cubanmiamiboy

What are you reading?

50 posts in this topic

Reading history often leads me to related, serious historical fiction.. This month, I found myself returning to Robert Graves's I, Claudius and Claudius the God, both of which have been referred to on other BT threads.

This in turn led to a discovery (for me): David Wishart's detective series, set in Rome during the reign of Tiberius and featuring a young Roman nobleman Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus.

I found a couple of the volumes in our public library system and read them out of order, something I usually don't do. Now -- thanks to Amazon's used book suppliers -- I've ordered the others in the series and will read those in order.

I've just started Ovid, first in the series. It begins with the unwillingness of someone very high up in the Imperial government to allow the poet's family to retrieve his ashes from his place of exile and disgrace on the Black Sea.

There's a real mystery: what did Ovid do or know ten years ago that got him expelled beyond the farthest limit of the Roman world? why are people so terrified to talk about about what happened, even now that he is dead?

There's a skeptical, inquisitive, persistent, likeable sleuth who bends the rules but is honorable deep down. There's a beautiful if unconventional female client.

I especially like Wishart's grasp of political and social background and his ability to convey a plausible period "feel," despite Corvinus's democratic tendencies (odd for a Roman patrician) and fondness for mid-twentieth century slang (think Sam Spade or Travis McGee).

Unlike many popular writers of historical fiction, Wishart knows his period well. His is the best kind of erudition: one which infuses the text without showing off or overwhelming you.

Bart,

If you haven't read them yet, you might enjoy Robert Harris' three Roman novels, Pompeii, Imperium, and Conspirata. The last two are, believe it or not, page-turners about Cicero told from the point-of-view of his slave-secretary, Tiro (who apparently really did invent a form of shorthand). They're pretty accurate, witty, lots of fun -- and a useful reminder that as far as politics goes nothing has changed over the last two millenia.

I read Ursula LeGuin's Lavinia earlier this summer, and recommend that too, although its about Rome before Rome was really Rome. (It's LeGuin's take on the life of the woman Aeneas married when he and his band of Trojans arrived in Latium. Lavinia says nary a word in the Aeneid, so LeGuin has given her a voice.)

I seem to be on a genre fiction kick at the moment: I just finished China Mieville's two latest works, The City and the City and Kraken as well as several of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. The City and the City is a police procedural wrapped in a modern urban fantasy: two Eastern European cities occupy the same physical space, but their respective residents are trained from birth not to perceive the existence of the other city and its inhabitants. The whole premise is fascinating; one city seems to be secular-Christian, the other secular-Muslim. Kraken makes sly fun of just about every sci-fi / urban fantasy trope out there (as does Pratchett, of course), topped off with some of Mieville's signature, ingenious grotesqueries.

I'm in the middle of Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story -- a funny and bleak dystopia about the near-future -- which I'm enjoying despite the bleakness.

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Bart,

If you haven't read them yet, you might enjoy Robert Harris' three Roman novels, Pompeii, Imperium, and Conspirata. The last two are, believe it or not, page-turners about Cicero told from the point-of-view of his slave-secretary, Tiro (who apparently really did invent a form of shorthand). They're pretty accurate, witty, lots of fun -- and a useful reminder that as far as politics goes nothing has changed over the last two millenia.

I can add my two cents here. These have been part of my reading this summer. I loved Pompei and Imperium and I started Conspirata over the weekend. They fall into the "historical novel" category but there is enough that is based on actual history to keep them honest. Agree lots of fun and great page turners!

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If you haven't read them yet, you might enjoy Robert Harris' three Roman novels, Pompeii, Imperium, and Conspirata. The last two are, believe it or not, page-turners about Cicero told from the point-of-view of his slave-secretary, Tiro (who apparently really did invent a form of shorthand). They're pretty accurate, witty, lots of fun -- and a useful reminder that as far as politics goes nothing has changed over the last two millenia.

Thanks, Kathleen. I have read Imperium and look forward to Conspirata (also called, I believe, Lustrum). I love the Cicero character. He's rather priggish and self-important, but significantly more likeable than his most of his contemporaries found him or than he is portrayed in Coleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series.

I will definitely check out Lavinia, as you suggest.

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I would love to recommend a book I found at a garage sale years ago, which I've revisited again and again, Paris Underground, by Etta Shiber. Mrs. Shiber was a widow before the second world war, and went to France to live with a friend of hers, she was in Paris when the Nazis occupied it and she and her friend became involved with the underground in France, rescuing soldiers. She eventually ended up in prison and was exchanged by the American government for a German spy. It's beautifully written; although it's been made into a movie once and there have been whisperings of another film being made, I can't imagine anything as good as the book.

