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“Let us read, and let us dance;
these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Hello old friends

I made this: Avid Reader at 9:28 pm 6 comments Links to this post
Ok, so this isn't really a blog post, per se...but I hope that you find it interesting none the less!

As I am still on my poetry kick, I've been looking up poems I first discovered as a kid. 
Here are a few of my favourites. 


I'll start with a quickie. CS Lewis, from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, book five of the Narnia series. 













Where sky and water meet,
Where the waves grow sweet,
Doubt not, Reepicheep,
To find all you seek,
There is the utter East.





It's almost impossible for me to even think about poetry without immediately jumping to Roald Dahl. His three (?) books of poems were the BEST christmas presents ever!

Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf

As soon as Wolf began to feel
That he would like a decent meal,
He went and knocked on Grandma's door.
When Grandma opened it, she saw
The sharp white teeth, the horrid grin,
And Wolfie said, ``May I come in?''
Poor Grandmamma was terrified,
``He's going to eat me up!'' she cried.

And she was absolutely right.
He ate her up in one big bite.
But Grandmamma was small and tough,
And Wolfie wailed, ``That's not enough!
I haven't yet begun to feel
That I have had a decent meal!''
He ran around the kitchen yelping,
``I've got to have a second helping!''
Then added with a frightful leer,
``I'm therefore going to wait right here
Till Little Miss Red Riding Hood
Comes home from walking in the wood.''
He quickly put on Grandma's clothes,
(Of course he hadn't eaten those).
He dressed himself in coat and hat.
He put on shoes, and after that
He even brushed and curled his hair,
Then sat himself in Grandma's chair.
In came the little girl in red.
She stopped. She stared. And then she said,

``What great big ears you have, Grandma.''
``All the better to hear you with,'' the Wolf replied.
``What great big eyes you have, Grandma.''
said Little Red Riding Hood.
``All the better to see you with,'' the Wolf replied.
He sat there watching her and smiled.
He thought, I'm going to eat this child.
Compared with her old Grandmamma
She's going to taste like caviar.

Then Little Red Riding Hood said, ``But Grandma,
what a lovely great big furry coat you have on.''

``That's wrong!'' cried Wolf. ``Have you forgot
To tell me what BIG TEETH I've got?
Ah well, no matter what you say,
I'm going to eat you anyway.''
The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature's head
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.
A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, ``Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat.''


 (I'M FAIRLY CERTAIN THESE ILLUSTRATIONS ARE BY Q BLAKE, DAHL'S LONG TIME ARTISTIC COLLABORATOR)



And I wouldn't be me if I didn't include a Lewis Carroll classic!

You are old, Father William

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head-
Do you think, at your age age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

"You are old," said the youth, " as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back somersault in at the door-
Pray, what is the reason of that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
"I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment-one shilling the box-
Allow me to sell you a couple?"

"You are old," said the youth, " and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the back-
Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life."

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was steady as ever;
Yet, you balanced an eel on the end of your nose-
What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
Said his father. "Don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you downstairs!"


I'm certain that everyone alive is familiar with this one!

 By Spike Milligan 


On the Ning Nang Nong
On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the cows go Bong!
And the monkeys all say Boo!
There's a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots Jibber Jabber Joo. 
On the Nong Ning Nang
All the mice go Clang!
And you just can't catch 'em when they do!
So it's Ning Nang Nong!
Cows go Bong!
Nong Nang Ning!
Trees go Ping!
Nong Ning Nang!
The mice go Clang!
What a noise place to belong, 
is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!

One we learned in music class and sang as a round, believe it or not. Up until this moment, I had never known that it was written by Hilaire Belloc


The Vulture

The Vulture eats between his meals
And that's the reason why
He very, very rarely feels
As well as you and I.

His eye is dull, his head is bald,
His neck is growing thinner.
Oh! what a lesson for us all
To only eat at dinner!


Of all the poems in all the children's books in all the world, this is the one that impacts me even now. I'm instantly transported to a quiet still forrest, green and warm but devoid of birdsong; with deep dark pools all around me - each one a portal to a wondrous world, more intricate than I can even imagine. 


Written by the inimitable CS Lewis in The Magician's Nephew, first of the enchanting Narnia series.



Make your choice, adventurous stranger; 

Strike the bell and bide the danger, 

or wonder, till it drives you mad, 

what would have followed if you had...








Poems for Children

The Looking Glass Wars

I made this: BookElf at 4:22 pm 0 comments Links to this post

I'll admit this straight off; I'm not the biggest Alice in Wonderland fan in the world. Don't get me wrong, I love the book. My Dad read it to me as a kid, I've re-read it at least ten times since as an adult and it has a warm place in my heart. But I'm not one of those Alice fans. You know. The purists.

For this reason I could read The Looking Glass Wars, the first in Frank Beddor's franchise (sorry, sorry I mean series) that re-tells Carroll's fantasy adventure, and not want to throw it across the room in the same way I've thrown say Colleen McCullough's The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, the hideous sequel to Pride and Prejudice that had me and N foaming at the mouth a couple of years ago.

If you are a purist, you're not going to like this one. Not because it isn't fantastic. The basic premise that Alice is actually Wonderlander by birth, and had to flee when her royal parents were ousted by the evil Aunt Redd, is a interesting one. Each well loved character gets a modern fantasy nod; The Mad Hatter, for example, is now Hatter Madigan, part of the Milinary, a crack team of bodyguards armed with spinning blades that come out of their hats. I liked this, and for each character that I spotted I had a little chuckle.

No, the main problem I had with this re-telling is that it completely bypassed the original point of Alice in Wonderland; that logic can be found in nonsense and that self-preservation in the most important lesson one can learn. The wit that I fell in love with in Alice when my Dad first read me the book just isn't apparent in The Looking Glass Wars.

I was never one for singing flowers and twee tea parties, the thing that gets my heart racing about Alice are the poems, the subtle ways Carroll argues against the Victorian education structure of learning by rote, and of course the logic puzzles and riddles that baffled me for hours. I still haven't figured out why a raven is like a writing desk. One day.

