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Tuesday, December 30

Bay Area Publisher Goes Out Of Business, Drags Down Authors Creative Arts Books had a long and distinguished history of publishing. But when times turned tough, the owner made deals with authors promising much but delivering little. When the publisher finally declared business and went out of business, dozens of writers were left bilked out of effort and money they'd poured into their projects. Now they're banding together trying to get back rights to their work. San Francisco Chronicle 12/30/03

Poetry - The New Spam "With Congress joining Microsoft and New York's sharp-shooting attorney general in the war against spam, e-mail marketers have pulled out the heavy artillery to get their messages across: Poetry. Their cryptic e-teases appear in subject lines and, more frequently, in auto-preview panes that allow a peek at the body of an e-mail without actually opening it." Philadelphia Inquirer 12/30/03

Monday, December 29

Wanted: New Librarians A shortage of librarians is looming for American libraries. So first lady Laura Bush, a former librarian, is championing a program to recruit and train new librarians. "The first lady's stamp is all over a federal grant program to recruit a new generation of librarians, largely through scholarships in library and information science. In late October, the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, which is implementing the program, announced its first grants, totaling almost $10 million. The White House is asking for $20 million in its fiscal 2004 omnibus spending bill now before Congress." Chicago Tribune 12/29/03

Sunday, December 28

Poetry - A Year After The $100 Million It's been a year since Poetry magazine was told it had received $100 million in a bequest. "Staffers have a lot of general ideas on how to use the grant, including reaching out to the business community, but nothing specific has been decided. The foundation expects soon to hire a president who can organize and implement what board president Deborah Cummins calls a strategic plan. "We can't do anything until we have a strategic plan," she says. "We've never been in this position before -- the ones giving out the money. We've always been on the other side of the desk, writing grant applications." Washington Post (AP) 12/28/03

Best Books Of 2003 What were the great books of 2003? Guardian and Observer critics and celebrities make their picks. The Guardian (UK) 12/27/03

Germany's New Generation Of Writers "A new generation of writers may have emerged in Germany over the past decade, but this renaissance in story-telling has gone largely unnoticed in the English-speaking world. A growing unwillingness on the part of especially large U.S. publishing houses to wager a bet on translated novels means that many of Germany's promising young authors remain inaccessible, thus enhancing the impression that this country's literary masters have kept their postwar focus on history and politics." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12/26/03

Today's Libraries: Books Or DVD's? Increasingly, libraries are spending more of their budgets on multimedia and less on books. "The good news for movie fans is that their local library looks more and more like a Blockbuster. The ominous news for book fans is the same: As budget-squeezed public libraries rush to buy DVDs for an insatiable public, branches must act more like multimedia centers and less like temples of the printed page." Denver Post 12/28/03

Tuesday, December 23

Why Do You Like "Rings" So Much? Why is Lord of the Rings so popular? An academic study is underway to find out. "Deploying 13 languages on the internet, researchers from universities in 20 countries are asking a series of questions of fans in an attempt to pin down the attractions of fantasy fiction. The questions are targeted exclusively at admirers of JRR Tolkien's trilogy, including posers like "Where and when is Middle Earth to you?" which would baffle the uninitiated. The study is being publicised in almost every country, from China to Colombia, to search out national variations in response to the books and films." The Guardian (UK) 12/20/03

Big Times In A Small Town Concord, Massachusetts, is everything a small New England town should be, and the Concord Bookshop, an independent bookseller widely regarded as one of the best in the Northeast, is a large presence in the community. But an in-house dispute between the bookshop's owners and its employees is tearing the store apart, and the whole town, with its sizable population of well-known writers, seems to be getting involved. Eight employees, including the bookshop's three top managers, have resigned, with one of them saying that "the fragile alchemy that made it such a great place to work [has] died." But the owners insist that they love the shop as much as anyone, and are only trying to survive in an increasingly difficult era for indie booksellers. Boston Globe 12/23/03

