Book Club… Narziss and Goldmund and The Pearl

Dear Friends,

Well I feel like a bit of a fool for not responding to the hoards of messages that y’all have kindly taken the time to post up here. I’m not a facebook or a twitter dude, and most of my time spent on the internet is saved exclusively for following AFC Wimbledon in the English Football League, or else watching Youtube videos of Johnny Flynn again. And again. And also reading but not really replying to emails, to my shame (“sssssorry about that”).

Meanwhile, I thought it was high time to publish another book report (NOT a book review – “I am no prophet, and here’s no great matter…”), and this time it is the long awaited Narziss and Goldmund, by Hermann Hesse, that features alongside The Pearl by John Steinbeck cos it’s high time we gave that fella a bit more love.

It was our fine banjo player Win, aka The Dowggefather, aka Duh Dowgge, aka Tres Sikh, aka Country Winston, who forced me to read the Hesse. And I won’t lie, it has taken a long time to conjure the courage and headspace both to finish and write something about N&G. It’s dense, that’s for certain. And though not the longest book ever (I confess to being one of those people who picks up a book and at least notes the number of pages presented to me as a reader), it’s meaty and it’s challenging. Upon finishing it, I can’t deny the bitter sweet taste that it leaves me with, and I’m not even sure if I can say for certain that I loved it. I can certainly say that I’m glad I read it, and that it made me think the most of any book I’ve read in the past year. But it was also the kind of book that would take me about 30 minutes to get through and make notes on just one page, and the kind of book that I would pick up, read ten pages, and then put down for a few weeks and pick up something lighter to fill in the time. Like watching a really intense film on the plane, and then compensating by watching a trashy comedy immediately afterwards. I’m grateful for both to be honest.

But the way in which Hesse explores this man, Goldmund, his character, his journey, his mistakes made out of nature and nurture, and his relationship with the sort of heroic figure of his friend and mentor Narziss is amazing. The story centres around Goldmund, who is Narziss’s pupil at a medieval monastery in Germany, and who leaves his sheltered life to “plunge into a sea of blood and lust” in his dangerous adventures on the road, and tries to make sense of the physical world around him against the backdrop of the philosophical world he’s come from. Without giving too much away, he quits his life of structured prayer and sacred safety to go a-whoring and a-stealing, and most of the book is about his exploration of the benefits and dangers of living a lawless lifestyle. Hesse takes the opportunity to really focus in on the dichotomy between a free life and a structured life, and between the artist’s and the philosopher’s way of seeking meaning in life. All pretty, pretty big themes, yes. But it’s done beautifully, and a lot of the meat of the text comes from the storyline, descriptions of Goldmund’s actions and choices, and from his conversations with Narziss, which are truly brilliantly written, in my opinion. I guess it verges a lot on the philosophical and spiritual as well as the corporeal, which is challenging for someone more simple-minded like myself, but it really is worth it, I think.

If you’re looking for light relief (relatively!), then The Pearl by John Steinbeck is that kind of book that you can smash through in an afternoon. It is so freaking beautiful. If you’ve read Steinbeck before, I think this book displays some of his quintessential skills in a really concise, direct, unassuming little story. It is painfully aware and emotive writing about human beings, community and man’s most basic nature. Kino is a Mexican pearl diver from a poor community in Baja California where he lives in a hut with his wife, Juana, and their baby son Coyotito. Kino discovers the priceless ‘pearl of the world’ when diving for pearls one day, and the story is about how The Pearl changes this poor family’s life. They try to sell it, and all the wealthy city-dwellers try to cheat them. I don’t want to say any more – all I can say is read it, if you can. It’s beautiful in every way. There is hardly any dialogue, and Steinbeck uses a soundtrack in Kino’s imagination to do a lot of the story-telling: there is a Song of the Family, which is soft and tender and ancient music in Kino’s head, and there is the Song of the Enemy which he hears when he and his family are threatened. It’s an amazingly powerful device. I don’t know if this is the kind of book they teach in schools in America, we studied Of Mice and Men at school, but this book is so concise and spot-on that it really displays Steinbeck’s ability to cut through to the core of human nature in his writing, and his exploration of injustice, greed and poverty/wealth is mind-blowingly stirring and direct. His self-control as a writer (despite his obviously more expansive books like East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath) to be able to have a huge emotional effect on a reader with so few words makes him still my favourite writer I think.

