cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Reading Round Up: April 2018


Looking over last year’s April Round Up, my stats were a measly 29% for my reading goal of 101 books for the year. I was also yipping about being so exhausted from taking on an extra AP class to teach.

Maybe I’m toughening up because this year I’m up to 35%, then again I am still exhausted from preparing students for double exams: AP Language and AP Literature. I yipped last post, so I shall refrain.

Reading in April happened primarily during Spring Break. The rest of the month consisted of concentrated teaching efforts. Too tired to read is not my happy place. Binge watching Dr Who kept me from eating chocolate during my stress crisis since I didn’t renew my gym membership this year. At least my stress relieving habits are improving. Wait–do I detect censure for watching four Who episodes at a sitting? Really–I was attempting to grade. Some points for trying to multi-tasking?

April reading highlights:

joyce

image: Barnes and Nobles

I made the mistake of taking this along as my Spring Break travel book. Not actually a cozy or enthralling read.

One of those books that is avoided for ever so long, ever knowing that it is a MUST read, especially for English Lit teachers. It’s almost embarrassing how long it took for me to finally read Joyce’s novel of groundbreaking importance. Admittedly, it was as tough as I thought it would be, but for different reasons than I originally anticipated.

I applaud the ingenuity and daring–the dialogue sequences, the emulation of thought constructs, the stream of consciousness; yet, Stephen is not a character of admiration making it difficult to invest of even care about his story.

gilead

image: Barnes and Noble

Pulitzer Prizers are either outstanding or ponderous in my reading experience. Robinson’s Gilead falls somewhere in the mid zone. The writing is outstanding,the plot ponderously slow, if a book comprised of a continuous future epistolary journal is considered a plot.

There is much to appreciate in the depth of the theology Robinson presents, and there is a beauty in the understanding that the speaker reaches into his feelings for his main antagonist.

Deservedly a Pulitzer—just slow in the pace. Then again, not all books should be hurried through. This one in particular. However, it is doubtful I will continue with the other Gilead books.

Dr Who: Who-olgy by Cavan Scott, Mark Wright

Published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr Who, this reference guide is designed for both beginners or experts; the book covers it all for Wholigans. Lots of trivia and background. Informative and entertaining–most def. Some info could be expanded, such as how psychic paper actually works, and why it doesn’t work on everyone, such as Shakespeare. I learned that while I enjoy the reboot series to a point–liking only two of the four, going on five doctors–I doubt I will be attending Comic Con to celebrate my fan status. I do ponder cosplay and vacillate between a Cyberman and Madame Pompadour.

Looking forward to May as I have arranged an extended weekend and plan to read, read, read, along with nap, nap, nap. I shall also partake in swallow watching since our condo balcony is in their nesting flight path. I just hope I don’t get conked by a stray golf ball. Two years in a row it’s been near misses. Absolutely a startling way to awaken from a dozy deck chair dream–a swish, tonk, crash. Not good. Not good. Some people should correct their slice before venturing out on the greens.

Happy Maying–

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April Rue


April has been described as the cruelest month, as one full of showers, and it is a month full of celebrations from April Fool’s Day to pretzels.

Most notably, at least for me, is how April is a month celebrating poetry in that it’s National Poetry Month. Usually I post a poem every day. Didn’t happen this year.

I also do a Shakespeare shout out on my blog. Sorry, Bill–happy belated 454. He did get a video acknowledgement in the school’s morning announcements.

I managed to celebrate Poem in a Pocket Day on April 26 by handing out poems to my students. Always a big hit. I just didn’t write about it.

I didn’t even read much this month. *sigh*

So what did I do this month?

A small pause and a reflection…

I taught in fits and starts. Mainly having fits about the difficulty of starting a unit, considering after we returned from spring break we had a week to prepare students for a week of state testing.

No, I am not going there.

I became so frustrated with not being able to teach without interruptions to the class schedule that I would go home and binge watch Doctor Who. I could have run to my usual standby of Haagen-Daz or chocolate, but I am trying to find non-caloric comfort food these days. The Doctor works.

Somewhat sad and pathetic I know.

But–

May is nipping around the calendar and that means AP winding down and diving into Julius Caesar.

I’m ready to spring into a new month.

