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The Best American Short Stories of the Century

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Overview

John Updike has selected enduring stories from the eighty-four annual volumes of THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, and the result is "a spectacular tapestry of fictional achievement" (Entertainment Weekly). Available for the first time on compact disc, this extraordinary collection features a wide variety of contemporary writers reading classics of the genre, along with authors reading from their own work. Containing twenty-two unabridged stories in all, the expanded audio edition includes a new story from THE ...

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Overview

John Updike has selected enduring stories from the eighty-four annual volumes of THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, and the result is "a spectacular tapestry of fictional achievement" (Entertainment Weekly). Available for the first time on compact disc, this extraordinary collection features a wide variety of contemporary writers reading classics of the genre, along with authors reading from their own work. Containing twenty-two unabridged stories in all, the expanded audio edition includes a new story from THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 1999 to round out the century.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike, features 55 excellent short stories by William Faulkner, Willa Cather, Eudora Welty, and many more great authors. John Updike, George Plimpton, and Lorrie Moore are among the readers who lend their talents to this wonderful audio collection.
From the Publisher

“America and the twentieth century — at its best.”

The Wall Street Journal

Chicago Tribune
Revelatory.
Boston Globe
Extraordinary...A one-volume literary history of this country's immeasurable pains and near-infinite hopes.
Wall Street Journal
Splendid...[these stories] surely represent the short story — not to mention America and the 20th century — at its best.
Michael Gorra
Finding wonderful stories that you don't already know is one of this collection's great pleasures....But much of the book's interest lies in seeing how little has changed since the series began in 1915....Short stories speak to those aspects of experience in which ...loneliness seems most acutely felt...
The New York Times Book Review
Deirdre Donahue
Absolutes are always a dangerous territory. But the deft John Updike and co-editor Katrina Kenison have managed to assemble a provocative collection that offers readers enough offbeat selections so that the collection doesn't bore....Do not skip Kenison's foreword or Updike's excellent introduction to the 55 stories....If you like brief, intense encounters with other lives, this is a wonderful companion for your fin de si&#232cle bedside table.
USA Today
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Updike narrowed down his collection of short stories from 55 to 21 to present this rich, warm voicing of some of the best writing of the 20th century. Whenever possible, it seems, Updike has enlisted living writers to read their own works. It's a pleasure to hear Updike soothe his way through his own "Gesturing" and Gish Jen whir her "Birthmates." Others contributor/readers include Thom Jones, Cynthia Ozick, Lorrie Moore and Tim O'Brien. For writers such as Dorothy Parker, Robert Penn Warren and Raymond Carver, Updike has cleverly paired appropriate readers. He lends his own voice to Sherwood Anderson's "The Other Woman," George Plimpton deftly breathes F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Crazy Sunday" and Jill McCorckle's sharp twang lends a wry rhythm to Eudora Welty's "The Hitchhikers." Each story, sometimes snug with a second, fits neatly on one side of a cassette. Brief interludes of music, when the readers introduce themselves, the stories and the places of original publication, thankfully fade away, leaving the listener with crisp, fresh recordings of these excellent tales. Based on the Houghton Mifflin paperback. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
The only author to be included in Best American Short Stories in every decade since the 1950s, John Updike was chosen to select those stories best representing the American century since the series inception in 1915. Being limited to those originally chosen for the annual volumes, Updike admits that past editors may have overlooked some gems. But he makes a valiant effort to include all the masters of the form, from Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald, through Cheever, OConnor, and Malamud, to Carver and Munro. Though one might question whether an individual choice is really one of the best of the century, as a whole the collection presents a microcosm of 20th-century American life: the immigrant experience (many of the early stories), the Roaring Twenties (Fitzgerald), World War II (Roth) and the Holocaust (Malamud and Ozick), 1950s suburban values (Cheever) and their rejection by 1960s youth culture (Oates), Vietnam (OBrien), and AIDS (Sontag and Dark). Many of the stories are famous and easily found elsewhere, but there are some rare surprises like a semi-autobiographical piece by Tennessee Williams. Recommended for most public libraries, and for those academic libraries that no longer hold all the annual volumes. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/98.]Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Idaho Lib., Moscow
Boston Globe
A treasure—a one-volume literary history of this country's immeasurable pains and near-infinite hopes.
Entertainment Weekly
...a thrillingly energized argument for the enduring vitality of big ideas in small packages.
The Wall Street Journal
The short story - not to mention America and the twentieth century - at its best. --
Sauter
...you've got to admire the comprehensiveness of this compilation...Thanks to Updike these almost-buried treasures are reaching a brand new audience. One can argue that preserving their author's voices for posterity is this anthology's most valuable acheivement.

