By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Mon, August 25 2008 - 7:46 am
November 22, 2008
High Profile. Robert B. Parker. Simple sentences. Terse humor. Romantic triangles. Romantic trapezoids. Raising of psychological consciousness (God, I hate using four- and five-syllable words but what choice have I got? I'm just a wimpy little literary responder instead of a first responder like Jesse Stone.)
Oh, the book? Right up my rain- or snow-ridden alley. A cosy non-cosy. Or vice versa. or topsy turvy. something.
I always enjoy Robert Parker, except when his heroes are too uxorious. (Can you be uxorious without being married? That's the trouble with these long words. What do they mean? Exactly? What do they precisely imply? Just the kind of convoluted word-searching you can read Parker to get away from.)
November 20, 2008
"What's in a Name" might be a good (if trite) title for James Herriot: The Life of a Country Vet by Graham Lord. When you read this book you learn that very little in Herriot's books is as it seems, including the author's name, the year he became a practicing veterinary, etc. etc. Well, I guess he wrote it as "fiction" but I remember reading them twenty (thirty) years ago more as memoirs (and having the limits of my disbelief sorely tested on occasion.) How did the LC catalogue them, I wonder?
Anyway, what seems to have been true about the author of those wonderful books is that he was an incredibly good-natured guy for a very long time, and he had to work like hell to get published on top of punishing veterinary work hours.
Much of what he said, it turns out, were lies. Oh well, at some level you had to know it. Literary license and all that.
I remember feeling that the last of the three books by him I read (American paperback editions) did not have the same appeal, quite, as the others. This books explains that it happened, but maybe doesn't quite explain how much it hurt them. Why "Herriot" felt he couldn't be as frank... well, no, I wouldn't want to ruin this book for you.
I'll tell you one thing! When you hear the author's real name it does make you wonder if you would have read the books. Makes you wonder about your own snobbery! Makes you wonder how much the pseudonyms of his co-workers add to the romance and appeal of the books!
Dang, kids! If you want to make it big as a writer in the real world, don't be naive. Think marketing, marketing, marketing.... Oh, well, mumble mumble mumble, you probably already do... mumble... but if you don't and want to make it big in the "real" world, read this book!
(There are other biographies of James Herriot, I'm sure. I just ran across this one in the Large Print section of the library. Hmm...I wonder if Graham Lord is really the author's name?)
November 15, 2008
A friend put Growing Myself into my hands because he thought I would find it interesting. I did.
Insofar as it is a book about Judith Handelsman's own feelings and perceptions, okay. I cannot doubt her intuitive knowledge and the success it brings her. She tells an interesting story about her love of plants and the spiritual connections they foster (which I concur with, completely ha ha - don't mind me, just laughing at my alliteration.) Hey, I have had a few strange intuitive experiences of my own.
The problem I have with Handelman's worldview is the trouble she seems to have with science. Admittedly saved from a D in botany by a compassionate (and I can't help but interject, dishonest) teacher, she cannot be bothered to learn the basics in her own field of expertise.
She doesn't seem able to acknowledge the possibility that her close observation and sensitivity allow her unconscious intelligence to make the good judgments that benefit her plants.
Her failure to respect science gives scientists and those with scientific bent no motivation to respect her ideas in kind. Instead of trying to integrate her reality and scientific knowledge, she ignores it to the point of inability to learn the basic concepts of botany. She's looney-tunes!
But a somewhat endearing looney-tunes who has obviously overcome a lot to attain the still uneasy place she occupies in her universe. I, personally, loved hearing about some of her dreams and intuitions.
Petunias where she planted none? Sure. The soil might have been "contaminated" with petunia seed. A bird might have eaten some seed and transferred in to the containers. Someone else tired of marigolds could have planted them there!
Subtle communications? Unseen links? Sure. Why not?
All kinds of stuff going on that we have no clue of? For sure.
Petunias growing where there were no seeds or outside agents - a miracle?
P.S. (Nov. 20th) I forgot to tell you a couple of the tips about how to deal with transplanting plants and some of her admonitions (such as to always preserve a "wild place" on your property) made Growing Myself by Judith Handelsman of special interest also. Read the book! Try the tips! I intend to try some of them myself.
