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The Emily Brontë Song Cycle: wandering in the wuthering heights

17 December 2018

From The Guardian:

It begins with a flock of birds taking raucous flight; and even though there are no crows to be seen above the heather-flecked moors around the Brontë Parsonage at Haworth, it’s difficult to discern whether this is reality, or a fantasy. I’m immersed in the latest heritage project dedicated to the literary family: a unique audio experience that combines Emily’s poetry, folk music and West Yorkshire’s grand landscape to produce something quite incredible.

The Emily Brontë Song Cycle, an audio production pairing Emily’s poems and music by folk group the Unthanks, was commissioned by the Brontë Society, which runs the sisters’ old family home the Parsonage as a hugely successful museum. The last couple of years has seen a number of Brontë bicentennial anniversaries; this year marked marked 200 years since the birth of Emily, best known for her only novel, Wuthering Heights.

Emily is perhaps less known for her poems; indeed, only one – Remembrance – was published in her lifetime. But it was her verse that composer and pianist Adrian McNally and the Unthank sisters Rachel and Becky turned to, eventually turning Emily’s poetry into songs that marry with the landscape that inspired and informed all three sisters in their own ways.

The final product is a hi-tech audio trail that leads people out out of honey-pot tourist trap of Haworth and up Penistone Hill, along dirt tracks that cleave the bleak and beautiful countryside, accompanied by commentary from McNally and the Unthank sisters. Along the way, radio frequency beacons are hidden to keep the music coming, and visitors are given noise-cancelling headphones to insulate them from the outside world, with only the haunting voices of the Unthanks and Emily’s often dark poetry in their ears. It’s an utterly immersive experience – so much so that, as I head up what’s known locally as the Balcony Path, a Lycra-clad cyclist silently barrelling down towards me startles me so badly that I jump. The effect of the music and landscape together creates an almost separate reality, in which even the most mundane modern intrusion feels like a jarring shock.

The music was recorded at the Parsonage, with McNally composing on Emily Brontë’s own piano, a five-octave cabinet piano from the early 19th century.

. . . .

As you pass through the churchyard, the first song is Deep Down in the Silent Grave; at the crest of Penistone Hill walkers are invited to listen to High Waving Heather and cast their gaze to the west, and the hillside site of Top Withins, thought to be Emily’s inspiration for Wuthering Heights. And yes, up on those wiley, windy moors, the ghost of Kate Bush does occasionally tap at the window. Her song Wuthering Heights – 40 years old in this year of Emily’s bicentenary – has no doubt brought many a coach-load of visitors to Haworth.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG’s impression is that the Brontë sisters are an evergreen topic for the Guardian as well as many other publications.

PG isn’t certain whether many other formerly well-known mid-19th century authors have lasted quite so well as the Brontë Bunch.

Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglass and Nathaniel Hawthorne are still remembered and, occasionally, studied, but they don’t draw tourists like the most famous women of West Yorkshire.

Of course, Jane Austen is at least equally revered, but she is more of a creature of a somewhat earlier time, the turn of the 18th to the 19th centuries.

PG hadn’t heard of the Unthanks prior to reading the OP. Here’s a bit of one of their performances.

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Dwarsligger

6 December 2018

From The New Yorker:

In his history “Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film,” the critic Marc Spitz describes America’s collective turn toward calculated precocity as the most powerful youth movement “since Punk and Hip Hop.” Twee’s core characteristics, Spitz argues, include “a healthy suspicion of adulthood,” “a steadfast focus on our essential goodness,” “the cultivation of a passion project,” and “the utter dispensing with of ‘cool’ as it’s conventionally known, often in favor of a kind of fetishization of the nerd, the geek, the dork, the virgin.”

