Sunday, December 15, 2013

sold down the river

“‘A shilling life will give you all the facts,’ wrote W. H. Auden, tipping his hat to the biographer’s art while lamenting its utter inadequacy. Jeff Bezos, whose total conquest of e-commerce has made him one of the most famous people on the planet, has until now evaded any serious biographer. There have been shilling lives in the strictest sense, from the cut-and-paste job of Richard L. Brandt’s One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of to the YA hagiography of Josepha Sherman’s Jeff Bezos: King of (“From the time he was a toddler, Bezos was busy trying to change his world. He felt he was too old to sleep in a ‘baby’ crib, so he found a screwdriver and took the crib apart!”).
     But Bezos has tightly controlled the flow of information about himself and his company. What readers have encountered is the same small fund of recycled anecdotes, most of them focusing on his childhood (brilliant nerd, inveterate tinkerer, ardent Trekkie) and the creation myth of Amazon itself, complete with the now obligatory reference to the role played by the founder’s suburban garage.
     Now, nearly twenty years after Bezos sold his first book online — for the record, it was Douglas Hofstadter’s appropriately brilliant and nerdy consideration of artificial intelligence Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies — a skilled, stubborn biographer has finally caught up with him.”
— James Marcus, Harper’s Magazine
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"the electricity goes on and off"

From: Haiku Poetry Project

“As literary coincidences go, it might not carry quite the same cosmic portent as Halley’s Comet appearing in the month of Mark Twain’s birth. But Monday [March 21, 2011] happen[ed] to be both World Poetry Day and the fifth anniversary of the moment when a young American software designer named Jack Dorsey sent out to the world the first message using the service that soon became known as Twitter.
     The ambrosial stuff of poesy it was not, except maybe to Dilbert fans: 'inviting coworkers.'
     But the confluence of these two events — both having to do with humanity’s deep and sometimes uncontrollable need to communicate — is occasioning a fresh outpouring of opinion about the future of Twitter as a vehicle for real creativity, not just for entertaining train wrecks like Charlie Sheen’s.
     For much of Twitter’s life, the idea that its 140-character stricture could be a crucible for a new kind of ambitious writing has been, more than anything else, a punch line.
     The 2009 publication of ‘Twitterature’ — a book in which 80 works of Western literature are boiled down into Twitter messages (“Laertes is unhappy that I killed his father and sister. What a drama queen! Oh well, fight this evening.”) — didn’t help matters.
     But there’s evidence that the literary flowering of Twitter may actually be taking place. The Twitter haiku movement — ‘twaiku’ to its initiates — is well under way. Science fiction and mystery enthusiasts especially have gravitated to its communal immediacy. And even litterateurs, with a capital L, seem to be warming to it.”
— Randy Kennedy, The New York Times
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“The fact that the smallest literary form - haiku - has the most rules never ceases to amaze and astound. The only real comfort one can find in this situation is the concept that this affords a wider range of rules from which a writer can pick and choose. You cannot follow all of the rules and several of them are so contradictory that there is no way to honor them both at once. You must always choose.
     In order to make a choice, you have to understand the reasons and methods. To write about one or two 'rules' as if these are the 'real rules' could (and should!) easily offend those of the society membership who have chosen to follow opposite or other guidelines. So let me make the disclaimer that in discussing these rules I am only discussing some of the current disciplines I am following in my own haiku writing and which are currently shared by a majority of writers.
     First and foremost, and certainly the guideline which I have consciously or unconsciously followed the longest, is the one that a haiku must be divided into two parts. This is the positive side of the rule that haiku should not be a run-on sentence.
From: SomeEcards
     There needs to be a syntactical break dividing the ku into two parts. From the Japanese language examples this meant that one line (5 onji) was separated from the rest by either grammar or punctuation (in the Japanese an accepted sound-word - kireji - was as if we said or wrote out 'dash' or 'comma').
     For purposes of this discussion, I would like to call the shorter portion, the fragment and the longer portion, or rest of the poem, the phrase.The need for distinguishing between the two parts of the ku takes on importance when one begins to discuss the use of articles (a, an, & the) because it is possible to have different rules concerning the different parts. Before getting into that, let me state that the fragment can be (or usually is) either line # one or line # three. A clear example of the first is;

