Intentions

This is an embarrassing confession: I am not well read. I used to be before I went to university. Before university, my favourite activity was inactivity: lying on the couch with a hefty book. I read Gone with the Wind and all the Narnia books; I read The Martian Chronicles and Jane Eyre. I read Hawaii and The Source by James Michener, On the Beach by Nevil Shute and East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I discovered poetry through Leonard Cohen who took my name and turned it into a song. Maybe it wasn’t a consistent canon and maybe it was the depth and breadth of a creek but it was flowing fast feeding lots of little fish and otters and watering the grass and trees on the shore.

A degree in English literature finished that off. A degree in the dead greats of England sent me plodding on a path of collecting books by more dead writers some of which I read but mostly I amassed an impressive library of literary guilt. My bookshelves were filled with little penguins captured in an oval, badges of my literary taste. Back at the beginning of 2013 I purged the library and donated many of the Penguin Classics, particularly the cumbersome Victorians – Hardy, Dickens, The Brontes, Austen, Thackeray, Eliot – whose presence reminded me of all that I wasn’t and didn’t want to be anymore anyway.

Between the end of university in 1980 and now, here’s how my reading looked:

1980’s – The Adrian Mole years. I was untroubled being 23 and relating to a narrator 13 ¾’s years old. It was a pubescent decade with a hormonal diet of Judith Krantz and Sidney Sheldon but saved by A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Early 1990’s – I grew fat and happy reading mysteries by Tony Hillerman, P.D. James, Elmore Leonard. Once in a while I got my heart-rate up reading Alice Munro. Does Roddy Doyle count as literature?

Mid-1990’s – 2010 – Children arrived. I was buried in Beatrix Potter. Daily chores, nighttime child-raising rituals – baths, bedtime stories, belting out show tunes for lullabies – following which I had about 30 minutes of life left in the body that husband and I could use to –

  1. Chat about our respective days.
  2. Discuss the household budget (I was employed part-time. Finances were girdle-tight).
  3. Make love really fast so I’d be left with some time to read.

Sex and reading were meted out like chocolate truffles. Occasionally I went on a diet of one or the other or took up a hobby that wasn’t horizontal – scrapbooking, calligraphy, skiing, running. But the truth is books got away from me. I read book reviews to keep up.

Young adult fiction brought me back to reading real books. Thanks to my middle daughter’s taste, I’ve sampled fantasy novels such as The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I am envious of her reading pace. She chews through books like a komodo dragon eating a water buffalo.

Which leads me to a second reading confession: I’m a slow reader. With reading often a late night activity, I do more re-reading than reading. Ie. Read 5 pages, fall asleep reading the 6th ; wake up when the book crashes on my nose; re-read page 6. Next night re-read pages 4-5-6 to remember what I was reading. A novel can take a long time at this pace, which is why I started reading short stories and how I discovered the work of Lorrie Moore, Raymond Carver, George Saunders, Sherman Alexie, Alistair MacLeod, and Barbara Goudie. Through them I’ve learned to love ambiguous, amorphous story endings. But my fallback reading position is a mystery novel. The likes of Louise Penny, Mary Jane Maffini, James Lee Burke, Craig Johnson, Walter Mosley, Minette Walters never fail to make me a happy reader. It’s a rut as cozy as a sleeping bag under a starry summer sky. But when I feel the blood pooling in my extremities, I return always to Alice Munro or Margaret Atwood to get it circulating again.

Nonetheless, I think it’s time to crawl out of my cozy sleeping bag and peek above the rut. This year I am determined to dip into some new genres like Steampunk and Science Fiction. How about Historical Fiction? Fantasy and Romance (isn’t all romance fantasy?) Erotica – but NOT 50 Shades of Grey. Speculative fiction? However, being a slow reader, I can only reasonably select 6 books because I’ll need the security of a mystery novel in between.

This is where you come in. I’m interested in YOUR reading habits and whether you have a suggestion to offer. Tell me who and what you like reading. I’ll get busy making my 2016 list.

Here’s to a rich reading year!

