occurred surprisingly rarely. I would not disagree, but there are sources which indicate that revenge attacks did take place, by survivors as well as by Allied soldiers. We first hear the words of Harry Herder, an American soldier, recalling how he and several colleagues did not intervene to prevent a group of survivors from murdering a guard. “I felt I knew why the prisoners at Buchenwald did what they did – so I did not stop them”, he writes. He then admits that the event troubled him and that he told no one about it for forty-six years.

Next we hear from one of the remarkable interviews undertaken by David Boder in 1946. Boder, by origin a Latvian Jew who worked as a psychologist at Illinois Tech, returned to the DP camps of Western Europe in 1946 with a primitive wire recorder; his interviews are among the earliest and most fascinating of such oral sources, since neither he nor his interviewees had a template in their minds of what we now call “the Holocaust”, and his astonishment at what they told him is plain. Benjamin Piskorz, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, openly admits to Boder that he took revenge against the Germans, saying “I did the same thing as they did with us.” Boder asks for further information, and Piskorz claims that he killed German children, “because the hate in me was so great”. It’s not possible to verify Piskorz’s claims but the fact that he made them gives us an insight into the state of mind of some of the survivors. Although such things do not make for pleasant reading, I hope that The Liberation of the Camps gives a more rounded view of the phenomenon of liberation and the post-liberation period than has existed until now.
Learn more about The Liberation of the Camps at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Goodbye to All That?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 17, 2015

"A Girl Undone"

Catherine Linka explores what would really happen to society in the US if synthetic hormones in beef eliminated four generations of women in the YA duology, A Girl Called Fearless and A Girl Undone. The impact of the economical and social upheaval include the rise of a new political party, the Paternalists, and high ticket marriage Contracts for the most rare and valuable commodity in the country: teenage girls.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to the duology and reported the following:
On page 99 of book one, A Girl Called Fearless, teen Avie Reveare meets the man who holds her multi-million dollar marriage Contract, and to signify the deal, he locks a gold and diamond pave Cartier Love bracelet on her wrist.

On page 99 of the sequel, A Girl Undone, Avie’s on the run, trying to get key evidence against the Paternalist leaders in Congress to the media when she’s taken in by Streicker. Ex-CIA, Streicker carries a neck tattoo of biblical quotes in the shape of a gun. He smuggles underage American girls to freedom in Canada, and then brings Canadian women looking for husbands back to the US where he auctions them online to ranchers. Here Streicker explains to the Canadians how the auction works:
The auction will go live at six. Once your bids reach the reserve amount we’ve set for each of you, you are free to choose any bidder who has bid more than the reserve. You can view the profiles of each qualified bidder on our site and you’ll have two hours to review those profiles and make your selection. Any questions?
Avie describes how:
The girls peppered him with questions, and Streicker became charming, reassuring. I could see their faces light up, and one bounced in her seat when Streicker promised that at the end of the evening they would all have Contracts and be on their way to wedded bliss.
I was determined to write a YA dystopian that felt real, and couldn’t resist showing the effects of restricted supply upon demand. Streicker is a product of market forces, a shady character who takes advantage of both US girls who want to be free to choose who they love, and young women from rural Canada who seek a better life in an arranged marriage.
Learn more about the book and author at Catherine Linka’s website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Penny Harvey & Hannah Knox's "Roads: An Anthropology of Infrastructure and Expertise"

Penny Harvey is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester and Director of the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change. She is the author of Hybrids of Modernity: Anthropology, the Nation State and the Universal Exhibition and coeditor of Technologized Images, Technologized Bodies, Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion, and Anthropology and Science: Epistemologies in Practice.

