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Thread: The Book Discussion Thread

  1. #6451
    Too much responsibility Kurosawa Fan's Avatar
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    Quote Quoting Irish (view post)
    I'm not sure I'd characterize Huck as a "a powerless tagalong," but I do agree that Twain uses Tom Sawyer to wrench his story out of a tight narrative corner.

    He does this because, without Tom, Twain would have to violate Huck's character in order to free Jim.



    An understanding that this novel is in the European tradition of picaresques like Gargantua and Pantagruel, Candide, and Gulliver's Travels. All of them were political books that used outsized, ridiculous characters and events to make a point.

    Same with Finn. The ending of the book is like the finale to a fireworks show. And amid all the insanity, Twain underlines his themes a couple of times to boot.

    I responded as your original posts on this seemed to throw the baby out with the bath water.
    You and I are not going to see eye to eye on this. There is most certainly a paralysis of emotional development in Huck as soon as Tom arrives, and it follows through right to the end of the narrative, with perhaps the only exception being his decision to strike out for the west. If the narrative arrived at a "tight narrative corner," that is Twain's doing and he should not be excused for it. I also don't think the only solution was to bring back Tom.

    I lack no context of the picaresque novel. My degree was in literature, and I have a vast amount of experience with the genre, having read Candide, Gulliver's Travels, Don Quixote, Joseph Andrews, Kim, Evelina, etc., all of which qualify to varying degrees. First, Huck Finn isn't a strict picaresque novel. It shares common threads, but also strays from the genre in many ways. Second, it is not a staple of the picaresque novel to derail a character arc, something I cannot be dissuaded that Twain does with Huck when Tom arrives. You can have no character arc, and that occurs in many early examples, but again, Huck most certainly is evolving as a character throughout the journey. What comes before Tom is a beautiful, complex bildungsroman that is at turns thoughtful, funny and elegiac. What comes after Tom's arrival is a reversion, if slightly more mature, to the more simple madcap adventures of Tom's own novel, in which Huck goes from evolving, intelligent leader to stunted, intimidated, passive spectator.

  2. #6452
    Moderator Dead & Messed Up's Avatar
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    KF's almost exactly where I'm at, Irish, so I don't feel the need to spar with you on that matter.

    I will say that - in case this was unclear - the last few chapters by no means ruin the joy, cleverness, etc. of what came before. They frustrated me, but certainly not to the point where I thought the book was poor or sub-par as a whole. It's Huck Finn. It's marvelous 90% of the time. I feel the same way about The Stand, and that's one of my favorite books ever.

  3. #6453
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    Quote Quoting Kurosawa Fan (view post)
    You and I are not going to see eye to eye on this.
    I wasn't expecting as much.

    I'd really argue that Finn is more picaresque than anything else. Because its protagonist doesn't change all that much. Because the way the book is structured. Because of the episodic nature of the chapters.

    It's not a Bildungsroman because, even though the character is young and exhibits some small change, he doesn't mature into a "civilized" adult. His arc isn't big enough. Twain makes a point at the end that Huck continues to reject the society in which his hero lives. That's why Huck says he's going to set out for Indian country. It's a rather stinging indictment from both character and author.

    Narratively, given story of the initial chapters, the novel has to end with consequence. In other words, the society that Huck and Jim flee from must impose itself on them again, and be defeated, for the book to have any resolution. Because of Huck's interior struggle -- between his heart and social norms -- he can't be the one to break Jim out of captivity. He's just not that guy. That's why Twain uses Tom, a character who is all id, no conscience. The rest of it, it seems to me, is a play toward a wild, out of control entertainment which is very much in keeping with the time this book was written.

    Your read on Finn operates almost purely on the surface level. I don't think much of a read that takes a political book and tosses the politics aside, one that excises the larger literary context, or one that ignores the beauty of the language.

    PS: Thanks for presenting your official credentials? Good times. I'm glad we got that established at least. :P

  4. #6454
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    Quote Quoting Dead & Messed Up (view post)
    I feel the same way about The Stand, and that's one of my favorite books ever.
    Much respect, Dead, but I strikes me that you're looking at these works though a single lens. I think that's a mistake.

