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Monday, January 31

A Literary Prize Ready For The Spotlight? The James Tait Black Memorial Prizes are - by some acounts - Britain's most prestigious literary awards. Its list of winners is long and impressive. "Yet outside the world of the highbrow literary cognoscenti, few have heard of the awards, despite the fact that they are the UK's oldest and, many would argue, most prestigious. Now one man armed with a grand vision and a plan to increase the prize money fivefold is aiming to take them out of the shadows." The Guardian (UK) 01/29/05

Prize Mentality - What's It Doing To Our Books? "Britain has great fiction. A lot of it. But what is the prize system which now dominates the British literary world doing to that fiction? One winner means all the rest are losers. Many don't deserve that label. Fiction is, thanks to the Victor Ludorum ethos that now drives critical judgment, a gladiatorial combat. Is it a fair fight?" The Guardian (UK) 01/31/05

Enough With The Book Clubs! Book clubs, book clubs, everywhere. But so what, writes Li Robbins. Why do you need or want a club in which to read? "Reading is the greatest of great escapes. Reading is permission to simply be, to exist in another world, the world of the book. But you can’t maintain that Zen state when someone is wittering away about plot, tone and setting as though they are the new holy trinity." CBC 01/31/05

Flap Over Upcoming Disney Book The manuscript of a book critical of Disney was obtained by Disney, and the company is threatening legal action after regretting giving the author access to company execs and records. "Disney dashed off a letter to Simon & Schuster, warning that it would contemplate legal action if the book contained mistakes, according to several people involved in the book's publication. Simon & Schuster is asking that Disney return the 780-page unauthorized manuscript it obtained, saying Disney should not distribute it to news outlets or other concerns." The New York Times 01/31/05

Sunday, January 30

Just Like A Book Tour, Only Without The Tour Margaret Atwood loves being an author, and - don't get her wrong - she loves meeting her fans and hearing about how her books affected them. But the whirlwind nature of the modern book tour has been wearing on her lately, and as a result, she "is developing a remote autographing device that will allow authors to sign books for devoted readers from afar, without those awful tours writers often dread. No, it's not clear whether she has spoken to Donald Rumsfeld lately." Philadelphia Inquirer 01/29/05

Friday, January 28

Why Is The Book Business So Badly Run? "There are some really smart people in the book business, which is why it’s such a mystery that so little is known about the basics, such as why anybody buys a book. Wal-Mart can predict with great specificity that hurricanes in Florida will mean increased demand for batteries and flashlights, but also, based on past correlations, beer and pop-tarts. (Beer, understood, but pop-tarts? Don’t they need toasters for that? Wouldn’t the electricity be out?) The book business has nowhere near this forecasting expertise." Inversion 01/05

Thursday, January 27

The People's Choice Awards Of Books? A new philanthropy called the Quills Literacy Foundation has announced the formation of the Quill Awards, a slate of 19 annual book awards, most of which will be voted on by the general public. The New York Times 01/27/05

Wednesday, January 26

A Change of Direction At Paris Review Why did the board of the Paris Review fire Brigid Hughes as George Plimpton's successor? "Ms. Hughes’ firing was seen by some as a betrayal of Plimpton’s memory: He was fiercely loyal, and Ms. Hughes had apprenticed closely with him. But others saw it as an attempt by an anxiety-ridden board—which Plimpton himself had established—to honor his legacy by searching for new directions for the magazine." New York Observer 01/26/05

Tuesday, January 25

From Mail Room To Big-Time Publishing "A few months ago, 28-year-old Dean Carter was a small cog in a very big machine. Hidden away in the basement at the grand old publisher Random House, he spent his days sorting mail sent by fans to such eminent writers A S Byatt and Tom Wolfe. Now, after a series of lucky encounters, he is the recipient of a five-figure, two-book deal, has senior publishers saving his emails as collectors' items and could soon be considering film deals from the likes of Brad Pitt and Robert De Niro." The Independent (UK) 01/25/05

Levy Wins Whitbread Small Island, Andrea Levy's affectionate, Orange prize-winning comedy of errors, misunderstandings and prejudice at the onset of West Indian immigration to Britain, was last night voted Whitbread book of the year. The Guardian (UK) 01/26/05