 

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44 thoughts on “Intentions

  1. Luanne January 1, 2016 / 12:52 pm

    I was a voracious and fast reader my whole life since age 4 until I started teaching literature. Then my love for reading took a big nosedive. It took me a few years after retiring to start to love to read again. Anything except mystery cozies, that is. I am still way too slow as I fall asleep and also play stupid video games on my iPad instead of reading. It’s a terrible habit and comes from an inability to focus the way I used to. I’ve read a lot of the dead greats, and I almost always loved them. Maybe I should go back to reading those guys. The Brontes, Elliot, the Russians. So many books and such a short life. Maybe I should give up the video games for 2016.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne January 1, 2016 / 1:42 pm

      I think there’s something about “required reading” that puts me off because I read some of the Victorians before I went to university. Dickens, of course. Or maybe it was the pace required and the analysis. I was more focused back then but still a slow reader and my elective courses were just as weighty in reading – Religious Studies was my minor. The Bible. Need I say more.

      Do you have any recommendations, Luanne?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Luanne January 1, 2016 / 2:47 pm

        19th c. British lit are almost all long books. That is more difficult for a slow reader in a culture that pushes us to sample bits and pieces very quickly. But I loved them. Charlotte Bronte’s Villette was a favorite, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Vanity Fair, Middlemarch, blah blah blah. But maybe you want something shorter. Have you read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories (switching to an American)? I find them very interesting, creepy, and somehow very relevant. But maybe that’s just me. I also like a lot of American dead guy lit, like Sister Carrie, The House of Mirth, etc. Maybe for the 19th c. Brits Austen is a better choice. Those are much quicker reads, IMO. I should give you my PhD reading list for American 19th century. Generally slightly faster reads than the Brits. I just looked up my reading list and, yes, lots of shorter works on there.

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      • Susanne January 1, 2016 / 3:17 pm

        I just read that Hawthorne is called “a dark romantic”. That sounds appealing and I’ve not read any 19th c. American Lit so that’s a definite maybe and short stories, too, even better! Speaking of Austen, I’m reading the “Jane Austen Book Club” which I picked up at a church bazaar before Christmas. It is a wonderful read – almost convinces me I should read Austen.

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      • Luanne January 1, 2016 / 3:35 pm

        Austen is wonderful and I like to read her like eating cupcakes, one after another. I really love Hawthorne. He’s just my cuppa tea. The Birthmark, for instance. Have you read Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories?

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      • Susanne January 1, 2016 / 3:58 pm

        I’ve read the Pit and the Pendulum, maybe some others but none that pop to mind.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Luanne January 1, 2016 / 6:45 pm

        The Purloined Letter. The Cask of Amontillado. And definitely The Tell-tale Heart.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Bruce Goodman January 1, 2016 / 1:16 pm

    I’m a lot worse at reading than you … the only novel mentioned by you that I’ve read is Jane Eyre and I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it. During the course of last year I attempted to read the next door neighbour’s novel A Tide Too High by Carole Brungar but read only the first chapter and the last three pages and then spent the rest of the year pretending I’d read every word. I also re-read ALL the Bronte novels (I’d forgotten that) and then had to get new reading glasses. The new glasses (from an optician) seem conducive to looking at the computer screen but not at looking at a book, so I’ve been avoiding book novels. You’ve got me going! I shall shut up…

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    • Susanne January 1, 2016 / 1:44 pm

      I probably wouldn’t like Jane Eyre if I read it again but as a romantic 17 year old I thought it was wonderful. I remove my specs to read which is a mercy when my book falls on my face! Truthfully, I read a lot more blogs than I do books and why not! There’s this great flash fiction writer I know….

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bruce Goodman January 1, 2016 / 1:59 pm

        How flash is that! (One minute in bed and I’m asleep. 3 hours in bed and I’m wide awake, but don’t like to turn the light on).

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      • Susanne January 1, 2016 / 2:01 pm

        I’m a flash sleeper, too. Flash reader, flash writer. Let’s call it a good thing.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. dawnkinster January 1, 2016 / 6:39 pm

    I read a lot too as a kid. Then life interfered. Now I fall asleep reading too.

    I think those of you that studied literature, or taught literature..it’s like making something you love into a job which you will eventually not love. Maybe.

    Right now I am reading “A Manual for Cleaning Women” by Lucia Berlin. It’s short stories. I’m still falling asleep before I can finish one.

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    • Susanne January 1, 2016 / 10:34 pm

      Oh god. I could really use a manual for cleaning but I’m guessing it’s not really about cleaning. Short stories are the best because at least there are fewer pages to re-read when I’ve lost the thread.

