Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “opinion”

Bard Bits: Will’s Politics


Shakespeare’s stated politics are not overtly known; however, some ideas can be gathered from his plays with some sleuthing, and a small bit of supposition.

For instance, his thoughts on the ruling class come through as somewhat mocking in the Henry plays, with the heir apparent, Henry IV, carousing with rowdies and hanging out in taverns, while portraying King Lear as being irresponsible with his power by dividing it before he is done with the throne (and see where that got him). Then again, Henry and Lear did end up redeeming themselves, but at high cost: loss of friendship, loss of loved ones, and even loss of sanity.

image: folder.edu

Shakespeare also mocks hardened, pompous rulers evidenced in Richard III, Coriolanus, Hamlet, The Winter’s Tale, and even The Tempest. It’s true he does his fair share of mocking commoners, with Bottom as the poster boy of ridiculous in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Then, is he considered a proponent of politics or simply an observer of human nature?

During Shakespeare’s reign on the stage he served Queen Elizabeth I and King James. He came close to sharing a cell with the Essex instigators against the queen when they requested Richard II be played out for the deposition scene. The Bard escaped judgement. The Earl did not. Footnote: the 1597 version omitted the abdication scene.

Shakespeare knew not to bite the hand that paid him, which accounts why his portrayal of Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s father, is toned down. What he thought of King Henry privately did not necessarily make it to the stage, and the history books are mute on William’s opinions on the monarchs beyond his plays.

Several of his plays deal with seizing the crown or regicide, sometimes the two being combined. This could be interpreted two ways. One way is that Shakespeare is emphasizing how chaos erupts when the ruler is violently taken–see Julius Caesar. The second way could be postulating that he understood how his fellow common folk were sometimes tired of their rulers and it was time for a change. The stage allowed for historical reenactment with artistic license–give the paying crowd what they want.

It looks like Shakespeare played both sides by pleasing the monarchy (thus protecting his life), and pleasing the audience (thus protecting his income).

Sounds like Shakespeare could have run for office himself.

image: AZ quotes

Then again he was smart enough to use the stage to present his politics in the guise of entertainment, and aren’t the majority of politicians merely players?

National Hammock Day!


Included in my bio is “hammock aficionado.” Summer is not summer without setting up and reveling in the joy of my hammocks. Yes, that would be plural.

Palm trees are not included in most locations

I have two: one for the sun and one for the shade.

I’m not sure when my fascination with hammocks began. There is something so richly rewarding being suspended above the ground, being cocooned.

I’ve owned the camper’s delight (find two trees and secure it), the classic macramé weave, and currently own a deluxe double wide frame complete with umbrella (for the sun), and my portable frame (for the shade).

Summer starts once the hammocks are set up. Double deluxe takes some thought as it is so unwieldy that once it is positioned that is that. Relishing the gentle early morning sun rays is a pleasant way to start the day. The umbrella helps stave off the intensity of the afternoon sun, and there is nothing like dozing in the double deluxe in the early evening when the sun drifts behind the trees, filtering the shade so there are paths of sunlight and shade whilst I recover from my landscaping projects. Aah!

My little shade model is not as comfy, but being on a lightweight frame it can be easily moved wherever is best. From mid June to end of summer it travels all over the backyard.

It is the end of summer once I acknowledge it’s too cold to hang out in the hammock. I have been known to wrap up in a blanket to catch the last bits of the sun before acknowledging summer is done.

Isn’t this hard to resist?

Hope you enjoy Hammock Day. If you have no hammock then treat yourself to this marvelous means of enjoying the summer.

It’s the Great Pumpkin


While not a fan of Halloween, I am a fan of pumpkin. While not a fan how pumpkin spice seems to rule the season, I am a fan of guinea pigs. So here is a share that should please those who love pumpkin spice and adore guinea pigs. Let’s see how long it takes for Mike Allegra to say he inspired this post.

Everything goes better with guinea pigs

Reader Round Up: February, March, April


That’s a big oops. My carefully planned blogging schedule has blown up due to malaise. I admittedly got caught up in the Winter Slumps and thought about posting but didn’t. I did read, though, which helped keep me occupied during the looonnng evenings (dark at 4 pm is cruel). Spring is now here and that means sunshine has restored my energy levels.

