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[BOOKS] Favourite Genres

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Postby David Whyld » Wed Sep 21, 2005 6:02 pm

Which genre of books do you tend to find yourself reading more often than not?

For me I stick mainly to sci-fi, fantasy (comedy fantasy as well), and horror, only very rarely reading anything outside of those genres. Although I did read a dozen or so of Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware novels a few years back just to try something different.
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Postby MileStyle » Wed Sep 21, 2005 6:18 pm

I'm not one for genre, preferring to read books on the merit of being books. If you look at my book review blog, which I started toward the end of last month, you'll get an idea of what I've been reading.
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Postby David Whyld » Wed Sep 21, 2005 6:29 pm

You don't have a favourite genre that you prefer to read - historical as opposed to romance? Horror as opposed to period drama?
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Postby MileStyle » Wed Sep 21, 2005 6:37 pm

David Whyld wrote:You don't have a favourite genre that you prefer to read - historical as opposed to romance? Horror as opposed to period drama?

It used to be horror, but now I just enjoy a good book. At the start of the month I enjoyed Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty (Booker Prize winner 2004) which is piece of gay fiction set during the Thatcher years; last week I enjoyed Saturday by Ian McEwan, which described the events of a neurosurgeon's day off - the same day as the 2003 London march against the Iraq war.

So, I suppose the genre I appreciate most is literature. The well written stuff that wins prizes.

I tried fantasy recently with China Mieville's Perdido Street Station. I bought Andrew Crumey's Mobius Dick recently; perhaps that's sci-fi.
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Postby David Whyld » Wed Sep 21, 2005 7:16 pm

Are books that win awards necessarily any better than ones that don't?

I tend to read very few award winning books because they seem to be about subjects I don't really care for. I like sci-fi and horror and epic fantasy - a novel about gay fiction during Thatcher years or a neurosurgeon's day off just doesn't appeal to me at all.
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Postby MileStyle » Wed Sep 21, 2005 7:42 pm

David Whyld wrote:Are books that win awards necessarily any better than ones that don't?

I tend to think so. I've been in a few discussions on other book/writing forums about what is "good writing" and, while it's a thoroughly subjective term, it gains a certain objective quality as you proceed to vary your reading. I'd be more inclined to merit the judgement of someone with a varied literary diet over someone who has read one or two books.

There's a lot of people on the Amazon reviews who post that The Da Vinci Code is a great book with great writing. These people, typically, can't spell (he writes "grate" books) and their inability to see The Da Vinci Code as one of the worst pieces of fiction ever released lowers my respect for their ability to recommend.

The books don't have to win awards, but the writers need to have a good command of English and an understanding of literary style. Authors who appear in the mainstream don't usually have this althought Waterstones and Borders are doing a great job with the selections for 3 for 2 they do.


Stephen King was someone I read in my teens, but now, when I tried to read something by him, I couldn't. Having better experience of reading than I did when I was in my teens opened up my eyes to how pedestrian he actually is. John Grisham, when I read him, had me appalled at how bad he actually is. And Matthew Reilly, who writes fast-paced thrillers, is up there with Dan Brown for the worst prose ever award. In fact, Reilly is worse, his prose has a tendency to suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder and he doesn't know how to characterise someone or, embarrassing for a writer, use italics properly - especially as emphasis in speech. One of the short stories on Reilly's site is seventeen pages long, but those pages contain forty individually titled chapters. Awful!

I tend to read very few award winning books because they seem to be about subjects I don't really care for.


But there's so many different awards out there: Hugos, Stokers, Clarkes, etc. It's not just limited to "high brow" fiction; although the bigger prizes, the Pulitzer, the Booker, and the Nobel, (even just to be longlisted) are the mark of someone who can write and tell a good story.

I like sci-fi and horror and epic fantasy


I read a nice paragraph about these genres in Ian McEwan's Saturday, where the neurosurgeon ponders over the speculative fiction that his daughter sends him to read.

