Archive for August, 2012

Friends, I have had a very trying week, full of too many things happening at once.  Some of those things are good, of course–many things, in fact–but I’ve gotten a little lost in the tumble.  I could sure use a good book to read at the moment, and your guys’ suggestions never disappoint.

So, everyone, what are you reading?

Until next Thursday,

Katie

(Unwritten, Untitled)

[image by the beautiful Tiffany of Dancing Branflakes]

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Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, virtually here but actually 2,000 miles from my keyboard.

It’s that time again. My brood has stood guard over offices, camps and my little corner of the Web all summer, and now it’s our turn to flee. This year we’re off to hike where the last significant event occurred 70 million years ago. After a year of titanic egos rattling through Manhattan’s canyons, Zion will provide a humbling sense of scale — as will a day floating in a Vegas pool with our daughter.

But that doesn’t mean you get to slack. I’ve put together a selection for you: the best of the best. Lots of froth, some seriousness, all top-shelf.

NEW AND NOTEWORTHY

John Green: The Fault in Our Stars
I’ll say it again: “The Fault in Our Stars.” Hell, I’ll say it as many times as it takes to get you to read it. A friend finished it well after midnight. “I was bawling,” she wrote. So will you. And you’ll write to thank me too. Because it’s that good.

Alan Furst: Mission to Paris
“In Paris, the evenings of September are sometimes warm, excessively gentle, and, in the magic particular to that city, irresistibly seductive. The autumn of 1938 began in just such weather and on the terraces of the best cafés, in the famous restaurants, at the dinner parties one wished to attend, the conversation was, of necessity, lively and smart: fashion, cinema, love affairs, politics, and, yes, the possibility of war—that too had its moment. Almost anything, really, except money. Or, rather, German money. A curious silence, for hundreds of millions of francs — tens of millions of dollars — had been paid to some of the most distinguished citizens of France since Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933. But maybe not so curious, because those who had taken the money were aware of a certain shadow in these transactionsand, in that shadow, the people who require darkness for the kind of work they do.”

Brandi Carlile
This is the year of Brandi Carlile. Her new CD, “Bear Creek,” opened high on the music charts. Her tour is a nightly revelation. She just got engaged. It’s been a long time since she sold some of her guitars to buy microphones for Tim and Phil Hanseroth — “The Twins” — the guitarists who stand lean and tall behind her on stage.

William Boyd: Waiting for Sunrise
“It is a clear and dazzling summer’s day in Vienna.” That’s how it starts. August, 1913, and Lysander Rief, a 28-year-old English actor, has come to Vienna for — what else — treatment from one of those newfangled creatures, a psychoanalyst. His problem? He’s interested in sex, but can’t have an orgasm. In the waiting room, he meets the military attaché at the British consulate. And, more to the point, he meets Hettie Bull, a free-spirited sculptor who will quickly solve his problem.

David Byrne and Caetano Veloso

My wife and I saw the 2004 Veloso-Byrne concert from about the tenth row. It was magic, spectacular right from the from start — I think pretty much everyone there got that, and felt privileged, and went nuts with pleasure and gratitude after each song. A while back, we ran into Byrne at a gallery and asked about a CD. “Soon,” he said. “Maybe.” Well, what’s eight years — half as long as it takes for single malt to be drinkable.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: Luck and Circumstance: A Coming of Age in Hollywood, New York, and Points Beyond
On the surface, this is an exploration of Michael’s paternity, about which his mother had persistently lied. His father, she insisted, was Edward Lindsay-Hogg, an English baronet who was tall and dark and thin and lived in Ireland. Michael was to ignore all rumors to the contrary. “We [Orson Welles and I] would go out for dinner together,” she told her son. “And you know how people can put two and two together and make three.”

FIFTY SHADES

Fifty Shades of Grey
“Fifty Shades” is a category all by itself. As a piece of writing — sorry, I can’t finish that sentence. “But all my friends have read it,” you say. Fine. Get it done. Just don’t spend more than two hours with it, or it may render you stupid for life.

