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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 November 2009

21 November: Josef Haslinger at the ACFNY
22 November: Book of the year recommendations | The Origin of Species v. Genesis
23 November: Camus' (non-)Panthéonization | Maj Sjöwall profile | 'The Political Fictions Project' | The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas review
24 November: Chinese literature abroad | Borders UK going belly up ? | Haslinger ! Tsunami ! Conversation ! | Nrittam review -- and book pricing
25 November: Tabucchi v. Schifani | Jalal Al-e Ahmad Literary Awards | Whitbread Costa Book Awards shortlists | Fado review
26 November: International modern classics in ... Korea | Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature finalists | The Wheeler Centre
27 November: The New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of 2009 | New Statesman book recommendations | Mandela's not-quite-foreword
28 November: Literature in ... Macedonia | Larson on Achebe | Best books of the year etc. | Pankaj Mishra on national literature | Lanchester on Broch | Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview review
29 November: ACF Translation Prize | Twofold Song review
30 November: Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon | Lu Xun revival ? -- again ... | Arabic books in Israel ? | Viewing The Original of Laura | Horacio Castellanos Moya reviews

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30 November 2009 - Monday

Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon | Lu Xun revival ? -- again ...
Arabic books in Israel ? | Viewing The Original of Laura
Horacio Castellanos Moya reviews

       Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon

       In New York Tobias Grey reports on 'A volume big and obsessive enough to contain Stanley Kubrickís never-made masterpiece, Napoleon', in The Cinemascope Spectacular of Books
       The Taschen volume is 2874 pages -- a: "Hardcover with 10 smaller books inserted" -- and costs $ 700.00. See the official publicity page, or get your copy at or

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Lu Xun revival ? -- again ...

       It's nice to see Time get excited about a Penguin Classics volume -- one that might: "be considered the most significant Penguin Classic ever published" ! -- but haven't we been through this before ? Jeffrey Wasserstrom enthuses about China's Orwell (well, there's one approach ...), Lu Xun, as Penguin Classics is bringing out a new translation of 'the Complete Fiction of Lu Xun', The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China (see the Penguin Classics publicity page, or pre-order your copy at, or get your copy at
This affordable volume comprises, over 416 pages, his complete fiction. Julia Lovell's are arguably the most accessible translations yet of such famous stories as "The Divorce," "New Year's Sacrifice" and the eponymous tale of Ah-Q (an opportunistic, inept sometime participant in the 1911 Revolution). Together, they give Lu Xun his best shot to date of achieving renown beyond the Chinese world. If it succeeds in this, the book could be considered the most significant Penguin Classic ever published.
       Yeah, sure .....
Lu Xun is critically regarded as the most accomplished modern writer of the most populous nation on earth, and a grasp of his work is thus extremely useful in forming an understanding of much of humanity.
       He's also one of the most widely translated authors -- there seem to be countless versions of Ah-Q, etc. -- and American readers never seem to have cared much for him.
       I hope Wasserstrom is right -- but I seriously doubt it ......

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Arabic books in Israel ?

       In Haaretz Jonathan Lis reports that Bill would allow import of books from Syria, Lebanon, as:
Books translated in "hostile countries" will soon be allowed to be sold in Israel, after the Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided yesterday to support a bill overturning a World War II-era law aimed at blocking information from enemy states.

This will allow the Arabic translations of best-selling children's books like Harry Potter and Pinocchio, as well as Arabic versions of prominent Israeli authors, to be sold here.
       I'm keeping my fingers crossed this really (and finally) works out .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Viewing The Original of Laura

       A reminder that the manuscript of Vladimir Nabokov's The Original of Laura -- now reduced to Lot 95/Sale 2227 at Christie's -- will be on view at the auction house that is flogging it in New York through 3 December; it goes on sale on the 4th.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Horacio Castellanos Moya reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are my reviews of two recently translated novels by Horacio Castellanos Moya:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

29 November 2009 - Sunday

ACF Translation Prize | Twofold Song review

       ACF Translation Prize

       The ACF Translation Prize award ceremony will be held at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York on Tuesday, 1 December, at 18:30.
       There were actually two winning submissions: Jean Snook, for her translation of Gert Jonke's Der Ferne Klang (The Distant Sound; forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press), and Uljana Wolf and Christian Hawkey for Bad Words, their translation of a selection of prose-pieces by Ilse Aichinger, of which the collection Schlechte Wörter is the centerpiece.
       (I was one of the judges for the prize, and, along with Fatima Naqvi, will be one of the laudators on Tuesday.)
       The event itself should be interesting, too -- and it is open to the public, so all are welcome .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Twofold Song review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Yi Mun-yol's Twofold Song.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

