Category Archives: Literature

What is the Great American Novel?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureEvery writer, professes or secretly aspires to one day write the Great American Novel. But the Great American Novel, it seems, is as elusive as Ahab’s white whale or perhaps is as elusive as Gatsby’s green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. American writer Frank Norris expressed it this way: “the Great American Novel is not extinct like the dodo, but mythical like the hippogriff.” [A hippogriff is a beautiful mythical creature with the body of a horse and the wings and head of an eagle.] Using today’s tech culture parlance, one would say that the Great American Novel is a unicorn. Surprisingly, this well-established phrase is not found in most printed dictionaries. So what exactly is the Great American Novel?

The phrase was coined by John William Deforest in an essay titled “The Great American Novel” published in The Nation on January 9, 1868. This date is important because it was several years after the end of the Civil War, when the young nation’s identity was still being forged. Deforest writes: “We may be confident that the Great American Poem will not be written, no matter what genius attempts it, until democracy, the idea of our day and nation and race, has agonized and conquered through centuries, and made its work secure. But the Great American Novel—the picture of the ordinary emotions and manners of American existence—the American “Newcomes” or “Miserables” will, we suppose, be possible earlier. “Is it time?” the benighted people in the earthen jars or commonplace life are asking. And with no intention of being disagreeable, but rather with sympathetic sorrow, we answer, “Wait.” At least we fear that such ought to be our answer. This task of painting the American soul within the framework of a novel has seldom been attempted, and has never been accomplished further than very partially—in the production of a few outlines.”

Deforest goes on to dismiss the work of such respected authors of that period, such as Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and James Fenimore Cooper, who he considers quintessentially “American” but not serious candidates for the Great American Novel. He does believe, however, that there is a work on the horizon that such deserves such an honor: “The nearest approach to the desired phenomenon is Uncle Tom’s Cabin [by Harriet Beecher Stowe]. [There] was also a national breadth to the picture, truthful outlining of character, natural speaking, and plenty of strong feeling… It was a picture of American life, drawn with a few strong and passionate strokes, not filled in thoroughly, but still a portrait.”

Thus Deforest provides the primary definition of the Great American Novel: a masterfully written novel by an American author that captures American experiences or values or evokes the ethos of a specific time in the country’s history. In her essay, “What is the Great American Novel” for the Los Angeles Times, Carolyn Kellogg provides a more eloquent definition: “The Great American Novel: A book that most perfectly imagines the kaleidoscope of our nation, its social fabric and its troubled conscience, its individual voices and strivings, our loves and losses. If some of the classic examples – Moby-DickThe Great Gatsby – are as much about failure as success, the arc of those narratives is always anchored in hope.” The secondary meaning of the Great American Novel focuses on its metaphorical use: the Great American Novel represents a literary aspiration, a literary benchmark “to be devoutly wished,” as Shakespeare would say, as opposed to an attained ideal.

Like choosing the best film of the year, choosing which novel is the Great American Novel is challenging; it is a matter for thoughtful and passionate debate among scholars, literary critics, writers, and readers. As Kellogg mentioned, two novels often come to mind: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Although particularly relevant to the period in which they were written, as great works of literature, they have endured because they continue to speak to successive generations. Below is a list of novels that are considered to be a Great American Novel:

19th Century
1826: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
1850: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
1851: Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
1852: Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
1876: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
1884: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

20th Century
1925: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
1925: An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
1932: Light in August by William Faulkner
[1936: Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
1936: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
1938: U.S.A. trilogy by John Dos Passos
1939: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
1940: Native Son by Richard Wright
1951: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
1952: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
1953: The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
1955: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
1960: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
1960: Rabbit, Run by John Updike
1973: Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
1975: J R by William Gaddis
1985: Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
1985: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
1987: Beloved by Toni Morrison
1996: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
1997: Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
1997: American Pastoral by Philip Roth
1997: Underworld by Don DeLillo

21st Century
2000: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
2004: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
2010: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

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Living Descendants of Famous Writers

alex atkins bookshelf triviaIt fascinating to think that there are living descendants of famous writers still living among us. Understandably, some live in obscurity to avoid the prying lens of the media, but some are quite proud of their lineage. Here are a few famous relatives of famous writers. Do you know of any more?

Louis Victoria Tolstoy (born 1974), who goes by the stage name Viktoria Tolstoy, is a popular Swedish jazz singer. She is the great-great-grandaughter of legendary Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910), best known for his lengthy novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). The other great-great-grandaughter is Alexandra Tolstoy who is a socialite, providing fodder for the British tabloids. Tolstoy was married to Sophia (Sonya) Andreevna Behrs; together they had 13 children; however, only eight of them survived childhood.