CLASSICS

The Quiche of Death
“Mrs. Agatha Raisin sat behind her newly cleared desk in her office in South Molton Street in London’s Mayfair. From the outer office came the hum of voices and the clink of glasses as the staff prepared to say farewell to her. For Agatha was taking early retirement. She had built up the public-relations firm over long hard years of work. She had come a long way from her working-class background in Birmingham. She had survived an unfortunate marriage and had come out of it, divorced and battered in spirit, but determined to succeed in life. All her business efforts were to one end, the realization of a dream — a cottage in the Cotswolds.”

Walter Tevis: The Queen’s Gambit

An eight-year-old orphan named Beth Harmon turns out to be the Mozart of chess. Which brings her joy (she wins! people notice her!) and misery (she’s alone and unloved and incapable of asking for help). So she gets addicted to pills. She drinks. She loses. And then, as 17-year-old Beth starts pulling herself together, she must face the biggest challenge of all — a match with the world champion, a Russian of scary brilliance. You think: This is thrilling? You think: chess? You think: Must be an “arty” novel, full of interior scenes. Wrong. All wrong. “The Queen’s Gambit” is “Rocky.;

Edmund Crispin: The Moving Toyshop

A noted English poet named Richard Cadogan cadges the awesome sum of fifty pounds from his publisher and heads off to a vacation in — of all places — Oxford. He arrives late at night and stumbles into an unlocked toy shop, but before he can make himself comfortable he finds a freshly-murdered female. Hit on the head, Cadogan wakes hours later in another room and rushes to the police. They hurry to the toy shop. No body. In fact, no toy shop — it’s a grocery. As it always was, apparently.

Denis Johnson: Jesus Son

“Jesus’ Son” is one of the ten funniest books I’ve ever read. A guy has a knife stuck in his eye; a drugged-out hospital orderly saves him without quite knowing what he’s done. Another guy gets shot in a farmhouse, for no reason. A third guy overdoses. Prison looms for everyone. And it all takes place in the gloomy flatland of the Midwest, circa 1971. Funny? You’ll see….


HOT AND BOTHERED


Annie Ernaux: Simple Passion

64 pages. A #1 bestseller in France. And not a bit of actual smut.

James Salter: A Sport and a Pastime

“She cannot be satisfied. She will not let him alone. She removes her clothes and calls to him. Once that night and twice the next morning he complies and in the faint darkness between lies awake, the lights of Dijon faint on the ceiling, the boulevards still. It’s a bitter night. Flats of rain are passing. Heavy drops ring in the gutter outside their window, but they are in a dovecote, they are pigeons between the eaves. The rain is falling all around them. Deep in feathers, breathing softly, they lie.”

Françoise Sagan: Bonjour Tristesse
Her father has rented a large white villa on the Mediterranean for the summer. It’s the house you dream of: “remote and beautiful, standing on a headline jutting out over the sea, hidden from the road by pine woods. A goat path led down to a small, sunny cove where the sea lapped against rust-colored rocks.” The water? “Cool and transparent.” Ahhhhhh…

GREAT LIVES

Julia Child: My Life in France
Her first meal, in Rouen, started with oysters, served with a pale rye bread and unsalted butter. They were followed by sole meuniere, “perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.” Mr. and Mrs. Child washed it down with a bottle of Pouilly-Fume. They moved on to a green salad and a baguette, fromage blanc and cafe filtre. “Absolute perfection,” Julia decided. “The most exciting meal of my life.”

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout

Marya Sklodowska, a brilliant student from Poland, came to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. In 1894, she met Pierre Curie, an iconoclast who taught physics and chemistry. How deep was their love? As Pierre wrote to her, “It would be a fine thing … to pass our lives near to each other, hypnotized by our dreams; your patriotic dream, our humanitarian dream, and our scientific dream.

Jacques Lusseyran: And There Was Light

A leader of the French Resistance in World War II. Oh, he was blind. But in fact, he could see — “radiance [was] emanating from a place I saw nothing about.” He could see light, after all. It only faded when he was afraid.

