Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Best Reads 2013

I am joining John Wiswell from The Bathroom Monologues in a blog hop about our favourite reads of 2013.  Not necessarily published in 2013, just books we first read this year which for one reason or another we loved.

Regular visitors here will know that I read a lot.  And, as my side-bar will attest, I read quite a wide variety of things.  Some of the books I have read this year have been gems which will stay in my head and heart.  Others?  Suffice it to say they went to the recycle bin - that is, I gave them to Lifeline to sell to someone else.

I read for entertainment, to educate myself, for distraction, to escape and for comfort.  And there is probably a book for any occasion lurking somewhere in this house.  Which doesn't stop me succumbing to temptation and getting more.

I had difficulties in choosing books for this post.  And there were many more I could have included.

In no particular order some of my best reads for the year are listed below. ( Clicking on the photos will embiggen them, and give you more detail about the titles and authors.)


Biographies, memoirs and autobiographies are always on my go to list.

Jane Digby lived a complicated (to say the least) life.  She was born into an aristocratic family in 1807, and married at seventeen.  In the years between her marriage and her death in Damascus in 1881, she lurched from crisis to crisis.  All in the name of love.  Or lust, though I suspect she would always have said love.
She was divorced at a time when it was 'not done', eloped with an Austrian prince, had affairs with (among others) the King of Bavaria, a Corfiot count and an Albanian brigand.  At nearly fifty she married a Bedouin nobleman, and spent the rest of her life with him. 
Complicated, and not a life I could even contemplate.  I suspect she was always in ecstasy or despair.  Her choices would not (could not) have been mine, but she lived life to the full.  How she lived life to the full.  And the insights into a culture, time and place that are alien to me was fascinating.  The biography is largely drawn from her diaries (another passion of mine).



Elisabeth Baily contracted an illness which forced her to spend long periods of time bed ridden, and diminished her world dramatically.

She spent hours watching, listening to, and marvelling at a wild snail which had been brought into her bedroom with some violets in a flower plot.

Initially she could see no purpose to bring the snail in, and she had no interest in it either.  Little by little, watching the snail, she became engrossed in it, and her interest expanded her own world. ' Time unused and only endured still vanishes, as if time itself is starving, and each day is swallowed whole, leaving no crumbs, no memory, no trace at all.'  If asked, I would say that I don't read from the 'self-help genre, but this book tells me I am wrong.  I find inspiration and assistance in so much of my reading.


This book encapsulates resilience, and a fascination with the natural world, which struck a chord with me.   The prose is polished, simple and elegant.  Like the snail...



From the sublime to the ridiculous.  Rupert Bear was a part of my early childhood.  He is an enchanting, quintessentially English Bear - I suspect his village is in the Cotswolds.  He, and the other inhabitants of Nutwood have improbable adventures - and a heap of fun.  Rupert Bear, Bill Badger, Ottoline Otter and more.

The smaller portion picked up not only this, but several other Rupert Bear annuals and I devoured them all.  A meander down a memory lane in pleasant countryside.


A children's book.  One I am sorry I didn't discover as a child.

Barnaby Brocket's family make a virtue out of respectability.  And take it to boring extremes.  And are proud to do so.

When their first child is born to their horror and shame gravity has no effect on him.  None.  He was not normal - in a family which exalted normalacy beyond anything else.  They struggled to not only cope (after a fashion) but to conceal the abberation from everyone else.  And had two more 'normal' children.

Mrs Brocket decided enough was enough - and took action to rid the family of its problem child.  To permanently rid the family of its problem child.  Roald Dahl would have loved this book.



I was introduced to Ben Aaronovitch by librarygirl, last year or the year before and am very, very grateful.  Murder, mythology, mystery, mayhem and magic.  All of which I have major weaknesses for.  The plots are original, and the characters varied.   
A blurb describes them as 'the perfect blend of CSI and Harry Potter' which is a serious underestimate of their charm.  There are now four books in the series, I have them all, and will assuredly purchase the next.  One of the series major strengths is that the characters develop in consistent and entirely feasible directions.  And are, on the whole,  neither entirely black nor entirely white. 


