July, 2019

Colson Whitehead’s stellar return and more books coverage

by Carolyn Kellogg | Jul-15-2019

At the Washington Post, Ron Charles reviews Colson Whitehead's new novel The Nickel Boys, writing that "it shreds our easy confidence in the triumph of goodness and leaves in its place a hard and bitter truth about the ongoing American experiment." At the NY Times, Parul Sehgal, winner of the 2011 NBCC Balakian award, writes that the book is "a tense, nervy performance." And at the L.A. Times, NBCC board member Carolyn Kellogg wrote about Whitehead and his inspiration for the novel -- the Dozier School in Florida and Trump's election -- as well as the time, as a teenager, he was mistakenly picked up by cops. 

Constance Grady, who covers books and culture at Vox, has recently written about: Fleishman is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner; a new Jane Eyre ballet; Neal Stephenson's Fall; and Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger, "a cookbook that reads like a novel."

Writing for the Associated Press -- look for these reviews at a media outlet near you -- Oline H. Cogdill reviewed the mystery novels Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin; Lock Every Door by Riley Sager and Paper Son by S.J. Rozan. Cogdill also reviewed Almost Midnight by Paul Doiron for the Sun-Sentinel.

Paul Wilner talked to Peter Orner about his short story collection Maggie Brown and Others at Zzzyva.

NBCC board member Lori Feathers reviewed Beyond Babylon by Igiaba Scego, translated from the Italian by Aaron Robertson, for On the Seawall.

Clea Simon rethought beach reads at NBC and reviewed The Ghost Clause by Howard Norman for the Boston Globe.

Jason Diamond talked to fighter-slash-writer Jaed Coffin about his memoir Roughhouse Friday for Inside Hook.

Jake Cline reviewed David Szalay's novel Turbulence at the Washington Post.

Martha Anne Toll reviewed Margarita Liberacki's Three Summers for NPR Books.

Maureen Corrigan reviewed the novel Copperhead by Alexi Zentner for NPR.

At The Maine Edge, Allen Adams reviewed The Porpoise by Mark Haddon and the nonfiction book Archeology from Space by Sarah Parcak, who he also talked to about the book.

Jessica Smith reviewed two poetry collections for Fence Digital: dark // thing by Ashley M. Jones (Pleiades, 2019) and I Can't Talk about the Trees without the Blood by Tiana Clark (Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 2018). Smith also reviewed Homemade Poems by Lorine Niedecker (CUNY Center for the Humanities, 2012) for Quartlery West.

Lanie Tankard reviewed the short story collection Termination Shocks by Janice Margolis for Woven Tale Press.

Rachael Nevins wrote about Catherine Morland, the heroine of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, at Ploughshares.

Nicole Rudick reviewed Sophie Podolski: Le pays où tout est permis/The Country Where Everything Is Permitted for Art in America.


NBCC board member Kerri Arsenault has an essay about hunger in Maine at LitHub.

On his blog, Robert Birnbaum looks at the career and a traveling exhibit about musician and poet Leonard Cohen.

Cliff Garstang's novel The Shaman of Turtle Valley has been reviewed in Virginia Living Magazine, Peace Corps Worldwide and Amanda's Book Review.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf's novel When All Else Fails was reviewed by Popmatters and he appeard on Weam Namou's show to talk about the book.

Colson Whitehead. Photograph by Chris Close for Doubleday.

Marie Ponsot remembered and a stack of new book reviews

by Carolyn Kellogg | Jul-08-2019

Poet Marie Ponsot, whose 1998 collection The Bird Catcher won the NBCC award in poetry, died Friday July 5 at age 98. NBCC Board member Tess Taylor penned her obituary in the NY Times.

Martha Anne Toll reviewed When We Were Arabs by Massoud Hayoun for NPR.

Christoph Irmsher reviewed A Spirit of Inquiry by Susannah Gibson for the Wall Street Journal

Julia M. Klein reviewed Catherine Chung's The Tenth Muse for the Chicago Tribune.