The Doctor Is In…Kind Of



Image: http://www.comicbook.com

Having discovered Dr Who rather just lately, I’m finding myself binge watching to get caught up. It’s difficult to catch up to a television series that has been around since the sixties. It’s cutting into my book reading, that’s for sure.

What I’m not going to do is a great big discussion on “Whoism,” there is much dedication to Doctor Who, and I am not qualified (actually I’m a bit terrified of offending the fan base).

What I am concerned with is my unmitigated preference for the former doctors. I’m not in the least interested in the new doctor–at all.

Why?

He has transgenerated into a woman doctor. The doctor now ponging about the universe is a she instead of a he, and that really bothers me. The issue is not with the new doctor, Jodie Whitaker–don’t know of her at all. I’m more bothered that I’m bothered.

Let’s make something very clear. I applaud capable heroes. Big fan of Captain America. Mostly I like James Bond. Angie’s Lara Croft set a standard. JLaw’s Katniss is so empowering and endearing. And I absolutely cheer the new Wonder Woman.

Notice there really isn’t a pattern. Men and women heroes dashing about saving people, because that’s what they do.

And that’s what I like about The Doctor. It’s been set up since the show started that this peculiar (some Doctors being more peculiar than others) alien preferring human form, is running away from his home planet responsibilities getting in predicaments, getting out of them, saving the universe, saving people. Because that’s what he does. It worked in the prior series. It works very well in the reboot. David Tennant and Peter Capaldi bring a new dimension to Doctoring–smart scripts and dazzling production are mentioned here.

The Doctor is a pattern: idiosyncratic intelligent alien with human characteristics–a guy ranging in age anywhere from 30ish to 60ish. A guy. Oh yeah, he has a sidekick known as a “companion.” These have been mostly women, a couple of times a guy has helped drive the Tardis.

It’s not a gender thing. Really it’s not. I think it’s a pattern thing. I’m used to a Doctor pattern and they changed it up. However, I relished how the Master became a Mistress. Missy brought some dazzle to the frenemy role. Just leave the Doctor as is, thank you.

Think about it. Would it be okay, acceptable, if suddenly James became Jane? “Bond. Jane Bond.” I wouldn’t care for that at all. I am okay with the all female Oceans 11. Nice switch out. Not okay with the change up that’s happened with The Doctor.  So I am running through some self-diagnosis about my Doctor preference..

Am I gender-biased? A traditionalist? Close-minded? Maybe I just know what I like. Okay, I can handle being picky. It’s quirky that I abhor cucumbers yet adore pickles–baby dills, thank you. So, I rally towards male Doctor Whos and instead utter “really?” towards the female Doctor Whos. I didn’t care for Jenna Coleman’s stint as Clara being a Doctor for the nano second she had the part and I think Clara quite capable. I imagine she could parallel park the Tardis when needed. Nope. The Doctor Who I need to save my planet from Daleks and company is an idiosyncratic guy, particularly with a Scottish accent.

Am I alone in my Doctor dilemma? Anyone else in a quandary?

Reading Round Up: March


Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Image: Barnes and Noble

War books are difficult to read. There is rarely a good side to war, no matter how well the story is written. With this knowledge then, with some reluctance, I began reading Salt to the Sea as I knew a WWII story would have tragedy and travail. Yet, the story starts with a strong hook and its hypnotic four person viewpoint narrative continues throughout, making it a compelling read about the worst maritime disaster in history. Surprisingly, good manages to surface in the horror that pervades in this aspect of war.

The story centers on the evacuation efforts of those fleeing Russian soldiers. Thousands escape with barely any belongings in hope of finding refuge on ships. The main focus is on the Wilhelm Gustloff, which carried 10,000 refugees on board. It’s amazing that a loss of over 9,000 lives has not had more attention. Almost half of those lost were children. This is a story of four lives and their perspective. Riveting to the end. The historical detail is commendable. A solid five star read.

Historical Background
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Image: Amazon

At times the book had the feel of a PBS series, the detail and characterization being so colorful and descriptive, ready for adaptation. This is not a complaint; however, a book of nearly 500 pages does contain a bit of hefty plot making and detail. It’s as if it wants to become a series. The book is not so much a war story as it is a study of England and its people before war irrevocably altered a way of life.