  5. #6455
    Moderator Dead & Messed Up's Avatar
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    Quote Quoting Irish (view post)
    Because of Huck's interior struggle -- between his heart and social norms -- he can't be the one to break Jim out of captivity. He's just not that guy.
    That's what I thought the entire book was building towards. Huck originally leaves with Jim as a lark, he saves Jim with his lie about pox, he's actively defending Jim during the Duke and King shenanigans, he takes this further by confiding in Mary Jane about her slaves' survival, and then he determines to himself that he'll break Jim out captivity, which is the source of the famous line: "All right then, I'll be damned to hell!" He's not that guy? Bro, he is exactly that guy.

  6. #6456
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    Quote Quoting Dead & Messed Up (view post)
    That's what I thought the entire book was building towards. Huck originally leaves with Jim as a lark, he saves Jim with his lie about pox, he's actively defending Jim during the Duke and King shenanigans, he takes this further by confiding in Mary Jane about her slaves' survival, and then he determines to himself that he'll break Jim out captivity, which is the source of the famous line: "All right then, I'll be damned to hell!" He's not that guy? Bro, he is exactly that guy.
    Yeah, see, I don't know if he is. I think he wants to be that guy -- hence that line. He's trying to build up courage. But his use of "damned to hell" reflects a serious internal conflict. I don't know if he could go through with it, in the end.

    Huck still lives very much in the world. He'll abide by the rules because that is what he's been taught to do. There a quiet, reflective, gentle aspect to this character. If Huck were ever truly down and out, and hungry, I think he'd be the guy who would want to steal a loaf of bread, but he'd hesitate. And then think on it a bit.

    Tom, on the other hand, doesn't give a shit. He lives consciously outside the world. He'd steal bread for fun, even if he wasn't hungry.

  7. #6457
    Too much responsibility Kurosawa Fan's Avatar
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    Irish, let's just recap for a second. First, you entered a conversation between DaMU and I in which we were discussing the narrative of Huck Finn. We weren't discussing it on any other level. Narratively, I said it has some failings in the final third. DaMU finished his read and agreed. You then popped in and criticized our opinions by stating that to look at the narrative alone was a mistake. At no point did DaMU or I say that we only cared or were concerned with the narrative. At no point did we say that narrative alone could or would make or break a novel. At no point did either of us maintain that the book wasn't worthy of its reputation or deserve further analysis because we felt Twain made errors with the final third of the novel. We were simply discussing the narrative and our problems with it. You said that the language was the beauty of Huck Finn, that it was like an epic poem set in coarse language. This was never disputed. I maintained that nothing in the language would be lost had Twain not forced Tom Sawyer back into the narrative and reduced Huck to a tagalong.

    Now, you disagree with us that the narrative has flaws. You suggested that what we saw as flaws were not flaws, but necessary outcomes for Twain to keep his level of consistency with Huck. You said that I failed to understand the novel in proper context and accused me of seeing it through 21st century eyes only. I asked you for context, and you provided picaresque as the proper genre I needed to familiarize myself with. Again, this discussion is purely about the narrative, since you said my misunderstanding of the perceived narrative flaws was lack of context.

    I dropped my credentials, a self-serving gesture in response to your condescending false assumption that I would be unfamiliar with the picaresque genre. I explained that I was very familiar with the genre, having read many picaresque novels and having studied it during my degree. I conceded that Huck Finn was picaresque, though maintained that it strayed from the genre in many distinct ways, but also pointed out that the collapse of a character arc is not a staple of the picaresque, only a complete lack of arc, something that can't be found in Huck Finn, since his character evolves in significant ways prior to Tom's appearance at the end (it also lacks first person narration and has a very distinct plot rather than being purely episodic, making it an example of a more modern picaresque, in which a lack of character arc is often abandoned). I said that the first two-thirds is a bildungsroman, which again is interrupted by Tom's appearance. Again, we are still only talking about the narrative.

