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The Page 99 Test

I first learned about the page 99 test from William Gass (I’ve forgotten where) who I think got it from Ford Madox Ford: “Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” Sounds like a fractal approach to literary theory to me.

So, from Gass’s The Tunnel:

The dust then. It slid through the crevices no ant could crawl through, sifting under doors to wedge them shut. It appeared like a sudden rush on polished tables, threw gloom in mirrors, begrimed the beds and grayed the linen, clung to drapes and curtains, filmed milk, sanded flour and sugar, and coated all uncovered food with its special granular display. On the other hand, the sky on hot dustless days would leap with light, nails would wink in their boards, pails blaze like beacons, and the glass of the several stores would shout the sun at you, empty your head through your ears with whistling sunshine.

Have you ever tried this test? How about giving us a quote from your favorite page 99?

  • John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

11 thoughts on “The Page 99 Test

  1. what a brilliant excerpt. why did that book get so much flak? something tells me in twenty years or so it will be regarded as the modernist masterpiece it is.

    from Ray:

    He looked like the creature of mud with a feather in his hand.

    I have sympathy because a lot of the people I have loved and given to have never especially loved or given to me, and Westy is colding off like the planet, except I can’t believe it in either case.

    Nothing really to say except in some reaction like on the television.

    Now I am looking at the bird with the arrow through it.

    And all it does is make me very sleepy.


        1. not sure yet, john.

          i’m going to scan my bookshelf tonight and find something killer.

          off the top of my head i wanted to go to bruno schulz’s street of crocodiles or vollmann’s rainbow stories–just felt a compulsion.

      1. yeah, tunnel is a huge one for me. I need to reread it, especially the last hundred pages or so.

        not from page 99, but another worthwhile tunnel quote:

        “A book, I wrote, is like a deck of windows: each page perceives a world and tells a fortune; each page at least faintly reflects the face of its reader, and hands down a judgment; each page is made of mind, and it is that same mind that reflects a world within, and it is the same mind that stands translucently between perception and reflection, uniting and dividing, double dealing.”

  2. I instinctively use the page 99 test every time I pick up a book at the store. I can’t remember any truly memorable examples, but at the same time the test has helped me avoid buying several books that I had previously heard great things about, realizing from just that one page that those books just weren’t my style.

  3. “Hopscotch,” Cortazar (and a nice throw-back to Sean’s post about contagious loneliness):

    “Love, an ontologizing ceremony, a giver of being. And that is why he was thinking only now of what he should have thought about in the beginning: without the possession of self, there was no possession of otherness, and who could really possess himself? Who had come back from himself, from that absolute solitude which meant not even being in one’s own company, having to go to the movies or to a whorehouse or to friends’ houses or to get involved in a time-consuming profession or in marriage so that at least one could be alone-along-with-all-the-others? That’s how, paradoxically, solitude would lead to the heights of sociability, to the great illusion of the company of others, to the solitary man in a maze of mirrors and echoes. But people like him and so many others (or those who reject themselves but know themselves close up) got into the worst paradox, the one of reaching the border of otherness perhaps and not being able to cross over. That true otherness made up of delicate contacts, marvelous adjustments with the world, could not be attained from just one point; the outstretched hand had to find response in another hand stretched out from the beyond, from the other part.”

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