28 November 2009 - Saturday

Literature in ... Macedonia | Larson on Achebe
Best books of the year etc. | Pankaj Mishra on national literature
Lanchester on Broch | Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview review

       Literature in ... Macedonia

       At Eurozine Lidija Kapushevska-Drakulevska reports on 'Recent Macedonian literature between tradition and innovation', in Meeting halfway, as:
Macedonian literature has long transcended national borders, and has become a European occurrence, so to speak. The latest literature produced in Macedonia (2008/2009) confirms this
       The only two Macedonian works under review at the complete review are Goce Smilevski's Conversation with Spinoza and Luan Starova's Les livres de mon pére; I'd love to see more appear in translation .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Larson on Achebe

       At Counterpunch Charles R. Larson reviews The Education of a British-Protected Child, in The Autumn of Chinua Achebe, noting that:
The occasion of a new book by Chinua Achebe -- Africaís most celebrated writer and author of Things Fall Apart, the great African novel -- cannot be ignored.
       (I'd love to not ignore it, but haven't been able to obtain a copy of The Education of a British-Protected Child yet; I'm hoping my repeated request to the publisher eventually meets with success ..... Meanwhile, get your copy at, or pre-order at
       Larson also notes Achebe's work at the African Writers Series:
Achebe selected and edited the first two hundred titles. Thus, almost single-handedly he shaped the concept of African literature in a way no other writer has ever accomplished, defining the inspiration and development of an entire continentís literature.
       Which is certainly something that should be discussed at greater length .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Best books of the year etc.

       Every day brings new books-of-the-year lists and the like. The newest batch:
  • Christmas books in The Guardian, as "our writers and guests pick the best of 2009"
  • My books of the year in The Telegraph, as "A selection of biographers, novelists, critics and politicians choose their books of the year"
  • Novels of the year in Sunday Times (they have all sorts of other categories, but who cares about anything other than fiction ?)
  • Read all about it in the Financial Times

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Pankaj Mishra on national literature

       In The Guardian Pankaj Mishra writes on A question of books and borders, finding:
The steady globalisation of national literatures can subtly distort both their production and consumption; and travelling to Hong Kong to judge the Man Asian prize, I found it hard not to wonder whether the prize was meant to promote literature from Asia to western readers, or to create a space within Asian countries, many of which are still forming their modern literatures, for literary themes and modes that are not commercial or globalisable.
       (He did not, however, apparently wonder much about how Asian the Man 'Asian' literary prize actually is, despite its exclusionary policy that ignores works from Iran, the Arabic-writing Asian states, the Central Asian nations, etc. etc.)
       Mishra also writes:
I was intrigued to discover the work of Leonardo Padura, author of literary mystery novels, whose belief in socialist values marks him off from the kind of anti-communist dissident long admired in the west. Resident in Cuba, and often critical of the regime, he has created a degree of independence for himself through his affiliation with international networks of publicity and publishing; at the same time, he hasn't had to abandon themes that would baffle or alienate many among his western audience.
       (See, for example, the complete review review of Padura's Adiós Hemingway.)

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       Lanchester on Broch

       In his review (not currently available online) of Vladimir Nabokov's The Original of Laura in the new issue of The New York Review of Books, John Lanchester offers a gratuitous parenthetical slam of Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil, calling it:
a strong candidate for the least readable alleged masterpiece in the European canon

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview (& Other Conversations), just out from Melville House.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

27 November 2009 - Friday

The New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of 2009
New Statesman book recommendations | Mandela's not-quite-foreword

       The New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of 2009

       The New York Times Book Review's list of its 100 Notable Books of 2009 is out, and what is most notable is how few of the books are translations .....
       A number of the books are under review at the complete review:        There are also review-overviews of:        What is shocking is how few works in translation made the top-100: all of two ! (The Fallada, and Orhan Pamuk's new novel (which I'll be covering as soon as I get my hands on a copy ...).)
       Granted, as I often note, under the Tanenhaus administration very little fiction (and non-) in translation gets reviewed in the first place (and they'll only consider books they've reviewed for their 'Notable'-list), stacking the deck heavily against works in translation anyway, but this is simply ridiculous.
       It doesn't appear to have ever been this bad, either: I only went back a few years, but the fewest titles covered I could find was still twice this year's total:        But two ?!?!
       How is this even possible ?
       And I love how they start this year's list by writing that: "The ever expanding literary universe resists generalizing" .....
       One generalization seems safe enough: if it's a book in translation, the good folk at the NYTBR aren't very interested.
       So much for 'ever expanding literary universes' .....
       I'm laughing so hard that I'm crying.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       New Statesman book recommendations

       The New Statesman has 'friends and contributors choose their favourite books of 2009' -- see parts one and two.