M

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150 comments

  1. gogoyubari says:

    I almost have forgotten your birthday today! Well…Im wishing you A HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! SRETAN ROĐENDAN! (in croatian) ….will you ever come to Croatia ? If you promise that you will, I will bake you one sexy and cool birthday cake! :))))) Be blessed, man!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hey, mista Mumford, thanx God that you talk about Herman Hesse, the biggest writer ever! His book “Steppenwolf” put a magic spell on me and I just cannot go out Hesse` magical circuse! Did you read “Steppenwolf”, mista Marcus? At the moment, Im writting a movie screen script since it didnt have ecranization yet. I think that mista Winston shouldnt force you to read N&G as a 1st Hesse´s book, my opinion is that first you should read “Steppenwolf” to get a picture who is Herman Hesse. It is more like…the journey through his big and sensitive soul, Im absolutely sure that you gonna like this book. What about D.J Sallinger? “Rise up the roof beam, carpenters, for the big man is coming!” woah! Im breathless when reading him… and Walt Withmann is cool… Man, I just loooove this book club, I actually think that Mumford and sons is the only band in a whole world who owns one cool and interesting book club, I mean…it is really nice to know that someone still likes and read books in this sad, sad and lonesome World. Be blessed, Mista Marcus!
    Love and Peace on Earth!

  3. TallyMcNally says:

    Arizona. God bless and take in the world around you. Things aren’t always as bad as you think.
    XOXO,
    Tally
    *

  4. TallyMcNally says:

    Happy Birthday Marcus! Have a great day and enjoy being 25!! I hope you know how many people you have touched and how important and special you are to people. Your music, along with Ted, Ben, and Country Winston have helped me, as well as other people, appreciate and enjoy life around me and others. I would love to get to know you, and maybe you could tell me about your life in perfectly rainy London, and I could tell you about freaking dry, sunny, only-gets-rain-about-3-times-a-year Arizona. God bless, and take in the world around you. It’s not always as bad as you think.
    XOXO,
    Tally

  5. garym2k12 says:

    Happy Birthday Marcus i hope you have a geat one and i hope to see ye come to Ireland soon, we would love to have ye we are huge fans :)

  6. vashtakala says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARCUS

  7. josedavilac says:

    when come to Monterrey, Mexico

  8. celticwoman85 says:

    Happy birthday Marcus!!!!!!! I hope you have a great day.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Hi Samantha Ann you post arrived as I completed mine, I agree with your comments about people having 2 sides to their nature and the conflict it can cause. People want to do one thing but society expects us to behave in a different way and we never know which is ‘right’ or even what ‘right’ is so most of us just blunder along and ‘right for one person iis not so for another I have ordered Hesse’s poems out of curiosity ..Happy belated birthday! Annie

  10. rochford says:

    Hi SamanthaAnn and others
    I have just finished Narziss, enjoyed the lyrical descriptive language , Goldmund is a bit like a student on a prolonged gap year, tasting all the delights of life and freedom without responsibility until reality sets in and even then he is still himself seeking his own way It is doing what comes naturally v imposed morality, as with all good literature it makes you think , more questions than answers.I am unclear re significance of ‘the mother’ maybe needs more than one reading. Any ideas? Annie

  11. Anonymous says:

    Happy Birthday Marcus! I had mine on 29th so I had a nice birthday weekend. I’ve been reading loads as I have a week off. Finished N & G which I thought was just a fantastic portrayal of the 2 halves of humanity being incomplete without each other, that life is always a 2 way balance. I’ve just read Candi Miller’s Salt & Honey & have just started the follow up Kalahari Passage, God Bless, SamanthaAnnxxxx

  12. Anonymous says:

    I consider myself fortunate to have been “of age” during the 60’s – when some of the true greats of songwriter/musicians first appeared. Mumford & Sons belong right up there with Dylan, Baez, Simon & Garfunkel,etc. Their music touches my soul.