I did enjoy reading this book a hell of a lot more than last year's Percheron series, but I wouldn't go searching for the second and third parts myself. The story itself was bitty in places, the dialogue grated and the descriptions of the way the characters acted, Hatter's fight sequences for example, made no sense to me unless I re-read them several times, they were so exactly described to the letter. If you have a teenager or emerging reader who loves fantasy on screen, this book will be good for them; you hardly have to imagine at all. For a book whose main plot focuses on using your imagination as a weapon, this seemed a shame.

I would, however, love to read the graphic novel's Beddor has now produced, as this book would work fantastically well in picture form. This also has 'low budget sci-fi' series written all over it.

This is what narked me off the most; after I'd read the book I went online to check it on goodreads, and googled it to see what others had thought. I came across the website linked to the title page of this post.

Once again, you can't just write a book any more. You have to have an entire marketing strategy behind it. You can buy the books, the graphic novels, the games, the apps, the cards, the soundtrack (soundtrack?), you can even buy Frank Beddor himself for a bit! And what's at the bottom of the visits to schools page? Oh yes, you can audition for the film.

Lewis Carroll was hideously embarrassed by his book's success, and his creator, Charles Dodgeson, refused to answer letters sent to that name a few years after Through the Looking Glass was released.

A good YA series gets people reading that series. A better YA series gets people reading. The Looking Glass Wars, or rather the marketing of The Looking Glass Wars, is unfortunately the former. A real shame.

Once Upon A Reading Challenge


2011 - Book 02 - The Borribles
2011 - Book 01 - The Looking Glass Wars

2010 - Book 03 - Reading the Greats
2010 - Book 02 - The Land of Ice and Fire
2010 - Book 01 - Percheron it!
2010 - The Challenge
 



 

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Oh the suffragette and the librarian can be friends...

I made this: BookElf at 1:48 pm 0 comments Links to this post
This is a response to something I read on a blog (linked in title-warning it is a link to a political party blog, this is no way infers my support for that political party I just saw it on twitter) quoting ANOTHER blog (though the linked article was a response against that blog) comparing the suffragette movement to the #savelibraries movement. Sorry if that’s a little complicated, but it got me wound up and as ever, wanted to have a little rant.

Once again, and again, and again, the value of libraries is not understood. All we can keep doing is saying again, and again, and again, libraries are needed, and are important, and should not be infringed.

Again I in no way represent any other members of Leeds Book Club in my opinion of this matter.

Reasons why there is NOT a "universe of difference between library closures and not allowing women to vote."

1. Librarianship is still a dominantly femo-centric profession; this is especially true of the public sector. Closing them would have a massive impact on women’s lives.

2. Without access to free, current and unbiased information on what movement/political; consciousness you are voting for, and the history of that movement/political consciousness, suffrage is a false concept.

3. A third of the adults in this country do not have an English level higher than Level 3. Information presented in popular media that is suitable for this reading level is predominantly right-wing in bias. Libraries work with schemes such as Quick Reads/The Reader Organisation/The Reading Agency to encourage bringing people to reading, and provide access to information on both sides of the political spectrum. Without this, again, true suffrage, in which adults are voting based on who they want to represent them (one of the arguments for women’s universal suffrage was that women should have representatives on issues relating predominantly to women) cannot occur.

4. Libraries provide access to computers and the internet. The minimum wage in this country is below a living wage, and many professions, predominantly those in the care industries, which again are predominantly femo-centric also earn below £14,500 a year per household. The Rowntree Foundation acknowledges that having home access to the internet is now considered a necessity and one of the things that people not on a living wage do without. Many political campaigns are run entirely, or with huge support, online. A friend working in a nursery school had not heard of the 26 March demonstration until that day, for example, because they are not a member or a union, neither are anyone in their workplace, and the campaign was otherwise almost exclusively run by organisations whose main focus primarily uses Web 2.0. It can be argued that libraries, by providing free access to the internet, and by having members of staff on hand who can assist people in using Web 2.0, are contributing to the protest movement and political process merely by providing a portal to it for those who would otherwise have no access .

5. If they took away my vote, I would have no way of representing my own views. If they took away my library, I’d have no way of shaping my own views in the first place.

BookElf

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Poddy the third - Let's Get Classical!

I made this: Avid Reader at 12:56 pm 0 comments Links to this post
* * *PODCAST* * *

Usual spoiler and language warnings apply!

The one where we finally get stuck into the Bronte Sisters and Jane Austen, discussing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, Jane Eyre by her sister Charlotte, and our favourite Jane Austen's - AVIDREADER on Pride & Prejudice while BOOKELF dissects Persuasion. 

As usual, we take a ramble into several other works too, and naturally mention film and tv adaptations too!

               


Podcast the third- Let's Get Classical
Mobile Link Poddy 3

Friday, 25 March 2011

South Riding-Tiny Mini Pre-Rant

I made this: BookElf at 1:20 pm 3 comments Links to this post
So this is a pre-rant to the main event because I finished South Riding last night and cannot keep it in!
***SPOILERS LOADS AND LOADS OF SPOILERS***

Why South Riding the Book SERVES South Riding the TV Series



1) Sarah Burton. Oh how I love Sarah Burton. Don't get me wrong, mega loves and girl-crushes on Anna Maxwell Martin. But WHY did they have it that Sarah had been left broken hearted after the war by her fiancĂ©e’s death when actually she had been engaged three times???? This angered me greatly because the TV series gave the impression she'd been some sort of Massive Spinster (not that there is anything wrong with being a Massive Spinster, you understand). The second bloke she dumped for being a racist, the second dumped her for being a feminist and not wanting to give up her work. These are very important developments to Sarah's character, and should have been at least alluded to.

This leads me nicely on to my next point...

2) They left out all the best lines! 'I was meant to be a spinster and by God I'm going to spin', *faints with joy at finally reading a book with a female character I can completely identify with*...'Did you expect to get through life with no word spoken you couldn't take back, with no failure you couldn't turn to triumph? Oh my dear you haven't begun to live yet' *weeps a little bit at how much more I have to go through before I'm half as good a Sarah, never mind Mrs Beddows*.

