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Thread: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

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    Award Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    Okay, so it's early June and the prize isn't announced until October. That gives us four-and-a-bit months to start speculating, guessing, and second guessing who the Swedish Academy will declare the 2008 Nobel Laureate in Literature.

    I suppose it's best to first trot out the names of Adonis (Syrian poet, Ali Ahmad Said Asbar) and Tomas Transtr?mer, as no Nobel speculation would be complete without them. Oh, and Bob Dylan, no doubt at 500/1 Revisited.

    Other writers often named include Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie, and - for reasons that really do escape me - Murakami Haruki. Throw in some others like Philip Roth, Milan Kundera and Amos Oz, too. And add to them some poets, along with Transtr?mer and Adonis, like Les Murray and Ko Un.

    Place your bets...

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    I was looking over winners of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, as a few of its winners have went on to take the Nobel (Gabriel Garc?a M?rquez, Czesław Miłosz, and Octavio Paz), and there are number of other names worth throwing in to the mix:

    • Czech Josef Škvoreck?
    • Finnish poet, Paavo Haavikko
    • Barbadian poet, Kamau Brathwaite
    • Algerian, Assia Djebar
    • Somalian novelist, Nuruddin Farah
    • Australian, David Malouf
    • Colombian, ?lvaro Mutis
    • Polish, Adam Zagajewski
    • Nicaraguan, Claribel Alegr?a
    • New Zealander, Patricia Grace

    Given the odds of women winning the Nobel, the last two can perhaps be struck off the list for the time being.

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    I really love the fact that there's a poet in the world called simply Adonis.

    I doubt the Swedish Academy will honor Milan Kundera: in post-Soviet days, a writer in exile from a former repressive communist country doesn't make headlines anymore. Let's never underestimate the importance politics has in all this: if literary talent alone were recognised, Argentina would have 4 or 6 laureates by now, instead of 0.

    Ismail Kadare seems like a contender, not only because he has had books recently out but because the Balkans are news again; and picking out Albania will neither upset Serbia nor Kosovo; with this sort of neutrality in mind, I also doubt Rushdie will finally get it: the Swedes are a peaceful people.

    For my part, I'd give it to Philip Roth: let's put politics aside and just reward literary merit. He's one of the best novelists writing today. But he's not very political, and he's American, so I doubt it.

    Most likely it'll be some obscure writer from some obscure country.

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    Heteronym: people like pseudonyms. Such as the Icelandic author called only Sj?n, no doubt following on with the idea from the Icelandic singer called only Bj?rk. The Wikipedia tells you that Adonis (or Adunis) doubles up as Ali Ahmad Sa'id. See:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ali_Ahmad_Said

    You're right about Kundera's chances. And maybe about Kadare too.

    The Swedes appear to always weigh up no end of political factors when giving the prize: nationality, geo-political status of the country, language, and a few other things. They don't like America, but have picked a surprising number of English-language laureates lately:

    2007 - Doris Lessing
    2006 - Orhan Pamuk
    2005 - Harold Pinter
    2004 - Elfriede Jelinek
    2003 - J. M. Coetzee
    2002 - Imre Kert?sz
    2001 - V. S. Naipaul
    2000 - Gao Xingjian
    1999 - G?nter Grass
    1998 - Jos? Saramago
    1997 - Dario Fo
    1996 - Wislawa Szymborska
    1995 - Seamus Heaney
    1994 - Kenzaburo Oe
    1993 - Toni Morrison
    1992 - Derek Walcott
    1991 - Nadine Gordimer
    1990 - Octavio Paz

    Maybe this is because the Swedes have put all their language eggs in the English basket, when it comes to learning foreign languages.

    When it comes to literature, however, no country is "obscure". People write in their mother-tongue. The concept of "obscure" is similar to writing off literatures as "minor literature". There may not be many people writing in any one language or culture, but that does not make the individual author funny or irrelevant in any way. I applaud the fact that the Nobel team occasionally stumbles upon someone who has built up a whole body of works, quietly, like a writer should, and has not spent the past twenty years doing the readings & book festivals circuit to promote his or her works for the publishers. You must have heard how disgusted Doris Lessing was, being forced by her publisher to do the rounds.

    But as I said two paragraphs ago, the Swedes have one huge handicap: very few of them can read any other foreign language but English (plus Norwegian and Danish, similar to Swedish). So if a given writer has not appeared in English, their chances of winning are much reduced.