rain gusts
the electricity goes
on and off

     Even without punctuation the reader can hear and feel the break between the fragment (rain gusts) and the phrase (the electricity goes on and off). Also one instinctively feels that the second line break would go after goes. Yet, another author may find merit in continuing the line to read 'the electricity goes on' and then let the final line bring in the dropped shoe - 'and off'. I chose to have 'on and off' as the third line because my goal was to establish an association between 'rain gusts' and 'on and off.'
     One can write of many qualities of 'rain gusts,' but in this ku, the 'on and off' aspect is brought forward and then reinforced by bringing in the power of electricity.”
— Jane Reichhold, AHApoetry

after the fall

From: Hunter's Planet of the Apes Archive

“Think humans are way smarter than other animals? Not so fast, Einstein!

Researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia argue in an upcoming book, The Dynamic Human, that humans really aren't much smarter than other creatures -- and that some animals may actually be brighter than we are.

'For millennia, all kinds of authorities -- from religion to eminent scholars -- have been repeating the same idea ad nauseam, that humans are exceptional by virtue that they are the smartest in the animal kingdom,' the book's co-author Dr. Arthur Saniotis, a visiting research fellow with the university's School of Medical Sciences, said in a written statement. 'However, science tells us that animals can have cognitive faculties that are superior to human beings.'"
— Dominique Mosbergen, Huffington Post
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“Does the rise in IQ scores over the past century mean people are getting smarter? Since the beginning of the twentieth century, IQ scores around the world have been increasing at a rate of around three points per decade, leaving intelligence researchers puzzling over whether historical gains in IQ—known as the 'Flynn effect'—reflect an increase in general intelligence or something else, be it better education, better nutrition or even bigger brains. A new paper published in the journal Learning and Individual Differences (2014) may have the answer: We’re getting better at taking tests.”
— Alice Robb, New Republic
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Saturday, December 14, 2013

artist as criminal

"More than 500 of the world's leading authors, including five Nobel prize winners, have condemned the scale of state surveillance revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and warned that spy agencies are undermining democracy and must be curbed by a new international charter.
     The signatories, who come from 81 different countries and include Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Orhan Pamuk, Günter Grass and Arundhati Roy, say the capacity of intelligence agencies to spy on millions of people's digital communications is turning everyone into potential suspects, with worrying implications for the way societies work.
     They have urged the United Nations to create an international bill of digital rights that would enshrine the protection of civil rights in the internet age."
— Mathew Taylor and Nick Hopkins, The Guardian
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Monday, December 9, 2013

"[...] between two loud claps of thunder"