  13. JamesHerin says:

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  14. JamesHerin says:

    Has anyone completed it? invitaciones

  15. giofasa says:

    Marcus…tell me please…”Nothing is written” is the description of the Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son?

  16. Music4real says:

    Thank you for introducing me to Steinbeck!! I’m loving it. You’re work is amazing lads! Keep it up!

  17. scrappingpeg says:

    Both my daughters read The Pearl in Middle School and loved it. They had to write a report and design a cover for the report. My younger daughter especially loved the story and would tell me about it when she came home from school. It definitely made an impression. My 17 year old daughter absolutely loves your band. We keep hoping that when you perform in the US that it will be in the New England area (we live in Massachusetts). You have quite a following as the whole family loves your music.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Oh such great reads…East of Eden is a fav of mine both book and movie. Steinbeck’s selections give great artistic feel of America’s western culture and the mind’s conscience. Yet, read To Kill a Mockingbird for the feel of a great Southern American writer. In addition Ernest Hemingway’s novels aren’t so bad either… For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises, and A Farewell to Arms…check it out:^

  19. littlelamb says:

    Dear Mumford and Sons,
    Thank you for sharing.
    Is there any way to get in touch with you personally?
    I have a few songs that I would love to hear your band perform. My family and I are big fans of your and hear the truth in everything you sing.
    I am not asking anything in return, no money, no recognition nada. I just want these out in the world and want you to sing them.
    The 2 I have written so far are called A Kiss – by Half Moon (our newly formed band name) and Little Dove Little Butterfly, the recordings are rough but you can find them on youtube.com.
    I am pretty sure another song is going to come out of me today, so I will send you that title when it is completed.
    You can respond to my email through this blog if you would like.
    If I don’t hear from no biggy, God Bless and keep creating. Love your stuffy.
    Peace,
    Little Lamb

  20. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Marcus for the recent book club addition! I must admit, John Steinbeck was not my favorite author in school while reading Grapes of Wrath but I look forward to giving it another go with The Pearl! And thank you to M&S for everything you do! God Bless!

  21. hrob says:

    Just curious if y’all will be in Texas or surrounding area anytime soon?? Or even the United States, period! Y’all are absolutely brilliant!

  22. karkovytah says:

    Please come to Portugal some day! I’ve been waiting for a long time to see you.

  23. stonedflea says:

    dear mr. mumford,

    please be my boyfriend.

  24. scrnunn says:

    On my list of Freaking Beautiful:

    Babette’s Feast – Isak Dinesen
    Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard
    The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien
    Little Sparrow – Dolly Parton
    Joy of Man’s Desiring – Jean Giono
    Photographs by – Dorothea Lange
    Annabelle – Gillian Welch
    Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
    Poetry by – Anne Sexton and Gerard Manley Hopkins
    The Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy
    Paintings of – Margaret Kilgallen
    Patsy Cline

  25. samanthaann says:

    Marcus, lovely to have you back. About 40 pages to go on N & G. It is very philosophical, duty versus free will, the head versus the heart. I do find myself admiring the freedom of Goldmund & yes he is a naughty boy with the ladies, but it’s done in truth. He never promises himself to any or abuses any woman. I like the simplicity of his life. Dreaming of running away to sea!! God Bless, SamanthaAnnxxxx

  26. countrysunnie says:

    Marcus, all I have to say is that Mumford and Sons and Johnny Flynn are the best musicians in the world….that is so cool that you watch his videos, such a brilliant talent, like you and your boys…I am fabulously in love with the Brits right now, thanks to you….I’m not much of a reader of Novels but recently watched Bright Star also…..you Brits are brilliant….cant wait to see you in the states!! Bring Johnny!!!

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  29. rsyd says:

    PLEASE COME TO VANCOUVER! or even just BC

  30. Anonymous says:

    Firstly, thank you for the return on the “book club”. I can’t wait to search out a copy of N&G and start picking away at it. Very interesting that both books mentioned explores aspects of the human condition in very different yet impactful ways. I still have strong emotional feelings associated with reading “The Pearl” even though it has been many years since reading it in school. I look forward to sharing more literary adventures in the future.

