Pudd'nhead Wilson

( 19 )

Overview

Reversed identities, an eccentric detective, a horrible crime, and a tense courtroom scene are major ingredients in Twain's witty, yet fierce condemnation of a racially prejudiced society that condoned the institution of slavery.

Switched at birth by a female slave who fears for her infant son's life, a light-skinned child changes places with the master's white son. This simple premise underlies Twain's engrossing 19th-century tale of reversed...
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Overview

Reversed identities, an eccentric detective, a horrible crime, and a tense courtroom scene are major ingredients in Twain's witty, yet fierce condemnation of a racially prejudiced society that condoned the institution of slavery.

Switched at birth by a female slave who fears for her infant son's life, a light-skinned child changes places with the master's white son. This simple premise underlies Twain's engrossing 19th-century tale of reversed identities, an eccentric detective, a horrible crime, and a tense courtroom scene. Infused with characteristic Twain humor, the novel also fiercely condemns a racially prejudiced society that condoned the institution of slavery.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553211580
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1984
  • Series: Bantam Classics Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: REISSUE
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 143
  • Sales rank: 100,048
  • Lexile: 1130L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.19 (w) x 6.86 (h) x 0.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Werner Sollors is Henry B. and Anne M. Cabot Professor of English Literature and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.

Biography

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri; his family moved to the port town of Hannibal four years later. His father, an unsuccessful farmer, died when Twain was eleven. Soon afterward the boy began working as an apprentice printer, and by age sixteen he was writing newspaper sketches. He left Hannibal at eighteen to work as an itinerant printer in New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. From 1857 to 1861 he worked on Mississippi steamboats, advancing from cub pilot to licensed pilot.

After river shipping was interrupted by the Civil War, Twain headed west with his brother Orion, who had been appointed secretary to the Nevada Territory. Settling in Carson City, he tried his luck at prospecting and wrote humorous pieces for a range of newspapers. Around this time he first began using the pseudonym Mark Twain, derived from a riverboat term. Relocating to San Francisco, he became a regular newspaper correspondent and a contributor to the literary magazine the Golden Era. He made a five-month journey to Hawaii in 1866 and the following year traveled to Europe to report on the first organized tourist cruise. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches (1867) consolidated his growing reputation as humorist and lecturer.

After his marriage to Livy Langdon, Twain settled first in Buffalo, New York, and then for two decades in Hartford, Connecticut. His European sketches were expanded into The Innocents Abroad (1869), followed by Roughing It (1872), an account of his Western adventures; both were enormously successful. Twain's literary triumphs were offset by often ill-advised business dealings (he sank thousands of dollars, for instance, in a failed attempt to develop a new kind of typesetting machine, and thousands more into his own ultimately unsuccessful publishing house) and unrestrained spending that left him in frequent financial difficulty, a pattern that was to persist throughout his life.

Following The Gilded Age (1873), written in collaboration with Charles Dudley Warner, Twain began a literary exploration of his childhood memories of the Mississippi, resulting in a trio of masterpieces --The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and finally The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), on which he had been working for nearly a decade. Another vein, of historical romance, found expression in The Prince and the Pauper (1882), the satirical A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), while he continued to draw on his travel experiences in A Tramp Abroad (1880) and Following the Equator (1897). His close associates in these years included William Dean Howells, Bret Harte, and George Washington Cable, as well as the dying Ulysses S. Grant, whom Twain encouraged to complete his memoirs, published by Twain's publishing company in 1885.

For most of the 1890s Twain lived in Europe, as his life took a darker turn with the death of his daughter Susy in 1896 and the worsening illness of his daughter Jean. The tone of Twain's writing also turned progressively more bitter. The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), a detective story hinging on the consequences of slavery, was followed by powerful anti-imperialist and anticolonial statements such as 'To the Person Sitting in Darkness' (1901), 'The War Prayer' (1905), and 'King Leopold's Soliloquy' (1905), and by the pessimistic sketches collected in the privately published What Is Man? (1906). The unfinished novel The Mysterious Stranger was perhaps the most uncompromisingly dark of all Twain's later works. In his last years, his financial troubles finally resolved, Twain settled near Redding, Connecticut, and died in his mansion, Stormfield, on April 21, 1910.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Samuel Langhorne Clemens (real name); Sieur Louis de Conte
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1835
    2. Place of Birth:
      Florida, Missouri
    1. Date of Death:
      April 21, 1910
    2. Place of Death:
      Redding, Connecticut

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER I

PUDD'NHEAD WINS HIS NAME

Tell the truth or trump–but get the trick.–pudd'nhead wilson's calendar.

