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156. Books Bought & Read, May 2017…

156. Books Bought & Read, May 2017…

 

Yipppeeeee! For the first time in quite a while I read more books than I bought this month, giving me the feeling that I have added the tiniest grain of order to an entropic universe, doing my smallest part in the fight for organisation in an uncaring, chaotic world.

It’s even better than the tally of 22 bought, 25 read seems, since several of those were presents, (or headed to the increasingly bulging Books To Gift stack), meaning I managed to get a few books ahead of myself in the past 31 days. This was almost miraculous given that I began a new job two weeks ago, and am spending much of my spare time trying to figure out the difference between computer storage and memory.

Sure, many of the books I read were (as ever) graphic novels, but when Neil Gaiman declares a work “The best graphic novel I’ve read in years” you know it’s going to be worthwhile, and it was: Scott McCloud’s ‘The Sculptor‘ was a tender, mythical look into art, life, Faustian bargains and final intentions by the writer/artist who brought us the excellent ‘Understanding Comics‘.

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Many were Penguin Great Ideas, the series of beautifully bound, 100-page selections ranging across styles, centuries and themes, from Orwell on the price of books to Marco Polo on his adventures, and one each came from Penguin’s Great Journeys series (shipwrecks in the Americas) and their Great Loves collection (the slightly interminable Abelard and Heloïse), as well as the highly (and rightly) acclaimed Paul Kalinithi on turning from doctor to patient when cancer curtailed both his career and his life in ‘When Breath Becomes Air‘.

But I also found time to finally devour George Saunders‘ debut novel, ‘Lincoln In The Bardo,’ a sweet, smart sea of voices from beyond the grave commentating on life, death, politics, and everything else which makes us human, with all of Saunders’ typically tender touch.

In ever-eclectic fashion, I devoured books on feminism (after attending a talk by the excellent Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie); modern American racism (by the powerfully persuasive Michael Eric Dyson); and the history of Dungeons & Dragons in graphic novel form.

But this month’s highlights were stories: firstly from one of my favourite Young Adult authors, David Almond, who crafted a collection of childhood memories into allegorical tales so powerful one of them left me in tears.

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And secondly, a first collection from The Moth story-telling events, which take place monthly at my workplace, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, and which I finally plan to attend next month.

Ranging from the famous to the everyday, from euphoric yarns to tragic tales, from universal themes to the peculiarly personal, these snapshots of life should be enough to entertain anyone, whatever you’re looking for.

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And, of course, Neil gets to write the foreword.

 

 

Books Bought, May 2017

We Have Always Lived In The Castle, (Shirley Jackson)

Tasty: the art and science of what we eat (John McQuaid)

The Shadow Of The Sun (Ryszard Kapuściński)

Setting The Table: the transforming power of hospitality in business (Danny Meyer)

The Polysyllabic Spree (Nick Hornby)

Rise Of The Dungeon Master: gary gygax and the creation of d&d (David Kushner)

The Sandmeyer Reaction (Michael Chabon)

Hostage (Guy Delisle)

Wall And Piece (Banksy)

Nobody’s Fool (Yoshitomo Nara)

The Sculptor (Scott McCloud)

In Persuasion Nation (George Saunders)

Anansi Boys (Neil Gaiman)

Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)

The Moth Presents – All These Wonders: true stories about facing the unknown (various)

The Book Of Cheese: the essential guide to discover chesses you’ll love (Liz Thorpe)

The Dinner Party and other stories (Joshua Ferris)

Last Night’s Reading: illustrated encounters with extraordinary authors (Kate Gavino)

A Graphic History Of Sport: an illustrated chronicle of the greatest wins, misses, and matchups from the games we love (Andrew Janik)

The Greek Myths (ed.Robert Graves)

Scribbled In The Dark (Charles Simic)

A Book Of Sleep (Il Sung Na)

 

Books Read, May 2017   (Recommended books in bold)

Tasty: the art and science of what we eat (John McQuaid)

Tears We Cannot Stop: a sermon to white america (Michael Eric Dyson)

Absolutely On Music: conversations with (Haruki Murakami & Seiji Ozawa)