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  4. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner January 1, 2016 / 9:05 pm

    I’m still trying to get the ‘komodo dragon eating a water buffalo’ picture out of my head. Besides being a read 8 pages before bedtime aficionado too, I’ve also been locked in a Middle Grade phase…Far, Far Away, by Tom McNeal is a good one…the narrator is Jakob Grimm. My intention right now though is to read something adult, and soon. I was thinking maybe ‘All the Light We Cannot See’…but that’s more for daytime reading. But I think I’ll wait and see what your blog readers come up with or re-read Jane Eyre…or a self-help on becoming more decisive. 🙂

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    • Susanne January 1, 2016 / 10:32 pm

      I recommend the Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler, Donna. Laugh out loud moments and gorgeous writing. I have a soft spot for YA fiction which is so much better than Trixie Beldon of my era!

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  5. wolfberryknits January 1, 2016 / 10:27 pm

    Great post, Your purging of the classics made me laughs. 😀 As a kid I always had my face in a book but now I’m definitely more an audiobook person as then I can knit at the same time….I have some weird mono tasking ‘guilt’ if I sit down and just read a book, on paper, for a couple of hours…I did manage it last year with The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but only when no one was around 🙂 heehee

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    • Susanne January 2, 2016 / 9:03 am

      My husband is a brilliant monotasker (love that new word!) and consequently a much better read person than I. I think a lot of women suffer from mono tasking guilt, I know I sure do although when I knit I do manage to give it all my attention because I’m not an expert and if I let my mind wander or try to watch tv I end up ripping instead of knitting. I’ll google the book you mention and add it to the list I’ve got going.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Cynthia Jobin January 1, 2016 / 11:24 pm

    It looks like you and your readers are into fiction, and I’m afraid I rarely read that genre, except for the novels by fellow bloggers because I want to support them. Recent ones in this category are ” ” “A Sin For A Son”, by Jane Stansfield;
    ” Borderline”, by Hilary C. Green and
    “A Passing Shower” by Bruce Goodman (PDF)

    Otherwise, I have a rotating pile of about 12 books always by the side of my recliner chair and dip in and out of them as the spirit moves me….probably finishing about five books a month.
    As I look at the pile now, I see
    “The Portable Scatalog “(yes it’s all about what you think it is);
    ” Ravishing Disunities: Ghazals in English”, by Agha Shahid Ali, and” Rooms are Never Finished”, by the same poet.
    Then there’s” Zen in English Literature”, by R. H Blyth
    ” Invisible Cities” and “If On a Winter’s Night A Traveler”, both by Italo Calvino
    ” Modern New Zealand Poets”, by H. McQueen and L. Cox;
    “The Essential Rumi”, Barks translation;
    “The Wisdom of Insecurity”, by Alan W. Watts;
    “Fifty Days of Solitude”, by Doris Grumbach; and
    ” Poles Apart”, a recently published book of poetry by Rob McShane, another fellow blogger.

    Since I banished TV and all electronic devices from the bedroom, and I don’t read in bed… I’ve been able to get my 6 to 8 hours of Z’s… One book always seems to point me to the next one I should read, so my pile changes but never goes down!

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    • Cynthia Jobin January 2, 2016 / 12:38 am

      By the way, I should have mentioned that Hilary Custance Green”s book is about a group of persons who believe they want to end it all, so they find a like minded group and leader, on the internet and join a special pilgrimage to Slovenia where it seems they will be legally able to die humanely, quietly, by their own free will. There’s wonderful characterization of this motley crew and much to ponder about reasons for living as well as the right to suicide. And of course there’s the treat of a trip to Slovenia as well!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Susanne January 2, 2016 / 9:12 am

        I remember reading another blogger’s review of her book – was it you? – and being intrigued. Her book is on my list but it has to go on my husband’s Kindle and I’ll have to wrestle it from him first.

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      • hilarycustancegreen January 4, 2016 / 5:59 pm

        Thank you so much, Cynthia, I’ve been feeling so guilty about my failure to market Border Line. Now I realise that in my comment below, I have only talked about prose. I read poetry, almost without realising. It is like water for me, so essential, yet so much part of life that I forget that it is part of my diet.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne January 2, 2016 / 9:11 am

      Five books a month! Envious, I am. (We’ve been watching the old Star Wars movies here and I have been channeling the character “Yoda” ever since.) Are you a library user Cynthia or are you Amazon’s dream come true? There is a public library less than a block from where I work and since I vowed not to purchase more books I might not read, I’ve become a user again. I may have to check out The Portable Scatalog. I see it has a forward by Freud! Thanks for the insight into your reading habits.