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    But as I said two paragraphs ago, the Swedes have one huge handicap: very few of them can read any other foreign language but English (plus Norwegian and Danish, similar to Swedish). So if a given writer has not appeared in English, their chances of winning are much reduced.
    Well, to be fair, a not-small amount of non-English-language literature gets translated directly into Swedish too. Plus I'm told the Academy occasionally have interesting writers translated for their own benefit. There's no requirement stating that the writer in question has to be available in Swedish - in fact, two recent winners (Pinter and Jelinek) weren't available at all when they got the prize.

    Funny you should mention Sj?n; his last few novels are really good. Far too young to be Nobel material, obviously, but still. I wish someone would translate his The Whispering Muse into English, you really ought to read it. (And Bj?rk is actually her name, though of course going by only one first name is a lot more common in music than it is in literature...)

    While the Academy definitely has a tendency to go with politically charged works (and has been for some time) I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing in and of itself (though I could disagree with individual prize winners). The criteria for the Nobel is specifically to award writers who deal with questions of ideals and ideas, which often means that something about it will touch upon politics in some form - either in the literature itself, or because writers with ideals are often opinionated bastards. I'd rather see them go with a writer who pisses people off than with a completely inoffensive one.

    I'd be surprised if it goes to a white English-language writer this year, given their predominance lately. I wouldn't be surprised if it goes to another of the old guard, though - there's a bunch of writers getting on in years who might deserve it. Vargas Llosa, perhaps? Mulisch? Tabucchi? Achebe?

    Rushdie won't get it because several of the old Academy members are still pissed off about the fatwa row.

    Eco won't get it because everone wants him to get it.

    And no matter who gets it, the man in the street will claim that he's never heard of that writer and that they should give it to Astrid Lindgren. Business as usual.
    Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.
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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    Quote Originally Posted by Bjorn View Post
    Funny you should mention Sj?n; his last few novels are really good. Far too young to be Nobel material, obviously, but still. I wish someone would translate his The Whispering Muse into English, you really ought to read it.
    The only title of his that's available in English at the moment is The Blue Fox, via Telegram Books, and winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2005. I've been thinking of buying it, since it's the slightest thing you ever did see.

    According to Wikipedia (reliable or not) The Whispering Muse is currently being translated to Faroese, Finnish, and Dutch. No English yet.

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    I actually asked a former head of the Swedish writers' union a couple of weeks ago in Visby, Sweden, about the rumour that Jaan Kross was in the running for the Nobel in 1991, but he dismissed the idea as sheer speculation. I still maintain that Kross should have got it years ago, when you look at his work and the body and quality thereof. And most of his significant novels were available in Swedish, translated by the late Ivo Iliste. But it didn't help. And as I have written elsewhere, Sweden desperately wants to avoid again bringing up the embarrassing episode in 1946, when some 500 Baltic refugees were deported by Sweden to the Soviet Union, and immediately sent to Siberia. This would be highlighted, were a Balt to win the Nobel.

    As I say, the still active members of the Swedish Academy will all read English, so Pinter won't have been a problem. Jelinek more so, as she had the bad manners to write in that obscure language, German, spoken by only one hundred million people worldwide. They'll have read her in English translation too, I wouldn't mind betting.

    I wanted to obtain a review copy of Sj?n's "The Blue Fox" from Telegram, but have had no success so far. He read a chunk out from that book at the Nordic Translation Conference in London last March. Previous to that event, I'd never heard of him. His translator, who read her version, is the likeable and easy-going Victoria (Vicky) Cribb, who has a penchant for Iceland and visits it often. Sj?n himself plays the role of the Mysterious Half-Mute Scandinavian, but judging by the excerpts, the book sounded good. His books are short, from what I've seen, a happy Scandinavian trend (c.f. Peter Adolphsen.)

    Returning to the Swedish Academy, I'm sure that the reason many non-literary people get so mesmerised with Nobel laureates they will never read is because there's one million dollars in the kitty. If the winner only got a glass ornament, a free dinner, and an easy ride in the world of publishing, there would be much less interest.

    I don't think that a work of art should always be provocative and politically charged to win prizes. One decade's vibrant political correctness is the next decade's tired old hat. Private life also exists, and does not have to Jelinek?sque, i.e. full of incest and male chauvinist pigs, to make a good novel.

    Rushdie and the fatwa did indeed cause a relishable amount of squirming - plus a few resignations from the Academy. Swedes love to be neutral - on the surface at least - and have kept their noses clean during international conflicts. During Palme's reign, they loved America, but hated everything it did.