“Most of us will for a time occupy this anxious, transitional space between two worlds, as described by Lord Byron in Don Juan (Canto Fifteen): 'Between two worlds life hovers like a star, / ’Twixt night and morn, upon the horizon’s verge.'
     Holy Saturday unfolds in this dark space, in the tomb where Jesus lay in a kind of unrealized state, perhaps plunging into psychic or spiritual depths in what has often been called the Harrowing of Hell — a legend without much scriptural basis suggesting that Jesus made a kind of wild descent, with mythic overtones, into the underworld.
     In fact, mythologies often describe a turn when the hero descends to a deep pit or a place of psychological, spiritual, or physical confinement, as when Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale or Gilgamesh descended into the underworld in a quest for immortality. Nearly all heroic or mythic tales include a part of the heroic cycle where the hero visits some version of Hell or Hades in his or her quest for immortality (Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess, is a female example).
     In any case, the Sacred Sabbath, as it’s often called with reference to Easter weekend, represents a place where Jesus dives into the darkness before the Resurrection. It lies between two loud claps of thunder, an emptiness wherein we sense a horrifying loss of life, on the one hand, yet remain expectant: in a state of gradually realizing awareness of the life to come. […]
     In John, Jesus passes through locked doors like a ghost — an unsettling image that suggests an incorporeal aspect, stressing his spiritual nature. In Luke 24:41–43, he astonishes his disciples by eating 'a piece of broiled fish' as well as swallowing honey.
     It’s as if, by looking at him, they didn’t expect as much. He has to prove his real presence. For the most part, the appearances of Jesus retain a dreamlike quality, as in Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, where he hears a voice from the Lord, which says: 'I am Jesus, the one whom you persecute' (Acts 9:5). When Paul opens his eyes, however, he sees nothing. The spirit has vanished.
     Huge questions confront anyone thinking about Jesus. Did he really rise from the dead? Was there an actual Resurrection? If so, what would that look like? A large number of Christians throughout history have imagined a resuscitation, refusing to countenance the slightest hint that the Resurrection should be regarded as something beyond human understanding. I myself would argue this: life and death are mysterious, at best, and the membrane between the living and the dead is a porous one, perilously thin.”
— Jay Parini, Salon
from his book Jesus: The Human Face of God
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“dark waters of desire”

From: Retronaut

See more "Lesbian Pulp Fiction" here…

“[…] a string of popcorn on a Christmas tree.”

“Science has long treated religion as a set of personal beliefs that have little to do with a rational understanding of the mind and the uni-verse. However, B. Alan Wallace--former monk, assistant to the Dalai Lama, and respected Buddhist scholar--proposes that the contemplative methodologies of Buddhism and of Western science are capable of being integrated into a single discipline: ‘contemplative science.’”
— Alan Wallace, Wisdom Quarterly
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"Over time, the practitioner [of shamatha meditation] begins to notice the sheer quantity of thoughts and feelings that his mind is generating. He sees the way that these mental phenomena have a mysterious life of their own — that they arise from nowhere and then disappear again. He starts to realize that it is possible to see thoughts and feelings without judging them, reacting to them, or identifying with them.
     As this happens, the practitioner begins to notice some of the stories he tells himself. Some of these are big stories — about the kind of person he is, the ‘meaning’ of his life, and so on. Others are much smaller — his narrative about why he should buy this toothbrush rather than that one, for example. But in both cases he starts to see that these stories are simply composed of thoughts and feelings — like a string of popcorn on a Christmas tree. In other words, he sees that his stories about himself are made-up, too. (Practitioners of contemporary cognitive behavioural therapy — CBT — might find such insights familiar.) […]
     OCD often feels like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, except that all the choices suck and all the adventures hurt. However, as I’ve begun to learn through Buddhist study and ritual, those ‘choices’ are illusory, and there’s no one being hurt. In fact, there’s no one there at all. The attempt to attain pleasure or avoid pain, to stay consistent with a storyline, to ensure some kind of outcome, to be somebody — this is what causes so much suffering.”
— Matt Bieber, aeon
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“JK Rowling has revealed that the OCD-afflicted lead character in her new novel was actually inspired by her personal experience with the disorder.
     The 'Harry Potter' author describes how her own battles with anxiety and depression helped shape her protagonist in her new adult novel The Casual Vacancy.”
— ANI, Yahoo!
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a room of your own, with a view... and a book

See more "reading nooks" here...