November 11, 2008
Interesting. I read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen the way she wrote it, in two chunks separated (in my case) by weeks.
I didn't put it down by choice. The first half or so I read at the Santa Fe Public Library while I was visiting there. The second half I just finished in a couple of days here.
I picked up the book because it was on the Valparaiso Public Library's book club list, but unfortunately did not finish it in time for the discussion. I missed the meeting on purpose - I hate having books and films ruined for me!
It is one of the best fiction books they have had us read, I think. It was inspired by circus photos and the old, somewhat fuzzy pictures that accompany the text really help set the tone, because much of the story is told in memory.
This book is so vivid, though, in its grainy telling! It had me wondering if I ever bought lemonade at the carnivals that used to come to town (no I won't say why!) and the way Gruen sets up the story is a masterpiece as far as I am concerned.
Part of my fascination with it may be the fascination that every kid has with the circus, though. I knew the life was supposed to be hard, but reading this book shows me I didn't have a clue. (I met a fairy-lovely girl in college who had run away from home and joined the circus, but I never got to talk with her much about it. It is hard to believe it was as bad in the sixties as it was during the depression, when this book is set.)
Read it - you won't regret it! Even though you never will get a description of how - no, never mind! You'll see!
November 9, 2008
As soon as I started reading The Chocolate Wars by Robert Cormier I hated it. It was about war! I mean, real war, I thought. Then I realized he was talking about... well, I don't want to ruin it for you.
I had no idea that high school could be so nasty and painful!
In fact, in spite of a few run-ins with teachers, and a few brutal interchanges (verbally brutal, of course) my own high school experience... - oh - the book, the book(?)
Okay, the book. Well, I didn't hate it all the way through. Well, I mean I did hate it, but not as much. Or I didn't hate it in a way that kept me from reading it in horrid fascination.
A very good book in that way. Very powerful. It explains why Catheter er I mean Catcher in the Rye well now I forgot what I was going to say.
I won't forget this book in a while, the way I will never forget Shirley Jackson's The Lottery.
The very mention of that piece of fiction makes your blood run cold, doesn't it?
I'm glad the public library chose this book to read, though. (It is a Young Adult's book, to the great surprise of its author.) It turns out to be by the same man as I Am the Cheese which my daughter put into my hands when she was in high school and which I could barely feel that I "got." It, also, was very dark, and I never forgot it.
Why do they think this stuff is only for/good for young people? This guy writes in the wake of the existential darkness and the wake, in this case, does not coincide with the dawn! I read much adult fiction when I was in high school and it wasn't as dark as this! (Ha, ha, that statement really dates me, doesn't it?)
Why do they call this stuff realism? Well, yeah, I suppose it is sometimes true. Maybe there are people like Archie in the world. But would I have put I Am the Cheese or The Chocolate Wars into the hands of my daughter?
No. I am willing to believe that she was trying to tell me something when she gave me the book to read. But call me obtuse, I really didn't get that, either.
I am a hater of high school (think it should be abolished!) but I don't have memories this bad!
Have to say, though, reading him is a psychological awakening that has got to be good for everyone. The dawn comes one way or another!
Welcome, adults, to the dark, twisted okay-I-guess-sometimes-true but very created world of Robert Cormier!
November 7, 2008
Sue Grafton's T is for Trespass came out last year. How I could have missed it I do not know. It probably did not alight on the library shelf for six months! I was afraid that after S is for Silence she would remain silent. Getting through the whole alphabet is, after all, a pretty tall order.
This one is more like a thriller (not my favorite genre) than a traditional murder mystery and it is hard for Grafton to maintain interest and suspense through the dreary details of the malfactor's misdeeds. But considering the dragged-out nature of this evil (or sick - take your pick) person's offenses against humanity, Grafton does great.
Has Millhone always been this judgmental? Has she always been so touchy if not downright hostile? My memory tells me yes, but somehow it seems stupid of her never to learn - especially when the people she is dealing with mean the consequences of let's call it "tactlessness" might be drastic.
Anyway, despite my reservations, a good book. I'm already trying to imagine what the next title will be. Keep 'em coming, Grafton! We're grateful!
November 4, 2008
I picked up Stuart Kaminsky's People Who Walk in Darkness not because of the title, which is off-putting to me, but because I realized I hadn't read anything by him for a long time.