Hannah Knox is a Lecturer in Digital Anthropology and Material Culture at University College London.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Roads: An Anthropology of Infrastructure and Expertise, and reported the following:
Our book on roads is an attempt to understand the social life of infrastructures. Specifically it is about the role that roads play in making social worlds. In it, we explore how material structures might be analysed as simultaneously real, material, imagined, enchanted, represented and agentive. So, we were a bit surprised to find that page 99 opens on a discussion that is squarely about the problem of the human subject. On page 99 of Roads, we recount the work of philosopher of science and mathematics Brian Rotman, and his description of the tripartite model of the subject that lies at the heart of western forms of mathematical calculation. We write:
Put simply, for Rotman the person is the embodied and relational being with a life history and emotions and experiences that in order to do maths, imagines themselves into the role of the subject that carries out mathematical procedures. The mathematical subject is the one who has the technical capacity to think up and imagine mathematical formulas and inscribe them on paper using notational devices that posit objects and relations between them. The mathematical subject is also the imagined interlocutor who receives instruction such as ‘add’, ‘consider’, ‘let’ x be the case, in the syntax of mathematical language. However, due to the nature of mathematical formulations it is often impossible for the individual mathematical subject to ‘prove’ the validity of a mathematical theorem, as the circumstances under which it would need to be tested are multiple if not infinite. In order to allow a proof of sorts to exist, the mathematical subject has to imagine the existence of a hypothetical agent who, under conditions of infinite time and/or space would be able to demonstrate the universal validity of the theory in hand.
The focus of page 99 on mathematics as a practice of knowledge takes the reader to where we started with this book and the question of how infrastructures bring into contact different ways of knowing. We chose the road as fieldsite because it seemed to hold in tension different practices by which people – engineers, government officials, farmers, drivers - come to know the world. Deviating from classic anthropological studies that tended to centre on single groups of people, we hoped the road would help us develop a form of social analysis that could deal better with scale, with difference, and with social change. At the same time we hoped to provide a richer account of the social life of infrastructure than conventional ‘impact’ studies.

By starting with the road, what we soon had to confront was not just different people, but also the agency of matter and the power of form as two dimensions of road construction that bridged communities and blurred the boundaries between different ways of knowing. Mud, machines, rivers, waterspouts, membranes, concrete and crops, as well as networks, grids and trajectories, all appeared as entities that demanded our consideration. Through sustained attention to the interrelationship between humans and non-humans, we began to devise a language to describe the social life of infrastructure. Out of an attention to the road itself, how it was talked about, how it was constructed, the promises it materialised and the risks that it articulated we devised concepts like engineer-bricoleur, impossible publics, historical futures and the engineering philosophy of as-long-as. These have led us to develop an analysis of infrastructure that in the end is not just about roads, but also about the nation-state, globalisation, and the possibilities available to us as we learn to live our lives alongside and through infrastructural forms.
Learn more about Roads: An Anthropology of Infrastructure and Expertise at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Claire Snell-Rood's "No One Will Let Her Live"

Claire Snell-Rood is an assistant professor in behavioral science at the University of Kentucky.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, No One Will Let Her Live: Women's Struggle for Well-Being in a Delhi Slum, and reported the following:
“No one will let her live,” is what would happen if women living in slums tried to live outside of the relationships upon which they depended—that was what Neetu told me. The miserly care she received from family and neighbors, her home in a slum that the Delhi government had demolished, and the poor environment she had to endure: Neetu’s health was tied to her relationships, no matter how dependable. Research on the social production of health over the last few decades has focused on how social relationships shape health. Relationships, from the micro-scale of the family to the macro-scale of community and politics, establish the social conditions in which health is forged. The inequalities that structure these relationships have left the health of women like Neetu chronically vulnerable.

Based on 14 months of intensive fieldwork with ten families in a Delhi slum, this book argues that women respond to the inequalities that threaten their health by fostering inner wellbeing. Exploring the centrality of the moral self, this book considers how cultural strategies of resilience buoyed women’s mental health while enabling them to navigate their dubious relationships. Like Neetu, women accepted these conditions as their fate. But there were things beyond fate. What was in their hands, what God saw, the strength of their bodies, how they “got ahead,” the purity of their hearts: these were words that women used to describe what they made of themselves in spite of their dependencies.

Page 99 of this book explores one relationship crucial for women living in slums: neighborly relationships. Though public health advocates have found neighborly relationships essential to health promotion in disadvantaged communities, women explained to me that their relationships with neighbors must be carefully navigated to control their autonomy and protect their moral worth. Page 99 discusses how women controlled what others saw of their appearance in order to ensure that they control how their reputation was defined. Guarding their reputation affected everything from their safety in public to how much help they could expect from their community networks, and how they understood themselves.