Biography

Andre Bernard
This is a terrific collection that ought to be read by anyont interested in good writing or curious about the 20th century American social scene. The inevitable moments of tedium—not all of the stories are brilliant, not all of the writers memorable, and certainly the book should be taken in small sips, not in large gulps—are far outweighed by the accumulated treasures Mr. Updike has assembled. And its greatest gift is to send us scurrying to the shelves for larger ccollections by the individual writers found here.
New York Observer
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618093205
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Series: Best American Short Stories Series
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Edition number: 123
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 5.09 (w) x 5.89 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Meet the Author

George Plimpton is the author of many books including Paper Lion. Founder and editor of the Paris Review, he is New York City's Honorary Commissioner of Fireworks.

Biography

With an uncommonly varied oeuvre that includes poetry, criticism, essays, short stories, and novels, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner John Updike helped to change the face of late-20th-century American literature.

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Updike graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1954. Following a year of study in England, he joined the staff of The New Yorker, establishing a relationship with the magazine that continued until his death in January, 2009. For more than 50 years, he lived in two small towns in Massachusetts that inspired the settings for several of his stories.

In 1958, Updike's first collection of poetry was published. A year later, he made his fiction debut with The Poorhouse Fair. But it was his second novel, 1960's Rabbit, Run, that forged his reputation and introduced one of the most memorable characters in American fiction. Former small-town basketball star Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom struck a responsive chord with readers and critics alike and catapulted Updike into the literary stratosphere.

Updike would revisit Angstrom in 1971, 1981, and 1990, chronicling his hapless protagonist's jittery journey into undistinguished middle age in three melancholy bestsellers: Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich, and Rabbit at Rest. A concluding novella, "Rabbit Remembered," appeared in the 2001 story collection Licks of Love.

Although autobiographical elements appear in the Rabbit books, Updike's true literary alter ego was not Harry Angstrom but Harry Bech, a famously unproductive Jewish-American writer who starred in his own story cycle. In between -- indeed, far beyond -- his successful series, Updike went on to produce an astonishingly diverse string of novels. In addition, his criticism and short fiction became popular staples of distinguished literary publications.

Good To Know

Updike first became entranced by reading when he was a young boy growing up on an isolated farm in Pennsylvania. Afflicted with psoriasis and a stammer, he escaped his self-consciousness by immersing himself in drawing, writing, and reading.

An accomplished artist, Updike accepted a one-year fellowship to study painting at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Arts at Oxford University. He decided to attend Harvard University because he was a big fan of the school's humor magazine, The Harvard Lampoon.

One of the most respected authors of the 20th century, Updike won every major literary prize in America, including the Guggenheim Fellow, the Rosenthal Award, the National Book Award in Fiction, the O. Henry Prize, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Union League Club Abraham Lincoln Award, the National Arts Club Medal of Honor, and the National Medal of the Arts.

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    1. Also Known As:
      John Hoyer Updike (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 18, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Shillington, Pennsylvania
    1. Date of Death:
      January 27, 2009
    2. Place of Death:
      Beverly Farms, MA