As if to corroborate Spitz’s thesis about our Great Twee-ification, Dutton Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House, is releasing a series of tiny books that give the act of reading a studied whimsy. Dwarsliggers, the Dutch name for these palm-sized, horizontal codexes, are already popular overseas; they are flirtatious, cocktail-party packagings of novels by authors from Ian McEwan to Agatha Christie—pigs in a blanket to the usual hot dog. “The tiny editions are the size of a cellphone and no thicker than your thumb, with paper as thin as onion skin,” the Times’ Alexandra Alter explains. “They can be read with one hand—the text flows horizontally, and you can flip the pages upward, like swiping a smartphone.” The font is slightly smaller than that of a standard book. For its first foray into the mini-books market, Dutton is reissuing four young-adult novels, available individually or in a boxed set, by the blockbuster amanuensis of adolescent yearning John Green.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

In case you wanted a Dutch view of Dwarsliggers:

 

Different Ways of Reading Books

4 December 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

Devised as an annual season-closer, the FutureBook conference is positioned by The Bookseller to focus on the digital context of the publishing business that’s more compact in the UK and, in some ways, more easily sorted than are other markets.

Presumably next year’s FutureBook Live will be seated in a non-European UK—something both emotionally and economically hard to face for many in the business. So it’s understandable that a kind of pause might have been in place at Friday’s event. This was nothing tangible, but it gave the day a gentle tremor, the perfectly logical sense for how much is unknown about what the creative industries of the UK and publishing in particular may encounter after Brexit takes place on March 29.

The Publishers Association’s annual report for 2017 showed British publishing to be dependent on book exports for 60 percent of its revenues. Thus the impact of exiting the EU could mean a lot to this industry’s fortunes. It hasn’t helped that the government’s efforts to put together a plan for Brexit have been so contentious and inconclusive.

. . . .

One of the most interesting and maybe telling developments in this market arrived in November 28, too late to be built into the day: the announcements that Penguin Random House and Hachette UK both are looking at placing offices in northern parts of the country—outposts beyond the citadel of London.

For more than a year, various industry players, some of them members of the Northern Fiction Alliance, have been arguing that too much of the industry’s control and activity is centered in London.

. . . .

Hachette UK CEO David Shelley, for example, was the most successful speaker of the day to get at Brexit and its darkening mysteries.

In the past, Shelley said, “As trade publishers, I think it’s fair to say that we usually thought of the UK first” in terms of choosing books to publish “and then hoped that the rest of the world would like them.”

But “our mindset today,” he said, “has completely transformed. In trade publishing, as has long been the case in education publishing and academic publishing, I feel that we now see ourselves as global publishers who happen to be domiciled in the UK, publishing books that appeal globally and reach consumers all around the world.

“We no longer think and talk so much about ‘home sales’ and ‘export sales,’ but one global market—which obviously is associated with Brexit, believe me.”

While discussing audiobooks—which, like edtech have their own track of programming at the FutureBook—Shelley talked of how streaming and downloads not only have enabled the distribution revolution that has fueled audio as the one dependable growth sector for years in publishing but also the integrity of the content. The old cassette-tape delivery of audio required almost everything to be abridged, he reminded us, which wasn’t good for publishers, authors, “or readers—I mean listeners.”

. . . .

Pan Macmillan’s digital director, Sara Lloyd, asked her panel on new platforms whether the day might come when the print copy of a book would become simply the merchandise accompanying digital sales.

. . . .

How comfortable is the industry delivering its content to Shelley’s listeners and Lloyd’s merchandise fans, if the actual act of long-form reading is a casualty in the process?

This is a different question from literacy, per se. The book business is terrific at supporting literacy charities and educational initiatives, scattering free books about for youngsters and adults and climbing onboard for reading campaigns.

But where are the consumer seminars on what it takes to read for hours? Where are the free symposia on the immersive/imaginative advantages to pursuing such an exercise? When do publishers and booksellers tackle the problem of an almost lost art that’s essential to the book world? Most people we’ve asked in publishing have said that they no longer read as much as they once did. And yet the industry keeps selling to a public it seems to believe is still ready for long-haul reading.

. . . .

From the States, Sourcebooks’ publisher and CEO Dominique Raccah was on hand in a closing keynote to echo that, talking about “the ways that innovation requires a change in our culture and in our thought patterns.”

. . . .

As it turned out, The Bookseller‘s Flatt had asked the key question at the top of the day as she opened the conference: “How on Earth do we make people care about what we do” in publishing—”and keep caring?”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests the types of discussions described in the OP would have done a lot more good had they been held in 2008 or 2009, when publishers might have had more room to maneuver and adjust to the impact of Amazon and ebooks.