Monday, December 22

Book Town's A Success - But Can The Locals Afford It? The experiment that transformed Blaenavon into a town of book shops has been a big success. But now, can the locals afford to live there? "A year ago anyone who suggested that the same thing could happen in Blaenavon, valley of the squinting plywood, would have been laughed all the way back down the mountain to the M4. Property in the town was in terrible condition, but cheap as chips. Now much of it is still in terrible condition, but you get far fewer chips to the pound. Local people stand in front of the estate agents, staring at the photographs, their jaws dropping." The Guardian (UK) 12/23/03

The 20-Year-Old Who's Outselling Harry Potter Christopher Paolini is only 20, and he lives in a remote part of Montana. "This time last year, he was just another geeky teen with too much time on his hands. But now, thanks to Eragon, his 500-page rousing adventure story set in his imaginary world, young Christopher is suddenly rich." The book "is a huge bestseller in America, where it has surged past the Harry Potter books. Almost half a million copies were sold in only two months, a screenplay is in the works and at least a dozen foreign-language editions are on the way." The Telegraph (UK) 12/23/03

Strictly Grammarian - The UK's New Punctuation Craze This winter's blockbuster book in the UK? A book on punctuation - Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. "Demand for the book has been so great it burned through six printings in the first three weeks of publication. The initial print run of 5,000 ballooned to 510,000; in the second week of December alone, 67,000 copies were sold, beating sales of John Grisham's new book by more than 40 per cent. Seems correct punctuation isn't just for your pedantic parents any more." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/22/03

Sunday, December 21

Buy This Book "This was a year in which the publishing industry kept its literati tendencies in check and infused a Hollywood-style razzle-dazzle into contests and other promotions intended to nudge books into at least a glimmer of the popular culture spotlight. With book sales down from last year, publishers are being forced to abandon their high-brow position above the fray and dive right in with movies, TV and other competing forms of popular culture." Los Angeles Times 12/21/03

Wednesday, December 17

Playing Favorites - What Your "Favorite Book" Says About You "What's your favorite book?" is a stupid question. "Really, it's not about books at all, it's about distinguishing yourself through your distinctions, choosing a work that gives the fullest picture of the person you'd like the world to consider you to be. That's why everyone always says Catch-22 - not because they think Heller to be easily as good as Roth, Mailer, Updike and Vonnegut rolled into one. No one thinks that. It's because of the myriad excellent messages enjoyment of this book gives off - I have a fine sense of humour; I'm anti-war and probably broadly leftwing; I have a healthy, questioning disrespect for authority; I like a bit of nooky, but not in a mean way, not like that Rabbit or that Zuckerman; and I'm highly intelligent, but I won't get all in your face about it. You probably want to go out with me, it says, and you're dead right." The Guardian (UK) 12/17/03

Barnes & Noble's Fiction Gatekeeper Sessalee Hensley is in charge of buying fiction for Barnes & Noble. "How many copies will be bought - of Proust, McMillan, John Grisham, Jonathan Franzen and Ms. Hensley's favorite, Barbara Kingsolver - how they'll be apportioned among the 652 Barnes & Noble branches and 200 B. Dalton Booksellers in her fiefdom, how they'll be placed and positioned--this is all part of the gig. 'There are some books that I've gone through three, four, five revisions of how I'm thinking about them,' says Ms. Hensley, 48. Concern that she's decided wrong sometimes keeps her up at night. Concern that she's decided wrong keeps publishers up as well..." OpinionJournal 12/18/03

Hentoff: Why Aren't American Librarians Protesting Abuse Of Cuban Librarians? "While American librarians — whom John Ashcroft calls "hysterics"—deserve credit for being on the front line against this secret fishing for subversives, none have been threatened with prison time by Ashcroft. But 10 librarians in Cuba have been put away for 20 years and more for not going along with Castro's endless Banned Books weeks." So why aren't American librarians protesting that? Village Voice 12/16/03

Saddam's Novel Approach To Defence "Saddam Hussein spent the final weeks before the war writing a novel predicting that he would lead an underground resistance movement to victory over the Americans, rather than planning the defence of his regime. As the war began and Saddam went into hiding 40,000 copies of Be Gone Demons! were rolling off the presses." London Telegraph 12/17/03