In order to get caught up I will select the favorites reads from the last three months to review. These are all five star reads.

A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel: Towles, Amor: 9780670026197: Amazon.com:  Books

Once upon a time, in the land of Russia, lived a charming count by the name of Alexander Rostov. And while it might seem demeaning to compare A Gentleman in Moscow to a fairy tale, Towles has deftly tweaked all the elements of that endearing (and enduring) genre into a sophisticated story that is enthralling, entertaining, enlivening, and quite satisfying. The bonus is once I learned Kenneth Branagh was Rostov in the planned series, the enjoyment became doubled as Branagh fleshed out Rostov’s appearance in my mind’s eye. One of the best reads I’ve experienced in quite a long time

Amazon.com: The Art of X-Ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of  Literature Will Improve Your Writing eBook: Clark, Roy Peter: Kindle Store

The Art of X Ray Reading reminds me of Thomas Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Both books prompt me to practice closely reading the book in hand. While Foster provides a magnifying glass, Clark provides a kaleidoscope to better see the rich colors within the writing. His choice of books are hit or miss with me, but he did touch on a couple of favorites that I will absolutely pay more attention to on the next reading. The writing lessons alone are worthwhile and are inspiring. I applied the X Ray lens to an AP Lang lesson and brought new meaning to the piece. I look forward to my next AP Literature class and seeing how students pick up The Great Gatsby clues. Makes me wish I could teach Creative Writing once again.

Miss Fortune (Allie Fortune Mystery Series, Book 1): Mills, Sara:  9780802469267: Amazon.com: Books

Shades of The Maltese Falcon drift through this tribute to the 1940’s detective novel. Instead of a tough private investigator who runs with fast women and drives a faster car, readers contend with the “Princess P.I., a savvy socialite who has earned a reputation for being one of the best in the business. At first the cliche phrases and situations were off-putting, that is until I accepted them as pastiche. A solid plot worthy of a Bogart film, intrigue and humor, and a double storyline create a fast-paced read and an anticipation for the second book.

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An amazingly positive story of how one man turned trash into a treasury of music. The story and colorful illustrations blend and harmonize as the background story of Paraguay’s Recycled Orchestra is told through Ada and her violin. Truly inspirational how beauty was found among the tons of garbage and how a dream became a reality that changed lives.

Henry and Ribsy - Wikipedia

As a tribute to the recent passing of Beverly Cleary I grabbed Henry and Ribsy off the library shelf since she was an author I appreciated growing up. Granted, some of the situations and attitudes are a bit dated; however, kid and dog antics run true and are timeless.

Fahrenheit 451: Ray Bradbury: 9781451673319: Amazon.com: Books

When I first read F451 back in my twenties I no doubt appreciated Bradbury’s lyrical warning of a supposed future. This last read is a revisit due to both curiosity if it’s as good as I remember and because we are studying it as a class in AP Lang. Yes. It’s still as good. Wait–it’s much, much better due to Bradbury’s future coming fast upon us.

The Return of the Twelves: Clarke, Pauline, Bryson, Bernarda:  9781585790210: Amazon.com: Books

Books like The Borrowers, a tiny family in a big world, enthralled me as a child. Somehow, The Return of the Twelves, which echoes believing the unbelievable, escaped my reading attention. As an adult, and a “brontyfan,” I appreciate this story so much more. It’s rather a back door introduction for young readers to the brilliance of Charlotte and her Bronte siblings. The story itself is typical of the sixties, where children are precocious and are possessed of much more independence than their contemporary readers. Parents are presented as absent-minded, patronizing, or clueless of their children’s lives. Clarke’s story presents a likable cast of characters, particularly Max, who becomes protector of the Twelves or Young Men. His responses to their animation have a sense of verisimilitude as he both indeed at their existence while remaining fiercely protective of them. The plot cleverly provides the actions of the Twelves through a combination of the present and through Max’s imaginative efforts. At times the plot wobbles on timeworn, but will suddenly turn the corner with a refreshing twist. A satisfying read for those who like adventure and can still believe at least six impossible things before breakfast.