The first Kaminsky book I ever read I did pick up for the title - Murder on the Yellow Brick Road. I thought it was bizarre, but I never forgot it! (Well, of course I forgot what it was about, but I never forgot it!)
I'm sure I've read one or two of his books since, but never got in the habit of looking for his stuff.
He deserves better attention than that. Maybe I felt that too much of what he said was beyond me (political maneuvering, e.g.) Maybe his protagonist's ethics were too relativist for me at the time, or maybe his world vision is just too dark (uncosy!) The last thing I would have intentionally picked up is a mystery set in Siberia, for God's sake! What kind of escape literature is that?
But boy, it is a good read, if you are so anxious to get away from your everyday reality that your are willing to subject your vulnerable psyche to... well, no, I can't go on. Wouldn't want to ruin it for you!
October 29, 2008
Um, er, uh, shuffle shuffle. I find myself unwilling to give up the subject of Joseph Epstein's Snobbery yet.
I had lots of bookmarks in pages for things to comment on, and then decided not to. But one thing I must comment on. How come Epstein calls Santa Fe, New Mexico "an artificial community"? Santa Fe is the capitol city of New Mexico. The State is one of the biggest employers there.
Sure, Santa Fe is a tourist town. But I lived there for twenty-six years, had three children there, and worked at several jobs there, none of them as far as I can recall offhand, for the tourist industry. Life seemed pretty real, I tell you.
Santa Fe is the largest art center in the Southwest, I was recently told. Does that make it artificial? Only if you think art is artificial! (Is Epstein making a pun here that I'm not getting? I think the words "art" and "artificial" (the way the latter is commonly used) is an example of the apple falling pretty far from the tree!
Oh, and I don't appreciate being called "lumpen" just because I have not chosen (?) to become part of the "leavened" white-or-otherwise bread of the snobbish part of the world!
If you don't like the music at the concert that you went to only because you already paid for it, then leave already!
(No, I won't explain that. Read the book for yourself!)
October 27, 2008
Hmmm... how to approach Snobbery: the American Version by Joseph Epstein. He has set about a perhaps impossible task, and I think he is as beset by confusion about it as the rest of us.
Like a dog, I know when I have been kicked rather than merely tripped over, but I don't enjoy either sensation. So I know (usually) when I am being put down or intentionally snubbed. I certainly have detected put-downs that the perpetrator was blithely unconscious of offering!
My response? Discount the discounter. Usually you are free to do this physically, if he/she (the use of that form itself snobbery, according to Epstein) is not a relative or a boss. If you can't physically get away from the guilty party, then mentally step aside and discount them!
A wonderful expression I was never allowed to use until I had my three-year-old daughter say it to me, is "I don't care!" as saucily as mentally possible!
Oh, the book? Eminently readable if of necessity a welter of contradictions and negative examples.
Makes me glad I didn't grow up in a "happening" - or was it "hot" - city?
Do I plead guilty to snobbery? Absolutely, as everybody must. But Joseph Epstein adds a put-down quality to the definition that I feel I am guilty of in self-defense only. (Oh, except for that time when as a frustrated medical records file clerk I said about a co-worker who said a name didn't ring a bell, "Too bad she doesn't have any bells to ring." Mean, that was, and I was immediately called on it by another, sweeter co-worker.)
But what is an escalation of put-downs? It's easy to run a put-down contest into the ground!
Of course saying I abstain from mean snobbery makes me a snob, because that shows I feel morally superior to those who would have me feel inferior and on and on ad nauseum....
The thing that bothers me most about having read this book is that now I may be forever put off from reading some of Epstein's others.
That and the knowledge that I am not really a WASP. All my life I have thought I was a WASP and been reverse-snobbishly defensive about it! Turns out I'm not blue-blood and or wealthy enough! Ha ha ha! That's rich!
Note to Epstein: No, I can't say it! Too snobbish!
But I can say, "Relax, man! Be happy! Take off your hair shirt and read a book by" (evil laugh) "Jack Kerouac!"
October 26, 2008
I guess that I was lucky that this plum, Plum Lucky by Janet Evanovich dropped into my hands - not!
Maybe the fact that I was on the waiting list for it for six months at the Public Library had something to do with it!
