How Reading Influences Positivity

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image by kongevold

 

It dawned on me that any period of reduced reading (there is no such thing as “no reading” period in my life) is also a period of reduced positivity. I’m a pretty optimistic person. I generally prefer to get any wallowing or self-pity out of the way, because I hate being miserable. [Note to the cynics: continuing to feel miserable is a choice – unless you are clinically depressed. It’s an easier choice than making some effort to feel happier, so when I hate being miserable, I do something about it.]

Like any one of you, my life has its problems too. There are times when I am miserable, confused, and have no idea how to move forward. However, what I have noticed that these periods are shorter when I’m reading a lot. It’s no coincidence, and I don’t believe it would apply only to me. Reading consistently – no matter what you like to read – could impact your outlook in life, and make it more positive.

 

4 Ways Reading Influences Positivity

 

Possibilities

One thing that books gives you are possibilities. Whether you are reading fiction or non-fiction, you can read about people who have done great things, risen above their challenges, and found options where none existed.

Values & Morality

When you are tempted to take short-cuts (because we are human, and thus fallible) or do something that is not in alignment with your values, books remind you that your heroes, who are as fallible as you, never do so. And if they do, they always regret it. Books give you the courage to remain steadfast, and not sacrifice the essence of who you are for quick gains.

Inspiration

Reading provides inspiration in spades. Read biographies or memoirs of people you admire, and you can learn from them. You can see that they also had the same 24 hours in a day, and usually no more advantages than you. You can see the choices they made, and how they took their destiny in their own hands instead of waiting for the world to deliver their dreams. Reading inspires you to be whoever you want to be, and gives you the courage to believe that you can.

Pleasure

When you are in a need of a little dose of positivity, the pleasure of getting lost in a story provides you just that. The reading time offers you a window to escape for a little while. There is nothing wrong with that, because when you return, you will come back more hopeful, maybe recharged, and if not with a solution, then at least with more determination. Pleasure should not be underrated. Life is to be lived, to be enjoyed, and books can offer us the pleasure of multitude of lives.

 

Have you felt positive impacts of reading? Share in the comments below. 

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Ask the Readers: Which Writers Intrigue You?

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image by Dolly Garland

 

Sometimes, I get curious about certain writers through unusual means. It could be because of reading one of their books, as in the case of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but at other times it’s because of what I learn about them or about their work in other sources.

For example, I didn’t really get interested in Virginia Woolf after reading Mrs. Dalloway. To be honest, it didn’t appeal to me all that much. But once I read Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer, which includes considerable commentary on Woolf’s work, I had a fresh interest in Woolf. The interest has only doubled after I read her Writer’s Diary. 

So today, I would like to know which authors intrigue you at the moment? Does this curiosity make you want to explore their works further, or do you want to know more about the author as a person? 

How did you become interested in them?

Share your answers in the comments below, and who knows, perhaps your list will inspire others. 

 

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4 Reasons You Should Read Books in Different Languages

 

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image by Dolly Garland

 

Do you read books in different languages? I don’t mean books translated from foreign languages. I mean, actually reading in other languages. 

I think being able to read something in the original language is absolutely the best way to experience any given material. It’s not always possible, but if you are able to do it, you should.

Personally, I love languages. A part of my goal in becoming a polymath is to be able to speak/read/write seven languages fluently. I can do so in three at the moment, and getting a move on with Spanish.

 

Four Reasons You Should Read Books in Foreign Languages

 

1. Reading Improves Language Skills

Once  you get past the basics, reading is hands-down one of the best ways to improve your skills in a foreign language. It doesn’t matter if the only things you can understand are baby books. Start with those. It will give you an instinctive understanding of how that language works, how the sentences are structured, as well as the colloquialism of that particular language. 

Reading can also be used to improve your skills in your native language. You can use it to enhance your vocabulary. (the vocabulary builder in the new Kindle Paperwhites is a good way to use modern technology). 