Another children's book.

In this slim book (less than 150 pages) we follow Jack, an eight year old boy, as his teacher Miss Stretchberry continues to introduce him to the delights of poetry - reading it and writing it.

With Jack, we learn about alliteration, onomatopoeia and we practise with him too.  We are exposed to poetry by Edgar Allen Poe, and T.S Eliot among others and see the poems that they inspire Jack to write.  I came to dislike Uncle Bill who insists that poetry has to rhyme.  And we discover that Jack's mother is deaf, and sit in awe while Jack reads her a poem he has written, tapping his fingers to the rhythm of the poem.
'She drew a circle with her finger
which means again
so I read it over, tapping.
and then she put her hand up:
Stop
and I watched while she tapped
the same rhythm'
 Which made me weep.

I have reread it twice, and will read it again.  Deceptively simple, and rich in not only the joy of language but in the magic of relationships.  Every child should have a Miss Stretchberry in their life.



An alcohol-fuelled car crash left John Callahan a partial quadriplegic.  He is now a recovering alcoholic who writes/pens/draws cartoons which make the blackest night seem bright.  I don't think there is any subject which he would consider 'off limits'.  One cartoon which I particularly enjoy shows a man begging, with a sign around his neck saying 'Please help.  I am black, blind and not musical.'
It would be charitable to describe his sense of humour as sick.  And I often find his cartoons very funny and laugh - wincing.  And I don't need to be disturbed any further...


And the last addition was a Christmas gift.  Which I knew would be one of my best reads as it emerged from its Christmas wrapping.  It has been out of print for over 40 years, and was translated into English and released again this year.

Tove Jansson's Moomintroll series are books I reread each year.  And, (cue happy dances) the very first Moomin book she wrote 'The Moomins and the Great Flood' has apparently been published in English for the first time.  I will hunt it down.  Her children's books can be read with an adult's philosophical eye - or simply enjoyed.  She started writing novels for adults in her fifties - and I understand that more of them will be translated and released in English soon.  Bliss.

Sculptor's Daugher is a series of stories which capture Tove Jansson's Helsinki childhood - with some fictional elements.  The memoir you have when you are not having a memoir.   

It is subtle, powerful and beautiful.  As I expected.

73 comments:

  1. What a wonderful curiosity you have! That snail book speaks to me in a tiny voice


    ALOHA, Dear
    from Honolulu
    Comfort Spiral
    =^..^=

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    1. Cloudia: The snail book has a HUGE voice. And my curiosity is boundless.

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  2. I read only fiction and not nearly as much as I would like to. I have books stacked and waiting, but by the time I get through the blogs, (I'm not a fast reader anymore, I need time now to take things in), water the pots, cook dinner etc, there is little time left to be opening a book. Somewhere along the line, I've picked up too many things that need attention and I don't know yet which ones to drop.
    I once knew an Elizabeth Bailey (with a Z), her younger sister was in my high school class.
    My favourite reads this year have been the Dick Francis novels sent to me by Mimsie.

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    1. River: I read a lot. Other things suffer so I can. And I can't see myself giving up anytime soon.

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  3. Oh dear, you temptress, now I have to go shopping!

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    1. Arija: Book and garden shops are big, big weaknesses of mine.

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    2. I suffer from the same problem, also a lack of shelf space.

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    3. Arija: Snap. The bookshelves are stacked two and three deep and there are plants in pots waiting to be squeezed into the garden.

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  4. What a great selection if books. I don't read near enough for pleasure. Too much work and not enough play ~ but you have piqued my curiosity with your list. Thanks EC.

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    1. Carol in Cairns: I read for so many reasons. Read obsessively. And I am glad to pique your curiosity.

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  5. Hi EC I have read with great interest your choice of reading material you have chosen to share with us. Quite an eclectic mix. I might even be tempted to go to the library to source out. some of those children's book! Many thanks. Hope you had. Great CHRISTMAS

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    1. Margaret Adamson: Eclectic is a fair description of my reading. There isn't much I won't read. Or at least attempt.