When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi)

Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

Occupy (Noam Chomsky)

Books vs Cigarettes (George Orwell)

Travels In The Land Of Kublai Khan (Marco Polo)

Lincoln In The Bardo (George Saunders)

Rise Of The Dungeon Master: gary gygax and the creation of d&d (David Kushner)

The Shipwrecked Men (Cabeza de Vaca)

Forbidden Fruit: from the letters of aberlard and heloïse

The Sculptor (Scott McCloud)

Half A Creature From The Sea: a life in stories (David Almond)

Setting The Table: the transforming power of hospitality in business (Danny Meyer)

The Sandmeyer Reaction (Michael Chabon)

Hostage (Guy Delisle)

Snow White (Donald Barthelme)

The Moth Presents – All These Wonders: true stories about facing the unknown (various)

Last Night’s Reading: illustrated encounters with extraordinary authors (Kate Gavino)

A Graphic History Of Sport: an illustrated chronicle of the greatest wins, misses, and matchups from the games we love (Andrew Janik)

Scribbled In The Dark (Charles Simic)

Go Tell It On The Mountain (James Baldwin)

A Book Of Sleep (Il Sung Na)

House Mother Normal (B.S.Johnson)

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Posted by on June 2, 2017 in BOOKS

 

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154. Books Bought & Read, March 2017…

154. Books Bought & Read, March 2017…

March 2017 saw me pad my early-season stats with a bingo-esque 44 books bought, 26 read.

I was almost neck-and-neck in my buying:reading ratio last month until, perhaps getting a little cocky, I visited my old friend Chris at the Central Park Strand Stand for the first time in weeks, (walking away eight books heavier, mainly the colourful edition of Vonnegut novels I have decided to re-collect all of his novels in), and found a small treasure trove of food-based books during my last shift at the Housing Works charity bookstore where I am now struggling to find time to volunteer.

The reason for both of these last facts, (kitchen reading and lack of time), is that I found myself accidentally getting a new job this month. This weekend I became a fully trained tour guide for the oldest (and the best!) food tasting tour company in NYC, the wonderful Foods of New York Tours. If you want to be led around Greenwich Village and fed by me, both literally and informationally, get in touch!

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Until those tours, and a side project I have working at a small, plucky startup company called Apple kick in properly next month, I am reading as much as possible, from an advance copy on the science behind ‘Flavo(u)r’ (did you know foods can taste better depending on the colour or weight of the plate?) to the ever-informative Michael Pollan on how cooking makes us more human, (and apparently the Netflix series isn’t too bad, either).

I cleansed my palette with a surprisingly heavy diet of death…and comic books.

I found a two small collections of final thoughts from two perennial thought-provokers, (Oliver Sacks and Christopher Hitchens), and Neil Gaiman’s fun and fierce retelling of Norse Mythology kind of fit right in, as the gods go around killing whomsoever they want, (and often being killed themselves…for a while). It seems unfair that Neil Gaiman not only writes so wonderfully, but gets the most stunning covers: the 3D-feeling MjölnirHammer of Thor, making for a stunning image on the front of his latest collection of tales.

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I was excited to finally read some James Baldwin, after seeing the wonderful documentary on him last month, and both Ted Talk books lived up to previous expectations, especially the one on architecture, but the surprise find of the month came from a sliver of a book which caught my eye due to its author, (not that Andy Kaufman, it turned out…)

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‘All My Friends Are Superheroes’ was a wonderfully witty, wryly romantic, hipster-nerd romcom of a tale, and if you don’t feel like buying it you could probably read it in half an hour in the bookshop.