Georgia O’Keefe: How Georgia Became O’Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living
The standard stuff, and a lot more. Like: Alfred Stieglitz — her lover, mentor and husband — wrote at least 50,000 letters. “Those letters were Angry Birds and I Can Has Cheezburger and American Idol and retail therapy, and everything else we moderns like to do.” Like: The “epic marriage” of Stieglitz and O’Keeffe: “She was the red Porsche purchased by a middle-aged man; he was the football hero who falls in love with the awkward new girl in school.”

Johnny U: The Life and Times of Johnny Unitas
Team first. That was Unitas. In the huddle, a black player said that an opponent had called him “nigger.” Unitas said: “Let him through.” And he threw a bullet pass into that guy’s head so hard it felled him. To sportswriters, after a game, he described everyone’s goofs as his mistakes. He played hurt; he had a Terminator’s tolerance for pain. Of course his teammates loved him. “Playing with Johnny Unitas,” one said, “was like being in the huddle with God.”

MUSIC THAT MATTERS

Teddy Thompson
‘Separate Ways,’ his second CD, starts like this: “I want to be a huge star who hangs out in hotel bars/ I want to wake up at noon in somebody else’s room/ I want to shine so bright it hurts….” Amusing. We’ve all been there. But what is this? “I wanna be death bed thin.” And “I wanna be high strung/Make people wonder/what they’ve done.” Hey, these dreams are new territory.

Krishna Das
“I’m just another person who hears me chanting, you know? That’s why I do it. I’m not doing it for anybody else. I’m doing it because it’s my life blood. It’s what I do. I recognize that so many people get benefit from it. That’s wonderful. Isn’t that great? But that’s not why I do it.”

Albert King: Born Under a Bad Sign
He used a thumb rather than a pick. And he used that thumb sparingly. “It ain’t how many notes you play,” he said. “It’s how you play them.” Guitar players revered him. Mike Bloomfield, no slouch himself: “Albert can take four notes and write a volume. He can say more with fewer notes than anyone I’ve ever known.

DEARLY DEPARTED

Etta James
Leonard Chess liked “triangle” songs, and he found a great one for Etta’s Chess debut: “All I Could Do Was Cry.” The set-up: Etta watching her lover marry another woman. The refrain: “I was losing the man that I loved, and all I could do was cry.” Etta needed only one take. When she was finished, she was crying — and so were some of the engineers.

Levon Helm
Rock legends die all the time — for some, death is how they become legends — and the rituals of modern mourning follow. But losing Levon Helm feels different. He’s one of the few Authentics, one of the deans of the Old School. As his wife and daughter say, “He loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance. He did it every time he took the stage.”

EXTRA CREDIT

You read thick books in summer. Skip the action thriller for a foreign movie. Or just aspire to read/see/hear better. These are for you.

Troubled Water
Alec Baldwin says that Trine Dyrholm is “the best actress in the world.” Michael Moore has said “Troubled Water” was the best film he saw in 2009. I am in love with Trine Dyrholm — both the actress and her character. I don’t see how anyone could not feel that. No makeup, ravaged by grief, she is nonetheless beautiful. Beauty defined thus: you can see into her and share her struggle to keep it together.

Wislawa Szymborska: Poems
In 1996, Wislawa Szymborska (l923-2012) won the most money in the history of Nobel awards and the most money ever won by a poet: $1.2 million. She stayed in her small apartment — a fifth-floor walk-up. Her output was small, just 350 poems. Why so few? “I have a trash can in my home.” Her favorite phrase was “I don’t know.” This wasn’t conversational. It was the entire matter.

Albert Camus: The Plague
People worship money and devote all their time to making it. Love flourishes briefly, then dissolves into habit. Government is slow and formal; it is shockingly late before it agrees that frothing rats and dying people have any connection. In short, a thoroughly modern city…

Categories: authors, Books, Fashion, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

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Once upon a time, there was a woman so beautiful that tales of her beauty spread throughout the world. When it came time for her to find a husband, her father put out the word: the first man to correctly name every eucalypt on his property would win his daughter’s hand in marriage.