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I would love to recommend a book I found at a garage sale years ago, which I've revisited again and again, Paris Underground, by Etta Shiber. Mrs. Shiber was a widow before the second world war, and went to France to live with a friend of hers, she was in Paris when the Nazis occupied it and she and her friend became involved with the underground in France, rescuing soldiers. She eventually ended up in prison and was exchanged by the American government for a German spy. It's beautifully written; although it's been made into a movie once and there have been whisperings of another film being made, I can't imagine anything as good as the book.

I have seen the film starring Constance Bennett(also producer)and Gracie Fields who give good performances but I found it rather a creaky old film.

I am interested in films depicting the 1939-1945 war in Europe as my father fought in it. I googled the book today and found the following period review.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,850371,00.html

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the book is really quite good, leonid. although i have found the entire text on line somewhere, i'd recommend actually getting a copy of the original edition, which could be had for a decent price on line, last time i looked.

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the book is really quite good, leonid. although i have found the entire text on line somewhere, i'd recommend actually getting a copy of the original edition, which could be had for a decent price on line, last time i looked.

Thank you for the information. It was kind of you.

What I will do, is to request it from my local public library and read it on my journeys in and out of London.

Thank you again.

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I'm currently reading "The Count of Monte Cristo" (in English). Somehow I had never read it or even seen any film adaptation. Before that I read John Le Carre's 'A Most Wanted Man.

Very interesting to note that the plot of 'Monte Cristo' effectively begins up where 'A Most Wanted Man' ends.

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I tried to read 'The Count of Monte Cristo' many moons ago and didn't finish it. It wasn't bad, but Dumas' leisurely tempo wasn't what I was used to. The two movie versions I like best are the old Robert Donat one and a made-for-TV version with Richard Chamberlain that I remember as very enjoyable.

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Dumas' leisurely tempo wasn't what I was used to.

No, the tempo is not at all what we are used to these days. The dust jacket of my book, printed in 1965, states that 'the book thunders on from melodrama to melodrama', but it's a very slow-gathering storm.

Richard Chamberlain as Dantes? The book describes him as very-dark haired and, after being imprisoned, very pale skin, something like Keanu Reeves. In fact, Reeves would also fit the melancholic-yet-inscrutable look the Count affects.

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Dumas' leisurely tempo wasn't what I was used to.

No, the tempo is not at all what we are used to these days. The dust jacket of my book, printed in 1965, states that 'the book thunders on from melodrama to melodrama', but it's a very slow-gathering storm.

Richard Chamberlain as Dantes? The book describes him as very-dark haired and, after being imprisoned, very pale skin, something like Keanu Reeves. In fact, Reeves would also fit the melancholic-yet-inscrutable look the Count affects.

The Count of Monte Christo seems to be in the air this week: from "The Billionaire and the Book Lover," an article in this week's New York on the battle between Leonard Riggio and Ronald Buckle over Barnes and Noble:

The founder, chairman, and guiding spirit of the company that calls itself the "world's largest bookseller" is a slight, mustachioed 69-year-old with a Napoleonic temperament. But when he talks about books he fills with sentimentality. Riggio wanted to say something, but he couldn't quite find the words, so he burst out of his chair and charged over to one wall. "I don't know how you can intellectualize this," he said, "but a book is …" To continue his thought, he pulled down a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, shook it, felt its substance. "This bound volume of Dumas is content. We have to understand people want to own this content. They want this. It's very important."

Riggio was trying to say that, whatever becomes of books as physical objects in this new age of digital distribution, he is certain people will still pay for the pleasure of reading. Assuming he's right, the more pertinent question is whether they will be spending their money at a Barnes & Noble.

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I'm just starting Sjeng Scheijen's biography of Diaghilev - have only read a couple of chapters, but the translation so far seems fluid and I like the writing style.

For those who are interested, I came across a link to Alastair Macaulay's New York Times review of the book - here it is.

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Next on my list:

Waiting: A Novel, by Ha Jin

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande: A Passion for Wine, by David Haziot and Anne Garde

The Greatest Trade Ever: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History, by Gregory Zuckerman

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I looooovvvve "The Count of Monte Cristo", the unabridged version. It's time for a re-read once I finish the book I've just started.

I just finished "Dumbing Us Down" by John Taylor Gatto. While I agree with his description of a prison-like school system, I think his nostalgic vision of family is through three layers of rose-colored glasses.