3) Errrr where was Cold Harbour exactly? And the great little plot surrounding Lily and her illness? No where! Oh because you have to concentrate on the "love" story don't you! Cos that’s the only bit that bloody matters! Grrrrrr

4) Don't Even Get Me Started on Sarah's Relationship With Joe Astell. Apparently in BBC world women don't have male friends that are just that, they have to be love interests, don't they. What makes this even worse was that I was rooting for Joe and Sarah throughout the entire series. Now feel foolish and betrayed.

5) The scene in the music hall with the idiot Southerners that showed how ridiculous class/North-South divides are, and how much those above are the ones to blame, really, and should leave well alone, ie the entire point of the book was completely cut. As were Heyer and Hicks and Sawden, but that’s just point three all over again.

Sorry about that. Had to get that off my chest! Feel better now!

Happy Reading
BookElf
xx

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Cry of the Go-Away Bird - A chat with Andrea Eames

I made this: Avid Reader at 9:54 pm 0 comments Links to this post
A few weeks ago, after a glowing recommendation from a friend, I read 'The Cry of the Go Away Bird' by Andrea Eames.

This atmospheric book is set in Zimbabwe during the late 1990's, covering the increasingly volatile political and economic situation through the eyes of a young teenager - sorry, a young white teenager, Elise. Beautifully depicted, Eames lovingly recreates the Zimbabwe of her youth, and does not flinch from depicting the shadows beneath the light, the simmering hatreds and tensions that were bubbling under the surface.

Elise and her mother move from a rural area to the city of Harare within the first chapters of the book, marking the end of Elise's idyllic childhood, and some of her naivety.
Their relocation to a farm on the outskirts of the capital city, forces Elise to become more aware of her surroundings - to grow up - and to amend her limited view of the world around her. 
From childish games, and obsessions with spirits and dreams; she wakes up to a world where increasingly you are judged, not on the content of your character, but on the colour of your skin (to reverse a Dr Martin Luther King Jr quote).


As a reader who happened to spend her formative years in Zimbabwe, I was intensely curious about this book - especially as this book starts at just the point I was leaving the country. After linking up on Twitter, Andrea was kind enough to agree to have a chat with me about her recently released book, Zimbabwe, and everything in between. 

As our 'q & a' rapidly degenerated into an enthusiastic conversation, it became impossible to capture everything that Andrea was saying word for word, but I hope that the sense of her thoughts comes through!

Andrea Eames
Andrea is no stranger to the written word. She has had various pieces published since her teen years, and has blogged for over four years (

Andrea's Blog
). I asked her how she started. 
To be honest, I can't really remember a time when I wasn't writing. I love my blog - I think I'd go crazy without an outlet like this, a way to allow me to connect with people around the world, and share the things that are important to me. I'm very fortunate to be in this position where I can write and have it be so accessible. 

The relationships in the book feel very true to life - particularly the constantly changing one between Elise, Steve, and Elise's mother. In fact, the parental pair rapidly became my favourite characters, despite often speaking and acting in the most selfish of ways. 
Oh I am glad. Steve was one of my favourites also. I think that he sometimes gets short shrift, but as a character he had the unfortunate task of being the perfect vehicle to say the stereotypical and - out of context/understanding of the way things were at the time - racist things that needed to be voiced by a white farmer at the time for the story to progress. But I thought that he was very warm, a very decent man, and one who really stepped up with regards to Elise.  


I felt that her mother experienced the most growth and evolution throughout the book. Presumably you borrowed from various Zimbabwean women, though I imagine that there are elements of your mother there too. 
Oh definitely, though this isn't *my* story, there are certainly several incidents that came straight out of my own life. So all the characters in the book are ones that grew out of the people that I knew. I'd love to say that I consciously placed certain real life characteristics into the people that I wrote, but to be honest, it was trial and error...and fluke...that it worked out the way it did, that the people I created behaved the way they did. I really didn't plan it that way. 


And with regards to the character of Elise's mother, there seem to be certain inevitability's in her life.
Oh yeah. I think that there are parallels between her life and that of her parents, particularly when you think that at the time of the liberation war, Elise's grandparents made the decision to return to England. So both Elise and her mother were growing up during a time of conflict, they had a 'war time relationship' with their parents. Elise's mom is essentially reliving her parents lives. 
I was also aware, though again, this was subconscious, and not something that I actively decided to write, that it created a certain inevitability within the story - that people were almost fated to repeat the mistakes of the generation before them. I think that Elise's mother developed a lot over the course of the story.


Something that I think you captured particularly well was how, for people our age anyway, the race issue seemed to creep into Zimbabwean politics in the late 90's
It certainly felt that way to me. Looking back, there was a casual racism that was allowed to exist, allowed to feel comfortable and reasonable. A lot of people were of the opinion that the race issue was in the past, all over and done with. 
Mr Cooper represented to me the naivety of the established white community. It was so impossible to even think of all that happening again, and when politicians there started to blame 'the good old bad guys', people were blind to the implications. We all had such crazy comfortable lives that we totally failed to see the signs in front of us. So the blame game was allowed to simmer for a long time, until it provided camouflage, pushing under the carpet the fact that the white Zimbabweans had not been in charge of the country for some time. When the war vets began to appear it was very intimidating and as you said, felt like it came from nowhere. 
But for me, Zimbabwe was like a paradise. A doomed paradise.


It's a difficult book to describe really. I think of it having an anti-plot. The story *is* the country - the context -  rather than one particular characters life.
Oh you aren't wrong. That's actually been a consistent criticism of the book. There is no beginning, middle and end. All of the characters are controlled by events, rather than controlling them by their behaviours. I think in the book I describe it as individuals being sucked into a 'whole' - Elise went from being one person to being white, and nothing more. Their lives were disappearing into a wider picture. 
Structurally, there is almost a seasonal quality to the years passing. By the time I wrote about the riot scene in the school, I was trying to create an atmosphere that was closing in around them, a claustrophobia that was at once powerful and terrifying. 
It's also one of the reasons that Elise was positioned as an outsider. Her moving from her childhood home and 'second' mother had left her out of balance in her world, resulting in her being more of an observer than an active participant, a lens to the time. Even before the troubles begin, she is in unfamiliar surroundings, a stranger.