    We're not supposed to be racist, but racial considerations always seem to rear their ugly head when it comes to choosing winners. When Chloe Wofford won the Nobel in 1993, this was, no doubt, because of her ethnic provenance... We're also supposed to be even-handed when it comes to gender. So the Orange excludes all men, in a world where there is a large number of women readers and even publishers. Now the Orange Girls are cringingly suggesting that they should have a token male judge. But they still appear to only want women writers. That's one thing at least that the Nobel does right: no gender bias.

    I dread to think what'll happen in Mulisch wins the Nobel. He started out writing interesting short-stories of the weird and Modernist type. But after writing a huge book on metaphysics or similar ("De compositie van de wereld") he wrote a huge novel ("The Discovery of Heaven") that made his name internationally. This was filmed starring Stephen Fry. His "The Assault" will have been much more to popular taste, although the subject matter had been dealt with by both Vestdijk and Hermans years before. But like Jelly Neck, Mulisch's got this gorgeously mixed background: half-Jewish, half-collaborator. But he has indeed written a prodigious amount of literature. He is a very likely candidate if the Nobel jury can get past the fact that he's a white male.

    Ending on a gory note, this same former head of the Swedish writers' union, as above, brought up the subject of Harry Martinson's bayonet suicide, saying that the worst thing was that he didn't get it right with the first stab, but had several attempts. Ugh!

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Heteronym: people like pseudonyms. Such as the Icelandic author called only Sj?n, no doubt following on with the idea from the Icelandic singer called only Bj?rk. The Wikipedia tells you that Adonis (or Adunis) doubles up as Ali Ahmad Sa'id.
    Eric, no need to get so defensive. I wasn't mocking the author. I really do think Adonis is a beautiful pseudonym.

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    Defensive I was not. Adonis is OK as a pseudonym, but it gives the idea of a handsome youth:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adonis

    The poet Adonis maybe took his name from the Lebanese river. But he was born in 1930...

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    As I say, the still active members of the Swedish Academy will all read English, so Pinter won't have been a problem. Jelinek more so, as she had the bad manners to write in that obscure language, German, spoken by only one hundred million people worldwide. They'll have read her in English translation too, I wouldn't mind betting.
    Again: assuming they didn't read her in German - several of the Academy members are multi-lingual - why wouldn't they have read her in Swedish? She's had quite a few titles translated.

    I wanted to obtain a review copy of Sj?n's "The Blue Fox" from Telegram, but have had no success so far. (...) judging by the excerpts, the book sounded good.
    It is. Not quite as good as The Whispering Muse, but damn good nonetheless - a mixture of a modern novel and an ancient saga, injecting modern psychology into the old myths.

    I don't think that a work of art should always be provocative and politically charged to win prizes.
    Not always, no. But a lot of books worthy of attention - and therefore of awards - will be viewed as provocative by some people, for various reasons. Anything worth saying will piss someone off. Plus, historically they've shied away from giving it to a bunch of - at the time - provocative writers, and personally I wouldn't want a future Ibsen, Tolstoy, Strindberg or Zola to miss out for being too controversial.

    When Chloe Wofford won the Nobel in 1993, this was, no doubt, because of her ethnic provenance...
    I've not read Toni Morrison yet, but would you say she's not worthy of a Nobel? And isn't it a problem if one would claim that every winner who is not a white male gets it by virtue of not being a white male? (As I recall, Jelinek dismissed her own win on the same grounds, so that's one thing you agree with her on... )

    That's one thing at least that the Nobel does right: no gender bias.
    And yet somehow the overwhelming majority of winners end up being of one gender. But the way I see it, both the Orange and the Nobel are privately financed prizes. They're free to give it to anyone they want according to whichever rules they want, they're only responsible to their own conscience, and anyone expecting it to be anything but a glorified reading tip is bound to be disappointed quite often.
    Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.
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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    Comments on Bjorn's posting #10:

    People such as Horace Engdahl probably do have a reading knowledge of German. Given the wealth of literature written all the time in that language, I wonder why they picked Jelinek.

    I shall nag Telegram again for a review copy of "The Blue Fox". When I asked the Finland-Swedes the other day, I received review copies in about two days. Why Telegram is playing hard to get I cannot tell.