  31. CharlieYoung says:

    I see you have been listening to Johnny Flynn recently, so have i :) i went to one of his concerts the other day and it was so wicked. I found a recording of one of his new songs if you are interested, i am sure that he has played it to you though. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLmuqXfyOrg&context=C3112e48ADOEgsToPDs kJB0ej5vBwf1gwllMoHbw74

    enjoy

  32. giofasa says:

    Dear Marcus, if you love what is honest, what is real, what is deeply human, you must read “The religious sense” of Luigi Giussani. Enjoy! Gio

  33. dharr0917 says:

    There’s a Nasty, Ugly rumor going round that M&S won’t be touring in 2012. Please tell us this isn’t true!!

  34. dharr0917 says:

    There’s an UGLY, NASTY

  35. ebrazzill says:

    Marcus this is lovely, if I ever get the chance to read these books I will! But by the way, the fact that your Live Shows is empty is seriously depressing me! Announce a UK tour won’t you and make it better! Much love x

  36. Anonymous says:

    Dearest Marcus, I hope you were reading the yellow, hard bound copy of The Pearl I gave you after the Asheville, NC gig. Your analysis of the books, or “reports” as you call it, remind me of what I loved most about majoring in literature and writing in college (although that love hasn’t translate into a respectable job yet). I recommend any novel by Amy Tan. Also, I think we should be pen pals.

  37. BlessedNica says:

    I feel like the heacy reads of books need a long time to read. This I am dealing with with Jane Eyre and Vanity Fair.

    I never read the book but have heard of it, but I do know some school systems make you read. it

  38. gina_marie_ says:

    Hi, Marcus! I have a suggestion for you…You mentioned above that when watching a really heavy movie, you like to compensate with a trashy comedy after. Well, after reading Narziss & Goldmund, may i suggest reading a trashy Judith McNaught novel to cleanse your pallet? LOL

  39. Anonymous says:

    Marcus you mentioned an email, is this an accessible email for all of us lovely folks, or like a more personal/business type email

  40. Anonymous says:

    Our lowly American educational system does,in fact, use this book. I remember reading it in the fifth or sixth grade. If I remember correctly, I didn’t like it because it consisted of so little discourse. Maybe I should try it again, considering I was only 12…

  41. BanjoAutumn says:

    In case you were wondering Marcus, they do teach this book in American schools. I remember reading it in 9th grade and doing a huge book report on it. Steinbeck is my favorite author as well, I’ve almost read through his entire collection of books. I do quite a bit of writing myself, and he’s a huge inspiration. There is this book I have been reading by Flannery O’Connor, and it’s very good so far. It is called The Violent Bear It Away . It’s worth looking into, and I really recommend it. (P.S., I LOVE your music. you guys opened my eyes to all the different music that’s out there. Thank you. Truely.)

  42. graciemitchell says:

    dear mumford and sons i love you music and your talent..and i have a book to recomend to you guys…its calledfantastic mr.fox it is a very funny book and movie i love it..oh and i love the bluegrass type of music you play but your album and songs really touch the heart

  43. delaney96 says:

    Not sure what to say, other than your guy’s music definetly helped me through some hard times, i think you guys are absolutly amazing and im hoping one day you’ll come to Kansas City, it would be a dream come true to see you guys live! oh and your book tips are amazing it seems these days it’s so hard to find a good read! I will for sure have to find these books and sit down and have a good read! Thanks!:)

  44. beto says:

    Hi, this is Roberto.
    You ouhgt to read “The Glass Bead Game” ( Or Magister Ludi also published as), “Steppenwolf” and “Siddharta”. The first title, discribes the secret power of Music or more physically vibration the world is build upon and how to manipulate it!!!! Second is a awesome struggle of one man’s life and it’s entity/character. The third describes the adolecent Buddha on his long and winding road to wisdom. Rather a bit more the human mistakes you can make, then the spitititual path to explain. Enjoy it. Dispite, a hell of great art and music you all create!!!

  45. GordonG says:

    Marcus, there is no shame to apologise for – I’m sure, for me, reading those books would be an education. You guys are the greatest, but unfortunately your gigs at the end of last year were too far for me to drive (now there’s a series of puns worth apologising for….)