Moving away from the book itself for a moment, have you had any feedback from other Zimbabweans.
No! It's really bad. That's not a useful answer at all!
It hasn't been released there yet - it's going to be in April, and I'm really interested to hear from there, especially my Shona friends, and get their perspectives. 
The only Zimbabweans who have read it are friends, or family, or friends of friends or family! So they're all connected to me in some way, so I don't really have an external viewpoint.

But..
Well, one or two have said that the book does resonate with them, so...
Earlier you noted that there are certain incidents that came straight out of your own life - I think that it's fair to say that the passport swap was definitely one of those incidents. How autobiographical is this story. 
The passports thing was pretty much as it was. An incredibly hard experience, really just...horrid, it displaced me. I look at the world, and see the events like natural disasters that shape it, but for me, there was no one giant traumatic event that changed everything, but even so the place that I grew up in was destroyed. It's really difficult to be coherent about it, I don't have any insights to offer or solutions. 
But as an autobiography, honestly, it isn't. This whole thing started off as a writing exercise, and it was my story. Once I realised that I wanted to write something more, it was completely re-worked. It's more like my own life provided the bare bones that I used as a starting point. I used some of my own life, but I also drew on other people that I knew, or things that I had read about or heard about in the community. 



How do you feel about going back?
It's really...a strange thing to think about. I can't imagine ever not going back, and I can't imagine ever not wanting to go back, but a few years ago, it was so painful that the moment that I left Zimbabwe, I tried to put it all behind me. It's almost as though I tried to forget, but the way it is, it's like Zimbabwe is such a huge part of who I am, the person that I am. A person can't just forget that. It's a warm living part of me.

Unfortunately, so many young, educated, talented and resourceful people - from all the races within Zimbabwe - left the country. Not because we wanted too, but because we had too. Young Zimbabweans have been left in limbo, exiled and displaced from their home. And the longer they are away...
I find it so hard to imagine going back and not seeing the people that were so important to me because they are elsewhere. It's a really hard one.



Just to go back to the book for a moment, I want to look at the character of Jonah for a moment. When he comes back, after Elise behaves despicably and causes his firing, for the funeral, I read that as an act of respect for a man who had been his friend. A friend of mine read it as an act of intimidation, demonstrating that he could be anywhere, even during a time of grief. 
Wow, that's so interesting. It's the thing about a book - you put it out into the world and people interpret it their own way. 
I think it's a totally valid perspective - I can see how it would look that way. 
For me though, it was a respectful thing. Jonah was a very mysterious character. For one thing, he is only ever seen from Elise's viewpoint, and her view of him is sinister and tinged with fear. She never understands him, so she never knows his motivations. This gave the reader a chance to view him without that veil.
Which leads me beautifully to one of the things that really stood out for me. At one point Elise says that it will always be them versus us. Was that truly how you saw it? Is that how you regard it now?
I don't think I ever felt that, but it felt to me how *she* would see it. I mean, that thought is at the moment when she is being forced to leave her home. I think that it is what she thought at that moment, but I also think it's likely to change down the line. 
Again, the writing of this was very instinctive, rather than analytical. I didn't necessarily plan out how things would go. It was a more amorphous process. I tried to capture the emotions.
Certainly there seems to be more hope for Zimbabwe now. I hope for Zimbabwe. You know, hope that the displaced may go home. Though I'd be lying if I didn't admit to certain concerns about whether everyone would be able to go back. 

Finally, I felt that this book had possibly started out as a cathartic exercise, but by the end felt that it was actually a poem, or a love letter to Zimbabwe. 
Well I'm just delighted to hear that! It was very important to me while I was writing it that I avoid taking any sort of stand. I didn't want this to be a revenge story, or a pity me one, or even a cathartic one. 
It's my acknowledgement of how much I love Zimbabwe. After being away for so long, this was my chance to immerse myself in Zimbabwe again - the sights and scents and sounds. I tried to reflect it honestly, because it's very important to me not to gloss over the difficult things. It's my history, my culture, I wanted to capture it, as it was.  

 THE GREY LOURIE - THE GO AWAY BIRD
   
The Cry of the Go Away Bird by Andrea Eames is available now from Harvill Secker, an imprint of Random House.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

50 Books A Year?

I made this: BookElf at 3:04 pm 2 comments Links to this post
This is my own personal response to the story that came out today about the Education Secretary's proposal that children should be expected to be reading 50 books a year. I do not speak for all members of Leeds Book Club on my opinion of this matter

So Gove wants school children to read 50 books a year; apparently any child who does not do this has not succeeded at meeting his imaginary ‘bar’ of achievement.
There is nothing amiss with championing a programme that gets young people reading, often for the first time, but by disparaging the former systems as lax and not aiming high enough, Gove is trampling on the work of many dedicated professionals who are unable to promote a love of reading due to lack of resources and places for them to work; namely school librarians.

None of the three major parties in their manifestos would support a motion for a library in every secondary school in the last election. Public libraries now are on the forefront of public services cuts, with various consultations resulting in either closures or opening hours being changed to suit a smaller budget; this will inevitable affect the user base, a good percentage of which are under 18. And yet, miraculously, these children are supposed to find, and afford, fifty books each year, suitable for their reading level, which will sustain their interest and ignite a love of reading in them.

Children who use a public library are also twice as likely to read outside a classroom daily.

Fifty books is a hell of a target. Even avid readers may struggle to complete a novel a week, never mind children who are often working part time, taking exams, and struggling with the pressures of modern day life. Yes there is growing concern that too much time is spent on the internet or staring at a screen, but there is immense social pressure to conform to certain rules, and constantly being available for communication with your peers is, nowadays, one of them. It is hard fitting in quality time dedicated to reading in this environment. One in three children suffers neglect or abuse. It is often hard to find a safe quiet space to read. Cutting opening hours of branch libraries isn’t going to help this. These are issues that the government should be addressing, not adding to the pressure with unrealistic targets, and telling anyone who does to achieve them they are a failure.
Books are also expensive things. Book swaps are growing in popularity, and most classrooms will have a shelf for books to be swapped, but the marketing of the publishing industry-leading to the modern phenomenon of collecting whole series, and related promoted materials a la Twilight or Harry Potter, has turned readers into an advertisers dream. Quick, quick, re-release them with white covers! We’ve got a deficit to fill!