Amazon.com: Love in Lowercase: A Novel (9780143128212): Miralles, Francesc,  Wark, Julie: Books

A quirky book difficult to place genre-wise. Love story? Quest? Mystery? Not muchly magical realism? In some ways it reminds me of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist in that an ordinary young man begins to discover the extraordinary by stepping out of his comfort zone. Love In Lower-Case explores how it is too easy to fall into a routine, desiring for a change and when change begins to happen, it is difficult to accept. A likable character, odd circumstances, a mysterious cat, an annoying stranger, and a Yoda neighbor all mix together for a satisfying, though not earthshaking weekend read.

The Bronze Bow - Wikipedia

I would like to think as a young reader I would have appreciated the skillfully crafted story of a young Jewish man who discovers that love is stronger than hate, especially when facing such a fearsome enemy as the Romans; however, I doubt that I would have. I am ever so impressed with The Bronze Bow—its plot, setting, details, message. And the ending. The ending is absolutely stunning. As an adult I am absolutely impressed and moved, and I would like think my young reader self might have recognized the value of Speare. Maybe.

So many good reads kept my wits from dullifying totally through this last long winter. I can’t imagine not having a book to read.

Let me know if you’ve read any of these, or if I have tempted you to plump out your TBR list.

Happy reading!

Binging, Anyone?


Binging is becoming a bit of a habit in my determination to stay home and be safe mode. And I am not sure if it’s a problem or simply a by product of the current situation.

It would be too easy to fall into binging on comfort food like chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, yet even thinking about such caloric delights becomes a weighty problem requires exercising discretion.

Instead, I am trying more constructive avenues of occupying myself in my downtime.

Puzzles are a bit of mainstay in our household. Hours are spent putting chaos in order, except I quickly lose interest if the remaining section is all sky or water.

A piece at a time can be peaceful

Books. So easy to get lost reading a batch of novels. I’ve read six novels so far this year. It’s finding a stack to keep on the ready being the problem. I’m finding the fifty page rule is invoked more often than not these days—it has to pass muster by fifty pages or back in the bag. This is vexing when it takes ever so long to select to scout out book bag candidates at the library.

Booking an appointment for a good read

Oh, and now it’s at the true moment of binging confession: PBS series. I gave myself a Christmas present of PBS Passport which allows me to unlock episodes prior to their actual release. I have already zipped through the first season of All Creatures Great and Small and Miss Scarlett and the Duke and picked through Nature seasons. I rewatched Wolf Hall.It’s akin to a viewing buffet. Hours swish by.

Tuning in, Tuning Out

And I will quickly move past that I had an Angry Bird Bubble Pop phase replaced by Wordscapes. No worries, by apps deleted. I’m back to the infrequent checkers game as a boredom buster.

So—is binging good, bad, or indifferent? Is it avoidance, escape, therapeutic? Has it increased during our increased home time?

To binge or not to binge?

Now there is an interesting binge—a Hamlet fest.

Maybe instead of binging I can call it researching and do away with any guilt feelings of excessiveness.

Word Nerd: January


Some say (including the hubs) “nerd” is derogatory. I’m of the opinion a nerd is less of an insult and more of an endearment, or at least an acknowledgement of pursuing a passion with zeal, that others might not embrace. For instance, the movie The Nutty Professor, had the singular inventor trying to prove his “flubber” invention. Deemed eccentric, the professor for all his nerdy qualities became a hero. All those computer geniuses (now CEOs and billionaires) were no doubt shuffled into the nerd nomenclature in their tinkering phase. I see “nerd” as an alternate spelling of “clever,” besides the assonance of “Word Nerd” is cool sounding.

Onward to this month’s batch of words—although if you want to jump in with your thoughts about nerds, I am much interested.

1. bight: a bend in the river or the shore of the sea.

2. limb: to portray with words; describe.

3. comity: mutual courtesy; civility

4. sobriquet: nickname

5. epizeuxis: a literary or rhetorical device that appeals to or invokes the reader’s or listener’s emotions through the repetition of words in quick succession. An example:

“Jane, Jane, Jane—you are my favorite epizeuxis.”