It sounds like something out of Shakespeare. Or the Brothers Grimm. Or Homer. Even the daughter’s name is Ellen, just a tiny step away from that other famous and ill-fated beauty, Helen of Troy. But Eucalyptus by Murray Bail is a much more contemporary fairy tale, a strange romance set not in Troy or Bavaria or on Prospero’s island, but in the Australian bush.

Poor Ellen is powerless, as men from across the globe travel to her father’s land to name the eucalyptus trees. She mostly ignores them: after all they are wooing her father, not Ellen. But slowly she sinks further into despair. Then one day a stranger appears on the land, and he begins to tell stories. Stories and fragments of stories, mostly about women and families.

I read this book recently and I find it hard to describe except that the story was compelling while the language felt like water. Like submerging yourself in a cool river on a hot day. I read parts of it aloud to my baby daughter because she likes the sound of my voice as she drops off to sleep, and the words tasted a little bit like music in my mouth.

Eucalyptus is a wonderful read, steeped in Australian culture, and surprisingly refreshing (there’s that river again). I won’t spoil the ending for you, except to say that it was wholly… satisfying. It gave me an “I should have guessed” moment that sent me scuttling back through the pages for the clues I had missed. And it left me smiling. I didn’t expect that.

Categories: Books | 6 Comments »

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Victorian England

Aug 28, 2012

Last week I was browsing through the history section of my library, not really looking for any books in particular, when I came across Victorian England Aspects of English and Imperial History 1837-1901 by L.C.B. Seaman.  So of course I checked it out and ran home with it.  It turns out that Chapter 3, Disease and Drudgery, is the most interesting.

Seances became popular during the Victorian era.

Why are we so fascinated with the Victorian era? It wasn’t the best time to be a child or a woman. Yet, I can’t seem to read enough about it, whether it’s about medicine, fashion, marriage, trains or manners.

Victorian hair styles from an issue of Harper's Bazar.

Which era fascinates you and why?

Luli

Fashion inspired by the Victorian era. Via Polyvore.

{Victorian image of seance via here. Hair styles via Pinterest. Bottom image via Polyvore.}

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Finding these beautiful faces painted directly onto a newsprint collage has been the highlight of my week thus far. The features seem to float in front of a fog of text and photos behind them.

I love finding beauty juxtaposed with the ordinary.

These paintings are by South Korean artist, Shin Young An. She now lives and works in New Jersey. In her artist statement she writes “Often, world and national events impose an emotional response on the artist, who is otherwise powerless to influence such events. The canvas can become the artist’s vehicle of expression.”

Have a lovely Tuesday,

Sarah From Design Flourishes

all images from An’s website

Categories: illustrations | 5 Comments »

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I have always had an affinity for children’s books. I believe it’s one of the main reasons I studied design. There’s a special place in my heart reserved just for my favorite illustrators who, of course, are too numerous to mention here. Reading a children’s book is sort of like transporting yourself on a little mini vacation. The worlds become destinations you can inhabit for the next 10 minutes while the characters quickly become old friends. Don’t you think so? Anyway, today I was thinking that since English Muse is a blog where we all our shameless bookworms, why not share with you some of my favorite *new* children’s books. (disclaimer: “new” in this context means published within the last 5 years or so) This way we can all take a few minutes to indulge our inner Kathleen Kelly.

“A Sick Day for Amos McGee”
written by: Philip C. Stead | illustrated by: Erin Stead

My sweet mother-in-law got me this book for Christmas a couple of years ago, and it is beautiful! The book was written and illustrated by a husband + wife team, which I thought was really neat, and I was particularly fascinated with the illustration process of Erin, which you can read more about here.