Table of Contents


Foreword Introduction By John Updike

Zelig By Benjamin Rosenblatt

Little Selves By Mary Lerner

A Jury of Her Peers By Susan Glaspell

The Other Woman By Sherwood Anderson

The Golden Honeymoon By Ring Lardner

Blood-Burning Moon By Jean Toomer

The Killers By Ernest Hemingway

Double Birthday By Willa Cather

Wild Plums By Grace Stone Coates

Theft By Katherine Anne Porter

That Evening Sun Go Down By William Faulkner

Here We Are By Dorothy Parker

Crazy Sunday By F. Scott Fitzgerald

My Dead Brother Comes to America By Alexander Godin

Resurrection of a Life By William Saroyan

Christmas Gift By Robert Penn Warren

Bright and Morning Star By Richard Wright

The Hitch-Hikers By Eudora Welty

The Peach Stone By Paul Horgan

"That in Aleppo Once ..." By Vladimir Nabokov

The Interior Castle By Jean Stafford

Miami - New York By Martha Gellhorn

The Second Tree from the Corner By E. B. White

The Farmer's Children By Elizabeth Bishop

Death of a Favorite By J. F. Powers

The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin By Tennessee Williams

The Country Husband By John Cheever

Greenleaf By Flannery O'Connor

The Ledge By Lawrence Sargent Hall

Defender of the Faith By Philip Roth

Criers and Kibitzers, Kibitzers and Criers By Stanley Elkin

The German Refugee By Bernard Malamud

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? By Joyce Carol Oates

The Rotifer By Mary Ladd Gavell

Gold Coast By James Alan McPherson

The Key By Isaac Bashevis Singer

A City of Churches By Donald Barthelme

How to Win By Rosellen Brown

Roses, Rhododendron By Alice Adams

Verona: A Young Woman Speaks By Harold Brodkey

A Silver Dish By Saul Bellow

Gesturing By John Updike

The Shawl By Cynthia Ozick

Where I'm Calling From By Raymond Carver

Janus By Ann Beattie

The Way We Live Now By Susan Sontag

The Things They Carried By Tim O'Brien

Meneseteung By Alice Munro

You're Ugly, Too By Lorrie Moore

I Want to Live! By Thom Jones

In the Gloaming By Alice Elliott Dark

Proper Library By Carolyn Ferrell

Birthmates By Gish Jen

Soon By Pam Durban

The Half-Skinned Steer By Annie Proulx

Biographical Notes

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Introduction

"I tried to select stories because they struck me as lively, beautiful, believable, and, in the human news they brought, important."
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Interviews & Essays

On Thursday, April 1st, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Katrina Kenison to discuss THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES OF THE CENTURY.


Moderator: Welcome, Katrina Kenison! Thank you for taking the time to join us online tonight to chat about THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES OF THE CENTURY. How are you doing this evening?

Katrina Kenison: Oh, I'm fine. It's a pleasure to be here!


Marina from NYC: There must have been tremendous pressure to choose the right guest editor for this volume. How was John Updike selected to be the editor? Who else were you considering, if he were to say no?

Katrina Kenison: Well, the fact is, we didn't consider anybody else. He was the obvious choice, because he was the only living writer whose stories had appeared in Best American Short Stories in every consecutive decade since the '50s. No one else could make that claim, although Joyce Carol Oates comes close. Also, I looked at Updike as being a critic as much as he is a short story writer. And we very much wanted that generosity of spirit toward other writers to flavor this collection. So, fortunately, he said yes!


John from New Berlin, NY: Were there any stories that were overlooked in past volumes of Best American Short Stories that you would have wished to include? Perhaps stories that didn't get their due until later years?

Katrina Kenison: Well, the most obvious story to me was Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," which I was sure I would find in the 1958 volume. And not only was it not there, but it wasn't even listed as a notable story of the year. Others would be "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," John Steinbeck's "The Red Pony." There were no stories by Mary McCarthy, no stories by John O'Hara. So, those were the most notable omissions.


Pauline from Minnesota: With the turning of the century, there have been a lot of "the best" lists going around. What were your criteria for determining which stories were the best of the best?

Katrina Kenison: Well, obviously the first criterion [was] that the stories had to have appeared in a volume of Best American Short Stories. Beyond that, I looked for stories that both represented the time in which they were written, and had withstood the test of time.


Celia from Florida: Do you think the stories included in the 1990s chapter would have made it into a Best American volume published in the teens? Or vice versa?

Katrina Kenison: I think that a reader in 1915 would have looked at the stories of the 1990s as something akin to science fiction. There would have been so few points of common reference that a reader would have been baffled. Well, you know, I think one of the best stories in this collection, and a story that is quite modern in tone and subject, is a story from 1917 called "A Jury of Her Peers." It's about a woman who murders her abusive husband and is protected by two women in her community. And it is as fresh and as powerful now as it must have been then. I also think that Sherwood Anderson really defined the modern short story and would be completely at home were he alive and writing today.


Kate from Houston, TX: You must have had an amazing time reading all of the past volumes. How did you go about it? How many had you read before the project began?

Katrina Kenison: I had read, obviously, all of the '90s volumes, most of the '80s volumes. Before I proposed the project to Houghton Mifflin, I picked up a couple of the old volumes just to get a sense for myself of how the stories would hold up, and whether or not it would even make sense to do a project like this, and I found those old volumes to be extremely compelling. So, once I actually began to put together this volume and to do the reading, I started at the very beginning. And fortunately, I had the 1915 volume from a used bookstore, and I read it chronologically, decade by decade. And I took notes as I went in a great big black notebook, because I read everywhere and I wanted to make sure that none of the stories that I read slipped through the cracks.


Mark from Weston, CT: Did you and John Updike disagree on any of the selections? Anything you would have liked to see included that didn't make it?