Tuesday, December 16

French Court Rules In Favor Of Nasty Novelist A French tribunal has ordered a company to pay a former employee who was wrongly dismissed after he wrote a novel that portrayed his co-workers in unflattering light. "The computer pervert, the dumb blonde secretary, the alcoholic and the boss with "the bloated face and the little black eyes of a pig" were among the characters described by Bruno Perera in his first novel, Petits Meutres Entre Associés (Little Murders Among Colleagues)." The Scotsman 12/17/03

DBC Pierre - Out Of Texas...Really Out How could DBC Pierre have won this year's Booker Prize? "Set in America, Pierre's book is not just bad; it is so awful that its victory suggests there is something deeply wrong with British literary culture. To an American reader the book provokes neither amusement nor outrage, but puzzlement: are the British literati so ignorant of the US that they can think this is a competent parody?" Prospect 12/03

Monday, December 15

Killing Books "If books are not the most perishable products of human civilization, they have, throughout recorded history, attracted the homicidal attentions of every conquering army. In large-scale versions of the penalty the Romans called damnatio memoriae, a punishment for individuals found guilty of committing crimes against the state which involved erasing every reference—whether on stone, in a monument or on parchment— to the person in question, invaders have settled not just for mass murder of the local citizenry, but have indulged in the wholesale disappearance of every written trace of a culture (as the Taliban did to non-fundamentalist Afghans), a language (as the Normans did to the Saxons), a people (as the Romans did to the Etruscans)." New York Observer 12/09/03

Rings Wins "Big Read" Tolkien's Lord of the Rings has won the BBC's Big Read poll for the UK's most popular book. "The trilogy won 174,000 votes, 23% of the poll. The other main contender going into Saturday night was Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, which won 135,000 votes. Philip Pullman's metaphysical trilogy of children's books, His Dark Materials, came third with 63,000." BBC 12/14/03

  • Dismissing The Hobbit (But He's Still Around) Some critics are hailing the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy as a great masterpiece. But as books, the Tolkien project failed to impress literary critics of the time. "The Lord of the Rings must be one of the most comprehensively dismissed trilogies ever written. Critics have queued up since its publication nearly 50 years ago to denounce it. But JRR Tolkien’s story has outlived one generation of critics, and will certainly outlive another." The Scotsman 12/15/03

Library Riles Patrons Over Plans To Sell Treasure The Providence Athenaeum library in Rhode Island is 250 years old, "a vestige of the days when America's settlers created private lending libraries because public ones had yet to be invented." But the Athenaeum has often spent more money than it has taken in, and "with a drop in stock market returns, the board decided to sell off the prize of its collection, a complete poster-size folio of Audubon's 'Birds of America,' valued at as much as $7 million. Now the birds are at the center of a raucous battle between the people who run the library and the people who use it." The New York Times 12/15/03

World's "Biggest" Book In this season of "bests" lists, how about a "biggest" accomplishment? "Guinness World Records has certified that "Bhutan," a photographic journey across that Himalayan country, is the world's largest published book. It measures 5-by-7 feet when opened, and many of its dazzling photographs are full-page. The book is also among the priciest. Each hand-bound copy costs $10,000." Boston Globe 12/15/03

Sunday, December 14

Critic's Lament: Santa - How About Fewer Self-Published Books? Book critic Patti Thorn makes her Chrsitmas list. And what does she long for? "A good, juicy scandal. Jonathan Franzen's tiff with Oprah was so much fun, but that was two long years ago. In 2003, the best you brought us was a few disgruntled literati upset that Stephen King was feted at the National Book Awards ceremony despite his - gasp - commercial success." Rocky Mountain News 12/14/03

St. Petersburg - City Of Writers St. Petersburg is a great writer's city, with its sophisticated culture and cramped bustling streets. You can visit the homes of some of Russia's great writers: Dostoyevsky, Akhmatova, Nabokov, Pushkin... an what do these places tell us of their former occupants? The New York Times 12/14/03

You've Got Literature! "Cybersnoops, aspiring Web detectives and electronic voyeurs searching for a new kind of fix might find it in an emerging form of e-book fiction with a twist: the digital epistolary novel, or DEN. Created by Greatamericannovel.com, a DEN reveals its story line through a series of simulated e-mails, Web pages and instant messages." Wired 12/13/03