A man who attempts to ease the miseries of failing minds by repairing brains is bound to respect the material world, its limits, and what it can sustain - consciousness, no less. It isn't an article of faith with him, he knows it for a quotidian fact, the mind is what the brain, merely matter, performs. If that's worthy of awe, it also deserves curiosity; the actual, not the magical, should be the challenge. This reading list persuaded Perowne that the supernatural was the recourse of an insufficient imagination, a dereliction of duty, a childish evasion of the difficulties and wonders of the real, of the demanding re-enactment of the plausible.

'No more magic midget drummers,' he pleaded with her by post, after setting out his tirade. 'Please, no more ghosts, angels, satans or metamorphoses. When anything can happen, nothing much matters. It's all kitsch to me.'


Within, as you can see, the character thinks that people who write speculatively are those lacking in imagination. Why create worlds where you can make your own rules, when true inspiration and genius is demonstrated by making sense of the current (nd very much restrictive) world?

gay fiction during Thatcher years or a neurosurgeon's day off just doesn't appeal to me at all.


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Postby David Whyld » Wed Sep 21, 2005 7:52 pm

Part of the reason you probably liked Stephen King as a teenager but don't now is that he hasn't written a decent book for years. I imagine even his biggest fans would be hard pressed to find positive things to say about the bilge he's churned out for the last decade; although, saying that, I still see more than enough reviews of his recent novels that praise them as 'masterpieces' to make me wonder if some reviewers even know what the definition of 'masterpiece' is.

I've not read The Da Vinci Code myself and probably won't because it's not a genre I'm particularly interested in, but from what I've gathered it's one of those books that seems to have opinion divided on it. Half of the comments I've read about it claim it's brilliant, the other half that it's the biggest pile of drivel they've ever read. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground for some reason - you either love it or hate it.
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Postby MileStyle » Wed Sep 21, 2005 8:08 pm

David Whyld wrote:Part of the reason you probably liked Stephen King as a teenager but don't now is that he hasn't written a decent book for years.

His voice, in the literary sense, is dull. And he had the cheek to make a rant at the US National Book Award ceremony saying that absolute cr*p lke Grisham should be recognised. (BBC Source)

praise them as 'masterpieces' to make me wonder if some reviewers even know what the definition of 'masterpiece' is.


Moving away from Stephen King. Let's consider Sean Wright, a self-published author from England. The reason he's self-published is because his books are that bad the only way he could get them in print is by paying for it to happen - he set up his own publishing company. Sean doesn't proofread his work, and knows nothing about the art of writing. Even punctuation, grammar, and spelling are beyond this guy's grasp.

I read a review of his novella, entitled The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor, today, and the review is reproduced below:

very so often I come across a thin book, only a couple of hundred pages long, that seems to pack just as much imagination and flavor between its front and back covers as one of those 500 – 600 page tomes do. These are often hard to come by but I recently had the pleasure of reading one such gem.

THE TWISTED ROOT OF JAARFINDOR, by the celebrated British Author Sean Wright, follows the weird and twisted journey of Princess Lia-Va, a root addicted, Glathni Warrior who won rule over her father's kingdom by killing him herself on the battlefield, as she makes her way to The Church of Our Lady of Brafindor and the Tree of Life and Death.

This is not your normal princess, folks, no, no, no. There's no long blonde hair, frilly skirts or daintiness in this one. Instead, Lia-Va is a seven-foot tall, ebony skinned, manipulative and self-centered woman who takes what she wants, often by force, and doesn't care who she hurts in the process. As she begins her journey to unravel the runeroot puzzle, an obsession which began for Lia-Va ten years earlier when the Ancient Holy Parchment of Brafindor came into her possession, she takes on the pale-skinned, red-haired and mysterious Islan as her "Back Eyes", or body guard of sorts...someone to watch her back when things get rough.

Together, Lia-Va and Islan board the skyship, Voyeur, captained by the Insectiant Tullock-Cha, and manned by a horde of cutthroat sailors. Wright fills his amazing world of Jaarfindor with all kinds of miscreants and filth, all manners of species, big and small, humanoid and...other. An entire host of Pardoners, Dymapeds, Beastbots and Insectiants fill the streets and ships, each location is described in full color and with great detail.

