In Case You Missed It

Please don’t forget to hop on over to my new blog project, my adventures through classic novels over at Prescription: Reading! Can’t wait to see you there, and happy reading!

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The Road Goes Ever On, A New Project, and a TTFN

It’s hard to believe, because it’s been one of those things that’s always been less consistent than I wanted it to, but I’ve been blogging for almost five years, come this June. My first ever blog post (made by a high school me who didn’t even know there was a whole world of book bloggers out there, but knew that one of her greatest high school rivals had a book blog and by George! if she could do it then so could I!) was published on my Blogger-hosted blog on June 7th, 2007. Needless to say, for any of you who happen to go back and actually read your old blog posts, reading some of those early entries is an enlightening, awkward, and immature experience. It was the first time that I was putting my ideas about books down in writing an a way that no one was going to grade, and no one was requiring me to do. It was freeing at the time, as it still is today, and it’s nice to have a record of those books I read in late high school all the way through my first year of college. At the time, by blog by-line was

In which a poor college girl fantasizes about nothing but an endless library, a cup of coffee, and a Mr. Darcy to cuddle with.

And while I certainly think that part of that girl is still blogging for those reasons, I’ve come a long way in realizing why it really is that I blog, and what blogging means for me as a reader, a writer, a reviewer and a critical thinker.

Book Maven’s Blog found a new home here at WordPress on December 28th, 2008, and it’s here I’ve been ever since. This blog has seen practically all of my college career, a trip to the Arizona desert, my run-in with facial paralysis a la Bell’s Palsy, my graduation, my engagement, the growth of my niece, and of course all the books that have been with me along the way. It’s been a great, if not always frequent, experience and one that I wouldn’t trade in for the world. This world of book blogging has also brought me in touch with a lot of amazing people, with voices and opinions and tastes that I admire, usually with a sense of humor to boot. I can’t help but give yet another shout-out to Eva, Ana, Danielle, Kit, Amanda, Ash, and most recently Allie, for always providing great recommendations, thoughtful discussions, and just being good blogging role-models! I’m a lurker on quite a few of those sites, and many of them may not have even realized I was there, but they’ve always been there for me just the same.

Wow. Reading back on those first 500 words and you’d think I was dying or some such dramatic nonsense. I didn’t mean for this to sound so much like some kind of blogging goodbye! I’m not leaving blogging, but as I said in my last post, the time has come in my life for me to re-direct and refocus exactly what it is I’m doing with my blog, as well as what it is I want out of my blogging and reading in the near future. After doing such, and taking in to account some recent personal setbacks, I’m proud to present to you, as of tomorrow, my brand new blog baby:

Prescription: Reading

which will be online as of March 1st, 2012! I’ve decided that it’s about time I gave myself over to reading those books that I probably should have already read, seeing as how I’m an English major; those books that I feel as though I need to read, for me; those books that other readers, writers, and educators have returned to over and over again. I’m going to push myself to read through a list of 150 classic novels in the year-and-a-half left before I graduate my master’s program. I know that seems like a lot, and I’m not positive that’s even a goal that can actually be accomplished (I mean, come on, have you SEEN the size of some of those classic novels?!), but it’s a goal I think is important enough to try for! So that’s the purpose of this post: to say TTFN (‘ta-ta for now’, for those of you who’s text lingo is a little rusty) to Book Maven’s Blog, and hello to Prescription: Reading, my new blogging home for the next few years!

I can’t say now whether or not I’ll be back to this blog throughout my time over at Prescription. I’m hoping I’ll be able to fit in some books that aren’t on my classics list as well, and never fear: if I do, I’ll be back over here in a New York minute to let you all know what they are! But, more than anything, I’m really hoping you’ll hop over to the new blog and start joining me on that adventure. It’s one I’m nervous, excited, and looking forward to starting, and I hope to see you there! Either way: happy reading!

