Monday, November 27, 2006

Page 123 and the Icepick Test

There’s more than one way to cut a swath through the field of unsolicited manuscripts sprouting like weeds in every publisher’s mailroom. Apparently a famous New York editor (I don’t remember the name) stabbed each new manuscript with an icepick, lifted away the top half, and read the resulting random page. If that one page intrigued him, only then would he go back to the beginning and read the full manuscript. If that one random page made his eyes glaze over, the rest of the pages were dumped unread and the author received a rejection slip instead of a paycheck.

A bookstore owner told me about the "icepick test" at a booksigning in Damariscotta, Maine. The "Page 123" book game gets the same result, with the added benefit of not requiring you to mutilate the book with a sharp kitchen utensil. The instructions, as reprinted on many blogs:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next three sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don’t search around for the most popular or intellectual book you can find. Just pick up whatever is closest.

The nearest book on my desk at the moment is The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, which doesn’t have any actual sentences on page 123. (And I just noticed—how come the word "Players" doesn’t have a possessive apostrophe?) The next nearest book is my own North to Katahdin: What Hikers Seek on the Trail. Here's the result.

"Entire forests were erased, their trees plucked one by one from the landscape. To the north, little Traveler Mountain faded like the slag of a sandcastle, swallowed by the sea. The ocean of fog drowned the green Wassataquoik Valley."

I'm going to break rule #5 now and walk across two different rooms to find my copy of Annals of the Former World, by the great John McPhee. As a speed-reading Woody Allen might say, it's about rocks. Unfortunately, it seems page 123 is half of a map of the world and the only other words are "Major Lithospheric Plates and Some Minor Ones."

So much for page 123.