London's Favorite Book? According to a Time Out poll, it's a gudiebook. "The London A-Z street atlas, first published in 1936, yesterday beat volumes by Virginia Woolf, Evelyn Waugh, Joseph Conrad, Zadie Smith and Peter Ackroyd to come in at number five in a poll of the 30 best-loved London books." The Guardian (UK) 01/25/05

Hugh Grant On Being A Literary Prize Judge "Grant, whose only literary claim to fame had been playing a bookseller in 'Notting Hill,' confessed that he felt like a student back at Oxford University when put under pressure to read the finalists for the Whitbread Book of the Year award. Asked if he felt insulted by critics who argue it is dumbing down to choose celebrity judges for big literary awards, he told Reuters at Tuesday's awards ceremony: 'It is not insulting to me. I am very dumb as everyone knows'." Yahoo! (Reuters) 01/25/05

Do "Genius" Awards Help A Career? How effective are the MacArthur "Geniue Awards" that give recipients $500,000 to use as they see fit? "An examination of the program reveals that most of the 31 writers chosen since 1981 as MacArthur Fellows had already hit their artistic peak. Surveying book reviews, author profiles and the opinions of literary scholars, Crain's determined that 88% of the MacArthur recipients wrote their greatest works before being recognized by the Chicago-based foundation. The sheer number of books produced by the writers declined, too, after their MacArthur awards." ChicagoBusiness 01/24/05

Monday, January 24

Living With The Writer What's it like to be the partner of a writer? A new book explores the handholding and psychological propping-up required. "What makes the arrangement work, or not work, and why? How does life at home contribute to the creative process? What is the cost of a masterpiece on a caring relationship? All this mollycoddling of someone who, after all, could just as easily be playing solitaire behind that closed door as writing, might sound excessive, but it's by no means an exception." Rocky Mountain News 01/23/05

Ode To A Library A London Library lover waxes eloquent about the power and personality of the library. "There are moments when a library becomes itself. The rest of the time is potential. The book collection, arranged by subject and author, latent with pleasures and instruction, is a library in Clark Kent mode. The crux where the book, the reader and the need collide like particles in an accelerator is its apotheosis, the library as Superword." The Telegraph (UK) 01/24/05

Dame Helen Of Poetry Helen Vendler has been one of the most prominent poetry critics over the past 40 years. "Whole sectors of the poetry world have complained about the limits of her sensibility. She doesn't like experimentation, one complaint goes. Her attitude toward poetry is too academic, says another. At the same time, somewhat paradoxically, literary scholars often consider Ms. Vendler far out of touch with their profession. Her approach is, so to speak, rigorously untheoretical: A poem speaks to her, or it doesn't, and the critical essay is Ms. Vendler's preferred medium of reply." Chronicle of Higher Education 01/28/05

The Book Dealer And The Stolen Book A St. Louis book dealer buys a rare volume for $3,900, then is pleased to see his judgment rewarded when it is valued at $600,000. Just one small hitch: "The book may have been stolen from an unlikely victim — the German government. The state-owned Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart claims a World War II U.S. Army captain took the book and others from a castle and eventually deposited them in his Richmond Heights home." St. Louis Post-Dispatch 01/22/05

Amazon Reviews V. Book Sales Is there any kind of correlation between the kinds of reader reviews a book gets on Amazon and how well it sells? Turns out yes. A researcher analyzed Amazon's star system and found that "books high on what he called the "controversiality index" are given almost as many one-star as five-star ratings, creating a horseshoe-shaped curve. As it turns out, these books also tend to have high sales."
The New York Times 01/24/05

Sunday, January 23

Booker Jury Objects To Jury Chairman Members of the Book Prize jury are objecting to the appointment of John Sutherland as chairman of the jury. "He is an appalling choice, because of what happened last time round. 'Last time round', when Professor Sutherland was a judge in 1999, he wrote a piece for the Guardian in which he described the judging process. His analysis was thunderously denied by two fellow judges, who accused him of a 'breach of trust'." The Guardian (UK) 01/21/05

How Old Man Won Hemingway A Nobel The Nobel committe considered Ernest Hemingway for seven years before finally awarding him its literature prize. So what finally won him the honor? Hemingway's 1952 novel "The Old Man and the Sea" convinced members of the Academy he had earned his place alongside other laureates for "his mastery of the art of narrative." Yahoo! (Reuters) 01/23/05

