This Book Will Save Your Life

( 19 )

Overview

Since her debut in 1989, A. M. Homes has been among the boldest and most original voices of her generation, acclaimed for the psychological accuracy and unnerving emotional intensity of her storytelling. Her ability to explore how extraordinary the ordinary can be is at the heart of her touching and funny new novel, her first in six years. This Book Will Save Your Life is a vivid, uplifting, and revealing story about compassion, transformation, and what can happen if you are willing to lose yourself and open up ...

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This Book Will Save Your Life

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Overview

Since her debut in 1989, A. M. Homes has been among the boldest and most original voices of her generation, acclaimed for the psychological accuracy and unnerving emotional intensity of her storytelling. Her ability to explore how extraordinary the ordinary can be is at the heart of her touching and funny new novel, her first in six years. This Book Will Save Your Life is a vivid, uplifting, and revealing story about compassion, transformation, and what can happen if you are willing to lose yourself and open up to the world around you.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Affluent day-trader Richard Novak has populated his life with housecleaners, nutritionists, decorators, and personal trainers, but none of these appointed specialists can fill the abyss at the center of his existence. After a unnerving panic attack and a property disaster, he embarks on an emergency campaign to find his niche in the universe. As this improvised crusade is unfolding, the city of Los Angeles itself joins in the upheaval, raising the stakes and the fun.
Publishers Weekly
As Richard Novak is perfecting a life of isolation, a series of bizarre and surreal events force him to reassess his position and reconnect with the world around him. Upon emerging, he is bombarded with a cast of eccentric characters, including an unappreciated soccer mom, a reclusive writer and a jovial doughnut-shop owner. Throughout this darkly humorous audio, Scott Brick supplies excellent tone and subtlety, easily seducing his audience with the opening scene between Novak and a 911 operator. The contrast between the two highlights Brick's ability and range. While his vocal depictions of characters match up and remain consistent, Brick almost falters with the Novak. For the most part, Brick keeps Novak steady but occasionally delivers a speaking voice that doesn't fit the profile range delivered previously. While his uniformity on Novak wavers, his projection of the anxiety and agitation that plague Novak's life cannot be understated. This book probably won't save your life, but it's likely to make you laugh and ponder your own connection with the world. Simultaneous release with the Viking hardcover (Reviews, Jan. 23). (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Richard Novak's day-trading fortune has given him the good life in the hills above 21st-century Los Angeles, but a heart-attack scare exposes his isolation, and a rapidly expanding sinkhole in his front yard forces him to move to a Malibu rental. These crises throw Richard into the paths of such diverse characters as a donut shop owner, a runaway housewife, and a reclusive, iconic author. His eventual return to humanity culminates in a confrontational and emotional visit with teenage son Ben, and a feral chihuahua attack on his ex-wife brings them all to a greater understanding and acceptance of one another. Harrison Ford and ex-president Gerald Ford appear in one of the book's weaker scenes that stops just shy of contrived silliness, but, overall, this is an engaging and timely tale told with a balanced mix of dark humor and sympathy for individuals enduring the foibles of everyday living. Devoted fans of Homes (Music for Torching) might miss her edgier and more provocative works, and new readers may be shaken by the comically apocalyptic ending of Richard's midlife crisis. Nevertheless, this is recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/05.]-Jenn B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll.-Northeast, TX Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The hero of Homes's latest novel (after Music for Torching, 1999)-a work of guarded but very real optimism and, ultimately, of redemption-is Richard Novak, a California-style Scrooge. Richard is a friendless, divorced Los Angeles investor who has so single-mindedly worked to create extravagant wealth that he has become estranged from mankind. For Richard, the wake-up call is not a minatory ghost but a pain that bends him double and sends him to the ER, where he realizes there is no one he can call who would really care. The novel charts Richard's gradual reawakening to the needs of others and the pleasure of their company. With the innocence of a newborn, he befriends the Middle Eastern owner of a donut shop; a woman weeping in the produce aisle of a supermarket (whom he treats to a week of spa treatments); and his next-door neighbor. Having warmed up to strangers, Richard struggles to re-establish contact first with his younger brother, a scientist living in Boston, and then with his sharp-tongued ex-wife and his teenaged son. Narratives about the very wealthy often have a glow of limitless possibility that verges on enchantment, and here, when Richard's house is menaced by an encroaching sinkhole, he lifts his de Kooning off the wall and rents an all-white house in Malibu. Not only are the cast-iron frying pans white-enameled, the sexual harness mounted in the guestroom ceiling is all white, too. That close to L.A., such loony details are plausible enough, but Homes occasionally skitters into realms so odd that the hypnotic spell of her narrative is broken. Could anyone believe that firefighters, battling the blaze that destroys the Malibu rental, had seen "the infamous mystery cat-alarge animal some believe maybe be the sole surviving saber-toothed cat" among the flames? Deeper satisfaction derives from her characters' sudden insights, as when Richard imagines that if he calls out, his brother will come to comfort him. There is a whole lifetime of change in that simple moment of understanding that indicates how far Richard has traveled toward redemption. An extremely likable book.
From the Publisher
Homes’ dark delivery . . . is in full regalia here. . . . Laugh-outloud funny. (The Boston Globe)

