Out of the house

No-Sport Sunday with Jeff Kinney

Our weekends are often pretty sporty. The boys enjoy there basketball, and as such, Saturday and Sunday is often taken up with playing, watching or talking about basketball of one kind of another. And then, of course, there’s the footy…

But, every now and then I steal one or both of the kids away from all the sporty fun for a bit of a bookish adventure.

Sunday last was one such occasion, when I absconded with Evan into the city to hear from the fantastic Jeff Kinney, author of the bestselling Diary of  a Wimpy Kid series. Thanks to the Wheeler Centre, we tripped into the Town Hall along with thousands of other eager fans to hear from the talented, very unassuming author.

I was so impressed with Jeff’s story, it was fascinating to hear how his vision for himself as a cartoonist didn’t quite work out the way he thought it would. Rather, with patience and perseverance, his career in fact became about much more than his whimsical drawings. His cartoons and stories communicate a most refreshing connection with childhood, and his obvious commitment to making reading accessible to ‘reluctant readers’ is wonderful to witness.

His very visual presentation was wonderfully entertaining… I particularly liked being able to see how involved he was with the film translation of his book (I’ve often wondered about the author/film-maker relationship), and I think Evan’s favourite part would have to have been the different cover translations of Diary of a Wimpy Kid from around the world, in particularly the banana-ry Brazilian translation! He talked about it all the way home…

The kids were transfixed, Jeff’s presentation was pitched just right. The junior audience laughed and ooh’d and aah’d throughout. Not only that, I was incredibly impressed with the questions that the kids asked at the end of the session – concise, thoughtful and of real interest to the whole audience. Fantastic crowd.

Events like this one provide the most amazing opportunity to engage kids with writing, reading and authors. Just quietly, I like to be able to give Ev and Oscar a little break from the sporty world of weekends, and to encourage something a little more on the bookish side from time to time. These kinds of gigs give me a chance to do this.

Thanks to the Wheeler Centre for the opportunity to see Jeff Kinney this month. Please check out their calendar for some more amazing upcoming events, including evenings with Christopher Paolini and Jodi Picoult.


A couple of fun reminders while I’m here!!

The TBYL Book Club for May started today. Join us at the club to chat about Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.

I’ll be drawing our The Immortal Rules competition at 8pm tonight. Find out how to enter here.

I’m currently getting the June edition of TBYL News: All Things Bookish ready. Don’t forget to subscribe to get it by email, first Monday of the month.

There’s just a couple more days to enter our TBYL News, Mary Bennet give-away. Click here to find out how to enter!


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Freedom of Speech. Over-rated?

Last week, after a busy day in the office I thought I’d better get myself off to a Wheeler Centre gig. It’d been a little while since I’d been to one, and I had tickets, after all.

I wandered up to one of my favourite venues, the Melbourne Town Hall, to attend the latest in the Intelligence Squared Debates (presented by the St James Ethics Centre and the Wheeler Centre.) I expected that the evening would be intelligent, philosophical and perhaps even humorous, and my expectations were most certainly meet. I cast my vote at the door, and took my seat ready to hear six great minds argue for and against the proposition, that “freedom of speech is over-rated.”

It had been a long time since I’d been to a properly run, serious debate. To be truthful, the last time was probably high school, and so I’d forgotten how perplexing they can be. Although I felt pretty certain of which side of the argument I agreed with, I found myself flipping, second guessing and questioning my commitment as each new speaker took to the podium.

The line-up was impressive; Marcia Langton, Michael Gawenda and Catherine Deveny arguing for the proposition and Julian Burnside, Gretel Killeen and Arnold Zable speaking for the opposing side. Without exception, the speakers offered up compelling and intelligent arguments, although I’ll admit that from the outset the negative come across incredibly strongly.

Marcia Langton raised extremely valid and convincing points, examples of the harm that can be brought about by ‘too much’ free speech. Arnold Zable in turn highlighted the frightening damage that can be done through ‘too little’.