Since When Is Poetry Not Contentious? Much has been made of the political difficulties being faced by the formerly tiny Chicago-based Poetry magazine, since it was the surprise recipient of a $100 million bequest last year. Philip Marchand is a bit surprised by the tone of some of the press coverage: "According to [one] story, the gift is 'sowing discord in the normally harmonious realm of verse.' Normally harmonious realm of verse! Where did the reporter, Robert Frank, ever get that idea? Read some literary history, Mr. Frank. Poets have been at each other's throats since the invention of the sonnet, and several centuries previous to that." Toronto Star 12/13/03

Friday, December 12

Hot Classics Literary classics are hot with readers right now, and they're selling fast. "Baby boomer nostalgia, the rise of book clubs and a longing for ageless wisdom after 9/11 are among reasons for the trend cited by publishers, editors and authors. High profit margins for books out of copyright help, too." Newsday 12/11/03

Thursday, December 11

The Writer In Your Ear A new CD gives us writers reading their own work. "Writers who seemed beyond our reach are suddenly in our ears, revealing the often startling distance between their voices and the ones we imagine while reading — not to mention the ones that grab us from a movie screen. One of the great surprises is finding which writers actually do voices and which don't. When A. A. Milne reads from "Winnie-the-Pooh," his creations sound like Victorian gents — soothing, paternal Victorian gents reading a bedtime story, it's true, but rather Victorian nonetheless." The New York Times 12/12/03

In Search Of The Universal Experience Writer Diran Adebayo "does for black urban Britain what Irvine Welsh did for working-class Edinburgh: his novels resonate with the slang and street idioms of the multicultural inner city. 'I want to reach a stage where black characters can talk in a language as universal as white characters. You know, the film Titanic plays from Lagos to Delhi to London and no one has a problem taking lessons of love from it. But what would happen if you did the same thing with an all-black cast? It would be a 'black film', just as my books are still categorised sometimes as 'black books'. People have a much harder time drawing an objective message from that." London Evening Standard 12/11/03

Wednesday, December 10

A Home For Frankenstein The Bodleian Library got a £3 million gift from the National Heritage memorial fund to save a trove of Mary Shelley's papers in one place - and save the original manuscript of a Gothic classic. The award is to be used towards the purchase of a collection known as the Abinger papers, until now in private hands. The Guardian (UK) 12/11/03

Maclean's Staffers To Vote On Going Union "About 20 part-time employees in the editorial division of Maclean's magazine vote tomorrow on joining Canada's largest media union in what is yet another sign of the troubled circumstances of Canada's weekly newsmagazine. It's anticipated the part-timers will vote overwhelmingly in favour of joining the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, which already represents the magazine's estimated 27 full-time editorial employees." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/10/03

Tuesday, December 9

Books On Sale In London London book stores are slashing prices as Christmas approaches. "The stores usually try to restrict discounting to slower-selling books, keeping chart-toppers at the full price, particularly in the peak month of December. But this year they have been forced by competition from supermarkets to slash prices of their most popular titles." London Evening Standard 12/08/03

Our Expanding Shelves (Too Many Books?) Are too many books being published? Well, that depends whether you're a reader or a publisher. "The most recent figures show that in 2002, total output of new titles and editions in the U.S. grew by nearly 6 percent, to 150,000. General adult fiction exceeded 17,000 - the single strongest category. Juvenile titles topped 10,000, the highest total ever recorded. And there were more than 10,300 new publishers, mostly small or self-publishers. No wonder we're all running out of shelf space." Hartford Courant 12/09/03

In Praise Of JM JM Coetzee is the kind of author you can feel good about being enthusiastic, writes Lynne Coady. "This is an author whose work one can celebrate unreservedly, who refuses to be anyone's public platypus, whose recent winning of the Nobel Prize for literature is the kind of thing that makes readers feel really, really good about whoever's keeping shop over there in Stockholm, and really, really contemptuous toward the Man Booker Prize judges, who neglected to shortlist Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/09/03

Monday, December 8

Coetzee Shows Up For Nobel JM Coetzee turns up in Stockholm to accept his Nobel. "Although he did not turn up to collect either of his Booker Prizes in 1993 and 1999, he delivered this year’s Nobel Lecture last night and will receive the prize itself on Wednesday. What Coetzee will not do is make himself available for interview. He belongs to that small band of heroic writers who - without being as reclusive as Pynchon or Salinger - have declined to make themselves available for publicity purposes." The Scotsman 12/08/03