    You then tell me you think it's picaresque, something I already conceded. You tell me it's not a bildungsroman, and cite the same interruption in Huck's progression that I consider a flaw, and the one I already admitted interfered with the bildungsroman story. So again, we are in agreement (about genre, not about narrative flaw). You then talk about the consequences that must be imposed by book's end (no one in their right mind would argue against this), argue that Huck isn't the person to break Jim out of captivity (something DaMU did an excellent job of refuting with plot-provided evidence), and again maintain that Tom's reappearance is necessary to conclude the novel, something I've disagreed with from the start, and something to which you haven't been able to justify outside of the novel being picaresque and needing a character to have no arc (again, something I disagree with; Kim stands as a great example of a picaresque novel in which the character undergoes a transformation at the end).

    You then call my reading of the novel shallow, dismissing my opinion entirely by again making the false assumption that when considering Huck Finn, I disregard history and politics and purely focus on the narrative from a 21st century perspective. That is categorically untrue, though you wouldn't know that since you didn't bother to ask my opinion about anything else before beginning your professorial lecture. You just jumped into a conversation about the narrative, asserted that DaMU and I are reading it wrong, told me even if we did read it that way we are incorrect to call the narrative flawed, provided no evidence to justify that claim beyond our failed understanding of a genre, and hurled vague insults and condescension along the way. All of this, and DaMU and I have both claimed that we hold the book in fairly high regard (something we wouldn't do if we were only focusing on a narrative we find frustrating and somewhat misguided over the final third of the novel).

    I guess at this point I'm not sure where the conversation should bother to go, or why I would ever want to continue. You converse as though there's someone on the sideline keeping score, and the win is all that matters. Just as you find little value in my opinion of Huck Finn's narrative, I find little value in that style of conversing. You project opinions onto me that I don't hold (that the narrative is all that matters; that I read only from a 21st century perspective and don't have a firm grasp on the context of genre, that I toss politics aside, that I ignore literary context) in the name of arguing against them. I'm of the opinion that, while literary context, political atmosphere, historical influence and perspective, and mastery of prose all have a place in analysis and all bring value to a work, it is possible to critique each facet individually. In our discussion, DaMU and I were doing just that with the narrative. That doesn't mean we don't consider or value those other facets, and your assertion that I don't is insulting and baseless. Unless you would like to provide more evidence as to why Huck was incapable of saving Jim himself like DaMU did two posts above arguing the contrary (at this point, you've sort of proved DaMU's point about Huck being exactly that man by building courage, only where you see him still building courage and project failure, DaMU and I see courage finally found and action taking place), or actually take the conversation in another direction rather than just assume that I don't and shrug me off as a shallow reader, this is a dead end discussion.

  8. #6458
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    Quote Quoting Kurosawa Fan (view post)
    Irish, let's just recap for a second.
    Wow. Feeling a little defensive about that English degree, are we? Look at the bright side, KF. At least now you can tell people you've gotten some use out of it.

    --

    You don't get to call anyone professorial after making such an awkward appeal to authority, and your own authority at that.

    --

    I wasn't being condescending. You're reading into something that isn't there. I say this because when I'm being condescending I'm usually doing it on purpose, with the intention of causing harm. You might be able to tell that I am struggling not to fall into that mode right now.

    --

    You'll have to forgive me for assuming that you didn't know what a picaresque novel is. Most people don't. It's not exactly something that comes up in casual conversation. With theory and jargon, I learned long ago it's best to assume someone does not have the same point of reference as I do.

    --

    First, Huck Finn isn't a strict picaresque novel. It shares common threads, but also strays from the genre in many ways. Second, it is not a staple of the picaresque novel to derail a character arc, something I cannot be dissuaded that Twain does with Huck when Tom arrives. You can have no character arc, and that occurs in many early examples, but again, Huck most certainly is evolving as a character throughout the journey. What comes before Tom is a beautiful, complex bildungsroman ...
    You're raising three or four points there, and all of them are arguing against the idea that Finn is a picaresque novel in toto or in part. I don't think I am misreading.

