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      Important Announcement!   07/28/2018

      Dear BCF members,   This forum has been running now for many years, and over that time we have seen many changes. Generalised forums are nowhere near as popular as they once were, and they have been very much taken over by blogs, vlogs and social media discussions. Running a forum well takes money, and a lot of care and attention, as there is so much which goes on behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly.   With all of this in mind, and after discussion within the current moderator team, the decision has been made to close this forum in its current format. I know that this will disappoint a lot of our long term members, but I want to reassure you that it's not a decision which has been taken lightly.    The remaining moderator team have agreed that we do not want to lose everything which is special about our home, and so we are starting a brand new facebook group, so that people can stay in touch, and discussions can continue. We can use it for free and should be easier for us to run (it won't need to be updated or hosted). We know not everyone has FaceBook, but we hope that those of you who are interested will join the group. We will share the link, and send invites as soon as we are ready to go. Added: We may as well get this going, find us here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/195289821332924/   The forum will close to new registrations, but will remain open for some time, to allow people to collect up any information, reading lists etc they need to, and to ensure they have contact details for those they wish to stay in touch with.    The whole team feel sad to say goodbye, but we also feel that it's perhaps time and that it feels like the right choice. We hope we can stay in touch with all of you through our new FaceBook group.   I personally want to thank everyone who has helped me moderate the forum, both in the past and the present, and I also want to thank every single person who has visited, and shared their love of books.. I'm so proud of everything we've achieved, and the home we built.   Please visit the new section in the Lounge section to discuss this further, ask questions etc.
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willoyd

Willoyd's Reading 2016

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Update

Getting on for a fortnight since I last posted here. The reading side of things has been a bit sluggish in that time, indeed the most sluggish for well over a year. Work does have a habit of getting in the way! I've had three books on the go, but none as yet finished. The main fiction read has been Inkheart (Cornelia Funke). I can see why it's so highly rated by many, but I've found it pretty heavy going - a bit too repetitive and simplistic (?) for my taste. I was expecting to be fully immersed, but in fact it's been rather the opposite. Still, worth finishing. I've been a bit stopstart on Simon Bradley's The Railways: Nation, Network and People, but this has been rather because the book lends itself comfortably to doing that - so I've been dipping in and out without losing the thread. Thoroughly enjoying this.

I've also been listening to Georgette Heyer's Cotillion (read by Phyllida Nash). It's not grabbed me quite as much as some of her others as yet, even though I'm loving the reading itself, but it's proving perfect as a mental switch off, especially on the train staring out of the window!

So some progress, but nothing definitely finished as yet. In the meantime, bought a couple of books for my reading group's next couple of rounds (And The Mountains Echoed, Landfalls), plus a couple in our local seconds shop (Simon Armitage's translation of The Death of King Arthur, and A Short History of the Vietnam War - a semi-permanent backdrop to my childhood that I never really understood), as well as Jules Pretty's A Luminous Coast, a souvenir of a much needed weekend break in Suffolk, where I may not have achieved much reading, but had a great time with OH birdwatching at Minsmere and local reserves, spotting over 50 species, including bittern, marsh harrier, kingfisher, otter, firecrest, and a whole host of waterfowl and waders (that's how we spent Valentine's Day!). Now back to the trudge.....!

Edited by willoyd

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Your trip to Suffolk sounds good.  :)   I have family in Suffolk and it's a lovely county.  I haven't been there for many years though as my Aunt gets anxious when she has visitors now so I only see them when she and my uncle visit my mum.

 

I've just remembered that I asked Steve whether he'd read To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis because I know he likes Sci-fi science fiction books and he said he hadn't but suggested I ask you.   I've picked it up a couple of times as I'm rather drawn to the synopsis and I love books set in the Victorian era.  It's definitely not my 'usual' type of read (I'm not sure I have a usual type, but unless it's vintage, science fiction isn't a genre I read) so I just wondered what you thought of it?  :)

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Your trip to Suffolk sounds good.  :)   I have family in Suffolk and it's a lovely county.  I haven't been there for many years though as my Aunt gets anxious when she has visitors now so I only see them when she and my uncle visit my mum.

