You’ve no doubt heard of the phrase “the medium is the message,” coined by Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan. I just heard one of his lesser-known–but no less intriguing–theories in a recent podcast.
It’s called the page 69 test, and it goes like this: when you’re trying to decide if you should read a book, turn to page 69. If you like it, you’ll likely like the rest of the book, too. If you don’t like it, that book’s not for you.
The inherent simplicity and flexibility of McLuhan’s theory appealed to me, so I decided to test-drive the page 69 test with the books currently in my (giant and expanding) to-be-read stack, freely applying it to fiction and nonfiction alike.
Here’s how things shook out:
My experiment didn’t begin well: I read page 69 of The Goldfinch and immediately wished I hadn’t. This page happened to conclude the book’s opening segment, and while it didn’t didn’t divulge any information that wasn’t on the book’s jacket, it still felt like a spoiler.
I stumbled upon My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir online somewhere, and was immediately interested because I love Roosevelt’s own memoir/advice manual You Learn by Living. But reading page 69, along with a glance through the reviews on Goodreads, made me think this book had a great concept but poor execution, much like Plenty or Julie and Julia.
Several of you recommended The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap after the crazy talk in this post. Page 69 had really wonderful imagery, and convinced me that I like the writer’s style enough to give the whole book a try, especially since I already knew the subject interested me.
I could tell from page 69 of You Are One of Them that this novel would plunge me into another world, but I couldn’t tell if I would enjoy the journey.
And I felt similarly about Five Days at Memorial. Page 69 made me feel like I was in expert hands, but I was less clear on whether this was a subject I wanted to devote 500 pages to right now.
Thanks to the Books on the Nightstand podcast for the inspiration. It’s on the short list of podcasts I listen to regularly, and well worth checking out.
If you have a book handy, turn to page 69, and then tell us what you think of McLuhan’s theory.
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