Put Off - The Writer's Curse Ah, the writer's curse - writer's block. But even worse, perhaps - procrastination. "At its worst, procrastination is a form of slow suicide, a kind of stand-off with life. Why act, when we know the end of all endeavour? Days, weeks, months creak past, but still no attempt to advance the work is made. Procrastination is surely worse than writer's block, less involuntary: you see what you need to do, you know you can do it, and yet ... and yet." The Guardian (UK) 01/22/05

The "Porno-ization" Of The Book Industry Sex seems to have taken over the book industry. It's on the best-seller lists, and it's in the bookstores. "Porn has long been a multibillion-dollar industry – in its Internet and direct-to-DVD ghetto. But rarely has "aboveground" publishing been so saturated with sex. It's the 'porno-ization of the culture'." Dallas Morning News 01/23/05

Friday, January 21

Victorian Sci Fi That Accurately Predicted The Future A little-known Victorian book book of science fiction published in 1892 appears to have predicted many of the technological advances that in fact happened. "Entitled Golf in the Year 2000 or What Are We Coming To, it follows the tale of avid 19th-century golfer Alexander J Gibson, who falls into a deep sleep on 24 March 1892 and wakes up Rip Van Winkle-style on 25 March 2000 to find a world transformed. Television, superfast trains, digital watches and female emancipation are all predicted in the tale, which envisages a world of leisure where golf is paramount." The Scotsman 01/20/05

Thursday, January 20

Paris Review Editor Out The Paris Review is not renewing the contract of editor Brigid Hughes, who succeeded George Plimpton as the magazine's top editor last January, four months after his death. "The resignation is a stunning development for the quarterly, which current and former employees say is struggling to adapt to a formal management structure and to being overseen by a board of directors that, for the first time, is trying to influence its editorial direction." The New York Times 01/20/05

Booker Chairman Stirs Controversy "The newly announced chairman of the 2005 Man Booker prize has admitted that the judges are unlikely to read all 130 books in contention, while describing his fellow judges as "light on the minorities" and the process as like a "world federation wrestling match"." The Guardian (UK) 01/20/05

  • Academic To Head Booker Jury John Sutherland has been named head of this year's Booker Prize jury. "He is professor of modern English literature at University College London and writes a column for The Guardian. He has also written or edited 50 books ranging from critiques of classic novels to a book about alcoholism, partly based on his own experiences." BBC 01/20/05

Copy-editing The Skin Mag (A Personal Reflection) Then there was the time Daniel Asa Rose took a job as a copy editor - at a porn publication. Even here, (at least some of )the niceties of style need to be followed. Let's see, do you hyphenate... Salon 01/20/05

Wednesday, January 19

Faber Breaks With Penguin Faber & Faber is breaking with its international distributor of the past 23 years, Penguin International, to represent itself - and a group of small independent publishers between them responsible for some spectacular bestsellers. The Guardian (UK) 01/20/05

Tuesday, January 18

New Kids Book Award Named For Dr. Seuss "The American Library Association has created a new award for children's books, to be named after the late Dr. Seuss. The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for outstanding children's literature will begin next year, the Association for Library Service to Children announced Friday." Yahoo (AP) 01/18/05

Monday, January 17

Why The Anonymous Review? Why do trade publications publish anonymous reviews? "There are nearly 500 books a day published in America, or enough in a year to fill an average-size college library. No one could possibly read reviews of them all, let alone the books themselves. Even the team of Stakhanovite readers at Publishers Weekly can cover only about 10,000 books a year. Faced with this annual tsunami of literature, we all must grasp at any bit of solid support that comes to hand. We have no choice but to seek advice. That's one reason why Publishers Weekly and Kirkus cling to their policy of anonymity: It suggests a magisterial, objective, authoritative source, unsullied by personal biases. Yet the opinions actually on offer in these magazines are every bit as quirky, perverse and prone to bias as they are in publications where the writers must take responsibility for what they say." OpinionJournal.com 01/14/05