 

I've just remembered that I asked Steve whether he'd read To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis because I know he likes Sci-fi science fiction books and he said he hadn't but suggested I ask you.   I've picked it up a couple of times as I'm rather drawn to the synopsis and I love books set in the Victorian era.  It's definitely not my 'usual' type of read (I'm not sure I have a usual type, but unless it's vintage, science fiction isn't a genre I read) so I just wondered what you thought of it?  :)

 

I loved it - one of my rare six star books (just over one hundred books now).  It's not really science fiction, although time travel is involved.  Like you, it's not my typical read, but it does take a rather quirky, ironic, view on both the historical novel and the Victorian world. I found it funny, loved the literary allusions (it takes the proverbial out of Three Men in a Boat, a book that I always thought a bit overblown), and loved the premise upon which it was all built - a conceit used in Doomsday and Blackout/All Clear, books I thouroughly enjoyed too, if not quite to the same extent (they were both rather more serious in their approach - probably wise not to try and repeat this style). I do have to warn you that Connie Willis never gets her language quite right, and her research is not always brilliant (from what I can remember it's not so bad here, but it's awful in Blackout/All Clear), but I eventually absorbed it as part of the spoof - the American slant making it all the more surreal. I found myself enjoying picking the Americanisms out of it (having said that, it surely wouldn't have taken much effort for a British copy editor to scan the book and deal with the most glaring anomalies, surely?).  It's not everyone's cup of tea, but completely appealed to my sense of literary humour.

 

I do agree about Suffolk.  We cycled through it some years ago, and I've always meant to go back for a longer visit.  This was only a weekend, but it did confirm that I want to see more.  The birdwatching was particularly outstanding, but it continues to strike me as almost the perfect cycling county.  I also fancy walking some of that coastline a la Sebald or Pretty.

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Connie Willis sounds interesting, definitely adding some of her books to my 'to read' list  :smile:

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Thanks for the info about To Say Nothing of the Dog Will.  :)  I've been dithering about it for ages now so you've helped me make up my mind.  They didn't have it in branch so I ordered it this morning in Waterstone's in Bath for collection (hopefully!) when I go in on Tuesday week for a contact lens check-up.  :)

 

I'm sure I can look past the Americanisms.  It's a bit sloppy as you say.  I read a book a few years ago set in the early nineteenth century where a British ship was allegedly called Endeavor!

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Happy Reading in 2016 !  :D

 

I read Connie Willis` Blackout/All Clear last year and really enjoyed them; I`ve also read Passage, but my favourite has been To Say Nothing of the Dog.  :smile:

Edited by Little Pixie

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The Two-Penny Bar by Georges Simenon ****

It seems a bit pointless reviewing individual Maigret books.  The standard is consistent, the books uniformly short: concision appears to be one of Simenon's watchwords.  Yet he still creates the most marvellous atmosphere, a real sense of place and time - this is certainly not the frenetic 21st century!  These are definitely not Agatha Christies: the deeds, whilst interesting, are not especially complex, although they have their (occasionally deviou) twists, and the clues aren't all there.  Instead, Maigret solves crimes much more through his understanding of the psychology of the protagonists.  Few of the novels are worthy of much more than 4 stars, at least only one of those I've read to date exceeds that, but the series as a whole is utterly addictive, and a true six star collection.

 

 

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke ***

Read as part of a challenge, this is actually a book I've both intended and looked forward to reading for some time.  Was the anticipation too great?  Inkheart certainly got off to a great start - the opening chapter exuded atmosphere and a real sense of uncertainly, even doom!  But, as with other Funke reads in the past, it didn't seem to sustain this depth, and became, for me, somewhat repetitious, a bit shallow, in need of some decent editing, and rather anticlimactic when it came to the denouement.  I enjoyed this, but i don't think I'm going to bother with the next two in the trilogy. 

Edited by willoyd

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Inkheart by Cornelia Funke ***

I enjoyed this, but i don't think I'm going to bother with the next two in the trilogy. 

 

Good call. It was all downhill after Inkheart.

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Good call. It was all downhill after Inkheart.

 

Interesting - I did look at the blurb and dip in, and wasn't particularly grabbed, but your confirmation makes me feel more comfortable with that decision!

 

Is it better to read the Maigret books in order Willoyd?  I can't seem to find what order they go  in, but they sound like my sort of thing.

 

I don't think there's any particular need to read them in any sort of order; as far as I can see there's no real chronology to them.  So far, they could have been in any order, although one or two of the earlier ones didn't feel quite as 'formed' as those even only a couple of years later (once started, Simenon galloped through them: half a dozen or more published in the first year for instance).  Having said that, I am reading them in order: I'm fairly certain that the sequence Penguin is publishing them in, at the rate of one book a month, is the original publishing order (I have the complete 10-volume French language omnibus edition, and they give a brief history of each book in there, and the sequence so far matches their dates).  If you go on to somewhere like Amazon, they give the sequence number of the book as part of the title. 