NBCC board member David Varno reviewed two books about exile, Springtime In A Broken Mirror by Mario Benedetti and China Dream by Ma Jian for On the Seawall.

Kristen Evans interviewed Sarah Gailey about their debut novel, Magic for Liars, for Kirkus Reviews' Pride issue.

Jeremy Lybarger reviewed The Queen by Josh Levin for The Nation and the photo book April Dawn Allison for Art in America.

Philip Kopper reviewed Tony Horowitz' Spying on the South for the Washington Times.

Paul Gleason reviewed The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger for the Los Angeles Times.

Lanie Tankard reviewed the novel Children of the Cave by Virve Sammalkorpi, translated by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah, for World Literature Today.

Kathleen Rooney interviewed translators Anne Boyer and Cassandra Gillig about their translations of work by French Venezuean poet Miyó Vestrini for the Poetry Foundation.

Michelle Newby Lancaster reviewed the novel King of the Mississippi by Mike Freedman for Lone Star Literary Life.

At the Maine Edge, Allen Adams reviewed Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes and The History of Living Forever by Jake Wolff and came up with a list of baseball books.

Jeffrey Mannix reviewed Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, Denise Mina’s Conviction and Kelsey Rae Dimberg’s Girl in the Rearview Mirror in the Durango Telegraph.

Rachel Nevins revisited the novel One, None, and One Hundred Thousand by Luigi Pirandello at Necessary Fiction.

Elizabeth Lund reviewed new poetry collections by Gregory Orr, Tess Gallagher, Jim Harrison, and Drew Pisarra for the Washington Post

Marie Ponsot photographed by Tom Birmingham for Knopf.

Critical Notes: A quiet week, but lots to read

by Laurie Hertzel | Jul-01-2019

Anna Burns receives the Orwell Prize.

Alexis Burling reviewed three nonfiction books for the San Francisco Chronicle, in honor of Pride week: Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall, by James Polchin; Out of the Shadows: Reimagining Gay Men's Lives, by Walt Odets, and Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime, by Alex Espinoza. 

Natalia Holtzman reviewed Checkpoint by David Albahari for The Rumpus.

Steph Opitz interviewed Catherine Chung about her latest novel, The Tenth Muse, for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Anita Porterfield reviewed The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch for Michigan War Studies Review.

John Domini reviewed the novel A Girl Returned, by Donatella Di Pietrantonio, a translation from Italian, for the Washington Post. He also reviewed Life in Suspension, a bilingual book of poetry by Hélène Cardona, in The Enchanting Verses Literary Review.

Tobias Carroll interviewed Robert Macfarlane for Longreads, and wrote his Words Without Borders column for Watchlist.

Robert Birnbaum populated his Our Man in Boston blog with a number of conversations and reviews, including a reprise of an interview with Julie Orringer.

Compassionate, gritty, and transgender. Meet the fictional but fierce Bobbi Logan in Seven Suspects by Renee James. Review and interview by K.L. Romo in her column That’s What SHE Said at Washington Independent Review of Books. Supernatural suspense author E.V. Lind melds action, art, and otherworldly intervention in her ghostly thriller Only When I Scream (trilogy book two). Review and interview by K.L. Romo in The Big Thrill.

Diane Scharper reviewed Mr. Straight Arrow by Jeremy Treglown for the National Review.

Hamilton Cain wrote about his ambivalence over Father's Day for Oprah magazine.

Carolyn Kellogg reviewed Kate Atkinson's Big Sky for the Washington Post. 

Is there such a thing as a smart beach read? Apparently so! Former NBCC president Jane Ciabattari wrote about this year's  ten smartest beach reads for the BBC.

Laurie Hertzel reviewed Last Witnesses by Nobel Prize-winning nonfiction writer Svetlana Alexievich for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She also reviewed The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary and wrote her weekly column about four new(ish) books by Midwestern writers. And in her debut "Don't Miss" column, she urged readers to take a look at Mira Jacob's Good Talk.

