You'll love this one...!! A book club & more discussion

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Group Themed Reads: Discussions > Our March read: Galapagos

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message 1: by Jenny, Group Creator - Honorary Moderator (new)

Jenny (notestothemoon) | 846 comments Once again Donna is leading this month. Can't wait to join in with this one.

Enjoy reading and discussing Galápagos everyone!


message 2: by Donna (new)

Donna (electrogirl68) | 116 comments Ok, I'll get things going. I'm going to paste my review of the book in here, as it covers the things I want to say about the book

SPOILER ALERT

I have not read any Vonnegut before so I can only base my opinion on this one book. I have positives and negatives.
On the positives: This was a fairly quick read, it zipped along at a good pace and at no point did I wonder why I was bothering. It was thought provoking - the premise is that a small group of people are stranded on one of the small uninhabited Galapagos Islands in 1986 while the rest of the world's population is destroyed so over the next one million years they are the sole ancestors of the rest of the human race which slowly goes through a reverse of evolution to become creatures more akin to seals. When it comes down to it, it makes sense! Vonnegut talks about the fact that the human brain is now too big and thinks too much about things, usually thinking about something leading to striving to make that thought a reality, sometimes to it's detriment. I sometimes feel that I think about things far too much rather than just getting on with things and accepting things as they are. As there is no need for hands and fingers, and fish becomes the staple diet, the humans devolve into seal like creatures with flippers. But even after 1 million years they still laugh if someone farts.
On the negatives: I don't know if Vonnegut has a style, but in this book I found that he repeated things a bit too often, as if we might not remember a previous bit of the book if he didn't remind us. Also he put an asterisk before the names of people who were going to die soon, and I found that each time I saw an asterisk it kind of interrupted the flow of my reading; no matter how many times one appeared I didn't get used to it.
Most of the book is set in 1986 leading up to how the survivors arrived at the island, and the type of people they were. I'm not sure if a disparate group of individuals from 2011 would have managed to restart the human population.
It was interesting to meet Manadarax, a small, highly intelligent handheld computer device, slightly reminiscent of today's iPad, considering this novel was written in 1985


message 3: by Kate (new)

Kate Z (kgordon3) | 144 comments I have read other Vonnegut (and enjoyed it) and this book was quite similar in style (at least tone) to the other books of his that I have read (Slaughterhouse Five and Man Without a Country).

Like those, I thought this book was as much an anti-war (specifically in this case, Vietnam) as anything and I hadn't expected that at all.

What I wondered, or what "bothered" me was the narrative perspective. Who was the narrator speaking to? Writing to? If we're a million some years in the future and nobody reads, who is the "audience" for this narrator?


message 4: by Kate (new)

Kate Z (kgordon3) | 144 comments Donna wrote:

On the negatives: I don't know if Vonnegut has a style, but in this book I found that he repeated things a bit too often, as if we might not remember a previous bit of the book if he didn't remind us. Also he put an asterisk before the names of people who were going to die soon, and I found that each time I saw an asterisk it kind of interrupted the flow of my reading; no matter how many times one appeared I didn't get used to it.

This actually IS part of Vonnegut's style (at least he used this asterisk technique in Slaughterhouse Five).

I *think*' it's part of his anti-war point of view ... calling very specific attention to those who are about to die so they are not (as) easily glossed over.


message 5: by Becky (new)

Becky (divadog) Interesting - I had read a lot of Vonnegut, but it had been years. I enjoyed this quite a bit.

SPOILER ALERT
I loved how the narrator was slowly revealed to us, and you finally got who he was, and he was a ghost who saw everything. It also brought together many earlier books since he is the son of Kilgore Trout.

Not only was the book anti-war, but it also spoke of the world being destroyed by war and by disease since women couldn't reproduce - also another cautionary tale.

