Monday, June 09, 2008

The taking of Meme 123

I've just received a visit from an old friend, the Page 123 meme. You know that one. It's the one that asks you to:

1) Pick up the nearest book.
2) Open it to page 123.
3) Find the fifth sentence.
4) Post the next three sentences.
5) Pass the meme on to five more people, and acknowledge the person who tagged you.

This meme first came my way April 22 , and my reply gave rise to a stimulating interview with Megan Abbott, whose novel Queenpin I happened to be reading at the time. So I have fond feelings toward Page 123, and I thank Sidhubaba, from the city formerly known as Calcutta, for sending it my way again.

The meme has been around awhile, though, and I may be unable to come up with five people who have not been tagged already. But I am happy to fulfill the rest of the assignment, and shortly thereafter, I will add the book in question to the roster of Forgotten Books that deserve to be better remembered.

The book is The Etruscan Bull by Frank Gruber. Happily, Page 123 begins with a new sentence, which means no worrying over whether a sentence that spills over onto a second page is the last sentence of Page 122 or the first sentence of Page 123.

Sentences 6, 7, 8, Page 123 of this enjoyable, humorous, action- and history-packed thriller are:

"A gun in Carmela's fist roared and a bullet kicked some splinters from the wall only inches from Logan.

"Logan fired once at the car itself, shifted to cover Rocco again. `Stop him, Rocco, or you get it — "
Shooting is usually good for a dose of excitement, and the sentence's ending in a dash, breaking off before any of you find out what happens, is a nice touch. If only the Carmela in question were a woman! That might have nudged the passage into the Page 123 Hall of Fame.

And now, readers, let's blow this meme to the stars. I invite all of you to take the Page 123 challenge with your current book. Let me know what happens!

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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41 Comments:

Blogger Chocolate Cobwebs said...

This is similar to the way I decide to read an unknown book or not - I read the first sentence of the book, then the first sentence on page 100. If they interest me, I read the book.

Sentences 6, 7, 8 from page 123 of the book I finished yesterday ('Dead or Alive' by Patricia Wentworth, 1936):

It was a beast of a letter - a horrible, cold, detached icicle of a letter - a limp dead fish of a letter. And Bill had had the nerve to ask in the most pressing way if she had got it! For all the friendship, or comfort, or warmth it contained it might just as well have gone to the dead letter office and stayed there.

June 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Your method arguably makes at least as much sense as the page 123 method or the frequent practice of seeing if one is grabbed by a book's first sentence. Perhaps it combines the advantages of both. For impulse buying, it may make sense to take a sample from the middle of a book as well as the beginning. Your way of doing things may prove useful to me, for which, thanks.

And I like those three sentences, the first especially. That's probably the first time the phrase limp dead fish has ever been used as a rhetorical climax.

June 09, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

From Donna Leon's Doctored Evidence:

'I don't remember,' Carlotti answered. 'Probably Veneziano. She'd almost forgotten how to speak Italian....'.

As a way of deciding whether to delve in, this is considerably more reliable than paying attention to blurbs.

June 09, 2008  
Blogger The Clandestine Samurai said...

The title of your post is based on the novel "The Taking of Pelham 123" by Morton Freedgood. It's about hijackers taking the 6 train at Pelham Bay Station, a station that I have to go to and a train that I have to take to get to work everyday in real life.

The novel is currently being filmed by Tony Scott, with Denzel Washington and John Travolta.

Anyway, my hand reached out to "The Diamond Age" by Neal Stephenson and found this:

"Why did he never come back?"
"Their father was a fisherman. He went out on his boat everyday.----"

Ironically, in a book that has the most complex and frustrating science language I've ever seen, I end up picking sentences that emulate none of this.

June 09, 2008  
Blogger sidhubaba said...

Thanks. Tags are rather interesting. You get to share a book - whether you like that book or not. Talking to friends about such things is what blogging is all about I guess. Looking forward to know what you are reading.

June 09, 2008  
Blogger Just Julia said...

From page 123 of Bhagavad-Gita, As It Is. (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada):

"42: The working senses are superior to dull matter; mind is higher than the senses; intelligence is still higher than the mind; and the soul is even higher than intelligence.

The senses are different outlets for the activities of lust. Lust is reserved within the body, but it is given vent through the senses."