Promotion Wars - Where Are The Publishers? Writers now spend an extraordinary part of their lives promoting their work. "Now, more than ever, the book-promotion machine is working against the interests of the writers it has been set up to promote. Now, as never before, the marketplace is devouring the hand, the arm and the head that feed it. Authors of all shapes and sizes have become either the dupes or accomplices of a publishing industry that is exploiting its writers as its unpaid representatives." The Observer (UK) 01/16/05

Arkansas Legislators Want School Texts To Define Marriage Some Arkansas legislators want the state's public school textbooks to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman — just like the recently approved amendment to the state Constitution. Yahoo! (AP) 01/17/05

Sunday, January 16

Israel, Palestine, And My Mother-in-Law One of the surprise publishing successes of the year in Europe is a book comprising a stock of desperate, poignant, and occasionally bitter e-mails sent by a Palestinian architect to her friends and relatives, relating her experiences of life in the West Bank during the Palestinian intifada and subsequent Israeli crackdown. The star of the book is the author's mother-in-law, who seems simultaneously to embody the stressese of in-laws the world over, and to symbolize the indomitable will of a people under siege. The Observer (UK) 01/16/05

Thursday, January 13

When The Working Class Read Classics It was once thought that working class people didn't read the classics. But the reverse was true. "Working-class autodidacts read the classics in part because contemporary literature was too expensive. A 1940 survey found that while 55 percent of working-class adults read books, they rarely bought new books. An autodidact could build up an impressive library by haunting used-book stalls, scavenging castoffs, or buying cheap out-of-copyright reprints such as Everyman's Library, but these offered only yesterday's authors." City Journal 12/04

The Psycho-bio Problem Why do we feel the need to pass artists such as Shakespeare under a magnifying glass for clues to their work? Such psycho-bios often sell better than the actual artist's work. "The explanations of literary activity which are required by the market for literary biography tend to be made up from a dash of Freud, a handful of social aspiration, a scratching from Foucault’s armpit, and a willingness to entertain simple-one-to- one correspondences between fiction and life." London Review of Books 01/11/05

Blogging Books Where to find good writing on books? How about Bookslut? "She [Jessa Crispin] will review books or talk about books that maybe aren't the biggest best sellers out there, but she loves them. It goes right back to Jessa and the personality she injects into it. It's attractive to both users and industry folks alike. The combination of the reviews and the blog is very powerful." Chicago Tribune 01/13/05

Wednesday, January 12

Is Google's Library Deal Legal? There's one problem with Google's deal to put online millions of library books. "It is not at all clear that Google and these libraries have the legal right to do what is proposed. For work in the public domain, the right is clear enough. But for work not in the public domain, Google's right to scan — to copy — whole texts to index is uncertain at best, even if it ultimately makes only snippets available. When permission has been given by the copyright holder, again there's no problem. But when permission has not been secured, the law is essentially uncertain. If lawsuits were filed, and if Google and its partner libraries were found to have violated the law, their legal exposure could reach into the billions." Los Angeles Times 01/12/05

Reinventing Book-Of-The-Month The Book-of-the-Month Club is reinventing itself, updating to try to compete in internet age. "The popularity of Internet booksellers and the ubiquity of heavily discounted hardcover books at warehouse clubs and mass-market retailers have combined to make the Book-of-the-Month Club - and other general-interest book clubs - far less important in the selling of books in the United States." The New York Times 01/12/05

Mississippi Libraries Un-Ban Stewart Book A Mississippi public library board has reversed its decision to ban Jon Stewart's book "America" after waves of protest. "The board voted 5-2 Monday to lift the ban, and the book was returned to circulation in the system's eight libraries Tuesday. "We have come under intense scrutiny by the outside community. We don't decide for the community whether to read this book or not, but whether to make it available." Yahoo! (AP) 01/12/05

  • Previously: Mississippi Libraries Ban Stewart Book Librarians in two Mississippi counties have banned Jon Stewart's best-selling "America (The Book)" because of a picture in it depicting the Supreme Court justices naked. "The book by Stewart and the writers of 'The Daily Show,' the Comedy Central fake-news program he hosts, was released in September. It has spent 15 weeks on The New York Times best seller list for hardcover nonfiction, and was named Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly, the industry trade magazine." Yahoo! (AP) 01/09/05