Kate - Great question! Who was he talking to since his audience all had little brains and flippers! Since he was forced to live One Million years, and watched people evolve from beings like himself and the original Galapagos residence, maybe it was a hope that there were other intelligent beings, or maybe it would be read by people who have been through the blue tunnel?


message 6: by Heather (new)

Heather (watsonridgeback) | 24 comments Having read a few books by Vonnegut although not recently I did enjoy reading him again. I read Galapagos about 10 years back and remember it being a interesting quick read so was up for reading it again.

SPOILER ALERT

I'm in agreement with others who feel that Vonnegut repeated things often, maybe too often in this book. Trying to make a point that we (the readers) would not be able to comprehend the content?

Kate & Becky- yes who are his reader? I said "we" in the sentence above but who is the narrator writing to?

Reading this book in two times in a 10 year period brings up how many things have changed.
Donna brings up the point of the Mananadax sounding a bit like todays iPad. The iPad didn't exist the first time I read this book. Now I looked at the Mananadax and how important it was to some of the characters very real.


message 7: by Brenda (new)

Brenda | 70 comments This was the first Vonnegut I have read and I found it be so confusing that at times I couldn't remember what I had just read. And I agree there was too much repetition which added to the confusion. I thought it was very slow going at the beginning, by the time I realized the narrator was a ghost the story was over - and I couldn't remember most of it.


message 8: by Diane S ☔ (new)

Diane S ☔ Back to the repeating comments I also had a hard time with this. Especially when he kept repeating one million years ago. Had a hard time wrapping my reading brain around this commentary of the future. I did find interesting that the same things in history were happening in this book, severe financial hardships, people losing homes and businesses and bank failures as well as countries going bankrupt.


message 9: by Becky (new)

Becky (divadog) It's funny that this book wasn't written that long ago - what a difference 25 years make!

Those of you who struggled, do you think you'd try another Vonnegut?


message 10: by Donna (new)

Donna (electrogirl68) | 116 comments Becky wrote: "It's funny that this book wasn't written that long ago - what a difference 25 years make!

Those of you who struggled, do you think you'd try another Vonnegut?"


I might try Slaughterhouse five, only because we already have it in the house.


message 11: by Kate (new)

Kate Z (kgordon3) | 144 comments I think you'll find Slaughterhouse Five quite similar in style to Galapagos.


message 12: by Molly (new)

Molly | 270 comments Is it possible that it has already been almost 3 years since Cecily and I read this together and had a very engaging private discussion?! I thought I had kept those e-mails in my archives here on Goodreads but it seems I purged them. All that was left was the final exchange where we discussed what the "message" of the whole book was:

Cecily said that it seemed to say that "most people are irrelevant; we can't know who the few important ones are, but they're probably not the ones we expect." I agreed and added that those few will keep humanity going, in spite of the rest of us.


message 13: by Cecily (new)

Cecily | 576 comments Molly wrote: "Is it possible that it has already been almost 3 years since Cecily and I read this together and had a very engaging private discussion?! I thought I had kept those e-mails in my archives here on Goodreads but it seems I purged them."

Molly: It's nearly 2 years, but I can still see our emails. I'll remove irrelevant bits and then send them to you to see if you're happy for me to post them here for others to comment and discuss.


message 14: by Cecily (new)

Cecily | 576 comments Donna wrote: "...he put an asterisk before the names of people who were going to die soon, and I found that each time I saw an asterisk it kind of interrupted the flow of my reading; no matter how many times one appeared I didn't get used to it..."
It is a strange thing to do, but I was fortunate to be able to tune it out so that it became a passing amusement, rather than an irritation.

Donna wrote: "...Manadarax, a small, highly intelligent handheld computer device, slightly reminiscent of today's iPad, considering this novel was written in 1985"
But Douglas Adams got there first, or at least earlier, with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in 1982!

Kate wrote: "...Who was the narrator speaking to?..."
I hadn't thought of that, but often people write for the sheer joy of writing or just for some vague idea of posterity.

Brenda wrote: "... I found it be so confusing that at times I couldn't remember what I had just read..."
I keep a bit of paper in the book I'm reading. I jot down pertinent quotes, ideas it prompts and a bit about events and characters that I may forget. (It also makes it much easier to write a review on Good Reads.)


message 15: by Shannon (new)

Shannon (sianin) | 453 comments Oh darn, I had written a big blurb last week and I see somehow it didn't get posted.