       Nice to see Alasdair Gray yet again providing support for the terribly under-appreciated Agnes Owens:
Scotland's main literary event in 2009 should have been The Complete Novellas of Agnes Owens (Polygon, £14.99), but though the reviews were all favourable, there were very few of them. Owens's fiction has always been admired by fellow writers, but she was middle- aged when her first book appeared, lives in a poor Scottish town and is nearly 85. Neither a glamorous nor eccentric celebrity, therefore. A Working Mother and For the Love of Willie are masterpieces of understated tragical comedy. Prospective readers should not be repelled by the semi-pornographic cover design.
        (I'd imagine a semi-pornographic cover design would only be an added attraction and incentive, but this one admittedly is rather odd.)
       See also the Polygon publicity page, or get your copy from or

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Mandela's not-quite-foreword

       A few weeks ago I mentioned the fuss the Nelson Mandela Foundation made about the Foreword to Denis Sassou Nguesso's Straight Speaking for Africa (get your copy at or -- attributed to Nelson Mandela but, so they said, not something he had written for the book.
       Alas, it turns out Mandela apparently once did have such incongruously nice words to say about Denis Sassou Nguesso -- a 'leader' it is hard to have anything nice to say about --: David Smith now reports in The Guardian that Nelson Mandela's 'bogus' endorsement of African leader was real -- but old:
Mandela had indeed neither read the book nor written a foreword. Sassou-Nguesso was widely mocked for outrageous chutzpah in trying to sell books. But the case was not so simple.

The South African government confirmed today that the words used in the foreword were Mandela's. They were delivered by him in a speech in 1996, according to a statement from Sassou-Nguesso's office.
       And shockingly:
Tokyo Sexwale, a South African government minister who was reportedly a middle-man in granting permission for the use of the words -- though not as a foreword -- flew to Congo-Brazzaville this week to placate Sassou-Nguesso

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

26 November 2009 - Thursday

International modern classics in ... Korea | Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature finalists
The Wheeler Centre

       International modern classics in ... Korea

       It's always interesting to see what books are translated into foreign languages and what books are considered 'classics' abroad, and so I'm curious to see how the newly announced (in South Korea) Minumsa Modern Classic-series develops (there are ten titles so far).
       Yang Sung-jin writes about it in The Korea Herald, in Minumsa offers modern classic literature series:
While globalization represents the series' thematic standard, timeliness is another yardstick. Literary works produced in 1980 or after are primary candidates for the series, and Minumsa editors are planning to introduce up-and-coming authors who have won literary awards in different countries.
"In the 1990s, the world literary market is getting increasingly integrated, but the problem is that the sudden influx of world literature into the local market makes it difficult for readers to select quality works that meet certain standards," said Jang Eun-su, chief editor of Minumsa at a news conference held in downtown Seoul on Monday.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature finalists

       The Jewish Book Council has announced the five finalists for the 2010 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.
       Worth US $100,000, this is one of the richest book prizes in the United States, dwarfing Pulitzers, NBAs, and NBCCs. Unfortunately, they alternate annually between prizing fiction and non; this year is a non year, i.e. of rather less interest (well, to me).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Wheeler Centre

       They've opened The Wheeler Centre -- which rather ambitiously considers itself: "The centrepiece of Melbourne's UNESCO City of Literature Initiative" (i.e. is not to be confused with, for example, The Wheeler Center, "for the exploration of Montana issues").
       As they explain, it is:
A centre dedicated to the discussion and practice of writing and ideas. Through a year-round programme of talks and lectures, readings and debates, we invite you to join the conversation
       Sounds like it has some potential.
       Predictably, however, press reports about it have focused on the fact that: New literary centre named after travel book founders .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

25 November 2009 - Wednesday

Tabucchi v. Schifani | Jalal Al-e Ahmad Literary Awards
Whitbread Costa Book Awards shortlists | Fado review