Just don’t tell them I sent you…

Books Bought, March 2017

The Fire Next Time (James Baldwin)

Peanuts: the art of charles m.schultz (ed.Chip Kidd)

Dig If You Will The Picture: funk, sex, god and genius in the music of prince (Ben Greenman) x2

Know This: today’s most interesting and important scientific ideas, discoveries, and developments (ed.John Brockman)

X: a highly specific, defiantly incomplete history of the early 21st century (Chuck Klosterman)

The Adventures Of John Blake: mystery of the ghost ship (Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham)

H Is For Hawk (Helen MacDonald)

When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi)

The Schooldays Of Jesus (J.M.Coetzee)

Tears We Cannot Stop (Michael Eric Dyson)

Absolutely On Music (Haruki Murakami & Seiji Ozawa)

The Fireside Grown-Up Guide To The Midlife Crisis (Jason Hazeley & Joel Morris)

The Fireside Grown-Up Guide To The Hipster (Jason Hazeley & Joel Morris)

Not My Father’s Son (Alan Cumming)

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Flash Boys (Michael Lewis)

Go Tell It On The Mountains (James Baldwin)

All My Friends Are Superheroes (Andrew Kaufman)

How To Make Books (Esther K.Smith)

Make Trouble (John Waters)

Tales Of Ancient Egypt (Roger Lancelyn Green)

Universal: a guide to the cosmos (Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw)

The Global Novel: writing the world in the 21st century (Adam Kirsch)

Garlic And Sapphires: the secret life of a critic in disguise (Ruth Reichl)

Flavor: the science of our most neglected sense (Bob Holmes)

Selected Poems (Edna St.Vincent Millay)

Revolution For Dummies: laughing through the arab spring (Bassem Youssef)

The Village: 400 years of beats and bohemians, radicals and rogues, a history of greenwich village (John Strasbaugh)

The Last Unicorn (Peter S.Beagle)

How To Talk To Girls At Parties (Neil Gaiman, Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon)

The Essex Serpent (Sarah Perry)

The Food And Wine Of France: eating and drinking from champagne to provence (Edward Behr)

The Beats: a graphic history (Harvey Pekar et al)

In The Land Of Invented Languages: adventures in linguistic creativity, madness, and genius (Arika Okrent)

Home And Away: writing the beautiful game (Karl Ove Knausgaard & Fredrik Ekelund)

An Abbreviated Life (Ariel Leve)

Bluebeard (Kurt Vonnegut)

Mother Night (Kurt Vonnegut)

Sirens Of Titan (Kurt Vonnegut)

David Boring (Daniel Clowes)

The Last Interview (Lou Reed)

The New York Stories (John O’Hara)

You, Too, Could Write A Poem (David Orr)

111 Shops In New York That You Must Not Miss: unique finds and local treasures (Susan Lusk & Mark Gabor)

 

Books Read, March 2017 (Recommended books in bold)

Moving To Higher Ground: how jazz can change your life (Wynton Marsalis)

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: century – 1969 (Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill)

Why We Work (Barry Schwartz)

Patience (Daniel Clowes)

The Art Of Stillness: adventures in going nowhere (Pico Iyer)

Gratitude (Oliver Sacks)

Mortality (Christopher Hitchens)

Norse Mythology (Neil Gaiman)

Peanuts: the art of charles m.schultz (ed.Chip Kidd)

The Adventures Of John Blake: mystery of the ghost ship (Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham)

Museum Legs: fatigue and hope in the face of art (Amy Whitaker)

Bat-Manga! the secret history of batman in japan (ed.Chip Kidd)

The Fireside Grown-Up Guide To The Midlife Crisis (Jason Hazeley & Joel Morris)

The Fireside Grown-Up Guide To The Hipster (Jason Hazeley & Joel Morris)

The Future Of Architecture In 100 Buildings (Mark Kushner)

All My Friends Are Superheroes (Andrew Kaufman)

Islam: a short history (Karen Armstrong)

The Fire Next Time (James Baldwin)

Cooked: a natural history of transformation (Michael Pollan)

A Grief Observed (C.S.Lewis)

Make Trouble (John Waters)

The Global Novel: writing the world in the 21st century (Adam Kirsch)

Flavor: the science of our most neglected sense (Bob Holmes)

How To Talk To Girls At Parties (Neil Gaiman, Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon)

Garlic And Sapphires: the secret life of a critic in disguise (Ruth Reichl)

The Beats: a graphic history (Harvey Pekar et al)

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2017 in BOOKS

 