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  6. Lovely to see your choices for the past year Soosie, I am quite intrigued by a couple of the book you loved so much. Wishing you another year filled with plenty of amazing reads

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    1. farawayinthesunshine: I am guarenteed a year of amazing reads. I received many, many books for Christmas - and have a birthday next month too.

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  7. These all sound great! Wasn't Jane Digby magnificent? I first came across her in an old book I bought at a second-hand store, called "The wilder shores of love" by Lesley Blanch, about four European women, Isabel Burton, Jane Digby, Aimee Dubucq de Rivery and Isabelle Eberhardt, all who lead remarkable lives in Moorish countries. It may still be available somewhere.

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    1. lynners: Jane Digby was a delight. Mind you, so was Isabel Burton and Isabelle Eberhardt. I don't know Aimee Dubucq de Rivery, and will have to track her down. Lots of the early women travellers/explorers were truly amazing.

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  8. Dashing in to drop a line in comments (cats + quiche on counter = disaster)
    Some I've read, some are in the library's queue and some ...well, maybe .one day... (emailing )

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    1. dinahmow: I will be interested to hear which you have read and what you thought of them.

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  9. Lovely eclectic mix, and we do love Ben, don't we? What a find he was, so original and such fun. Do have a go at Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman you will love it.

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    1. librarygirl: Neil Gaiman is one of my heroes for his writing and more. I will certainly get to Neverwhere.

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    2. BBC Radio was streaming Neverwhere last week.I can't get it here, but some readers might.

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  10. Thank you for your book reviews, EC. "A Scandalous Life" certainly does sound like interesting reading. Some things never change, it would seem...lust for one! ;')

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    1. Lee: Jane Digby was fascinating. I suspect I would also have thought her a very silly woman. I loved the way she challenged convention though.

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  11. Oh, thank you for this rich treasure trove of books. I'll check out the snail book for sure, and possibly a few I never heard of, and of course the Callahan book. Thanks again for sharing your favorite 2013 reads. Lovely! :-)

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    1. DJan: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating was moving and beautiful. I will be interested to hear what you make of it.

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  12. Okay, I've got three of them on hold at the library and will pick them up this week. Again, thank you! :-)

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  13. Going into winter here - my usual time to pick up a few books! Good timing!

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    1. daisyfae: It is always time to pick up a few books. In summer I do a lot of skulking away from the sun...

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  14. Replies
    1. Sienna Smythe: I am an eclectic reader - and find pleasure in so many of them.

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  15. Had not heard of Baily before, but that is one of the best titles I've read in a long time! The book also sounds interesting. I admire the range on your list. Delightful explanations, EC. Thanks for joining us!

    Added you here: http://johnwiswell.blogspot.com/2013/12/best-reads-2013-is-live.html

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    1. John Wiswell: Thank you. I was glad that you were running with this meme again. And your books sound fascinating.

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  16. Nowadays I find most books too long. I have such limited patience now and remember my first reading of Simenon's many novellas with a desire to find more like that. But The Sound of a Wild Snail eating sounds interesting. I may look out for it.

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    1. Andrew Maclaren-Scott: The Sound of a Wild Snail eating isn't a long book. In fact, none of these are, though I have read some very long ones this year.

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  17. I read the "snail" book last year and loved it!! I got an Amazon gift card for Christmas and will look into your other suggestions ASAP.

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  18. You have a wonderfully curious list! I am amazed by how good these books seem, I want to read them all, in fact I'd just put a bunch of them on my Goodreads to track down later. Overall, your list made me curious and excited, which is absolutely fine!

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    1. Cindy Vaskova: Welcome - and thank you. I am really pleased that I have excited your interest.

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  19. I have just started reading again for a while there I stopped don't know why but I did miss it.
    Merle.............

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    1. Merlesworld: I hope your reading mojo lingers.

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  20. That's a pretty varied list! The Jane Digby bio sounds most interesting of all.