“The Composer is Dead”
written by Lemony Snicket | illustrated by Carson Ellis

As the wife of a former band director, this book had me laughing so hard I had to listen to it twice. That’s right: Listen to it. You see, the book itself is great, but it also comes with a cd that not only adds a bit to the story that you won’t find in the original text, but illustrates the text with beautiful music. Think “Clue” meets “A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”

“I Had a Favorite Dress”
written by: Boni Ashburn | illustrated by: Julia Denos

This book is close to my heart for a couple of reasons. First of all, my mother is an absolutely amazing seamstress. I had no idea how spoiled I was until I got older and my wardrobe was no longer custom tailored. (It  is impossible to buy clothes that fit perfectly ‘off the rack!’) Second, the illustrator, Julia Denos, has become an “interweb friend,” and is just as sweet as you would expect when you see her lovely illustrations. I just *adore* her style! This is a must have for any girl!

“Leonard the Terrible Monster”
by Mo Willems

I have always had an affinity for monsters. I was scared of absolutely everything when I was little, but monsters? Never! They were my friends! I just knew that the ones that lived under my bed only wanted to be friends. Why in the world was everyone else so frightened of them? Well, this book was written for everyone that ever thought like me.

“Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs”
by Mo Willems

This book will be a joint present for Husband and I next week (our birthdays are a week apart). Mo Willems always scores, but a dinosaur retelling of Goldilocks? Seriously? Who doesn’t want to read this book?

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So now let’s chat… What is your favorite children’s book?
Is there any particular reason it’s your favorite?

Until Next Week,
Hannah B.

P.S. If you too are a lover of children’s books, you may want to check out this new blog called Three Books a Night. It’s authored by Caryn, whom I consider a kindred spirit. She’s the only grown-up I know with more children’s books than me! Oh, & be sure to say *hello!*

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Morning friends. It’s Lelanie here from Of Beauty and Love. Welcome to Monday. We had a super busy weekend preparing for and celebrating my Hubbies 30th birthday. On Saturday evening we had an awesome, Old Hollywood glamour/ James Bond inspired party. It was fabulous, but it meant that the weekend was way to short and to tiring to be up and at ‘e today. So, to get the creative juices flowing and the ideas generating, I thought I would post a few inspiring and interesting living spaces to get us all going today. I would much rather be lying on the couch than working, but that’s not going to happen. So, the closest I can get this morning are these cool pics.

This lounge has a cool, eclectic style. The gilded mirror, modern chairs, ikat scatters and contemporariness art all ad their own message a feel to this light and airy space.

Cool and calm is the order of the day in this unique space. The geometric carpet makes a bold statement. While the rest of the room is decorated in light, holiday mode inspiring fabrics and materials. The wicker look shown above also makes me long for a break-away. The gilded mirror collection makes an interesting statement here.

Don’t you just love this jewel tone lounge? I adore it. I don’t know if I would ever be brave enough to go all out like this, but I love the combination of the turquoise blue, emerald green and soft pinks. This energetic space is sure to inspire. This look cold be great in a  studio. Maybe I should try it in mine…?

This African inspired space is calm and neutral. A sunny spot on the couch is ideal for sinking into a great novel. The art is what makes this room. A quirky collection will keep your guests talking and your mind inspired.

This vintage chic New York loft is bright and airy. The awesome view definitely steals the show.

Which is your favourite look? I love the African lounge for it’s bright, light colouring and the unique art. But I am still hunkering after that gorgeous jewel tone space. Choices, choices…

Have a fabulous, happy and creative Monday.

Lelanie.

Lounge1-6, Lounge 7 & 8

Categories: Blog | 1 Comment »

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Patterns in Volume

Aug 24, 2012

I have only recently become aware of the vast beauty of paper cutting. There are so many artist working in paper, not on paper, but with it.

Maud Vantours is a French artist living and working in Paris. In her artist statement she describes her work as “original graphics of multicolored and dreamlike landscapes.”

I love the way she can make a simple rose so complex.

She creates these colorful, deep paper cuts both as fine art and as commission pieces for a very impressive client list. This is a piece she did for the Prada Parisian showroom.

Part of what I love about her work is the texture. Painting and printing have their own low profile texture, but these paper cuts are combining flat surface art with sculptural depth.

Vantours is working with a supplier to create some consumer products as well, cell phone cases, bags and the like. It is awesome when artists can cross over and make their work available in more affordable forms.

