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  #621  
Old 07 March 2015, 09:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Crius of CoH View Post
They were OK books, but it got tedious revisiting the plot structure.
It sounds a similar structure at least. There's something a bit sparse and grim about the Glass Books series - they're strangely closed in on themselves, somehow. I was a bit disappointed in the second book because the end of the first one could have almost been the end of a stand-alone book with most of its plot-lines resolved, although it was obviously left open for a series. I'd thought the second one might see them following the plot further afield into new territory and new developments, but instead it returns to the same locations and characters as the first. It seemed a missed opportunity to open it out a bit.
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  #622  
Old 02 April 2015, 06:46 PM
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I read an article that helped put my finger on what I didn't like about the Dream Eaters books:

Why don't we feel guilty in video games?

Because the series was following gaming conventions, none of it seemed to matter very much. For example, one character is a young woman who's supposed to be a bit of a spoiled provincial ingénue. In the first book, after sneaking into a ball in an attempt to find out what her ex-fiancée is up to, she ends up killing several people in an attempt to get out of the situation. And it's treated exactly as it would be in a game - even though it should be massively and horrifically out of character and severely traumatic, it's just brushed off with almost no repercussions or consequences. They're faceless mooks and so they don't count. A lot of the characters come across as like that - the minor baddies mostly die in each book, but they're then replaced by almost interchangeable minor baddies, and there's no reason to care about any of them. You can barely tell the difference.

Anyway, as well as those books, last month I read:

A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-Fiction by Terry Pratchett, as it was one of the few of his books I'd not read yet. It wasn't bad, although since he's not renowned as a non-fiction writer, most of it was either talks and tips about writing that he's given at one time or another, and (later) articles about his illness and assisted dying. There wasn't a huge variety of subject matter. But he's still funny, and there's some interesting incidental autobiographical stuff. I knew his first job was on the local paper here, but I'd not realised he grew up just outside Beaconsfield and went to school in High Wycombe.

Expo '58 by Jonathan Coe. A sort of unconventional spy novel. I enjoyed this.

England, England by Julian Barnes. This started off as though it would be serious but became quite farcical. I wasn't all that convinced by it. It was written before 2001, so its vision of the "near future" of England was quite out of date in some ways. Also, there's no way that a commemorative flight of Spitfires and a private jet containing members of the royal family (and which is therefore going to be watched by lots of people on the ground) could shoot down another aircraft over the sea between Selsey and the Isle of Wight without lots and lots of people seeing it happen...! That's a pretty busy waterway, as well as being clearly within sight of both shores. They couldn't simply pretend it didn't happen and have nobody notice! (Not to mention this is one of the situations in the novel that is totally outdated because of September 11th - in reality these days, the plane in question would already have been shot down by the air force long before it got close to the royal jet).

I'm still reading The Sleepwalkers, and I'm also currently reading Junk Mail, collected essays by Will Self, who is an interesting writer.

Last edited by Richard W; 02 April 2015 at 06:52 PM.
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  #623  
Old 13 April 2015, 04:07 AM
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Recently finished Devil in the Grove, about Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP's defense of the Groveland Boys. It was very fascinating, but since this is real-life and not fiction, the ending was a bit depressing even if it really was the best that could be done at the time. Gilbert King mentioned early on in the book that the sheriff was going to remain in office until '72, and I think he deliberately let that drop so the readers could get used to the fact that somebody who committed blatant murder and rampant domestic terrorism is going to be not only not convicted, but repeatedly reelected to law enforcement.

Then I read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" which was an excellent but depressing account of a woman subjected by her husband to the "rest cure".

I started up Brandon Sanderson's novella Perfect State in the hopes that it would be a bit more upbeat...aaaannnd it wasn't even remotely nihilistic, but the ending was still bit of a downer.

I also finished Unlocked, John Scalzi's prequel novella to Lock-In. I really couldn't help critiquing the sciency bits, especially the biology of the virus, but once he got into describing the effects of Haden's syndrome on society, it got very interesting. It kind of reminds me of Nancy Kress' Beggars in Spain, which used near-future science only as a means to explore the social effects on people.

