Believe it or not, I had never heard of the “Page 99 test” until last night. A self-taught writer whose biggest strengths are passion for writing and a super-fertile imagination–that’s what I am at my core. No wonder I am always the last person to know stuff like this.
The “Page 99 test” is based on the following quote from Ford Madox Ford:”Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” In essence, if I were to pick up any book, turn to page 99 and read–I should be able to assess the entire book based on the contents of that single page.
It is an interesting premise. And a hotly debated one as well (as discovered from last night’s research on the topic).
My take on it? The number 99 is not significant here. I could substitute that with 88 or 123 or anything in between. The idea is based on the fact that the tightness of the plot, the quality of writing and editing on a page somewhere between a third of a quarter point in a book, is indicative of the workmanship of the entire book.
I had to agree. This test is, quite simply, an ode to the beauty statistical sampling.
I don’t expect that page 99 of every great book will blow me away or that page 99 of a poorly written book cannot be simply wonderful. But, a sampling no doubt is indicative of overall quality. And a random sampling is even more so. Writers spend a lot of time perfecting the opening sentence or the first chapter or the first 50 pages, but good writers will spend as much time on a page in the middle as they will anywhere else. That’s what the test is all about.
So, can page 99 be the final word in deciding if a book is worth reading? I don’t think so. A sample, however big it may be (and 1 page in a 200+ pages book is nowhere close to big), cannot ever reveal the whole. It is merely an approximation, that too, only if it is sampled right.
Over and above that, a book is not a science. It is part science, but mostly it is a work of art. If I wanted to gauge the magnificence of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, would a snapshot of a random cherub’s hand from anywhere in between help me any? I believe not.
To truly get an understanding of a book, to get a sense of its genetic coding, one page is not enough.
That being said, the test is no doubt a good assessment. So, I have decided to put my books to the “page 99” test. Actually I have decided to do one better. Since, both my books are about 350 pages long, how about a 99,199 and 299 test?
I am a bit anxious, to be honest. But it will be fun. I hope.