Author Sues Da Vinci Code Author For Plagiarism Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown is being sued, accused of plagiarism in his best-selling book. "Author Lewis Perdue has brought the copyright action at a court in New York, claiming Brown lifted plot material from two of his books - The Da Vinci Legacy and Daughter of God - and used it in The Da Vinci Code, which has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide. But Brown is already suing Perdue for making the plagiarism accusations." The Scotsman 01/12/05

Tuesday, January 11

Book Publishing Sucks! "Book publishing really lies somewhere between art and commerce - in some aspects it is a barely rational industry. While the big four publishers have half the British market, the rest is fragmented into hundreds of small players. Few who have much to do with books make a good living out of it - and this despite the fact that books published in English represent 27 per cent of the world's share of titles! Most authors receive pitiful advances which are rarely earned out. Salaries among staff in publishing houses are notoriously low. And owners of imprints must mostly do it for the love, since it is an endemically unprofitable industry." The Telegraph (UK) 01/09/05

Monday, January 10

Take Your (Book) Medicine Doctors in one county will be prescribing books for patients. "Those with symptoms of depression, anxiety or eating disorders will be referred to clinics where they will be prescribed books to read alongside support sessions with graduate mental health care workers. The scheme in Devon, which is the first of its kind in the UK, aims to cut waiting lists for more serious cases, reduce over-prescription of drugs and offer some form of treatment for patients who may otherwise receive none." The Observer (UK) 01/09/05

Goosing Book Sales - Two Authors' Saga A couple of scholars write a book, then watch as it languishes near the bottom of the Amazon sales rankings. How to get it higher? How about visiting Barnes & Noble stores and placing it in more prominent position? Begging producers for interviews? Taping your own readings complete with laugh tracks?.. Chronicle of Higher Education 01/10/05

Da Vinci Code Fans Endangering Chapel Fans of The Da Vinci Code are endangering the historic Roslyn Chapel in Scotland. So many are visiting that the chapel is showing wear. "The fragile carvings in the 15th-century Midlothian church risk being damaged by people brushing against them and the humidity from their breath." The Daily Record (UK) 01/10/05

Will Databases Replace Libraries? "Many librarians believe they're competing with and losing against search engines like Google, that for most users the convenience of a simple, clean interface outweighs the quality of the quality of the results. Whether this is true or not Google's digital library project is an opportunity for libraries to remain competitive by working with the competition. For the sake of users, and their own future, libraries just have to make sure they're taking advantage of the opportunity and not being taken advantage of." MobyLives 01/10/05

Mississippi Libraries Ban Stewart Book Librarians in two Mississippi counties have banned Jon Stewart's best-selling "America (The Book)" because of a picture in it depicting the Supreme Court justices naked. "The book by Stewart and the writers of 'The Daily Show,' the Comedy Central fake-news program he hosts, was released in September. It has spent 15 weeks on The New York Times best seller list for hardcover nonfiction, and was named Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly, the industry trade magazine." Yahoo! (AP) 01/09/05

Sunday, January 9

Atwood: A Remote Control Book-signing Device Margaret Atwood is tired of traipsing around North America signing books. So she's "developing a remote book-signing machine that will allow readers to get their novels autographed without the author having to traipse to bookshops across the globe. The idea occurred to her while undertaking gruelling tours with Oryx and Crake last spring." The Guardian (UK) 01/08/05

Live Nude College Students Boston has always been a cutting-edge college town, and the student-run publications put out by the Hub's universities have long been the envy of the world. So what's the latest trend in student publishing? Well, in a word, porn. Washington Post 01/08/05

NaNoWriFreaks The 35,000 people who participated in the 2004 edition of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, as it's popularly known) are a unique bunch. Call 'em obsessive, call 'em overly ambitious, call 'em hopeless dreamers, they don't mind. Just don't ask them to leave their keyboards - for anything - when November rolls around. Minneapolis Star Tribune 01/09/05

Friday, January 7

Tough Times For Libraries The American Library Association gathers for its annual meeting. Libraries are facing a rocky future in the US. "More than $80 million has been cut from public library budgets in the past year alone, which has weakened or closed libraries in more than 40 states. In addition to budgetary issues, about 70 percent of librarians will reach retirement age within the next 20 years. Who will take their place?" Boston Globe 01/07/05