Happy Friday!

Sarah from Design Flourishes

all images from Maud Vantours website

Categories: handmade, illustrations | 1 Comment »

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Belly-Laughers

Aug 23, 2012

We’ve chatted about heartbreakers, soul-soother, and those unforgettable childhood books.  We’ve smiled over to-read stacks of monstrous proportions.   We’ve had a hushed discussion of our reading indulgences that we don’t often revealed.  I’ve enjoyed sharing my bookish loves and indulgences and hearing about yours so far, but they’ve mostly been related to the sorts of books I read most.  Today, I want to look at something a little different, something I don’t often read but can never put down when I do: humor.

My mother introduced me to the hilarity of Erma Bombeck when I was young.  I laughed my whole way through If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?, even though I was maybe thirteen and had few connections to the stories she told.  When I was even younger, perhaps eight, I used to devour each of the humor sections in Reader’s Digest the minute the magazine was in our mailbox.  I liked humor.  I still like humor.

And yet I feel I am committing some sort of intellectual compromise when I pick up a humor book, as if reading something that doesn’t make me ponder or cry or both is not worth my time.  This is thoroughly unreasonable, of course, because humor books frequently look life in the face, realize how ridiculous it can be, and belly-laugh any way.  That, I believe, is exactly the sort of attitude I try to have about life: it’s amazing, it’s crazy, and sometimes it’s awful, so we may as well laugh a great belly laugh.

I’m curious–do you feel a twinge of guilt when you pick up something for laughs?  Do you read anyway?  And what humor books do you read?  Do share, please!

 

Until next Thursday,

Katie

(unwritten, untitled)

 

[Three great attitudes about books and living: image 1: L.M. Montgomery Quote Literature Art Print by Wandering Reader on Etsy/image 2: The More You Read… canvas sign by Epiphany’s Corner on Etsy/image 3: We Shall Dance in the Rain fine art print by Freya Art & Design on Etsy]

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Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, here to tell you about a novel for teenagers — the best novel this aging gent has read all year.

Sometimes you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelic zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.

Hazel Lancaster says that in “The Fault in Our Stars,” a novel that leaps off the page and makes you think of those books in your life, and more — that this book knows you so well it reads you. That’s a pretty neat trick.

But that’s not John Green’s best trick. That one is so astonishing, days after I finished reading his book, I was still shaking. Family and friends would confirm this: “The Fault in Our Stars” is all I could talk about. I hated that I’d read it because there was nothing I wanted to do more than read it again for the first time.

Two facts make this a very unlikely obsession:

1) This is a Young Adult (YA) novel — a book for teenagers.

2) Both main characters are teenagers who have cancer.

But it’s not like this is some kind of cheesy teenage “Love Story.”

It’s more like “The Fault in Our Stars” is the best novel — the smartest, most clever, most emotional-but-not-exploitive adult novel you’ve read in a long, long time — but somehow kids found out about it first and claimed it as their own. Which they have done, big time, and in astonishing numbers. Last year, while he was finishing it, Green announced the book could be pre-ordered; it immediately shot to #1 on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble lists. And when “The Fault in Our Stars” was finally published, it opened on the New York Times list for Children’s Chapter Books at #1 and stayed there for five weeks. It has since been named 4th best YA novel of all time in an NPR poll — and this was just four months after it was published![To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Why the love?

Simple as this: John Green doesn’t write for “teenagers.” He writes smart, terrific, funny, verbal, real people who happen to find themselves in young bodies. This is fortunate, because the young — the best of them, anyway — are brimming over with Thoughts and Ideals and Questions. They…just…care. Deeply. As we used to care before we grew up and found ourselves playing games that had more to do with Success and Money than Truth and Eternity.

Yeah, but this is “a cancer book.”

No. It isn’t. Hazel, the 16-year-old narrator, is very clear about that, and she ought to know. When she was 13, she almost died, and there was that grim scene in the ICU when the cancer was joined by pneumonia and her mother asked “Are you ready?” and she said she was and her dad was trying not to sob and then — surprise, surprise — her Cancer doctor managed to drain her lungs and she got admitted to a trial for a drug that didn’t work 70% of the time but it worked in her, and now she’s 16 and going to Wednesday night Support Group meetings.