And congratulations to Anna Burns, winner of this year's NBCC fiction prize for Milkman. Her book has now also won the 2019 Orwell Prize for Fiction.(Radden Keefe won the nonfiction prize for Say Nothing.)  Chair of judges Tom Sutcliffe said: “Milkman is a remarkable book — recording a specific time and a specific conflict with brilliant precision but universal in its account of how political allegiances crush and deform our instinctive human loyalties. Its tone of voice — wry and funny, furious and compassionate — is a marvel.”

Photo: Anna Burns receives the Orwell Prize for Milkman, the book for which she also won the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award. Photo from Twitter, @TheOrwellPrize.

NBCC members: Send us your stuff! Your work may be highlighted in this roundup; please send links to new reviews, features and other literary pieces, or tell us about awards, honors or new and forthcoming books, by dropping a line to NBCCcritics@gmail.com.

Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the president of the NBCC.

June, 2019

Critical Notes: Aleksandar Hemon, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, and Plenty of Summer Reading

by Mark Athitakis | Jun-24-2019

New member Constance Grady of Vox has been busy, covering Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel City of Girls, Jim DeRogatis’ investigative book on R. Kelly, the Cinderella story, and anticipated summer reading

Kathleen Rooney reviewed Deborah Shapiro’s novel The Summer Demands for the Chicago Tribune. .

Clea Simon wrote about the crime-fiction gender wars for the Boston Globe.

Oline H. Cogdill reviewed Louise Candlish's novel Those People and Daniela Petrova’s novel Her Daughter’s Mother for the Associated Press, and Lori Roy’s novel Gone Too Long for the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.

Allen Adams reviewed Blake Crouch’s novel Recursion and Jason Turbow’s chronicle of the 1981 L.A. Dodgers, They Bled Blue, for the Maine Edge.

Pam Munter reviewed Katy Butler’s The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life for Fourth and Sycamore.

Alexander C. Kafka reviewed Casey Rae’s Williams S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ‘n’ Roll for the Washington Post.

Troy Jollimore reviewed Campbell McGrath’s Nouns & Verbs: New and Selected Poems for the New York Times.

Robert Allen Papinchak calls Robert Hillman's novel The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted "transcendent" in his review for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

Paul Wilner beats the drum for City Lights and Lawrence Ferlinghetti on his 100th birthday in the Nob Hill Gazette, and contrasts the literary odd couple Ben Lerner and James Lee Burke for SpliceToday:

Claire Fallon reviewed Taffy Brodesser-Akner's novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble, and profiled sci-fi author Charlie Jane Anders for HuffPost.

Brian Haman interviewed poet and translator Eleanor Goodman for The Shanghai Literary Review.

Kamil Ahsan reviewed Daniel Brook’s The Accident of Color: A Story of Race in Reconstruction for NPR Books.

Julia M. Klein reviews Aleksandar Hemon's memoir My Parents/This Does Not Belong to You for the Chicago Tribune and Linda Hirshman's Reckoning: The Epic Battle Against Sexual Abuse and Harassment for the Forward.

Hamilton Cain covered new titles from Chanelle Benz, Casey Cep, Catherine Chung, Sara Collins, Jean Kwok, Joyce Carol Oates and others for O: The Oprah Magazine.

NBCC members: Send us your stuff! Your work may be highlighted in this roundup; please send links to new reviews, features and other literary pieces, or tell us about awards, honors or new and forthcoming books, by dropping a line to NBCCcritics@gmail.com.

Photo of Aleksandar Hemon by slowking, used under Creative Commons noncommercial license.

New from NBCC critics: Elizabeth Gilbert, Nicole Dennis-Benn and lots more

by Carolyn Kellogg | Jun-18-2019

The latest interviews, reviews and more from our members.

Kristen Evans talked to Elizabeth Gilbert about her new novel City of Girls for Buzzfeed.