Instead, in 2009, under Apple’s direction, most US traditional publishers illegally agreed on a price-fixing scheme which, until broken up by the United States Department of Justice, insuring that buying and reading an ebook was one of the more expensive things you could do for a couple of hours with your smartphone or tablet.

Amazon doubled-down on an earlier decision to make it easy for authors to self-publish their books and earn much higher royalty percentages if they priced their ebooks between $2.99 and $9.99. Amazon understood online consumers and price ranges better than anybody else, including Apple and very much including traditional publishers. Based on Amazon’s experience selling ebooks and everything else online, optimum online pricing for intangible goods would generate the most sales and income at lower rather than higher price-points.

Unlike the management of major publishers, Amazon understood that ebooks were nothing more than a well-organized group of electrons. Electrons were and are pretty much free.

Amazon was very good at handling groups of electrons.

Taking money from readers in exchange for sending them a bunch of electrons called an ebook could allow Amazon to earn money without anybody stuffing a product in a box and giving it to UPS. Amazon could earn this money while outsourcing the task of organizing electrons into ebooks to individual authors and publishers.

For Amazon, ebooks were an electrons-in/electrons-out business.

For publishers, electrons were pretty much of a mystery. (English majors, you know).

You couldn’t hold a bunch of electrons. You couldn’t put a collection of electrons you had never read on a bookshelf to impress your friends. You couldn’t print special editions of electrons, bind them with Corinthian leather and sell them at an even higher price.

As far as “How on Earth do we make people care about what we do” in publishing—”and keep caring?” is concerned, as far as most readers are concerned, the manner in which ebooks are created and distributed is near the bottom of their “Things to Care About” list, located below “Is this lettuce too far gone to eat?” and above “Did I remember to set Dancing with the Stars to record?”

Does anybody really care if a book is published by Sourcebooks or Hachette?

If you asked 100 people who published the last book they read, would any of them know? Well, maybe if one of them worked at Barnes & Noble and wasn’t overly distracted by their search for a new job.

As far as what most publishers really “do”, if he assumes “do” implies some value added, PG must admit he’s stumped.

This Norwegian Town Has More Books Than People

4 December 2018

From Travel+Leisure:

For travelers who wish to escape humanity, there’s a remote village in Norway that officially has more books than people.

Mundal, in western Norway, is an introverted bibliophile’s dream. There are only 280 people but more than 150,000 books. In fact, the country often refers to Mundal as “The Norwegian Booktown.”

Between secondhand shops, roadside stalls and bookshelves along the coast of the fjords, the town of Mundal embraces readers. Secondhand bookstores are integrated into local cafés, art galleries and even souvenir stores. When in doubt, any structure probably has a shelf of books tucked into it.

. . . .

Most of the bookstores around town sell used books because of the belief that old books should be preserved in an increasingly digital age.

Link to the rest at Travel+Leisure

originally posted to Flickr by msachtler at https://www.flickr.com/photos/90718273@N00/1069480361 This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Mundal ved Fjærlandsfjorden (Mundal at Fjærlandsfjorden. Fjærlandsfjorden is a fjord in Sogn og Fjordane county, Norway.) This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Click here for more photos of Mundal

Like a Sword Wound

2 December 2018
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From The Guardian:

Ahmet Altan, an award-winning Turkish novelist and journalist, is serving a life sentence on spurious charges following the attempted coup of 2016. He has written about the absurd and petty restrictions of the Ottoman empire and finds himself the victim of the absurd and petty repression of Turkey’s current government. He commented from prison: “I am living what I wrote in a novel.” He is referring to Like a Sword Wound, first published in 1997 and now published in English. This is the first volume in a quartet encompassing the decline of the Ottoman empire at the end of the 19th century and the rise of Kemal Atatürk in the 1920s.

It is a brilliant critique of an authoritarian regime on the verge of collapse.

. . . .

As Altan has observed: “this country’s politicians’ desire to become the ‘sultan’ never ceases.”