The Page 99 test sinks into this book’s intimate, ethnographic heart of women’s negotiations of their relationships, revealing another side to the dynamics of social support, household health production, community advocacy, and domestic violence as they have been measured before.
Learn more about No One Will Let Her Live at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Patryk Babiracki's "Soviet Soft Power in Poland"

Patryk Babiracki is assistant professor in Russian and East European history at the University of Texas at Arlington and a Volkswagen–Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung in Potsdam.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Soviet Soft Power in Poland: Culture and the Making of Stalin's New Empire, 1943-1957, and reported the following:
Soviet Soft Power examines postwar Soviet efforts to build empire in Eastern Europe through culture during the formative postwar decade.

I focus on Soviet-Polish relations in a broader Cold War context. The chief argument of my book is that many Soviet officials and cultural figures knew how to use culture to build mutually satisfying reciprocal relationships--the kinds that would have made empire more attractive to East Europeans. However, the Soviet system, and particularly its Stalinist version, paralyzed many such efforts to use "soft power," or power of attraction, making it even easier for the disgruntled East Europeans to resent Soviet interventions.

Page 99 of my book takes the reader to the very opening of Chapter 3. That chapter examines the years 1948-1954, the peak of Stalinism both in the USSR and Poland. State terror and official xenophobia were in their apex; widespread hopes for genuine cultural cooperation have largely evaporated. On page 99, I begin the story by reconstructing the experiences of Soviet diplomat Vladimir Iu. Bernov, who arrived in Poland in 1952. In his memoirs, Bernov emphasized the profound "fear and anxiety" that accompanied him as he traveled to Poland by train. He was afraid because he knew that even though he was traveling on official business to a friendly socialist country, the fact that he was leaving the Soviet Union made him particularly vulnerable to false yet fatal charges of disloyalty, espionage or "kow-towing to the West."

Bernov's detailed, introspective account of his experiences in Eastern Europe during those exceptionally difficult years is a rare one. But anyone who was involved in cultural outreach to Eastern Europe in the Soviet Union would have been familiar with the fear he described. Afraid to compromise, prevented from taking into account local cultures and political conditions, and often forced to Sovietize Eastern Europe against their better judgment, Soviet officials and cultural figures alienated their elite counterparts and masses throughout Eastern Europe. On the long run, by turning potential friends into foes, and giving existing enemies more reasons to resist Soviet policies, these Soviet cultural workers destabilized the empire they were sent to consolidate.
Learn more about Soviet Soft Power in Poland at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 13, 2015

Joshua L. Reid's "The Sea Is My Country"

Born and raised in Washington State, Joshua L. Reid is an assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where he also directs the program in Native American and Indigenous Studies. He earned his B.A. from Yale University, joined Teach For America, and taught middle school for nine years. In 2009, he earned his doctorate in history, with a designated emphasis in Native American Studies, at University of California, Davis. Along with The Sea Is My Country: The Maritime World of the Makahs, some of his work with the Makah recently appeared in two edited volumes.

Reid applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Sea Is My Country and reported the following:
Page 99 The Sea Is My Country, discusses one of the major themes in the book: ways that the Makahs—an indigenous people living around Cape Flattery, the most northwestern point of the contiguous United States—engaged the opportunities of settler-colonialism in the nineteenth-century Pacific Northwest. As I write on page 99, “The establishment of Fort Victoria and its early operations highlight the way indigenous peoples were the cornerstone of HBC [Hudson’s Bay Company] growth in the region.” Makahs and neighboring Nuu-chah-nulth communities on Vancouver Island were critical to the success of the HBC’s Columbia District during the early nineteenth century. Makahs provided foodstuffs and commodities, such as furs, whale oil, and salmon that the company shipped throughout the Pacific and to London. Knowing the important role indigenous peoples would serve in the new fort’s success, Chief Factor James Douglas located Fort Victoria at “Camosun, a sheltered harbor on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, where Indians could beach their canoes easily.” The page includes an 1854 sketch of Fort Victoria, then eleven years old, which depicts four Northwest Coast canoes (including two with sails) traveling to and from the fort.