2. Reading Familiarises You with Another Culture

Read the original material in any language and you will have a snapshot of that entire culture before you. Stories are the backbone of humanity. Stories have been passed down, first through oral traditions, and then in writing from one generation to another. Stories tell us what any society thinks, or finds important, at any given moment in time.

Read the best material available in any culture and you will learn more about that culture in a span of a book, than you will ever learn from watching news. 

3. It Makes You More Knowledgeable/Conversational

Even if you only read fiction, you will still pick more knowledge about all sorts of things than you can imagine. All good stories base their fiction on facts. That means, all good authors do their research, and all the details of the world you see in their books, are based on reality. I’m not saying use it as the ultimate source of truth. However, you can learn a lot from fiction, if you start paying attention to those details, and take them as a starting point.

Here, for example is a picture of the journal spread I made while reading “The Sunday Philosophy Club” by Alexander McCall Smith. This is a map of all the cultural, historical and literary references made in that book. Just imagine the amount of knowledge I would accumulate if I read up on all of those specific things. (I haven’t – but just writing down these references have added to my cultural knowledge). 

The Sunday Philosophy Club

 

4. It Makes You A Better Person (Or gives you an opportunity to be so)

Reading in a foreign language means getting a foreign perspective. Did you know that Winston Churchill who is a hero from British Perspective is actually bit of a villain from an Indian perspective? One man, two views. 

The same thing would apply to Christopher Columbus, who may have discovered new land for the Europeans to get rich on, but who ruined things for the Native Americans. 

Reading those original texts gives you a perspective that broadens your world, and your thoughts. It makes the world more grey, and that can be difficult. But it’s important, because by considering those differences, perhaps you wouldn’t be too quick to make judgements or decisions that may affect lives of others. 

 

Do you read in other languages? Share your answers in the comments below. 

 

 

 

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Ask the Readers: Do You Re-Read Books?

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One of the problems loving books is that there is just never enough time to read everything you want. It’s even worse when you also like to re-read books, as I do. 

But even for all the new books out there that I want to devour, I wouldn’t give up re-reading. 

Re-reading serves different purposes. Some books are comfort reading. You know what’s going to happen, you don’t expect to learn anything new, but you re-read because it’s the book that gives you a comfort of familiarity or the company of beloved characters when you need it. 

Another reason for re-reading is to discover things you missed the first time. There are books where you can learn something new every time you read it. 

You can also re-read because some books change their meaning, as you change. The Alchemist was one one of those books for me. The first time I read it, it was an interesting story, but no more. The second time I read it, at a much different point in my life, it was of immense inspiration. 

You can also re-reading just to explore a book, explore words in detail. 

There are also craft/learning reasons. If you are a student, you can re-read to get a better grasp on the material you are trying to learn/understand. As a writer, you can re-read to learn what works and what doesn’t. 

There are as many reasons to re-read as there are people. 

Do you re-read? Why do you do it? Share your reasons, and your favourite re-read books in the comments below. 

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5 Ways to Experience Life-Giving Power of Literature

 

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When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.

– Maya Angelou

 

Maya Angelou passed away recently, and left behind a legacy through her literature. This quote above has always resonated with me, because I have been through it. I have experienced it. 

Literature has been my teacher. It has, for a long time, been a way through which I make sense of the world. By literature, I mean both fiction and non-fiction, plays and poetry. I mean, the books I have read, and the stories I have loved, and the characters I have rooted for. 

Literature has life-giving power, because literature is unique bites wrapped in universal themes. Good literature, connects with us on a human level. We can relate to it, whether because of the experiences we’ve had, the emotions we’ve felt, or the dreams we’ve dreamt. This connection tethers us to the world around us. It gives us something to hold on to. It gives us the ultimate hope that every soul needs: you are not alone.

 

Five Ways to Experience the Life-Giving Power of Literature

1. Read Regularly

This is a no-brainer, yet most people don’t do it. They save the reading for an annual summer vacation. You need to read. I’m not saying you need to become book-a-holic (though as far as addictions go, I like this one), but you could make reading a regular part of your life. When you have downtime, instead of always vegetating in front of the TV, open a book some time. 