An absolute masterpiece . . . Homes writes ecstatically, and like no one else. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

I think this brave story of a lost man’s reconnection with the world could become a generational touchstone, like Catch-22, The Monkey Wrench Gang, or The Catcher in the Rye. . . . And hey, maybe it will save somebody’s life. (Stephen King)

Hilarious . . . Homes writes in the tradition of Kurt Vonnegut and has the talent to pull it off. (San Francisco Chronicle)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670034932
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/20/2006
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.24 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.34 (d)

Meet the Author

A. M. Homes
A. M. Homes is the award-winning author of Music for Torching, The End of Alice, and The Safety of Objects, among others. She is also a writer and executive producer for the hit cable TV show The L Word.

Biography

The book Homes is perhaps best known for is her novel The End of Alice -- chiefly because it caused such a stir.

The narrator, a middle-aged sex offender in prison for murdering a little girl, develops a correspondence with a college girl who's obsessed with a 12-year-old boy. The result was a compendium of behavior -- real and imagined -- that was largely so violent, sickening or "show-offy dirty," as the New York Times put it, that its prose and events were excerpt-resistant and left mainly to the brave and curious. The book spurred a flurry of protests and attempted bans.

In 1999, Homes followed up The End of Alice with Music for Torching, a novel of kink and circumstance in the suburbs of New York in which an unhappy couple sets fire to their own house, then moves in with neighbors whose seemingly perfect marriage reveals its own subterranean faults. A high school hostage situation that is part of the book's coda had coincidental parallels to the Columbine tragedy that same year. The New York Times had a typical response: "The fact is, I was at times appalled by the book, annoyed by it, angered by it. Its ending struck me as cynical and manipulative. But even so, I found myself rapt from beginning to end, fascinated by Homes's single-minded talent for provocation."

For many readers, summaries like this are a signal to run, run, run in the other direction. But first, consider that Homes's books are not just big Pandora's boxes -- they can be a funny Pandora's boxes. In the story "Real Doll," for example, collected in 1990's The Safety of Objects, a boy's -- er, relationship -- with a Barbie doll bears some humorous gibes ("I [Barbie] if she wanted something to drink. ‘Diet Coke,' she said. And I wondered why I'd asked.").

Homes's earlier work is also almost sweet by comparison. Her well-received debut novel Jack chronicled the struggles of a 15-year-old to cope with his parents' divorce and the revelation that his dad is gay; In a Country of Mothers deals with a middle-aged counselor's deepening relationship with her 19-year-old female client. Both books contain poignant explorations of identity.

In her second story collection Things You Should Know, Homes continued to develop her singular, eclectic voice. A biracial marriage suffers a rift created by an addled, deteriorating mother-in-law in "Chinese Lessons"; Nancy Reagan's current life is devilishly imagined in "The Former First Lady and the Football Hero"; a woman endeavors to inseminate herself with the leftovers from beach trysts she espies in "Georgica." As with Homes's previous works, the collection is a testament to the author's talents for portraying the depths of human pain and depravity with humor and unabashed honesty.

Good To Know

Homes is an adjunct assistant professor of creative writing at Columbia University.

Perhaps tired of the scrutiny that arose from The End of Alice, Homes often comes across as a difficult interview subject, flatly refusing to indulge (or even validate) the natural curiosity about any personal connection to her work. She dressed down an interviewer in The Barcelona Review in 1997 thusly: "I have no experience with ‘recovery.' Again, you're applying your own notions about abuse, recovery, personal narrative, to the work. These are not areas I work from, they are not relevant. ...You seem to have a recurring question or concern about how I assimilate what goes on in my stories into everyday life. I am a fiction writer, I work from my imagination, in response to things going on in the culture."

The Safety of Objects was adapted for film by director Rose Troche in 2001, with stars including Glenn Close and Dermot Mulroney.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 18, 1961
    2. Place of Birth:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Education:
      B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1985; M.F.A., University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
Home to Hollywood and Disneyland, Los Angeles may just be the American epitome of the controlled environment: man-made, manicured, synthetic. If the Great American Novel tends to tell of the outsider looking for and grasping at the American Dream, A.M. Homes’s This Book Will Save Your Life inverts such tales in a droll, satirical adventure of personal redemption that turns on the absurd.