The Literary Jackpot (Doesn't Happen) Ah yes, what writer doesn't dream of an instant bestseller - prfereably for one's first novel. But "the truth is that the jackpot theory of literature only works up to a point, and, particularly, in an impressionable marketplace like America where barrow-loads of fashionable books are bought but not read. Most of the time, in Britain, the so-called 'overnight success' usually turns out, on closer inspection, to be the well-deserved fruition of a painstaking apprenticeship." The Observer (UK) 12/07/03

Poetry Magazine Windfall Sows Some Discord "While initially hailed as a blessing, the $100 million gift from drug-company heiress Ruth E. Lilly is sowing discord in the normally harmonious realm of verse. Poetry is embroiled in a lawsuit with a bank over alleged mismanagement of funds. The journal's editor of 20 years, Joseph Parisi, quit over the summer amid a battle with a newly assertive board. Rival poetry groups complain the magazine is gaining too much influence and will stifle the more-creative elements of the craft. Even Poetry's staunchest supporters wonder how the monthly journal will survive its sudden windfall." Wall Street Journal 12/08/03

Saturday, December 6

Which Dictionary Is Best? YiLing Chen-Josephson wonders which dictionary is best, and designs a test. "I restricted my testing to seven of the relatively affordable and frequently updated college dictionaries (the type of dictionary used not only in the most dormitory rooms but in the most homes and offices as well). To determine my rankings, I looked up seven times over words that I knew but wanted to understand better (like regret, jealous, and overdetermined); words with disputed usages (including aggravate, disinterested, fortuitous); words with potentially interesting etymologies (e.g., chauvinism, juggernaut, lagniappe); neologisms and slang (e.g., blogger, booty, yay); anything friends had looked up recently (e.g., Panglossian, condominium, alembic); as well as the words I didn't know in the last book I read, J.M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello." Slate 12/04/03

Plundered Book Ring Broken Up A sophisticated book-stealing ring in Edinburgh has been busted. The kingpin of the operation had accomplices steal the books, and he removed anti-theft identifiers before selling them at a discount to retail prices. "Undercover police kept watch as he took regular deliveries from thieves targeting W H Smith, Waterstones and other outlets, said Marc Gadsden, prosecuting. He was so successful that in just eight months he made an estimated £240,000, the barrister alleged." The Scotsman 12/04/03

Friday, December 5

A Bad Lay (At Least In Print) Wanna read some really bad writing about sex? Here are excerpts from the shortlisted nominees for the Bad Sex award. We'd print some samples, but we're... well... too bashful. The Guardian (UK) 12/04/03

Thursday, December 4

Peck: Too Many "Stepford" Novels Dale Peck on the decline of modern writing: "Even allowing for the fact that any living literary community produces its fair share of James Fenimore Coopers and Pearl S. Bucks and Henry Millers and that it takes time to separate the chaff from the wheat; and even taking into consideration the theory that cinematic and virtual media have displaced the printed word as the dominant narrative forms, and that the novel and its grown-too-big-for-its-britches sibling, the memoir, are only occasionally profitable anachronisms; and even recognizing that literacy standards and technological advances have made it theoretically feasible for just about anyone to write and publish a book--even considering all these factors, the number of Stepford novels that are written, published, reviewed, and read every year is completely out of control." The New Republic 12/04/03

Grann Trying Again At Random House "Phyllis Grann, who oversaw a virtual assembly line of blockbuster books as chief executive of Penguin Putnam but later lasted just six months as the vice chairwoman of Random House Inc., is returning to Random House in a new capacity." Grann had told acquaintances that her time at Random House was "deeply unsatisfying," due largely to the lack of real responsibility that came with the job because of the autonomy enjoyed by Random House's various imprints. "In her new role, as a senior editor of the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, Ms. Grann is expected to acquire and edit as many as 10 books a year, both fiction and nonfiction." The New York Times 12/04/03