I don't know - Diesel just doesn't grab me like Stephanie's other love interests do. My mom expressed more enthusiasm for this than another Stephanie Plum book, so maybe Evanovich is just getting too tame and playing it too safe for my taste.
Or maybe reading it during the ads while watching Rachel Maddow and Keith Olberman on MSNBC is just not the right frame for the jokes!
Anyway, I still laughed out loud a few times. Not many authors make me do that. I'm looking forward to the next book in her numbered series, though. Somehow Evanovich seems to have more of an edge in those Plum novels.
October 21, 2008
A Girl Named Zippy was literally placed in my hands by the same woman who eats Hamish McBeth mysteries like peanuts. She says everyone who reads it wants to keep it.
I can see why, but why deprive someone else of the pleasure of reading it? I'm going to take it right back to the Book Sale Room tomorrow and let someone else have some fun!
After all my boy books it was time I read a girl book. The most obvious contrast between them is, I think, the fact that there is almost no mention of sex! Of course, the book ends when Haven Kimmel is still quite - no, I shouldn't tell you that!
This girl, her families, and the neighbors are characters who we must assume have taken larger than life proportions in her imagination, (that's a polite way of saying that she lies like a trooper!) but even given the creative license, she sure had a livelier more interesting childhood than I did! (Poor me, child of the repressed fifties!)
Haven Kimmel was a real nut-case as a child, evidently, with more than her share of physical and moral courage. Funny, too. Why was she always on the look-out for new and different friends even though she had a much-loved best friend? Oh, yeah, it was a really small town and it is nice to converse once in a while! Why was she so contrary? (Well, I might be tempted to say it was because she was a pisces/goat (my "ornery" - her own word - mother's astrological combo) but I might look like a nut-case myself!)
(Ha, ha. If you only knew! Well, if you read my Rumilluminations, you do!)
Anyway, if you need an antidote to sex-obsessed boy autobiographies, pick up this one! Anyone know any other good girlhood memoirs? I need two or three more to balance out the others.
Yep, that "hazy, dreamlike" Indiana atmosphere strikes again! Another creative child! Maybe I'll try to pick up The Solace of Leaving Early!
October 20, 2008
Oh, Lordy. When I started reading A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh I thought it was going to be a satire of ordinary perhaps even boring proportions. (Whatever that means - don't ask me! It just came out - oh, the glory of vanity websites!) This in spite of the fact that I was introduced to Evelyn Waugh with a teen-age (I believe) reading of Black Mischief chosen because of its title from the library shelf. I thought it intriguing.
What a shocker! So there is really no excuse for my being lulled by the beginning of A Handful of Dust. Now there is a title that would have put me off (how depressing!), but my sister gave it to me to read and bring home with me. Deciding that I had recovered from my traumatic reading of Black Mischief decades ago and figuring that I might have even acquired a taste for Waugh, I read the book.
What do you know. I have acquired a taste for Waugh. He is a trip! Funny and really quite heartless, he is definitely not into cosies. He's also quite unpredictable, although I wasn't surprised either when Brenda (but no - I can't tell - wouldn't want to ruin it for you!)
One thing I'm just noticing about Waugh, now that I think about it, is that he doesn't really seem to have one clear protagonist. (Lots of antagonists too, ha ha!)
In Santa Fe there used to be a bed and breakfast inn that some of its employees called, "the Victorian Hell." This book also has a Victorian Hell of sorts, but you'll have to read it to find out what I mean!
(Heh, who knows, maybe the employee who coined that phrase was a reader of Evelyn Waugh - or maybe - mphh - my lips are sealed!)
October 18, 2008
When I was in college, I read Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser and thought it was just about one of the best books I had ever read. Subsequently I read An American Tragedy and The Bulwark and thought they were pretty good too, although the latter was just a little too much for me I guess. Perhaps for that reason I did not read any more Dreiser. I read those over the span of possibly decades, though, so maybe it was just coincidence.
At any rate, when I saw F.O. Matthiessen's biography Theodore Dreiser, part of the American Men of Letters Series, I snatched it up. I always was curious about him!