By turning books into collectables in the way of trainers in the 90s it is not the act of reading that is promoted, but the ownership of yet another ultimately disposable product.

Gove is going to be asking popular children’s authors what they think children should be reading, teachers, literacy experts and librarians of course having no experience or knowledge that might be useful in this exercises. This is cult of the celebrity at the extreme. I love the fact that children’s authors are supporting the save libraries protests, but they are not all reading promotion experts; they are writers.

Gove has lauded a school for having a ‘Who Can Read All the Potters The Fastest’ competition; speed reading, skimming and scanning texts for information are valuable skills, often taught by librarians, but surely not to be used in promoting reading for pleasure? By promoting only the basic research skills rather than a critical response to a text brought on by an in-depth reading, Gove is belittling the study of English Literature. Yes students may only read two books for GCSE, I read the one, Lord of the Flies, but I must have read it five or six times, in order to have a true understanding of the text.

I feel for the students at a lower reading level, or students who are physically afraid of books having only even associated them with what may have been to them an abusive and controlling classroom system, struggling to complete this challenge, and the resulting low self esteem and sense of failure that results.

Gove wants to turn us into “Reads and Read-Nots”. We already are seeing book clubs invade the popular consciousness, and that can only be a good thing, but this insistence that it is the quantity and the quality of what you are reading, rather than the fact that you are reading in the first place that makes you successful is wrong, and snobbish.

The Reading Agency started the Six Book Challenge back in 2008. The idea was promoting reading for pleasure to adults helps pick up where schools, or at least the school system, may have failed in enticing people into books. The classroom system, often divided into “sets” does not work for everybody. The Six Book Challenge is phenomenally successful in getting adults into reading; 7000 in its first year alone. Now colleges, libraries, work places and other organisations promote reading for pleasure, often at targets lower than six books in six months, which for some is an intimidating and off-putting target, which if not achieved leads to greater feelings of failure and lack of self-belief.

If we are to make ourselves a nation of readers, then let us do this by supporting each other, and learning from each other, not setting our children at even greater competition. Let us celebrate the act of reading for pleasure; not the scale at which it is done.

BookElf

Monday, 21 March 2011

Once Upon A Time Reading Challenge 2011

I made this: BookElf at 3:59 pm 0 comments Links to this post

This time last year I took part in the Stainless Steel Droppings Once Upon A Time Reading Challenge Quest the Third; you read one fantasy, one folklore, one fairy tale, and one mythology, and in June either read or watch A Midsummer Night's Dream. I had great fun completing this challenge, the results were fairly mixed; I enjoyed discovering the Roman Myth of The Aeneid and re-reading my Icelandic favourite Laxdale Saga, though the rant resulting from my reading Fiona McIntosh Percheron series still tickles me every time I think of how much I loathed those books!

Anyway, this year I'm doing it all again. You can sign up yourself on the blog linked to the title page here. The same as last year, I'm starting off with a fantasy as I don't read enough of that genre. Hopefully it won't result in quite as large a rant as last year (what am I kidding! Of course it will!)

Happy Reading!
BookElf xxx

Once Upon A Reading Challenge


2011 - Book 02 - The Borribles
2011 - Book 01 - The Looking Glass Wars

2010 - Book 03 - Reading the Greats
2010 - Book 02 - The Land of Ice and Fire
2010 - Book 01 - Percheron it!
2010 - The Challenge
 

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Hannah Linnekamp

I made this: BookElf at 1:52 pm 0 comments Links to this post
Last night I went to Sticks and Stones, a poetry and spoken word evening held at Strawbs Bar in Leeds since 2004/5. Sadly the night is ending next month (you can find them on facebook).
The open mic section introduced me to an awful lot of talent we have in this city, not least this young poet, Hannah Linnekamp, who kindly allowed me to post one of her poems here, as part of N's fantastic idea for a lent filled with poetry!
If you click on the title link it takes you to Hannah's blog. I really admired her spoken word, and hope you do to.

Granny

Hopelessly I try to find
in the lines on your old, old face
that long, thin line
that runs from your mother to me, through mine.
From County Kerry to the Continent.
How did I end up here holding the end of the string?
How did Irish Catholic shame turn into
Me?

You pick up a postcard of the Nativity.
You say this is Joseph, this is Mary,
this the baby Jesus
and that baptism is easy
even at twenty-one.
I want to say I don’t believe in Heaven
and even if I did, Hell seems like more fun.

But you love God’s son more than me or your grandson.
Well you’d have Jesus himself,
as well as Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela,
Aung San Suu Kyi and Mahatma Gandhi
all running to the nearest pub for a double whiskey
after half an hour of your company.

You say you’re in pain,
you’re cold, it’s damp, you complain,
so why won’t you just let us fix your drain?
We try granny, we try,
but sometimes I think it’d be easier for you to just-

I am ashamed at the unspoken thought.
And ashamed I look down at the many lines in my hands,
which are your hands,
and suddenly I understand
how that long thin line that runs from your mother to me through mine
is your relentlessness,
your unwillingness, to bend your knees to time.

See I clenched my tiny fists tight.
I clung on to my tiny life,
while my twin sibling was expelled
I refused to be and held
onto the soft tapestries
of my mother’s womb.
Like you, I am still here.
Like you, I do not let go.
Like you, I am not going anywhere.



Table Of Contents - Poetry

Sunday, 13 March 2011

World Book Night - The Books!

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BOOKS!
BOOKS AND BOOZE! 
FREE BOOKS AND BOOZE!!

In fact, if you take into account that glass of wine @Decknologist gave me, it was actually 
FREE BOOKS AND FREE BOOZE

What a fantastic night! I know that BOOKELF has posted about the In's and Outs of the event, so I'll try to avoid being too repetitive, but I had to have my own little say. 

