In How to Read a Novel (Profile Books, 2006), John Sutherland, suggests one trick for intelligent book browsing: turn to page 69 and read it. If you like what you read there, read the whole book. Sutherland in fact credits Marshall McLuhan, guru-author of Guttenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographical Man (University of Toronto Press, 1962) as the originator of this test.
With that in mind, I've picked eight random paragraphs from page 69 of eight books recently catalogued. I've no idea what to expect, but here goes;
Compton Mackenzie The stairs that kept going down (now sold, thank you for your interest); Have you ever had a nightmare when you were being chased through a dark passage by something or somebody, and when your knees kept getting more and more jellified? If you have you will know what William and Winifred were feeling like when they made their way back along the dark bricked passage, trying to run on tip toes and trying not even to breathe too loudly. And this was not a nightmare from which they would wake up, frightened of course, but still in the safety of their own beds. This was real, horribly, hopelessly, hauntingly real.
Capt. W. E. Johns Biggles in the cruise of the Condor is now sold, thank you for your interest; They strolled a few yards farther on, and suddenly Biggles paused in his stride and nudged Smyth in the ribs. Just beyond the jail was an open yard filled with wooden cases and several piles of dried palm fronds, which were evidently used as packing for the stacks of adobe bricks that stood at the far end of the yard. Biggles eyed it reflectively, and then, followed by Smythe, crossed over to it. A flimsy fence with a gate, which they quickly ascertained was locked, separated the yard from the road. He turned as a car pulled up a short distance away and a man alighted, lit a cigarette, and then disappeared into a private house. Biggles strolled idly towards the car, his eyes running over it swiftly. It was a Ford, and he noted the spare tin of petrol fastened to the running-board.
Enid Blyton The Valley of Adventure, now sold thank you for your interest
They stared up into the trees, amazed to see green leaves waving above them. Then they turned their heads and saw one another. In a flash they remembered everything. “Couldn’t think where I was,” said Jack, and sat up. “Oh, Kiki, it’s you on my middle, is it? Do get off. Here, have some sunflower seeds and keep quiet, or you’ll wake the girls.” He put his hand in his pocket and took out some of the flat seeds that Kiki loved. She flew up to the bough above, cracking two in her beak. The boys began to talk quietly, so as not to disturb the girls, who were still sleeping peacefully.
Patricia Leitch Highland Pony Trek; “To be quite frank with you,” the Colonel said, “I’d rather see my land barred to everyone. It’s high time this maniac was caught and brought to justice. Been going on for a year now. A sheep here and a sheep there. All the time suspicion growing, innocent men being accused and ill feeling all round.” Now sold, thank you for your interest.
Three Jays on Holiday; From Avignon to the University town of Aix en Provence, the children gamely fought a losing battle against going to sleep. Darcy covered the last lap of the journey in record time, as he wanted to see a flying friend of his who lived in Aix and perhaps get him to have dinner with them. Jane, was encouraging his use of a few French words, in fact the four of them had a competition as to who could make the most French sounding sentence. Three Jays on Holiday is now sold, thank you for your interest.
Angela Brazil Three terms at Uplands (now sold, thank you for your interest); Time wore away, and at last came the eventful day when the two male members of the family started for the north. Claire, having waved a farewell to their taxi from the gate, returned to the house feeling decidedly flat. There seemed nothing particular to do. Her own packing was finished. She wandered about during the morning, and after dinner she decided to go and say good-bye to Honor Marshall, a girl who lived in a road near. She found her friend seated in a summer-house in the garden, and began to expatiate upon her own prospects at Uplands.
Susan Price Ghost dance; The wind had dropped and it was a silent land she skimmed over, but with her shaman’s training she heard every sound there was: the hiss of her skies on the snow, the whining of the wind in the trees and the sharp knock of one branch against another, the sudden scream of a fox. She moved always towards the south, which she knew from the stars. Once, when the stars were covered, she asked the way of a blue fox, calling out, “Elder sister – which way to the city, the Czar’s city in the South?”
Frances Cowen The secret of Grange Farm is now sold, thank you for your interest; Now for the quarry. She stood in the road taking her bearings. It lay, she remembered, due east from the farm but only about ten minutes’ walk through the fields. In fact the quarry was on their land, and, in the old forgotten days, when Napoleon had threatened our shores, the owners of the farm had made quite an income out of it. Nicky had taken her there and helped her down to the old workings, chipped off part of the chalk, and shown her the fossils embedded in it. She decided to by-pass the farm, and to cross the fields, and so down to the cup-like valley which formed the quarry. Presently she found it so dark that she had to use her torch to find the little track she only just remembered, but, even as she did so, a faint flow showed in the sky as the moon rose slowly beyond scudding clouds.
So there you have it, some of the language is a little old fashioned, but I still want to read them all! How about you, if you’re not convinced, why not try a similar experiment, I would love to hear how you get on…
Just before I go – do you remember the Lottie Holiday Adventure StoryWriting Competition as featured on my blog in August? Four-year-old Evie from Perth, Western Australia wrote a quirky and adventurous tale about the discovery of a T-Rex dinosaur bone. The story was selected ahead of other entrants from countries including the USA, UK, Australia and UAE, and wins Evie a selection of ten books from the Lottie Pinterest folder ‘Great Books for Girls’ (that boys can read too!), in addition to exclusive new Lottie products before they hit the shelves. Well done Evie!
One last thing, while I was looking around the Internet for clues about how others decide on their next read I came across this little pearl of wisdom written by Nancy Pearl (sorry I couldn’t resist the pun!) – “One of my strongest beliefs is that no one should ever finish a book they’re not enjoying. Reading should be a joy. So, you can all apply my Rule of Fifty to your reading list. Give a book fifty pages if you’re under fifty years old. If you don’t like it, give it away, return it, whatever and then read something else. If you’re over fifty, subtract your age from 100 and that’s how many pages you should read …"
You know what that means, right? When you turn one hundred, you can judge a book by its cover.