Well, what do you know! He was an Indiana boy! He is quoted indirectly as writing something about "the hazy, dreamlike atmosphere of Indiana" that reminds me of a thing I wrote in my early twenties contrasting the light in my state with the light of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the consequences on our perceptions. I'm not alone in feeling that! Yay! (The school of artists who settled in New Mexico in the early twenties would probably say to that, "Well, duh!" (Oh, I know they wouldn't have - let me indulge in a little exuberant anachronism!)
When I was in college I read Sister Carrie and thought it was one of the best books I had ever read. Still do. It is such a mixture of harsh and tender! I was pleased to learn that Frank Norris (The Octopus) who was a reader for Doubleday at the time, read Sister Carrie and thought it was a "masterpiece" - one of the "most pleasing" novels he had ever read, and certainly the best he ever read for the publishing firm.
I don't know why we don't hear more about Dreiser these days. He really wrote about America as it really was and about people as they really are in a way that was revolutionary for his time. (He called the U.S. an oligarchy in the nineteen-thirties!) And his novels still have the power to evoke strong emotions and responses (and memories of the people and stories in them! For me, that's saying a lot!)
One of these days I'll have to trot over to the library and see what still remains of Theodore Dreiser on the shelves! (I valued my little paperback of Sister Carrie so much I carried it around with me for decades. During one move I gave it to one of my daughters to read, but I don't think she has read it yet!)
October 16, 2008
Another just-finished book - Death and the Mad Heroine by S.F.X. Dean. I really had trouble getting into this one despite its cozy nature. I think it was partly because of the disjointedness of its preludes (printed in italics) and the disjointedness of my reading (half-asleep in bed, in lousy light with aging eyes that I refuse to admit are the reason I couldn't get into it) but who knows. I'm not likely to give any book I read a second reading until ten years or so have passed, let alone a little escapist mystery time-killer.
In spite of that comment I thought it worth reading, and in the end I was left wondering why I have not heard more of S.F.X. Dean (pseudonym). Lots of interesting characters make this a fine romp, superior to many similarly light-hearted cozies being printed today. Maybe I should spend less time falling for titles in the library and more time falling for them at the used book sales.
October 15, 2008
Partly because of vacationing, I have read half of a half-dozen books. I picked up Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton because of the title. Having been called a gossip myself (although I disclaim malicious intent) I wanted to see how far someone would have to go gossip-wise to drive another someone to kill you.
Who, me tell? Never! Read the book! I will give you a hint, though: the title is a little misleading. The policeman's name is Hamish MacBeth (ha ha, instead of a murderer he is an investigator) and I have read other little books of the same series.
One of the book sale room volunteers told me she reads these mysteries like she eats peanuts. Crunch, crunch! Yum, yum! A very cosy snack.
While in Santa Fe I read another book, The Man Who Was Late by Louis Begley. This was very vividly written in a misty sort of way, as something viewed through one of those gauzy curtains my mother is so fond of. It is about a financier, I guess you would call him. This is a far from cosy book, and the only mystery is the character of the man himself. If inexplicable behavior creates verisimilitude, then this book is very real.
But actually, I find this man's actions mystifying. The title of this book is misleading too, I think. Unless the ending is a pun?
No, I won't explain that, either! Although this character puts together financial packages and deals, don't expect to be economically educated when you put this book down!
Read the book! It does evoke the world of a poor little rich man!
September 20, 2008
Picked up Poison Flowers by Natasha Cooper because I have written a few flower- and plant-related murders myself (see "Murders of a Flower Child.")
Even before I read the cover jacket I had the eery feeling of a romantic novelist trying to cross over into mystery writing. Unfortunately the book doesn't offer much of either romance or mystery. Every time I started to get into it a little I became conscious of a lack of view from my non-penthouse window and the fact that none of my (in my case internal) personae bedeck our wrists and necks with designer watches and emeralds.
I know that writers are supposed to use details to create a sense of realism (I think I had trouble with Kafka's The Trial sometimes because he did so little of this), but in the case of this work, I feel buried under a pile of detail of materialistic clutter akin to the collections of an obsessive compulsive rather than brought into a vivid living world.
Besides, the title is misleading. This book doesn't really have anything to do with flowers. Not really. Boo.
September 12, 2008
Somehow this year I have found myself reading three memoirs of little boys' lives. I don't know quite how it happened. I didn't do it on purpose!
Such different lives cannot be imagined. If Garrison Keillor did much of anything illegal, I can't remember it.