Richard Melville Hall (born 1965), who goes by the stage name of Moby, is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and DJ. He is best known for his electronica and house-music influenced work. In an interview, Moby stated that Herman Melville was his great-great-great-grand uncle. Herman Melville (1819-1891) magnum opus, Moby Dick, is considered one of the Great American Novels. Melville married Elizabeth Knapp Shaw and they had four children.

Mark Charles Dickens is the leading supporter of the Charles Dickens Museum in London. He is the great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens and is considered the head of the Dickens family of direct descendants. To date, there are more than 300 living descendants of Charles Dickens (1812-1870). In February 2014, 40 Dickens descendants gathered in Portsmouth, the city where Dickens was born, for the unveiling of a life-size bronze sculpture honoring his 202nd birthday. Several of his great great great grandchildren gathered around the bronze statue for the obligatory selfies, including Tom Dickens, Lydia Dickens, and Oliver Dickens. The youngest descendent to attend the event was Joe Robinson, who is the author’s great-great-great-great-grandson. There are several authors in the family: Monica Dickens (great-granddaughter) has writing more than 30 novels and Lucinda Dickens Hawksley (great great great granddaughter) has published several bestselling nonfiction works. Mark’s nephew, Harry Lloyd, is an actor and has appeared in Game of Thrones and Robin Hood. Charles Dickens was married to Catherine (Kate) Thomson Hogarth and had 10 children.

Michael Tolkien, a children’s book writer, is grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien(1892-1973), best known for the popular fantasy novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Mariel Hemingway is an actress and model; she is the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), legendary author of The Old Man and the Sea and The Sun Also Rises.

Christopher Merlin Vyvyan Holland is a Oscar Wilde scholar and editor of The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. He is the only grandson of Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), best known for The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Anna Chancellor is an actress who plays Caroline Bingley in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. She is the high-times great niece of Jane Austen (1775-1817), author of the aforementioned adaptation, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Emma.

Benjamin Cheever and Susan Cheever are both successful writers. They are the children of American author John Cheever (1912-1982), best known for his short stories and the four novels that make up The Wapshot Chronicle.

Canadian Dacre Stoker, author of Dracula: The Undead, is the great-grand nephew of Irish author Bram Stoker (1847-1912 ) who wrote one of the most famous gothic novels, Dracula.

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Looking Back at 2017: The Best and Worst of Times

alex atkins bookshelf cultureWhen looking back at 2017, one cannot help but be reminded of the famous opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities published in 1859. Although the novel is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution more than 150 years ago, it perfectly captures the schizophrenic nature of 2017: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Perhaps we can update Dickens’ brilliant prose a bit: 2017 — it was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of stupidity; it was the epoch of truth and facts, it was the epoch of lies and alternative facts or fake news; it was the age of democracy and the age of tyranny; it was the time of speaking out against injustice and sexual harassment, it was the time of silence and complicity; it was the epoch of unity, it was the epoch of discord; it was the age of neglecting the common good, it was the age of rewarding the wealthy; it was the epoch of rejecting immigrants, it was the epoch of welcoming white supremacy; it was a time of understanding and empathy, it was a time of intolerance and hatred; it was the period of sincerity, it was the period of hypocrisy; it was the age of accountability and transparency, it was the age of finger-pointing and obfuscation; it was the epoch of achievement, it was the epoch of failure; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going to be rewarded, or we were all getting royally f**ked.

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Life Lessons from Scrooge

alex atkins bookshelf christmas“How do we learn life lessons from a crotchety old miser so unpleasant that dogs run him from sight?” asks Bob Welch, author of 52 Life Lessons from a Christmas Carol, the third book in the 52 Life Lessons series (the other two are 52 Life Lessons from It’s A Wonderful Life and 52 Life Lessons from Les Miserables). An excellent question that is worth pondering. Welch continues, “[Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge], George Bailey and Jean Valjean… are honorable men throughout most of their stories… Both men learn significant life lessons: Bailey late in his story, Valjean early in his. But both bring out the best in people around them. Both put others above self. Both inspire us.

But as Welch and many literary critics have noted, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol as a “charity sermon,” “a direct appeal to the common heart.” As such, the novella is a cautionary tale of how not to live, as well as how to live, much like we see in stories from the Bible. Welch elaborates: “[However] Scrooge is everything George Bailey and Jean Valjean are not: he’s wealthy, selfish, and utterly discontent. A man not revered but despised. A man nobody wants to be like. And because Scrooge’s redemption does not come until the end of the story, Dickens’s portrayal of him is like describing a train wreck in great detail before exalting the fancy caboose at the end. All of which is to say that 52 Lessons from a Christmas Carol is tinted with a fair share of how-not-to-live lessons as well as how-to-live lessons.”