. . . .

Ragıp Bey, Osman’s grandfather, an officer in the Ottoman army, is sent to Germany and then Salonika. He joins the Committee of Union and Progress and witnesses the drive for self-rule in Bulgaria rock the empire. Sultan Abdulhamid II trusts no one. Intelligence networks are everywhere, dissident books and newspapers banned and those with power fear being denounced: “Whoever did not write denunciations had to be doing something that should be denounced.” The regime is on the point of collapse – all it took was “the least planned assassination in history”. Like a Sword Wound closes with the Young Turk revolution of 1908. Running alongside the political intrigues is Hikmet’s love for his beguiling and lustful wife, Mehpare, a woman he can never fully possess. He records in his diary: “True love is like a sword wound, and even when the wound heals a deep scar remains.” Given Altan’s multi-layered, lyrical prose, this might just as well imply his love for a dissolute country, or the “scar” could refer to the tyranny of liberated, sexually assured women, who continue to be treated with suspicion.

Altan was arrested in September 2016, under Erdoğan’s state of emergency.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The UK’s 2018 ‘Building Inclusivity’ Conference: A Safe Place for Discussion

30 November 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

There were several key messages highlighted in the UK’s third conference on Building Inclusivity in Publishing, presented by the London Book Fair and the Publishers Association on London’s South Bank on Tuesday (November 27).

. . . .

  • Inclusion should be a given, not an exception
  • Unpaid internships should disappear completely
  • Publishers should establish “safe places” in which conversations concerning issues like identity can take place
  • Children’s publishers need to recognize how important it is for black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) children to see themselves in books

Self-defined “queer working-class woman” Kerry Hudson—whose memoir Lowborn Growing Up, Getting Away, and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns is to be published February 5 by Penguin Random House’s Chatto—noted that strides have been made to improve inclusion.

One example Hudson pointed to is the Good Literary Agency, specifically set up with the purpose of reaching marginalized voices, for example—but she also pointed out that a recent report funded by the the Arts and Humanities Research Council and titled Panic! 2018 Social Cass, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries (PDF), suggested that only 12.6 percent of employees in publishing are of working-class origin.

“Marginalized writers aren’t looking for a scheme or a month of open submissions when for the rest of the year they feel as isolated and overlooked as ever,” Hudson said.

“We want an industry where inclusivity is the norm and not the shiniest new project. The aim must be not for superficial changes but actually changing the bones, the very structure of what this industry is. That means moving away from pilots, meetings, and mission statements and looking at how to roll-out, scale up, and truly integrate these principles.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests that traditional publishing is built upon a foundation that is exactly the opposite of inclusive. Publishing drones sift through the never-diminishing slush pile looking for the rarest of manuscripts. They automatically exclude 99%+ of the voices who want to be heard in the broader society.

One might argue that the principal value of traditional publishers for most readers is to create an exclusive collection of books that will appeal to those readers. If a publisher doesn’t exclude manuscripts its readers will, for whatever reason, not enjoy, the costs of publication, overhead, etc., will quickly exceed the publisher’s income and the publisher will disappear.

Self-described “curators of culture” can’t open the gates to just anyone without failing in their curational role, the only value they provide in a world in which self-publishing is becoming more and more widely accepted.

One might also ask if traditional publishers are providing a useful service to marginalized authors by inviting those authors into a business structure in which, “Don’t quit your day job,” is the most common piece of honest advice publishers give to debut authors.

Isn’t Kindle Direct Publishing “actually changing the bones, the very structure of what this industry is” to a far, far greater extent than conferences held on London’s South Bank?

Won’t more marginalized authors succeed in sharing their unique viewpoints with the world by self-publishing? Won’t most marginalized authors find a life as a professional writer easier to attain by selling their work in ebook form on Amazon?