All of this helps the reader greatly to believe in the events as they transpire throughout the novel. As Lia-Va makes her way through the catacombs of The Church of Our Lady of Brafindor, to the final resting place of St. Urbania and the ultimate confrontation that threatens to destroy the very fabric of Jaarfindor's existence, the reader is drawn in, fully engulfed in the story and turning those pages with great rapidity.

Several sub-plots, such as the root addiction that afflicts so many and the peculiar manner in which this addiction affects those who are afflicted, the surgically removed and red-eyed floating black soul of the Voyeur's Captain attached to the insectiant by a cord of ectoplasm, and the many voices that fill Lia-Va's head—vying for control of her thoughts and actions—do more than just supply the reader with more fantastical elements to ponder, they plunge the reader deeper into the story, wanting us to get to the end to see how it all turns out that much more quickly.

THE TWISTED ROOT OF JAARFINDOR goes by fast and furiously and the reader approaches the last few pages all too quickly. Perhaps this was Wright's purpose all along, leaving the doorway open for a multitude of additional novels taking place in the Jaarfindor "universe". Well, if it was, I for one believe that his strategy worked—this reader was left wanting for more and I suspect that many other readers of this book were left feeling the same exact way.

Get back to writing, Mr. Wright. Your fans will be demanding more and you'll most likely be hard-pressed to fulfill that bursting need.


Sounds quite good, doesn't it? Well, I'm ashamed to admit I have a copy of this book (a friend bought it as a joke) and it's nowhere near as grand as that reviewer seems to think. Now, I've not reviewed it yet, but my friend on another forum has. Here's his review:

A sort of review of Jaarfindor - or at least a series of unguarded impulses in response to the tragic awfulness of the book.

Palimpsesters with long memories may recall this classic line from the excerpt of Jaarfindor on Wright's website (it's still there):

The thought of ending her days like her mother, on her back, wide-eyed on wine and heroin was the most miserable image.



I remember thinking I had never - outside Sean Wright's work, that is - read anything quite so unintentionally hilarious as that line "wide-eyed on wine and heroin." Well, as though to rise to the challenge, he has surpassed himself in the published version.

The thought of ending her days like her mother, on her back, wide-eyed on wine and heroin, with a wizard's white whiskers between her legs, was the most miserable image.



I. ####. You. Not. I mean who'd have thought Wright was capable of such alliteration?

Still, It's charming lines like that and these which mark Jaarfindor out as clearly intended for a crossover audience:

The sky-ships excited her. She suddenly had an urge to touch herself, but somehow resisted.



Islan scratched his balls like an absent-minded dog and sniffed his fingers, still gazing skyward.



Classy stuff.

I originally thought, though not for very long, that Jaarfindor was, just possibly, better than any of the Jesse Jameson books. I say that simply because (a) it couldn't be worse, and (b) there's a vaguely original notion in it - the roots to which everyone in the Elriad world is (spiritually) attached and (physically) addicted. However it's not quite clear what the roots are, or how the addiction manifests itself - and I was at that time giving Wrighto the benefit of the doubt and presuming he was going to let all be revealed slowly, rather than presuming (perhaps more wisely) that he was making it up as he goes along and there would be no coherent explanation of anything by the end: which turned out to be the case. Certainly the description at the outset is disconcertingly vague:

The Holy Parchment was the cause of her root obsession, for it contained a Runeroot puzzle that she just had to solve. Each root she obtained brought her a step nearer to solving the riddle. But why and to what end? She didn't know. Her mind would fog and blur if she tried to think about it, as if some alien force clouded her thoughts from a dimension she could not comprehend.



How convenient. And the language is all over the place: with the empress Lia-Va's subjects talking to her respectfully, all "Your Highness", and then - literally in the next line - tossing off casual things like "You're having me on, right?" Or nonsense like this, which would be all right coming from a character's internal monologue, but here is just the omniscient narrative voice speaking:

Princess Lia-Va was text book [sic] all right, and she really didn't give a flying ####.