In writing A Christmas Carol, Dickens did not simply want to entertain readers, nor did he simply want to write a critical social commentary. Rather, Dickens hoped that his ghostly story would inspire empathy, kindness, and goodwill toward fellow men, not just during the holiday season, but throughout the entire year. In the spirit of Christmas, Bookshelf presents some of the important life lessons from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:

No man is an island; it is important to think of others

Misery loves company: people who are miserable want others to be miserable

Don’t let people steal your joy

See life through the eyes of a child from time to time

Everyone has value

Don’t confuse business with life

You are your choices; you make the chains that shackle you

Humility helps you see life more clearly

To heal, you must get in touch with your feelings

Your actions make an impact on others around you

Obsession with making money is not healthy

Learning begins with listening

Bitterness will poison your life

Dying lonely is the result of living lonely

Amid tragedy, others still need you

Be charitable because others have been charitable to you

It’s never too late to change

Be the change you want to see

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For further reading: 52 Life Lessons from a Christmas Carol by Bob Welch

Best Quotes from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

alex atkins bookshelf literatureA Christmas Carol, published by Charles Dickens in 1843, has never been out of print for almost two centuries. The story endures because Dickens masterfully compressed many themes into this short novella about a very reprehensible miser named Scrooge: redemption/transformation, compassion/foregiveness, guilt/blame, poverty/wealth, misanthropy/philanthropy, the impact of personal choices, the importance of family and home, and lost love and love are as relevant today, particularly in a callous Trumpian world, as they were 174 years ago. Scrooge, thanks to the visitation by three ghosts, demonstrates that we can be better human beings if we choose to be, echoing Sartre’s famous adage: “we are our choices.” Here are some of the best and most famous quotes from Dickens’ immortal A Christmas Carol:

Narrator: Marley was dead: to begin with… Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Narrator: Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

Fred (Scrooge’s nephew): “A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!”
Scrooge: “Bah! Humbug!”
Fred: “Christmas a humbug, uncle! You don’t mean that, I am sure?”
Scrooge: “I do. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
Fred: “Come, then. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”
Scrooge: “Bah! Humbug. 
Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should! If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Fred: “There are many things from which I might have derived good by which I have not profited, I dare say. Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round-apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that-as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

Scrooge: “A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin.”

Scrooge: “Are there no prisons?”

Ghost: “Why do you doubt your senses?”
Scrooge: “Because a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

The Ghost of Jacob Marley: “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard.”

The Ghost of Jacob Marley: “No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.’’

The Ghost of Jacob Marley: “It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.”

The Ghost of Jacob Marley: “Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

The Ghost of Christmas Past: “The school is not quite deserted. A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still.”

Narrator: They went, the Ghost and Scrooge, across the hall, to a door at the back of the house. It opened before them, and disclosed a long, bare, melancholy room, made barer still by lines of plain deal forms and desks. At one of these a lonely boy was reading near a feeble fire; and Scrooge sat down upon a form, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he used to be.

Scrooge: “Why, it’s Ali Baba! It’s dear old honest Ali Baba! Yes, yes, I know! One Christmas time, when yonder solitary child was left here all alone, he did come, for the first time, just like that. Poor boy! And Valentine,” said Scrooge, “and his wild brother, Orson; there they go! And what’s his name, who was put down in his drawers, asleep, at the Gate of Damascus; don’t you see him! And the Sultan’s Groom turned upside down by the Genii; there he is upon his head! Serve him right. I’m glad of it. What business had he to be married to the Princess!”

Narrator: To hear Scrooge expending all the earnestness of his nature on such subjects, in a most extraordinary voice between laughing and crying; and to see his heightened and excited face; would have been a surprise to his business friends in the city, indeed.

Belle: “Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, you were another man.”

Mrs. Cratchit: “A merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!” [To which added Tiny Tim]: “God bless us every one!”

Bob Cratchit: “[Tiny Tim is] as good as gold and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

The Ghost of Christmas Present: “I see a vacant seat in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved.”
Scrooge: “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”

The Ghost of Christmas Present: “Man, if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant [“If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”] until you have discovered what the surplus is, and where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be that in the sight of Heaven you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. O God! to hear the insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

The Ghost of Christmas Present: “They are Man’s and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

Narrator: It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that, while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.

Scrooge: “Ghost of the Future, I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?”

Scrooge: “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!”

Scrooge: “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!’ Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. ‘The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh, Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!”