    The problem is that what is controversial one decade is no longer so the next. Most novels written from a right-wing perspective right now will be frowned upon by the New Labourite ?lite that run the British arts scene, ditto some of the more anti-neo-con breakers and shakers in the United States. So, you can criticise almost anything in Britain, as long as you are well in there with certain political views. If there is a swing to Conservatism, as seems to be happening in Britain, the opposite will soon be true, and brown-nosing neo-Thatcherism will be the order of the day. The Nobel gang also appear to be on a politically correct roll at present which involves the Left rather than the Right. But that too could change when a few more of the 90-year-olds on the Nobel "committee" drop off their perches, and new blood is co-opted. Sweden is no longer the unthinkingly loyal hotbed of Social Democracy it used to be.

    Strindberg would never have won politically correct book prizes in our present climate. While he was indeed the son of a servant, as he liked to promote, he was far too much of a loose cannon, a purported misogynist who married several times, a vicious satirist, a bit of a looney who dabbled in alchemy, and so on. He would have spat upon the Nobel people and alienated them, ruining any chance of winning the prize. He could have been offered it for a decade or so, but look who won:

    1911 - Maurice Maeterlinck
    1910 - Paul Heyse
    1909 - Selma Lagerl?f
    1908 - Rudolf Eucken
    1907 - Rudyard Kipling
    1906 - Giosu? Carducci
    1905 - Henryk Sienkiewicz
    1904 - Fr?d?ric Mistral, Jos? Echegaray
    1903 - Bj?rnstjerne Bj?rnson
    1902 - Theodor Mommsen
    1901 - Sully Prudhomme

    Eucken and Heyse are not names we bandy about nowadays. Even the Swede Lagerl?f won. But not the irascible old dog in the Blue Tower (yellow and green, nowadays) on Drottninggatan, Stockholm. Strindberg died in 1912.

    I've not read Toni Morrison (or Blake Morrison, for that matter) either, but I'm sure they partly picked this American because of her ethnic provenance, as I put it. She may be a perfectly good writer, but I imagine that the spectrum of politics played some role.

    I understand where the Nobel money came from originally, but who finances the Broadband Orange? Still run by a band of broads, but they may get that male judge, one day. I can't find any clear statement on their website as to where the money comes from. On their website, however, the following piece of luminous information:

    Why aren't there similar prizes for men?

    Because no-one has, as yet, put in the time, creativity, effort and enthusiasm necessary to start one up and keep it going.

    No comment.

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    ... They don't like America...
    Is that South America, North America or Central America?

    Maybe this is because the Swedes have put all their language eggs in the English basket, when it comes to learning foreign languages.

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    ... But as I said two paragraphs ago, the Swedes have one huge handicap: very few of them can read any other foreign language but English...
    Which is about 100% better than most Brits.

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    "America" is often used to mean "The United States of America", just as "England" was often used until the mid-20th century, when referring to the UK. It's quicker to write "America", though "the USA" would be OK. But whichever bit it was that Amerigo Vespucci actually found, I don't think you denigrate the countries and literatures of Latin America or Canada by using "America" as shorthand. When we say that someone is "American" we rarely think of Paraguay or Canada. "American Literature" tends to me U.S. literature. And so on.

    I lambast British language knowledge all the time. I find it ludicrous that many Brits still think English literature is the best in the world, while never comparing it to contemporary literature from other countries. But two wrongs don't make a right. The Swedes suck up to the United States (or America...) because it's powerful, despite the fact that the Social Democrats there have always been USA-bashers. If Germany had won the Second World War, German would have remained first foreign language as it was in the 1930s. But the Swedes are good at being Vicars of Bray. Maybe now that Sarkozy is popular, the Swedes will start learning more French.

    But the Swedes are deeply ignorant even of the literature of the only language minority in the world that speaks the same language as them: the Finland-Swedes. If you think you know nothing about the Finland-Swedes, and are indifferent to them, so are the Swedes. If Brits ignore New Zealand and its literature, that country is thousands of miles away. But Finland is slap-bang next door to Sweden. No excuses.

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    "America" is often used to mean "The United States of America", just as "England" was often used until the mid-20th century, when referring to the UK. It's quicker to write "America", though "the USA" would be OK. But whichever bit it was that Amerigo Vespucci actually found, I don't think you denigrate the countries and literatures of Latin America or Canada by using "America" as shorthand. When we say that someone is "American" we rarely think of Paraguay or Canada. "American Literature" tends to me U.S. literature. And so on.
    Actually, Canadians do tend to view themselves as Americans. When I go north, I always refer to myself as "from the States", not American. If you say you're an American up there, they tend to reply, "Me too!"

