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tv   Tom Roston The Writers Crusade  CSPAN  April 21, 2022 11:27pm-12:30am EDT

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continue their district and state work periods. the senate will be back monday . lawmakers are expected to debate federal reserve nominees to serve as vice chair and also lisa cook who if confirmed would become the first black woman to serve on the federal board. when congress returns we will have live coverage of the house of course on c-span watch the senate on c-span2 and online on or with the free video app, c-span now. >> welcome to an evening of interesting things in brooklyn and jersey city. thank you so much for being here. it's beyond important for everyone to support local businesses especially coming out of the times we have been coming out of the last year and a half, everybodyeciate coming especially virtually if you couldn't have been here real life. a couple of things at the bottom
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of the screen the writers crusade. press the button to buy boo thek and you will also see a button that says ask a question, so we encourage youn to of course ask questions as you think of them and then towards the end of the hour we will go through and answer some of those for you. that is it for me and i will itell you about three people in the screen and then leave it up. tom worked at the nation for more than a decade and is "the new york times" and the author of two previous books and the most successful restaurant in the world. the other is an iraq war veteran and this lovely woman is the co-author of the book the fictionn editor of the review ad
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a student at the iowa writers weworkshop from 65 to 67 and we learned while in the green room she was a scholar facilitator at the va hospital so that is interesting and i hope to hear more about it. thank you for joining us and i will leave the screen and leave you to it. remember ask a question and we will get to it later. >> thank you all for being here. we've had a bunch of good events and have another a on thursday d then november 30th teaching a seminar for three weeks. but tonight, full metal jacket because we are talking about war and going meda and help approaching the issue of war by using
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metafiction. so i'm going to give you a baseline. fiction which the author felt they artificiality of a work by. he from the novelist convention and the traditional narrative technique so but kurt vonnegut ended his to try to find a way and he didn't just tell a story. he said it is a book about itself being written. and what this is about is he wanted to write a true war story but they were lost so he had to
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figure out a way to do that and he used the metafiction as a principled way to get into it and to reveal you can't enjoy a story about war. briefly i will say he'd gone to warwo in 1945, took 23 years to write this book. it's very much a story paralleled to his own experiences in world war ii but then there's also all this other stuff where he travels in time and goes on these true flights of fiction that probably are not real in fact my book is about
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how trauma and he was trying to show this character was deeply affected by the experiences in the war and then goes to other places because he can't deal with the reality of it so that is a baseline of what we are talking about. i want to briefly talk about sudan and of the reason i came up with the idea i think it is just so perfect a long time teacher.
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i was told through another veteran writer will he said you might want to talk about kurt and then we reached out and melina said he is a god so this is the guy i want to speak to because not only the fandom and he was the greatest story that i've got to talk to him and it turned out to be my hopes were realized and i had a great time getting to know. i want to get into it because he's a character in my book. also we are talking about techniques, the way people try to get to the truths. he dides that in a slaughterhoue
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five but what i found is when i approached slaughterhouse five it's in one way, suzanne mcconnell wrote this book with the reader that came at a couple of years ago that is co-authored with kurt. she took his writing and conspiracy co-authors but suzanne mcconnell basically bringing the words onto the page and lessons of how to write. suzanne approached the subject and we had different approaches. what we are going to do is get into one sequence. [inaudible] [laughter] these fingernails --
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>> i was going to text you. [laughter] let's get back to the text. speaking of colors i'm going to tell youou some others. this is suzanne's book. you will notice we both went or range. i think book designers like orange and it happens the breakfast of champions was this bright beautiful orange. no one w planned that [inaudibl]
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the sequence i want to start with is the reverse film sequence a lot of people note so we've got this character whose practically catatonic floating through life after his experience and if the story was toldm, sequentially it would be the most depressing book in the world but he uses irony and he votes forward and back and we get a lot of people that read this book and they don't feel depressed by it.
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billy knows because he can see in the future and past he is about to be picked up and he grabs a bottle of champagne from downstairs and watches the movie and starts to see it backwards. any of you who know the book you know what i'm talking about because it is so elemental. it's the re- trailing and you see the fires disappear and the bombs lifting up and going back to the day and airplanes going back to the airfield.