Fittingly, when we first meet our protagonist, the fifty-five-year-old Richard Novak, he stands very much on the inside looking out—literally, through the glass window of his perfectly ordered, de Kooning–decorated house on a hill. “These are the things he wanted: controlled, precise, ordered.” An affluent online stock trader, Novak is a self-isolated machine kept in tune by a nutritionist, personal trainer, and housekeeper, his primary social contacts.

It takes an intense attack of engulfing pain—and a brief hospital visit where diagnosis is elusive—for him to discover his self-made exile. “He’d so thoroughly removed himself from the world of dependencies and obligations,” Homes writes, “he wasn’t sure he still existed.” He’s bewildered when a nurse asks if he has a friend he can contact, eventually calling his ex-wife, who, as always, is too busy to talk to him, hospital or no hospital.

Breaking his routine and his nutritionist’s regime, Novak’s first stop upon release is a donut shop whose immigrant purveyor, Anhil, counts his donuts like blessings. Listening to Anhil expound on the perpetual dissatisfaction of Americans always on the go, Novak finally takes the time to smell the coffee.

As he grapples with the haphazard foundations of his personal life, a sinkhole grows ever larger on his lawn, threatening his home and spurring him into action. When a horse ends up mired in the sinkhole, he is quick to act, staging a rescue operation via helicopter, replete with a movie-star neighbor playing the lead. Novak’s heroics persist when he befriends a crying housewife who can’t cope with her thankless family, when he helps free a hostage in a car trunk, and when he saves a drunk from a suicidal swim at a beachside powwow. “I’m trying to be someone new,” he tells Cynthia, the housewife-cum-friend who is also overhauling her own life.

Novak removes his “noise-canceling earphones” that have kept the world at bay, committed to becoming a new man and to interacting with life and whatever it may bring. After unprecedented bouts of crying, his suppressed memories return, of his childhood, of the demise of his marriage to a workaholic wife, of his repeated failures toward his son. As Richard slowly rebuilds his familial connections, and his awakening emotional availability leads to new ones, Los Angeles also seems to be experiencing a metamorphosis, albeit of a different sort, with earthquakes, spontaneous wildfires, sightings of a “saber-toothed cat,” fire ant infestations, and attacking Chihuahuas. This “return of the repressed” sweeps both Richard’s inner and outer worlds into a comedic trajectory brimming with preposterous incidents and quirky characters whose insights and struggles help him regain his perspective and his humanity—and quite possibly save his life.

ABOUT A. M. HOMES

A. M. Homes is the author of Things You Should Know, Music for Torching, The End of Alice, In a Country of Mothers, The Safety of Objects, and Jack, and Los Angeles: People, Places and the Castle on the Hill. Recipient of Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships, she is a Vanity Fair contributing editor and publishes inThe New Yorker, Granta, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, Artforum, and The New York Times.

A CONVERSATION WITH A. M. HOMES
What inspired you to create Richard Novak?

I was interested in writing about someone who on the surface has it all but below that really has very little. I wanted to see if I could create a character who could come back to life, pull himself together, and become a force for good, not just in his own life but in the lives of those he touches. I’ve become very aware that this is it—the one life we get—and the importance of making it a good life, one in which we take responsibility not just for ourselves but also for those around us. Every man for himself is a greedy, self-absorbed concept (very twentieth-century). We need to get back to what are in some ways more primitive, more successful concepts of family, which include the extended family and a commitment to one’s role and place in their surrounding community.

How is what you’re trying to say in this novel similar or different from your other books?

Each book really is part of an ongoing organic evolution, an extension of my work. I’ve always been interested in ideas about our culture, the morality underneath the way we live: Do we think we are good people, doing the “right” thing? I’ve been interested in the ongoing and endless struggle between a person’s public persona and who they are at home, the idea that we can’t be in public who we are in private. So many of us work to project a kind of streamlined personality with no edges, and yet we all have edges or idiosyncratic ways of thinking and doing things. In every book and story one sees that I am interested in both embracing the traditional—in terms of story form and narrative—and also challenging readers, prompting them, I hope, to think about their lives and how we live and function as a culture. My ideas, shocking though they apparently seem to some, really just come right out of the newspapers. I read culture, how we live, what we do, and perhaps think ahead to where we are going. I am also deeply aware of where we have been and the importance of keeping that in mind when thinking about human behavior. More and more I am interested in history, in writing which weaves history and fiction together.