Plus of course there are numerous Earth-in-the-20th-century references in a story set in a mythical age a long time before the JJ books.

In the end Jaarfindor must have taken me little over an hour to read. There's not much to it - it has the feel more of a story than a novel, perhaps like one of the manically hyperactive episodes of questingness in a Jesse Jameson book, only stretched out for the length of the book. This is its strength in comparison to the JJ series - it's not too rushed; but by the same token the fairly straightforward plot makes it feel a bit thin and "so what?" at the end. It's hard to imagine that Wrighto thinks it a major work (by his standards) - but then who can account for what he thinks? It's harder still to see why Waterstone's favoured it so - maybe they owed Peter Strauss one.

The writing too is perhaps less chaotic and confusing than the JJ books, but still never rises above subnormal in quality. (I notice that he reuses the one line I quoted as good in the Bogie Beast review - referring to an unpublished story on his website - where someone has "an abacus of sweat" on their forehead.) The dialogue in particular is absolutely atrocious, little more than a clatter of profane (and the ####s really are flying here) insults and clunking explication. Although Lia-Va is supposed to be 18 years old, and perhaps Wrighto thought lines like "Man, you haven't lived. Sex is great. Got an urge now, big boy?" were aufentic teen argot, really the effect is more of dialogue written by an 18-year-old rather than spoken by one.

The 'root' thing is never properly worked out - I thought for a time it was a representation of someone's soul, but that would mean Lia-Va (see the lines above about the Runeroot puzzle) would need everyone's soul in the world to solve her quest, and that doesn't really make sense; and then we see someone's soul make an appearance in the book, not as a root, so that rules it out. It seems in the end that the Root is whatever Wrighto wants it to be. The feeling of so-whatness is enhanced by the fact that we don't know anything about Lia-Va. It turns out near the end (oh like, sorry to ruin it for you all) that throughout the book her mind has been in the control of someone else - so when she is threatened with death at the end we don't care, because we don't know what she's really like and so can't have any empathy for her. Similarly when the end of the book threatens the undead taking over the world - a recurrent Wrighto trope - it's shrug-shoulders time, because we don't know much about the world that's in danger, other than that everyone seems to fight a lot and swear even more.

I don't know. I admit there was a tiny part of me that kind of wanted Jaarfindor to be slightly good, or at least to show promise. It doesn't. Sean Wright has no control of language, characterisation, style, dialogue or description. He's been, as we have so often read, a music producer, a band manager, an 'artist' and whatnot besides. Just as those have all gone in the end, the evidence of five books suggests that it's time to hang up the writer's cap as well. For god's sake Sean, move on and stop embarrassing yourself. There's nothing to see here.

In answer to the review from The Harrow above: don't worry, Wright's fans don't like his books - they don't even read them. I emailed a couple of eBay buyers, both of whom confirmed that they bought Jaarfindor purely as an 'investment' and wouldn't be reading it. Shame on them, more even than on Wright, for creating a market for this cr*p.


Here's the review from The Harrow:

Sean Wright was named one of the 15 most collectable authors by Book and Magazine Collector, June 2005; he's been named a Hatchards "Author of the Year"; and this book, The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor, has been listed by Charing Cross bookseller Foyle's as a favorite.

I fear I've missed something important.

Wright suggests that the book is aimed for readers 15+ years of age; Foyle's suggests 14+. I, on the other hand, would hesitate to give any but the most mature adolescents a novel that features a foul-mouthed, addicted, horny, violent teenage princess questing through a world of thieves and killers. The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor does contain an ultimately redemptive theme, but readers must negotiate a hundred or so pages of violence and profanity before reaching it.

Lia-Va is the 18-year-old ruler of Wisblakria Isle. Soon after killing her father, she sets out on adventure, hopping a ride on a skyship that's departing on the Holy Pilgrimage of Brafindor.