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Excuse me for butting in, but this link provides publication dates if you decide to read them in order. :)

 

http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/s/georges-simenon/

 

I think these might be the dates of the first English language editions; they are, I'm sure, not those of the first French editions, and are definitely not in the order of publication.  (Pietr-le-Letton, Peter the Latvian, was, for instance, the first in 1931).  Maigret stories regularly seem to change their titles too - not all these are the original titles, nor indeed the original English titles.

 

A good website for a bibliography is at http://www.trussel.com/f_maig.htm, and follow the bibliography tab.  There is quite a detailed historical chronology for each volume.  It's quite a maze!

Edited by willoyd

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Ah, my apologies. :)

 

Nothing to apologise for Janet.  It's only because I'm so familiar with the early Maigrets, that I even noticed.  It's something they ought to make clear.

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Blaming by Elizabeth Taylor *****

This was my first experience of Elizabeth Taylor, an author who I had previously dismissed almost out of hand after reading a few plot summaries and being put off by a series of covers that for me implied rather more romantically inclined writing than was actually encountered!

In fact Blaming is anything but romantic, as the title indicates. Instead we are treated to an elegantly written forensic treatment of the impact of the sudden death of her husband, Nick, on Amy, a grandmother of inderterminate age (but who feels on the younger side). The situation is complicated, or at least influenced, by the unwelcome friendship and attention of Martha, a fellow passenger on the Mediterranean cruise during which Nick dies.

Although there are a couple of key plot twists (I'm grateful that I hadn't read the Amazon reviews before this as one or two give these away), this is a largely character driven novel. Whilst Amy's relationship with Martha is central, her other relationships come almost as equally under the magnifier: with her live in male housekeeper Ernie (almost a comic routine!), with friend and doctor, the similarly bereft Gareth, and with son James and his Austenesque family. In danger of wallowing in her grief, Amy is forced out of herself by these influences, not always to the good. The plot itself is as Austenesque as James's family, a series of vignettes in which not a lot appears to happen (just as in real life!), but in which the interaction between the characters, told in surprisingly straightforward but expressive terms, ever so gradually builds up a minutely detailed social picture. I suspect that Amy would be quite a difficult person if one ever met her, but through Taylor's eyes she comes over somewhat more sympathetically - for instance I at least feel I understand why she does what she does, especially in relation to Martha.

Anne Tyler (another writer who I really must try) is quoted as associating Elizabeth Taylor with Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Bowen and Jane Austen, and it's fairly obvious from the above that I feel the same, at least with the last author (I've yet to read Bowen, and am not quite so much a fan of Pym). There are certainly some scenes which are pure Austen (one where James is discussing with his wife Maggie their future support for his mother must surely have been lifted straight out of the all too memorable scene in Sense and Sensibility, where John and Fanny Dashwood gradually whittle down to virtually nothing their intended support for his stepmother and sisters), whilst the whole style and structure smacks very much of the minute social examinations of the middle classes undertaken by the earlier writer. Here, the theme is very much about the responsibilities, blame and guilt that people feel or are burdened with and how it affects both themselves and how they relate to others. Some are crushed by it, some find a way through, some barely feel it, even if they should. It sounds heavy, and it could certainly have made Blaming a very hard read. However, the book actually carries the burden surprisingly (that word again!) lightly, even humorously on occasions (the scenes with John's family always left me smiling in recognition, even when the children and mother are being awful), and is all the more effective for that.

I may have come to Elizabeth Taylor almost by accident, but it has been serendipitous. On the evidence of this, her last, book, she really does fulfill what is so often promised with others but is never quite achieved - the role of worthy successor to Jane Austen. She is not a second Austen - more one who has distilled her reading of the older author into her own style - but the succession and quality is, at least here, clear. It will be interesting to see if her other books live up to the same standards, but I am optimistic; I find it particularly interesting that Robert McCrum includes her book Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, in his 100 Best Novels written in English, although it's Blaming that is included in the 1001 Books list. Either way, she is a writer I very much look forward to exploring further.  I wish Virago would do something about those covers though!




