Today is the birthday of British novelist and critic Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939).
Ford is best known for his 1915 novel The Good Soldier, a novel which routinely turns up on lists of the greatest novels ever written. The novel chronicles the lives of two seemingly perfect couples, one American and one British, who become acquainted at a German spa.
The novel’s famous opening line, “This is the saddest story I have ever heard” is a more accurate indicator of its plot than is its title. As events unfold, the reader discovers that the lives of these couples are not as happy as they appear. Ford’s original title was The Saddest Story, but Ford’s publisher John Lane thought the title was a bit too dour, especially since World War I was raging in Europe at the time. Ford, who himself had enlisted in the army, was too preoccupied to concern himself with the title. He later recounted how his novel came to have a somewhat incongruous title:
One day, when I was on parade, I received a final wire of appeal from Mr Lane, and the telegraph being reply-paid I seized the reply form and wrote in hasty irony: ‘Dear Lane, Why not The Good Soldier?’
In addition to being a novelist, Ford was a well known critic, and he left us with a handy method for judging a book. The method is not to judge the book by its cover or by its opening line; instead, Ford suggested to judge a book by the quality of its writing on one specific page:
Open the book to page ninety-nine and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you (1).
Today’s Challenge: Putting Ford’s Test to the Test
What are the qualities you look for when judging a book? Select a book that you have not read, and open it to page 99. Read the page carefully, and then write a Page 99 Review based on what you have read on that page. What do you notice about the quality of the writing? Based on what you see on page 99 explain your verdict as to whether or not you think the book is worth reading. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. -P.J. O’Rourke