Catherine Deveny, in true irreverent style, brought to bear an argument that not only was freedom of speech over-rated, but also that it was practically imaginary. In her opinion; “…some of the people could say some of the things, some of the time.” The rest of us, if not in this select group, suffered greatly if we dared to speak our mind. Gretel Killeen did not entirely disagree with this argument, although she did go on to demonstrated that even if freedom of speech did not exist, that this didn’t mean that it wasn’t incredibly important. In her opinion, it was in fact greatly under-rated, and was a freedom well worth fighting to obtain and maintain.

The final speakers, Michael Gawenda and Julian Burnside QC were both highly intelligent and incredibly entertaining. Michael Gawenda focused on the importance of facts, on the need for speech (free or otherwise), opinions or media to be based on factual realities. To use freedom of speech to excuse, or indeed validate lies or fallacies was a great crime indeed. Again, the speaker for the negative Julian Burnside QC agreed with this, and went on to say that freedom of speech, as it stands today does not, and should not, include the freedom to tell lies, or to mislead.

The fight was won with Burnside. He’s a sly one, and he turned the debate on its head at this point. He complimented the affirmative team, and highlighted how their careers, their life’s works were in fact great testaments to the importance of freedom of speech and that they had in fact worked to ensure that others could be assured of a certain, and potentially increasing, level of freedom to express their views, beliefs and opinions.

After questions, comments and final arguments from both teams, a debate winner was declared. The evening went to the negative team, freedom of speech was NOT over-rated. The victory was convincing.

This was a fascinating evening, and I’m looking forward to the next debate, on an equally contentious issue “Foreign Aid is a Waste of Money.”

Next up though, it’s looking like Ev and I will be enjoying an evening out together to hear from the very funny Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. We can’t wait! Tickets are available if you’d like to join in the fun…

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On the calendar

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve fairly well had my head constantly in one book or another. This, of course is one of my favourite things to do, but once it’s been a few weeks I do start to feel that maybe I’m missing out on something that’s going on. It’s then that I know it’s time to start perusing the events calendars and making some bookings, which is exactly what I did.

I thought I’d share a few choice finds with you, which will in turn give you an idea of the event reviews coming up over the next few months.

First up, I’ve booked myself a ticket to a fantastic event being presented by the Wheeler Centre and the St James Ethic Centre. Freedom of Speech is Over Rated is a debate which promises to be enlightening, entertaining and perplexing. The line-up is impressive; Marcia Langton, Michael Gawenda and Catherine Deveny arguing for the proposition and Julian Burnside, Gretel Killeen and Arnold Zable speaking for the opposing side. I think it’s fair to say that the night might get a little heated, and it’s most definitely bound to get a little cheeky.

It’s being held at the Melbourne Town Hall, and you can book tickets here if you’re keen.

Next is a free exhibition currently being held at the State Library of Victoria. Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond, showing until 1 July 2012, is a celebration of Persian manuscripts and affords us the opportunity to see a selection of beautiful and rare original manuscripts.

Somewhat selfishly, I might sell this one as a day-trip and take the kids into the city for the day. After all, Oscar has been nagging me to go back to the ‘Big Library’ ever since the Children’s Book Festival. It’ll be good for them… If you want to find out more about the event, you can visit the exhibition’s beautiful website here.

Lastly, this event is a little bit further away, but Evan and I are both very excited about it already. We’ve got tickets to hear Christopher Paolini speak. Christopher is of course, the author of the incredibly successful Eragon series and his story is an inspirational one. I can’t wait to hear more about just how he managed to put Eragon together at the tender age of fifteen and I think Evan is just excited about seeing the author of a book he’s reading as we speak – brilliant timing! The event is being presented by the Melbourne Writers Festival crew, and will be held 21 June 2012. You can book tickets here.

Plenty to do, learn and write about! Love it!

Have you got any planned bookish outings on the calendar?

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True to my word…

I’ve  been invited to my friend’s house for a ‘painting night’ tonight.

I almost said no, and then I remembered this…

So I’ve raided the art box and taken a trip to the art supplies shop, and this is what I’ve come up with…

Wish me luck?

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Imagination at play

Yesterday, I was thrilled to be able to share my love of a good event with my kids.