 

Dubravka Ugresic Returns to America

27 November 2018

From The New Yorker:

On a recent afternoon, I went to see the writer Dubravka Ugresic at an apartment on East Seventy-sixth Street, in Manhattan, which belongs to a friend of hers. Ugresic lives in Amsterdam, but she was in town to promote “American Fictionary,” a collection of essays that she wrote in the nineties, after living for a while in New York City. Ugresic sat across from me in her friend’s living room, on a floral-patterned couch. She is an energetic conversationalist who speaks English with a lilting Croatian accent and nimbly moves between personal anecdote and cultural analysis. How had New York changed since the years when she lived here? “There was more life on the streets before, you know—classes, races, faces,” she said. Now she got the “feeling like authorities are just making it nicer and nicer, but at the same time I wonder where are all those people—I mean, all those drunks from Washington Square.”

Ugresic has long had an affinity for those who fall on the rough side of history. “I’m with the losers,” she writes in her book “Europe in Sepia.” In September, 1991, she left her home, in Zagreb, to meet with her publisher in Amsterdam. It was meant to be a one-week trip. But, as she followed the news about the war reshaping what was her native Yugoslavia, she decided that, rather than return home, she would go straight on to the United States, where she was to begin teaching, that winter, at Wesleyan, in Connecticut. She published an article while she was in Amsterdam, and a Dutch daily asked her to write a column. The essays that came to form the collection describe her peripatetic life shuttling between Middletown and New York, which she visited on weekends during the semester, and also her time in Amsterdam and Zagreb. “It’s a nervous book,” she said.

The word “fictionary,” for Ugresic, connotes the slipperiness of language. (“When it is this earthquake experience, when the world is falling apart, then nothing is real. Then you find yourself in such a mess,” she said.) Her U.K. editor balked at putting that word in the title, so the book was published there, twenty-four years ago, as “Have a Nice Day: From the Balkan War to the American Dream.” In a postscript to the new edition, Ugresic notes how the phrase “Have a nice day” rings differently in the ear a quarter of a century later. The “cadence of the phrase in America,” she writes, “has become darker and softer. That exaggerated yodel at the tail end of the phrase, which had always ended on an upward flip, now has dropped, crestfallen. The phrase is uttered today more evenly, more directly, with far less feigned enthusiasm than before.”

We discussed other things that have changed since then, and Ugresic lightly lamented the absence of newspaper stands and telephone booths. “Industry forces you to adapt,” she said, “to buy the iPhones, to behave, to find the streets not anymore on the maps. How it was fantastic then to open your map!” she said, spreading her arms. I demurred on the joys of reading a paper city map, but I sympathize with her broader concerns about the future of print. Ugresic told me about a friend of hers, a retired literary critic who has become popular on social media. “Why is he popular? Nobody knows,” she said. But he recently shared photographs of his much-younger wife and their baby, she told me, and the newspapers in Croatia published his pictures with comments like “If such and such can do it, then . . . ” She let her words trail off. “Is that normal for you?” she asked, I believe rhetorically.

Ugresic has thought a lot about how the Internet has changed our relationship to art, and everything else. In another of her essay collections, “Karaoke Culture,” she writes about fan fiction, outsider artists, and mediocre YouTube stars. She has a highbrow’s scorn for watery aesthetic values muddying the difference between amateurism and expertise, but it is tempered by sympathy for the human drive to connect with one another. When I mentioned the alleged epidemic of loneliness that’s overrun our technophilic world, which she writes about in “Karaoke Culture,” she leaned forward in her seat and told me that “every communication, if it is a real one, demands responsibility, demands energy, demands all sorts of things we do not have anymore.” Nowadays, she added, we use technology as an excuse “to avoid pain and communication. Friends will say, ‘Oh, I didn’t get your mail.’ ‘Oh, you must be finished in spam.’ You can imagine a lonely person with that sense of power,” she went on, proceeding to imagine it. “I’m going to answer you. No, I’m not going to answer you. I’ll delete you. I’m God.”

Link to the rest The New Yorker

India’s Dangerous New Curriculum

25 November 2018
Comments Off on India’s Dangerous New Curriculum

From The New York Review of Books:

From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, the Mughal Empire did much to create modern-day India. It consolidated the country into a sovereign political unit, established a secular tradition in law and administration, and built monuments such as the Taj Mahal. The Mughals were originally from Uzbekistan, but over time they became a symbol of the contribution of Muslims to Indian national history. Their lasting influence is evident in some of India’s most famous dishes, such as biryani, and the settings of several of the most beloved Bollywood movies, including Mughal-e-Azam (1960), by some estimates the highest-grossing film in Indian history.