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>> curtis said he didn't want to make a peaceloving model but he found his way around depicting it in that way and it's a fantastic sequence. when i write about it i write in the context of ptsd because that is what my book is about ptsd
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can be construed as an invention. not to say that it isn't real but the disorder isn't timely nor does it possess an intrinsic unit rather it is glued together by the practices and technologies with which it is studied, treated and represented by the various interests and orarguments. for example they pinpoint the development of the flashback, the telltale sign of ptsd and a lot of us know a soldier so they
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find the roots in the early 20th century filmmakers coined the term to refer to a jump backwards in a movie and according to kings college researchers they were nearly nonexistent. civil war veterans tended to describe their episodes and images of seeing things. these were the days when people attempted to speak to the dead. we don't live in that time anymore. it's tempting to wonder if film, television and video games don't provide the lion's share of the vocabulary. teaching us how to see our
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memories in the way photography taught us how to see and unseen sunsets so they pokedp at the deep connection between the cinema trauma and memory. so i go into that and describe. then i want to talk to the response. it's widely i was most moved by the stories of the former area in chicago who fought in vietnam. i met. after serving in a war that he knew then the guys that they were fighting were more in the writer w then we were. with tears in his eyes he recalled his father having warned him before he enlisted in
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six months you will be in a swamp with a gun in your hand not wanting to be anywhere near there. after he came home from vietnam he was deeply confused by what he just experienced. he appreciated how his parents pushed him to put the war behind him while he went back to college. he was assigned and one night while out brake he took a novel and read it in a bathroom cell, an image that i personally dislike. he read the scene of the movie being reversed and by extension imagined everything he just experienced also being erased so he wept tears.
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so i made a choice to put in the context of ptsd but check out the totally different take that suzanne had and one of my favorite things i reached out to suzanne and asked her to read my book and while she was reading my book i read her book. her book came out while i was working online. i had this amazing summer for a few weeks i was imagining what is she thinking while reading minet and i was admiring her bok hoping she waso admiring mine bt also noted some of the difference. so this is what she says about this theme.
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it's a chapter called propagation. there is no explaining the imaginative leaks in the scene of the reverse however films twere rewound. youu could turn the light off of your home movie projector so you didn't have to see or you could watch backwards. it was amusing to do that. of this experience may have been more deeply in the memory of you
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inyour everyday rewound home movie. i think i have a reason to do what i did but i just adored and it shows you can talk about the samere thing. in i the chapter that you read it's about where you get your ideas and i talk about where curt got the word that everyone
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misused et cetera in the chapter so it's about writing, it's not about content. it's about where might he gotten this idea and when i was a kid we watched movies we loved to watch everything backwards because you either turn the light off or watch it backwards.
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you can call it visitations. it's just a matter of terms. they haven't been havingck flashbacks. if you have had an impact in yourt life i kept having not flashbacks but buildings slipping down.
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we all have flashbacks and in the 19th century they didn't think of it as flashbacks they thought of it as visitations from other spirit worlds. it does matter but in another way i don't knowow if it matter. >> for me one of the things i do in the book is trace the definition and the redefinition and how it used to be cannonball when they talked about flying over the heads of soldiers.
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it always changed the name. it was shellshocked and ptsd is coined in 1980 so when i talk about kurt identifying it and using it in his book he didn't come up with it the first time but the way that he describes it so perfectly, the diagnosis that came out in 1980 i was floored by that because he had his nose to the ground and understood how people relate to memory.
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>> he knew the term. >> you know the scene i'm sure. what impression did this sequence have? after reading your take on it i read it before we talked, too many times in my life at this point. i feel like it ends on such a
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heartbreaking point. you hear him breaking when he wrote it to erase the memory of what war is. of those that have suffered through ptsd or whatever you sdcall it.