On a perfect day (not too hot, not too cold) Evan and Oscar and I hopped on a train and meandered into the city for the Children’s Book Festival 2012, held by The Wheeler Centre and the State Library of Victoria (a.k.a ‘The Big Library’).

Greeted by the sounds of the Goss Community Choir, we started our day off by having a little stroll around the lawns to see what was on offer. The vibe was fantastic, lots of people, kids of all ages and everyone keen to hear, see and experience some wonderful kid’s reading.

Oscar stopped off and listened to a couple of stories at the 1001 Nights Tent. It never wears off really does it? The little flutter of joy when watching your kids really enjoy a story – he was enthralled…

After a couple of stories, it was time to go and meet some baby animals. I’d had a tip-off that there was a very cute piglet at the petting zoo and so we happily lined up for a few minutes to check him out…

After the farm, it was time for a wander up Little Lonsdale Street, and who should find but Spot the Dog! Oscar was over the moon, he heard a story, got a hug, and even managed a high five from his favourite spotty dog.

I’m not quite sure what it is about Fire Trucks, but they are always a hit! Both the boys had a great time checking out the truck, with its gauges and hoses and buttons and levers. Oscar was impressed, as he had a chance to sit in the cabin of the big red fire engine, he looked quite at home really.

Then it was on to something a bit more bookish. We went for a bit of a look at The Big Library. The Experimedia room was incredible fun…toys, books, tents and music. We were very fortunate to hear from the lovely Hazel Edwards, who was celebrating Hippopotamus’s 30th birthday! It was quite special to share this with the boys…they didn’t realise as they sat transfixed, that I used to do the same thing when these books were read to me at school. Quite special. It was also very interesting to hear a bit about the behind the scenes of some of Hazel’s favourite picture books.

We’d almost run out of puff, but we couldn’t miss out on just one more experience – the chance to hear from Andy Griffiths. Just around the corner at the Wheeler Centre, we joined a room full of other eager fans to giggle, gasp and gaffaw at the very irreveralant, always funny Andy. Evan and I shared many a laugh, and enjoyed having a chat about the talk and Andy’s books on the way home.

The festival kicked on until 4pm, but we three had had our fill, and it was time to head home. The kids chatted all the way home, and had a ball telling Dad all about the Big Library and the fire trucks, the ducks, the rabbits and the fabulous stories.

These days are what memories are made of…

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In grand style

A full house. It was clear as soon as I walked into the Melbourne Town Hall, that I was not alone in wanting to see in a new year of literary endeavours in grand style.

As I found my seat amongst at least two thousand fellow bibliophiles, I marvelled at just how many people had been so quick and keen to hear a little from the minds of eleven creative individuals.

Becoming something of a tradition, this year’s Wheeler Centre Gala came with a little twist in it tail. Gala 2012: Stories to Believe In gave a voice to eleven different stories of belief from an impressive literary ensemble.

I was thrilled that the evening began with the delightful Gillian Mears. She brought with her a calmness and a simplicity and began proceedings by sharing a little of her latest novel Foal’s Bread.

It seemed fitting that a little piece of what Gillian believed in had already been captured, recorded in her poetic novel. I’ll admit, I had goosebumps as she read her prologue, a little overwhelmed by Mears’ sentiment and delivery.

Next up was Bob Franklin, changing the tone. of course, if you thought he’d be predictable and deliver us humour (his usual fare), you’d be wrong. Instead, he shared a gothic tale of angelic romance, mysterious and etherial: “I won’t ever open my eyes again, if that’s what it takes.” This short love story was haunting and enchanting, with just the slightest hint of punchline.

Randa Abdet-Fattah was next on stage, and she came out swinging. Her beliefs were bold, a story of defiance, atrocity and conflict. Her recount was strong, frightening and violent as she told of the devastation of a terrorised but resolute woman in the streets of urban Egypt. Her honesty made many in the audience uneasy, and it become clear just what it was to share belief in it’s purest, often most harrowing, form.

Next came Alice Pung, whimsical, suburban and humourous. Alice’s stories of childhood, parenthood and Mars Bars brought us back to the Australian school yard – a lovely revisit.