       Tabucchi v. Schifani

       Writer Antonio Tabucchi is being sued by the president of the Italian senate, for libel -- for 1,3 million euros. There's quite a bit about this in the European media, but not a single English-language article I could find; last week, Le Monde published a petition, Nous soutenons Antonio Tabucchi, signed by quite a few well-known intellectuals (including Homero Aridjis, Andrea Camilleri, Patrick Chamoiseau, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Marie NDiaye, and Orhan Pamuk), and despite Tony Judt and Philip Roth signing on, no one seems to have taken notice .....
       See also Pierre Assouline's piece at his la république des livres weblog.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Jalal Al-e Ahmad Literary Awards

       The Jalal Al-e Ahmad Literary Awards, apparently Iran's richest -- the: "top winner receives 110 Bahar Azadi gold coins worth over $270,000" -- have been awarded and, as MNA report, War book Da wins Iran's most lucrative literary award. I've written about Da enthusiasm before; the win doesn't come as that much of a surprise.
       Troubling, however, is the fact that:
The jury announced winners of the second place award in the literary and special sections, but had no winner for the literature section.
The long and short stories sections had no winners.
       Let's hope they get the focus back on the fiction !

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Whitbread Costa Book Awards shortlists

       They've announced the shortlists for the multiple-category Whitbread Costa Book Awards -- or, as they nicely put it at the site (trying to remind you that these no longer are the Whitbreads -- good luck with that --, as well as trying to get the most bang for their sponsorship-buck):
Costa, the UK's fastest-growing coffee shop chain, has announced the shortlists for the 2009 Costa Book Awards.
       Admirably, however, they don't knock authors out of contention just because they've died, and so there are two posthumous nominees (one of them: the great Simon Gray).
       See also, for example, Little-known novelist vies with big names for Costa prize by Mark Brown at The Guardian.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Fado review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Andrzej Stasiuk's Fado.
       Coincidentally, Gerhard Gnauck just had an interesting profile (in German) of Stasiuk's Polish publisher, the admirable Czarne publishing house, in Die Welt.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

24 November 2009 - Tuesday

Chinese literature abroad | Borders UK going belly up ?
Haslinger ! Tsunami ! Conversation ! | Nrittam review -- and book pricing

       Chinese literature abroad

       In Shanghai Daily Sonia Jarrett writes at some length about this being a Breakout stage for Chinese books, wondering first:
With such a long-standing literary tradition, why is it that few people outside of China have never heard of any famous Chinese novels, let alone read one?
       But then finding:
However, this situation seems to be taking a positive turn. Since the 1990s, many Chinese novels have been translated into English and other foreign languages.
       A fair amount of detail -- yet she manages to avoid any mention of both the recent Frankfurt Book Fair (where China was guest of honor) and Duo Duo's recent Neustadt International Prize for Literature win.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Borders UK going belly up ?

       Book-chain Borders UK is apparently in deep trouble -- they've closed down sales via the site, for example -- and there's lots of coverage about what this might mean.
       At The Bookseller Philip Jones and Catherine Neilan report that Speculation mounts as Borders is put up for sale. Among the quotes of (disturbing) interest:
One publisher told The Bookseller: "Our pool of clients is just getting smaller and smaller -- they are the second biggest bookchain we have. The next six-to-12 months will be very interesting. I suspect lots of publishers could go bust [if Borders shuts down], because that's another 7-10% of the market gone."
       (They also link to what is apparently the Financial Times advert for the shop .....)
       Meanwhile, in The Independent James Thompson is led to wonder Is this the final chapter for traditional bookshops?, as:
As Borders UK's problems mount, the future looks grim for book retailers, faced with competition from supermarkets and the internet

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Haslinger ! Tsunami ! Conversation !

       Just a reminder that tonight, at 18:30, I'll be talking with Josef Haslinger -- about his tsunami book, Phi Phi Island, and more ! -- at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Nrittam review -- and book pricing

