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85. Books Bought & Read, September 2013…

85. Books Bought & Read, September 2013…

Books Bought, September 2013

The Divine Comedy,’ Dante Alighieri

Selected Poems,’ Carol Anne Duffy

Dear Illusion,’ Kingsley Amis

Some Of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby,’ Donald Barthelme

The Expelled,’ Samuel Beckett

Hell Screen,’ Ryunosuke Akutagawa

The Widow Ching-Pirate,’ Jorge Luis Borges

The Vicar Of Nibbleswicke,’ Roald Dahl

Why Me? the very important emails of bob servant,’ Neil Forsyth

Mr.Stink,’ David Walliams

The Medium Is The Massage,’ Marshall McLuhan & Quentin Fiore

The True Tale Of The Monster Billy Dean As Telt By Hisself,’ David Almond

A Stab In The Dark,’ Lawrence Block

The Uncommon Reader,’ Alan Bennett

High Fidelity,’ Nick Hornby

HHhH,’ Laurent Binet

Birthday Letters,’ Ted Hughes

Leaves Of Grass,’ Walt Whitman

The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie,’ Muriel Spark

Prufrock And Other Observations,’ T.S.Eliot

The Lives Of Animals,’ J.M.Coetzee

Homage To Barcelona,’ Colm Toíbin

The Immortals: london’s finest statues, (Folio edition)’ 

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned,’ Wells Tower

Time Out: Lisbon‘ 

Journey To Portugal,’ José Saramago

The Aristocratic Adventurer,’ David Cannadine

9th And 13th,’ Jonathan Coe

Little People In The City: the street art of slinkachu‘ 

Giraffes? Giraffes!‘ ‘Dr. and Mrs.Doris Haggis-on-Whey’

Silly Billy,’ Anthony Browne

Music: A Very Short Introduction,’ Nicholas Cook

Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction,’ Michael Tanner

Hume: A Very Short Introduction,’ A.J.Ayer

The God Delusion,’ Richard Dawkins (x2)

The Selfish Gene,’ Richard Dawkins

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism,’ Ha-Joon Chang

The Rights Of The Reader,’ Daniel Pennac

In Watermelon Sugar,’ Richard Brautigan

Under Milk Wood,’ Dylan Thomas

The Porcupine,’ Julian Barnes

Colloquial Portugese Of Brazil‘ 

The Book Of Other People,’ ed.Zadie Smith

Palm Sunday/Welcome To The Monkeyhouse,’ Kurt Vonnegut

Urne Burial,’ Sir Thomas Browne

Travels In The Land Of Kublai Khan,’ Marco Polo

Revelation/The Book Of Job‘ 

Rich In Russia,’ John Updike

Evgénie Sokolov,’ Serge Gainsbourg

Wallpaper Guide: Lisbon‘ 

Innocent Blood,’ P.D.James

The Snatching Of Bookie Bob,’ Damon Runyan

Guns, Germs And Steel,’ Jared Diamond

The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God,’ Etgar Keret

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,’ David Foster Wallace

A Room With A View,’ E.M.Forster

Boomerang,’ Michael Lewis

The Snobs,’ Muriel Spark

Martha And Hanwell,’ Zadie Smith

 

Books Read, September 2013

The Believer Magazine, issue no.97

The Believer Magazine, issue no.98

The Believer Magazine, issue no.99

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane,’ Neil Gaiman

The Vicar Of Nibbleswicke,’ Roald Dahl

Mr.Stink,’ David Walliams

Why Me? the very important emails of bob servant,’ Neil Forsyth

The 1,000 Nights And One Night,’ David Walser & Jan Pieńkowski

Under The Frog,’ Tibor Fischer

The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie,’ Muriel Spark

The Lives Of Animals,’ J.M.Coetzee

The Uncommon Reader,’ Alan Bennett

A Stab In The Dark,’ Lawrence Block

Little People In The City: the street art of slinkachu

Prufrock And Other Observations,’ T.S.Eliot

Six Memos For The Next Millennium,’ Italo Calvino

Silly Billy,’ Anthony Browne

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned,’ Wells Tower

I Found This Funny,’ ed.Judd Apatow

Giraffes? Giraffes!‘ ‘Dr. and Mrs.Doris Haggis-on-Whey’

The Tenth Man,’ Graham Greene

HHhH,’ Laurent Binet

In Watermelon Sugar,’ Richard Brautigan

Under Milk Wood,’ Dylan Thomas

The Porcupine,’ Julian Barnes

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism,’ Ha-Joon Chang

Evgénie Sokolov,’ Serge Gainsbourg

Innocent House,’ P.D.James

The Third Chimpanzee,’ Jared Diamond

Stuck,’ Oliver Jeffers

jeffers-stuck

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This month was just ridiculous.