THE SCENE of this chronicle is the town of Dawson's Landing, on the Missouri side of the Mississippi, half a day's journey, per steamboat, below St. Louis.

In 1830 it was a snug little collection of modest one and two-story frame dwellings whose whitewashed exteriors were almost concealed from sight by climbing tangles of rose vines, honeysuckles, and morning-glories. Each of these pretty homes had a garden in front fenced with white palings, and opulently stocked with hollyhocks, marigolds, touch-me-nots, prince's-feathers, and other old-fashioned flowers; while on the window-sills of the houses stood wooden boxes containing moss-rose plants and terra-cotta pots in which grew a breed of geranium whose spread of intensely red blossoms accented the prevailing pink tint of the rose-clad house-front like an explosion of flame. When there was room on the ledge outside of the pots and boxes for a cat, the cat was there—in sunny weather—stretched at full length, asleep and blissful, with her furry belly to the sun and a paw curved over her nose. Then that house was complete, and its contentment and peace were made manifest to the world by this symbol, whose testimony is infallible. A home without a cat—and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat—may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?

All along the streets, on both sides, at the outer edge of the brick sidewalks, stood locust trees with trunks protected by wooden boxing, and these furnished shade for summer and a sweet fragrance in spring when the clusters of buds came forth. The main street, one block back from the river, and running parallel with it, was the sole business street. It was six blocks long, and in each block two or three brick stores three stories high towered above interjected bunches of little frame shops.

Swinging signs creaked in the wind, the street's whole length. The candy-striped pole, which indicates nobility proud and ancient along the palace-bordered canals of Venice, indicated merely the humble barber shop along the main street of Dawson's Landing. On a chief corner stood a lofty unpainted pole wreathed from top to bottom with tin pots and pans and cups, the chief tinmonger's noisy notice to the world (when the wind blew) that his shop was on hand for business at that corner.

The hamlet's front was washed by the clear waters of the great river; its body stretched itself rearward up a gentle incline; its most rearward border fringed itself out and scattered its houses about the baseline of the hills; the hills rose high, inclosing the town in a half-moon curve, clothed with forests from foot to summit.

Steamboats passed up and down every hour or so. Those belonging to the little Cairo line and the little Memphis line always stopped; the big Orleans liners stopped for hails only, or to land passengers or freight; and this was the case also with the great flotilla of "transients." These latter came out of a dozen rivers—the Illinois, the Missouri, the Upper Mississippi, the Ohio, the Monongahela, the Tennessee, the Red River, the White River, and so on; and were bound every whither and stocked with every imaginable comfort or necessity which the Mississippi's communities could want, from the frosty Falls of St. Anthony down through nine climates to torrid New Orleans.

Dawson's Landing was a slaveholding town, with a rich slave-worked grain and pork country back of it. The town was sleepy and comfortable and contented. It was fifty years old, and was growing slowly—very slowly, in fact, but still it was growing.

The chief citizen was York Leicester Driscoll, about forty years old, judge of the county court. He was very proud of his old Virginian ancestry, and in his hospitalities and his rather formal and stately manners he kept up its traditions. He was fine and just and generous. To be a gentleman—a gentleman without stain or blemish—was his only religion, and to it he was always faithful. He was respected, esteemed, and beloved by all the community. He was well off, and was gradually adding to his store. He and his wife were very nearly happy, but not quite, for they had no children. The longing for the treasure of a child had grown stronger and stronger as the years slipped away, but the blessing never came—and was never to come.

With this pair lived the Judge's widowed sister, Mrs. Rachel Pratt, and she also was childless—childless, and sorrowful for that reason, and not to be comforted. The women were good and commonplace people, and did their duty and had their reward in clear consciences and the community's approbation. They were Presbyterians, the Judge was a free-thinker.

Pembroke Howard, lawyer and bachelor, aged about forty, was another old Virginian grandee with proved descent from the First Families. He was a fine, brave, majestic creature, a gentleman according to the nicest requirements of the Virginia rule, a devoted Presbyterian, an authority on the "code," and a man always courteously ready to stand up before you in the field if any act or word of his had seemed doubtful or suspicious to you, and explain it with any weapon you might prefer from brad-awls to artillery. He was very popular with the people, and was the Judge's dearest friend.

Then there was Colonel Cecil Burleigh Essex, another F. F. V. of formidable caliber—however, with him we have no concern.