June 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, you're probably right about blurbs, which say more about the blurber than the book.

The third of Donna Leon's sentences is a mystery in the best sense. It makes me want to pick up the novel, and I've never read her.

June 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

CS, I didn't know the author's name, but I knew the source of my post's title. The Taking of Pelham 123 was made into a film in 1974, and I remember flashes of it from the days when movies were a fixture of television programming. Mostly I remember scenes of trains rattling through tunnels.

I suppose you could use the book and the movie to answer a question I posed recently about books that hit home with readers who recognize hometown details.

I smiled at what the Page 123 test turned up for The Diamond Age. Arbitrary tests can produce humorous and ironic results.

June 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sidhubaba, you may soon get a double dose of what I'm reading. The example I posted in response to your tag is from Frank Gruber's 1969 novel The Etruscan Bull. Your tag came just as I was planning to discuss the book for another blog's Forgotten Books feature. So, yes, you may soon read more about this book than just sentences six through eight on page 123.

June 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Julia. That's a bit weightier than bullets flying and wood splintering.

June 09, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

"They [people] think the sequence is, first object, then belief. In fact, it works the other way.

"Belief sloshes around in the firmament likes lumps of clay spiraling into a potter's wheel."

Next sentence, for context: "That's how gods get created, for example."

And what great philosophical tome might this be? Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett.

June 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That, too, is weightier than my example, though leavened with a nice touch of irreverence. I also like this, from a description on the site to which you linked: "Of course, the last thing anyone needs is a squeamish Grim Reaper."

June 09, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Pratchett specializes in satire and irreverence. If you haven't read any of his 20+ Discworld books, try some. "Guards! Guards!" is even crime-related; the hero is the chief cop.

June 09, 2008  
Blogger Michael said...

From The Hunter, A detective Takako Otomichi Mystery, by Asa Nonami, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter (Kodansha International: Tokyo - NY - London):

"Takako felt her heart constrict. Secretly she was grateful that the body had already been removed. Hearing the report gave her a clear enough picture, and seeing the mutilated body would only be sickening."

Brrr! Especially since I've gotten only as far as page 94. . . .

June 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister: Thanks in re Pratchett. His name comes up from time to time on crime-fiction blogs, so I figured he must have something to do with this genre of ours. I like sloshes as a verb, especially with belief as its subject.

June 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comment, Michael. The first time I was tagged with this meme, I had not yet reached page 123 of the book I was reading. Being forced to jump ahead increased my eagerness to read it. Of course, it helped that the book was highly readable.

June 09, 2008  
Anonymous Karen C said...

I'm cheating - I posted a selection from my next up book - A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley>http://www.austcrimefiction.org/node/4654

June 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I will do a bit of cheating of my own and reveal the first sentence of your selection:

"'We're seeing the whole satellite scene here,' he continued."

It's a good sentence.

June 10, 2008  
Blogger Tricia said...

From "The Falcon at the Portal" by Elizabeth Peters (no idea if it's considered "crime fiction" or not, but it's got a murder in it).

"The smell was unmistakable. The British authorities were trying to stop the import of hashish, but so far all they had accomplished was to make it scarcer and more expensive. Ramses waited until the door had closed behind him and his escorts before he acted."

June 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comment, Tricia. Among other things, the passage you quoted ought to give one pause about the value of strict U.S. marijuana laws.

Elizabeth Peters has been named a grand master both at the Anthony Awards and by the Mystery Writers of America at the Edgar Awards. A handy reference tells me that The Falcon at the Portal is part of the Amelia Peabody series, which makes it not only crime fiction, but crime fiction by one its most celebrated practitioners.

June 10, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Better yet, Falcon is part of the "Inner Quartet" of the Peabody books, four of the twenty-plus which aficionados argue are the best. I inadvertently read them out of order, and something in the following book tells about a terrible occurrence in Falcon. Although I had it on my shelves, I stalled on opening it for a week.

June 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, what else is part of the inner quartet? And what is the books' order?

June 10, 2008  
Blogger Zahra and Rob Kents page said...

Can you guess which book this is?
Lines 6-8 of page 123
"And here they are: Niwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!"
"Thank you!"
He sat back down.