Told from various character experiences, a reader senses the summer before the Great War to be one never seen again in England.  The warmth of friendships, the comfort of routine, and the pace of English country life is laid before the reader in welcome detail, so when war does arrive the shock is truly felt.

Beatrice, Hugh, Aunt Agatha, Mr Tillingham and the other characters of Helen Simonson’s second novel are admirably portrayed, as is the setting and the various subplots. Sometimes it felt a bit much, as in a bit too much detail. The over-length of the story contributed to the four and a half star rating–a hundred pages of exposition trimming would have helped to keep attention on the story instead of on the extra particulars. Colorful details, while appreciated, can become distracting if overdone.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Image: Amazon

Told from two perspectives, All American Boys, tells the story of police brutality, from that of the victim and of a witness. And it gets complicated. White cop, black teenage kid. White witness, friends with the cop and his younger brother. Loyalties are tested. Lines drawn at school. Choices are made.

The authors provide a realistic account of a situation happening too often across the country. What could have added to the story, ends up watering down the impact, as there is also a weak account of the police officer’s viewpoint, although it seems added in to only offset the difficulty of the situation. Being a police officer is difficult. Another character emphasizes the tough split-second decisions officers must make that can result in permanent consequences. The interjection of the police officer in question inadvertently comes off as him being menacing. It might have been better to hear his full his viewpoint to add the perspective of the police officer along with the victim and the witness.

Overall, an important, timely story told with realism and an ear for true dialogue. A four star read.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Image: Good Reads

Having avoided this book because how can any book about the Holocaust be different from the other ones I’ve read? There is an inevitable sadness and horror to the truth of the events.

John Boyne does manage to bring a different perspective to his Holocaust tale, in that his story is told as a fable. Bruno, a nine year old German son of a high ranking Nazi official, must move with his family to Out-With because the Fury deems Bruno’s father capable enough to run the death camp. Bruno, however,  does not know it is a death camp. He also does not know why there are so many people wearing grey-striped pajamas. He hates this place. He hates it until while exploringone day he discovers a boy on the other side of the fence. A nine year old boy named Shmuel who is wearing striped pajamas. The story is about their friendship.

On a literal level, the story is annoying with its purposeful euphemisms and the veiled naïveté of Bruno. Yet, reading the story as a fable, as a story that could never happen in a world so advanced as ours, it deserves the acclaim it has received. A four star as sometimes the fable aspect is somewhat overdone.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


Warning: Only those with a serious crush on the 80’s are advised to saunter forth to experience Ernest Cline’s whopping tome of this romanticized era. And it helps to be a gamer. Not being a fan of either, I really didn’t appreciate the story. Plus, I couldn’t figure out if the audience was meant to be YA or adult. All this contributed to the three star rating. I did like the Willy Wonka mash up with Tron aspect.
The Man He Never Was: A Midern Reimagining of Jekyll and Hyde by James Rubart

Image: Amazon

The story provides much promise as it starts out: a man waking alone in a strange room with no memory. Amnesia stories can be intriguing mysteries as pieces are put back together. Unfortunately, there are too many plot holes to sustain the premise that a person can easily disappear for almost a year without more repercussions than indicated.

At times the message of how a person can overcome weaknesses through the strength of relying on the Lord is inspiring. It is confusing, even dismaying, that this truth gets garbled with New Age aspects of meditation centers, Eastern teas, and cosmic rooms. At times there is a Ted Dekker feel of spiritual mysticism to the plot. Robert Whitlow provides the same blending of spiritual and inspirational, but with more of a faith-based storyline. Rubart’s mixture is confusing, if not disturbing, in its approach to the idea of the dark side, the Hyde, within a person. A three star read. 

The publisher provided a copy in exchange for a fair review.

Movie Musings: Risen


What would the Resurrection story be like from a weary Roman tribune’s point of view? From a hardened soldier whose main aspiration is to gain power in order to retire to the country to find peace, to live a day without death?

This is the premise of Risen, which came out in 2016, featuring Joeseph Fiennes and Peter Firth. Most, if not all of the Easter films I have watched, focus on events leading up to the crucifixion. Risen starts afterwards, beginning with a convincing skirmish with Roman soldiers and the released Barrabbas.