I enjoyed the book and found it interesting as Diane mentioned how many fo the same things are happening again now as 25 yrs ago: financial recession, food crisis, bank and currency failures etc.

I really had to struggle with the assertion that teh furry seal-liek creatures were human. I don't think that they are. I think what makes us human is in fact our big brains that has allwed at least one human to write Beethoven's 9th symphony, to have art, language dance. To have science, math and other things that to me are what make us human. The creatures that he suggests that we devolve into are no more human than we are homo habilis.

I also had difficulties with the fact that there were really very few compassionate or good people and I think that , although it helps the story along, it makes the book a little light on the character development.

I did not have a problem with the ghost writer and that he was just writing in air. Heck, its a million years +/- from now and perhaps as he writes all those folks at the end of tunnel are entertained by his observations. It really was irrelevant to me.

The repetition was too much for me too but overall I did enjoy the book and it took me back to the 80's and the concerns and culture of that era. (Keeping in mind that at about that time personal desktop computers let alone laptop computers were still not very prevalent so interesting technological journey)

I will try to remember what other thoughts I had previously written.


message 16: by Cecily (last edited Mar 08, 2011 11:52PM) (new)

Cecily | 576 comments Shannon wrote: I really had to struggle with the assertion that the furry seal-like creatures were human. I don't think that they are. ..."

I think we're meant to struggle with it. Vonnegut clearly doesn't think it's brain size or capacity that makes us human, but I think he leaves the reader to decide what “human” means.


message 17: by Jaylabelle (new)

Jaylabelle | 8 comments Hi there!
I finished it the other day and it left me a little cold. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I read it in Spanish and the translation was not good at all.

All in all, I found it weird. The story, as much as it's believable, I think it doesn't click. It talks about devolution, but then he says that humans still laugh when someone farts. How can you get rid of all of the "big brain" nuances (like your conscience or feelings) and still be able to find something funny?

I found the narrative not very appealing, with all that repetition and the going back and forth between past and present. And strangely, I also found that the quotes and poems interrupted the flow of the story.

Anyways, for me, quite a forgettable book.


message 18: by Cecily (new)

Cecily | 576 comments Jaylabelle wrote: "...How can you get rid of all of the "big brain" nuances (like your conscience or feelings) and still be able to find something funny?..."

Yes, the fart jokes are somewhat puerile and implausible, but any animal lover will tell you that animals have feelings. Big, highly evolved brains might be necessary to analyse feelings and distinguish between subtly different emotions, but not for lower level happiness, sadness, fear and even a degree of empathy.


message 19: by Judy (new)

Judy (patchworkcat) | 5760 comments This was the first time reading Vonnegut for me, too. I understood the repeating (it got annoying about half way through the book)as intended by Vonnegut. I saw the simplicity of speech, repetition, etc as used to reinforce the "devolving" that was going on in the book. It seemed to fit the narrator quite well.

I never thought I would like Vonnegut's writing, but decided to give it a try since it was this month's read.
Quoth Mandarax;

"Try it, you just might like it."
-My Mother
(1924-present)

And I do. I enjoyed most of his colorful, unorthodox style. His creativity was off the charts.
Quoth Mandarax:

"Creativity is a drug I can't live without."
-Cecile DeMille
(1881-1959)

I believe Vonnegut when he says,"I want to stay as close to the edge as possible without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center." I don't know that I want to be as close to the edge as he was, but it certainly is interesting to see what he saw as recorded in his books.


message 20: by Cecily (new)

Cecily | 576 comments Here's the two-person discussion that Molly and I had a couple of years ago and that she mentioned above:


Cecily said:
I'm about 1/4 of the way through - with such short chapters, it's easy to keep reading just a little bit more.