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142. Why on Hay…

142. Why on Hay…
May 2015 saw me return to my favourite book-hunting reserve, the incredible Hay-on-Wye literature festival, (or, as one comedian present put it, book festival. When challenged that it was actually a literature festival, he asked: “What’s the difference?!” No response was forthcoming…)
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Hay is possibly the largest festival of its kind in the world, and the place I fly to from anywhere in the world to spend two weeks in May any year which doesn’t contain a World Cup.
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I returned to my role as a smiling, ticket-ripping, joke-cracking, child-entertaining, direction-giving, little-sleeping, yellow-jacketed volunteer, and this year I did it whilst camping in a nearby field, to save money on the scarce accommodation in this tiny Welsh village. I have barely camped since I was an 11-year-old boy scout, and was amazed at the new-fangled tents they have invented which turn from the size of a plate into a rain-proof cocoon with the flick of a wrist: it always took us Boy Scouts three hours, several broken tent poles (stop snickering at the back…), and the tents rarely lasted the night. Aaaaahh, technology…
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Anyway, enough reminiscing! This is about BOOKS, and this year’s festival saw me take in 56 events from my privileged position, (from authors to comedians, from actors to musicians from around the world), save hundreds of pounds in entrance fees, and then spend most of those saved pounds in the festival bookshop, (where my bill was surprisingly under £200, thanks to both a propensity for paperbacks this year, and a staff discount).
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2015 was a year of anniversaries, and we were treated to talks on Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo (200 years ago this year); the Battle of Agincourt, (a six-century old confrontation between Britain and France which gave us Shakespeare’s ‘band of brothers’ and the famous British V-sign); and a guest appearance by one of the most important pieces of paper in world history, the eight-hundred-year-old Magna Carta, which restricted the powers of British Kings and was admired and adapted around the world, from France to the US Constitution.
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Old favourites are starting to become slightly too regular at Hay, (I was barely shaking when I met Stephen Fry again this year, and I’m starting to nod to journalist and book-machine Jon Ronson as if we’re old friends…although I’m pretty sure he is wondering why some strange guy keeps nodding at him), and the early days were just as much about the special events than the authors.
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Jude Law joining a host of actors to read from Unbound’s wonderful ‘Letters of Note‘ was a highlight, and I finally got to meet poet and comedian extraordinaire Tim Key, (aka Alan Partridge’s new sidekick), at a surreal last-minute comedy event which left the audience partly amused and mainly bemused).
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However, towards the end of the week came a day which could have been arranged just for me: after meeting Kazuo Ishiguro the day before, I had the joy of seeing two events each by two of my favourite authors, the ever-wonderful Neil Gaiman, (whom I later saw whilst invited briefly backstage to the Green Room and used my entire life-supply of willpower to not hassle: seriously, if you want to ask me to do anything, now is the time, I have zero willpower left), and my new Man Crush, David Mitchell.
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As if this wasn’t enough, Neil had brought along his heavily talented and equally heavily pregnant wife, Amanda Palmer, who was promoting her new book on ‘The Art Of Giving.‘ Her session featured several ukulele songs which actually brought me to tears not once but twice, first for its sadness, and in the very next song for its sheer joy.
(I almost cried again when I discovered after the talk that, not only was I sitting behind Mr.Gaiman, I had failed to realise that he was sitting next to Pink Floyd frontman David Gilmour. Mainly because I didn’t know what he looked like).
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Promoting his new book ‘The Bone Clocks,’ David Mitchell gave a fascinating talk in the face of a less-than probing interview, eyes lighting up as he gave the most stirring description of the beauty of language I have ever heard from a writer. His evening event, a midnight reading of an as-yet-unpublished ghost story, (now very much published, ‘Slade House‘), was so late that it gave me and some fellow volunteers (and fans) the chance to monopolise him at the after-event signing, (as we were the only ones who hung around for it).
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We got to reminisce about life in Japan, and my new friend Hannah caused such jealousy with the dedication he had written in her book that we invented a new sport: Competitive Signing, (much approved of by his agent), which saw me buying extra copies which the incredibly affable author was happy to inventively deface for me.
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Take that, Hannah, with your one-line dedication…
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From popular philosophy to sports psychology, ‘young adult‘ fiction to Nobel Prize-winning economics, yet again Hay gave me a reason to lie awake in a freezing field at 4am and to take all the abuse an entitled retired soldier can throw at me for allowing another line to enter a venue thirty seconds before his.