Image: Amazon.com

https://youtu.be/R-R9JY4le7k

Clavius, a career Roman soldier, played by Joseph Fiennes, is the one who is sent by Pilate to speed things up, to end the “rabble” noise. Clavius does so by going to the site of the three crucifixions taking place. He orders two of the three to have their legs broken, which painfully quickens the already excruciating death on the cross. As the third victim is about to suffer the same, Clavius notices a group of women weeping, and learns it is the mother. This is where the audience sees beyond the tough exterior of this Roman soldier, setting up the film. Clavius instead orders the pilium, and the suffering ends immediately with the swift piercing.

From this point on Clavius remains involved with this man’s death. He is sent to have the tomb sealed, and when the body vanishes, he becomes a dectective trying to solve the mystery. This is a brilliant, if not unique way, to present the Resurrection story.

As Clavius, Joseph Fiennes, projects a weariness from his 25 years of soldiering, that begins to soften his judgement, yet his professional training remains intact. As Clavius searches for the missing Yeshua, he begins to find truths that he cannot reconcile with what he knows, and this truth changes him as searches for answers.

Having watched the Easter films of the past, The Robe through The Greatest Story Ever Told, and even The Passion of Christ, I was at first reluctant to watch yet another film about a story I knew so well, that whenever I watched a retelling my emotions absolutely pulverized me: joy, awe, anger, devestation, exultation. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through it all once again, even though the story is ultimately uplifting. Risen, having now twice watched it, creates a sense of wonder, a sense of satsfaction, one of peace.

Joseph Fiennes brings his polished acting skills to the role, providing subtley to his part. A sigh, a flick of an eyelid, a wary side look, a folding of arms all say so much when he says so little. This Roman, this Clavius, is a man of action, one of precise movement and logic, yet events he becomes involved in as he searches for Yeshua at Pilate’s demand, renders him watchful, cautious, and we see him slowly transform as he realizes he will never be the same.

I appreciate Sony’s dedication to producing intelligent, thought-provoking family films that take on inspirational subjects. The stories are well-written, finely directed, and showcase notable actors. Most find their way to the theatre circuit and do well, which sends the message that family entertainment with a message is valued.

He is risen, and I hope you and yours embrace this season of wonders.

Movie Musings: Requiem for the American Dream


I’ve already watched this documentary twice this month: once for my own interest and once with my students. A third time might be in store to take even more notes. It’s a mesmerizing overview of the how and why the American dream is not the same one of our parents and grandparents.

This documentary is essential to share with students prior to their graduation.

Noam Chomsky, respected linguist, cultural critic, with a rep as an activist, calmly, succinctly, and convincingly provides viewers with insights about the tenets of the American dream. I now better understand why there is a disconnect to the expectation that a college degree is a main ingredient to achieving success by standards that no longer exist due to a system that is barely recognizable from the days of the fifties and sixties.

Listening to Chomsky is akin to spending time with a wise sage with spark and vinegar up his sleeve. It is a bit like if Grandpa Walton had graduated from MIT instead of the school of hard knocks.

The creative editing and dynamic musical score add greatly to the mood of intense enlightenment. I hope watching this documentary inspires my students to prove Mr. Chomsky wrong, even if he persuades us it all sounds so right.

Sage old dudes are a national treasure.

Techno Faux Pax


A variation of an old chestnut:

Two girls walk into a classroom wearing the same yellow sweatshirt. They stop and stare at each other. They size each other up. The teacher tries to cut the tension with the quip: “Looks like you got the email.”

You know–that joke.

The problem is that teens don’t email each other. At least not anymore. The class bursts out in derisive laughter. “Yeah, right. Because that’s what we do. We email each other.” Loud smirking ensues.

Trying to save a bit of my self-esteem I respond brightly: “Maybe that’s why I don’t hear that often from my own kids –I email them.” The moment is somewhat saved and we go back to English.

I do text. I don’t Tweet. I do FaceTime. I prefer visits. I write letters. Hmm–nothing comes close to a letter. A humorous card maybe.