But then again, I’m sure you could already tell that from the twenty minutes it took to scroll down those two lists to get to the meat of this blog.

I won’t say much: 59 books bought, 30 read, (including magazines, short stories in various Penguin editions, and kids’ books as ever), and more or less a book a day rate. A remarkably high amount of books bought this month came straight from my All Time Top 10 Of Favouritest Ever Authors, and from authors I have read and loved recently, (and you can explore these further by clicking on the links in the lists above).

This month was mainly about events, (seeing scientists and popular science writers Profs.Richard Dawkins, and Jared Diamond); miniature books, in the form of Penguin mini modern classics/60’s/70’s; kids’ books; books in, on or about Portugal/uese, (my next port of call come December); poetry; and a whooole lot of good literature, from ‘HHhH‘ to Wells Tower’s first short story compilation, via essays from Italo Calvino and the stunningly creepy new adult/kids’ novel from Neil Gaiman.

A busy, busy month, the likes of which may not be seen again for a while, due to a) a desire to tuck into some of the meatier tomes currently on my shelves; b) not needing to buy any more books for a decade or so; and c) the necessity to actually get a job sometime in the near future, (as well as to dedicate some time to learning my latest new language: Portuguese, of course!). 

A few quotes to leave you with from this month’s selection:

EREB_FINAL_1

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned,’ Wells Tower
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“‘Well, I had this boss. I’m telling you, if you asked me for an asshole, and I gave you that guy, you’d have owed me back some change’…”
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primeofmissjeanbrodie
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The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie,’ Muriel Spark
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{In an imagined letter between their teacher and her lover}:
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“Allow me, in conclusion, to congratulate you warmly on your sexual intercourse, as well as your singing’…”
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Six Memos For The Next Millennium,’ Italo Calvino
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Just as in poems and songs the rhymes help to create the rhythm, so in prose narrative there are events that rhyme…”

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And finally, from one of my favourite contemporary Brits, (although, even though this was one of his most lauded, it was my least favourite so far):

aiu_Under_The_Frog

Under The Frog,’ Tibor Fischer
  
“It was a morning he immediately recognised as one he wanted nothing to do with…”
“Gyuri had no idea what had really happened in Korea, but he was quite willing to stake his life that the only things in the book that weren’t downright lies were the author’s name and the commas…”

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And finally, book advice to live (and die) by:

“Ladányi took out a book – the analects of Confucius. ‘Is it any good?’ Gyuri questioned. ‘Life is too short for good books,’ said Ladányi, ‘one should only read great books’…”

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9 Comments

Posted by on October 8, 2013 in BOOKS

 

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72. Guest Blog! Avri Klemer’s Books Bought & Read, May 2013…

72. Guest Blog! Avri Klemer’s Books Bought & Read, May 2013…

Books Bought, May 2013:

Man In The High CastlePhillip K Dick

Raspberry Pi In Easy StepsMike McGrath.

The Long EarthTerry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

CrashedTimothy Hallinan

The Black CompanyGlen Cook

Harry and the Lady Next DoorGene Zion (illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham)

Does The Noise In My Head Bother You?Steven Tyler

UnutterableEric Arbitman

Brain of the GalaxyJack Vance

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Books Read, May 2013:

Wheel of Time (Memory of Light)Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

The God DelusionRichard Dawkins

Good OmensNeil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

And Then There Were NoneAgatha Christie

To Kiss Or KillDay Keene

Flowers For AlgernonDaniel Keyes

Hit ManLawrence Block

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I finished a story I’d been reading since 1992 this month.

The first volume of Robert Jordan’s fantasy epic – The Wheel of Time– was published in 1990, and I started reading the series as an undergraduate at The University of Sussex.  Despite Jordan’s death in 2007, the 14th and final volume was published in 2013 with some help from “next gen” fantasy author Brandon Sanderson.

I devoured the early books of the series as they were released, immersing in the ever growing history and geography and politics of The Third Age.  Many people complained about the crawling pace, the expanding cast list, the repetitive themes.  But I stuck with it, enjoying the escapism the series afforded.  Indeed on occasion, when there was a particularly large gap between books, I would start again from the beginning and in doing so was able to appreciate the huge sweeping scope of the story, from one tiny town to the fate of worlds, with prophesy and foreshadowing along every step of the way.

When Jordan died with the series unfinished, I stopped reading The Wheel of Time.

I believe I was midway through book 10 when it happened.  I just couldn’t see the point of continuing if the epic was to remain incomplete.  There were and still are many other worthy books and series out there, almost all of which terminate at “The End”.