June 10, 2008  
Blogger Zahra and Rob Kents page said...

Answer:

its Harry Potter and the sorcers stone

June 10, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Proper order of the Peabody series here. Books 9-11 are (I think) the "Inner Quartet.)

June 10, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

On further thought, it's books 10-13.

June 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Zahra and Rob: Thanks for weighing in, thanks for your question, and thanks for the answer. I'd have had to look it up, as I am one of the few human beings who has not read Harry Potter.

June 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, Elizabeth Peters and a book I have just read have me thinking about archaeological mysteries. The book is The Etruscan Bull by Frank Gruber, and the title does, indeed, refer to a bull sculpture from the Etruscan period. Gruber intersperses bits of Etruscan history, art archaeology in the novel.

Some of these seem fairly obviously to be standard chunk of knowledge lifted from reference books, but they are compelling nonetheless, especially since there is much we don't know about the Etruscans. That book was published in 1969. Elizabeth Peters came along a few years later, and this got me thinking about what might the first mysteries have been that worked archaeology seriously into the story.

June 10, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

Peter, I think the first may have been R. Austin Freeman's The Eye of Osiris in 1911, about the disappearance of an archaeologist. Then, Christie set Murder in Mesopotamia, 1936, in the context of a Middle Eastern dig and, not surprisingly, she did it well -- she'd been going on expeditions with her husband, Middle Eastern archaeologist Max Mallowan, since 1930. Death Comes as the End, 1944, which she wrote at the prompting of Egyptologist Stephen Glanville, she set in Thebes in the Middle Kingdom period and based on a set of family letters from that time. Between those two Christies, Aaron Marc Stein in 1940 published The Sun is a Witness, the first in a long series which featured two archaeologists as detectives. Those are the earliest I know of.

June 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the note. That might make Freeman a pioneer in the sub-genre of archaeological mysteries, if there is such a sub-genre, in a addition to his recognized status as creator of the first true scientific detective. I will file these titles for future reference.

I'm not sure archaeological mysteries constitute a sub-genre, though. I think of one I tried to read after I had visited the country of the novel's setting. I had little patience with its cute and giggly coziness, which leads me to suspect it might have little in common with other crime novels that happen to have archaeological settings.

June 11, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

I don't think we need any more sub-genres, especially of this sort, else we shall have archaeology, art, academe, high finance...it would never end. What I do think we need is to put an end to the use of the word 'genre' applied to crime fiction. Peck and Coyle's Literary Terms and Criticism, published by MacMillan in 1993, lists 18 types of novel, including romance, science fiction and gothic, but not crime. That makes me suspect that the crime novel is the only sort they have consigned to 'genre'. It's a silly business. Maybe bloggers and their readers who comment could agree to put an end to the use of this term which has been foisted upon us. Got to start somewhere, and with the number of extraordinarily fine writers who now choose the crime novel as their medium, it's about time.

June 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Perhaps we could create a grandfather clause for current "genres," or at least allow their use as marketing terms for a specified cooling-off period. You and I both like Fred Vargas, for example. I'm not sure I'd have started reading her when I did if she were not winning awards as a crime writer and being discussed as such.

June 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P.S. You may be too late. We already have academe and high finance. But I would agree that this is a subject probably better left undiscussed. We all have better ways to spend our time.

June 11, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

I'm with you entirely, Peter, and especially in what you say about Vargas. And you point out a complication I hadn't thought of. I was, in fact, thinking only of doing away with the term 'genre' in this context, not with the term 'crime fiction'. Mulling Peck and Coyle again, and then thinking of literary criticism in general, novels considered 'mainstream' are commonly qualified as satirical, allegorical, realist, magic realist, comic and so on, without in so doing consigning them to a genre nether world. What I should like to see is the word 'crime' used to qualify 'novel' in exactly that same way and without the word 'genre' attached.

June 11, 2008  
Anonymous Scott Parker said...

The most recent hardcopy book I finished was Lawrence Block's "The Sins of the Fathers." The meme:

(chapter 12, opening page)

I set his mind at rest. "You could do me a little favor in return. You can find someone to make a few phone calls or look in the right books. [Fourth sentence completes the paragraph.] I could probably do it myself, but it would take me three times as long."

Wow. Pitch perfect PI stuff.