Kaz Cooke was, for me, a highlight of the evening’s line-up. Irreverent yet insightful, Kaz always manages to be witty as well as thoughtful. Her story somehow managed to fuse religion, mythology and Captain Cook, old age, botox and scrotums, all into one neat little, tongue in cheek package.

The evening was moving along at a cracking pace, each story short and revealing.

Next up was Elliot Perlman, who picked up on a fairly common theme of the evening, that of race. Perlman used his skills as a proficient storyteller to highlight the everyday discrimination that lives, quite at home  in our suburban streets – a sad story, with a hopeful resolution, as new generations look at each other with less apprehension and more acceptance.

Carrie Tiffany‘s story was beautifully personal, her recollection of migration from England to Perth, of adjusting to living in houses ‘built on sand’ and sleeping through nights that didn’t cool down. As over time, everything that was once so new because commonplace, she developed a habit, a steadfast belief – in books. Her passion for reading, for stories and books was devine: “I don’t care what reading does for the mind, I just care that it softens the heart.” It’ll be no surprise, that this is a belief that I share whole-heartedly.

Now of course, not everything we believe in turns out to be solid, as Andy Griffiths reminded us with his Nine Dumb Things I Used to Believe: ‘LMNOP’ is not in fact a letter in its own right and toothpaste isn’t just a conspiracy invented by companies to sell more toothpaste. I’m sure that most of use were listing at least a couple of ‘dumb things’ of our own by the end of his list.

Lally Katz told a twisty writer’s tale of Cookie the Psychic and her uncanny ability to see, and remove personal curses. Cookie, brash and bold, with her New York brogue surprised us all by turning out to be rather quite shy when it came to crunch.

Although it could be said that all the Gala guests touched us emotionally, it was physical touch that was at the centre of Tony Birch’s premise. The importance of touch, between child and parent, friend and friend, man and woman – be it two feet touching, a friendly embrace or a single kiss, Tony’s message to the audience this evening was that it is physical touch that brings us peace and connection, in a way that nothing else can.

Finally, the night was drawn to a close, musically by Casey Bennetto. Expecting something profound, imagine my surprise when I was meet with more the larrikin than the lyrical. Casey kindly reminded us that for all our country’s beauty, and all our earnest endeavours – it’s the big things that speak loudest of all…he rounded up the evening on a delightfully humorous note.

And so, for another year, the Gala concluded and we all were left a little wiser, a little more reflective, and thoroughly entertained. I was rapt by the evening, by the venue and the guests. It bodes incredibly well for an amazing series of events from the Wheeler Centre this year…keep an eye on their program, I know I will.

Check out the stories for yourself, videos are now available at the Wheeler Centre’s website.


As an aside, don’t forget that our February discussions kick off next week at the TBYL Book Club. We’ll be discussing Emma Donoghue’s novel Room, with a new question being posted each day, starting on Monday, 27.2.12.

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Riddle me this…

Last night, I was extremely fortunate to have the chance to join a small group of people in an intimate setting, to hear a few choice words from the very clever (and apparently jet-lagged) Alain de Botton.

The event run by Penguin Books Australia, was the most incredible opportunity to meet and greet with the author, complimented nicely by lovely wine and great company.

It was an evening of some quite intriguing ideas.

To me, philosophy always seems a little like a riddle; riddling around the why, when and how of our complicated lives. Philosophers, in turn, seem to both pose the riddle, and help us to answer it.

Alain de Botton seems in his new book, Religion for Atheists to be placing firmly on the table, the giant riddle of meaning – our need for it – and the gaps it leaves if we don’t feel that we have an adequate sense of meaning in our lives. It is his premise that although our belief in religion has diminished, the drivers that led us to create the various religious infrastructures are still very present in society – our craving for community, the need for guidance as to how to live well, and our appreciation of the importance of beauty, art and education. These needs are not always, in a secular context, being met. Alain does not purport that religion has the answers to this, but rather than secular society might do well to borrow some elements from religions – some rehearsals, some structures, some aesthetics and traditions, so help us learn, understand and connect with the world and each other.