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[inaudible] >> so, what is the function of the technique orin the approach, what would you say is the purpose of it? >> i think as i said to you earlier for him it was part of his big breakthrough to write
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it. that was me, i was there. when someone is shooting your brains out and say there we go, that was me. then it lends so much weight if you didn't have that a chapter that was just fiction but also in my book i talk about how i
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have a chapter called breakthrough about how all these forces came together and that was one. therell was the new journalism where all of a sudden there was a big breakthrough to not pretend your objective. also, he had just written the preface but mother night didn't always have a preface so he had done that at iola so something wase going on with him. i think those are about the war
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and ptsd if you read them together they cover the territory. >> it's all about him and his experiencesec but almost has no connection to the book so you can see he was working on it and just kind of slaps it on whereas -- >> you're absolutely right. >> and his dealing with it. >> i want to focus on writing about you as a film subject and character in my book i want to talk about our process because
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i'm always interested in the process and i describe your experiences in iraq and my experiencem with you. i'm going to surprise you with something i didn't put in the book. i cut this out but where i had it is right before i described one of the worst fights that you were in so i'm going to read it to you a little bit. this is just before he described. before i go further i will mention i reported and wrote what follows, i pursued the story just a little context for people, i identified early on in the c book i came upon what coud have been a war crime committed.
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i dispelled the notion. >> in my head i wanted him to put in the same and it makes no sense that he would. >> read the book. you will find out more. but the plaintiff that whole story is i want people to think about what attracts us to the stories and what makes the best ones work so back to this. sure i could rationalize this section by hoping it reveals more about the connection and i'm going to be honest here that's what it isis to me like n embodiment who is a writer struggling.
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despite his allegiance to the author in war in writing about war, i am no vaughn again either. in other words, in my book to be honest i have fun writing about it because i got to write and it did excite me and i have qualms about that so i want to bring this to you and ask you. you saw your experiences and you are a character in my book. what does that feel like?
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>> it's really odd. because you got everything right but then it's weird the story you told on how you told my story it's like an echo of what i told you, like a very close echo but in my head to you described the firefight inct the alley about in my head i knew what it looks like and i know the connotation of the alleyways that may or may not have changed how you viewed it but in my eyes it's a little confusing. it isn't what i saw when you say alleyway. >> so you are talking three a dimension and i'm talking to dimension. >> exactly and i found that interesting when i got my hands
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on a copy of it because the experience was eye-opening to me. i tend to come down myself very often and do nothing but i realized after talking with you i've been writing for a decade now justiv no one tends to see t anymore. i am at the point where possibly i will win a big award. it was an audit experience coming to thee realization as writers we all struggle as we've discussed and suzanne i'm sure you have an idea. it was all do. it was exciting. i've been written and published and written about but not so in my home, hanging out so it was
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different. >> if i could ask you what does he teach us about -- he often would use real people in his fiction d or nonfiction. what does he tell us about the responsibilities, where are the guardrails when we write about real people and what are the actions i guess. what is the reason to do it? >> that's a tough one. are welcome to pass. >> i don't think of him as using real people, he uses them as models. i don't think he uses real people very often. sometimes he uses names, sometimes he uses names of real people in his fiction.
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he uses people in the workshop and the fiction. his good friend in the galapagos et cetera et cetera but i don't have a real sense of that. >> based on an actual soldier that wasted away and died and thenho edgar the real american soldier who was killed. he uses those characters as inspiration. one of the fascinating stories i came upon is that he never told people that it was based on this charactern' for 40 years. he waited until the 1990s to tell people which shows the ability toee keep a secret.
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i found that in his writing somewhere but i don't have the reference right now in my head of when he said that. >> it was in one of the drafts. >> but it's not just a bear, it's in a nonfiction book because i have n it somewhere. >> not before 1990. >> maybe not, i'm not arguing that at all. i want to make a comment on that. fiction isis so tricky. one of us just said this. mixing him up so he is close but not. he wasn't like a passive kind of guy as you extrapolate and speculate, he had a temper, he could be angry.
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it was an aspect of him. but it's not joe either. it's an imagined character based on someone. that's what fiction does. >> i look at it as his ptsd. i don't look at it as a character but more just a feeling. he is not a three-dimensional character at all. before you were deployed then you read it r soon after. >> soon after. i was in iraq and read way more than i should have had time to do but i was stuck and then i kind of got back into my roots.