An average adult with a full-time job, spouse and kids, should at least be able to finish a book a month. That’s mere 12 books a year. If you are doing more, great. But if you are doing less, then start with this simple goal of reading one book per month. 

2. Experiment

You are entitled to read whatever you like. I mean it. But don’t just rule out things before you’ve tried them. If you have always read only thrillers, or only romance novels, or only fantasy – try something else. For every 5 fantasy (or your preferred genre) books, read 1 book from another genre, or a play, a book of poems, or even a non-fiction. Broaden your horizons. Become an eclectic reader. 

There are good stories being told in countless ways, in nearly every different area. Sometimes, you learn more by visiting foreign lands, and the same thing applies to reading books that are foreign to you. 

The key to experimenting successfully is to start with tried and tested. When you try a new genre, go with the best in that field, so that even if you don’t like it, you know you tried with good quality material, as opposed to some random trash that even lovers of that genre don’t read. 

It shouldn’t need to be said, but I will say it anyway: don’t just give up after one try. If you tried horror and absolutely hated it, fine. Pass. But then try another genre. Don’t return to your cocoon of fantasy after one tiny step out of Hogwarts or Middle Earth. 

3. Talk About Books 

Reading books is great, but when you get to discuss them with like-minded people, it is both a pleasure and an activity for broadening your mind. Did they get the same thing as you from a particular book? Or was their experience different?

Was it different because you both lead a different life? Are you able to see from their perspective or you have no idea how could they have possibly found Frodo endearing? 

Discussing books is a way to mine deeper into the material. If you don’t know anyone who likes talking about books, that’s not even an issue these days, because you can join in online discussions forums. Go on somewhere like Goodreads, and you will find plenty of people who share the same taste in books as you do.

4. Keep A Reading Journal

Keeping a reading journal is about connecting deeper with your reading. Do you read books, and just forget about them? Or do you like something, but are you at a loss to  figure out what you liked, or why certain character appealed to you? Or perhaps you just want to remember the name of the book you read, or the author, or  your favourite character. 

A reading journal helps you do all that and more. Keeping a reading journal is like having a book club by yourself. You can keep track of your reading, your changing taste in material, and your ability to discover personal meaning through texts. You can also use it for scholarly pursuits of dissecting and analysing texts. 

5. Create/Participate in A Reading Challenge

Reading challenges help, because you have a target. There are all sorts of challenges online. Or you can just create your own. Whether you want a challenge of reading 12 books in 12 months, or a genre challenge…whatever it is, you could use it as a way to consciously become a better reader.

Follow above five steps regularly, or even some of them, and you will begin to feel the life-giving power of literature. 

 

 

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Reading As A Social Activity

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 image by pedrosimoes7

 

These days, we see reading as an isolated activity. You take a book, retire to your reading nook, and don’t come out for hours. That’s how we see reading. But that’s not entirely true, and it wasn’t always the case.

In 18th century particularly, reading was a social activity, and an important one at that. As periodicals flourished, coffee houses became the places where people would read these periodicals and discuss them with each other. For women (as respectable women didn’t really have a public place for such things) it would be at the home, whether at breakfast table, or in the drawing room. Reading was both a social and a family activity. 

You would read something, perhaps even read it out loud so that everyone can hear it, and then you would exchange your views on it. It stimulated intellectual conversations. It was an age of enlightenment, when self-improvement was a prevalent idea. 