6. inanition: lack of vigor, lethargy

7. juberous: uncertain; undecided;dubious

8. aroint: begone as in “Aroint thy, scalawag!”

9. legerity: physical or mental quickness; agility

10. doddle: something easily done. Fixing the flat tire wasn’t a problem at all—it was a doddle.

11. blatherskite: someone given to empty talk.

12. spang: directly; exactly

13. butyraceous: containing or resembling butter.

14. cachinnate: to laugh loudly or immoderately.

15. illation: an inference; a conclusion

16. totis viribus: with all one’s might

17. ambivert: a person between an extrovert and an introvert*

18. caduceus: dropping off early as in The leaves were noticed to have a caduceus departure this autumn.

19. mardy: grumpy, sulky

20. clement: mild in disposition; compassionate

*this word, ambivert, solves the puzzle of designation. A few within my circle have often contemplated how to most accurately describe our situation of being known as social, even boisterous, yet reluctant at joining large gatherings. Suggestions have included “high-functioning introvert” or “gregarious hermit.” The classification of “ambivert” seems acceptable, although the desire to write with either my left of right hand suddenly becomes immediate.

What words leapt out at you as keepers this month?

May I get personal? An ambivert perhaps you are? (Yoda syntax is less intrusive)

Author Spotlight: Austen’s Emma Dilemma


Next to Pride and Prejudice,Jane Austen’s Emma seems to be the novel most cinematized. Case in point, another Emma opened to theatres as the covoid shut them down. Just as we got our hopes up for an Austen on screen they were dashed—much like the promise of Frank Churchill arriving for a visit and then not showing up.

Ozge’s World meme
(oh that Frank—tsk)

The basics of Emma are Austen pointing out the class differences in Regency society along with following the exploits of a rich girl’s ennui as we wait for her character arc of improvement. In the mean time, the reader is entertained by a couple of intrigues by way of mistaken romances. The foundation of oh so many stories we see today.

What is problematic for the reader is deciding if Emma is likable as a character. There is no doubt Lizzie Bennet wins the Favored Austen Girl Award, but are we supposed to appreciate Emma as well? It’s doubtful. Even Jane Austen admitted to have created a character that only she would probably like.

Lizzie through the years

The novel starts out leaning towards the idea Emma is a privileged girl with the possibility of becoming or could possibility be a (ready for it?) snob:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

With that introduction, Emma could go either way: beloved of all or too good to believe. Austen indicates that Emma Woodhouse being pleasant, pretty, privileged has one obvious fault:

The real evils indeed of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself…

And that’s where it gets interesting when it comes to interpreting Emma for the silver screen.

The faces of Emma through the cinematic lens

Gwyneth Paltrow leads out with her elegant, polished Emma in the 1996 version. This version applies a favored eye towards Emma who is presented as a charming young woman who struggles to emerge on the other side of being accomplished in the art of having “grown up.” The story fairly follows Austen’s novel. Emma is quite likable and the audience appreciates her struggles as she blunders her way through the office of being a beautiful rich daughter of a gentlemen.

Gwyenth Paltrow providing perfection

Also in 1996 is the lesser known version starring Kate Beckinsdale whose Emma is just tad snobbier than Gwenth’s version and her character arc is much less visible. This version seems to focus more on the class differences, with wide shots of servants and the poor which populate Highbury.

Kate Beckinsdale portrays a refined demure heroine

Then there is the leap to 2009 with Romali Garai appearing in a decidedly contemporary version. Although the four part series is quite lush and pretty with its costumes and setting, it lacks Regency decorum. The director’s intent was to create a hybrid Emma by dressing everyone up Regency style, yet acting as if they are in a modern rom-com. This Emma acts more like a teen debutante with her expressive eyes and outward manner, she is all dressed up but forgetting how to behave. She even allows Frank Churchill to rest his head on her lap during the Box Hill picnic. *Shocking*

Romali Garai romps as a Regency girl just wants to have fu-un

There is the Clueless version—a sort of the ‘90’s offering of taking a classic and setting it in high school as in Ten Things I Hate About You or She’s the Man. This is not a Regency Emma and kind of pays tribute to Austen’s Emma, but it’s not the book. Maybe not even the Sparknotes version.