“If you have a passion for books, a reading nook is likely a dream feature for your home. We count ourselves among those dreamers, which is why we're featuring these small-but-stylish spaces for this week's #SanctuarySunday round-up. We've chosen our favourite nooks from Houzz -- which one do you like best?”
Huffington Post

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french toast

“French authors routinely appear in the English-speaking world's lists of the best novels ever - Voltaire, Flaubert, and Proust… sometimes Dumas and Hugo too. But when it comes to post-war literature, it's a different story. Even voracious readers often struggle to name a single French author they have enjoyed.
     France once had a great literary culture, and most French people would say it still does. But if so, how come their books don't sell in the English-speaking world?
     Is that our fault or theirs?
     And how come the French themselves read so many books that are translated from English and other languages? […]
     Even Marc Levy, whose romantic adventures have sold more than 40 million copies around the world and whose first book If Only It were True inspired the 2005 Hollywood movie Just Like Heaven, finds the attitude of UK and US publishers deeply irksome.
     ‘The caricature of a British publisher is someone totally convinced that if a book is French then it cannot possibly work in the UK market,’ he says. ‘I often joke that the only way to get published in Britain if you're French is to pretend you're Spanish. If you've been a best-seller in France, it's a sure-fire recipe for not getting a deal in the UK.
     ‘As for US publishers, they're so convinced that with 350 million potential readers and a big stable of American writers, they've got everything covered - every genre, every style. So why bother?’”
— Hugh Schofield, BBC News Magazine
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Friday, December 6, 2013

“He was a tall string bean and weighed nothing.”— Ben Bradlee Jr.

“[…] Mickey Mantle would stand and watch him take batting practice. When Williams homered in his last at-bat in 1960, the on-deck hitter, catcher Jim Pagliaroni, dropped his bat and started to cry. [...]
     But Williams' personal life was a mess. Though he quietly committed countless acts of kindness and generosity, he also railed at sportswriters, cursed and spat at fans, and took out his rage on those closest to him, hurling profanity at his wives and children and ripping phones out of the wall. And in a truly bizarre ending to his life's story, his son had Williams' head and body cryonically frozen, generating a bitter family dispute that played out in the Boston media.”
NPR Books
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“An unfinished book. left unattended, turns feral, and she would need all her focus, will and ruthless determination to tame it again.”— Ruth Ozeki

Andrei Roiter

“The novel, like all art, reaches for immortality, but the unfinished novel is bound up with mortality and the limits of time. In my view, that makes it even more beautiful than a finished novel. We're left to imagine the completion that is forever suspended. How was the writer ever going to tie up such a complicated plot? What was he or she going to do with all those characters and their noisy, difficult yearnings? And what was it all supposed to mean? As we circle these questions, the author becomes paradoxically more and more present to us in the work left behind. We feel his or her humanity because we see the traces of mortality everywhere on the page. These books are marked by the rush to finish coupled with the wish to never end.
     The universe of unfinished novels is large and diverse, full of acknowledged masterpieces, hidden gems, and many different kinds of incompleteness. Herewith a small selection: […]”
—Robert Siegel, BOOKFORUM
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A Marriage of Convenience

“A merged United States and Canada would have an economy larger than the European Union’s. The two would be an economic superpower, bigger than South America in size, with more energy, metals, minerals, water, arable land, resource potential, and technology than any other jurisdiction, all under U.S. military protection. […]
     Any merger, as the Germans and Europeans discovered, can be difficult. The U.S. and Canada have unique cultures, governments, healthcare, taxes, gun laws, and legal systems. But there are many ways to merge. One model would be a full-on merger as Germany accomplished in 1990, or a European Union-style merger involving the elimination of borders but not of governments.”
— Diane Francis, The Daily Beast
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“My erection beat time in my underwear.”

“An ecstatic bisexual orgy, which climaxes against a backdrop of imminent nuclear annihilation, has secured the prized Bad Sex in Fiction award for Manil Suri and his novel, The City of Devi.
     The Indian-born author joins Sebastian Faulks, Melvyn Bragg and Tom Wolfe among the pantheon of writers recognised by the Literary Review for producing the 'most egregious passage of sexual description in a novel.'
     Suri triumphed over authors including William Nicholson, who said he was 'ashamed' to have been shortlisted and Woody Guthrie, the Depression-era folk singer whose posthumously-published novel House of Earth featured ripe descriptions of hillbilly humping.”
— Adam Sherwin, The Independent
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There's a story here somewhere...

