Is that novel worth your time? Turn to page 69 to find out.

Is that novel worth your time? Turn to page 69 to find out.

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.

Marshall McLuhan's page 69 test

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.

Page 69 of The Spark (that many of you recommended after this post) makes me want to read the whole thing, immediately.

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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29 comments | Comment


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  1. Colleen says:

    I would re-think Five Days at Memorial. I’m about 2/3 of the way through it now and it is so fascinating. It does get bogged down in details here and there, but the author does a really good job of telling the story, introducing you to the people involved and where they’re coming from, and also covering some of the systemic issues that made the situation at Memorial so difficult. It’s such an interesting read in itself, and now that I’ve gotten to the second part of the book, has me wondering what I would do if I found myself in that situation. Definitely worth reading!

  2. I love this idea. With two littles, I find that I am reading less because I don’t have time to get into a book. So instead of putting in the effort to find out if a book is worth reading, I don’t read at all. This trick would really help!

  3. Jennifer H says:

    I tried it on a book I just started, Whistling Past the Graveyard, and decided it wasn’t for me. Then I tried it on two books I know I love, The Secret Life of Bees, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. And I’m undecided whether I would have read them based on page 69. So I think I’ll stick with using reviews, book jackets and recommendations from friends. Interesting idea, though.

  4. This is a really interesting idea. I’m one of those horrible people that always reads the end of a book first. I want to make sure I’ll like the ending before I sink time into a book that I might not end up liking. This page 69 test might let me scope a book out without completely ruining the ending. I’ll have to give it a try!

  5. TICEE GRAHAM says:

    IT WORKS! I just tried it on 2 books I’m in the middle of and it represents the tone and concept fairly.
    I have a bazillion books, this is really a great way to see if that 500 pages is worth my time. (Excited to try it on the stack of 30 next to my bed…)

  6. Tim says:

    As you might have seen, Anne, I’m reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin right now. Great lit, that’s for sure, and I’m almost done. Still, I decided to give it a retroactive page 69 test. The first sentence alone on that page would have hooked me. Tom is speaking to his wife:

    “It’s natur, Chloe, and natur’s strong,” said Tom, “but the Lord’s will is stronger …”

    Yep, I’d have stuck with it.

  7. Hannah says:

    I am in the revision stage of my own novel. I’m going to go to page 69 (or at least the page 69 that exists with this font, lol) to make sure it’s a compelling page!

  8. Jeannie says:

    Interesting idea! I have Bel Canto by Anne Patchett awaiting me (January book-club read) and I went to p. 69; it was the start of a chapter & looked really interesting.

  9. Alissa @lifeonlakeland says:

    Based on this post I started The Spark and was captivated. I also used it to whittle my stack of nightstand books. A great trick to use when I can’t decide what to read next! Thanks.

  10. Kyrstin says:

    I just applied this to Jodi Picoult’s “The Storyteller” that I keep shuffling down the pile for whatever reason. Applying this makes me want to read it. There were no spoilers, but it intrigued me because I want to know what’s going on. It’s more than simply curiosity though. I’m wanting to the know the “secret” they keep referring to.

    Page 69 of “The Diviners” by Libba Bray that is on my pile because it should be an up and coming YA book my students would be interested in reading (I teach 10th grade English) does not have the most beautiful prose, but is exciting and suspenseful and I think I could be sucked into the story.

    I also applied this to the current book my husband is reading. In general, we don’t usually read the same kind of books. It seems that way with “The Son” by Phillip Meyer too. There just wasn’t much there that sparked my interest.

  11. eve says:

    This is so up my alley. I just tried it with a dream dictionary I’ve had on my night table but haven’t opened yet and, of course, 69’s dream interpretation was on sleep paralysis (something I’ve had but also find intriguing.) This is like doing a form of divination 😉

  12. Vanessa says:

    I’m totally going to try this. My usual test is the first five pages. If I start to read a book and it doesn’t pull me in immediately, I put it down. It has saved me so many halfway-point abandonments (I still have some of those, just not as many I used to).

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