Now I'm about a 3rd of the way through Jo Walton's Ha'penny, which is the 2nd in her Small Change series. These are murder mysteries set in an alternate universe where Britain didn't get American Lend-Lease support, so the UK capitulated to Hitler in a "Peace with Honor" deal. And I have zero expectations that this is going to end in a good way seeing as how the female narrator leads with the statement: "They don't hang people like me."
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  #624  
Old 10 May 2015, 06:54 PM
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I keep forgetting to write up my April books and we're well into May...

I finished Junk Mail. As well as William Burroughs, Will Self talks a lot about JG Ballard and Martin Amis, and since I had books by both of them on my "to read" pile, I thought I'd read those next.

High Rise by JG Ballard. The first of his I've read - people talk about Ballard a lot but never in contexts that make me think I'd like his work. This book has been referenced all over the place lately. Perhaps it always was referenced all over the place, and I'd not noticed, but it's quite apt at the moment. It's about a completely dysfunctional luxury high-rise apartment block, and how its in-built stratification and inequality leads to a microcosm of the collapse of society, while everybody pretends it's not happening. The metaphor goes a bit over the top, I thought, but the book turns into its own thing with its own momentum, so it has to end up like that - sort of like Lord of the Flies. Anyway, interesting, and I thought more of it than I expected.

Heavy Water and Other Stories by Martin Amis. I've read Amis's best known books before but haven't read anything by him for probably close to 20 years. These aren't recent stories, but they reminded me of my problems with him. Some are enjoyable, but in many ways I just don't think he's as good a writer as he's cracked up to be, or as he thinks he is. Short stories show these things up more. A lot of his characters are violent grotesques, and that's always spoken of as though it's a cunning trademark of his. I think it's that he doesn't know how to write working-class characters without caricaturing them. There's a story in this called "Straight Fiction", about a world in which gay culture is the norm, and heterosexuals are marginalised in the same way that gays were / are. But it comes across as oddly homophobic to me, even though Amis is obviously trying to be right-on and progressive. (Would a culture in which homosexuality was the norm really have an Indian restaurant called The Chutney Ferret...?). It would already have seemed heavy-handed when he wrote it, I'd have thought.

One story that I started to like was a science fiction story about a janitor robot on Mars, telling the people of Earth how crap we all were compared to other universal civilisations and how we were all doomed. But it suddenly went all disdainful of science and science fiction, and started going on about how the poets and writers were the only people who had a clue. I wondered if he'd wanted to say that Martin Amis was the best of them all, but at least he didn't go that far in this story. It annoys me because he gives the impression that, although he's just written a fairly decent science fiction story, he'd claim it wasn't science fiction but some sort of deconstruction because he's got much better ideas and more serious themes than all the science fiction writers. When in fact a lot of them are (as you'd expect) better at it than he is.

I read a booklet about the red kite reintroduction programme called Red Kites in the Chilterns by Ian Carter and Gerry Whitlow - it was interesting; not sure why I'm mentioning it though!

The She Wolf by Maurice Druon, the fifth in the Accursed Kings series. This one's about Isabella, the wife of Edward II of England, and Edward's eventual overthrow and replacement by the teenage Edward III. Perhaps because it's about English history (as well as French - Isabella is the sister of the French monarchs in the rest of the series) I think this is the best of them so far. It's also the most Game of Thrones-like so far... Edward II is rumoured to have been killed by having a red-hot poker stuck up his bum, and Druon always goes with the more dramatic and lurid interpretations of history.

After all the macho Self / Amis stuff I thought I should read more by women, since I still read far too few books by women for some reason. So this mont so far, I've read:

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran, which is very funny.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach. I think I'm getting to the point of diminishing returns with her books - I found this a bit lightweight, and her journalistic style is as much about the researchers and what they look like and what they're wearing and what they have to drink... as it is about any of the science. I could do with some more hard science, really. It's still interesting though, and she is a funny writer too.

I'm currently reading This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, about climate change and how the "deniers" are so keen to pretend it's not happening because they're right that to try to do anything about it at this stage will have to mean dismantling some fairly large free-market mechanisms and assumptions. I think it's going to be quite a depressing book.

And I'm still reading Sleepwalkers, which isn't a barrel of laughs either. (Although it's good).
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  #625  
Old 11 May 2015, 04:32 AM
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Finished Ha'penny about a week ago and, unsurprisingly, this did not end on a cheerful note. This is one of the better alternate history novels I've read, but it is grim. I hadn't been aware of the Mitford sisters, so I didn't realize that Walton had modeled the Larkins off of them.