From: Retronaut

From: Jill Stanek
From: Retronut

Nelson Mandela (18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013)

“Growing up in apartheid South Africa with widespread state censorship, it was hard to get to know our political leaders. The first time I actually saw a photograph of Nelson Mandela was in high school in the mid-1980s.
     A braver classmate had managed to sneak a few grainy images into our school — a full-face, younger Mandela, his fellow Robben Island inmate Walter Sisulu and the South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo.
     We knew bits and pieces about the history of the struggle against white supremacy in our country, since apartheid-era history textbooks told only the manifest destiny-like tale of white settler triumph and the 'statesmanship' of figures like the mid-century Prime Minister Jan Smuts.
     So, the years since the end of apartheid meant catching up on our own history. After I came to the U.S. in 1995 to study at Northwestern University, I spent my Friday afternoons in the library, watching films that had been banned in South Africa. […]
     Since Mandela's release from prison in 1990 the myths and stories about him have grown, through many narratives constructed by journalists and the numerous films made about him and the many books written about his life. But these three, I think, provide a good introduction to this remarkable man, who always insisted that he was part of a larger struggle and a movement. [...]”
— Sean Jacobs, NPR Books
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Wednesday, December 4, 2013


“How to read a scroll that does not open because it is turned into charcoal? The short answer to this question is: with great difficulty. The challenge was prompted by the discovery of a large repository of some 1800 papyrus scrolls (made from plant leafs) in Herculaneum, a Roman city destroyed by an eruption of the Vesuvius in AD 79. They came to light in the 18th century, having been buried under tons of volcano ashes for almost 2000 years. Naturally, they were all pretty much toast. If you touch them they fall apart (pic 3), unrolling them is an impossibility. […]
     However, over the past few years various attempts have been made to visualize the scrolls’ contents by scanning them, including with the help of CT-scans. Although it allows us to look inside, even if the scroll is still embedded in hardened lava, no actual text has been retrieved as of yet.”
Erik Kwakkel
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From: YaleBooks

“‘We love great literature,’ it said. ‘We are excited by writing that changes the reader, and ultimately – even if it is in a very small way – the world. We love writing that is full of ideas, but that is also playful, funny and affecting. You won't write mass-market thrillers or children's fiction on our programmes. You'll be encouraged to look deep inside yourself for your own truth and your own experiences, and also outside yourself at the contemporary world around you. Then you'll work out how to turn what you find into writing that has depth, risk and originality but is always compelling and readable.’
     By the time I saw this, a number of children's writers including Philip Reeve had already protested. At first, the University couldn't see the problem. I tweeted the screenshot so everyone could see it and judge for themselves. It was picked up by the Guardian Children's Books feed, then by writers such as Patrick Ness and Michael Rosen, and is still being retweeted every few minutes, often accompanied by expressions of outrage and dismay.”
Earthsea, by Ursula LeGuin, is
considered one of the best books ever
written for young adults.
— Philip Pullman, The Guardian (Books Blog)
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Here’s a list of classic children’s literature…

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

on the road in the 21st century

Photo: Nolan Conway (via Huffington Post)

“If you spend a lot of time on the road you may be familiar the unconventional Walmart policy allowing passengers to sleep in its parking lots. Photographer Nolan Conway delved into this American communal camping ground, capturing the faces and temporary homes of Walmart's contemporary nomads. […]
     The parked cars, packed full of belongings and memories, are a€œn unorthodox portrait of American life. "We sold everything we have and decided to find, as we put it, our American dream," photo subject Josiane Simpson told Conway.
     Yet not all of Conway's subjects were so optimistic. ‘There seemed to be a lot of people with mental disorders,’ Conway explained. ‘Many of them seemed to be sad and lonely a little bit, and being out there by myself I began to feel really similarly. But the stories were always really interesting.’”
Huffington Post
Read more and see the rest of Nolan Conway's pictures here…