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it changes meaning every time i read it and i do pull out more things than i realize. i realize more about theik characters and that he goes meta- more than t we think. i think the one i sent you earlier, the example was he was talking about billy and rosewater in the hospital so they were trying to reinvent themselves and it was a big help. it's been eye-opening. >> i feel like you are almost touching on something i really
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want to know but don't understand. both of the people in your book, use a long passage about him. i have so much trouble understanding why somebody would read slaughterhouse five which is so antiwar and then go to war. i just don't get it and with you what you were talking about with general ryan. i was at an incredible conference. i just forgot the name of it, the most powerful weekend i had ever spent. he was listening and couldn't wait to hear what he was going to say.
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>> one of the things i found so surprising, most people that read it they didn't see it as just don't go to war. there was the romanticism of it. and io want to say something about this because once i was with kurt and i said something
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about how difficult it must have been and he said no, carrying a rifle through villages it makes you feel powerful. he did the same thing in life that he does in his books which ise cut through whatever little box you wanted to put him in us romanticizing the war. he did that switch and bait thing. i was taken aback. >> that was something i found in my research. he talked about the war fondly when he talked about experiencing in terms of one hell of a thing to go through that he would never have done
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that, ner show and that is thee that i get into. tim o'brien says don't ever try to make it seem okay. they say i enjoyed my band of brothers. the thrill off fighting the war is like getting a touchdown and a football game. there's attention that i think he was able to avoid. he just went wacko. so he was able to subvert the traditional narrativebu by makig it funny and dark but never feel good. >> i want to back up for a minuteoy because i don't think that he was there long enough to enjoy it at all.
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i think he had an unusually bad. he did have a friendship with his body. >> he always said -- i don't believe him at all. >> neither do his kids. >> you knew him personally and maybe it is too big of a hypothetical do you think it would have been possible if he saw all the participating combat? if he did the stuff that he never got to do? >> he did it for a month. i have no idea.
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of course not just a bad war experience. that is too simple. if you read his letter home, as a prisoner of war first they were bombed on their transport train then when they get to the showers a bunch of people die again, the russians die and he he's taken the prisoner and theat americans bombed. that is the war experience, that is what comes out. gray area. there is no good guys and bad guys. that is the point of it. none of it makes any sense so it is a big overall.
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i want to get behind the motivation of your question but give other people the opportunity to ask questions. >> are there questions to be asked or should i tell people just please ask questions? >> i have a couple but we will wait to see if people have any. now i will ask the question that's always on my mind. i never wrote about covid because i was pretty deep into the book. trauma and slaughterhouse five. what do you think they tell us
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about how to handle this pandemic that they were in? let's talk about it in this day and age that i think we should all be doing. my hope is the will go out and buys slaughterhouse five if you don't already have it. get that book and my luck. okay, three things i ask of you. but is there anything you could say about how does vonnegut apply to either trump or covid? >> you're asking us. if he wasn't dead already he would have died. it would have broken his heart
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really. thee quotes about bush. he didn't believe he would live to seey bush cheney, what am i missing? >> bush, cheney and cohen running the country so that is a great joke but trump was no joke and i think the authoritarianism, the black-and-white thing that is so opposite his view, the nationalism. he would have lived longer to write more about it if he couldo have. >> one of the things that mattered to me as i was working on this book was the notion that
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he was such a downer in his last year and it's something i hwrestled with because his kids woulday often tell me don't thik of him just a bad way because he had so much joy also and a lot of it comes from the main biography of vonnegut and so it goes so in that book he is depicted as pretty unhappy in his last few years. is that the truth of it or is there more of a nuance to it? >> i think he was pretty unhappy. he really didn't like getting old. he didn't have a good marriage. his second marriage started with a big kaboom but didn't go well so he was really unhappy that
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way. i think he felt like he had done his best work much earlier in his life but the last time i saw him i had lunch with him about six months before he died and he gave me a packet of poems and i'm on the bus on the way home and i burst out laughing. he had a poem called patients andd it's about a student asking him she hadn't experienced yet and he puts his hand on her shoulder and says patients. she says it better than i am saying it. i think that he was sad. >> as he got older, do you believe. did you ever discuss the war to
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an extent? >> i told you the anecdote but no. notan directly in class. and i talk about that. we all knew and we always felt this sense of he was an incrediblein class, wonderful td he says that was his best time, teaching. we talk about this in the book about the difference of soldiers in world war ii and talking about things. i cut out a couple of articles byby him. he is very down-to-earth and doesn't have this -- the sharing of those things that you point out in your book seems like a
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very different experience than having this don't talk about it or can't talk about it. it's so complicated and you point out some of that complication. >> we both attended nyu. i think i was there for about three years. talk about your generation in terms of being more open about the trauma that the soldiers today experience.