Margaret J. M. Ezell said in her essay, Mr. Spectator on Readers and the Conspicuous Consumption of Literature: 

“…Mr. Spectator’s insistence on the public performance of reading in a social environment, whether that setting is a coffee house or a family dining room, which ties it to the older tradition of social authorship. Whether in fact his actual readers did indeed discuss its contents over breakfast, the type of reading he imagines for this format is based on the model of friends circulating manuscripts for other  friends to read, to respond to, to correct, to transcribe and re-circulate texts, an ongoing participatory mode of reading, where all readers are also writers and are also actively involved in the production and distribution of new texts.” [1]

“Compare this to modern patterns of reading. Librarians rigorously enforce the practice of silent, isolated reading practices and panic at the mention of food and drink anywhere near a text; parents insist their children be undistracted while reading and reading at the table is positively anti-social and anti-family; adults read aloud in groups only to those who we feel cannot do so silently for themselves, such as children. Alternatively, we happily pay to sit silently while a professional performer on a stage reads aloud Shakespeare’s sonnets, pretends to be Mark Twain, presents correspondence from famous authors, or monologues from body parts, and we feel no need to respond to the reader or the text until we are safely out of the performance space. Indeed, we are rather alarmed when people who aren’t professional performers don’t read silently in public places: strangers reading aloud or sharing their opinions about their reading marks them as eccentric, ironically, asocial. Likewise, we can use our book or newspaper to ensure a solitary, silent space for ourselves in public when we wish to avoid conversation with another person sitting near us on the subway or in the waiting room. Reading for us functions as a means of creating solitude and passive silence, even in a crowded public space, the antithesis of the reading practices imagined by Mr. Spectator and his creator.” [2]

Yet, we haven’t completely forgotten that reading can be a social activity. Book clubs are an evidence of that. The problem is we’ve been out of the habit of seeing reading as a social activity. In most households, entire families don’t read. If you wanted to read the newspaper out loud at the breakfast table, one of your family members would probably tell you to read quietly. It’s the attitude towards reading we need to change. We need to see that reading can still contribute to our intellectual stimulation, and to the betterment of our social lives, that it can elevate the level of conversations and thinking. Reading can be the best of both world – an ideal solitary retreat, and an engaging social activity. 

 

Sources:

  1. Page 4, Mr. Spectator on Readers and the Conspicuous Consumption of Literature, Literature Compass 1 (2003) 18C 014, Margaret J. M. Ezell
  2. Page 5, Mr Spectator on Readers and the Conspicuous Consumption of Literature, Literature Compass 1 (2003) 18C 014, Margaret J. M. Ezell

 

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How to Find Time to Read When You Are Busy

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image byFrogglin

 

“I am so busy” – this one phrase pretty much sums up the modern life for most people. You hear it all the time. I don’t have time to do this or that, because I’m so busy.

I know you are busy, but I can assure you that you can still find the time to read. It really doesn’t matter what you do, how many kids you have, how many jobs you have, or if you read slower than anyone else you know – you can still find the time to read.

Here are 14 Ways to Squeeze in Reading Time:

 

  1. Always have a book (or e-book) on you.
    This seems obvious, but this is where majority of people who complain about not having enough time fail. If you don’t have a book on you, you won’t be able to read it during unexpected gaps in your schedule. Everyone has those gaps, when you will inevitably end up waiting for something or someone. Use that time to read.
  2. Use the commute time.
    Don’t let the commute time go to waste by randomly staring at fellow commuters or zoning out. The only reason I used to not-hate my commute by bus was because it gave me solid hour to read daily (30 minutes each way). Now, as I travel on London Tube (underground), I’m thrilled by how many people read during their commute. Particularly as one of the unspoken etiquette of the tube is to not make eye-contact, it’s best to keep your eyes on the book.
  3. Read when you are waiting for someone.
    You probably have a friend or a colleague who is always running late. Or maybe you are early. Whether it’s for business or pleasure, use the waiting time to read a page or two. You will feel far more productive, and less annoyed about having to wait.
  4. Read in your lunch-break.
    Okay, you can spend some lunch breaks catching up with friends, but really, they are best used by reading.
  5. Create family reading time.
    If you have kids, this should be a MUST. Not only you will find time to read for yourself, but you will also instil reading habit in your children from an early age.
  6. Treat yourself to a good cup of coffee/tea + book time.
    Go to your favourite café or tea shop, and treat yourself with a drink, as well as some reading time.
  7. Read before going to sleep.
    Make it a ritual. Just a page or two before bed to ease into oblivion. Be careful though because it may also end up keeping you up throughout the night.
  8. Listen to audio books.
    If your commute involves driving, or your exercise involves running outside, where you can’t read a physical book, then audio books make an alternative.
  9. Read while working out.
    If you work out in the gym, or at home on a machine, then you can read while you work out.
  10. Schedule daily reading time.
    The best way to prioritise reading, is to actually prioritise it. Put it on your schedule. Have daily reading time, even if it is only 10 minutes a day.
  11. Give up on books you hate.
    One of the worst things you can do with your limited reading time is to try to plough through a book you hate. That’s enough to put you off reading. Life’s too short. And your stubbornness is better saved for more important things. 
  12. Join a book club.
    If you find it hard to discipline yourself or motivate yourself, then join a book club. Talking about a book with like-minded people, or having a collective choice of what to read may just be what you need.
  13. Read in the bathroom.
    Let’s face it. You are going to spend time in there. Use it well. 
  14. Read aloud to/ listen to your partner/friend.
    If you have a partner/friend who enjoys books too, you two can read aloud to each other. It’s a wonderful thing to share. 