       Maniyambath Mukundan is an important Malayalam (the language they speak in Kerala, India -- not in Malay(si)a) writer, and I finally got around to one of his books; unfortunately that was Nrittam -- as the American edition, translated by Mary T. Mathew, is titled. As it happens, I had access to the translation published in India by Katha as Dance, by D Krishna Ayyar and KG Ramakrishnan, as well.
       Neither is adequate.
       The US edition does also offer the original Malayalam text, as well as a modestly useful (well, disposable, but not entirely without interest) foreword, by A.J.Thomas, but it boasts (?) a retail price tag of US $ 109.95. As I've mentioned often before, I don't understand the publishing business; here is yet another peculiar corner of it: obviously this edition is meant solely for the (university) library market: it's intentionally priced completely out of casual-reader reach, and no Barnes & Noble does (or should) stock this, and no casual reader will ever buy this. I don't see the point of this (isn't the idea to get readers ? oh, no, that's right: it's all about profit maximization ...), but -- except for making me less sympathetic when I next hear an academic institution complain about the high prices it 'has to' pay for books (if they're buying editions like this, where an alternative is cheaply available, they deserve no sympathy) -- what do I know ?
       The Katha edition -- sans foreword, or Malayalam text (which, however, can cheaply be purchased separately) -- lists for all of Indian Rs 175 (about US$3.75 at current exchange rates), is more attractively produced, and the translation (and copy-editing) is (slightly) better. The US edition may also serve a purpose, but it has no right or reason for being sold at that price (especially since the 'publisher' (if they put out stuff like this they really barely deserve to be considered publishers ...) obviously didn't spend a penny on copy-editing: nowadays most self-published books are more professionally put together).
       As you know, I'm a big fan and supporter of fiction-in-translation being made available, but cases like this leave me shaking my head: within a single year (2007-8), two translations of the same (mediocre) novel are published, one worse than the other, the US edition as user-unfriendly (price- and otherwise) as anyone could imagine. It's stuff like this that makes me understand where Sam Tanenhaus and his translation?-I-think-I'll-pass attitude are coming from.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

23 November 2009 - Monday

Camus' (non-)Panthéonization | Maj Sjöwall profile
'The Political Fictions Project' | The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas review

       Camus' (non-)Panthéonization

       The French have all the fun, as president Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to move the remains of Albert Camus to the Panthéon has exploded into a huge story there -- even though, as David Jolly reports in The New York Times:
"No decision has been made on the Panthéonization," a spokeswoman for the Elysée Palace said, declining to comment further.
       See also:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Maj Sjöwall profile

       In The Observer Louise France profiles The queen of crime, Maj Sjöwall -- co-author of the Martin Beck series (which I hope to eventually get to, if I can get my hands on the books ...).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       'The Political Fictions Project'

       At New York they've started The Political Fictions Project, inviting 'seven writers to submit short stories featuring contemporary political figures'.
       Among the authors: Adam Haslett, Lionel Shriver, and Walter Kirn.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis' classic, The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, in Gregory Rabassa's 1997 translation.
       (I really should go back to the William L. Grossman translation -- Epitaph of a Small Winner --, which I read ages ago; I think I preferred the tone of that one .....)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

22 November 2009 - Sunday

Book of the year recommendations | The Origin of Species v. Genesis

       Book of the year recommendations

       There will be a lot more of these in the coming weeks, but the first 'book of the year recommendations', where newspapers and magazines ask their contributors or people in the public eye for their best reads of the year, have begun to appear.
       Today The Observer asks a variety of people -- including Peter Carey, Kazuo Ishiguro, David Cameron, Geoff Dyer, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali -- for their Books of the year: what kept you turning the pages?
       Stretched over two issues now The Spectator has a long, long list of 'the best and worst books of the year', as chosen by their contributors: see their Christmas Books I and Christmas Books II.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Origin of Species v. Genesis

       Stephen Marche pits Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species against the Biblical Genesis, 'putting two great works to the readability test', in the Toronto Star, in Analysis: Darwin vs. Genesis, a literary smackdown.
       He concludes:
And so we are forced to the conclusion that, in almost every respect, Genesis is a better book than The Origin of Species, in the purity and intensity of its style, in its recognition of human realities. It's just that Genesis is a pack of lies that has served the cause of bafflement for millennia, while The Origin of Species is true and has done more to liberate us from ignorance than any other book.

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21 November 2009 - Saturday

Josef Haslinger at the ACFNY

       Josef Haslinger at the ACFNY

       I'll be in conversation with Austrian author Josef Haslinger at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York on Tuesday, 24 November (at 18:30), with John Cullen reading from his (unpublished) translation of Haslinger's Phi Phi Island, describing his experiences during the tsunami of 2004.
       Maria Simma interviewed him for Transforum, and we'll certainly be covering some of that ground, too.
        (The film version of Haslinger's Das Vaterspiel is also set to premiere (in Germany and Austria) next week; the English title is, apparently, Kill Daddy Good Night (which can't hurt at the box office ...).)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

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