A New Book Site? The publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard and other trade titles says it is opening a new "wide-ranging Web site" to cover the book business and offer sales data gathered by company-owned Nielsen BookScan. Called The Book Standard, the site will launch on Jan. 27. New York Daily News 01/07/05

Thursday, January 6

Closing Libraries, Missed Opportunities So the Salinas (California) public libraries are shutting for lack of money. There's got to be a better way to fund libraries, writes David Kipen. "Of course, the danger isn't that the next young Steinbeck will have to take a bus to borrow some Waugh. The danger, plainly, is that he'll find something better to do. To paraphrase P.T. Barnum, there's a Steinbeck born every minute. The trick of a literate society lies in cultivating him, carefully but generously, so that he actually grows up to be Steinbeck." San Francisco Chronicle 01/06/05

Levy Wins Whitbread Fiction Prize; Book of the Year On Deck Novelist Andrea Levy has won the 2004 Whitbread award for Novel of the Year for her latest work, Small Island. The award makes Levy the immediate frontrunner for the overall Whitbread Prize, which comes with a £25,000 award. The overall winner will be announced January 25. BBC 01/06/05

Wednesday, January 5

Now Montana: Because, Ya Know, Poets Don't Need To Be Paid... Montana becomes thelatest US state to want to name a poet laureate. "Under the bill, the Montana Arts Council would supply the governor with the names of three qualified Montana poets. The governor would then appoint a poet from the list to hold the honorary post for two years. The poet laureate would receive no compensation but would promote the arts throughout Montana." Billings Gazette 01/05/05

Reviving Publishers Weekly In an attempt to revive itself, Publishers Weekly hired a new top editor. "After decades of enjoying a near monopoly on coverage of the book publishing business, Publishers Weekly in recent years has often lagged in competition with Internet sites, e-mail newsletters and daily newspapers. The consolidation of the publishing business and the demise of many independent booksellers has eaten into the magazine's pool of potential subscribers. Its paid circulation of 25,000 is down about 3,000 from the peak in recent years. Perhaps worst of all for a publication focused on a single industry, even subscribers are not certain about where the magazine is aiming." The New York Times 01/05/05

California In Verse (If Anyone Wants The Job) "California is in the market for a new poet laureate. With an official state dirt, a state fossil and a state tartan, we need a state bard. And as a blue state, it's our obligation to demonstrate that airport bookstore thrillers and bodice-rippers are not the alpha and omega of literature and that just because poetry usually comes in slim volumes with even slimmer royalty checks doesn't mean it don't kick heinie." Los Angeles Times 01/05/05

Tuesday, January 4

Don Quixote Turns 400 (Would He make It Today?) "One wonders: Would Don Quixote pass the test and be published in New York today? I frankly doubt it. It would be deemed what editors call "a trouble manuscript": too long, the story line problematic, the plot stuffed with too many adventures that do too little to advance the narrative and too many characters whose fate the reader gets attached to but who suddenly disappear. And that awkward conceit of a character finding a book about himself! The style! Those careless sentences that twist and turn!" Chronicle of Higher Education 01/07/05

Addicted To Books On Tape Reading is king of course. But there are those among us who develop an addiction for hearing the spoken word read to us. "Perhaps there is something psychologically reassuring about listening to someone read a story. Hardly a day has passed in the last 30 years in which I have not heard a spoken-word recording of one kind or another. I go to sleep every night with the soothing sounds of a recorded book." Chronicle of Higher Education 01/03/05

Monday, January 3

195 Added To Book Of People Who Mattered "The lives of 195 people who died in 2001 - including Beatle George Harrison - have been added to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The book includes biographies of kings, queens, celebrities, philosophers, assassins, builders and scientists." BBC 01/04/05

Peter Rabbit In Glyphs Beatrix Potter's "Peter Rabbit" has been translated into hierogyphics. "The translation turns the story of a mischievous rabbit into symbols of the Egyptian world, shapes and squiggles. Peter Rabbit becomes a square, a semi-circle, an ellipse and a rabbit image. The "time seemed appropriate" for the hieroglyph version, due in April, translators said, as the story had already been published in 35 languages." BBC 12/31/04

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