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And, of course, I will be back in 2016…
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Some things I learned, some quotes I heard, and some ideas I wrote down for you at this year’s Festival:
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British National Treasure, new hipster-beard-wearer and philosopher AC Grayling‘s advice for being a good teacher: “Nothing beats the combo of ignorance and enthusiasm!”
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80 people own the same wealth as half of the world, and 1% of the population will own half of the world’s wealth by 2016.
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Classic British girls’ magazine ‘Jackie’ was named after the hugely successful kids’ author Jacqueline Wilson, who was the youngest contributor to it when it was founded.
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Colm Toibín’s stunning short story ‘Mary‘ on the Virgin after the death of her son was originally a play, but when it ended after a few weeks he wanted it to be more permanent.
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Kazuo Ishiguro used to believe that authors peaked in their mid 40’s, the literature equivalent of a football player dropping back to midfield, putting their foot on the ball and pointing a lot. Now he’s older, though, he’s not sure he agrees with the thesis…
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An unforgettable line from Jude Law, during a reading of the war-time letters of lovers from ‘My Dear Bessie‘:  “Ooooooh, I wish I were a brassiere…”
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Author, comedian and political genius Sandy Toksvig’s father used to refer to literary editing as ‘filleting’!
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Toksvig again on the democratic origins of the USA, the Mayflower Compact, signed in 1620  by 41 men…on a boat of 110 people!!
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One more reminiscence from Sandy who informed an infatuated audience of 1,700 people that when at boarding school in Guildford, Surrey, students were allowed to go to the High Street everySaturday…but only to the left-hand side. No further details were provided…
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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks postulated that in Britain, we have removed nationalism as a relevant, acceptable sentiment since the wars, but not replaced it with anything, and hence religion has filled the vacuum. Who has managed to create a valid, modern British patriotism, he asks? Danny Boyle at the Olympic opening ceremony.
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In an early-morning, two-hour lecture on ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ I learned that the lovers share a sonnet in the scene when they first kiss: an alternating dance of lines entwining in poetry their sentiments, ending:
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Juliet: Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.
Romeo: Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take…
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Alice in Wonderland,’ one of my all-time favourites, was revealed to be a story shot through with one of the obsessions of the Victorian times: classifications. “What are you?” Alice is asked so often.
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The same talk yielded this wonderful quote: “They kept a family newspaper, as so many Victorian children did…”
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Cedric Vilani, a real-life French version of Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka, informed his audience that acfordin tot he Wall Street Journal, in both 2009 and 2014 he worked in the number one job field in the world: mathematician.
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Neil Gaiman, promoting his gorgeous Sleeping Beauty sequel ‘The Sleeper And The Spindle,’ illustrated by Chris Riddell, brought the shocking news that not only was Cinderella originally a Chinese tale, (who else cared so much about foot size, as he points out?), it was only when it was imported to France that the original fur slipper, (made of ‘vair’), may have become glass (or ‘verre’).
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Resident comedian Marcus Brigstocke won my award for funniest and simultaneously most offensive comment of the Festival when he announced that “…Australia is just South Africa where the white people won… “
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Former Scottish leader Alex Salmond seemed relieved to be out of politics and to announce with brutal honesty, in response to a question of why British PM David Cameron gave in to so many of his referendum demands: “He’s no very bright… “
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(I also learned from this last day talk that in a referendum it is essential to be on the yes side:  people respond instinctively toto positivity, apparently. Although not quite enough to win Scotland independence.)
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Finally, one of my all-time favourite trivia facts was revealed by the clever elves behind BBC’s wonderful game show QI:  Noah’s ark didn’t actually contain two of all animals, but had seven of all clean (i.e. kosher) animals, and just two of the rest.
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If facts like that don’t make you want to join me next year, I am truly astonished that you made it to the end of this blog!
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Posted by on November 1, 2015 in BOOKS

 

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