Announcing A New Project, Full Update to Follow

Things have been rather quiet here at le maison de BookMaven, and there are a number of very good reasons for that, most of which I’m sure you can only imagine. Since the last time I was here, I’ve manged to excel at my master’s program (and I’m loving every single minute of it!), knock out the first two-and-a-half books of the Song of Ice and Fire trilogy, set the guest list for the wedding (mostly-kind-of-for-now-at-least), and go from working full time to being unceremoniously unemployed. That’s right – that ‘bomb-diggity’ job in the insurance office I had turned out to be more bomb than diggity, and after less than three months (and after a couple of broken guarantees) I’m back to being without work. Luckily, I’m one of those folks who can count on help, both from my family and from my future in-laws, so it’s not as though my fiance and I are worried about being out on the streets because of this, but it’s still brought around no short supply of stress in to our already semi-stressful life. However, to keep an eye on the silver lining, this job loss has allowed the fiance and I to make plans to return to our hometown in May, soon after he graduates, which is something we’ve talked about doing for quite some time – in fact, it was the fact that I had this job that was keeping us where we are to begin with. So I’m excited, along with nervous and just a little terrified, to face that new experience and the beauty of being back home again.

The purpose of this post is not to just chew the fat, however (regardless of how graphic and disgusting that phrase really is), but rather to say that, along with all of these other upheavals, there have been quite a few blogging ideas running through my mind of late and I think I’ve finally gotten settled on a new project, a new blog coming up very, very soon. I’ll have the full details for you tomorrow, but for now I just wanted to say: never fear! You haven’t lost me permanently or forever, and in fact, I’ll be back with more tomorrow! Until then, happy reading!

The Armchair MA: Beowulf by Ã†lfric

I should probably start this whole Armchair MA series with a huge disclaimer: I’M THROWING OUT MY ENTIRE ANALYTICAL FRAMEWORK. By which I mean that I’m no longer going to use How to Read Literature like a Professor by Thomas Foster or Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. Not because they aren’t great books with great ideas about how to analyze literature, but because I was trying to fit my ideas in to their boxes and it just wasn’t working! So now, I bring you my own attempt at unguided and wholly independent analysis: lets hope that English degree wasn’t totally useless! hehe 🙂 Anyway, on to the first installment EVER of the Armchair MA, talking about *drum roll*….. Beowulf!

Beowulf is considered to be the first great heroic poem, written sometime between the first half of the 8th century and the first half of the 11th century – oh, the joys of trying to time-frame ancient texts! It’s also assumed to be written by one or a very few number of Christian authors, assumed to be such because of the many frequent allusions to Christ and Christian expectations, despite the fact that the poem is set in the Pagan days of the ancient Danes. So what’s this poem epically about? The Geat hero Beowulf, who shows up in the Danish kingdom of king Hrothgar (yep. Hrothgar. If I didn’t want him to hate me forever, I would name my first child Hrothgar. Then his name would be Hrothgar Outlaw, and that’s just not a name you f*ck with). Anyway, Hrothgar is up to his very tall armpits in monster’s, and as Beowulf is the greatest hero anywhere around, he shows up to help. And Beowulf is seriously badass. He’s described as swimming to the bottom of the ocean and back in order to fight monsters. He’s also known to be a great leader (referred to as a “ring-king”, a kenning* for a king who is generous when dividing the spoils of war) and is very respected. So he shows up, the Danes party, and then the first monster shows up: Grendel. And Beowulf, as expected, kicks some major ass. He kills Grendel and the war party celebrates again, getting piss drunk and hanging the monster’s arm from the front of the lodge. But this is a bad idea, as Grendel has a mother, and now this mother is pissed. REAL pissed. So, she shows up and kills a whole bunch of passed out Danes (they were super drunk, remember?) before scampering back to her cave beneath a lake. But Hrothgar and Beowulf just can’t have this, so they chase her down. Beowulf makes his way to her lair and there, where he finds a sword that once belonged to the giants. Which, of course, because he’s Beowulf, he uses to slay Grendel’s mother. He then makes his way back to land, where he is celebrated and sent home, having rid Hrothgar’s kingdom of it’s monsters – the Danes and the Geats forever friends. FAST FORWARD FIFTY YEARS. Beowulf is back in Geatland, and a dragon is pissed. A slave stole a cup from the dragon’s treasure, and when the dragon finds out, he leaves his cave and starts burning everything in sight. Beowulf and the Geats can’t have that, so he takes his men with him to do battle. But, Beowulf will always be Beowulf and he tells his men to wait while he goes to fight the dragon alone in his cave. However, Beowulf isn’t a spring chicken anymore, and finds himself outmatched. Seeing their leader failing, Beowulf’s men desert him (dicks!) save one, Wiglaf (THESE POOR PEOPLE WITH THESE NAMES!!), who stays and see Beowulf defeat the dragon, although he is dealt a fatal blow in the process. Beowulf dies and is buried in Geatland.