Percy Northumberland Driscoll, brother to the Judge, and younger than he by five years, was a married man, and had had children around his hearthstone; but they were attacked in detail by measles, croup, and scarlet fever, and this had given the doctor a chance with his effective antediluvian methods; so the cradles were empty. He was a prosperous man, with a good head for speculations, and his fortune was growing. On the 1st of February, 1830, two boy babes were born in his house; one to him, the other to one of his slave girls, Roxana by name. Roxana was twenty years old. She was up and around the same day, with her hands full, for she was tending both babies.

Mrs. Percy Driscoll died within the week. Roxy remained in charge of the children. She had her own way, for Mr. Driscoll soon absorbed himself in his speculations and left her to her own devices.

In that same month of February, Dawson's Landing gained a new citizen. This was Mr. David Wilson, a young fellow of Scotch parentage. He had wandered to this remote region from his birthplace in the interior of the state of New York, to seek his fortune. He was twenty-five years old, college-bred, and had finished a post-college course in an Eastern law school a couple of years before.

He was a homely, freckled, sandy-haired young fellow, with an intelligent blue eye that had frankness and comradeship in it and a covert twinkle of a pleasant sort. But for an unfortunate remark of his, he would no doubt have entered at once upon a successful career at Dawson's Landing. But he made his fatal remark the first day he spent in the village, and it "gaged" him. He had just made the acquaintance of a group of citizens when an invisible dog began to yelp and snarl and howl and make himself very comprehensively disagreeable, whereupon young Wilson said, much as one who is thinking aloud:

"I wish I owned half of that dog."

"Why?" somebody asked.

"Because I would kill my half."

The group searched his face with curiosity, with anxiety even, but found no light there, no expression that they could read. They fell away from him as from something uncanny, and went into privacy to discuss him. One said:

"'Pears to be a fool."

"'Pears?" said another. "Is, I reckon you better say."

"Said he wished he owned half of the dog, the idiot," said a third. "What did he reckon would become of the other half if he killed his half? Do you reckon he thought it would live?"

"Why, he must have thought it, unless he is the down-rightest fool in the world; because if he hadn't thought it, he would have wanted to own the whole dog, knowing that if he killed his half and the other half died, he would be responsible for that half just the same as if he had killed that half instead of his own. Don't it look that way to you, gents?"

"Yes, it does. If he owned one half of the general dog, it would be so; if he owned one end of the dog and another person owned the other end, it would be so, just the same; particularly in the first case, because if you kill one half of a general dog, there ain't any man that can tell whose half it was, but if he owned one end of the dog, maybe he could kill his end of it and—"

"No, he couldn't, either; he couldn't and not be responsible if the other end died, which it would. In my opinion the man ain't in his right mind."

"In my opinion he hain't got any mind."

No. 3 said: "Well, he's a lummox, anyway."

"That's what he is," said No. 4, "he's a labrick—just a Simon-pure labrick, if ever there was one."

"Yes, sir, he's a dam fool, that's the way I put him up," said No. 5. "Anybody can think different that wants to, but those are my sentiments."

"I'm with you, gentlemen," said No. 6. "Perfect jackass—yes, and it ain't going too far to say he is a pudd'nhead. If he ain't a pudd'nhead, I ain't no judge, that's all."

Mr. Wilson stood elected. The incident was told all over the town, and gravely discussed by everybody. Within a week he had lost his first name; Pudd'nhead took its place. In time he came to be liked, and well liked, too; but by that time the nickname had got well stuck on, and it stayed.

That first day's verdict made him a fool, and he was not able to get it set aside, or even modified. The nickname soon ceased to carry any harsh or unfriendly feeling with it, but it held its place, and was to continue to hold its place for twenty long years.

CHAPTER II

DRISCOLL SPARES HIS SLAVES

Adam was but human–this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent: then he would have eaten the serpent.–pudd'nhead wilson's calendar.

PUDD'NHEAD WILSON had a trifle of money when he arrived, and he bought a small house on the extreme western verge of the town. Between it and Judge Driscoll's house there was only a grassy yard, with a paling fence dividing the properties in the middle. He hired a small office down in the town and hung out a tin sign with these words on it:

DAVID WILSON
attorney and counselor-at-law surveying, conveyancing, etc.

But his deadly remark had ruined his chance—at least in the law. No clients came. He took down his sign after a while and put it up on his own house with the law features knocked out of it. It offered his services now in the humble capacities of land-surveyor and expert accountant. Now and then he got a job of surveying to do, and now and then a merchant got him to straighten out his books. With Scotch patience and pluck he resolved to live down his reputation and work his way into the legal field yet. Poor fellow! he could not foresee that it was going to take him such a weary long time to do it.