Is Hazel going to tell you a story that becomes a cancer book?

No way.

“Cancer books suck,” she says. “Like, in cancer books, the cancer person starts a charity that raises money to fight cancer, right? And this commitment to charity reminds the cancer person of the essential goodness of humanity and makes him/her feel loved and encouraged because s/he will leave a cancer-curing legacy.”

She knows better. That’s because she has a favorite book – the book she ‘s an evangelist for — called “An Imperial Affliction,” and in that book, the main character “decides that being a person with cancer who starts a cancer charity is a bit narcissistic, so she starts a charity called The Anna Foundation for People with Cancer Who Want to Cure Cholera.” A bad joke, but you get the idea: Cancer is a side effect of the process of dying, as is almost everything.

That attitude makes hazel an unlikely candidate for romance, but one Wednesday at Support Group she meets Augustus Waters, who is 17 and shockingly handsome. He had “a little touch of osteosarcoma a year and a half ago,” and half of one leg had to be amputated, but he’s fine now. The only reason he’s come to the meeting is to support a friend who will, in a month, have both eyes removed.

Augustus isn’t put off by the tubes in Hazel’s nose or the oxygen tank she drags around with her. To him, she’s “a millennial Natalie Portman. Like ‘V for Vendetta’ Natalie Portman.” To her, he’s was “a tenured professor in the Department of Slightly Crooked Smiles with a dual appointment in the Department of Having a Voice That made My Skin Feel Like Skin.”

Love, in short. But it doesn’t come easily and it doesn’t happen fast. There is considerable uncertainty, in fact, given his romantic past and her terminal condition, and also because Hazel and Gus are, in a way, nerds. In Green’s world, that’s a huge compliment. As he has said: “When people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.’”

In his videos, Green actually talks like that. And so do his characters here. They talk about Magritte, Zeno’s tortoise paradox, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. They make jokes about their friends in the world of the professionally ill: “I’ve gotten really hot since you went blind.” They know facts you don’t: There are about 98 billion dead people.

At last they open to one another. Their romance is epic, and then some, and they’re not ashamed to cop to it. And, along the way, they slip in terrific little truths, lines that make you reach for a pen: “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you.”

You’ll notice that I’m not saying much about what happens in this novel. A lot does, and you don’t see it coming — there is a surprise every few pages. And then you get to page 313, and it’s over. How did that happen? How did you laugh so much? How did you cry so hard and yet feel cleansed and triumphant at the end? And if John Green is so good, why does he write YA novels?

Here’s the cheat sheet on Green: He’s got a huge and sincere interest in kids. He’d like to “increase awesome and decrease suck,” so he and his brother launched a web site for kids called Nerdfighters, which looks very much a real community, not yet discovered and ruined by media. And Green and his brother make frequent videoblogs. In one of them, he talks about the job he used to have: as a counselor in a children’s hospital. And he recalls the wisdom of his boss, the hospital minister: ”Don’t just do something, stand there.”

I’m sure you understand what that means. There is a time for bustling and helping, and then there is a time for standing there and bearing witness. Reading “The Fault in Our Stars” is like bearing witness. Just a few characters, a very smart plot, snappy dialogue — yeah, you’ll witness that. And in the witnessing, the book gets to you, and as Gus and Hazel fall in love with one another, you fall in love with them. And when, really, was the last book you can name that did that for you?

No, it’s not a cancer book. Cancer books suck. This book does everything but.

Bonus Video

Green was a friend of Esther Earl, a smart, funny kid who was the inspiration for Hazel. This was the videoblog he made after she died.

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Recently I came across the Autumn/Winter 2012 look book for Fleur and Dot, and it made me thankful all over again that I have a little girl to dress in pretty things. I’ll take one of everything, please. Also, this photo shoot is killing me. So beautiful! And the little girl. Swoon!