GAH! Talk about your epic poem! However, summarizing and analyzing aren’t the same thing, so hold on to your hats while I try some REAL analyzing here:

Beowulf and Hrothgar: Hrothgar’s people find their lives revolving around their meadhall. It’s the only building we ever see while we’re with the Danes. This could be for any number of reasons, but my guess is that it has a lot to do with sustenance and the giving of gifts or the dividing of spoils – two things that would happen primarily in the mead hall. That’s why, when Grendel attacks the meadhall, it’s seen as an even greater affront to Hrothgar and his people. Speaking of Hrothgar, it would seem that he and Beowulf exemplify what it means to be a good king, and this primarily revolves around their willingness and fairness with the giving of gifts, which was a sign of devotion and meant to promote reciprocity between a lord and his lieges. It also indicates that both the Danes and the Geats were operating within a gift economy, where the gifts received are directly proportional to good done. Both men also participate in what (I gather to be) the proper amount of ‘flyting’, or formal, ritualized boasting that usually focuses on moral impropriety or weakness, which is then dis-proved by the other members of the boasting party (I hope that makes sense! It does in my head, I swear, so please let me know in the comments if I just totally lost you!)

Grendel (and his mom): Grendel is actually my favorite character in Beowulf. He’s described as being a monster descended from Cain (HELLO, CHRISTIANITY), who attacks Hrothgar’s kingdom for singing about Christianity, something he can never be a part of because he’s marked as the monster he is. He is truly an outcast, especially in this culture – this is a culture of tribes, and an importance was placed on having a lord to be loyal to, and without that, Grendel truly has no place he can belong. I feel there is a certain amount of pity in that, although I can’t say I ‘approve’ of his taking out this loneliness on the people of Hrothgar’s court. I also think that the fight with Grendel’s mother allows us to see a weaker side of Beowulf, as he gives a LARGE majority of lines to his fight with Grendel in comparison to the fight with Grendel’s mother, which I believe is because Grendel’s mother posed more of a challenge to Beowulf’s skill, thus challenging his masculinity and asserting a kind of powerful, albeit monsterly, female figure.

The Dragon: To wrap up this analysis, I want to give brief discussion to Beowulf’s fight with the dragon. This is for two reasons. One: the fight with the dragon, as Beowulf and his men march to face the beast, is when we’re given the history of the Geats, a history which deepens our understanding of Beowulf – they’re a people under a constant threat of war and fear of invasion. This helps us to understand not only why Beowulf has felt it necessary to be the hero he has been, but also why his soon-to-be-had demise is hinted at being so devastating. So, after the rest of Beowulf’s men flee, Wiglaf is the only one who remains. This is not only an indicator of his own nobility and a small spark of hope for the future of the Geats (Beowulf basically places this mantle of hope on the young soldier before he dies); this scene also indicates the darker side, however, as the fact that all of Beowulf’s supposedly great men fled, indicating a kind of loss of honor and bravery amongst men, which could be disastrous for a country described as the one above.

Well, folks, there you have it! My first ever go at the Armchair MA! And now I need your feedback, lovely readers! Was it too much summary versus too little analysis? This is something I really want to work on keeping in balance, as summarizing is so much easier than analysis! What about the analysis – I know I probably could have gone deeper, but was there something you felt was TRULY, like DANGEROUSLY lacking? I’m also thinking about adding a section for ‘discussion questions’ (like a real college class!) but I’m not sure how well this would go over, considering I’m not sure how many people would have read whatever given work…So yeah! Obviously, any help or comments or input would be much appreciated! Happy reading!