Before that I read Doug Hardy's "Six Fundamentals to Building a Lifelong Career", which means there's a glimmer of reality making its way through denial, and I'll start looking for a job soon. (But not too soon...)

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Dumas' leisurely tempo wasn't what I was used to.

No, the tempo is not at all what we are used to these days. The dust jacket of my book, printed in 1965, states that 'the book thunders on from melodrama to melodrama', but it's a very slow-gathering storm.

Richard Chamberlain as Dantes? The book describes him as very-dark haired and, after being imprisoned, very pale skin, something like Keanu Reeves. In fact, Reeves would also fit the melancholic-yet-inscrutable look the Count affects.

Very slow gathering, as I remember. It's been years since I've seen the TV movie but Chamberlain was good. Keanu could certainly look the part but I'm afraid at some inappropriate point that Valley Boy diction he's never quite been able to shed would appear. ( It's too bad there was never a Bill and Ted's Excellent Dumas Adventure.)

Those all sound interesting, Ambonnay. Goodwin is not my favorite popular historian but her books generally read well.

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The dust jacket of my book, printed in 1965, states that 'the book thunders on from melodrama to melodrama', but it's a very slow-gathering storm.
Very slow gathering, as I remember.
You raise some interesting points. The experience of "time" was probably quite different from ours. Since novels like this were usually written for serializing in the popular press, I also suppose that the reader usually read in smaller bursts than we are used to, and then set the work aside for a week or a month.

Each episode -- like a tv dramatic serial today -- had to have a certain amount of back story, with a certain amount of short-hand (assuming prior knowledge) as well. The episode was the unit. It was digested and discussed around whatever passed for water-coolers in those days. The author build the work around it and told you when it was over by just cutting off the print.

Also, long verbal descriptions of visuals probably had a very different effect on people in the 19th century than they do on us, saturated as we are with visual imagery that gives us a kind of fantasy-memory of worlds that we have not, in fact, experienced. We often don't need -- or feel that we don't need -- all that detail.

(Ballet analogy: all those over-detailed ballet librettos and visually over-stuffed productions of full-length ballets which survive today only in history books.)

Just as we "can't go home" to the way we experienced childhood, I suspect that readers today can't go home to the way their fellow-readers experienced these works so long ago.

I confess to not having read Dumas or Hugo since I was very very young. Other 19th-century writers, however, thosewhose sense of human psychology is more complex and whose treatment of larger issues seem more relevant, continue to demand attention.

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I'm about half way through Spilling the Beans, and one observation I'll make right away is that it's very very intense, almost painful to read. She doesn't seem to have held anything back, yet I don't feel it's too wordy, just incredibly intense. Based on what I've read so far, I'd already recommend it though. It's just not light reading (with the exception of a few things as she does seem to have quite a sense of humor).

What I found interesting is that evidently other than the fact that neither she nor Jennifer Paterson are/were thin, is the fact that the title "Two Fat Ladies" actually comes from slang used in a bingo hall to represent the number 88!

Anyway I'm enjoying it a great deal, it's just not a quick and easy read.

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Next on my list:

Waiting: A Novel, by Ha Jin

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande: A Passion for Wine, by David Haziot and Anne Garde

The Greatest Trade Ever: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History, by Gregory Zuckerman

Team of Rivals is a great book. It really gives a good picture of the time, the people involved and the political positioning of all.

A wonderful page turner of a book that I just read is Isabelle Allende's new novel - The Island Beneath the Sea. It takes place in Haiti prior to and during the Haitian revolution and then moves to Louisiana in the early 1800's. It is interesting in how timely it is.

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Cynthia O'Neal's new Speak Softly: A Memoir.

I've long been a huge admirer of this beautiful lady, and only recently discovered that this memoir had been published, just doing a bit of Googling. Although not so much a writer per se, it's nicely written.

There have been a number of threads about her regarding O'Neal's Baloon, which was finally closing, and Michael O'Neal, her brother-in-law, was speaking of her 'wonderful eye' and I believe she commissioned the mural of the NYCB dancers that's just been donated to Koch Theater. She was always an enthusiastic balletomane, and close friend of Rudolph Nureyev, who is discussed in the book (although I don't know how much yet, having read about 50 pages last night.)

This clears up a lot of things I had wanted to know about her, the widow of actor Patrick O'Neal, and who had fascinated me early on in her luminous role as 'Cindy' in Mike Nichols's 'Carnal Knowledge'. I met her at a party a couple of years after the film was made, and was most thrilled.