Terese Svoboda reviewed Last Day by Domenica Ruta for the NY Times Book Review.

Barbara J. King reviewed Giants of the Monsoon Forest by Jacob Shell for NPR.

Lisa Russ Sparr reviewed three poetry collections at VQR: Sight Lines by Arthur Sze, Honeyfish by Lauren K. Alleyne and Anagnorisis by Kyle Dargan.

Jenny Shank reviewed Nicole Dennis-Benn's Patsy for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson reviewed Franco Moretti's Far Country for Barnes & Noble Review and Ryan Chapman's novel Riots I Have Known for Book & Film Globe.

Lanie Tankard reviewed Christian Kiefer's novel Phantoms for Woven Tale Press.

Nathan Webster reviewed Ryan Leigh Dostie's military memoir Formation for The Daily Beast.

Michelle Newby Lancaster reviewed the novel Cabañuelas by Norma Elia Cantú at Lone Star Literary Life.

Sarah McCraw Crow reviewed the novel Light from Other Stars by Erika Swyler at Bookpage.

George de Stefano reviewed Which Side Are You On? by James Sullivan for Popmatters

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviewed Casey Cep's Furious Hours for Popmatters.

John Domini reviewed David Shields' The Trouble With Men for the Brooklyn Rail.

Chelsea Leu reviewed Elizabeth Rush's Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore for Bay Nature.

Tobias Carroll talked to Kristen Arnett about her novel Mostly Dead Things at Longreads, about translating prose to comics at LitHub and, for Tor.com, reviewed Longer by Michael Blumlein and Brian Evenson's new short story collection Song for the Unraveling World.

Zach Graham reviewed Evenson's Song for the Unraveling World for Epiphany.

Jake Klein reviewed Karen Russell's new short story collection Orange World in The Atlantic.

NBCC board member Carolyn Kellogg reviewed The Besieged City by Clarice Lispector for the Los Angeles Times.

Other news

Following a stroke four years ago that felled him for a long stretch, Steve Weinberg--three-term NBCC board member and newsletter editor--cut way back on his freelance reviewing. Currently, he reviews nonfiction books almost every week for Kirkus, edited by Eric Liebetrau, Laurie Muchnick and Tom Beer, all former NBCC board members. Because Kirkus maintains its policy of unbylined reviews, Weinberg cannot send a link to any specific review without revealing his identity.

And member Julie Wittes Shlack recieved a starred review at Kirkus for her memoir This-All-At-Onceness (not, as far as we know, from Steve).

Longtime NBCC member John Domini has just published a novel, The Color Inside a Melon, with Dzanc Books. It is reviewed this week in the Washington Post by NBCC board member Mark Athitakis. 


NBCC members: Send us your stuff! Your work may be highlighted in this roundup; please send links to new reviews, features and other literary pieces, or tell us about awards, honors or new and forthcoming books, by dropping a line to NBCCcritics@gmail.com.


Photo of Elizabeth Gilbert and her novel City of Girls via Gilbert on Twitter @GilbertLiz.

Critical Notes: Member News, Summer Books, and a Word About the Sandrof

by admin | Jun-10-2019

We Still Need Your Help Selecting the Next Sandrof Award Winner

Do you want the chance to help pick the next winner of the NBCC’s Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award? We hope so, because we need your help!

The Sandrof Award, named after the first president of the NBCC, is given annually to a person or institution — a writer, publisher, critic, or editor, among others — who has, over time, made significant contributions to book culture.

Past winners of the award have included Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, PEN American Center, Studs Terkel and Wendell Berry. Thanks to the hard work of our NBCC members, we’ve got a great slate of nominees for next year’s award — but we’d love your help adding some more names to the list!

Any institution or living person can be nominated for the award, and a list of previous winners is available on the NBCC website. If you know of a person or group who you think is deserving of the award, please send their name and a 1-3 paragraph nominating statement to Sandrof Award Committee Chair Michael Schaub at mschaubtx@gmail.com. Nominations are open until Dec. 1, 2019. We’d love to hear from you!