*kenning = poetic speaking in circular, used in place of metaphor or simile

Why I Might be a Bit Absent for a While…

Clocking in at: 997 pages (PLEASE ignore the Oprah’s Book Club label! So far, it’s fantastic)

Read-a-long begins November 9th. And, I mean, it’s Proust.

Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys because, well, it’s cold grey November and that mean’s it’s time.

I’ll catch you around the blogosphere, you all, and I promise to return with updates! Happy reading!!

The R.I.P. VI Challenge: A Wrap-Up

HOLY CRAP IT’S NOVEMBER! Who saw that one coming?! I remember, like, yesterday when I sat down and opened my feed reader and saw that it was time for the R.I.P. VI challenge hosted by Carl V. over at Stainless Steel Droppings – one of my favorite challenges, ideas wise, and also the first challenge I’ve successfully completed in quite some time! I’m sad that it’s over, but as the man himself said, “But while it lasts it is deliciously perilous.” Let’s look at how all that creepiness went down over September and October:

This was the bulk of the challenge for me, I’m afraid – I got to caught up in the group reads to give my own personal-choice novels the love they deserve! But I did manage to read all four of the books Peril the First asked for:

  1. The Shining by Stephen King
  2. Sweetly by Jackson Pearce
  3. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Oh, group reads! This was my first experience doing a group read, and I have to say that I absolutely adored both of the books we read, although I think I’m slightly more in favor of the way The Lantern discussion was formatted – I seem to operate better with a set of questions as opposed to a more open ‘tell us what you thought’ format. But I loved it either way! Breakdown of each week’s discussion is listed below (you’ll notice I kind of dropped off on the Fragile Things group read, not because I didn’t enjoy it but because life and illness got in the way!

Fragile Things  by Neil Gaiman

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

I was surprised, as someone who doesn’t generally read short stories, that I was able to read so many of them on my own for this challenge (meaning they weren’t in a collection or weren’t part of some other group read or activity)! Most of the ones I read fell flat, but let me tell you – “The Squaw” still pops in to my brain every now and then and scares the bejessus out of me.

  1. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  2. “The Masque of the Red Death”/”The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allen Poe
  3. “The Squaw” by Bram Stoker
  4. “The Call of Cthulu” by H.P. Lovecraft (didn’t review)

MAN did I watch some awesome movies this R.I.P. season! They weren’t quite as scary as I was hoping they’d be (FBM and I still have yet to come eye to eye on scary movies: he hates them when they’re based on the supernatural, but I can’t stand realistic ‘this could totally happen to you, seriously’ horror, so we’re at an impasse for now) but they were great none the less! I did one big omnibus post here, where I talked about:

  1. Hocus Pocus
  2. The Exorcist
  3. Beetlejuice
  4. Carrie
  5. Criminal Minds (TV show)

That’s it! That’s my R.I.P. reading in a nutshell! It feels so weird looking at it laid out in list format like that – so much of R.I.P. is the sharing and the atmosphere that just the reading doesn’t seem to quite embody that! I had a great time, and I guess now it’s just a matter of looking forward to spring and the Once Upon a Time challenge (that’s a link to last years challenge page). Happy fall reading!

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I found Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus to be an absolutely enchanting read. By this I mean that, while I wasn’t exactly in love with every part of the book, it was still able to carry me far, far away from the mundane bus rides and never-ending emails of my own world! I’ll go ahead and say now what I wish someone had told me going in to reading this book, a sentiment that seems to be cropping up more and more among the bloggers I read: try and not believe the hype that surrounds this book like a big glittery cloud. Yes, this book does have fantastic stripey end papers.  Yes, the descriptions of the circus are magical, and the characters that Morgenstern has created are more than loveable. But, as it always does, the hype machine will let you down. If you go in to this book believing it will be THE BEST BOOK YOU’VE EVER READ AND IT WILL TURN THAT FROWN UPSIDE DOWN AND CURE CANCER AND BRING JOHN LENNON BACK FROM THE GRAVE WITH ITS POWER OF IMAGINATION…well, you’ll be let down. But if you let this book work its magic on you without expecting it to be anything but a great story…well, that’s where the real magic of The Night Circus lies. For those of you who have somehow missed the plot summary of this book, here’s the Goodreads for you:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