    So this, then, doesn't follow at all:

    You then tell me you think it's picaresque, something I already conceded.
    You didn't concede anything. In fact, you took pains to argue against the point.

    --

    You're right that I jumped to the conclusion that you were primarily concerned with narrative. I did this because neither you nor Dead discussed any other aspect of the novel. At all. Even after multiple opportunities to do so. Even before I leapt into the conversation. And again afterwords. Not one word.

    You can argue this was a hasty conclusion, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree. But by the same token, what other conclusion was I supposed to draw?

    --

    I'm of the opinion that, while literary context, political atmosphere, historical influence and perspective, and mastery of prose all have a place in analysis and all bring value to a work, it is possible to critique each facet individually.
    Yeah. This is the take that I think is deeply flawed. As I said. It invites modern bias and is extremely limited to the point of being meaningless.

    --

    Unless you would like to provide more evidence as to why Huck was incapable of saving Jim himself like DaMU did two posts above arguing the contrary (at this point, you've sort of proved DaMU's point ...
    Oh, dude. Seriously? Why would I even bother?

  9. #6459
    Too much responsibility Kurosawa Fan's Avatar
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    Quote Quoting Irish (view post)
    Wow. Feeling a little defensive about that English degree, are we? Look at the bright side, KF. At least now you can tell people you've gotten some use out of it.

    --

    You don't get to call anyone professorial after making such an awkward appeal to authority, and your own authority at that.

    --

    I wasn't being condescending. You're reading into something that isn't there. I say this because when I'm being condescending I'm usually doing it on purpose, with the intention of causing harm. You might be able to tell that I am struggling not to fall into that mode right now.
    A) I'm not the slightest bit defensive about my degree. I LOVED my degree. That comment came from the frustration of conversing with you, B) I am not attempting to be authoritative, but rather to point out the ridiculousness of your challenges from the start, and C) if you can't see how condescending you are even before you decide to get snarky, I can't really help you there.

    You'll have to forgive me for assuming that you didn't know what a picaresque novel is. Most people don't. It's not exactly something that comes up in casual conversation. With theory and jargon, I learned long ago it's best to assume someone does not have the same point of reference as I do.
    You know what works great? A simple comment like, "Are you familiar with the picaresque genre?" Fascinating concept to simply engage another individual in what they know and don't know rather than treat someone right off the bat like they don't understand things in the context that you do. You really can't see how that comes off as condescending? Telling someone they are reading something incorrectly off the back of two throwaway comments? I mean, DaMU and I had one quick back and forth, in which I literally made this single comment about the narrative:

    "Agree completely with all of your assessments. I'd add that I didn't care for Jim's transition into helpless wallflower either. Still liked the book, but boy was I disappointed with that final third. Sorry I was right. Just know that I wish I wasn't."

    On the back of that, you decided to tell me I didn't understand the context in which it was written and that DaMU, myself, and Hemmingway were all reading it wrong.

    You're raising three or four points there, and all of them are arguing against the idea that Finn is a picaresque novel in toto or in part. I don't think I am misreading.

    So this, then, doesn't follow at all:



    You didn't concede anything. In fact, you took pains to argue against the point.
    Nope. I raised a single point there with multiple examples of said point. Huck Finn is not strictly a picaresque novel. It has elements of the picaresque as well as elements of the bildungsroman. This argues against the point, made by you, that Huck can't break Jim free because that would go against one of the staples of the picaresque (unless this wasn't why you brought up picaresque as a way for me to understand the context of the narrative, in which case I don't know why you brought it up). Since Twain already took liberties with the genre (not first person, certainly containing episodes but faaaaaaaar from episodic), he could have continued to do so when it came to Huck's character arc, a character arc he clearly starts, but then cuts off abruptly with the emergence of Tom.

    You're right that I jumped to the conclusion that you were primarily concerned with narrative. I did this because neither you nor Dead discussed any other aspect of the novel. At all. Even after multiple opportunities to do so. Even before I leapt into the conversation. And again afterwords. Not one word.