Then there is the 2020 version. This was supposed to be the senior lit class outing as we had just wrapped up our Austen unit. Good thing I didn’t reserve the bus since school went into soft closure while the theatres went into shutter mode. I have been waiting to view this newest entry for ever so long. My anticipation turned into disappointment as the entire movie became too, too much. The colors, clothing, setting is that of Easter candy cloyingly overdone. The tone of the movie is snarky, with Emma coming off as a mean girl. And just when we think she isn’t quite human, she bleeds, quite literally, when faced with being really, truly in love.

Don’t cross Ana Taylor-Joy’s Emma

With all these Emmas to chose from it’s difficult to decide which best represents Austen’s ideal. Paltrow’s poised Regency princess?Beckinsdale’s aloof elite gentlemen’s daughter? Garai’s winsome, youthful rich girl? Taylor-Joy’s prickly fashion plate?

If Austen’s intent was to showcase the time period while gently mocking the societal hierarchy by inserting some well-placed humor, as we watch Emma’s character arc emerge I would say place Paltrow’s Emma with its range of characters, infuse with the gorgeous palette of Garai’s version and insert Beckinsdale’s pointed shots of the struggling lower classes. Not sure about Taylor-Joy’s contribution and I am Clueless about adaptions and where they fit in Austen remakes.

If you are an Austen Emma fan, what are your thoughts towards the Emma dilemma? What is she all about—favored princess, snob, airhead, snark—or somewhere in between?

Debatable: Caldecott Conundrum


This month Mike and I take debating which illustrators are deserving of the Caldecott and have yet to receive it.

I selected Barbara McClintock and Mike selected Michael Frith.

I sent Mike way more illustrations than he provided to highlight Ms. McClintock’s work. So of course I am going to feature them here.

You can hop over to Mike’s post to cast your vote. And keep in mind this vote is for a single book not a body of work (or a particular topic of interest—like ahem *kaff* Muppets *kaff*).

Barbara Mcclintock spotlighted Sophie Germain’s passion for mathematics with flair and finesse. Her illustrations show why she should receive a Caldecott. Right? Isn’t it obvious?

Hope to see your vote over at Mike’s place.

Debatables: July—YA best (series-ly)


This month’s Debatable gets serious about YA. Mike and I are taking on the great debate of which YA series is the most influential YA in terms of overall impact.

Yep, we are throwing down the quodlibet gauntlet and arguing whether the Harry Potter series bests the Hunger Games series. We are going for overall influence, not just books, but movies, social impact, topic genre–everything, everything. We are going big on this one.

As a reminder, here are the ground rules:

Each debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a previously agreed upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than 150 words).

Mike, that increasingly prolific writer of children’s books and always popular blogmeister, is my Debatable partner. He has chosen the Harry Potter series:

I am nominating the Hunger Games trilogy:

Image result for hunger games trilogy

As the month’s host, I defer to Mike to lead out the argument:

Mike’s opener:
Whether you love Harry Potter or are indifferent to Harry Potter, you gotta admit that Harry Potter changed everything we once thought we knew about kid lit. Before that little wizard showed up, young adult and middle grade fiction novels were relegated to the bookstore ghetto, to live and die as a dog-eared paperbacks. 

There have been many pre-Harry YA books of great distinction, of course, The Giver, The Outsiders, and about a jillion others that are far superior to anything J.K. Rowling could’ve ever conjured in her Hogwarty mind. But those novels lack a certain magical something that Harry had in spades: Crossover Appeal. 

Harry Potter did to literature what Star Wars did to movies, it found an audience with pretty much everyone. And, man, was that audience rabid. Remember the midnight release parties with lines stretching for blocks? Remember how revealing a spoiler was considered a Crime Against Humanity? Publishers sure do, and they have been attempting to recapture that ol’ HP magic, literally and figuratively, ever since. 

Once upon a time, the kid lit center of gravity was in picture books. Harry Potter (and its decade-long listing on the New York Times bestseller list) changed that business model. The big money is now is YA and that’s where publisher resources have gone—and will continue to go—for the foreseeable future. 