But here’s the thing you might find surprising about this book: I really couldn’t give two figs for the romance part of this story. I mean, yes, it’s important because it ultimately ends up driving the entire ending of the book (I’ll give major props to Morgenstern for finding a way to keep the circus going, as for a while there I was as afraid as everyone else that this beautiful creation would have to die!) but, for the most part, these were the parts I was actually the least happy with. When the circus begins, Marco knows that Celia is his competitor, but Celia doesn’t possess this same information. Because of this, we actually get about half way through the book before the two really even get to be in one anothers solitary company, and it’s not until after that that the romance even begins to flourish. The reader is, of course, given that whole line about how it was love at first sight, Marco has known all along, blah blah blah. But honestly? None of that ever works for me if there isn’t the development within the relationship, and this time that part just wasn’t there. I found myself wanting to leave Marco and Celia and get back to the circus, and to Widget and Poppet and Bailey.

Now that I’ve expressed the things that irked me about the book (and I feel like my treatment of this may not have gotten across quite fully enough – I REALLY didn’t care for the relationship part. AT ALL. If it had been removed completely, I wouldn’t have cared at all) I can get to the thing that drove this book for me, and kept me reading to the last page: the circus. The circus, much like it is for all the characters, is the thing that keeps this book together. And it’s pure fracking magic. Let me tell you, Erin Morgenstern just got added to the list of people who’s imagination I would love to play around in for a day (other authors include: Salman Rushdie, Neil Gaiman, and J.K. Rowling). In case the book jacket isn’t enough, here’s a taste. Describing the clock that sits at the main gate:

The face of the clock becomes a darker grey, and then black, with the twinkling stars where the numbers had been previously. The body of the clock, which as been methodically turning itself inside out and expanding, is not entirely subtle shades of white and grey. And it is not just pieces, it is figures and objects, perfectly carved flowers and planets and tiny books with actual paper pages that turn. There is a silver dragon that curls around part of the now visible clockwork, a tiny princess in a carved tower who paces in distress, awaiting an absent prince. Teapots that pour into teacups and minuscule curls of steam that rise from them as the seconds tick. Wrapped presents open. Small cats chase small dogs. An entire game of chess is played (69).

Who wouldn’t want a clock like that to exist, let alone to be able to see it in real life. In the book, the followers of the circus are referred to as rêveurs and I think it goes without saying that, were Le Cirque des Rêves real, I would be one of these followers, going to any lengths possible to track it down and spend all my nights in it’s magic. Not only are the tents and features of the circus itself fantastic (I’ll get to those in a minute) but the characters that possess the circus – truly possess it – are unforgettable.

There is a character here for practically everyone. The ambitious and creative Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre. His close family friend, a genius with theatrics and costumes, Madame Padva. The kind clockmaker Friedrick Thiessen and the mysterious contortionist Tsukiko. Much like the circus, none of Morgenstern’s characters are exactly what they appear to be, and her subtle writing when discussing how each of them is mentally and physically affected by the circus are some of the best bits of writing throughout. However, I think I have to say that hands down the best characters in the book are Bailey, the non-magic boy who, in the end, basically gets adopted by the circus and ends up it’s manager, Poppet, and Widget, the two red-headed twins born as the circus opened it’s doors for the first time.

These three, let me tell you, are the kind of characters you get scenes of, but wish the whole book could revolve around. Not only are the twins red-headed and in love with kittens (their act involves tumbling mini-felines), but they’re fantastic siblings to one another, and are just so endearing. They are attached to the circus as no one else is, as they were born at the exact moment that the circus opened, and to spend time with children who’s whole world has been magic and mystery and imagination…it’s refreshing and endearing and inspiring all at once. When the two meet Bailey, and the fledgling romance between Bailey and Poppet begins to blossom, it’s those two for whom I was cheering, as they were the characters who seemed to love and need the circus more than any of the others.