The text goes back and forth in time, with the High Life chronicled (they lived at the Dakota and were close friends of the Bernsteins), and her gradual immersion into a fulltime work in helping people with life-threateing diseases like AIDS and cancer. This started with some of the same things I used to be more interested in, and those were interesting to compare: I used to value the Course in Miracles (I don't now, a lot of us go through a New Agey sort of phase and then conclude it), she preferred Marianne Williamson's version of it in her lectures (I heard one of these and didn't care for it), and was also fairly involved with EST of Werner Erhard, which never interested me, although many of my friends took it. After meeting some of these 'spiritual leaders' that were working specifically in the support of AIDS sufferers like Louise Hay, and for a while with Williamson's Manhattan Center for Living, she broke off from that and, with Mike Nichols's help, formed Friends in Deed, which is just down the street from me (didn't know about that any more than I did the studio on 8th St. for Hendrix, which I've still to check out). So that, for some 20 years, she has been visiting people in hospitals and worked as the president and one of the 'facilitators' of the groups which are large support groups for the patients and, I think, 'exhausted caregivers' and grief-stricken survivors. Not really my kind of thing, these groups, although if it weren't so tacky (and it would be), I'd be interested to see her at work in one of the sessions--but that would go against what it's meant for.

She'd been an immediately successful model in San Francisco the minute she looked for work (which hardly comes as any surprise to anyone who saw 'Carnal Knowledge'), and later in London she was in all the fashion mags while Patrick was making a TV series. Had met him in Hollywood, where she was in live TV way back in the mid-50s in the old Matinee Theater.

What may interest others as well as myself is this is not just the 'socialite doing good works', i.e., 'charity balls', but has become her life's work. She's apparently got the strength for being around all this, and it's quite impressive to see someone drawn into this kind of compassionate work after having really had the life of the New York Artistic Elite.

I think it was around 1987 that she became involved in wanting to help in the AIDS epidemic. I don't know for sure when Nureyev was first diagnosed, although I'll report that part when I've finished the book.

This is a truly inspiring person, and the book should appeal on many levels. For me, she's going to always be the calculating, hard and tough 'Cindy' of 'Carnal Knowledge', and some of that still shows (thank God), but she's not the usual 'spiritual healer' type--by a long shot--although she does take all that very seriously.

Highest recommendation.

Edited to add, Sep. 5: Finished the book at home, after reading chunks in Madison Park and Jackson Square Park, near me (and probably near Cynthia's previous apartment, which was somewhere on 14th Street)--it's just sublime, one of the most moving things I've ever read, and which 'resupplies' a sense of something which I'd become rightfully cynical about, but a bit too much so. Not all of what I hadn't liked about some of those programs was fake or false, as with anything else. Some of our paths intersected--I still have some real admiration for Louise Hay, although I'm not exactly the 'crystals type'.

There's a moving chapter on her last visit to see Nureyev at the Dakota with her husband Patrick, in 1992. I recall the time of his death because it was, I think, the same month as Audrey Hepburn's, which had upset me greatly. It's quite a portrait she makes of him as he is about to conduct, despite the advanced stage of his illness.

The book is much more skillfully structured than I realized upon reading the first 50 or so pages, and has a wonderfully intricate movement back and forth through time. While she does talk about the period of her 'new life' with Friends in Deed and her 'previous life' with the Bernsteins, the Greens, Nureyev, parties, the Dakota, the net result is that there is the sense of one: When est was first popular, many of those who took this training, originated by Werner Erhart, did give those of us who hadn't taken it the sense that we 'really just don't know something important'. I resented this intensely, and refused to take it (as I found she had originally when her husband had first discovered it for himself). While I'm glad I didn't, I became quite as arrogant when I was involved with the Course in Miracles, when I believed it literally--I thought those who didn't were 'unenlightened'. These 70s-style programs can be seen more clearly now: They have value: even though I essentially did completely reject the Course in Miracles (if not all of its ideas which might coincide with what I still do cherish), and do not believe even slightly that Helen Shucman penned any of it from 'the Voice' which she claimed--in a most annoyingly understated way--was Jesus Christ; I am sure that this is the original work of Helen Shucman herself, it may even be part of her psychosis that only manifested itself fully in the last 2 years of her life. In any case, the sole interest for me now in A Course in Miracles (popularized by Marianne Williamson on Oprah, and which I read many times during the period I found it credible) is as a creation by Helen Shucman--perhaps even a kind of religious fiction, since she refused to claim authorship--either that, or considered herself a most unusual Jesus Christ. As such it does have a unique literary interest as a strange and bizarre production--somewhat like some of the strange grottoes produced by isolated eccentric artists over decades--although I must say I much prefer Simon Rodia's Watts Towers to ACIM...