In the meantime, I read Ryan North's annotated review of the Back to the Future tie-in novel. Man, North really put a lot of thought into the time travel paradox bit, probably more than Zemeckis et al. did. He eventually concluded that some alt-reality Doc would eventually have to send an alt-reality Marty to his real-reality death in order to avoid crushing the space-time continuum under an infinite loop of time-traveling Marties. Also, Strickland is one of the more bearable characters in the novel. The script rewrites and casting of Michael J. Fox really helped the film. Played wrong, Marty could have easily come off as completely unlikable.

I also read Jim Hines' annotated first novel Rise of the Spider Goddess. As Hines freely admits, this is not a good book. What it is good at is demonstrating how not to write a fantasy novel. It actually makes my 6th grade writing efforts, which were essentially Watership Down fan-fic, look pretty good in comparison.

Now I'm moving through Neal Bascomb's Hunting Eichmann and a collection of Robert Sheckley short stories. I was surprised to see that Sheckley's story "The Prize of Peril" was written in 1958 since I think this might be the first description of reality television.
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  #626  
Old 11 May 2015, 08:26 AM
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Originally Posted by Cure the Blues View Post
In the meantime, I read Ryan North's annotated review of the Back to the Future tie-in novel. Man, North really put a lot of thought into the time travel paradox bit, probably more than Zemeckis et al. did.
Which review is that, of which book? Sounds interesting. I have a Back to the Future tie-in novel, written by George Gipe and published in 1985 around the time of the first film. I've probably not read it myself since about 1985 either...
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  #627  
Old 11 May 2015, 08:43 AM
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Originally Posted by Cure the Blues View Post
Man, North really put a lot of thought into the time travel paradox bit, probably more than Zemeckis et al. did.
Not really that hard to put more thought into time travel paradox than Zemeckis et al didn't, though. I mean, the solution in the movies seems to be sort of "this is a cartoon, OK; get over it". Which worked well, IMO. What doesn't work is when they try to make something look like serious science but it's just as cartoonish, i.e. Minority Report, Interstellar (no, not the black hole! the environment, spaceflight, robots, etc.), Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow...
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  #628  
Old 11 May 2015, 07:33 PM
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I have been reading Archangel by Marguerite Reed. I bought it because I know the author but I started reading it because of this review on Buzzfeed (about half way down.) It is really good.
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  #629  
Old 11 May 2015, 10:42 PM
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I just re-read Back To The Future by George Gipe, prompted by Cure the Blues's post. It turns out to be a very easy book to read in a day, even if you do have to go to work between times.

I wouldn't say that Strickland was a more sympathetic character in the book. He starts in 1985 by eavesdropping on a private phone call and crushing people's confiscated Walkmans in a vice. Marty does behave unreasonably enough to retrospectively justify getting a detention - all this stuff was cut from the film, I think - but Strickland is still an arsehole too. In Strickland's next major appearance in 1955 he gives George McFly a tongue-lashing for being bullied. To be fair, teachers used to do that.

About the only thing he does that's sympathetic to the main characters is rescue 1955 George from the toilets at the dance, where he's trapped by some bullies (in an incident that doesn't happen in the film, so far as I can remember) so that George can escape to rescue Lorraine and punch Biff in the car park.

The book doesn't have a great deal in the way of character development, though. It reads as though George Gipe was working from a late draft shooting script, couldn't deviate much from that, and therefore couldn't quite be bothered to try very hard to fix the inconsistencies. For example, just after Marty has arrived in 1955 and crashed his DeLorean - the "object" - into the Peabodys' barn, scaring them into thinking it's an alien spacecraft:

Quote:
The four Peabodys looked at each other, awe-stricken. Although it was illogical, they walked slowly towards the object.
Marty's Walkman gets smashed by Strickland, and yet later that evening he has a "new Walkman", with no explanation as to where it's come from. Again, Gipe is clearly aware of that as the author but doesn't bother to fix it. And in the scene in which Marty is having dinner in 1955 with Lorraine's family after they've picked him up from being hit by the car, his grandfather spends ages fiddling with the TV aerial to get a better picture, gives up and wheels in a "brand-new set" on a trolley. Immediately afterwards, Marty is asked if he has a television, and he says "Yes, two" and one of the children says, "Wow! You must be rich!" ... So you missed the bit where your dad just casually rolled in a brand-new second television set of your own, then? Pretty sure George Gipe, the writer, didn't...