And, finally, we get to the circus. There would be no reason for me to write about the circus, when Morgenstern did just a great job just writing it to begin with. So, to leave this post, I simply leave you with my personal favorite bits of the circus itself (these labels go in order of the quotes below: the ice room, the rêveurs, Widget’s stories, the enchanted human statues, the tent of bedtime stories, and the pool of tears):

It is exactly what the sign described. But it is so much more than that. There are no stripes visible on the walls, everything is sparking and white. She cannot tell how far it stretches, the size of the tent obscured by cascading willows and twisting vines. The air itself is magical. Crisp and sweet in her lungs as she breathes, sending a shiver down to her toes that is caused by more that the fore-warned drop in temperature. There are no patrons in the tent as she explores, circling alone around trellises covered in pale roses and a softly bubbling, elaborately carved fountain. And everything, save for occasional lengths of white ribbon strung like garlands, is made of ice (119).

The seek each other out, these people of such specific like mind. They tell how they found the circus, how those first few steps were like magic. Like stepping into a fairy tale under a curtain of stars. The pontificate upon the fluffiness of the popcorn, the sweetness of the chocolate. They spend hours discussing the quality of the light, the heat of the bonfire. They sit over drinks smiling like children and they relish being surrounded by kindred spirits, if only for an evening (143).

“Secrets have power,” Widget begins. “And that power diminishes when they are shared, so they are best kept and kept well. Sharing secrets, real secrets, important ones, with even one other person, will change them…This is, in part, why there is less magic in the world today. Magic is secrets and secrets are magic, after all.” (173)

The woman wears a dress something akin to a bridal gown constructed for a ballerina, white and frothy and laced with black ribbons that flutter in the night air. Her legs are encased in striped stockings, her feet in tall black button-up boots. Her dark hair is piled in waves upon her head, adorned with sprays of white feathers. Her companion is a handsome man, somewhat taller than she, in an impeccably tailored black pinstriped suit. His shirt is a crisp white, his tie black and pristinely knotted. A black bowler hat sits upon his head. They stand entwined but not touching, their heads tilted toward each other. Lips frozen in the moment before (or after) the kiss. Though you watch them for some time, they do not move…Each of them always gravitating toward the other. Yet still they do not touch (225).

He recalls what the tag said about opening things, wondering what could possibly be inside all of these jars. Most of the clear-glass ones look empty. As he reaches the opposite side of the table, he picks one at random, a small round ceramic jar, glazed in black with a high shine and a lid topped with a round curl of a handle. He pulls the lid off and looks inside. A small wisp of smoke escapes, but other than that it is empty. As he peers inside he smells the smoke of a roaring fire, and a hint of snow and roasting chestnuts. Curious, he inhales deeply. There is the aroma of mulled wine and sugared candy, peppermint and pipe smoke. The crisp pine scent of a fir tree. The wax of dripping candles. He can almost feel the snow, the excitement, and the anticipation, the sugary taste of a striped candy (238).

The sign outside this tent is accompanied by a small box full of smooth black stones. The text instructs you to take one with you as you enter…Inside, the tent is dark, the ceiling covered with open black umbrellas, the curving handles hanging down like icicles. In the center of the room there is a pool. A pond enclosed within a black stone wall that is surrounded by white gravel…Reflections ripple around the room, making it appear as though the entire tent is underwater. You sit on the wall, turning your black stone over and over in your fingers. The stillness of the tent becomes a quiet melancholy. Memories begin to creep forward from hidden corners of your mind. Passing disappointments. Lost chances and lost causes. Heartbreaks and pain and desolate, horrible loneliness. Sorrows you thought long forgotten mingle with still-fresh wounds. The stone feels heavier in your hand. When you drop it in the pool to join the rest of the stones, you feel lighter. As though you have released something more than a smooth polished piece of rock (283).

If that won’t make you read The Night Circus, I don’t know what will. Happy reading!

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