Scrooge: “I don’t know what to do! I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

Narrator: Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

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What is an Abecedarian Poem?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureAn abecedarian poem is one in which each successive line begins with the next letter of the alphabet. Perhaps one of the most famous abecedarian poems, The Siege of Belgrade, was written by British poet and journalist Alaric Alexander Watts (1797-1864). Each line of the poem begins with a different letter of the alphabet, from A to Z. Not only is Watts’ poem abecedarian, it is also alliterative — the poem uses the repeated sound of the stressed syllables (in this case the first few letters) of the first word in each line, which makes it a bit challenging to read, not unlike reading consecutive tongue twisters. And because the first and last words of each line have the same sound, each line is also an example of symmetrical alliteration. This particular poem was printed in Wheeler’s Magazine in 1828. Watts poems were published in two different collections: Lyrics of the Heart (1850) and The Laurel and the Lyre (1867). Enough of the introductory notes, let’s get to the poem. The Siege of Belgrade appears below; try reading it out loud and see if you can get through it without tripping up.

The Siege of Belgrade

An Austrian army, awfully arrayed,
Boldly by battery besieged Belgrade.
Cossack commanders cannonading come,
Dealing destruction’s devastating doom.
Every endeavor engineers essay,
For fame, for fortune fighting – furious fray!
Generals ‘gainst generals grapple – gracious God!
How honors Heaven heroic hardihood!
Infuriate, indiscrminate in ill,
Just Jesus, instant innocence instill!
Kindred kill kinsmen, kinsmen kindred kill.
Labor low levels longest, lofiest lines;
Men march ‘mid mounds, ‘mid moles, ‘ mid murderous mines;
Now noxious, noisey numbers nothing, naught
Of outward obstacles, opposing ought;
Poor patriots, partly purchased, partly pressed,
Quite quaking, quickly “Quarter! Quarter!” quest.
Reason returns, religious right redounds,
Suwarrow stops such sanguinary sounds.
Truce to thee, Turkey! Triumph to thy train,
Unwise, unjust, unmerciful Ukraine!
Vanish vain victory! vanish, victory vain!
Why wish we warfare? Wherefore welcome were
Xerxes, Ximenes, Xanthus, Xavier?
Yield, yield, ye youths! ye yeomen, yield your yell!
Zeus’, Zarpater’s, Zoroaster’s zeal,
Attracting all, arms against acts appeal!

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For further reading: Lyrics of the Heart by Alaric Alexander Watts
The Laurel and the Lyre by Alaric Alexander Watts

The Digital Book Thief: How Orwell’s 1984 Disappeared from Kindles

alex atkins bookshelf booksIn July 2009, Amazon did the unthinkable — its long digital tentacles reached into the Kindle devices of readers who had purchased the ebook edition of George Orwell’s 1984 and deleted the book without notifying the owners. The irony was not lost on readers. In Orwell’s famous dystopian novel, originally published in 1949, Oceania’s citizens are ruled by the elite Inner Party, and their leader, Big Brother. Independent thinking and criticism of the government are punishable offenses, known as “thoughtcrimes.” Those found guilty of thoughtcrimes are killed or tortured by the Thought Police. Moreover, the government’s censors seek out all the negative articles about Big Brother and incinerate them in the “memory hole” — something that Trump would actually contemplate, if he actually read novels. But we digress — when readers discovered the disappearance of 1984, readers responded with shock and outrage: “OMG! The Thought Police actually exist!” In an interview with The New York Times, one Kindle owner expressed what many people were thinking: “Of all the books to recall… I never imagined that Amazon actually had the right, the authority, or even the ability to delete something that I had already purchased.”

Amazon, reeling from the negative publicity, resorted to damage control. An Amazon spokesperson explained that the books were inadvertently added to the Kindle store by a company that did not own the rights to Orwell’s novels. As soon as Amazon was contacted by the true rights owner, “[Amazon] removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers’ devices, and refunded customers.” Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, later issued a mea culpa online: “[The move was] was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles.” In September, the retailer restored the copies of the deleted Orwell novel or gave owners a $30 check or gift certificate.

The refund did not appease Justin Gawronski, a teenager who not only lost his digital book, but all of his extensive notes that he made while reading the novel. Gawronski stated, “[Amazon] didn’t just take a book back, they stole my [home]work.” In a David vs. Goliath (or Winston Smith vs. Big Brother) legal challenge, Gawronski sued Amazon and — get this — he won. Imagine that? Score one for the everyman. Gawronski won rather decisively, since Amazon’s published terms of service agreement does not give the company the right to delete any purchase after it has been made.Although Gawronski did not get his notes back, he did win a settlement of $150,000. One of his lawyers declared, “[This settlement] sends a message to digital media purveyors of all kinds that sellers really need to respect users’ rights to that content.” Take that — Big Brother!

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