“Based on a true story, Out There is a work of documentary fiction that begins by tracing Dr. Dee’s descent into homelessness. We are with her as she discovers the Rules of the Street: how to panhandle, how to feed herself from dumpsters, how to run from fights, how to find places to sleep.”
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Monday, December 2, 2013

André Schiffrin (14 June 1935 – 1 December 2013)

"PARIS - Andre Schiffrin, the literary editor who gave readers Art Spiegelman, Michel Foucault and Studs Terkel before he was forced out of commercial publishing in a defining battle between profits and literature, has died in Paris. He was 78. Schiffrin, who died Sunday of pancreatic cancer, had sought out authors through his final days, dividing his time between New York and Paris as founding editor and editor at large of the non-profit New Press, said Ellen Adler, the imprint's publisher. Schiffrin founded the New Press after his highly public departure from Pantheon Books in 1990. At least four other Pantheon editors walked out with him, as did numerous authors.”
— Lori Hinnant, The Associated Press via Yahoo!
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“The demise of a force in American literary publishing, André Schiffrin, in Paris at age 78, offers a moment to reflect on how Big Publishing works, and exactly how deep is its true reverence for the cultural and intellectual values that it wheels out periodically to defend copyright extension, DRM, the Apple price-fixing cartel, and its other self-interested curbs on free expression. For the former chief editor of Pantheon Books was the focus of a storm over editorial integrity versus commercial pressures when he was fired by the company’s parent Random House in 1990, in a move which many authors and others dubbed corporate censorship.
From: Melville House
     Schriffrin’s father Jacques Schriffrin was the creator of the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, an imprint with immense cultural prestige in France. The Schriffrin family fled to New York when Vichy France’s anti-Jewish laws demanded his father’s dismissal from the company he founded. In 1962, Schriffrin joined Pantheon Books, already in the hands of Random House, as executive editor, and championed authors such as Marguerite Duras, Günter Grass, and Noam Chomsky. However, the imprint was concerned to use its revenues to finance less commercially successful books rather than to enrich its parent’s bottom line, and eventually there was a collision with Alberto Vitale, the new chairman of Random House, who asked Schriffrin to resign after he refused to cut either Pantheon’s list or its staff. Writers who demonstrated or spoke out against his dismissal included E.L. Doctorow, Studs Terkel, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.”
— Paul St John Mackintosh, TeleRead
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“Members of The Writers’ Union of Canada’s sister organization, the Union des écrivaines et des écrivains québécois (UNEQ), demonstrated last week outside Montreal’s Great Library, calling for a nine-month period of discount control for new books. TWUC commends all recent protest actions in Quebec by writers, publishers and booksellers demanding subtle market regulation as a means of support for French-language literature.
     'More than anything else, the Quebec protests are about preserving the diverse, home-grown literature we’ve all spent so many decades building,' said Dorris Heffron, Chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada. 'TWUC stands with UNEQ in expressing our concern.
      The recent and rapid collapse of independent bookselling within the province of Quebec has led to a demonstrable contraction of available titles for Quebec’s book consumers. TWUC believes there is a place for retailers of all sizes in the book market, and that the pricing of books should reflect a fair and competitive market. The market damage from uncontrolled discounting leads to lower royalty rates for writers, discouraging the creation of new work. Market controls exist in other countries for similar reasons."
The Writers’ Union of Canada
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"In 1979, the legendary Acadian novelist Antonine Maillet won France's most coveted literary award, the Prix Goncourt, for the original version of this novel, Pélagie-la-Charette. In her acceptance speech, she said, 'I have avenged my ancestors.'
     Goose Lane Editions is proud to re-issue this classic of Acadian literature to mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadie and the début of the novel's musical adaptation, Pélagie: An Acadian Odyssey. [...]
      This funny, lyrical account of a daring Acadian widow's journey home from exile is the Mother Courage of Acadian literature.”
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