Overall, The Sea Is My Country explores how Makahs shaped marine space in and around the Strait of Juan de Fuca, rather than terrestrial spaces, as the primary locus of their identity. Strategic exploitation of this marine borderland enabled them to participate in global networks of exchange, to resist assimilation, and to retain greater autonomy than many other land-based reservation communities. As explorers and maritime fur traders entered the eighteenth-century Pacific Northwest, they found a dynamic borderland in which Makah chiefs and other indigenous leaders exercised and contested control over customary waters and resources. During the early nineteenth century, influential Makah chiefs engaged trade and colonization efforts to maintain authority, and tribal leaders forced the United States to alter the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay to fit their maritime needs. In the later nineteenth century, Makah whalers and sealers combined customary practices and strategies with modern opportunities and technology to maintain a Makah identity and to counter environmental changes and rising settler-colonialism. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, national conservation laws and international agreements—in response to overhunted sea mammal populations—circumscribed Makah marine space and practices, cutting them out of profitable maritime industries. Once again, Makahs relied on their marine waters and a customary practice, fishing for salmon and halibut. Yet overfishing by better capitalized non-Native fishers and conservation regulations and agreements undermined Makah economic autonomy. This left the tribal nation more susceptible to the federal government’s increased assimilation efforts, then focused on controlling Native peoples. Beginning in the 1930s, Makahs fought back legally and politically. The book concludes by examining the contemporary struggle over Makah whaling rights, arguing that current efforts represent actions to regain control of marine space, to express their marine-oriented identity, and to articulate what I call a traditional future.
Learn more about The Sea Is My Country at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Zach Dundas's "The Great Detective"

Zach Dundas is co-executive editor of Portland Monthly magazine, a longtime journalist, and the author of The Renegade Sportsman. He is a member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and the Diogenes Club.

Dundas applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Great Detective actually captures the whole fairly well. The book is, in its humble way, a history of a cultural phenomenon: the talismanic detective of all crime fiction; one of the most frequently reinvented and remixed characters in all of English literature; the 130-year-old Baker Street sensation. You know who I’m talking about. Above all, it explores the question of why Sherlock Holmes, the hasty creation of an author who would have preferred to be known for other work, has thrived so vividly in our world.

But then again, the book is also a memoir of my own boyish enthusiasm and adult love for the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle. And a small-scale biography of Conan Doyle and an investigation of his times. And a journalistic ramble through the present-day subcultures and pastimes that revolve around Sherlock.

Page 99 happens to hold a little knot of all these tangled skeins. It finds me narrating an episode in my youthful Sherlockianism—the day when I was about 12 and my uncle showed up with a letter in hand, created by a friend of his, purporting to be from “Doctor Watson.” This letter, I’ve noted, played to my flickering pre-adolescent belief in the fantastic and to a Montana kid always beguiled by the fantastical and foreign. At the top of the page, I write:
It would be easy enough to attribute my Holmesian affinity to the fact that I lived in a state popularly known as a fly-fishing destination or a place to retreat to if you believe that US currency is unconstitutional. But the Sherlock Holmes stories would probably have triggered the same monomania had I lived in New York, Tokyo, or exalted London itself. Looking back, I suspect that my imagination vibrated, like a just-struck tuning fork, to the Sherlockian cycle’s atavistic quality…Conan Doyle…can wield the hypnotic force of parables told by an elder at the campfire. His style of storytelling exerts a special power over a person whose own adventures have not quite started yet.
I go on to note that the letter from “Watson” was a small example of Sherlockian play-acting, a game (“the Great Game,” some call it) that has been going for almost as long as the character has existed. Much of The Great Detective focuses on how other people—not Conan Doyle, surely, who preferred cricket—have messed with, toyed with, and turned Sherlock Holmes to their own uses over the last century. Conan Doyle lost control of the character almost immediately, and other creative people began adding elements to the fictional idea he’d originated. (The deerstalker hat, perhaps most famously, is the contribution of brilliant illustrator Sidney Paget.) In the 1890s, fans wanted autographs from “Sherlock Holmes,” and by the 1930s a still-vibrant tradition of Sherlockian fan societies had blossomed in the real world. And here I stand, on Page 99, a young person just discovering this long tradition of fun.