And Now for Some Member Reviews and News...

Star Tribune senior editor for books (and NBCC board president) Laurie Hertzel devoted much of her May to producing a four-page wrap-around summer books section, which includes recommendations of 45 books. She also reviewed 10 picture books by Minnesota authors and illustrators.

Also in the Strib, Hamilton Cain reviews Chia-Chia Lin’s The Unpassing, calling it “an eloquent, unsparing testament to the vicissitudes of our lives.”

NBCC board member Gregg Barrios did not throw away his shot to review a performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster musical Hamilton at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio.

NBCC board member Anjali Enjeti reviewed De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s debut novel, In West Mills, for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, calling it “surprising and irresistible at every turn.”

NBCC board member Michael Schaub reviewed Nicole Dennis-Benn’s “brave, brilliant” Patsy for NPR.

Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous earned two reviews at NPR, from Heller McAlpin and Maureen Corrigan.

David Canfield and Leah Greenblatt celebrated Pride Month at Entertainment Weekly, reviewing two books by LGBTQ authors: Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Patsy.

Joseph Peschel reviewed Oscar Cásares’s Where We Come From for the Brooklyn Rail, calling the Texas author’s novel “a story that transcends politics — a fiction to tell a truer truth.”

In this corner, we have Barbara J. King coming out swinging with a one-two punch, reviewing Lewis Dartnell's Origins: How Earth's History Shaped Human History for the Washington Post and Robert Macfarlane's Underland: A Deep Time Journey for NPR.

Michael J. McCann also had a pair of reviews published recently, both in the New York Journal of Books: read his takes on James Ellroy’s The Storm and David Ricciardi’s Rogue Strike.

Paul W. Gleason reviewed John Barton’s A History of the Bible for Newsday.

Binnie Kirshenbaum’s Rabbits for Food, ten years in the making, has been getting rave reviews, most recently from Robert Allen Papinchak, who called it “astounding” and “an impressive achievement” at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Speaking of Binnie Kirshenbaum, Kimberly King Parsons interviewed the author about literature, comedy, and cats for Bomb magazine. (Be sure to check out Kimberly’s short story collection, Black Light, which will be published by Vintage in August.)

New NBCC member Jake Cline (welcome to the party, Jake!) reviews Florida author Kristen Arnett’s Mostly Dead Things for the Washington Post.

Also at the Post, Michael Lindgren celebrates the spring by reviewing two books about baseball.

Over at Splice Today, Paul Wilner reviewed Stanley Booth's entertainingly titled Red Hot and Blue: Fifty Years of Writing About Memphis, Music and Motherf**kers. Kick out the jams!

Christoph Irmscher reviewed James Poskett's Materials of the Mind and penned a tribute to Walt Whitman, both for the Wall Street Journal.

Julia M. Klein reviewed David Maraniss's A Good American Family for the Forward.

Jean Huets reviewed Kathryn Scanlan’s Aug 9—Fog at Ron Slate’s On the Seawall.

Former NBCC president Kate Tuttle wrote a dispatch from BookExpo for the Los Angeles Times, in which she stans a furry legend known as Grumpy Cat.

Nicole Rudick profiled Tin House on the occasion of its 20th anniversary and final issue for the New York Times.

And finally, some great news from one of our board members: Our man in San Antonio, Gregg Barrios, has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and will be spending his summer in Key West and Tampa to complete work on his upcoming theater projects. Congratulations, Gregg!

Photo of Nicole Dennis-Benn by Wikipedia user Kiwi876, used under Creative Commons license.

Reviews and more to kick off June from the National Book Critics Circle

by Carolyn Kellogg | Jun-03-2019

From the NBCC's Emerging Critics:

Just in time for June’s Pride celebrations, Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers reviewed Bruce Cinnamon’s The Melting Queen and Michael Carroll’s short story collection, Stella Maris and Other Key West Stories, both for Foreword Reviews’ LGBTQ+ Spotlight edition.