If this were the Oscars, and not a tiny blog, I'd have a few thank yous to distribute for BOOKELF's recent book swop and World Book Night event. 

First up would be the staff at Arcadia Bar - always friendly and very generous with us, they went above and beyond at last weeks do, reamaining cheerful and helpful - regardless of how late the book stragglers arrived!

I can't thank BOOKELF and the other 'Book Givers' enough for giving so generously of their time and effort - certainly a lot of work went into insuring a great night for bookies like me! At the end of the night - and not including the Travelling Suitcase Library book swop that was running concurrently - 8 World Book Night books were distributed from the pub - that's a haul for anyone - out of a total of 25 titles.  

More than that, the sense of kinship and community that so quickly permeated the room has inspired me. Next year, I'm going to be one of the distributors too! While it was wonderful being on this side of the table, I want to play more of an active role in this social revolution!

Twitter played a little part in our successful night. BOOKELF and others tweeted every step of the way, and several people dropped by - having not heard of the event prior to the night. Indeed, I believe that a few of the book givers arrived unannounced, having seen the tweets, and wanting to join in the fun. I find it amusing that the Internet, and social networking, long associated with 'the end' of reading and the 'hard copy' book, proved so be such a vital tool in raising awareness, and inclusion for a book related social event such as the elf's. 

Anyhoo, onto the pretties!!



The titles that were available at Arcadia were:
  • Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
  • Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
  • Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marcia
  • One Day by David Nicholls
  • Stuart by Alexander Masters
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid
  • Toast by Nigel Slater
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
I've read Northern Lights previously, and love it forever and ever.

The day following the event, I devoured Case Histories. I've never read any of her previous titles but heard very good things. I'm not sure if this book fits with my expectations, but it was addictive reading. I literally read this in one massive sitting - I was buttering bread with the book open in front of me - it's that level of not-put-down. 
The last book I felt this way about was the final book in The Millenium Trilogy, and before that, the final Harry Potter book. 
I wouldn't quite put this title down as being as good as either of the above, but I enjoyed it. One of the characters drove me scatty, and some of the situations were a bit suspect, but honestly, as whodunnits go, this one was great!


If the rest as are good, I'll be in hog heaven! 


As always, feel free to let us know on twitter or in the comments how you are getting on with your World Book Nights reads. 


TTFN

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Helen Mort

I made this: BookElf at 12:27 pm 0 comments Links to this post
I know poems are more N's thing, but I saw Helen reading her poetry last night at Word Life and thought they were beautiful, so wanted to share one with you, I hope you don't mind. If you click on the title it takes you to an amazon (sorry) link to the publication of her's.

Litton Mill
Hold me, you said,
the way a glove is held by water.
Black, fingerless, we'd watched it
clutch a path across the pond,
never sure if it was water or wool that clung fast.
The mills are plush apartments now,
flanked by stiff-backed chimneys

and you ache for living voices,
the clank and jostle of machinery,
for something to move in this glassy pool
where once, you were the waterwheel,
I, the dull silver it must
catch and release
as if it can't be held

Table Of Contents - Poetry

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Golden Notebook

I made this: BookElf at 2:09 pm 5 comments Links to this post
So just over a week ago I started reading Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, one I have been meaning to read for a good two years. I *had* to write down what I feel about it, though you have to remember that I've had a *very* stressful week!

I am going to get a hell of this wrong, I know, but this is more or less how I figured it all went. Please, excuse any massive blunders and remember I'm not an academic, I'm just a reader, reading for pleasure.

The book is divided into four notebooks, each supposedly detailing a different strand of Anna's life, and the stand alone story of "Free Women" (a play on her 'maiden' (hate that phrase but only appropriate one can think of right now) name Freeman?). The book covers a twenty year period, focusing mainly on Anna's life in Central Africa during the Second World War, and the 1950s in London with her daughter Janet.

The book starts with Free Women, followed in turn by the notebooks. The writing style within the notebooks varies depending on themes, and also includes references to letters, newspaper clippings and other printed sources stuck within the pages. I would love to see a art project of the notebooks as they actually appeared, as I believe that the state of Anna's unravelling mind directly compares to the disorganised and frantic way the notebooks change over time.

Also what interested me is the emphasis on the different notebooks in terms of length; at the beginning, when Anna starts the experiment, the black notebook, that supposedly chronicles her 'writing life', but which I see as more of her remembrances of the past and of Africa in general starts off as long sections talking about her first novel and how it was influenced by real-life events in Africa (I know its really bad to just say 'Africa' when its a continent with a wide variety of cultures and countries, but that's what she says in the book.)

By the end of the novel it is the blue notebook which is sprawling and massive. The blue notebook is supposed to be a diary and concentrates more on day to day events, thoughts and fears and dreams, particularly those to do with her mental health and how this relates to how she sees herself sexually, and how other people do. I believe this is because Anna has been taken in by psycho-analysis, to such an extent where she cannot just 'be', but everything has to mean something and every man she meets must have a context within her life purely as a sexual being. I hated the blue notebook as it frustrated and confused me. I don't agree with the notion that dreams are vastly important in deciphering who we are and where we're going as I believe there is such as thing as being up oneself to the point where one is blind to reality, and I feel uncomfortable with self-analysis to the extent Anna has it (counselling three times a week at two hours a time? Talking about yourself and your life exclusively for six hours a week? For over ten years? Come off it love you're not fucking Jordan).

The Yellow Notebook was my favourite. Actually, complete lie, the first bit of the black notebook was my favourite but the yellow notebook on a whole was excellent. As far as I can figure out, this was a story version of Anna's life, much like her book Frontiers of War was a story of her earlier life in Africa. The yellow notebook is also more or less chronological so a lot easier to digest that the blue notebook, which you need a map to navigate, to be honest, or the black notebook which is threads of memories of false experiences that Anna can no longer recall clearly to the extent where at the end it is a movie she keeps seeing where she is convinced she has remembered the plot but hasn't.