Meanwhile, there’s Conan Doyle, unnerved. By the 1890s, the Holmes stories were making him famous and rich, vaulting a creation of his imagination into the popular consciousness. And he wanted out.

As much as Conan Doyle loved making money, he hated being told what to do. In his negotiations with the Strand Magazine, the author continually raised the price of Holmes stories—and the magazine kept saying yes. If Sherlock Holmes could prompt a magazine publisher, of all creatures, to part cheerfully with £1,000, what chance did Conan Doyle have of getting rid of the detective?

What chance indeed, when a kid in Missoula nearly 100 years later will eagerly devour every imaginary detail of Conan Doyle’s accidental but brilliant world? The Great Detective, in the end, tells a story of imagination’s power—and its unpredictable results.
Visit Zach Dundas's Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Cynthia Barnett's "Rain: A Natural and Cultural History"

Cynthia Barnett is an award-winning environmental journalist who has written three books on water, including Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S. and Blue Revolution: Unmaking America’s Water Crisis.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Thriving on Scotland’s rain and mist, the country’s abundant lichens are central to its textile history; the fawn colors (and slightly funky smell) of Harris Tweed come from lichens in the Parmelia genus. Most cudbear manufacturers used a Scottish lichen called Ochrolechia tatarea, but George Macintosh imported more-exotic types from the Italian island of Sardinia. In his twenties, Charles Macintosh traveled across Europe for months at a time to scout lichens, flowers, and plants for potential new colors and materials, or to meet with possible business partners. His surviving papers don’t indicate how long he had pondered waterproof cloth in the years or decades before his famous brainstorm. Perhaps it crossed his mind as he walked the puddled cobblestone streets of Glasgow, or in the spring of 1789, when he experienced a terrifying storm in the passage between Sunderland on the east coast of England and Rotterdam in Holland. On that trip he visited the Kingdom of Prussia to try to land the contract for dyeing the Royal Prussian Army’s uniforms blue. Macintosh always seemed more comfortable with the chemistry than the commerce. The Prussians turned him down. Surely he would have clinched the deal if he could have kept them dry as he perfected their blue hue.
Given that I spent far too much time fretting and sweating over each sentence in Rain, the Page 99 Test had a pretty good chance of reflecting the quality and spirit of the book. I think it does. In the past I’ve written some wonkier water books. With Rain I set out to do something completely different in an effort to reach readers beyond the environmental choir. This is essentially a biography of rain, weaving together not only science and climate history, but nature writing and compelling cultural stories. One of those is the quirky tale of the eighteenth century chemist who discovered waterproofing and gave the world the Mackintosh raincoat.

Page 99 begins with one of the weirder angles of the Charles Macintosh story: how his dye-maker father collected human urine from poor neighborhoods in Glasgow so he could extract ammonia. Many immigrants were crowded into the city at that time, fleeing the potato famine. They’d save up their pee in buckets to sell to the elder Macintosh’s collectors as they made the rounds. Mr. Macintosh used the ammonia to manufacture cudbear, a coveted red-purple dye made from lichens.

That background sets the stage for Charles Macintosh’s own nothing-wasted mindset and experiences that help lead to his invention of waterproof fabric. First, Page 99 goes on to describe Scotland’s lichens and their role in the textile industry, reflecting the book’s attention to natural history and the theme of how profoundly all life connects back to the rain.
Visit Cynthia Barnett's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Roland Clark's "Holy Legionary Youth"

Roland Clark is Assistant Professor of Modern European History at Eastern Connecticut State University. He is the translator of The Holy Trinity: In the Beginning there was Love by Dumitru Stăniloae.