He had a rich abundance of idle time, but it never hung heavy on his hands, for he interested himself in every new thing that was born into the universe of ideas, and studied it and experimented upon it at his house. One of his pet fads was palmistry. To another one he gave no name, neither would he explain to anybody what its purpose was, but merely said it was an amusement. In fact, he had found that his fads added to his reputation as a pudd'nhead; therefore he was growing chary of being too communicative about them. The fad without a name was one which dealt with people's finger-marks. He carried in his coat pocket a shallow box with grooves in it, and in the grooves strips of glass five inches long and three inches wide. Along the lower edge of each strip was pasted a slip of white paper. He asked people to pass their hands through their hair (thus collecting upon them a thin coating of the natural oil) and then make a thumb-mark on a glass strip, following it with the mark of the ball of each finger in succession. Under this row of faint grease-prints he would write a record on the strip of white paper—thus:

John Smith, right hand—

and add the day of the month and the year, then take Smith's left hand on another glass strip, and add name and date and the words "left hand." The strips were now returned to the grooved box, and took their place among what Wilson called his "records."

He often studied his records, examining and poring over them with absorbing interest until far into the night; but what he found there—if he found anything—he revealed to no one. Sometimes he copied on paper the involved and delicate pattern left by the ball of a finger, and then vastly enlarged it with a pantograph so that he could examine its web of curving lines with ease and convenience.

One sweltering afternoon—it was the first day of July, 1830—he was at work over a set of tangled account-books in his workroom, which looked westward over a stretch of vacant lots, when a conversation outside disturbed him. It was carried on in yells, which showed that the people engaged in it were not close together:

"Say, Roxy, how does yo' baby come on?" This from the distant voice.

"Fust-rate; how does you come on, Jasper?" This yell was from close by.

"Oh, I's middlin'; hain't got noth'n' to complain of. I's gwine to come a-court'n' you bimeby, Roxy."

"You is, you black mudcat! Yah—yah—yah! I got some-p'n' better to do den 'sociat'n' wid niggers as black as you is. Is ole Miss Cooper's Nancy done give you de mitten?" Roxy followed this sally with another discharge of carefree laughter.

"You's jealous, Roxy, dat's what's de matter wid you, you hussy—yah—yah—yah! Dat's de time I got you!"

"Oh, yes, you got me, hain't you. 'Clah to goodness if dat conceit o' yo'n strikes in, Jasper, it gwine to kill you sho'. If you b'longed to me I'd sell you down de river 'fo' you git too fur gone. Fust time I runs acrost yo' marster, I's gwine to tell him so."

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 19 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 11, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Very Insightful!

    This book is very insightful and gives a great glimpse into human character and what drives our actions. It is a great story and Mark Twain, as usual, tells and excellent story. I had a difficult time reading the grammatically incorrect language of some of the black characters (Mark Twain's regionalism at its finest) but the ideas were conveyed very strongly through their actions and reactions to different situations. This is highly recommended for the classroom setting in which an instructor can lead readers into the themes and motifs prevalent in this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    PuddN'head Wilson

    PuddN'head Wilson is an incredible book, which clearly defines the lines between social inequality and racial nonsense. <BR/><BR/>I found myself torn between detesting the son of Roxy, falsely referred to as "Tom", and wishing at the same time that he would escape being detected.<BR/><BR/>The conclusion left me betwixt regarding the punishment in which was received and at the same time not. This ending distinctly shows the mindset that was involved concerning slaves and the degradation they endured while being looked upon as mere chattels.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2006

    Provocative as it is Humorous

    A good book by Twain, in his eccentric and original stile, this book is provocative as much as it is humorous. The concluding court room drama at the end makes up for some lower moments. However, a word to the wise, in many parts the reading in this book can be rather trying, with the 19th century Negro slave talk, as in other famous Twain novels but, there is more here than in Sawyer or Fin. Yet, at the same time when you factor in the overall story, I would recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2003

    Great Tale by MR. Twain

    I thought this book was expertly written and Mark Twain really grabs you with the description and great detail I loved this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2002

    Pudd'nhead Wilson

    Pudd'nhead Wilson Is a great and thrilling novel about a slave girl who swithches her son with her masters son, and in doing so turns a mier slave boy into the heir of a very large sum of money. In the beginning this book seems to be a very calm book with a small bit of mystery and chaos. But things take a crazy turn and everything changes. From murder to trial this book tells a very interesting and unique storie, Teaches good lesson's, and shows what happens when you use bad judgement. Also, This book teaches character and how to use what little evidence you have to prove what is write. Although the book is hard to follow at times it becomes exiting and adventurous toward the end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2001

    Deceiving Appearances and Labels Have Profound Consequences!