Frank McCourt stole to survive. As far as I can tell, Bill Bryson stole for fun. (Maybe it was just his friends who stole, technically, but receiving stolen goods....)
Well, his tale is funny, and probably (as "Stephen Katz" says about A Walk in the Woods) mostly fiction.
But I am three or four years his senior and I still lost my innocence about some of the stuff the Eisenhower administration was up to when I was a little kiddy trying (unlike Bryson!) to be a good little person in a good big land!
Having been (and still trying to be, I guess) such a little goody-two-shoes I found it difficult to laugh when others got all the blame for his transgressions. I was even tempted to disapprove of him along with Mrs. Smolders (?) except she was a guidance counselor, and so his quip to her was absolutely on target.
(Sorry, you'll have to read the book to find out about that!)
What a mixture of prank and spank is The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid!
He's so obnoxiously bad and blithe that I am tempted to never read another one of his books.
But it won't matter to him. Thunderbolt away, kid! I almost NEVER buy a book! You'll never miss a thing.
But I would. Bill Bryson is funny, drat him!
September 6, 2008
When I saw The Lyre of Orpheus by Robertson Davies I remembered seeing it before but thought I had never gotten around to reading it.
This time around, when I got to the "friends of the minimum" I knew I had.
I don't know how I could have forgotten I read this book! It deals with so many issues of relevance and interest to me (the idea of "the fool" is one of them) and helped me so much (as have his earlier works) that the only reason I can give is that I was so busy and stressed out at the time that my short-term memory didn't have time to deal with much of it.
Another reason is that possibly many of the issues have been difficult ones in my life. But that sure doesn't mean I didn't internalize a lot of the life-view offerings of this book.
It is a great book. It occupies itself with a doctoral project of a young student that ends up a full-fledged operatic production. You learn so much about how an opera is created, and also some interesting historical detail about opera.
Robertson Davies has much to teach about mystery, psychology and art in general, but he hasn't forgotten that humor is a good way to keep a reader's attention!
I have read at least a half dozen of his works, (the two trilogies and then one) and the only one I am not quite so keen on is The Manticore, which (as I recall) follows a character's psychological analysis so closely it is almost more like nonfiction.
It is with shock, horror, disbelief and real sadness that I tell you that this used book I bought is a discard from a public library.
Quick! This is a great writer! Check out some of his stuff before it is no longer available in your library!
My first experience of him was with his first trilogy, so I recommend you start with those novels. (If you can find them!)
And if you can't, that's okay! I think this more recent trilogy is soul-enlarging, maybe more even than the first.
August 31, 2008
It took me a while to sift through Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, which is written in his middle age from the standpoint of his boyhood eyes.
The runon sentences and lack of quotation marks make it really flow, but the harshness of the lives he and his family led impede it: I often had to put it down. Not easy reading in its content, and I can't imagine surviving such a hard life as they had. (And actually, some of the children didn't!)
I had the same feeling when I finished that I did when I finished I, Wabenzi (no, I won't tell you why - that would ruin it for you!)
Interested in the Irish life that people fled to the United States and England to get away from?
Definitely read this book!
(P.S. There are funny parts in spite of all the tragedy - it is, after all, about Life!)
August 25, 2008
Has the computer game Bookworm eaten up my For Book Butterflies column? Not really! But honestly, I better turn into a Bookworm butterfly pretty soon or I may not have a word to say here! I find I have become fascinated with the game itself - what words it recognizes and rewards, what words it does not. I'll try to make a list and make a psychological profile of its creators! Ha!
Well, I'm not qualified to do it, but it is a funny (not so funny!) idea.
When you play these games, don't you really wonder what qualities they are reinforcing?
If a lot of computer games give positive (even if virtual and ephemeral) rewards for acts of violence and all sorts of other negative behavior (bullying of the weak, lack of respect for other individuals, conspiracy, betrayal hell you name it I don't play those games so what do I know?)
So I'm trying to play Bookworm consciously, knowing it might be influencing me in possibly undesireable ways!
Like, most obvious of all, that I am playing it instead of reading! (Or, er, of perhaps dozing over a book!)
Well, enough about games that burn books! Next time I write in here, it will be about a real genuine book that I held in my very own hands! How extraordinary!
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