Then they announced that Brandon Sanderson had been tapped to finish the story. As the books were scheduled and then actually released, I finally took a look at Sanderson’s own epic fantasy Mistborn Trilogy.  I liked it.

So, once the release date of the final book of The Wheel of Time was announced, I began  one final reread, starting again all the way back in little Emmons Field.  I would read a WoT book, then the next of my beloved Matt Scudder mysteries by Lawrence Block.   The change of pace back and forth seemed to enhance both series.

When I reached book 10, a switch flicked in my head and my already rapid reading pace accelerated.  No longer did I alternate, but ploughed straight out of book 10 and into virgin territory.  I was reading hundreds of pages a day.

Sanderson acknowledged upfront that he would not try to write in the style of Jordan.  Although this could have been jarring, it worked beautifully, in part because of a major change that occurs within the main character – if the voice sounds different, well, there is good reason (and that is as much spoilerism as I am going to indulge in).

Was it worth the time put in?  More than once I found myself weeping openly (and always on the damn subway!) as one particular storyline wound down, and I was grateful for the fine line walked by Sanderson, neither following a “disposable characters” strategy the way George R. R. Martin does, but not  leaving all the leads untouchable either.

The payoff was powerful and satisfying, and I am glad I am done.  As I lay in bed after reading the last lines, I turned to my wife and showed her “The End.”  She humored me, but how could she know the two decades of weight behind those two words?  I’ve known her less than 10 years, and I barely recall  the man / boy I was when I first picked up The Eye of the World.

I lay there feeling nostalgic, remembering people, places and thing – both real and fictional – that are now behind me.

Then I opened up some non-fiction because I needed to engage a very different part of my brain…

Doron has been raving about the writings of Richard Dawkins for quite a while now, but not longer than I’ve known I was an atheist.  I wrote a paper on the subject when I was 12.

So I figured reading The God Delusion would be “preaching to the choir” to use an utterly inappropriate term.  I was prepared to find myself agreeing with the vast majority of Dawkins’ positions, to sharpen my understanding of the science and semantics of what I have always described as the belief that there is no god.

What I was not prepared for was the anger that Dawkins would inspire in me at today’s status quo.

The science of the first half of the book is engaging and convincing.  I’ve long known my way around defusing the ontological argument – a philosophy degree having to be good for *something* – but spelling out how Darwin’s natural selection actually works, and why it is so powerful an argument against so-called “intelligent design” was fascinating.

It was the way in which believers ignore such science that had me furious.

The book has me in a personal quandary.  Dawkins speaks passionately and convincingly about the dangers of even moderate, forward thinking, garden variety belief, making a powerful argument that extremism could not flourish if irrational belief was not given protected speech status by light believers and the agnostic.  I see it, and I agree, but I am not about to quit a job I love because it has a religious bent.

Not the first nor the last time my upbringing has left me feeling like a hypocrite.

The second half of the book sadly peters out – neither the science nor the threats Dawkins is trying to inoculate against is particularly compelling – but the seed is already planted, and the soil plenty fertile enough.  I am more proud of my atheism, more ready to proclaim it and defend it than before reading The God Delusion.  Which I am certain was Dawkins’ goal in writing the book in the first place.

An interesting note.  Reading the Wheel of Time, I was easily flying through 200-300 pages a day.  During The God Delusion, at its peak I was reaching 40-50.  Amazing how the brain processes different kinds of reading – falling through the page in riveting fiction allows the words to entirely disappear, whereas a non-fiction book requiring you to parse and assimilate new words and ideas can make them a grind, even when the subject is one that engrosses.

After having my foundations somewhat shaken, I needed a return to neutral, and decided to reread an old familiar favorite, Good Omens by Gaiman and Pratchett.

It is still a great book, one I enjoyed zipping through another time, but both authors have greatly surpassed the ideas and craft on display here with their subsequent works.  My own copy is signed by both, at two different signings, events that could not have been more different.  Terry Pratchett was cranky and irritable, short with his fans despite the fact that I was only the second in line on the day of that signing.  In contrast, Neil Gaiman was one of the most patient and gracious individuals I have ever encountered.  In the end, this reread just made me want to catch up with the last 4 or 5 Discworld books I have yet to get to, and reread Anansi Boys after the very enlightening reread of American Gods earlier this year.

Unlike my brother, I need to revisit previous works (at least certain of them) on a regular basis to reset them in the constellations of my literary star map.