    You can argue this was a hasty conclusion, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree. But by the same token, what other conclusion was I supposed to draw?
    Again, we had one back and forth before you chimed in. I literally made one post about the novel. Multiple opportunities to do so? Were you part of this conversation, or are there two of you typing and the current you is just catching up? After you chimed in to let me know I was doing it wrong, I asked you what context you thought I was missing. When you told me, I addressed the single point you brought up, picaresque, because as I said, Twain's language isn't affected by completing Huck's arc. You criticized my reading of the novel, I addressed the single specific criticism you gave me. How did I squander multiple opportunities to talk about things other than the narrative? Why would I when your criticism stemmed from my single comment about the narrative?

    Yeah. This is the take that I think is deeply flawed. As I said. It invites modern bias and is extremely limited to the point of being meaningless.
    Yet you engage in that same level of analysis right here:

    "Yeah, see, I don't know if he is. I think he wants to be that guy -- hence that line. He's trying to build up courage. But his use of "damned to hell" reflects a serious internal conflict. I don't know if he could go through with it, in the end.

    Huck still lives very much in the world. He'll abide by the rules because that is what he's been taught to do. There a quiet, reflective, gentle aspect to this character. If Huck were ever truly down and out, and hungry, I think he'd be the guy who would want to steal a loaf of bread, but he'd hesitate. And then think on it a bit.

    Tom, on the other hand, doesn't give a shit. He lives consciously outside the world. He'd steal bread for fun, even if he wasn't hungry.
    "

    How is my comment about Huck's arc any different than your comment here? I see no context beyond what is written on the page in this analysis. Well, I see you projecting beyond what is on the page by predicting Huck's failure in regards to conquering his inner struggles and saving Jim. You are analyzing Huck's character as written by Twain. That's fine. That's normal. It isn't limiting unless you refuse to bring greater context to the table, something I never did, and in fact invited you to do to add to the discussion.

    Oh, dude. Seriously? Why would I even bother?
    Again, more condescension and snark. In fairness, I deserve it, considering the snide nature of my post. Hard not to cop an attitude when someone tells you there's little value in your assessment of a novel based on a few quick internet posts. But you argue that Huck would fail based on your own projections, not necessarily what's on the page. What's on the page is Huck gradually building confidence and shedding the resistance brought on by his own inner-struggle. That's what we've watched him do for the better half of the novel, which culminates in him recognizing which side of his moral dilemma to land on, choose to sacrifice himself and the salvation of his soul, and go break Jim out of captivity. It's a stirring moment that is then quickly undermined by Tom Sawyer's arrival. You say that's in the name of Twain toying with and then staying true to the picaresque. I'm saying that was a mistake, considering Twain had deviated from the picaresque throughout the novel. Strict adherence to it at this point at the expense of Huck's growth was a massive disappointment.

    But this speaks to the greater issue between you and I as far as I'm concerned. You like to argue. You like to be combative. You like to lecture. Your mind often seems completely made up going into a discussion (or at least your language suggests as much), not just here but in many conversations (I'd point to the Roald Dahl/Wes Anderson discussion as another recent example where I just decided to walk away rather than be told over and over again, "You're wrong" when the question posed is so subjective and abstract). You don't really like to converse as a way of seeing another side to a topic. You like to tell people why they're wrong. Your history in your brief time on the site would prove this. This isn't a criticism of you. Plenty of people use the internet for this purpose. In fact, most people do. I'm just not one of them and would rather not engage in a discussion like that.

  10. #6460
    Super Moderator dreamdead's Avatar
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    Meantime, I must say that I've enjoyed this discussion, which did make me rethink some of my assumptions about the text. Haven't read Twain's novel since 2002, so I can't join the conversion much, but my reaction is close to Jane Smiley's. She's reductive to a point, but I think it mirrors some of what's been stated here already.
    The Boat People - 9
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  11. #6461
    I'm in the milk... Mara's Avatar
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    Quote Quoting dreamdead (view post)
    Technically, it's still valuable information, fleshing out many of the side-aspects that remained from the series, but Atwood isn't as invested in propelling us forward this time. That's unfortunate, in that the first two books are anywhere from solid to wonderful, but this one doesn't have the same fleetness.
    I agree with this observation, even though I think I liked the book more than you did. I felt like the first book focused on the men, the second book focused on the women, and the third book found an integration between the two that worked for me. (And I loved having more time to get to know the Crakers.)