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    1. Sonia Lal: Welcome. Jane Digby was a fascinating woman, though not someone I could imagine having as a friend.

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  21. All unique and intriguing selections, all look like beautiful books. Oh, if only my reading list wasn't a mile high! Had to google "jannson-sculpture" -wasn't familiar with the name. Have made a note of the Bailey book - sounds very interesting.

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    1. Mark Kerstetter: My reading list too is very large. And I keep adding to it. Tove Jansson would repay investigation, and the Elisabeth Tova Bailey book is a gem.

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  22. Thanks for this fascinating list; I have added the first two to my wishlist, where they join the Ben Aaronovitch ones which have been there since you mentioned them a while ago.

    Re Neil Gaiman - I have recently read his latest, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Just brilliant. He's one of my top favourite authors.

    Happy reading!

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    1. Alexia: I am glad that I have added to your list. And look forward to your take on this meme.
      Neil Gaiman is a wonderful, and there are a few of his books on my wish list. And I will get to them. Sometime.

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  23. I confess to being much like you when it comes to reading. The housework and cooking take a very long second place when my nose is stuck in a book, which it is very often. My husband thinks the house could burn down around me while I'm immersed in a story :-)

    What a great list of books! I've ordered the biography by Mary S Lovell from the library (one of my favourite genres! I can recommend Miranda Carter's "The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One" which I recently read as well as Hannah Pakula's "An Uncommon Woman - The Empress Frederick" Philippa Gregory's "The Cousins' War" series and the excellent Julia P. Gelardi book "Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria" all of which I read this summer. Lucky I live in the land of the midnight sun, eh? One can still read outside in the garden at 11pm...).

    The Elisabeth Bailey and John Callahan books intrigue me as well. I'll look at amazon.uk and see if I can snaffle them.

    Tove Jansson is a particular favourite in this house. We are somewhat Mumin obsessed here. L-G was born in the Swedish speaking part of Finland, so he grew up with these stories. We have Mumin everything in our home - books, candle holders, coffee mugs, bowls, figurines, gingerbread cutters, reflectors for our winter jackets... His 60th birthday cake was Mumintroll and our wedding invitations featured Mumin and Snorkfröken :-) I've read that book in Swedish as "Bildhuggarens dotter", but it would be binteresting to see if I can get an English copy. L-G was gioven a great book about Tove Jansson last Christmas, so I'll aske him about it when he gets home and see if it has been translated into English.

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    1. Marie: Tove Jansson is a gem. The Summer Book is one of my all time favourites. I will be very, very interested to hear whether LG's book has been translated.
      The books you recommended sound right up my street. I was given many, many books for Christmas and most fall into the biography/memoir/diary category. And you have tempted me (a lot) with these.
      So many books, so little time. I will be making valiant efforts though.

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    2. I dug up his book and it's one you must have already read - a new edition of "Moominpappa's Memoirs" with some extra notes by Tove Jansson. All of the family know of his Moomin obsession, so they pander to it :-)

      I know what you mean about so many books, so little time. I'm not willing to bother reading books that bore me or descend into being silly. I remember reading Ken Follett's "Pillars of the Earth" after people raved about it. I found it thoroughly ridiculous, especially having read a lot of books set in the medieval era. It started off okay (just) but then became a silly soap opera. I'm afraid I tossed it overboard from my yacht and it's lying at the bottom of the Baltic Sea where it belongs :-)

      A couple more you might like are Karen Maitland's "Company Of Liars" set in the Black Plague year 1348 and is a reinterpretation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Very enjoyable. The other is Sharon Kay Penman's "The Sunne in Splendour" about poor old Richard III (the War of the Roses and Tudors are also a favourite era of mine). I'm assuming I don't need to name Hilary Mantel's two fabulous books about Thomas Cromwell. I'm dying to read the final one ("The Mirror and the Light") when it is released.

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    3. Marie: For a long time, I made myself finish any book which I had started. No longer. It often doesn't get discarded straight away, but I won't finish it if I am not getting anything (except irritation). Soooo liberating. Thanks for yet more fascinating recommendations.