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>> every single one of those guys were officers. i was the only enlisted soldier there and me as well i came up through the ranks and it was interesting to see the interaction between the two. it's polished but it's not. people will talk about the war morehe openly now and through te
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years my generation, everything needs to be talked about and it's out in the open and part of now is writing about this stuff so we have a lot of that. i find more people interested in the experience over the years now than when we first came up. it was very fresh. they didn't garner such. >> it t reminds me of a story.
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it's a fictional short story. clearly there is a soldier that is traumatized and i'm not going to say that this is the first generation to write about it. explicitly about a soldier from world war ii that is traumatized and then he calls himself. there's always generations writing about it. it's an interesting subject to look at. >> itt was a cultural shift and it's not just war. there'ss trauma everywhere and people realize everyone gets screwed over. t i am alone but i have someone else i can talk to and i think that is three of us are sitting in a room.
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everything is so out in the open it's changed. >> there's one question i want to get to before we closed. people who've not been in the war are different then people would have been in a war. which person do you think was the intendedce audience? >> i would think this is for someone that hasn't been in the war. it's for everybody but he isn't talking to a soldier here. he's talking to someone who may to war.out going it's interesting talk about the intended audience. he was aware of his audience. his whole career was writing short stories to appeal to the
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audience. he always talked about it you've got to make your work entertainment. he wasn't just writing for himself. you might be right thinking about most of the guys in his unit they read the book and think this is what you wrote. they were looking forward to more straightforward nonfictional. so they were thrown by it. what is your take on it? >> anything? >> i think you're right it was a warning but i am intrigued not just in this conversation but
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whether where theca limits of talking is. i remember i think inom your bok you quoted tim o'brien as saying how he doesn't talk about it to his kids but if you talk about it you can be flippant where if youu are writing about it you can't. you can say this is my war story. i remember reading a book about writing by a poet teaching a class. they were talking back and forth about their war stories and then she says slow down. tell me the story. you can tell your story. i have no issue talking about it
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at this point in my life. it was done and i forced myself in the writing. but he says he's the nicest veteran and the kindest and funniest. he wrote about what happened and it does think about the does think about the experience flippantly at times and i'm not sure where that came from in his eyes but it's we don't know how to write this down and when i was younger i wrote about writing a lot in my favorite books. i wrote at that time he waited a decade. i didn't know he waited 24
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years. he he took this long and had to throw aliens in it to make the point. this would be really depressing. >> 26 pages by the way but i want to say it's taken me longer than that to write my novel. people take along to new line to write their traumas. >> we have one more question and then we are going to wrap up. was it passed around at all was it a book a lot of guys read? >> i was the only reader that i knew of. i use to shift from big boxes
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and they realized the overseas address. i was the only reader. no one i knew read it. now i know of older veterans, a couple of vietnam guys and it went around the unit especially like that the iran contra war. but not in my unit. we had dvd players. >> do you have any final words or anything you want to say? >> i was nervous about meeting you. you are a force to be reckoned with. >> thank you all so much.
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thank you all again. >> thank you for doing this. really appreciate it. please read suzanne's book. i would love if you got my book, the writers crusade and i look forward to everyone getting the book when it comes. thank you so much. thanks everyone for supporting independent bookstores. we appreciate it. by any of the books tonight. i will read slaughterhouse because i don't remember if i finished it and now b i need too back and read it again because it was fascinating. thank you everyone.
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>> walter isaacson, son of new orleans. >> of broadmoor let's say. rhodes scholar, intellectual, recipient of how many the words, we don't have enough time. you have


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