    But several times during the book, I found myself thinking, Wow, she really does not care about this apocalypse at all. It's just a story of people.
    ...and the milk's in me.

  12. #6462
    A Platypus Grouchy's Avatar
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  13. #6463
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    Quote Quoting Kurosawa Fan (view post)
    I am not attempting to be authoritative, but rather to point out the ridiculousness of your challenges from the start.
    :lol: Right.

    You have been far more aggressive and obnoxious than I have been. I haven't claimed authority, or called you names, or cast aspersions on your character.

    When I asked "Why would I even bother?" I was asking you why, in God's name, would you actually think I'd want to continue this discussion? You got defensive from the start, lept to you own spurious conclusions about my motives, and at this point you're much more interested in calling me an asshole than talking about the book.

    It's not very interesting or constructive for either of us. So, really: Just stop.

  14. #6464
    Moderator TGM's Avatar
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    So hey, for those interested, the e-book version of my novel, Velcro: The Ninja Kat, is available for free this week on Amazon. Check it out. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009304EAU

  15. #6465
    Too much responsibility Kurosawa Fan's Avatar
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    Nice! I already own a physical copy, but I'll grab the e-book for my son's Kindle.

  16. #6466
    Moderator TGM's Avatar
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    Quote Quoting Kurosawa Fan (view post)
    Nice! I already own a physical copy, but I'll grab the e-book for my son's Kindle.
    Oh cool! And that's right, I do recall you winning a copy about a year ago. I don't suppose you've given it a read yet?

  17. #6467
    Too much responsibility Kurosawa Fan's Avatar
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    I have not, unfortunately. I won it during my busiest semester and didn't get around to reading it. I'll remedy that before the end of the year.

  18. #6468
    I'm in the milk... Mara's Avatar
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    Attn: you do not need a Kindle to be able to read it.

    Everyone except me probably knew that, but...
    ...and the milk's in me.

  19. #6469
    Moderator Dead & Messed Up's Avatar
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    Quote Quoting Dead & Messed Up (view post)
    Now. On to Kafka's The Trial. First Kafka, so excite.
    After the first half of the audio CD was devoted to discussing translation challenges, I figured this might be better off read than heard.

    Switched to Robopocalypse. Fun switch-up after my last two audio CD's were Huck Finn and Wuthering Heights.

  20. #6470
    Super Moderator dreamdead's Avatar
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    Read Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition. I love how thoroughly his writing anticipates postmodern theory, so that it reads remarkably prescient in its thematic coverage here, but this one just isn't nearly as engrossing or powerfully constructed as High Rise. A fair amount of the deconstruction about femininity, pornography, and consumer consumption was where the book succeeded the most. Still have a few other Ballard's that I intend to get to, but this one didn't resonate quite as strongly.

    Next up is Wharton's The Custom of the Country...
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  21. #6471
    What is best in life? D_Davis's Avatar
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    The Atrocity Exhibition is a book I return to every few years, and each time I appreciate it more. I would love an e-version with hyperlinks. Sometimes I'll pick it up just to read a random section.

  22. #6472
    Producer Lucky's Avatar
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    Speaking of books...the current page of this thread is a novel in itself. Posting to get to the next page sooner.

  23. #6473
    Moderator Dead & Messed Up's Avatar
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    I made a "map" of Lovecraft's universe, similar to the one I made for Stephen King's universe earlier this year, and I think it's pretty damn cool.


  24. #6474
    What is best in life? D_Davis's Avatar
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    That's great!

    Now start with all of the authors in the Lovecraft circle. LOL.

  25. #6475
    Moderator Dead & Messed Up's Avatar
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    Quote Quoting D_Davis (view post)
    That's great!

    Now start with all of the authors in the Lovecraft circle. LOL.
    Don't even joke, man. Don't even joke.

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