Wednesday, December 3

Is This The Worst Writing About Sex? "The Literary Review's Bad Sex Prize, which reaches the parts other prizes can only moan about, was won last night by the Indian author Aniruddha Bahal, for his novel Bunker 13. His publishers, Faber and Faber, flew him in from Delhi to receive his statuette." The Guardian (UK) 12/04/03

Community Complains About Portrayal In Booker-Nominated Tome Bangladeshis in East London are complaining that Monica Ali's Booker-nominated first novel, Brick Lane portrays their neighborhood unfairly. "It is a completely stereotypical view of Bangladeshis living in Brick Lane and one we simply do not recognise. The book says we got here by jumping ships and it says we have lice and live like rats in their holes. These comments are simply untrue and hurtful." The Guardian (UK) 12/04/03

Wanna Run For President? Start Writing Now. There are nine announced contenders for the Democratic nomination for president, and as of this week, all nine have either written a book or had one written about them. "Some are good, some are bad. Some are thick, some are thin. Some are short, some are shorter. Some are direct, some are long-winded. And that goes for their books, too." But seriously, when exactly did published authorship become a necessity of a serious presidential campaign? And what makes them think that we're interested in reading their largely predictable tomes? Washington Post 12/03/03

Tuesday, December 2

The Joy Of Grammar (As Bestseller) Just how did Lynne Truss' book about the joys of grammar hit the bestseller list? "The book tells you the rules, but is also full of jokes and anecdotes. 'It is a sort of celebration of punctuation. You can't help cheering it on, because it has done such a good job in its humble way.' She speaks of the delights of the semi-colon with relish. She has listened to 'the man from the Apostrophe Protection Society' (yes, it exists) but does not sound like a member of any such group." The Guardian (UK) 12/02/03

Review In Review - The NYTBR's Golden Age The New York Times Book Review is looking for a new editor. "In looking forward, the Times might want to look back—to what was widely agreed to be the Book Review's golden age, from 1971 to 1975, under the editorship of John Leonard. Nostalgia is obviously a perilous emotion, but in this case, the golden years prove to be more than just the gilt of yesteryear. They provide a useful model for what tomorrow's Book Review could look like—should it choose to." Slate 12/02/03

Politic Up - Partisan Books On Bestseller List Charged up, partisan political books are all over the best-seller lists these days. "There's never been a time before when partisan books not only dominated the best-seller lists but also showed this kind of staying power." San Francisco Chronicle 12/02/03

Poetry: How $100 Million Changes You It's been a year since Poetry Magazine was given $100 million. "Over the last 12 months, the euphoria within the organization over what is believed to be the largest gift to a literary group -- and which effectively guarantees in perpetuity the survival of the monthly founded 91 years ago in Chicago -- has been undercut by the prosaic details of managing new wealth and responsibly employing it in the service of poetry. For some staffers, the excitement over a submission by a promising new poet has competed with the tedium of long meetings on legal, accounting and investment issues." Chicago Tribune 12/02/03

Monday, December 1

Amis: (Yellow) Dog Day Afternoon "For every writer who has ever longed to be called the best novelist writing in English -- as Martin Amis frequently has -- the fate of the 54-year-old author is a cautionary tale. Yellow Dog, a satire as wicked and sustained as anything he has written, has attracted mixed reviews. The kinder ones say things like, Amis at his worst is still better than the rest of us at our best. And the worst ones, especially a rabbit punch by a young novelist named Tibor Fischer, writing in The Daily Telegraph, contain comments such as the already oft-quoted (here once again): It's like your favourite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating'." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/01/03

Tough-Love Grammar Book Is Bestseller A hard-core book of grammar has topped the UK best-seller lists. "Eats, Shoots and Leaves, the brainchild of author Lynne Truss, is subtitled The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. On Sunday it topped the bestseller list of the UK online retailer Amazon, and it is already undergoing its sixth reprint since publication last month." BBC 12/01/03

Is Publishing Too Glamorous For Its Own Good? Dubravka Ugresic laments the evolution of publishing into a marketplace that doesn't have much attachment to the concept of culture. “In the contemporary media market, literature has acquired an aura of glamour. How has it come to be that all sorts of people —like, say, Madonna— are now rushing into the places formerly reserved for outsiders, bookworms, romantics, and losers?” Playback St. Louis 12/03

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