 

Edited by willoyd

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A Tour of the States

 

Did some fairly hefty editing over the weekend of the challenge list I'd set myself a few weeks ago, touring the states of the US book by book.  Whilst based on a published list aiming to list the most famous book in each state (a list the English Counties challenge took as a model), it didn't feel totally satisfactory, so sat down and decided on three main rules for my challenge list: 1 - only one book per author; 2 - only fiction (could maybe do a non-fiction tour sometime in the future); 3 - no children's books; 4 - no rereads (which cut out books like To Kill A Mockingbird and Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn). Took a bit of doing, but the list does look more interesting to me as a result, even if it has to miss out some fairly substantial books and fairly substantial writers.

 

All my challenges are listed at the front of this thread, but for quick reference, this was the resulting list.  Jut hope I got all those settings right (I know that some books aren't completely set in the state, but I think all are at least fairly substantially represented).  Comments/suggestions welcome!

 

01. The Keepers of the House - Shirley Ann Grau (Alabama)

02. White Fang - Jack London (Alaska)

03. The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver (Arizona)

04. The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks - Donald Harington (Arkansas)

05. East of Eden/Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (California)

06. Plainsong - Kent Haruf (Colorado)

07. Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates (Connecticut)

08. The Saint of Lost Things - Christopher Castellani (Delaware)

09. To Have and Have Not - Ernest Hemingway (Florida)

10. Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell (Georgia)

11. From Here To Eternity - James Jones (Hawaii)

12. Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson (Idaho)

13. The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow (Illinois)

14. The Stone Diaries - Carol Shields (Indiana)

15. Last Hundred Years trilogy - Jane Smiley (Iowa)

16. Butcher's Crossing - John Williams (Kansas)

17. Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe (Kentucky)

18. All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren (Louisiana)

19. Empire Falls - Richard Russo (Maine)

20. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant - Anne Tyler (Maryland)

21. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne (Massachusetts)

22. The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides (Michigan)

23. Lake Wobegon Days - Garrison Keillor (Minnesota)

24. As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner (Mississippi)

25. Mrs Bridge - Evan S Connell (Missouri)

26. A River Runs Through It - Norman Maclean (Montana)

27. My Antonia - Willa Cather (Nebraska)

28. The Ox-Bow Incident - Walter van Tilburg Clark (Nevada)

29. Peyton Place - Grace Metalious (New Hampshire)

30. Independence Day - Richard Ford (New Jersey)

31. Cities of the Plain - Cormac McCarthy (New Mexico)

32. The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton (New York) R

33. Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier (North Carolina)

34. The Round House - Louise Eldrich (North Dakota)

35. Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson (Ohio)

36. True Grit - Charles Portis (Oklahoma)

37. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey (Oregon)

38. Blood on the Forge - William Attaway (Pennsylvania)

39. The Witches of Eastwick - John Updike (Rhode Island)

40. The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd (South Carolina)

41. Welcome to Hard Times - EL Doctorow (South Dakota)

42. A Death in the Family - James Agee (Tennessee)

43. Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry (Texas)

44. The Nineteenth Wife - David Ebershoff (Utah)

45. The Secret History - Donna Tartt (Vermont)

46. Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison (Virginia)

47. Snow Falling on Cedars- David Guterson (Washington)

48. Washington DC - Gore Vidal (Washington DC)

49. Storming Heaven - Denise Giardina (West Virginia)

50. The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach (Wisconsin)

51. Close Range: Wyoming Stories - E. Annie Proulx (Wyoming)

Edited by willoyd

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The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham *****

 

This is the second successive author that I haven't read - this one is a bit more surprising though.  I'm not sure how I got through my youth without reading John Wyndham, especially with such enjoyment of science fiction at the time, but I did, and so forty years or so later I come upon him for the first time.  Blame the English Counties Challenge for the fact that I ever landed up reading any of Wyndham's books, as I certainly had no intention otherwise.

 

Which would have been very much my loss, because this has proved one of the best surprises for years.  The Day of the Triffids is told in a very straightforward way, by the main protagonist, Bill, a Triffid biologist.  The human race has suffered a catastrophic and almost universal total loss of sight after a celestial event, conditions that leave the way free for triffids, a plant mutation that can walk and attack humans, to thrive.  Sounds highly unlikely told like that, but it is frighteningly and grippingly plausible in John Wyndham's hands.  Some humans, Bill (our hero) included, have been fortunate to escape blindness.  But can they survive?

 

In many respects, The Day of the Triffids is somewhat old-fashioned, not least in the virtual invisibility of technology.  Its style is somewhat dated too, not surprising given it was written in the fifties.  However, the issues it raises, the questions asked across a whole range of issues are all too topical and challenging, not least in the fragility of our position on this planet, which could so easily be change by events beyond our control, and what might happen if that position was every challenged.  And whilst it might feel a little on the older side as a story, it has lost none of its ability to keep the reader enthralled and on their toes.