It's also surprisingly topical, with all the references to the false value of money etc, though their global financial crisis is going to have worse consequences than I hope ours is. However, accepting the idea that our big brains are a handicap is a bit more of a challenge, and goodness knows what any creationists would make of the book.

Galapagos, and its narrator, remind me a little of Oryx and Crake, though the chronology of this is more unusual: Vonnegut tells you so much about what will happen to everyone, why and how, that I don't know if there will be anything left by the time the main narrative catches up.

I don't know yet whether the fish/fishing theme has any more significance than has been apparent already.

I'm really enjoying it.
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Molly said:
Well I'm glad you are liking it.

I was very put off by his self-inflicted spoilers to his own story at first since I HATE spoilers of any sort. But there really isn't much you can do about it so after getting over the anxiety of it I came to realize that what he's doing is focusing more on the journey to the results rather than the results. We're always so focused on WHAT happened that we overlook the importance of HOW it happened.

If you think about it - what he is doing is giving us teasers bit by bit of the overall story and then slowly fills in the gaps to complete the puzzle.

It also made me laugh how he would just suddenly throw an asterisk up next to a character's name - uh-oh!
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Cecily said:
Yes, the asterisks are funny - I think that was the point at which I went more with the flow and minded less about the "spoilers".

The more he says things about the humans in 1 million years, the more I question to what extent they are "human" at all, and hence what makes any of us human.

All very thought provoking.
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Molly said:
You just gave me a flashback to my high school Humanities class where our only project was to submit a paper/play/video/performance defining what we felt "made us human." I was very unoriginal and decided to write a paper about Impressionism using Art as the distinguishing factor for humans. Vonnegut's humans in a million years did not create art - at least as far as I could tell. I think he subscribes to the "keep it simple, stupid" theory of living.
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Cecily said:
I hope the flashback made you feel young!
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Molly said:
It actually made me feel old when I realized that class was 21 years ago! Now I'm thinking what makes us human are our big brains.
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Cecily said:
Interesting. I haven't quite finished the book, but if the small-brained seal-type beings a million years hence are "human", Vonnegut clearly doesn't think our brains are the distinguishing feature (I don't yet know what, if anything, he says is). How come
he didn't persuade you?
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Molly said:
I think both large and small brained beings are human - but we haven't evolved into the smarter ones yet.
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Cecily said:
What a fascinating book - thanks for bringing it to my attention. I finished it last night and am still pondering.

I like your point that we have big brains but not smart ones.

Anyway, at the moment, the "what makes us human?" angle is the one that sticks with me.

Vonnegut clearly doesn't think its brain size or capacity (which is surely good, as otherwise, what would be the implication for those with learning difficulties and brain damage etc?).

However, the seal-like humans 1 million years hence are so different from what we consider ourselves to be that surely we should be calling ourselves apes, or even fish? Back to fish again!

The only similarity he mentions is their family groups, but that applies to other animals too, so doesn't seem very relevant.

And throughout the book, he keeps reminding us of the significance of random and apparently trivial events, whilst at the same time implying the apparent opposite: the inevitability of the outcome for humanity.

Is he actually trying to make a point (if so, what?) or just entertain us?

What do you reckon?
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Molly said:
"And throughout the book, he keeps reminding us of the significance of random and apparently trivial events, whilst at the same time implying the apparent opposite: the inevitability of the outcome for humanity.

Is he actually trying to make a point (if so, what?) or just entertain us?

What do you reckon?"

Well here's what I think about life in general. We each have a fated role that we are supposed to accomplish. But how we get it done is a crap shoot and although the end result is pre-destined, the method and length of time it takes to happen is subject to the variable that is our big brains - and whims.

For example, maybe my whole purpose was to introduce as many people as I could to the book Galapagos. And by stirring up interest and discussion in it, it would eventually get under the nose of one Cecily who would be motivated enough by it to research evolution theories and create something that would be imperative for a new and vital method of grouping species which would unlock the key to curing cancer.