J. Howard Rosier reviewed Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell S. Jackson for Bookforum.

The Best Translated Book Awards were announced this week, with the fiction award going to Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated from French and Creole by Linda Cloverdale and poetry going to Of Death. Minimal Odes by Hilda Hilst translated from Portuguese by Laura Cesarco Elgin. Here are some reviews from our members of new translated works:

Benjamin Woodard reviewed Duanwad Pimwana's Bright and Arid Dreams, originally pubslihed in Thai, for Words Without Borders. 

Brian Haman reviewed Marion Poschmann's The Pine Islands and Christine Wunnicke's The Fox and Dr Shimamura, both originally published in German, at the Asian Review of Books.

Rod Davis reviewed the new translation of German author Uwe Johnson’s classic Anniversaries in The Baffler's May-June issue.

Ron Slate reviewed Migrant Brothers: A Poet’s Declaration of Human Dignity by Patrick Chamoiseau at On the Seawall.

More reviews and features: 

Christoph Irmscher reviewed James Poskett's Materials of the Mind in the Wall Street Journal.

Jenny Shank reviewed Naamah by Sarah Blake for America, the Jesuit Review.

Hamilton Cain wrote about David Epstein and his book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World at LitHub.

At Kirkus reviews, Richard Z. Santos profiled Cherríe Moraga and her new memoir Native Country of the Heart and Fernando Flores and his debut novel Tears of the Truffle Pig. And Jean Huets reviewed Tears of the Truffle Pig at Ploughshares.

Danielle Trussoni highlights great new horror reads in the New York Times; if you can, dive into this summer books preview on your phone.

Janet Sternburg reviewed Maria Popova's Figuring at the LA Review of Books.

Barbara J. King reviewed Lewis Dartnell's Origins: How Earth's History Shaped Human History, for the Washington Post.

Jane Ciabattari recommends 10 books to read in June at the BBC, including The Summer Demands by Deborah Shapiro, Lauren Acampora's Paper Wasp, Liza Wieland's Paris, 7 a.m. and My Parents/This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hemon.

Wayne Catan reviewed Ernesto: The Untold Story of Hemingway in Revolutionary Cuba by Andrew Feldman in the Idaho Statesman.

Katherine A. Powers highlighted 3 summer audiobooks -- The Lost Man by Jane Harper, Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman and How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr -- for the Chicago Daily Herald.

Heller McAlpin reviewed The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion for NPR Books.

Martha Anne Toll reviewed Gregory Spatz's What Could Be Saved for NPR Books.

Reviews and news from members of the NBCC board:

Mark Athitakis reviewed Dorian Lynskey's The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's '1984' for Newsday.

Carolyn Kellogg reviewed Roxana Robinson's novel Dawson's Fall for the Washington Post (Robinson is also a member of the National Book Critics Circle). 

Marion Winik reviewed Dawson's Fall and The Peacock Feast by Lisa Gornick on her podcast The Weekly Reader, as well as That Good Night by Sunita Puri and Women's Work by Megan Shack. She also was awarded the Towson Prize for Literature for her book The Baltimore Book of the Dead.

Keri Arsenault remembers biographer Edmund Morris at LitHub.

Other news from our members:

Grace Schulman has edited a poetry collection, Mourning Songs: Poems of Sorrow and Beauty, out this month from New Directions. In May she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Congratulations!

And congratulations to Tom Beer, who will become the new editor in chief of Kirkus Reviews. He makes the move after 11 years leading the books coverage at Newsday.

NBCC members: Send us your stuff! Your work may be highlighted in this roundup; please send links to new reviews, features and other literary pieces, or tell us about awards, honors or new and forthcoming books, by dropping a line to NBCCcritics@gmail.com.

Photo: Gay Pride by Dave Pitt via Flickr/Creative Commons non-commercial license.

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About the Critical Mass Blog

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