  46. kmarcus5 says:

    I remember reading The Pearl in 9th grade…

  47. LibbyG77 says:

    I think you would enjoy Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. It is written for teens, so it is a short, easy read. But it has great substance. Sort of a gripping “long short story.” I also really enjoyed The Art of Racing in The Rain by Garth Stein. It is one of those books that even if you aren’t into the lifestyle of the characters you end up interested in them and caring about the outcome because it is fairly well written. I am always surprised and elated when a book can bring about an emotional response from me. :)

  48. loveinvested says:

    Wondering what to say to make you see how much I admire you… HECK! You are AMAZING! I ADMIRE YOU AS A PERSON! :D Lots of love from LA!

  49. mrsc393 says:

    The Pearl was a required read in my U.S. school but I must say I don’t remember a thing about it. I did, however, enjoy ‘Of Mice and Men’.

  50. mrb316 says:

    And I have known the eyes already, known them all—the eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, and when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, when I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, then how should I begin to spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways? And how should I presume?

  51. celticwoman85 says:

    I like Gone with the Wind and The Maltese Falcon. Marcus do you like science fiction books. I like going out of my comfort zones when it comes to reading.

  52. Emlyn says:

    II didn’t realize the character limit. Sorry bout that. I guess I will just bid my farewell before like this….
    Much Appreciation,
    Emlyn Northrup

  53. Anonymous says:

    I haven’t read a good book in so long. I am usually disappointed by the “literature” my schools present me. I am also disappointed in myself for not setting down my computer and actually reading. I will take your recommendations and try to succeed in finding these two works. I appreciate you to keep up on your because it gives me quite an enjoyment. Just from reading your very detailed report, I am already excited about my journey to find these books. I am a very determined girl, and I will definitively think you have a very nice, crisp taste and I surely enjoy reading your points and thoughts. I hope you take the time to read this, I also noticed you mentioned something about an e-mail, is that an in site thing, because I haven’t been able to locate where it is.
    Much Appreciation,
    Emlyn Northrup

  54. kiwifan says:

    Welcome back! I have to suggest that your oratory skill leans itself towards writing a novel or ten. Go on then – if you wrote a book I would buy it! All the best, and thank you.

  55. taylornugent says:

    Narziss and Goldmund is one of my absolute favourite books. Ah, so perfect.
    You should read The Bone People by Keri Hulme if you like The Pearl.

  56. Gogh_Stars says:

    P.S. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie is a must read.

  57. Gogh_Stars says:

    I too read The Pearl my freashmen year and wrote a book report on it. I have not really thought about the story until today but I remember feeling pity for Kino; a once content and loving husband/father, unintentionally turned criminal. Mr. Steinback makes one think if everything is truly is black and white with no “in-betweens.”

  58. german.celt says:

    I was thoroughly impressed with Hesse’s ability to pinpoint the struggles of defining personal identity… Right after I finished Narziss and Goldmund I read Steppenwolf – and it was an equally fascinating read about discovering one’s purpose. Steinbeck is definitely one of the greats – I’m always coming back to his works and they never disappoint… Thanks for posting your thoughts Marcus, interesting as always!

    xJen

  59. starfishflinger says:

    Sir, you have described both works in such a heartfelt and compelling manner. Each is incredible in it’s own way, and I am happy that you were able to appreciate both. I read Of Mice and Men driving down the Amalfi coast during my junior year of high school, and everyone else on the trip had to comfort a sobbing 17 year old for the next few days. Steinbeck has been a favorite ever since. Lovely to see you, hope you and yours are well. And I hope you have thanked Win for the book recommendation.

  60. Anonymous says:

    Your presence here is much appreciated Marcus, thank you. I can’t help but wonder if you have ever entertained the thought of writing a wee novel or ten… It’s something I can’t describe without sounding like a douchy fangirl, but you have a oratory skill that makes people hang off your every word (no pressure hah). You guys deserve every success in the world, all the best.

  61. funeebb says:

    I studied both of Mice and Men and The Pearl in school here in America, but that was when I was still in grade school many years ago. I didn’t like either of them but I would definitely be willing to attempt to read the Pearl again.