 

Do you have tips for finding time to read? Share in the comments below.

 

 

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Harry Potter Exhibition and Inspiration from J.K.Rowling

 

Yesterday, I went to the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library. As a massive fan of the books, I was immensely looking forward to it.

No photos, as photography wasn’t permitted, but if you are a Harry Potter fan and able to go then I would recommend it.

The exhibition is beautifully curated, and as one would expect from the British Library, very well done. It’s called A History of Magic, and you can see on display, many original manuscripts that relate to the concepts discussed within the Harry Potter books, such as the Philosopher’s stone, a bezoar, potions, and even broomsticks and cauldrons.

Several interactive elements allow the visitor to brew a potion (mine failed, so the Night Goblins are going to continue attacking), read your fortune through Tarot cards, and look into the crystal ball.

There are beautiful illustrations by Jim Kay who designed some of the artwork for the book covers. There was, in short, considerable interesting material.

But my favourites – and the reason I booked this exhibition – was to see J. K. Rowling’s original manuscripts. There was the first page of the synopsis of her first book that she submitted to publishers. There were annotated drafts of printed manuscripts at edit stage, including some scenes and earlier versions of stories that never made it to the final cut.

There were plot sheets, basically hand-written spreadsheets where Rowling planned out her stories. One page of it from Order of the Phoenix has been well-circulated over the years on the internet. But to see that, and a few others in person was incredible.

There was an annotated copy of the first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which Rowling annotated with her thoughts on why she wrote etc. to raise money for charity. Only the first page is visible on the display, but I would love to read her annotations in their entirety.

As I went through that exhibit, it became more clear how many years of work went into making this Wizarding World as real as it is, and how much effort and planning and thinking and edits it took to make the stories as rich as they are.

As I looked at the edit notes, I was comforted to see that Rowling also did all the “menial” work as I am doing right now, and which sometimes frustrates me. Having to edit and re-edit, and rethink. Knowing the richness and depth of a story in your own head, but wanting to make it come alive on the page when it just isn’t living up to your standards.

It was a relief, to be honest. It was a feeling of kinship, and of hope. That it’s okay. That while some people may just write pretty perfect first drafts (very few I think), most people don’t, and that it’s okay. It doesn’t mean you suck as a writer. It just means that’s how you work, that’s how you mine ideas, and that’s how you polish.

I wish I had been able to take photos of some of that stuff, just to remind me when I am having doubts. But that’s what this blog post is for. To remember. And to remind the rest of you who may also struggle with that from time to time, when the book you want to write is just isn’t coming together, and when you question whether you are good enough.

Keep writing that story. Keep working at it. Finish.

You can do it.

Whether or not you like Harry Potter is irrelevant. Rowling’s story is that of hard work and grit. And as writers, we can all take inspiration from that.

 

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NaNoWriMo 2017 – Let the Madness Begin!