There's some amusing 1980s movie racism around the Libyans, most of which is cut from the film. Some of them get names, including Sam, who is described as "swarthy" and "a swarthy character resembling Yasser Arafat" (Libyan, Palestinian - all the same...) and Uranda, "a twenty-five-year-old ex-fashion model from Damascus" (Libyan, Syrian - all the same...). I guess the script-writers thought that they might be needed in the next draft. I could express my feelings about it as the script-writers no doubt did in a note that George Gipe reproduced:

Quote:
A tirade of angry gibberish, no doubt Libyan swear words, cascaded into the night.
(Libyan, Arabic - all the same...)

It's interesting that the terrorists aren't explicitly Islamic fundamentalists, though. The fact they have a female former fashion model with them (who would obviously look very good on camera, were she to fall into a larger part) seems incongruous now. The Lockerbie bombing - the most obvious incident of supposedly Libyan terrorism - hadn't even happened at this time, so it's interesting that Libya was chosen at all.

Quote:
Marty didn't understand but he did know that, to date, few Libyans he had heard of had been involved in anything but dark and dangerous business. The effect was of someone yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater.
Other than that, the plot isn't massively dissimilar to the book. There are lots of details that are different - Doc Brown spends far too long hanging around the school with Marty in 1955, for one thing - but it's broadly the same.

I would still be interested in seeing what the review you mentioned makes of it, Cure The Blues.

(eta) There's another speech that was cut from the film, just as Marty is about to go back to 1985, that shows that the writers were also aware of the plot stupidity but made the correct decision not to try to bother to explain it. (The conversation about college that this refers to was cut as well):

Quote:
Pulling out his wallet, [Marty] showed Doc Brown the family picture with all members restored.

"Good," Doc said.

"I think Dad may even go to college," Marty added. "He's got extra confidence now."

Doc Brown frowned as he made the last of his pre-flight checks on the DeLorean. "Then that's something else you'll be able to worry about between now and the time you get back to 1985," he said.

"What?"

"Well, if he does go to college, thanks to you, it'll change his life."

"For the better, I hope," Marty countered.

"Maybe, but suppose while he's there, he meets some coed who's more attractive to him than your mother? That could cause you to do a quick fade out. Or suppose because of college expenses, your mom and dad decide to hold off having kids for a couple years? If that happens, you may find that you're twelve or fourteen years old in 1985 instead of seventeen? How do you like them apples?"

Marty shook his head in awe. What his friend and mentor said definitely made sense. All he could do was hope the future existence of his parents was approximately the same as the first time around.
So he says it's "too late to worry" about that, and he doesn't, and nor do the scriptwriters, and nor do we. A good decision all round, I think.

Last edited by Richard W; 11 May 2015 at 10:56 PM.
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  #630  
Old 11 May 2015, 11:09 PM
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The Lockerbie bombing - the most obvious incident of supposedly Libyan terrorism - hadn't even happened at this time, so it's interesting that Libya was chosen at all.
I was going to say it was because of the Berlin bombing which for some reason I thought took place in the early 80s. But that was 1986 so unless the screenwriters had a time machine it doesn't make OH MY GOD...

Actually I think it was just the general Reagan-era opposition to Qaddafi that was reflected in the movie.
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  #631  
Old 11 May 2015, 11:23 PM
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Probably, yes. I'm old enough to remember all these things, but too young to have followed the significance of the detail, so it's odd to look back on it and see that a lot of the "justifications" for this attitude to Libya (as I remember them being presented) actually post-date the attitude...

As I've mentioned, I'm also reading about the run-up to the First World War, and that also features Libya quite heavily. The Italian attack on the Ottomans in Libya in 1912 disrupted the Ottomans enough to prompt Serbia and Bulgaria to launch wars against them in the Balkans, which were obviously significant as part of the background to the trigger to the whole of the War. The Italian / Libyan war was apparently the first war to feature air strikes, both from Zeppelins and planes. (I seem to remember reading that the first ever air strike was a British attack by somebody throwing a bomb out of a plane in Afghanistan, but I guess that was not part of a war). So these sentiments go back a long way.