Ella lives with her son Michael in the flat she shares with her friend Julia (Anna, Janet and Molly in Free Woman). She works on a magazine answering letters for a medical advice column. At a party given by her boss she meets Paul (who corresponds to Michael in Anna's life. Lessing only uses about three male names throughout, which is confusing, but probably Very Relevant (is it? I don't know!)), who she later finds is married. They have an extremely involving affair for five years, which she dedicates her life to, even though she knows he will never leave his wife (she sees their home once and realises that, actually, he isnt 'her's'. Really? You think?). When, of course, he leaves her for a job abroad, she becomes depressed, having only had him as her emotional compass for the last five years, despite living with her best friend and her son. She goes to Paris for work where she meets a American man who she ends up in bed with after they have a near-death experience on the flight home. She realises that she will never be able to experience sexual pleasure with anyone but Paul, because she is still in love with him. She continues to have several affairs, moves into a new flat with her son, which nearly causes an end to her friendship with Julia. The notebook ends with Ella having a conversation with her father about his relationship with her mother, and with herself. It becomes apparent that they really don't have much of an emotional relationship.

Now when I look at the yellow notebook incomparsion with the blue is becomes apparent to me that this is another response to Freudian psycho-therapy; because Ella doesn't have an emotional relationship with her father she has planted that love onto another man, Paul, who cannot give it back because he is not in love with her enough to leave his wife and career for her (or, as I like to put it, he is a Bastard). When she is rejected by Paul she is unable to find sexual fulfillment (because of course that's the only possible thing one could possibly want in ones life, there is No Point proceeding otherwise-what utter utter self obsessed tosh. Have a wank, love, its not hard).

However, I feel so much for Ella I'm going to completely ignore this interpretation and continue in my sobbing for her. The poor poor love. Paul is clearly a Massive Massive Bastard, he assumes straight away that Ella will fall madly in love with him, and does nothing to dissuade her, even though he is married. He treats her dreadfully throughout, yet she always comes back because she loves him, and there's not a lot she can do to stop herself. I loved loved loved Lessing's use of simile in the book, the whole thing is gorgeous but the line that stood out as most poignant for me was "his going has left me like a snail that has had its shell pecked off my a bird" which is one of the very few things I'd seriously consider getting permanently marked on my body for the trueness of it. If you've ever had your shell pecked off yourself, you'll understand why.

The bit where Ella is contemplating suicide on the plane grabbed me by the throat a bit in how well realised it was. There is a reason not to allow yourself to be that emotionally attached to another person, they can make you feel that shitty even years after they've trodden your heart in the mud. I wanted Ella to find happiness, but I loved how Lessing wouldn't let her. This is the rest of her life now, all because some Bastard just couldn't be honest to her, or his family.

The black notebook is in my opinion the most beautifully written on the notebooks (though this is appropriate when the content reflux Anna's writing, as opposed to emotional or mental state). The stories surrounding the group of Communists who find each other and become friends during the war is so so beautiful and moving. Each character I could see, and know. Paul, the charismatic, young, bully of a pilot was such a good anti-hero, and that we know about his death from quite near the beginning of the story makes it even more so.

I loved the way Lessing describes relationships in the black notebook; I agree that in every group there is a central couple; having been part of a similarly insular group of friends myself I recognised instantly a lot of the intricacies and dangers apparent with such groups. Anna and Willi I particularly liked, they are together, as far as I could see, from want of anything better to be.

The book as a whole, in my opinion (and again, I've probably got this horribly wrong) was about failing to deal with disappointment. Anna is socialist by nature, and intellectual. She knows and lot of people and supports a lot of causes. She is disappointed on many levels throughout the book; most prominently by her politics (the red notebook is one long fall out from Stalin, and heartbreakingly sad, especially for a lefty to read) and emotionally by the various men (for the most part married, which riled, but its set in the 50s when you were even more of a failure if you were single than you are now) that she ties herself to. But not just these two major themes; Anna is also disappointed by motherhood (her daughter Janet wants to go to boarding school and is normal, despite her bohemian upbringing and being from a "broken home"). Her friendship with Molly/Julia is constantly under strain, mostly due to Molly using her as an emotional crutch and then getting upset when she gives advice (I really didn't like Molly, almost as much as I didn't like Tommy, both of which again need to Get Over Themselves a bit. Though Tommy's story is incredibly sad, he then punishes his mother and rips the piss out of his step mother for no reason other than he can, as far as I could see. Couldn't quite forgive him for that. At least Richard is honest; he wants to have lots of money and shag young beautiful women and so he DOES make lots of money and shag young beautiful women. Molly wants to teach the world to sing and all that but at the end of the day she doesn't).

By the end of the book, Anna has had a breakdown. This is not helped by her falling in love with her lodger, Saul (or is it Milt? Again, the chopping and changing of names, whilst brilliant, confused the help out of me). Saul is an emotionally abusive man, even more or a bully than Paul from the black notebook. He torments Anna with emotional blackmail because he is weak and pathetic and it is the only way he can get his kicks, by demeaning someone far more successful and intelligent than he is on the basis on their gender, which he deems lessor than his own. Saul is also mentally ill and going through a breakdown of his own, or "cracking up" as Lessing calls it.

The abuse of Anna by Saul extends to his taking over her life to the extent that she starts a brand new notebook-the golden notebook, which he claims for his own. Exploring how they hurt each other, Anna finally asks him to leave her. She returns to her main priority being her daughter, gets a job working for a relationship counsellor and joins the Labour Party.

I LOVED this book. It was so thought provoking, so well crafted and structured, I could have happily spent two days reading it to re-emerge re-born, and will do that exact thing one day. Anna terrified me; if I had been born in the 1920s to middle class parents I would have probably gone down a similar route. It terrified me that this intelligent, intellectual, thinking woman could allow herself to be involved with such pricks of men, and not receive any support whatsoever from her women friends; Molly doesn't even know that Anna is having the affair with Saul, or that is is mentally breaking down. This disgusted me, as I would hope that my friends would never allow things to get that bad for me.

This isn't a "feminist" novel, apart from that it illustrates just how horrible and constricting a place Britain was, for both sexes. But this is because it is about the 50s, rather than explicitly about the struggle for equality of the sexes and an end of socially constricted gender roles. One line, however, massively stood out for me as still relevant today and that is when Anna says to Saul,

"In a society where not one man in ten thousand begins to understand the ways in which women are second class citizens, we have to rely for company on the men who are at least not hypocrites."