'Talk Softly' is no such thing, it is about a fully human life, and one that has been lived most fully--which is to say, admirably and inspiringly selflessly as well as fabulously and lavishly selfishly. I was always right about this gal (lot of fire), and I remember we invented a word together at that party: 'Hospility', which is a contraction of 'hostility' and 'hospitality'.

There are many scenes in the Jonathan Larson's 'Rent' that were based on his experiences in Ms. O'Neal's 'Big Groups'.

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I am on the final novel The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest in the Larsson Millenium trilogy. They have been perfect summer reading books.

I also returned to Willa Cather, having discovered one of her books that I'd never read: My Mortal Enemy. It's a slender novel. I found it tremendously sad. The heroine of the story runs off with a non-Catholic businessman. In so doing, she is disinherited from a large fortune. She leads a life of great passions. I won't give away the ending, but it's got an interesting, albeit sad, twist to it concerning whom "my mortal enemy" turns out to be.

I'm rereading Cather's The Professor's House. Gosh, although it was written in 1925, what she has to say about the watering down of curriculum in universities and the uneasy relationship between them and corporations rings just as true today. It's one of the many reasons why I love Cather so much. If all you've read are her famous books, O Pioneers, My Antonia, Death Comes to the Archbishop, please do pick up her works from the middle of her life. They are equally masterful.

I'm also reading What Cabrillo Found by Maud Hart Lovelace, the author of the vastly popular children's "Betsy-Tacy" series. What many people don't know is that Lovelace also wrote for adults, although this book is written for upper elementary/middle school aged children. Published in 1958, it's the story of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's life as an explorer.

The very next book on my list is Julie Orringer's The Invisible Bridge. It takes place in 1930's Hungary so it's pretty easy to guess what this historical novel will be about. A friend, whose opinion I value very much, recommended it as the best book she's read this year. She states that the book develops character marvelously in the first 300 pages (of a 600 page book). Apparently, those first 300 pages provoke strong reactions. My friend loved it, and I think I will too because well developed characters are extremely important to me, but I've read some reviews where people have said that they almost quit reading the book because it took so long to get going. However, of those who finished, they all say it was well worth the effort. Anyone here read it?

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Not I, alas, but perhaps someone else on the board has. It sounds fascinating.

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Current reading:

1) Justice What's the right thing to do?

by Michael Sandel

Based on one of the most popular courses at Harvard, dealing with the big questions of political philosophy.

My book club's current choice; we discuss it next Sunday. Almost finished with it.

My local PBS station ran a program about this course that included a lot of footage from the class itself -- aside from the subject matter, which I think is fascinating, he's able to do question and answer work with a massive group (I don't know how many people were in the auditorium, but he was linking people on a main floor and a balcony) -- very deft teaching techniques.

I've heard interesting things about Martha Nussbaum's new book "Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities" -- I'm hoping to get to it this autumn.

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Sandik, I love the title of the Nussbaum book. It's practically my husband's mantra, and I heartily agree. I'd love to hear what you think. Sounds like a good b'day gift (then I can read it too).

Finished my summer reading and have embarked on some fall books. I thought The Invisible Bridge was going to be my next book, but I got sidetracked by Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. What gorgeous prose! Verghese is a doctor as well as a writer. I am only at the very beginning of the book, but already I can tell that, as one Amazon reviewer said, the story "revolves around what is broken -- limbs, family ties, trust -- and the process of rebuilding them." A friend told me that it's full of details about medicine, esp. surgery, while equally exploring human relationships.

My final Willa Cather book reading this year is A Lost Lady, published in 1923. I read it when I was 26, liked but didn't love the book. I think I was too young to read it. Now, at more than twice the age of my first reading, I'm relishing the story.

After that, it's all work-related books about cognitive difficulties in various mental illness and MS. The Invisible Bridge will probably have to wait until winter holidays.

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Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie

Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer

The Fairy-Tale Literature of Charles Dickens, Christina Rossetti and George MacDonald: Antidotes to the Victorian Spiritual Crisis by Cynthia Manson

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

Black as Night by Regina Doman

Wish You Were Dead by Tood Strasser

Currently reading Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot

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