    Now, in terms of literature, it's tough since Canadians came up with their special little term, CanLit, back in the 70s. But, to be honest, a lot of the themes of both our literatures tend to hang out in the same areas. Since a lot of our writing (at least historically) tends to be regional, this is not unusual. The Maritimes in Canada are in a way like New England in the US. Alberta and British Columbia's climate matches our own Pacific Northwest. The vast plains in the middle of both our countries blend into each other, regardless of border. We also speak a very similar variant of English (the Scots-Irish being a little stronger up there).

    Now, re: Mexico as part of this term "America", they are actually officially, Estados Unidos Mexicanos, or to us USM. This sort of highlights the silliness of our country's moniker. In fact, I think the French have some sort of mind-twisting linguistic trouble with referring to us as Americans or Statesians (not sure the actual French words, but that's more or less what they translate to). We are the United States of our Continent, but since Mexicans and Canadians are also Americans, we can't quite be the only Americans. Even our name implies this. We are only states OF America, which suggests that we do not make up the whole of America, but rather we are an entity within and part of a larger America...ugh.

    Of course, this whole British vs. English business makes my head hurt...

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    A question for el californio about Canada and CanLit. How much French-Canadian literature do Canadians and citizens of the USA (I'm avoiding the pitfall here) read, either in English translation or in the original French?

    My only brief flirt with French-Canadian literature was a decade ago when I was living in Tallinn, Estonia, and the National Library had a few shelves of French-Canadian literature that you could even borrow. I can't remember the names of authors, but began to realise that there's a whole literature out there. Alas, my French wasn't really good enough, not least because there will have been Canadian idioms there too.

    What do Southerners say about the fact that we Brits call all people from the USA "Yanks"?

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    What do Southerners say about the fact that we Brits call all people from the USA "Yanks"?
    That was very wierd to me when I first moved to the UK (from the US, not "America" ). I happened to be northern, but still could tell that the term did not have the same connotation over here. No one guessed I was northern - I was just "American", which happens to be the world's term, not ours. We learn to say we're "American" from traveling abroad because that's what is understood. "I come from the US" is cumbersome, and always induces the same reply along the lines of "Oh, you're American". We soon get the hang of it.
    Last edited by Colette Jones; 12-Jun-2008 at 23:59.

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    In addition to Southerners, it tends to hurt the feelings of Bostonians, too. Ha!

    It's actually confusing to me, too, coming from California, a very un-Yankee place (if by Yankee one is referring to old guard Mid-Atlantic to New England). But, I've got some Southern connections (immediate family all live there), and I would say that it rubs certain people. But they are usually too busy correcting references to the Civil War and renaming it the War of Northern Aggression (quite justly, I might add).

    As to the Francophone literature of Canada, I would wager that many Canadians read it (Anglo and French alike) considering many Canadians, especially on the east coast, speak French fairly well (if they're not Quebecois, in which case, duh, of course they speak it). In fact, in Montreal people will address you in French primarily, including immigrants. Imagine my shock at entering an Italian restaurant, expecting to hear Italian or English, and to encounter not only a menu in French, but a proprietor who spoke no English, only French and Italian! That's why I love Montreal...I was looking up some of the prizes up there recently and noticed they have a Governor General's for French books that runs in tandem with the English books. Being an English-speaker and very familiar with the British coverage of books from North America, I usually notice all the English-writing winners, but never the French. I wonder if in Paris they report on the French writers much like in London they continually speak of Martel and Atwood. Also, I've not noticed a French equivalent of the Griffin prize. (A good sub-question would be do French writers look to France as much as/more/less than the English writers look to England? Is there a Quebecois CanLit equivalent? Any Canucks reading this blog?)

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    What do Southerners say about the fact that we Brits call all people from the USA "Yanks"?
    In Appalachia, which considers itself in solidarity with the Union as the region had no inclination for secession, it would be a compliment. A few miles down the road, closer to Chattanooga, the term ''Yankee'' is still considered a pejorative. It's almost as tribal as Afghanistan in some places.

    Ooh, er, I don't see any Nobel nominees springing from there right now, eh?
    Last edited by Beth; 16-Jun-2008 at 01:39. Reason: bad spelling


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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    Do they have trains in Chattanooga? Bally tribal lot, those Yanks, whoops, I mean citizens of the United States, with no invidious distinctions between northerners and southerners.

    Oh, and when is Afghanistan going to become the 52nd state of the Union, after the Triumvirate of England, Scotland and Wales plus part of the island of Ireland, has secured its place as a State across the pond?

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    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation

    Pardon me, sir, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo? You catch 'em, we'll keep 'em.


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