So it was odd, on a visit this spring to a school in the Indian state of Rajasthan, to hear a Muslim teacher, Sana Khan, ask her entirely Muslim eighth-grade social science class, “Was there anything positive about Mughals?” Khan was teaching at the English-medium Saifee Senior Secondary School, whose students are Dawoodi Bohras, a small Islamic sect that has been based in India since the Mughal era, when its leaders faced persecution in the Middle East. Like Jews, Parsis, and Baha’is, the Bohras are a religious minority that found shelter in India’s unusually tolerant culture.

Yet some of Khan’s students saw only barbarism in the time of their own community’s emergence in India. “In the medieval era, there were wars and all. It was sectarian,” said a bespectacled girl named Rabab Khan. Rabab and another of her classmates, Qutbuddin Cement, told me that the “glorious” period of Indian history occurred before Muslim rule. “In ancient times, India was called ‘the Golden Bird,’” said Qutbuddin. “India was a world leader.”

Since last year, students at the Saifee School have been using new textbooks published by the Rajasthan government, which is run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that dominates India’s parliament and state legislatures. The new textbooks promote the BJP’s political program and ideology. They argue for the veracity of Vedic myths, glorify ancient and medieval Hindu rulers, recast the independence movement as a violent battle led largely by Hindu chauvinists, demand loyalty to the state, and praise the policies of the BJP prime minister, Narendra Modi. One book reduces over five centuries of rule by a diverse array of Muslim emperors to a single “Period of Struggle” and demonizes many of its leading figures.

These textbooks are part of the BJP’s ongoing campaign to change how Indian history is taught in middle and high schools. Textbooks issued last year by two other states under BJP rule, Gujarat and Maharashtra, resemble the Rajasthan books in their Hindu triumphalism and Islamophobia. So, in a subtler fashion, do updates made in May to federal textbooks.

Since the BJP came to power in 2014, it has stacked institutions with Hindu nationalist ideologues, presided over an increase in Hindu extremist vigilantism, and replaced Islamic place names with the names of Hindu nationalist heroes. The textbooks’ promotion of an essentially Hindu history provides a foundation for slowly remaking India into an essentially Hindu country.

. . . .

When the BJP took over several state governments in the 1990s, it began publishing its own state-level textbooks. The party assumed effective control of the federal government for the first time in 1998 and quickly announced that education would be “Indianised, nationalised and spiritualised.” Four years later, it started releasing textbooks—forerunners to those recently issued in Rajasthan—that glorified the Vedic era and vilified Muslim rulers.

The change provoked an outcry. One prominent journalist warned that the new federal textbooks heralded “the destruction of secularism and pluralism.” After the BJP lost the next general election in 2004, the new ruling coalition, led by Congress, changed the way textbooks were written in order to prevent them from being ideologically slanted. Rather than commission individual authors, the government introduced Textbook Development Committees (TDCs) composed of authorities from a variety of professions and academic disciplines. The books produced under this system lack the élan of their Nehruvian predecessors, but they signify a consensus of expert opinion and deftly navigate controversial issues. The seventh-grade history book, for instance, observes that Mahmud of Ghazni (971–1030), the Islamic sultan of Afghanistan, sacked Indian temples—a point of emphasis for Hindu nationalists—but explains that this was a common military and political technique also employed by contemporaneous Hindu and Buddhist rulers.

Though such careful distinctions remain in the federal textbooks, they are now awkwardly interrupted by politicized addendums. The TDCs’ authority has evidently been usurped by the increasing bureaucratic and political power of Hindutva(Hinduness), the BJP’s official ideology. The roots of Hindutva lie in the nineteenth century, but its modern form can be largely attributed to Vinayak Savarkar, who popularized the term in his 1928 book Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu? According to Savarkar, Hindutva comes from “Hindu blood,” cultural practices and languages with a Sanskritic origin, and the belief that India is the “Holyland.”

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books

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