That's my role in humankind. Get Cecily to read Galapagos. Only I don't have any idea that's what I'm supposed to do. Fate introduces me to the book way back in college and I think it is rip-roaring fun. And then I spend a lot of my time getting rip-roaring drunk, killing off a bunch of brain cells and forgetting entirely about the book. Oh sure, I recommend it to this one guy who's a little unique and likes wacko sci-fi/psychological/bizarre movies and tales and he really likes it. But I don't think it's all that mainstream and don't mention it to another soul. This is not the preferred path that Fate had in mind - but what can it do?

Then I spend a lot of years doing everything but reading. But I do get to know a lot of people - one of whom might even be able to introduce me to Cecily. Fate is trying to push me back in the right direction. Let down my guard, learn to be a happy soul always interested in meeting new people. I am even bitten by the traveling bug. However, I pick that point in time to get serious, find a real job and start saving money so that some day I can be a grown-up and do all those important things grown-ups are supposed to do. There's plenty of time for me to travel to Europe and visit the lovely countryside of southern England when I'm older and can appreciate it more.

Fate is getting frustrated with me but other than nudge me back in a certain direction - it is all in my hands. So I meet a great guy, wait patiently for a wedding and then we plan our honeymoon. Our one big chance for a European vacation with 2 weeks off and instead we decide to go to Hawaii and lay on the beach all day. What more can Fate do? Well, lying around on a beach all day gets pretty boring, even when you are in love, so I buy a whole bunch of books and start reading again. I am bitten by the reading bug big time and as the years go by I start re-reading all those dusty old paperbacks sitting back at my parents' house. Fate is pleased.

Then this guy named Otis creates this website for book addicts called Goodreads. I am bored at work one day and decide to try to find an online book club since all the real life ones around me are filled with gossiping moms who never talk about books. I don't have much success until my husband's sister sends me an Invite to join Goodreads. Bingo! Just what I wanted. I join the community and try out some different groups before settling on a select few based on the books they have been discussing.

This one group run by a nice English gal named Jenny has a theme for the month about a book set on an island. This makes a lightbulb go on above my head and reminds me that Galapagos is certainly about an island and I have been meaning to re-read it for a long time. So I nominate it, but it doesn't win.

This is when I would normally screw Fate over again and go about my merry way. But I decide to start reading Galapagos - group be damned. Then I realize that I can see who else voted for the book and invite them to read along with me on the side. Well guess who one of the other voter's was? None but Cecily!

So Cecily is intrigued and decides to read Galapagos. And she actually enjoys it and it gets her to thinking about the themes and ideas about evolution and the definition of humans in Vonnegut's future. She's very excited about it and wants to engage me in her thoughts. But for some reason I never even dwelled on the importance of what makes the furry fishing humans the same species as the present day big-brained humans. All I know is that I really liked the book - can't really put my finger on why - and that at this moment in time I felt a special need to read it again and share it with my new friend on Goodreads.

Fate is very pleased. And maybe Vonnegut is too.
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Cecily said:
Wow!

I think that deserves a better reply than I can give it right now (I have to go and unlock the key to curing cancer).
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Molly said:
No - you only need to come up with the proper method of categorizing species - someone else will use that to cure cancer ;0)

As for me - I guess I can coast through things from here on out!
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Cecily said:
Well Molly, you can only coast if you're sure that getting me to read Galapagos is you sole or final purpose in life. Ha ha. And if it is, and you know that, wouldn't that actually be rather depressing? Not that contributing to curing cancer wouldn't be wonderful, but once your task is done, what's left?

Personally, my philosophy, such as it is, is much vaguer. I'm a natural sceptic and can't believe in fate, destiny or predestination, and actually I'm not sure I'd want to. Wishy washy as it is, I like to feel my "big brain" is mostly in charge of my life (even if that's not true, in fact, especially if that's not true). That's one reason why I'd never let myself be hypnotised, have never done drugs and only drink in moderation. Oops - that's not meant to sound smug... paranoid (not sure which would be worse).

Anyway, it was a great book, and if Fate exists, he/she/it is welcome to be pleased. And if Vonnegut can see out of his blue tube, I hope he's pleased too.
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message 21: by Cecily (new)

Cecily | 576 comments +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Molly said:
Haha! Nice reference with the blue tube!