No, I’m not saying that Twilight or Hunger Games or Miss Peregrine wouldn’t have been published if HP didn’t exist. I’m saying that Twilight and Hunger Games are Miss Peregrine enjoy the popularity they have because HP exists. Without that incredibly influential wizard, they would be unfairly slumming with the latter-day Nancy Drews, ignored and overlooked by the masses.

 

Cricket’s remarks:
Granted, Harry and his school chums initiated a noticeable interest among middle/YA readers; however, Suzanne Collins made a lasting impact with her Hunger Games trilogy that is still evident today, going well beyond readership.

First off, Katniss is a relatable hero. Flawed, no superpowers, yet passionate in her beliefs, placing others before her needs, transfers into the real world.  Several articles on how Katniss is inspirational in her purposeful focus are found on the internet. Hunger Games can be found at the core of curriculums revolving around dystopia and totalitarian governments, sharing time with Antigone and I Am Malala. Wizardry may be entertaining, but standing up for one’s beliefs is riveting, inspiring, and powerful in its ability to influence.

Other aspects of influence include the three-fingered salute from Hunger Games, a gesture that’s become a global symbol of resistance. There is also a  resurgence in archery evidenced by Nerf’s crossbow. Hunger Games ushered in other dystopian-themed books/films such as Divergent and Maze Runner. Tricks are for kids; bad government is reality, and Hunger Games has influenced others to take on the reality of tyranny. Saving friends from foes with magical spells doesn’t work in the real world. Courageously standing up for convictions makes a difference.  

Katniss has firmly established that a female hero doesn’t have to be seductive or come from another planet to get things done. Hunger Games also has gender and age appeal–AARP members raved about the series. Even Time noted Katniss Everdeen as an influential character

Admittedly, Harry Potter filled some kind of needed hole in middle/YA  reading needs, yet a boy wizard can’t compare to the lasting influence of a young woman who started out wanting to save her sister and ended up freeing society from injustice.

Mike’s Rebuttal
First things first: Katniss didn’t use a crossbow. Second, the Nerf crossbow was first released in 1995, a full 12 years before the first Hunger Games book came out.

Now to the meat of your argument: Yes, Katniss is a strong, flawed, relatable, femal hero fighting valiantly against a totalitarian government—but she certainly isn’t the defining voice of today’s “Resistance,” as you suggest. (That would be Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale). And influential dystopian-age books for YA existed long before Katniss ever showed up (again, I reference 1993’s The Giver). 

Don’t get me wrong, The Hunger Games is a great, exciting read. In fact, I enjoyed THG trilogy more that Harry Potter. 

But this Debatables topic is about which book is more influential. In that particular Harry versus Hunger competition, Katniss wouldn’t even make it to the cornucopia.

Cricket’s Rebuttal

Thanks, Mike for acknowledging how Hunger Games is a better read-points for my argument of HG’s influence.  I am not interested in reading Harry Potter.

Why?

Magic is so unrealistic in solving problems compared to tenacity and fortitude in righting wrongs (you did notice the photo?). And while there have been a few unique female heroes such as Ripley and Sarah O’Connor, they were adults and Katniss is a teen. A brave young woman willing to sacrifice for family, friends, and the greater good is more admirable than a bespectacled kid wizard with a scar.

So–maybe HP influenced kids to read more than they used to–can Harry make the claim he has influenced politics or human rights concerns? Katniss and the Hunger Games series is an influence that  continues to resonate long after HP’s last spell has dithered away.

Alrighty, readers–time to weight in with votes and comments. Which series is more influential in your opinion: Harry Potter or Hunger Games?

Debatables: Mouse Appeal


Another round of Debatables starts today. Mike and I are both pro-rodent (although I am not a rat fan since Ratigan and Willard *yikes*). And we celebrate the arrival of Mike’s new book:

So–it makes sense to make our February Debatables all about mice, particularly the Most Appealing Mouse of Middle Reader Literature.

Mike’s vote is for Amos from Robert Lawson’s Ben and Me.

I am promoting Reepicheep from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

Voting takes place at Mike’s blog. This shall no doubt be a lively round. Stop by and cast your vote (for Reepicheep, of course).

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