I’ve always written about families—couples and marriage—and the ways we fail ourselves and each other. And in this new novel, I’m at it once again. Despite how fractured these families may seem, I do believe strongly in family and marriage and very much want to see people learning to communicate and be more successful in their relationships. All relationships are hard work, even “just” owning a dog.

I am truly a writer of fiction, working from my imagination, making up events and characters. At the same time, perhaps more than other books I’ve written, This Book Will Save Your Life is philosophically very much in line with what I try to put forward in my own life. A confession: I am that person who talks to strangers in elevators, who stops crying people on the street and asks if they’re OK, who offers to help an old person home with their groceries. And I find that my offer of help is equally as often accepted as it is rejected.

It is also important to me to write books that are funny—darkly funny. I find daily life to be surrealistic. The split between what we’re able to accomplish in mechanical terms combined with human behavior and a kind of flawed social structure—e.g., an automated voice versus a “live” person, and so on—all tells me a lot about who we (Americans) are as people and who we are becoming. And despite being perpetually hopeful about what we are each capable of, I remain often stunned by what I see.

You are a writer living in New York. What is it about Los Angeles that attracts you to it as a setting for fiction?

I spent a lot of time in Los Angeles, getting to know the city and the people who live there. I knew I wanted to write a book set in L.A., in part because the geography is so dramatic, so otherworldly and in complete contrast to how people describe it. Everyone says they love L.A. because of the weather. But honestly the weather is very strange: they have fires, floods, mudslides, tar pits, and earthquakes, and yet people seem to think the weather is good. Yes, things bloom year-round and the sun comes out more days than not, but there is also a strangeness to the earth there. The land gives in—shifting, erupting, or exploding without warning. L.A. is also a place where the American dream thrives; people flock to L.A. from all over the world to “make it,” to find themselves. The city is the last of the Wild West, tolerating individuality, eccentricity. There are enormously diverse cultures in L.A., but you have to dig into the city in order to find them.

In direct contrast to New York City, where I live, there is very little street life in L.A. It really is a car culture and a culture that one can become very isolated in. In New York, there are a million people on the street, bearing witness that there is someone sharing your experience and you’re never alone. In L.A., you have to work hard to build a community. That interested me and seemed a fitting place for Richard Novak to go after he left his marriage. He fractured off to L.A. and really never came back—until now.

What are you working on now?

Since finishing the novel, I’ve been working on a memoir, The Mistress’s Daughter, a portion of which appeared in The New Yorker in December 2004. It’s the story of my biological parents, who gave me up for adoption and then came looking for me when I was in my early thirties. It is in part a story of what it means to be adopted, but it is also about identity, how all of us—not just adoptees—define and construct our sense of self and our family.

Your novel’s title will surely draw in readers. How did you come up with the title? In what ways do you hope the novel will change people’s lives? Or might it be a wry commentary on self-help books? A nod to the nihilistic funnymen of Britain’s Benrik series (“This Book Will Change Your Life”)? All of the above? None of the above?

Often I have a title before I start to work—but this time, I wasn’t sure. I finished the novel and gave it to my agent who said, I love it, what’s it called. And I blurted out, “This Book Will Save Your Life,” which I hope holds true. It saved Richard Novak’s life—he is far happier and more fulfilled at the end.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • In the novel Richard comes back to life and reconnects with friends and family. Do you believe individual self-transformation is possible? Can a person change, truly learn to live their life differently?
     
  • Through the course of the novel Richard makes several new male friends, including Anhil and Nic. How do men make friendships as adults and is that an easy or a hard thing for them to do?
     
  • Henry David Thoreau once said that “wealth is the ability to experience life.” What does it mean to be someone like Richard, who appears to have it all, and yet his life feels so empty? What does this say about our culture and about contemporary American life? Is this another manifestation of American consumerist mentality—the notion of buying happiness?
     
  • “Americans try on the spiritual life of others like they don’t have any of their own,” Anhil says. How has the importance of the spiritual life changed over time in America?
     
  • Richard and Cynthia are both trying to reclaim their lives. In what ways do they help each other? How are their efforts similar? Who is more successful?
     
  • Richard’s ex-wife remains a touch point throughout the novel, sharing snippets of advice before hastily fleeing back to her work. Why is it so hard for Richard to let go of her and so hard for her to connect with him?
     
  • Richard’s son, Ben, has been deeply affected by his father’s absence in his life. Discuss the ways in which their relationship evolves during Ben’s time in Malibu.
     