Yet, if I were to say the right techno term I still would be on the outside looking in. Why? My expiration date is beginning to show. I’m at retirement age and students know it. I don’t feel like retiring yet, but because I could, that makes me old. Out with the old, in with the new.

If I happen to drop in a casual word or phrase students seem surprised. Do I know what that means? If I mention a movie, song, a whatever that is in their world I think it concerns them. It’s as if I have bumped their youth bubble. Granted, I don’t know most of their music, trends, or media choices. On the other hand, they don’t know that Edgar Allan Poe influenced Stephen King, who I remember reading when he first came out and none of his books were movies yet. Or how about everyone from Monty Python to Jimmy Fallon quotes some line from Hamlet and now my students know why. Or the reason there are strong female protagonists like Katniss is because we had Jane Eyre first. And they don’t know about Byronic Heroes–yet, even though they do know about Loki, Ironman, and Bat Man.

I may get my techno terminology tangled, but they don’t know all about the who, how, and why of Shakespeare’s influence of just about everything. I have job security for a bit longer.

So is blogging for old people? Oh who cares–I need more than 280 characters for my say.

Why We Say: #34–flowers, teeth, salt, and wolves


Having just attempted to read Perks of a Wallflower (didn’t finish–that’s a different post), it was timely when I popped open my Why We Say book to the “W” section. The first entry?

Wallflower

garden.lovetoknow.com

In Europe, and maybe in America, bright yellow and red flowers grace stone walls, adding quiet color to break up the monotony. And so it is with people who might quietly stand against the wall at a function and not participate, at least not visibly. Just because they aren’t gregarious doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion about what’s going on. Subtle observation does have its perks.
Wisdom Teeth

Around senior year my students start missing school for a variety of reasons. One of the oddly frequent absences involves wisdom teeth removal. This is usually a two day to one week ordeal depending on the success of the procedure. My wisdom teeth were pulled during my freshman year of college. The removal went well. The recovery process did not. Apparently codeine is not on friendly terms with my system.

creativedentalcare.com

The Romans believed since wisdom teeth come in so late they indicate the increase of knowledge. So removing them indicates we lose some of our wisdom? There might be a plausible correlation to this thought actually.

Take It With a Grain of Salt

gingersoftware.com
Another Roman story concerns itself with salt. Pompey, general and colleague of Julius Caesar, had a solution to the possibility of poisoning: “take a grain of salt to complete the relief.” Maybe that’s why we say “take it with a grain of salt” when we receive something distasteful.
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Around 2500 years ago Aesop wrote a fable about a wolf who wore a sheep’s fleece in order to cozy in with the flock and snag a couple of lamb burgers. Today if someone is described as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it’s best to watch out–this person is decidedly trying to be friendly with ulterior motives.

Image: Americaoutloud.com

One more post and we are done with Why We Say. However, no need for dismay–I found another word origin book on my shelf, and we continue our etymology explorations.

Julius Caesar: Shaken Up


The Ides of March:

a) preview of March Madness

b) a week of spring sales

c) the middle of March

d) a George Clooney movie

e) when a certain Roman emperor got the point he wasn’t as loved as he thought he was

Answers: c)true; d)true; e)true; a) and b) contenders, because one never knows

And bonus points for knowing e) is Julius Caesar and that the 15th are the Ides of March, the middle of March.

This is useful information for Trivia Night at the local pub. Truly.

Recently our school hosted this year’s Shakesperience play: Julius Caesar. Shakesperienceis a troupe of enthusiastic actors who travel to various schools and present 50 minute versions of a selected Shakespeare play. They are always innovative in approach. This is done out of necessity . For one, they have only six actors, which means playing multiple parts. They also have minimal staging, their main piece being a tiered rolling scaffold.

This year’s production was especially innovative in that Caesar was a woman and Calpurnia became husband Calpurnius. It worked well.

It was tricky presenting a assassination in a school culture where performing violence is challenging at best. Again, innovation took the lead. When the big moment arrived, each conspirator took a sheet of paper and created a weapon: fashioned brass knuckles, tightly rolled paper points equating knives. No blood, torn paper, a shower of confetti symbolized death.

During question and answer it was revealed the torn paper bits represented the tearing of a person’s life, how a person’s life is symbolized through paper: obituaries, text, etc. Ripping up the paper is shredding their life. Brilliant and school appropriate.