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      • Cynthia Jobin January 2, 2016 / 9:39 am

        I have always been a library user —and a book buyer when I could afford it. My mobility problems now prevent me from getting to the library but there are enough books in my house to last my lifetime. I do sometimes buy books from Amazon because I want to support writers. I love to re-read the books that I loved most, also. That’s a great experience, because you bring a different perspective to the reading. I don’t read on a kindle, but enjoy the whole experience of a real book in my hands. I’ve tried to read e-books but it feels like someone is looking over my shoulder—the experience is “mediated”— and it takes away from that sense of private communication between two people, the reader and the author. That one-on-one communication is very important to me, so I see no point in book clubs, or social chatter about what I read. I like to be able to savor, look up from the page now and then to stare out a window, and take the whole thing in, without rushing or obsessing. I don’t count how much I read, but how well it serves me. Reading is a great pleasure.

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  7. derrickjknight January 2, 2016 / 3:52 am

    At least you can remember what you have read, which is often more than I can. I identify with your experience of reading in bed. Train journeys are where I manage most today. All this blogging doesn’t help.
    I tend to read books prompted by conversation or something someone writes. Currently I am on my first Isaac Asimov suggested in this way. I have had it for more than 20 years. Next will be Gwen Wilson’s ‘I belong to no-one’ – she is a fellow blogger.

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    • Susanne January 2, 2016 / 9:21 am

      As I was writing the post I really had to wrack my brain to remember my earliest reading choices. A lot of what I read were my mother’s favourite books that were around the house. She didn’t spend much on buying new books so the ones she had tended to be really good reads. She leaned to science fiction and there were a few Asimov’s on the shelves. I can’t recall if I read him though.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. J.B. Whitmore January 2, 2016 / 11:07 am

    All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr. A lovely, lovely book, read about a year ago, am still recommending it. I’m a fan of Alice Hoffman. For historical fiction, The Girl With the Pearl Earring, Chevalier, was a beautiful, easy, romantic read. For a spare and moving post-apocalyptic tale — Dog Stars, by Peter Heller.

    Laughed about book crashing into face when falling asleep. This morning early, was reading an essay about the Middle East, and woke up when my kindle thumped onto the floor.

    Disagree that you are not well-read. Sorry for the double negative. Writing to an English major!
    Compared to many (most?) you are steeped in literature. Reminds me of a tee shirt logo I saw recently (and want for my own) — So many books. So little time. Our generation has been slapped around by the Internet, making reading jerky. How delicious and wonderful that you’re committing to books. It’s going to be a good winter.

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    • Susanne January 2, 2016 / 11:12 am

      You’re the second person to recommend All the Light We Cannot See so I’ll add that one to my list and I’ve heard much about The Girl with the Pearl Earring, too. I totally agree about the way we are being conditioned to reading through reading on-line. We scan and hop and flit from one thing to another without reflection or “steeping”. I wonder about this generation of readers and how they will contribute to reading and writing for the next generation. Will everything be condensed to flash non-fiction size?

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  9. hilarycustancegreen January 4, 2016 / 5:44 pm

    I’ve been poor about the English classics – no Thackeray, little Dickens or Hardy, first Elliot last year and Anna Karenina the year before (and I’m old), but I’m a reading addict. So I have about three books on the go at any one time. Current fiction with morning tea in bed; research, non-fiction or must finish for book group with after-lunch coffee; and last thing at night Georgette Heyer (I know them off by heart, but nothing else will send me to sleep). I’ve been given all the Light We Cannot See for Christmas…

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    • Susanne January 4, 2016 / 6:34 pm

      You’ve reminded me about Georgette Heyer! I read one or two of her books many years ago and recall loving them, unlike Austen who I have tried to read and like but just can’t. How on earth do you get other things done – like tending to your beautiful garden – with all that reading? You must also be a fast reader.

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  10. hilarycustancegreen January 4, 2016 / 6:03 pm

    correction: Eliot … I also read poetry almost non-stop. In September this year, I made a trip to the States and managed at last to get Cynthia Jobin’s book, A Certain Age which, as those of you who know her blog will know, is full of the most delightful and satisfying poems you will find anywhere (http://greenwritingroom.com/2015/10/21/our-beautiful-brains/) with the bonus pleasure of hearing her read them. This pleasure also come with the book as a CD.