Back to Back To The Future, the book also foreshadows the "Don't call me chicken!" stuff that comes out of nowhere in the second film. It's not developed much, but it is at least established that the McFly family are thought of as "chicken" and that Marty doesn't like it.
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  #632  
Old 12 May 2015, 12:30 AM
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... Just watching the film again, and the Libyan's sinister black van with sliding side doors (in the book, and oddly, that's how I remember it in the film too) is a blue VW camper in the film, with the gunner poking out of the skylight.

And the gunner's "tirade of angry gibberish", plus his facial expression, still looks and sounds more like a WWII Japanese stereotype than anything North African. Funny how prejudices work.
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  #633  
Old 12 May 2015, 12:36 AM
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I was in my mid 20s when the movie came out, and Libyan terrorists made perfect sense to me in context, although I can't recall any specific reasons it would.
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  #634  
Old 12 May 2015, 05:34 AM
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Yes, it was the Gipe book that North was reading through. Apparently this was from an early screenplay and for all I know some of the book was written before Fox was cast. Originally Eric Stoltz briefly had the part and based on the clips I've seen, Stoltz's Marty comes off very differently.

It really isn't that Strickland is sympathetic so much as Marty and Doc come across as unlikable. From Marty's inner monologue it appears as if he actually dislikes his father. In the movie, it's clear that Marty wishes his dad wasn't such a doormat but I never thought that he didn't like George. Plus Doc and Marty snipe at each other. That quote about Marty potentially screwing up his existence even when it looks like everything's fixed is a good example. Although the first thought I had when I read that was the same as North's. Baby-making doesn't work like that. It's not like the egg and sperm can take a rain check and then get together a decade later. Cue a cameo of Vizzini time-traveling from 1987 and shouting "Inconceivable!"

North also noticed the the Libyan move racism. I'm kind of surprised that nothing major had happened with Libya in '85. Apparently I've been backdating the 1986 Libya bombing raid all this time.

There was also a silly bit near the beginning where Marty uses adventure game logic to get out of detention. This almost makes the Gabriel Knight cat hair-syrup mustache disguise look good. Almost. Ah, here it is: Marty Quest.
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  #635  
Old 12 May 2015, 07:00 AM
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North also noticed the the Libyan move racism. I'm kind of surprised that nothing major had happened with Libya in '85. Apparently I've been backdating the 1986 Libya bombing raid all this time.
Well, racism, agreed. But it's not as if the name Libya just happened out of the blue. The US had accused Libya of supporting various terrorist attacks and threats in the early 80's, including at least one that happened in 1985, although it was after the movie came out:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rome_an...irport_attacks
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  #636  
Old 12 May 2015, 08:25 AM
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It really isn't that Strickland is sympathetic so much as Marty and Doc come across as unlikable. From Marty's inner monologue it appears as if he actually dislikes his father.
Yes, that's true. He also spends much longer going on about stuff from 1985 to people he shouldn't, and then being unable to explain how he knows, which makes him come across as an idiot.

The whole part with the detention and the book of matches at the beginning was cut, obviously - it wouldn't have made sense in the film. The version of the script that got filmed is definitely better than the version that was made into the book.

Other examples of things that wouldn't have worked in the film are Biff's car crash into the manure truck - in the book it's quite a hard crash and the passengers all go flying head-first into the manure, rather than just hitting the truck gently and dislodging the manure into the car. That would have either looked deadly or cartoonish in the film. And Marty's heavy metal feedback guitar solo at the ball gets big cheers in the book, rather than the baffled silence in the film.
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Old 20 May 2015, 08:53 AM
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Just got done reading "Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking" by Daniel Dennett. It's a really good exploration of the tough questions about the mind and free will.
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Old 20 May 2015, 12:04 PM
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Read This Book Is Overdue! by Marilyn Johnson. The book was published in 2010, but I was reading an ARC, so there are likely differences between what I read and the final product. Interesting and informative, if a bit light and flighty. Reminded me somewhat of Mary Roach's output - a fun, informative and easy read, but not much more than an intro to the topic for someone truly interested in it.
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Old 20 May 2015, 12:56 PM
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Rereading Barbara Hambly's excellent Travelling With the Dead .
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  #640  
Old 20 May 2015, 03:30 PM
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I just received a copy of the autobiography "Chicken Every Sunday" by Rosemary Taylor. It was a huge bestseller in it's time but it's relatively unknown today. It's certainly a little dated! but I'm enjoying it. And with the benefits of google I'm able to find out more about the family than made it into the book .
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