 

Overall then, The Day of the Triffids proved itself to be an outstanding book, one of the best in recent months.  The one big question that does raise its head though, Is how on earth is this the book in the English Counties Challenge as the Isle of Wight novel?  Certainly, the island is mentioned, but not a single complete page of the book is actually set on the island.  It's a complete mystery!

 

Edited by willoyd

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I'm so pleased you enjoyed it. :)

 

I reread it a few years ago after finding a copy in a charity shop that had the same cover (illustrated by Peter Lord) as the copy I read at secondary school in about 1980.  I've read three other Wyndams since then and have enjoyed them all.  I always say I don't do science fiction but I love the couple of H G Wells novels that I've read too, so I seem to like vintage sci-fi!

 

I was also surprised when it was chosen for the IoW - I'm planning to read whatever the alternative was (Julian Barnes? Maybe not him, I can't remember without looking). 

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True Grit by Charles Portis ****

 

Unlike others, I've yet to see either film version of the book, so was able to read it uninfluenced by them.  Mattie Ross looks back from her older middle-aged spinsterhood to the murder of her father, and her efforts to revenge him through her employment of hard drinking, hard talking, morally unreliable US Marshal, Rooster Cogburn, who at least displays 'true grit' in Mattie's eyes.  Along with a Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf, who himself is on the trail of the murderer, one Tom Chaney, she and Cogburn travel into Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) to track Chaney down. 

 

Barely 200 pages long, True Grit came across like a western, cowboy, version of Simenon's Maigret books: spare language, strongly developed atmosphere both in terms of place and time, much of the story driven by dialogue.  A lot is packed into the relatively few pages.  The result was a book that was very hard to put down, and I ripped through it in a couple of thoroughly enjoyable days.  A good start to the tour!  Not sure why I've not given it 5 stars - just felt like a 4-star book - maybe not quite enough substance to push it up?? 

Edited by willoyd

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True Grit by Charles Portis ****

 

Unlike others, I've yet to see either film version of the book, so was able to read it uninfluenced by them.  Mattie Ross looks back from her older middle-aged spinsterhood to the murder of her father, and her efforts to revenge him through her employment of hard drinking, hard talking, morally unreliable US Marshal, Rooster Cogburn, who at least displays 'true grit' in Mattie's eyes.  Along with a Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf, who himself is on the trail of the murderer, on Tom Chaney, she and Cogburn travel into Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) to track Chaney down. 

 

Barely 200 pages long, True Grit came across like a western, cowboy, version of Simenon's Maigret books: spare language, strongly developed atmosphere both in terms of place and time, much of the story driven by dialogue.  A lot is packed into the relatively few pages.  The result was a book that was very hard to put down, and I ripped through it in a couple of thoroughly enjoyable days.  A good start to the tour!  Not sure why I've not given it 5 stars - just felt like a 4-star book - maybe not quite enough substance to push it up?? 

If you do watch the film version, please watch the John Wayne film. It was a pretty good movie.

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Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier ****
 
A good, old fashioned, adventure yarn. Mary Yellan, recently bereaved of her widow mother and forced to leave her family home, goes to live with her aunt, wife of the landlord of the Jamaican Inn, high on Bodmin Moor. Aunt Patience is a sadly changed woman from the flighty, pretty sister of her mother than Mary remembers, and it's easy to see why when Mary meets her bullying husband. Not just a bully, he is soon revealed as heavily involved in some pretty dreadful  criminal activity.....

Positively reeking of the moors, and with an atmosphere that you could cut with a very blunt knife, Jamaica Inn is about as far removed in terms of setting from The Day of the Triffids as one could possibly manage. Whereas TDOTT had absolutely no sense of the Isle of Wight, its affiliation in the English Counties Challenge - not one page being set there - Jamaica Inn must be the quintessential Cornish novel. The continuous commentary on the feebleness of women grated somewhat after a time, but, aside from that, this had everything that one could want from an adventure story, including a storyline that fairly gallops along and kept this reader fully engaged. It's not great literature, but it is certainly a cut above the modern day norm. I was surprised to realise that this was my first Du Maurier; I am sure it won't be the last.

Edited by willoyd

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You have to try Rebecca (okay, you don't have to, but I think you should!) - it's a fantastic book.  I'm glad you enjoyed Jamaica Inn  :)

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