Alain kindly shared some of his thinking on the premise of this book, some of the key arguments and a little on the research that he had done in order to put this work together. As always, it was a delight to hear such well structured, well researched propositions – it is what takes this kind of discussion away from being simple opinion, and makes it so very useful.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t completely agree with de Botton’s position in regards to religion for atheists. I think there are very good reasons for why people have moved away from organised religion, that go beyond the simple changes in understanding of mythology and the supernatural. I think this is why, as Alain mentions, religiosity is unpopular with many people. For this reason, I don’t think it is always going to be practical or appropriate to re-approriate religious mechanisms to enhance secular life. But, I do see great value in his position regarding the importance of reminders to ourselves to stop, reflect and enjoy, traditionally a feature of religious calendars around the world. His points regarding the role of art, architecture and talented oration also help to lend weight to their importance in a society that has become very focused on the practical, the vocational, the immediate. As someone who has had to answer the question; “What will that degree/subject/hobby ever get you?” I appreciate all the advice that I can get on this front.

In short, it was an incredible evening and I’m very much looking forward to reading Religion for Atheists. Likewise, I’m looking forward to attending Alain de Botton’s presentation for the Wheeler Centre tomorrow evening. I’ll be all philosophy-ed out by the end of the week, but hopefully I’ll also be a little bit smarter.

Religion for Atheists will be added to the TBYL Bookshelf in the near future. If you’d like me to let you know when copies have arrived, please email info@thatbookyoulike.com.au and I’ll be in touch.

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Time flies…

It’s just occurred to me that it’s Friday…

Not only that, but on looking back on the week, I realise now that I’ve had no time to post. Oh dear. Gladly though, this has largely been because I’ve been very busy attending Galas, reading into the wee hours and meeting authors (and making plans to meet more). As a result of all of these activities, it’s my intention to bring you a whole stack of interesting articles over the next couple of weeks…

So you better clean your reading glasses, I’m comin’ your way!

In the meantime, I’m really excited to be able to announce the novel for March’s TBYL Book Club. It’s something a little lighter this month, and should be good for both laughs and discussions. It’s Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity:

It’s a brilliant story of one man’s journey of self-discovery. When Rob – a thirty-five-year old record shop owner and music obessive – is dumpted by Laura he indiulges in some casual sex, a little light stalking and some extreme soul-searching in the form of contacting every ex-girlfriend who ever broke his heart. An instant classic, High Fidelity is a hilarious exploration of love, life, music and the modern male.

Remember, it’s free to join the club, and if you’d like to buy a copy of the book, I’ve got them in The Store for just $9.95.

We’re gearing up for this month’s catch-up to discuss Emma Donoghue’s Room. Discussions kick off on the 27.2.12 and will run for the week – I hope you’ll join us. Read the review || Buy the Book

Finally, you might have noticed me carrying on our Facebook page this week about an amazing opportunity that has presented itself. I’m extremely excited at having been invited to meet-and-greet with Alain de Botton this weekend. This special event, arranged by Penguin Australia, will be an incredible chance to hear from the author of titles such as The Consolations of Philosophy and The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. I’ll be getting a copy of his new book Religion for Atheists this weekend, and I’ll be sure to review it post-haste.

Plenty of fun to be had in TBYL-world…I hope you’ll join in!

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What do you believe in?

It’s not something you ask someone every day – “What do you believe in?” – but, when you think about it, it’d probably be one of the most interesting conversations you could have with a person.

A set of beliefs can be as individual as fingerprints, and often quite surprising. To be offered an insight into the beliefs of some of my favourite authors is a rare treat indeed.

That is why I’m so looking forward to my first literary event of 2012, the Wheeler Centre’s Gala 2012: Stories to Believe In.

Eleven authors have been asked to explore belief

…from whichever angle they choose – be it a polemic on their unshakeable commitment to our inalienable rights as humans, a personal account of being in the presence of God, or a tirade on the existence of hobbits.”