  62. mom2eight says:

    Thanks for the recommendations! Now I can curl up under a blanket for these cold months and enjoy a good read!

  63. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your insight, Marcus. N&G & The Pearl are now officially on my to-read list although I don’t know if my brain can handle N&G until I graduate & pass my boards in May. I didn’t have the pleasure of reading The Pearl in high school, although we were exposed to the wonderful Steinbeck through Of Mice. It inspired me to read East of Eden, which is actually how I came about finding your beautiful music – Timshel. Thanks for all that you do and good luck at the Grammys!

  64. Mmdavis23 says:

    Thanks for the words, man. If you haven’t already read Hesse’s Steppenwolf and/or Magister Ludi, and N&G made an impression, I think you’d enjoy those, too. I read the whole canon years ago in college and they were transformative. Seem say that when he got the Nobel for Magister Ludi (aka The Glass Bead Game) they were rewarding his lifetime of work, and that it wasn’t really his best stuff, but I was blown away. The way he managed to meld all forms of art and expression into a game, and made its “master” such a multi-faceted character, was pretty incredible. And I think I just talked myself into having to read it again…

    Also love Mockingbird. I’ve never come across language so simple yet so evocative.

    Thanks again- keep ‘me coming!

  65. jenna_xo says:

    …like I said can’t really be compared to East of Eden (which I loved) Hopefully I can find a copy of The Pearl tonight and start on the read! Thank you again for the suggestion hopefully I like it! Keep on suggesting-love hearing what you think. Jenna

  66. jenna_xo says:

    In Canada we too alternate-some classes get to read Of Mice and Men while the other class has to read To Kill a Mockingbird (Same as you @joshchetwyn).

    Thank you for the book suggestion, I just finished reading a book and was currently looking for a new one and I think the Pearl it will be :) On a side note have you read Cannery Row by Steinbeck? Not as good as East of Eden (My favorite Steinbeck) but an interesting read none-the-less about Cannery Workers in California. Not to bad but like I said can’t be compared to some other steinbeck classics in my opinion.

    Hopefully you get a chance to read it and thank you again for the suggestion-i’m sure I will love it!

    Jenna

  67. ebarnhorst says:

    Just to answer you question, I am in America, and have studied Steinbeck’s The Pearl very recently!

  68. rochford says:

    Hello M & thank you for the interesting comments on Narziss and Goldmund which is beside me as I write , I agree that reading it in small bites may be best. It brings to mind all those discussions on pre-destination & free will from my student days back in the mists of time. I read ‘The Pearl’ ,before you were born I expect but it still resonates in my mind! I absolutely agree with the need to read something light to refresh the brain occasionally. Keep doing what you do, please. Annie

  69. kbellitto says:

    You’d be a welcome member in our book club:)

  70. erind says:

    Well, thank you, Marcus, for giving me some more books to add to my list :)

  71. loelra0524 says:

    Thanks Marcus! I just finished To Kill a Mockingbird and really enjoyed exploring that again..we had studied that in school as well jo? or josh? (to the person below, i’m sorry i’m not sure if it’s jo or josh) before that I read The Old Man & The Sea & really enjoyed that world again as well..so I have been thinking where I want to go next..

    Yes to repeatedly watching Johnny Flynn videos! Brown Trout Bluesssssss…is my favorite, hilarious

    xo
    Lori

  72. wrotaa says:

    Thank you for this Marcus :) And good luck on the grammy :>

  73. Andyjanec says:

    Just popping over to Amazon to see if I can lay my hands on both of these……Thankyou Marcus, looking forward to them x

  74. Anonymous says:

    To answer your curiosity of The Pearl being taught in the U.S.A…. As a homeschool mom, I just had my 16 & 17 year old daughters read it as a high school requirement by my standards. – your book review was very well done. Thank you!

  75. joshchetwyn says:

    SICK! I’m going to read The Pearl! I’ve read Grapes of Wrath and I’m ploughing through East of Eden at the moment. I Love Steinbeck. In school we studied To Kill a Mockingbird whilst the other class read Of Mice and Men, which I really wanted to read. So I went and bought it and it was amazing!

  76. Marial2012 says:

    “Watching Youtube videos of Johnny Flynn again. And again”
    And again…