There is so much more I could say about this book and I would love to have a very long and in depth conversation with someone slightly more academic than I am about every part of it. But I have waffled on enough here. If anyone has any recommendations as to further reading into this book, they would be gratefully received.

Thank you
Happy Reading!
BookElf
xx

Monday, 7 March 2011

World Book Night at Arcadia

I made this: BookElf at 10:39 am 0 comments Links to this post
I woke up on Saturday with a horrible horrible hangover, fresh from a dream where we had set World Book Night up on trestle tables on Otley Road, nobody had come and everything was covered in sand...

...so its fair to say I was sliiiiiightly nervous when it came to 6.30 that evening. The lovely lovely people at Arcadia had reserved the side room downstairs for us to use, and I started to sweat a little hoping I hadn't completely wasted their time and done them out of a night's takings.

By 7.15, with 60 books on the table, and a packed-out venue full of amazingly brilliant people talking about their favourite books, beer and how to set up book clubs in their local area, I was already grinning madly, and a couple of hours later the tears had started stinging in my eyes at just what a brilliant, brilliant thing was going on around me.



Some of the early arrivals with their chosen books

It started when we heard about World Book Night in November. I instantly applied to be a giver for what I believe to be a great incentive to get people talking about books. Twenty Five Titles, 48 copies each, given out by 20,000 people up and down Britain, with massive support from writers such as Margaret Atwood and Alan Bennett, this was always going to need a bigger boat. When I found out The Travelling Suitcase Library had been selected to be a giver of "Stuart: A Life Backwards" by Alexander Masters (thoughtfully and eloquently told real-life story of a man who is homeless and stimulant dependent, fighting for his rights in a world that seem designed to go against him) I was jumping for joy a wee bit.

A few shout outs on Twitter and I soon realised I wasn't alone in wanting to share the books with others. Together with Lauren (@walkyouhome) and Alice (@bulbnose) we decided to gatecrash Arcadia for the night and give out the books we had chosen (Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez for Lauren, One Day by David Nicholls for Alice) to the locals and regulars that frequent the CAMRA pub of the season.

Then, when I toddled off to ask the amazing management of Arcadia if I could borrow a table for the evening, I found that there had already been some interest. A Random Man had apparently asked if he too could give out books. Then R the manager heard from her old friend Paula that she too was looking for a base to give hers out. It was all getting a bit big.



Some of the books given out

Come Saturday I had no idea if we could pull it off. Having promoted the evening in some online publications I know I still wasn't sure how it would go; an awful lot of people say to me "what a marvellous idea" when it comes to the Travelling Suitcase Library, but enough to fill a pub on a Saturday night?

At 7 there was mine and Alice's books on the table. These were soon joined by ten copies of The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid given by the absolutely gorgeous Steve, who had given the rest to his rugby team that day in an effort to bring his hobbies together.

At 8 Paula arrived, her brown box full of copies of Toast by Nigel Slater, greeted by cheers.



Alice, Lauren, Me and Paula with our books

The Travelling Suitcase was open throughout and about ten people brought books to be swapped. When my very good old friend M arrived with a bag full of graphic novels I had barely time to read out the titles before they were snatched from my hands.



The Travelling Suitcase Library

People were talking passionately about their preferences. Whether this was aided by the venue's excellent choice of beers and wines I couldn't comment, but the couple of pints of Black Velvet definitely loosened my tongue!

I popped upstairs to announce "free books" and we suddenly had about fifty people clawing their way to the table to get their hands on copies. When Kelly pulled out copies of Case Histories by Kate Atkinson to contribute to the hoard they lasted, what two minutes? When Lauren arrived (after moving house!) with 48 fresh copies of Love in the Time of Cholera she was greeted like a hero.

And then, at about 9, just when it couldn't get any better, Rebecca arrived. She'd read about the event on the World Book Night website, would it be alright to give out her 48 brand new copies of Northern Lightsby Phlip Pullman? I almost cried.



Standing room only at World Book Night!


I must have spoken about reading to 80-odd people that night, including a rather socially relaxed conversation with three rather nice young men about how they should definitely take a copy of Northern Lights (which only one of them had read, and whose reaction to hearing his friends hasn't was far to explicit for me to repeat) and use it as a chat up line during their night on the town.

It also turned out G, the deputy manager of the pub, hadn't read it either, which astounded me but I'm now really looking forward to discussing the series with him!



My face in the crowd at about 8 o'clock... says it all really!


This is what I love about books, they really do bring people from all walks of life together. Yes we were all adults, but students, locals, regulars and staff came together to talk about something they love and that should be celebrated. My favourite part of the night was possibly when regular Barry walked out with two books, and a massive grin on his face. It was also a pleasure to see a couple arguing massively over why she should take more books. "You already have five shelves!", "Oh really, and what about all your cricket gear?". Classic.

As the night wound down, and the good 400 books that had been given away from both the World Book Night haul and The Travelling Suitcase Library were packed carefully away into bags and coat pockets, we reflected on what we had done. Many people had said they would now be joining the book club, many more people have talked about the need to create one of their own. All in all I couldn't have been more pleased with how the night went, I just hope that everyone who came was inspired, and enjoys their new books!

Thank yous... to the amazingly supportive and accommodating Arcadia Bar, especially Tom and the team who were working that night, it was really really busy and you did a fantastic job (like you always to)

To R & G, the management, for continued love and support. Could not have done any of this without you.

To N, who has just been an utter utter rock. Bigger and better things next time!

To L, M, J and A for being there. Thank you.

To Lauren, Alice, Rebecca, Paula, Kelly and Steve the book givers who shared there passion and books with us. It would have not been half as amazing without.

To the word "amazing" that apparently sponsored this blog post!

And finally to every single person who came and took a book (or eight!). Enjoy them, read them, and pass them on. If one more person read one more books out of this whole thing, its a success, so thank you



Me, at the end of a long night, with books


Happy Reading!
BookElf
xx
 

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