Seriously though - I was thinking more about the book and got to thinking - is it perhaps more a commentary on WHY humanity is what it is - rather than WHAT it is?

He spends a lot of time talking about war using a tour in Vietnam to illustrate his points. An eye for an eye - but look where it got us - that kind of thing.

And then, as you mention, he focuses on lots of little random events/people that all converge in one way or another but freely mentions that they have nothing more to add to the story - they are just there to move the plot along and give the major players someone to interact with I think.

So if all these people are going around and doing whatever insignificant things in their lives, what's the point? If they don't have any impact, why bother? Would it really affect the human race if Wait didn't exist for example? Why is he around? He's not providing anything good to advance the cause.

I got the sense that Vonnegut was trying to make a point about how at this rate, if we keep it up, we're going to have to adapt by going back (in evolutionary terms) to the basics. Survival is why we are here - to reproduce over and over. We have to get that part right first before we can go back to trying to improve upon things. At the end of his book you are right - the humans are no different than the animals they compete with for survival. They have given up all progress to work on the fundamentals of survival. Because some viral disease came into existence to stop procreation. As a punishment for all those big brains coming up with more and more ways to get around dying - except for war.

Lots of stuff to think about. I was especially tickled by the part where the narrator gets stuck with this little colony for a million years which became quite boring because he just had to find out what happened next.
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Cecily said:
Yes, you're right: back to basics. Vonnegut was probably more concerned with the WHY than the WHAT of humanity, but the WHAT niggled with me too.

It's funny, although I obviously noticed the mentions of Vietnam, they didn't seem that prominent to me, so perhaps I didn't imbue them with enough significance.

On the other hand, there is a clear message that most people are irrelevant; we can't know who the few important ones are, but they're probably not the ones we expect, and Trout admitted his prolonged observation was pointless - so is Vonnegut suggesting the book is pointless too? (Not that I would agree with that.)
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Molly said:
The Vietnam related passages stood out to me because they seemed to contrast so much with the rest of his style - there was some wit with them but it wasn't meant to be funny - more ironic. But when he would speak about the bomber pilots or the ship being obliterated by the bombs it was told in a more off the cuff way. So I think whatever he was saying through the Vietnam parts were his true feelings about things.

As to the book's message overall - maybe what you said is exactly it:
"most people are irrelevant; we can't know who the few important ones are, but they're probably not the ones we expect" And that those few will keep humanity going, in spite of the rest of us.
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Cecily said:
You're right about the Vietnam passages, though the subject is likely to strike more chords with Americans than Brits, which is perhaps another reason why you picked up on it more than I did.

Anyway, now I'm going to marshall my thoughts for a review...
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message 22: by Shannon (new)

Shannon (sianin) | 453 comments Thanks for posting your discussion between the two of you. Very intertaining and enlightening.


message 23: by Carly (new)

Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 121 comments So far I've gone to the 50 page rule - amused more than anything else. I suppose I'll get to a point where it's all that exciting - hope so.

It reads smoothly, I'll say that for it.


message 24: by Carly (last edited Apr 03, 2011 08:09AM) (new)

Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 121 comments BTW - that's the first time I've read a book that actually tells you who is going to die and how in the beginning of the story.

'Cept for Love Story - we know she's going to die on the first page. Still when she dies at the end, it grabs you by the throat.


message 25: by Carly (new)

Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 121 comments The story isn't holding me, so I'm sending it back to the library.

Like somebody said here, he repeats himself too much. The story doesn't seem to move off the introduction.


message 26: by Carly (new)

Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 121 comments I've put it down for 2k12 plans - same with the other Vonnegut story that I didn't finish.

Want to give them both another chance.


message 27: by Carly (new)

Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 121 comments I ordered up some CD audios on this guy - btw, here's a link to the thread I've made for my 2k12 bookie plans - this group's books are included ...

http://wildcity.proboards.com/index.c...


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