    Do others ever misjudge you? Did you, as a result, ever have a nickname you didn¿t like? Did you appreciate that experience? How did you overcome it? What if you had been switched in the baby nursery at the hospital for another child? How might your life have been different? These are the kinds of thoughts that will occur to you as you read Pudd¿nhead Wilson. I was attracted to the story after reading about its genesis in the new illustrated biography of Mark Twain. Pudd¿nhead Wilson is tragic story about the consequences of two children being switched at birth in the slave-holding society of the American South. Those who admire the eloquent portrayal of common humanity among African-Americans and whites in Huckleberry Finn will find more examples of this point to delight them in Pudd¿nhead Wilson. Pudd¿nhead Wilson was a novel that gave Mark Twain a great many problems. The book started as a short story about Italian Siamese twins with a farcical character, as the drunken twin caused the Prohibitionist one to get into trouble with his woolly headed sweetheart. As Twain turned the story into a novel, the most important characters began to disappear in favor of new characters. Stymied, Twain realized that he had written two stories in one novel. He then excised the original of the two stories in favor of the tragedy, while leaving many satirical and ironic characteristics. Part of this switch no doubt related to Twain¿s growing pessimism as he grew older and to the personal tragedies and financial difficulties dogged his efforts and life. Perhaps it is this deep plot difficulty that caused Twain to leave the novel with two rather large flaws, which vastly reduce its effectiveness. The first flaw is building a plot around switching two children at birth to establish that perceived racial differences and slavery had been unjust. Unfortunately, the ¿bad¿ actor in the novel turns out to be the irresponsible Tom Driscoll (ne Valet de Chambre), who is 1/32 African-American but is raised as a white free man. Thus, those readers who wish to believe in racial differences affecting character can point to that underlying racial factor as still being present in explaining the misbehavior in the story . . . despite what appears to have been Twain¿s opposite intention. Had Twain developed his story to make the false Tom morally equal to his all-white counterpart Chambers (ne Thomas a Beckett Driscoll), the story would have worked much better in condemning racism and slavery. The second flaw involves having the story turn on establishing the unchanging nature of finger prints in a trial conducted in a small Missouri town many decades before that point was scientifically proven and legally accepted. For us today, the story moves slowly because we know all about fingerprints as a means of identification which makes much of the eventual resolution easy to anticipate, and also because Twain left many unnecessary remnants of his other story in the book. Despite these weaknesses, the Pudd¿nhead Wilson has many brilliant sections that strikingly portray how the concepts and realities of slavery corrupted both African-Americans and slave-holders. Because of thefts in the Driscoll household, the real Tom¿s father threatens to sell his slaves down the river (a fate to be avoided). When three of them confess, he agrees to sell them locally. Frightened by the potential for her child to be sold in the future, Roxy plans to kill herself and her son. By accident, she realizes that she can successfully switch the two children¿s clothing, since both of them look the same to Tom¿s father, and ensure that her son will never be sold, because he will be raised as the master¿s son, a white person. Many of the ways for rearing white child are bad for Tom, making him spoiled and disagreeable. Chambers does much better on a simple diet, and from performing physical labor. Tom is arrogant and nasty. Chambe

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2000

    Intoxicatingly Fun

    Mark Twain shows his mastery of novel writing in Pudd'nhead Wilson. You will laugh as you read the hilarious twists that Mark Twain adds to make this book truly one-of-a-kind.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2000

    Twain has gain a new fan

    I have heard of Mark Twain. After reading a hefty memoir, I decided to read a work of fiction.I've heard comments about about Mark Twain e.g. racist, great storyteller. Well, I am African American and I did not find Mr Twain to be racist but a very witty and comedic storyteller. The introduction fowared by Langston Hughes was insightful to read. It was a quick read, and a great book that took me back to the times of the past.Ironically, reading Twain you notice that the past somewhat reflects the future.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2000

    Some of Twain's best

    I think the most important thing about this book is that it proves Twain was not a racist. A lot of people have accused him of being such because rather than actually read his books they just flip through and count the words they don't care for. If you hear someone call Twain a racist throw this at them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2000

    Read Read Read!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This was one of the best books ever!

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    Posted December 18, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2011

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