Lia-Va's patricide might be excusable. We're told that he was a cruel, despotic king and that succession-by-murder is a royal tradition. But the princess has no intention of improving the plight of her island's terrorized peasants; instead, she abandons them to pursue her quest for the addictive, memory-recording roots that are regurgitated moments before death by the denizens of her world. She needs to find more of these roots to solve the "Runeroot Puzzle," which a mysterious voice drives her to pursue with the help of The Ancient Holy Parchment of Brafindor. How she knows which roots to choose is somewhat mysterious, however: "Her crotch ached, a sure sign that a new undiscovered root was close by. ... It was close. She could feel it between her legs." (p. 31)

Nevertheless, she decides it's time to go on the Pilgrimage to solve the puzzle. Deciding that she needs a bodyguard to keep herself safe on the journey, Lia-Va pits a bar full of men against each other, promising the winner a position as her bodyguard to be paid in money and sex. The man who meets her at the ship doesn't say a word, but his silence doesn't prevent Lia-Va from dubbing him, within the first few seconds of their initial meeting, an "idiot," "stupid," "####ing dumb," "a brainless ape with a finger-sniffing habit," and an "imbecile" (pp. 27-28 ).

Lia-Va's unpleasant personality appears to be endemic to the society. Almost everybody she encounters is a murderer, drug addict, thief, pedophile, or would-be rapist. There's no saving grace here, not even the promise of a better afterlife. The Church of Our Lady Brafindor, the religion whose pilgrimage Lia-Va is joining and whose holy parchment she possesses, is a mockery of Catholicism's veneration of the Virgin Mary, pairing divine apparitions and healing springs with corrupt clerics, murderous pilgrims, evil saints and golden icons depicting root junkies.

The only admirable character here, the real hero of the story, is a wizard of the legendary Union of Thirteen, although for all his skill, he seems rather ineffectual at handling the spoiled 18-year-old Lia-Va.

There's no question that an anti-hero can a difficult character to handle. Fantasy has featured antiheroes from Baron Munchausen to Elric and Kane to Thomas Covenant and Jant Shira, and readers have loved or hated them according to their personal preferences. The key to writing sympathetic antiheros is to give them a few admirable characteristics, perhaps along the lines of a lingering sense of honor, a self-deprecating sense of humor, or a protectiveness toward children, and to avoid having the antihero commit crimes that offend a reader's deepest sensibilities. That is, of course, a delicate balancing act—for example, I could never warm to the rapist Thomas Covenant. Likewise, I could never warm to Lia-Va. Over the course of 133 pages, she does exactly one good deed, and that only after being threatened and in exchange for a reciprocal favor. Otherwise she's relentlessly selfish and crude. Wright comments in his introduction, "This book is not for the feeble of heart, or for those who take offence easily. For those of you who read Stephen King novels, you'll know what I mean." But Stephen King's protagonists are good people, people you end up genuinely caring about over the course of the novel. Lia-Va is not.

Jaarfindor also has an assortment of mechanical problems.

When Lia-Va meets her new bodyguard on page 27, his name, "Islan," is immediately used in the text, even though he hasn't introduced himself yet. In fact, he doesn't speak or write a single word until page 73, and he doesn't introduce himself until page 76.

A description of the character Mathers is repeated, word-for-word, on page 55 and on page 94, for no good reason. There's also some confusion over whether Lia-Va is a queen; she considers herself to be queen (p. 68 ) and "as slayer, she was ruler" (p. 21), but the text and other characters refer to her as a princess throughout, and it's not clear which is the truth.

The novel sets up Lia-Va as the viewpoint character, but occasionally the viewpoint shifts: to ship captain Tullock-Cha in Chapter 2, and to Islan and Saint Urbania in Chapter 6. POV shifting isn't necessarily an error, but when it happens only two or three times over the course of an entire novel, it feels like one. There's no story reason for the POV shift in Chapter 2, and although Chapter 6's shifts provide the reader with information to which Lia-Va isn't privy, they also serve to refocus the story on a different set of characters, rendering Lia-Va abruptly unimportant.