 

Honestly, I had no plans to do NaNoWriMo earlier this year. Until September, I hadn’t thought about it. After all, my life is so crazy busy right now that even considering it was silly. But then in September I went to Milford Writers Conference and got this huge injection of writing mojo. That was a really good thing because I really needed that injection. After that, writing momentum has been going in full force, and I am really keen to make some solid progress on my novel. So enter NaNoWriMo.

At first I thought I would just do it without joining in officially. I figured I will do about 30,000 words and even that will be solid progress. But one thing led to another, and I ended up officially signing up to NaNo, and so of course now I have to try to do the whole 50,000. 

The madness has begun. 

I know I have some very busy days coming up when I will be lucky if I manage to do 500 words a day, so I wanted to get off to a really good start. On the first day, I’ve managed to 5485 words, which was way better than I was expecting. So the first day of NaNoWriMo2017 has been a success. And hopefully, I will hit that 50,000 mark. 

 

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Milford Writers Conference – A Week in North Wales

After a wonderful week at my very first Milford Writers Conference in gorgeous Nantlle valley, at the foot of Snowdon mountain (which continued to play a disappearing act), I am back in London. I wanted to write down impressions of this week before it was too late. While the impact is still fresh, though I am pretty sure the impact of it will stay a while.

You note I said my “first” visit,  and it certainly won’t be the last. Milford has that effect on people. 

By Thursday evening we critiqued altogether 26 pieces. That’s 5 days of intensive afternoon critique sessions. I hadn’t actually realised how taxing it was until Friday morning. I felt completely drained. Most people were pretty knackered on Friday, so just as well that we had the day off. We used that to explore the nearby town of Caernarfon, including the Caernarfon castle. It’s a lovely castle, restored well, and contains quite a bit of Welsh history. Half-a-day’s tour there and then we returned to Trigonos for Cake’O clock. In the evening, Suyi, Vaughan and I went for our last walk to Mordor. It rained on us, and as the evening was falling, we kept it short. But still, it was good to pay another visit to the slate quarry and the lake.

Friday evening was a rather subdued affair, but most of us hung out in the library together. On Saturday morning we all started making our way back out of Trigonos and to our respective homes. It was sad to say goodbye, as in one week, having spent most of our waking hours together, it did feel as if I was saying goodbye to people I’ve known for a long time.

While at Milford, I also created my “Post-Milford Action List” which involves being far more productive and proactive with my writing. On the way back, in the car, Sue and I discussed what we are taking away from Milford.

These are the things I learned/gained from Milford:

  • I really felt rejuvenated with my writing mojo. It’s incredible spending time with other writers who are committed to their craft. We basically spent the week focused entirely on writing. That was incredibly inspiring.
  • I learned more about my critique style and more about everyone else’s critique styles. This is incredibly valuable, not just to keep improving as someone who gives feedback, but also to keep developing my own critique style.
  • I had a fresh perspective on eliminating (unnecessary) busyness from life. During this week, we focused as little as possible on mundane life stuff. While that’s not really practical for a normal life, I think it is possible to waste a little less time thinking about necessary but unimportant life chores. I don’t know how exactly I am going do that just yet, but at least I am thinking about it, and hopefully will be able to implement some changes.
  • I need to make more time for writing, and for thinking about writing.
  • I met incredible people, who I hope will become friends as well as colleagues. Writing community is incredibly small and we all seem to cross paths, so there are many opportunities to work together and support one another as we go forward.

And as if to keep the Milford ties in place, today by a totally freak coincidence I ran into Suyi in Waterstones, Piccadilly. That is just continuation of Milford, not the end. I somehow ended up on the committee to help out with the social media. I look forward to doing my bit to spread awareness about Milford. A few of us have decided to do NaNoWriMo this year to make progress on our particular projects. There are many more plans for Milford in the works, and I believe it will flourish. It’s already got a great history behind it, and it still continues to be a solid place for support, networking, and inspiration for writers. I am really glad I am now a part of this community.

Milford is over. Long live Milford.

 

 

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