Katrina Kenison: Our tastes were remarkably similar. I think there were one or two stories that he chose that perhaps I wouldn't have. Stories that he remembered reading years ago and was happy to put back into print. In particular, the J. F. Powers story "Death of a Favorite," which was a particular favorite of his. But for the most part, we really were in agreement, although the final cutting and winnowing was painful for us both, and I still feel a bit guilty that Andre Dubus is not in this collection, and in particular his story "A Father's Tale," which would have been here if we had had more room.


James from San Francisco, CA: Of course, this edition came out before the 1999 Best American could come out. Have you seen any new stories this year that you think could possibly have made it into the century volume?

Katrina Kenison: Absolutely! And in fact, when we do the paperback a year from now, we will include a story from the 1999 volume of Best American Short Stories. You heard it here first at barnesandnoble.com!


Haley from Kansas: Have any younger people (teens to early 20s) made the cut into your book?

Katrina Kenison: Definitely early 20s. I don't know exactly how old Maxine Swann is, but I believe she's in her early 20s. She's in the 1998 volume. I think Carson McCullers was 19 or 20 when she first appeared in Best American Short Stories. Certainly it's a level playing field, and age is not a factor.


Greg from Ann Arbor, MI: Based on what some editors have chosen for these volumes over the years, how do you think the short story and our perception of it has evolved in this century?

Katrina Kenison: I would say that the biggest change has been the role that the short story plays in our lives. In 1915, when this series began, many people in this country did not even read a daily newspaper, let alone have access to the kind of information that we all take for granted today. So, the short story really did bring them news of the world, and of how other people lived. We don't need stories to do that for us anymore, and so in the course of this century, there has been a movement toward the inner life, and today we look to short stories to tell us truths about the human spirit rather than details of our daily lives.


Niki from Sudbury, MA: Do you think past editions of Best American Short Stories reflect the editors of that particular year? For example, will the stories that Garrison Keillor picks have a different general feel as compared to when, say, Tobias Wolff was the editor? Thanks!

Katrina Kenison: Absolutely. And I think that this is one reason that the series remains so fresh and so interesting year after year, because it never has a chance to settle into any kind of an editorial rut. Each guest editor brings his or her own taste and predilections to this process. This year's editor is Amy Tan, and although we certainly didn't plan it this way, the volume that she has assembled has a wonderfully multicultural flavor, and in fact for the very first time, Best American Short Stories will feature a writer who was born in Nepal but was eligible for inclusion because he now lives in Hawaii. As the annual editor, I am grateful that this series is never simply a reflection of my own taste.


pac87@aol.com: Were there any particular years that were especially strong and more difficult than other years to pick a story?

Katrina Kenison: I fell in love with the '40s, and I just wallowed in those volumes and probably submitted more stories from the '40s to John Updike than I should have, but it seemed to both of us that the short story really came alive in the '40s, and there was just a wealth of good fiction to choose from. I think it's also difficult to choose from the most recent volumes, because we didn't have the benefit of time and hindsight to tell us which stories would really hold up.


Geraldine from Boca Raton, FL: What surprised you most while preparing THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES OF THE CENTURY?

Katrina Kenison: Well, I guess the biggest surprise to me was how much I enjoyed this process. It was a daunting amount of work, and a great responsibility to take on. And yet, I never thought it was a burden. In fact, I felt honored to be the editor who happened to be alive at the end of the century to assemble this volume. About the stories themselves, I would say I was most surprised to see how powerful some of the writers we take for granted really are. Most of us read Hemingway and Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty and others in high school or college English classes, and we tend to think that we don't need to go back to revisit their work again. When in fact, anyone who really cares about American fiction should welcome the opportunity to read these authors again as adults, rather than as students.


E. V. from Lighthouse Point, FL: I read that Ernest Hemingway was first published in Best American -- even though his story was previously unpublished. Could you tell us more about this? Do you think this decision launched Hemingway's career? What do you know about what governed the editor's decision to include him?

Katrina Kenison: That's a great question, and a great story behind Best American Short Stories. Edward O'Brien lived in England for most of his life, and edited Best American Short Stories from England, and he was also kind of a patron saint to writers. He entertained writers in his home for months at a time, and often supported writers from one book to the next, and in Hemingway's case, O'Brien was on a holiday in Switzerland, and someone introduced him to this discouraged young man who told O'Brien that he was ready to give up writing because no one would publish him, and that all of his manuscripts had been lost or destroyed -- that's the famous 'suitcase full of manuscripts' story. O'Brien asked him if he had anything to show him, and the young man said that he had two short stories that no one wanted. O'Brien offered to read them, and broke his own rule that stories had to have been published elsewhere to be eligible for Best American Short Stories. He gave Hemingway his very first publication in 1923, and even dedicated that year's volume to him. And thus was launched one of the great literary careers of our century!