  • Anhil is a font of sound advice and sharp commentaries on American culture, despite his comic malapropisms. Discuss the impact he has on those around him. Does the fact that he is an immigrant outsider afford him a clearer vision of the people and culture around him?
     
  • Richard has been celibate for quite some time until he meets Sydney. What does it mean to try to start a new relationship after having been single for so long?
     
  • Early on in the novel, Richard describes his eating habits and himself as “Mr. Healthy”: “I eat cereal that the nutritionist makes for me; it tastes like wood chips. I drink Lactaid milk. I never break the rules.” From his neighbor’s intravenous vitamin infusions to the assortment of pies proffered as goodwill tokens, food and eating take on a peculiar glow in the novel. In what ways does Homes use food and eating—sustenance—as a metaphor?
     
  • “Richard thinks of the house on the hill, of moving back, of being alone. He cannot bear the idea of going back to what was, spending the days home doing nothing.” Instead, at book’s end, we find him “floating, waiting to see what happens next.” What do you think happens to him?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 19 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(6)

4 Star

(7)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

(2)

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2007

    Fascinating

    I picked up this as an unabridged audiobook. I like to listen as I drive, this book was so great I broke a cardinal rule and finished it at home. I have not read any other of the authors titles yet but you can be assured I will.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2006

    Great Read!

    I am constantly reading only 1/4 of a book & losing interest. Within 10 pages you are interested in Richard & what is happening to him. I felt I got to know Richard & the other characters without long paragraphs of descriptions. One of the first books to capture my interest in some time. A.M. Homes is a gifted writer and I plan on checking out all of her other books!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2009

    Funny moments, familiar theme

    It may be because the story takes place in LA, but I kept getting the feeling that I saw this movie before. Mid-life crisis man has a moment that detours him off his path and because he wasn't too happy with the other path, he lets it take him where ever it will. Whacky characters and incidents ensue, leading to touching moment with estranged son, random sex and drug use, some after-school special charity and betterment of others who stumble into his path, tied up with a classic one-liner that sums up the meaning of his existence. Luckily for the reader, some of the scenes are really funny, so once you realize the car is on rails, you don't mind the ride. Not much about donuts though and I don't think they were what saved his life, but that's just me....

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2008

    Stays With You

    AM Homes has not written a novel ¿ rather she has served up a refreshing colonic of pure Lala Land. Following Richard Novak's hilarious misadventures in the land of creative geniuses, larger than life stars, health gurus, exercise fanatics and people with too much time and money makes for a fun, easy read that is neither shallow or easily forgettable. The characters for all their extremities are people we feel we know or have met. The theme¿ a person trying to recover from heartbreak is poignant and moving. Though completely implausible at times, you may find yourself referring back to parts of this book long after its been covered with dust or handed off to a friend.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2007

    Its not what you think

    I read this book in a relatively short period of time. It was well written, and flowed easily...The characters were interesting, and funny without being too silly. I really liked seeing the growth in the main character. the way he began reaching out and stretching his comfort zone. Recommend this highly.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2006

    Good book

    I enjoyed learning about the main character - of seeing what would happen to him day to day -- but at the end I am left asking myself what the point of the book was - maybe it's just me? Anyway, it's a good read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2012

    Loved ut Loved it

    Hate writing reviews

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 15, 2010

    Disappointing

    Not particularly involving. I kept waiting for something of significance to happen, given the "important" sounding title. Over-all, it was dull, and unconvincing. I was disappointed in this book. Admittedly, I did get the audio book, thinking that it was going to be filled with all kinds of surviving-disaster advice (it was the mood I was in!) but found instead found it to be rather uninvolving. The initial scenes were interesting enough, but I felt the book went down-hill from that point. The books was suppose to be "darkly funny and emotionally intense" but fell flat for me. This book would do in a pinch if you've already read the back of the cereal box and there were no old back issues of Newsweek lying around, and you weren't awake enough to do much else.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 10, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Offbeat but relevant

    Today we seem to wear blinders when passing each other on the street or standing next to one another at the checkout line. This book really points out how we have become so secluded and wrapped up in only our own little worlds. It shows how life can become so routine and monotonous. You can easily distance yourself from those who should be your closest loved ones. This book demonstrates how to turn one's life around, look around, and begin interacting with all those you come in contact with. We can learn so much from each other, and we can learn to live again by reaching out to others, close or distant. This book will save your life by teaching you to get out of your cubicle and embrace life!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2009

    Forget the title. Forget the cover. This is a 21st. century version of 'Cather in the Rye for adults.

    Forget the cover. Forget the title. Buy the book. Read it. It is 'Catcher in the Rye,' twentieth century style for adults. Especially those who see straight through southern
    California.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2009

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