The range of guests is impressive; Alice Pung, Elliot Perlman, Bob Franklin… but personally, I’m most exciting about hearing from Kaz Cooke, Andy Griffiths, Carrie Tiffany and Gillian Mears. Gillian Mears of course is the author of Foal’s Bread, a book that I’ve been raving about since last year.
Carrie Tiffany

Carrie Tiffany is the very talented author of Everyman’s Rules to Scientific Living and more recently, Mateship with Birds. I had a chat with Carrie last week, and am looking forward to bringing you a review-interview in the very near future.

There is something very enticing about the possibility of getting inside the hearts and minds of these talented individuals, be it only for a few minutes.

Although the Gala is currently booked out, I have heard that there is a slight possibility of a few extra tickets becoming available tomorrow, so keep an eye on the Wheeler Centre’s website. While you’re there, why not have a browse through their calendar of events – it’s looking fantastic, including an amazing range of personalities, ideas and disciplines. It’s going to be a good year!

Are you going to the Gala? Any other literary outings planned?

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It seemed a fitting end to a year of amazing outings. A perfect book-end to wrap up this year’s events. 2011 started with the Wheeler Centre, and so too it finishes.

One of my very first blog posts set out to describe my delight and awe at The Gala Night of Storytelling 2011: Voices from Elsewhere, at which I heard from the likes of John Birmingham, Mem Fox and Sonya Hartnett. This gala event set me on a path on which I have had the chance to listened to some most amazing story-tellers; Kate Grenville, Arnold Zable, Richard Flanagan, and Kaz Cooke, to name just a few.

Last Friday was probably my last lit event for 2011 and it was with a brimful of gratitude that I attended the Wheeler Centre’s double billing featuring Tom Stoppard and Neil Gaiman. The opportunity to see two such literary luminaries had me quite a-gush, and the fact that Neil and his partner in crime, Amanda Palmer sat a row ahead of me did nothing to still my rapidly beating heart.

In my 20s I spent a whole year reading plays. This was entirely as a result of having been introduced to the work of Tom Stoppard and it all started with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Once I’d read this, I moved on to his The Real Thing and Jumpers. I read Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller, William Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. I watched the film adaption of Rosencrantz…, starring Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, many times over, and it remains to this day, one of my favourites.

I feel very privileged to have had the chance to hear Stoppard’s thoughts…his take on his ‘charmed life’, his attraction to language ‘for it’s own sake’ and the subtle, sometimes ‘clever’ art of playwriting. I’m also thrilled to have had the opportunity to say a very quick hello and thank-you to the man himself. I felt a little bit of a fangirl lining up at the signing, but it was worth it for what has now become one of the most treasured parts of my book collection…a signed 1970s copy of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Priceless.

After farewelling Tom, half the crowd left, half stayed, and new set of fanboys and girls arrived to hear from Neil. Waiting mostly patiently, somewhat noisily in the almost too warm lobby of the Athenaeum Theatre, the slight ripples of impatiences were stilled by a very special treat. Amanda Palmer, ninja-style. Amanda’s ‘lobby take-over’ on bar with ukulele had the crowd spellbound. All legs and fishnets and jet-lagged grins, the surprise performance went down a treat.

On her last refrain the doors opened and on finding our seats we settled in for a night with Neil. What an icon, a mind full of life and ideas, dark humour and spirit. I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that I’d happily have listened to Gaiman chat all evening. With such a huge body of work, and a finger in pretty much every creative pie, he had more to say than we had time. He did, nonetheless have opportunity to share some of his thoughts on works like American Gods, The Sandman, and even Coraline.

After the obligatory chat about his episode of Doctor Who and his take on the creative process, the night drew to a close. And so too did my literary calendar of events for 2011.

But, never fear. Rest assured, I’ve plans. I’ve got my eye on a starter for 2012. How’s does the Wheeler Centre Gala 2012: Stories to Believe In sound?

It sounds pretty good to me…


Don’t forget to enter this month’s give-away of a copy of Chris Allen’s Defenders of the Faith. Entries close tonight, you’ll find details here.

Stay tuned too, for an extra special, Christmassy treat from TBYL. Details tomorrow!

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