Moderator: If the Y2K bug wreaks its havoc, what three books would you like to read by the light of your power generator?

Katrina Kenison: Well, I think I would keep THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES OF THE CENTURY by my side, because all of the stories bear rereading and offer rewards to those who do so. I would also pick Anne Morrow Lindbergh's GIFT FROM THE SEA, which has been a personal bible to me in my own life as a writer, wife, and mother. And I would pick ANNA KARENINA, because it's the one book that I've been meaning to read for 25 years and still haven't! Probably SHAKESPEARE'S SONNETS, because I could read them for the rest of my life and continue to find beauty and inspiration in them.


obscure_rhetoric@yahoo.com from Richmount: What would you say are good qualities that the short stories in this volume have in common?

Katrina Kenison: Well, they are all stories that demand to be finished. I made a vow at the outset of this project that I would read every story -- about 2,000 in all -- from start to finish. Even the ones that I thought didn't stand a chance. But the stories that survived the process of reading and selection and rejection are the ones that just wouldn't let go. And so we couldn't let go of them either. They compelled me as a reader. They compelled John Updike as a reader. And we hope that they will compel those who pick up this volume.


William from Binghamton, NY: What were the most difficult stories for you to omit?

Katrina Kenison: I've already mentioned Andre Dubus's "A Father's Tale." It was very hard to let go of a story called "Helping" by Robert Stone. And I'm sorry that Grace Paley and Tillie Olsen aren't here, because they've been so important to me. But in the end, it was a question of space, and the final hard decisions belonged to John Updike, who suffered mightily while he made them.


Hannah M. from Louisville, KY: Did you find that most of the stories came from similar sources, like The New Yorker? Why do you suppose this is? Also, what was the most surprising source for something included?

Katrina Kenison: The New Yorker gets the prize for the most short stories published in Best American Short Stories over the years. They have 208 in all, beginning in 1930. The Atlantic is the runner-up, and the reason is that both of these magazines have been staunch defenders of fiction for most of this century. Their standards have always been high. They've published without interruption. And many of our Best American writers appeared regularly in their pages. I would say that over the years, there have been little magazines that come and go, and many of the early ones are long since lost to history. So they were all surprising sources for me -- magazines like The Bellman, Every Week, and The Frontier. A couple of these magazines vanished without a trace, and yet published some of the best fiction of their time. So they are intriguing mysteries to me.


Oren from Milton, MA: What do you think of the controversial Modern Library Top 100 list? Although you are operating under a different set of rules, since the Best American annuals have been published for most of the century, do you expect the same sort of conflict over this book?

Katrina Kenison: The existence of that Modern Library list and the controversy that erupted over it made me thankful that our own list could not be so arbitrary. We were able to cast our net in one pool only, and so we began with a list of candidates that was preordained. Reviewers, knowing that, have been reluctant to carp too much about what's not here, and have enthusiastically embraced the stories themselves -- both the literary classics that are must-haves in a volume like this one, and the undiscovered gems that might otherwise have disappeared forever.


Naomi from Bennington, VT: Which, of all the ones included, is your favorite story?

Katrina Kenison: I guess I have two, and they are very different. One is "A Jury of Her Peers," by Susan Glaspell, which is a story mentioned earlier in our discussion. It was a revelation to me that women nearly 100 years ago were courageously facing some of the same issues that we confront today. And I love that story because it is one of those discoveries of an unknown writer who is no longer a part of the canon. On the other hand, I would have to pick John Cheever's story "The Country Husband" as a favorite. I had read it before, and yet when I read it again, I felt that I had rediscovered it, and I was reminded all over again that John Cheever is our greatest master of the form. If there is a masterpiece in this book, this might be it.


Moderator: Thank you, Katrina Kenison! Best of luck with THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES OF THE CENTURY. Do you have any parting thoughts for the online audience?

Katrina Kenison: I would just say: Don't read this book because you feel you should, but read it for the sheer joy of encountering writers both old and new who will touch your life in ways that will surprise, delight, or haunt you.


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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Love the book! America's finest are found here!

    I recommend this book as a great way to entertain yourself with many, many interesting plots and glimpses of life in America in this century. There are always a few duds that do not particularly interest me in a collection of short stories but relatively few here. You, as reader, feel at the end that you have been a witness to the development of America in this century in the stories included here. It must have been difficult to select which to include but the editors did a good job for most are very, very good.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2000

    Wonderful

    Enchanting and yet down-to-earth! Updikes unique and profound story telling ability surpasses any I've seen so far!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews

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