I was bothered last year by the realization that, despite my huge appetite for pulp and noir mysteries, I had never actually read any Agatha Christie.  I began to remedy this by reading the first Poirot novel – The Mysterious Affair at Styles – last year and was less than impressed.  I was repeatedly told, however, that And Then There Were None was the book I should go to in order to see Christie at her best, so that is where I found myself next on my random bibliographical travels.

I was afraid I was about to encounter “more of the same” – it came as no surprise when, after reading up on Poirot, I discovered Christie’s admission that she wrote her novels to the “I’m sure you are wondering why I’ve called you all here” scene, then reread the manuscript, decided who the least likely culprit was, and went back retrofitting clues that led to that person being guilty.

Instead, we have the ultimate locked room mystery, a story now so familiar because it has been aped and imitated so many times over the years since its 1939 publication.  It was hard not to recall movie scenes from such classic spoofs as Clue and Murder By Death, let alone more straight copies, or transfers to the horror genre.

Despite the familiarity, some clunky writing (highlighted by page after page of “he said, she said, he said, she said”) and the pervasive casual racism throughout (the book was originally titled Ten Little Niggers) the twists and turns still coalesce into an engaging and entertaining read with a satisfactory payoff.

Any suggestions as to which Christie to read next?

I followed up some old British crime writing with some even older American crime writing.  I first discovered Day Keene through the magnificent (though now sadly changed) Hard Case Crime book club where once a month I would receive two long out of print / lost masterpieces / new gems in the pulp hardboiled genre in handy paperback size with a beautiful new painted cover, all for around $7.

Keene’s style is stark and simple, brutally direct, but the tales he weaves are almost hypnotic in their ability to have you fall into the criminal underworld he describes.  To Kiss Or To Kill, like the previous books of Keene’s I have read, follows a big, dumb immigrant, with the morals of a saint and a heart of gold, thrust into a sticky situation – involving a beautiful woman, of course.

Unlike the majority of the HCC style of novels, which tend to be morality plays with the crooked lead getting his just desserts by “The End”, Keene’s hero overcomes the odds through self-belief and doing the right thing.  But not before he’s put through the ringer, and the reader has been taken on a well-crafted and breathtaking ride.

I was very glad to see that Prologue Books have recently reissued 8 more Day Keene novels.  For under $5 each, I strongly recommend you check one out.

There are some classic novels that are required reading at schools on both sides of the Atlantic.  Then there are the ones that, for whatever reason, don’t cross the ocean.  Daniel Keyes’ Flowers For Algernon is one such title.

It has bothered me for years that I had never read this book.  I had never encountered it at school (elementary, grade, high or university) in England, yet kept running across it referenced  in US pop culture, from comic books to sit coms to stand-up comedy.  So I finally plunged in this month.

Whenever I would mention the book to anyone, they would pull a sad face and say something to the effect of, “Oh, it’s so depressing”.  And it certainly doesn’t have a happily ever after for Charlie Gordon.  But you know this going in, and I don’t believe that this is the point.

Like all good literature, it is more about the reader than the protagonist – the overwhelming message for me is “Carpe Diem”, with a dollop of “Be aware of your effect on others” for good measure.

But perhaps I just don’t depress as easily as other people.  I am regularly greeted with disbelief when I share a number of my favorite theatrical and movie works  – Company, Leaving Las Vegas, anything by Pinter…

In any case, I’m glad I finally read this book, and understand its looming presence in American literature.  Wish I’d read it sooner.  Perhaps 25 years sooner.

I began the month finishing a beloved series.  I can’t bring myself to finish another quite so soon after.  Thankfully the wonderful and prolific (not to mention wonderfully prolific) Lawrence Block – undoubtedly one of my very favorite authors – has more than one series on offer.  I can’t face finishing the final Matthew Scudder mystery just yet, but am more than happy to start a new series, this one following the exploits a stamp-collecting hit man called Keller.

I do, and it is good.
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Wonder what I’ll read next month . . .
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Avri Klemer is a published boardgame designer, an unpublished novelist, a singer and a nice guy.  Despite having the same parents, Avri and Doron began their journeys in very different locations and have travelled very different roads.  They have somehow ended up in more or less the same place.

His new blog is an exploration of “1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die.”

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5 Comments

Posted by on June 15, 2013 in BOOKS

 

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65. My Top 10 Most Favouritest Authors EVER!…(pt.1)

A little research on how to make my blog more popular in my early days of writing revealed some interesting facts: people are most likely to read blogs on Monday morning. Or on weekends. Or was it in the afternoon, after lunch? There were several conflicting theories, (often accompanied by very convincing diagrams), and in the end I gave up trying to plan my blog entries and just hoped that good writing would be found by good people, (I’m looking at you).