Sean Wright has talent and creativity, there's no question about that. The world he describes is bizarre and alien, corrupt and unique. It resonates with the "weird fantasy" crossgenre retro-sci fi atmosphere of Harrison's and Mieville's works. But Wright's vision of society, politics, religion and human nature is unrelievedly dark and depressing, with the hope of redemption offered only at terrible and destructive cost. Love, one feels, simply doesn't exist in the world of Jaarfindor.

The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor is indirectly linked to Dark Tales of Time and Space, at least inasmuch as Wright uses the term "shamutants" in both books—defining it in Jaarfindor, leaving it dangling without context in Dark Tales. In addition, both novels describe unpleasant characters (Crack Boy, Lia-Va) struggling with their own worst impulses. Joey Steffano, one of the two protagonists in Dark Tales, is more sympathetic, but The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor is the better-plotted book. In addition, Jaarfindor's afterword notes that one of the world's legends is mentioned in Wright's third Jesse Jameson novel.

Fans of Sean Wright's work might, indeed, find this book collectable, but I'm afraid I can't recommend it.


Now, that first reviewer....what does he know? And he's a writer!
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Postby red assassin » Wed Sep 21, 2005 8:16 pm

David Whyld wrote:I've not read The Da Vinci Code myself and probably won't because it's not a genre I'm particularly interested in, but from what I've gathered it's one of those books that seems to have opinion divided on it. Half of the comments I've read about it claim it's brilliant, the other half that it's the biggest pile of drivel they've ever read. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground for some reason - you either love it or hate it.

The Da Vinci Code is very carefully written so it's impossible to put down, but the story and writing otherwise isn't so good. Not a re-reading sort of book.
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Postby KFAdrift » Wed Sep 21, 2005 8:19 pm

Trouble is that those who "know about literature" have obviously decided they like this. It is Emperor's new clothes syndrome where you are ignorant if you don't see it.

You should take a look at Art School, 6 o'clock on BBC2 (last one tomorrow). It is quite funny for the utter confusion the art critic Sasha Craddock can cause with her burbling explanations of the student's artwork.
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Postby David Whyld » Wed Sep 21, 2005 8:21 pm

I know The Da Vinci Code is split into literally dozens of very short chapters, which is something I've always seen as a feeble attempt on the part of the writer to make his book seem a lot larger than it is. It might have 500 pages in it (or however many) but when you add up all the blank half pages where one chapter finishes and the next starts, you're probably cutting a good 100 to 150 pages out right off.
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Postby David Whyld » Wed Sep 21, 2005 8:24 pm

Of course, Mile, we tend to dismiss the opinions of anyone who says nice things about books we dislike, at the same time as valuing the opinions of people who praise books we do like. Just because one reviewer says Sean Wright is cr*p doesn't necessarily mean he is.

Not that I really know anything about him one way or the other. Until today, I'd never even heard his name mentioned.
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Postby MileStyle » Wed Sep 21, 2005 8:33 pm

David Whyld wrote:Just because one reviewer says Sean Wright is cr*p doesn't necessarily mean he is.

But that was two reviews and, if I could be bothered to read the last fifty pages, it would be a third review. There's more out there.

Not that I really know anything about him one way or the other. Until today, I'd never even heard his name mentioned.


Never heard of Sean Wright! The 46 year old literary genius from King's Lynn, Norfolk, who teaches physical education up to primary level? I'm shocked. From keeping up to date with the news on his website he seems to think he's a bestselling author, as do articles written about him when he supplies details.

Although, pretending to be a 14 year old girl on the internet to advertise your books, writing reviews of your own books on Amazon, and making stupid claims about your book outselling Harry Potter (one month after its release) when your book only has 3,000 copies ever printed is the mark of an unscrupulous author.




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Postby KFAdrift » Wed Sep 21, 2005 8:42 pm

Actually much of that self publicity stuff may seem rather familiar to David, just whisper the words Paul Panks.
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Postby MileStyle » Wed Sep 21, 2005 8:50 pm

Is the self-promotion not being taken too far when Sean Wright starts signing other peoples' books?

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