Clark applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Holy Legionary Youth: Fascist Activism in Interwar Romania, and reported the following:
The book is about the lives of rank and file activists in the Legion of the Archangel Michael. The largest and longest surviving fascist movement in interwar Europe, the Legion terrorized Jews and law-abiding Romanians alike. Appropriately, page 99 is headed “Paramilitary Death Teams.” Legionaries organized a paramilitary wing of their movement they called the Iron Guard in 1930. A sympathetic newspaper called the Iron Guard battalions “fighters for people and law, the bravest and most passionate members of the Legion of the Archangel Michael ... organized into disciplined ranks as in the military.” Members of the Iron Guard risked their lives in clashes with the police, fought with other fascist groups, and went on long, grueling propaganda marches.

Things changed when legionaries contested their first national election in December 1933. A pro-legionary journalist described the election campaign as “war in peacetime.” Violence was common in Romanian elections during the interwar period. Two candidates had died in the elections of July 1932, and the child of another candidate was killed when a bomb blew up the family car. Already sore from police attacks on legionary propagandists in the past, this time they swore that “when legionaries are struck, they [will] strike back.” In August 1933 legionaries organized themselves into “death teams” whose members promised to die for the legionary cause if need be. This was not an empty promise. In November gendarmes shot and killed a legionary student while he was putting up election posters, and then police laid siege to the Legion’s headquarters for several days, shooting another young legionary in the process while he was trying to throw bread up to his embattled friends. Other members of the paramilitary death teams engaged in high speed chases with the police or fought pitched battles with the authorities in isolated villages.

The heady events of page 99 makes Holy Legionary Youth sound like a violent book, and I am sad to say that it is. These were not peaceful times and the Legion was not a safe movement to belong to. The book also deals with more peaceful topics like legionary newspapers, artworks, music, and voluntary work camps, but the paramilitary death teams remind us that legionaries were first and foremost fighters, who were not afraid to break the law – and other people’s heads – if they thought it might help their cause.
Learn more about Holy Legionary Youth at the Cornell University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Holy Legionary Youth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Mara Buchbinder's "All in Your Head"

Mara Buchbinder is Assistant Professor of Social Medicine and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UNC–Chapel Hill. She is coauthor of Saving Babies? The Consequences of Newborn Genetic Screening.

Buchbinder applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, All in Your Head: Making Sense of Pediatric Pain, and reported the following:
Page 99 of All in Your Head showcases one of my favorite ethnographic moments from my research on adolescents with chronic, unexplained pain. An 11-year-old boy, Abraham Rubin (a pseudonym) has landed in a pediatric pain clinic with intense, allover pain. Sensing that the boy has a number of behavioral oddities in addition to his chronic pain problem, the physician questions his parents about whether he has several behavioral attributes (argumentativeness, difficulty with transitions, particularity about clothing, maintaining collections), all of which lead her to a diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), a disorder on the autism spectrum. “Abraham did not fit the criteria for fibromyalgia; his aches and pains were just ‘perseverations.’ The Rubins had attributed Abraham’s irritability to his pain, when really it was the opposite.” As I write in the book, this diagnosis was grounded in a local explanatory model that tied the neurobiology of persistent pain to certain features of PDD, such as concrete thinking, an interest in details, and hyper-attentiveness. What I found particularly compelling about Abraham’s case is the extent to which this understanding of chronic pain claimed explanatory purchase for his family. While many parents resented being told that their child had a “sticky brain,” an idiom that indexically linked PDD to chronic pain by highlighting a feature common to both, Abraham’s parents were delighted. This demonstrates that, sometimes, an explanation for seemingly meaningless suffering can be just as important a therapeutic agent as a high-tech treatment or “magic pill”—one of the major themes of the book. More generally, it opens up a view of the social functions of diagnosis, another theme I take up and explore in the book.
Learn more about All in Your Head at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 3, 2015

Sara Solovitch's "Playing Scared"

Sara Solovitch is a journalist, a mother, a gardener, a voracious reader, a hiker, and a really good cook. She's also a classical pianist, which is what led her to write Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright. The memoir chronicles her yearlong journey to understand and overcome a lifetime of performance anxiety, beginning with a childhood full of disastrous performances and ending with an hour-long concert the day before her 60th birthday.