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    4. I always go by the rule I tried to teach the primary school kids when I volunteered in the school library 1,000,000 years ago - if it doesn't grab you in the first 5 or so pages, give it up and find another! I do so much reading that is purely fuctional that I need to counter this with books I can enjoy. I am currently reading Amy Tan's "The Hundred Secret Senses" and, although it has had a couple of slow patches, it still has me wondering what is going to happen. I am also taken in by the way she can be so self reflective as this makes me rethink some of my actions. So, all in all a plus.

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    5. I am very fond of Amy Tan. Have that one, and her newest The Valley of Amazement is p;art of my Christmas hoard. I am currently reading These Wonderful Rumours from the same hoard (war time diaries of what I think is a very silly young woman) and rereading Miss Seeton mysteries for light relief.

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    6. Ahh... I'll have to look out for the new Amy Tan. A couple of others I read in 2013 and liked very much are "Spilling Clarence"by Anne Ursu, "The Light Between Oceans" by M.L. Stedman and "The Snow Child" by Eowyn Ivey. You may have already come across them and I see you've read the new Tracy Chevalier one. I'm at a bit of a disadvantage living here - I don't always find out about these things till after the event as the bookshops stock Swedish stuff mostly. I like to peruse other readers' lists for tips.

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    7. Marie: Thank you. Some more temptation for my weak-willed self. Shopping for books or plants is the only shopping I enjoy, but I enjoy those rather too much. I will let you know about the new Amy Tan. I expect it to be good.

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    8. Yep, me again, weeks later with another comment :-)

      I've just picked up "A Scandalous Life" from my library and can't wait to start it!

      Another about to be printed which looks promising is Claudia Renton's Those Wild Wyndhams: Three Sisters at the Heartland of Power. And I'm somewhat interested in Robert Wainwright's new one Sheila: The Australian ingenue who bewitched British society.

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    9. And a p.s.

      If you'd rather I emailed these extra rambling book things, my email is the dreaded gmail and it's a simple address marieinsweden if that helps.

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    10. Marie: I do hope you enjoy A Scandalous Life. And the others look well worth investigating too.
      I have just sent you an email - but your comments are ALWAYS welcome.

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  24. What a great list! Thank you for these. Thanks especially for the children's book recommendations -- I'm always on the lookout for new books for my nieces.

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    1. Katherine Hajer. Welcome. It sounds as if you, like me, give books as gifts to the younger generation. The very best gifts are books.

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  25. Some interesting tips! I really loved The Fault in Our Stars - a fabulous read.

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    1. ladyfi: Another recommendation. How wonderful. Thank you.

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  26. Such interesting choices - I've not run across any of these. And I love to read your comments on the books - they are as interesting as reading a book, EC.

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    1. jenny_o: Thank you - though by no means are they reviews. Ramblings?

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  27. Those all look great! And I am a picky reader. Thank you for the recommendations. I love kids' books, too.

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    1. Riot Kitty: Thank you. So nice to hear that you have been tempted.

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  28. I shall have to try some of these. Once I get through my own pile, but mine is much less varied than yours. Happy reading. and happy New Year.

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    1. persiflage: My reading is eclectic, or as some have described it, greedy and undisciplined. Happy reading, and singing to you in this year to come.

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  29. What a great list! I have not read a single one of them, and I'm always looking for new books (in spite of my huge collection of to-be-read books at home). I'll check my secondhand shop for some of these titles!

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    1. Ms. CrankyPants: Unsurprisingly, checking out other posts on this meme has ensured that I want MORE books to add to my humungous unread pile. I will probably weaken and get them too.

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  30. Just the thought of thumbing through the John Callahan makes me laugh! Definitely not for the polite or politically correct. I'm remembering one cartoon that showed a sign in a pet store offering a big discount on parrots. The building right next door was identified as a Tourette's Syndrome support center... Great looking selection overall!

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    1. Paper Chipmunk (aka Ellen): His memoir 'You won't get Far on Foot' has some moments as well. And I remember the cut price parrots too.

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