However, EVERYone likes a good list, so I have finally decided to set down a Top 10 of my favourite authors.

Except that my Top 10 lists, just like every personality test I’ve ever taken, will change from day to day, and I almost never manage to stick to just ten.

So here, in no particular order, is the first part of my ‘ten’ favourite writers who you may like to explore.

(Their books, I mean: please don’t molest them if you happen to see them in the street).

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1. Neil GAIMANneil-gaiman_l

Probably most famous for his graphic novel series ‘The Sandman,’ (containing the most amazing mixture of mythology, literary references, fantasy, science and just all round ideas), Neil Gaiman is one of those authors whose every title I have to hunt down and own, from his 1990 collaboration with Terry PratchettGood Omens‘ to his work with graphic artists from Dave McKean to Japanese legend Yoshitaka Amano. Start with the Sandman collections, then move on to the Douglas Adams-esque fiction. You won’t be disappointed.

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2. Jorge Luis BORGES g220331_u66247_Jorge_L_Borges

This Argentinian short story maestro and poet is a must-read for anyone who cares about literature, ideas, and just all-round good writing. His style is unmistakeable: fantasy, misdirection, Escher-esque whorls and loops that leave you wondering which world he is living in and, at times, which world you are living in. As mentioned previously in this blog, Borges is quite possibly the name most quoted by other authors, a fount of contemporary magical realism. Personally I would recommend reading the complete short stories, but if that sounds too daunting, start with ‘Labyrinths‘, containing many of his most famous tales, from the library of non-existent books to the man who decides to rewrite ‘Don Quixote‘…word for word. The words ‘mind’ and ‘fuck’ often occur quite close together when discussing his work.

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3. François-Marie Arouet, aka VOLTAIRE

Salvador-Dali-Voltaire
Certain parts of my French degree were a pleasure, and studying the complete works of one of the most irreverent, iconoclastic humanists in history, a leading figure of the Enlightenment, was definitely one of them. Most famous for his dry adventure tale ‘Candide‘, (which I can’t help choosing to reproduce below, if only for the sweet Chris Ware cover story), it is in fact a slightly dense (if simply rendered) philosophical treatise, (as most of Voltaire’s works were). More entry-level would be the short story ‘Micromegas‘, one of the first ever works of science fiction and a perfect Enlightenment vehicle for displaying both the enormous and microscopically insignificant position of Man in the universe. ‘Letters on the English‘ was also lots of fun.

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4. Vladimir NABAKOVimages-1

It worried me at one point that my favourite book was Nabakov‘s linguistic masterpiece ‘Lolita‘, (“the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth…”), and my favourite movie was ‘Léon‘ (aka in the US as ‘The Professional). However, aside from having pre-pubescent girls as their focus, both  were also supreme works of art, and Nabakov’s mastery of the English language (not even his first languauge: there are stories that he had trouble stringing a sentence together in spoken English), coupled with a wicked sense of humour, shot him straight to the top of my list of favourite authors. ‘Lolita’ may still be my favourite book, but he has also authored two others which are among my all-time favourites, too: the dark and twisted anti-romantic novella ‘Laughter In The Dark‘ and the awesome ‘Pale Fire‘, a 999-line poem by a fictional poet, with copious notes on the poem made by a colleague of the deceased author who slowly reveals himself to be far more than just a dispassionate critic. One of the fore-runners of post-modernism, and one of the most rewarding, amusing and disturbing reads ever.

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5. Richard DAWKINS Richard_dawkins

These days Prof.Dawkins is best known for his anti-religious stance, epitomised by the best-selling (and excellently argued, whatever you think of his sometimes brusque style) ‘The God Delusion‘ (a fame which has seen him enter the public domain everywhere from Twitter to South Park). However, that has tended to detract from the fact that he is also an extraordinary biologist and popular science writer who, for almost four decades, has written some of the most accessible works on evolution and human nature. His breakthrough book, 1976’s ‘The Selfish Gene,‘ is one of the few books I can say has changed my life and the way I view the world: along with Jared Diamond‘s ‘Guns, Germs and Steel‘, and maybe Steven Pinker’s ‘How The Mind Works,‘ this book leaves you feeling like you understand life better than you did before, and that can surely only be a good thing. Working my way through his other scientific works, from ‘Unweaving The Rainbow‘ to ‘The Blind Watchmaker‘ may have been what first sowed the seeds that led to my becoming a humanist, a Darwinist, and a scientist.

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Whaddya think so far? Anyone here you already love, hate, or are now looking forward to reading? Anyone you’re hoping I don’t leave out later in the later part of the list? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

 
15 Comments

Posted by on March 4, 2013 in BOOKS

 

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