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  11. Ellen Morris Prewitt January 5, 2016 / 11:48 am

    Reading has been the joy of my life . . . until I became a writer. Now it seems all that time is taken up writing. I do read a lot for research—ask me anything you want about Jean Laffite or the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812—but pure pleasure is more rare. Then there’s the issue of my falling into big thick classics—I’ve recently did Don Quixote and I’m now enjoining the Count of Monte Cristo, so that cuts down on the number of books I get through. Last year, when I was writing a mystery, I read about 24 of them and found new authors to love, such as Louise Penny. Right now, I’m also reading the Lower Quarter by Elise Blackwell because a Beta reader said it reminded her of my writing, and I wanted to see what my writing was like. 🙂 I’ve recently given up doing the crossword puzzle at night and taken to reading, using that sliver of time before I fall asleep . . . where goes the time?

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    • Susanne January 5, 2016 / 6:00 pm

      It cheers me to read that you also have to make a choice whether to read or to write. I am still working and so that severely limits opportunities to do both so I’m always making a choice. I’m curious about Elise Blackwell and will have to look her up. I’m still not finished The Jane Austen Book Club!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. exiledprospero January 7, 2016 / 12:37 pm

    My philosophy is to banish sugar and reading fiction from my diet. Naturally I read the occasional poem (if Cynthia is listening in) and some non-fiction–like here.

    Liked by 1 person

      • exiledprospero January 8, 2016 / 8:08 am

        Mostly I read the labels on cereal boxes.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. D. Wallace Peach January 8, 2016 / 9:01 pm

    I so relate to this post!!!
    I’m a slow reader too – I read and savor every word and make no apologies for that. And compared to many I’m not well read either. There were years and years where reading was what I did on my two-week vacation from work. Time was filled with so many other priorities – mainly work and kids. Now, nearing retirement, I’m indulging, reading more books and expanding the genre’s that I read. It’s great fun. I wish you a wonderful year of reading 🙂 🙂

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    • Susanne January 9, 2016 / 6:27 pm

      Now that my kids are older and more self sufficient I’m getting more reading into my day but it is a daily choice whether to read or write. If I’m lucky, I’ll get 15-20 books read this year and that’s pretty darn exciting!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. joey January 9, 2016 / 7:15 pm

    I’m another English major, but unlike you, I seem to enjoy not being assigned books these last 20+ years 🙂
    I loved a book by Sydney Sheldon. I cannot remember what it was called, something super cheesy, but I loved it still. I read it two or three times 🙂
    And I loooove The Handmaid’s Tale, that’s definitely in my top 100.
    I read like mad, which is easy, because I read very fast. It’s nothing for me to do a small one in an afternoon, or an average one in a day. But then, I sometimes go 3-4 days without reading, so I still end up around 50-60 books a year.
    Here are some great titles to check out as you compose your list — All the Light We Cannot See, Every Last One, The Bone Clocks, Gone Girl, The Book Thief, The Dovekeepers, The Brightest Star in the Sky — that’s what’s memorable to me in the last year or so. The ones that will stick with me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne January 9, 2016 / 9:05 pm

      You’re the third person to recommend All the Light We Cannot See so that’s a definite must this year. I saw Gone Girl as a movie with my 19 year old daughter. OMCringingGod. Good movie but not with my daughter! Wish I’d read the book instead. I can’t even remember the Sydney Sheldon books anymore, just that they were everywhere and it was so the ’80’s. A book in one day? Oi! I just finished The Jane Austen Book Club which is a relatively short book and it took me about 10 days!

      Liked by 1 person

      • joey January 10, 2016 / 12:24 pm

        They made that into a cute lil movie, too!

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  15. Michelle January 17, 2016 / 10:06 am

    Great post! I, too, was an English major and almost exactly your age. My poor professors would probably be horrified to learn that I haven’t read a fiction book in years (though, strangely, I do still read about them). Now it’s all nonfiction for me, though sadly never enough time for as much as there should be.

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    • Susanne January 17, 2016 / 6:16 pm

      But you read recipes and recipes are food stories and are also subject to interpretation!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Manja Mexi Movie February 1, 2016 / 2:39 am

    Why, why, why did your voice stutter upon Roddy Doyle? Why doubt him of all people? Doesn’t he take you there just as much as any of the Literates, or better?

    But to answer your query: I used to read everything, most of the time. Then the Internet came along, and I let books where they were because I knew they couldn’t run away, but some other online things might. So I’ve got shelves full of books, my e-reader full of e-books, and I’m just waiting for a solar storm to kill the net. And then we’ll talk. Or won’t. Because we won’t be able, and I’ll be reading.

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