June 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, that makes, and it may even be original. I'm not sure I had ever read a proposal that we do away with genre while retaining the, er, genres. That could be highly useful. Get people thinking that way, and critics might stop saying that a book transcends its genre. One possible complication to the proposal as you made it is that crime partakes more of subject matter than do the other categories you suggest.

June 11, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

You are right, Peter, that may well be a bit of a hitch. However, I noted that Peck and Coyle include romance, gothic and science fiction(but not crime) as types of novel, along with satirical, realist and so on, and they describe the science fiction novel thus: "A popular novel form which involves some utopian elements. The object is to reflect back on how we are now, as well as to dream on the possible future where life has more potential. Another object is to create an environment for moral discussion." I am not at all sure how much science fiction that definition actually covers, but it would not be at all difficult to come up with a definition of crime fiction in the same vein and define it in terms of purpose rather than subject -- almost certainly specious, but it would make the critics comfortable. But, referring back to what you said about Vargas, we most certainly do need to keep the term 'crime fiction'. I have from the library at the moment novels by Hoeg, Schlink, Suter, Hettche and Perez-Reverte, all cited on Euro Crime, and none of them are classified as crime fiction (which is to say 'Mysteries' in library parlance). That is significant in itself, and I've also noticed Frances Fyfield, Peter Dickinson and others in general fiction. We need to be able to keep track.

June 11, 2008  
Blogger Lauren said...

Given my habits, it's perhaps predicatable that the nearest book is not in English - Jan Seghers "Ein allzu schoenes Maedchen". Hopefully someone will translate Seghers soon, because I think his books are great.

Anyway, here's sentences 6,7 and 8 in my own translation.

(Sentence five was "Are you Italian?")

She shook her head. "Not any more. I've lived here for twenty years and I took out German citizenship last year."

For a well-written book, not too exciting!

223 isn't much of an improvement, alas - but 323, lines 6, 7 and 8 are much better! (Again in dodgy translation.)

Even the painter's fame didn't protect him from Tereza's criticism. For his part, Marthaler was again compelled to look more closely. To return to a painting which he had just walked past without thinking.

The next closest book in English is Mankell's The Dogs of Riga. The page 123 test gives us:

"Colonel Putnis takes his time over an interrogation, if he thinks it's worth it."

"Was the place where he was found the actual place where he was killed?"

"There's no reason to suppose otherwise..."


Actually, that introduces the central plot point rather well. And leaves one with a distinct sense that there will soon BE a reason to suppose otherwise. (The book provides a nice link to my first choice, too, since my copy of the Seghers promotes it as "at last Wallander has a German brother"!)

This is fun! I might try it next time I'm in a bookshop on a limited budget and with a stack books I can't choose between.

June 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Scott, I like the hint of menace in that passage from Block..

By the way, I heard something tonight that might make us feel that this exercise is something more than mere whimsy. It came from Chris Roerden , an editor who has written books about mystery writers and who was in Philadelphia to give a lecture and workshop. She said first readers, whether they be at a publisher or a literary agency, will often open a book and look for a passage of dialogue somewhere in the middle. This page 123 exercise does something similar, though not restricted to dialogue. It reveals (we hope) excellent writing in a place where the author may have let his or her guard down. Any writer will strive for an opening sentence or paragraph or chapter that will grab the reader. But if passages chosen at random are just as good, well, then, we may be dealing with something worth reading.

June 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ideally, bookstores and libraries would have filing systems and, especially, shelving systems that allowed for cross-referencing. Arturo Perez-Reverte, for example, might appeal to readers interested in crime fiction, historical fiction, Spain, computers, fencing and art, and should be made available to a reader beginning his or her search from any of those starting points.

I am at least mildly curious about how Peck and Coyle would answer your question. It would seem easy enough to come up with some definition of crime fiction that would take in crimes, their efforts to solve them, and their effects on the criminal, the investigator, the victim, the social order or some combination of these.

June 12, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lauren: A humdrum passage from an otherwise exciting novel is a reminder that the literary gods do, in fact, play dice with the universe.

Though I'm abashed to admit I don't remember the passage you cited, I did enjoy The Dogs of Riga, particularly for the gritty realism of some of Wallander's scenes in Latvia.

June 12, 2008  

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