 Solovitch applied the “Page 99 Test” to Playing Scared and reported the following:
When I first took the Page 99 test, I have to admit that I nearly winced. Perhaps that’s because my page 99 is given over to a full-blown exploration of a specific form of performance anxiety called paruresis. In other words, the inability to urinate in the presence of others.

But though it’s not my particular problem – I’m a pianist who shrinks from performing in front of others – it shares a lot of things in common with stage fright.
Like most social phobias, shy bladder syndrome, as it is also called, derives from a fear of negative evaluation of others. But here the results can be unusually extreme. People who suffer from this syndrome will often go to great lengths to avoid urinating, even traveling across the world without visiting a bathroom. `The record appears to be three to five days, which seems way out there on the spectrum,’ said Steven Soifer, an expert on paruresis. He is the founder of three nonprofits (the Shy Bladder Institute, the International Paruresis Association, and the American Restroom Association), author of two self-help books, and a tireless advocate for cleaner, more private public restrooms.

Soifer works each year with hundreds of men and women. He asks them to drink copious amounts of water and then to travel from toilet to toilet. Their first field trip is usually to a hotel room, where they are assigned the job of urinating with the door closed while a buddy waits outside. Next, they work their way to a bathroom with the door open just a crack. The goal or `feared item’ of choice is a large public bathroom, preferably in a casino or shopping mall.
During my quest to overcome stage fright, I regularly practiced performing on a piano at San Jose International Airport. It became my self-prescribed version of exposure therapy, a therapy that’s all about doing the thing you hate most, over and over again. It wasn’t that different from seeking out public bathrooms for people with paruresis, and I found it liberating. Few people listened, nobody cared if I made a mistake. The loudspeaker announcements were a constant interruption and most travelers barely noticed me as I played my heart out. Playing piano at the airport became my version of exposure training, a therapy that’s all about doing the thing you hate most, over and over again.
Visit Sara Solovitch's website.

My Book, The Movie: Playing Scared.

Writers Read: Sara Solovitch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski's "The Strange Case of Ermine de Reims"

Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski is Professor of French at the University of Pittsburgh and a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America. She is the author of several books, including Poets, Saints, and Visionaries of the Great Schism (1378-1417).

Blumenfeld-Kosinski applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Strange Case of Ermine de Reims: A Medieval Woman Between Demons and Saints, and reported the following:
My book chronicles the last few months of the life of an extraordinary visionary named Ermine, a simple woman from late medieval Reims in northern France, who was haunted every night and day by demons in human and animal shape. Occasionally she experienced divinely-sent visions that consoled her in her almost constant anxious misery. Her confessor, an Augustinian friar, transcribed her experiences into a kind of log-book, today known as The Visions of Ermine de Reims. Some of the demons made sexual advances toward Ermine and one demonic couple – of course dressed in black -- even had sex on the floor in front of her bed. Demons and sex were a staple of later witchcraft treatises, but in 1396 when these events occurred it was not clear to ordinary people or even churchmen how to interpret these kinds of demonic assaults.

When I opened my book on page 99 I didn’t expect to find one of my main arguments encapsulated there, but there it was: in a passage from the Visions I quote on that page a demon warns Ermine that she could be accused of being a sorcière, the French word for sorcerer or witch. This one word opens up a whole can of worms: Ermine’s experiences are at a triple crossroads of ancient models of saints being attacked by horrific demons (think for example of the desert saint Saint Anthony and the countless paintings depicting his tribulations) and resisting them; of the model of the sorcerer who “uses magical formulas to summon demons and to enlist them for various, mostly nefarious purposes”; and of theories of witchcraft that posited that especially women worshiped and copulated with the devil and thus had to be put to death. So the analysis of the accusation hurled by a demon at poor Ermine truly captures one of the major goals of my book: to situate Ermine’s experiences and the reception of the Visions at a turning point in European history when the horrific and deadly witch persecutions that lasted all the way into the Enlightenment first began to take shape.
Writers Read: Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski.

My Book, The Movie: The Strange Case of Ermine de Reims.

--Marshal Zeringue