I always look forward to these yearly performances. Yet, every year it’s tough to gather an interest due to working around students who either can’t or don’t want to miss their class. District testing scheduled on that day doesn’t help either. Unfortunately providing opportunities for culture suffers the injuries incurred by the tyranny of the urgent set by educational must-do, like yet another test.

Hoping Shakespeare performed live is coming to a theatre near you, or better yet, to a school in your neighborhood.

And do be aware of the Ides of March.

Reading Round up: February


February briefly held the promise of winter ending and spring arriving. I even had grass in the backyard. Lilac buds. I felt victorious.

Twelve inches of snow later, winter is rebooted. Pardon me while I emit a primal yawp. *YErrrgggh*

My go to option for dealing with this surfeit of snow is to make frequent dashes to the library. Much more fulfilling than dark chocolate. Well, a book lasts longer.

Once again, a fair mix of TBR, recommends, reviews, and discoveries.

First love sometimes feels like it will be the only love. Ever. Rainbow Rowell describes the intensity of that special love through the wondrous tale of Eleanor and Park, two misfits who are perfect fits for each other.

The teaser beginning serves to entice readers to continue reading because there are hints of a tragedy brewing, and as the plot heats up, along with Park and Eleanor’s relationship, a person just has to know how it will all turn out. That makes this a gotta-read -it-in-one-sitting book.

And that’s good writing.

Would have been a fiver, yet the cruelty seemed too much at times for believability.

Reminiscent of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, without the profanity and drama.

I remember the drop under the desk drills in elementary schools. We shivered, crouched like little frogs, not understanding the why of it. As we grew older we felt that nudging threat of the Cold War. Pat Frank’s post apocalyptic novel tentatively answers that concern.

Published in 1959, Frank’s novel prepared readers what happens to civilization after the bomb, in this case, the bombs have dropped. The author’s varied background as government consultant and journalist provides a verisimilitude that is more than believable, it is at times dismaying, yet mostly inspiring. He provides a clear-sighted hopefulness that the human race will continue even when faced with having to start over.

Even though the story takes place in the fifties, it rings too close to the present to be dismissed as being anachronistic. Alas, Babylon is a guidebook to keep on the shelf.

Major Pettigrew, full of old English practicalities at the spry age of 68, contends with several inconveniences as he contemplates his remaining days. One irritant is dealing with the village’s gossipy ladies as his friendship with the attractive widow Mrs Ali changes course. For all their supposed openness the people in his life, including his son Roger, can’t fathom how the major could possibly be interested in this foreign shop keeper.

An endearing character, Major Pettigrew is full of wry quips and commentary as he deals with breaking from expectations and unexpectedly finds love. For those who loved A Man Called Ove, make room for another lovable git.

Hollywood portrays CIA agents as full of action, intense swagger, and having a dedicated skill set. CIA agent Michele Rigby Assad provides a truer portrait in her memoir, Breaking Cover. Her frank, engaging story emphasizes how much time is spent gathering reliable intel and creating a trustworthy network. Car chases and fiery shootouts aren’t mentioned, although trying to survive searing desert heat and daily bombings lend a gritty authenticity. Assad outlines the process of becoming an agent as well as highlights some of her tours in the Middle East. While her tours might not be the stuff of Hollywood, she relates plenty of intense episodes of needing to be the best of her abilities. The fact that she and her husband both worked as agents and are dedicated Christians heightened the overall interest of her time spent in counterterrorism.

The second half of her book brings in the subtitle: My Life in the CIA and What It Taught Me about What’s Worth Fighting For. Having left the CIA, Michele and her Egyptian immigrant husband Joseph became international security consultants. The larger part of this section involves their work with relocating displaced Iraqi Christians (featured as an ABC 20/20 special). Assad’s passion and faith especially comes through as she fought to find a safe refuge for a people under persecution.

Overall, the memoir comes across as genuine and inspiring, and while it’s understandable there might have been restrictions on how much detail she could divulge of her CIA experience, it would have added more to her memoir to have further experiences about being married agents, definitely a unique perspective.

Disclaimer: Tyndale House Publishers provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What titles are keeping you warm this winter?

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