I never was all that interested in dolls growing up*, but it sure is fun to dress up your very own little girl, when there is children’s fashion like this around.

*OK in the spirit of full disclosure, I did have three dolls when I was quite little. One was called Doreen, and she had belonged to my mother as a child. Doreen was a very large doll, dressed in a silk wedding dress that I liked to try to squeeze into myself, and she had silky hair (until I tried to wash it one day and ruined it forever). Then there was a little baby doll who yawned and had a pull-tab to say things like “Mama,” and the manufacturers named her Drowsy but I renamed her Janet, which was apparently my preferred nom du jour. And finally there was the cuddly doll I named after all my favourite people: Betsy-Ann Amanda Aunty Rose. And I insisted that she be called by her full name, all the time.

Yours truly,
Naomi
xo

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Confession: I have always had a love affair with old radio shows. When I was little, my mom would buy tapes of Burns & Allen for me at Cracker Barrel for long road trips, and I would listen to them so much that I would literally wear them out. It was always so much more satisfying for me to imagine the action in my head and the simple story lines from ‘back in the day’ were exactly what I imagined grown-up life to be. Now, when I work, I can usually be found listening to Jack Benny, Granby’s Green Acres, Fibber McGee & Molly or… Garrison Keillor. Keillor is the newest infatuation, but I have fallen fast and hard, friends.

I love the way A Prairie Home Companion preserves the old broadcast style. It brings together talented people with good stories and good music, but there is something about the host’s delivery that I just can’t get past. I’m pretty sure that man could read my grocery list, and I would suddenly find myself longing to drink lemonade on the front porch and listen to mountain music. It doesn’t matter that his stories are of his beloved Minnesota, he somehow manages to channel every small town in America. But why sit here and write about it? Why not share a few examples and let you see for yourself? So here you are:

If you need a little mini-vacate from your cubicle like me or you are sitting somewhere having a bad day, take 15 minutes and listen to The News from Lake Wobegon.

If you want to feel inspired by the way this writer looks at the world, take an evening and watch this documentary: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes. (It’s on Netflix!)

If you want to start your morning remembering why you love books, subscribe to this podcast… or tune into your local NPR station at 11:50am.

If you want to know a little more about the way Keillor looks at the world, read his answers to Time’s 10 Questions.

And if you don’t understand the appeal of Garrison Keillor, I would encourage you to read this 2006 article on Slate. It just made me laugh. Perhaps his appeal is every bit as mysterious as the author claims. Perhaps he’s not for everyone, but I just can’t help myself– I love him.

What about you? What do you nerd out on?

 

 

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Morning friends. How was your weekend? Welcome to a new week! I hope you are rested and ready for the day. What did you get up to? We make a major dent in our renovation mission this weekend. We got so much done. I am really happy with our progress. It’s not nearly finished  but at least it is liveable and even quite pretty now. Now that we have done the major backbreaking work, I can actually get to the fun bit- thinking about décor and start to experiment with different ideas.

(more…)

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Once Read

Aug 16, 2012

Summer proper is winding down now; schools here started this week and the university starts next week.  This season is one of my favorites and always has been, and not just because my birthday is in September.  It’s really because I was that kid who bought her school supplies in July, drew plans of her desk and/or locker arrangements, and recorded a tape of energetic, motivational, and definitely bad music to get herself going on the first day of school and not be late fore once.  I rarely succeed(ed) in that last endeavor.

I loved the start of school.  I still do, even when the start of school means a thirty minute commute to my university, overly expensive textbooks, and irritating bus rides from the parking lot to campus.  Still, getting my reading list for the semester has excited me from the days in which we read picture books through the present.

I remember nearly every book I’ve read for school and most of the classes in which I read them.  For example, I read The Giver in Mrs. Webb’s fourth grade class, before my family moved, Les Misérables in Mr. Rice’s senior AP Literature Course, and To Kill a Mockingbird as summer reading for Mrs. Black’s sophomore English class.  To Kill a Mockingbird still breaks my heart to read, both for its content and because our wonderful teacher passed away near the end of the school year.  Every time I see even the title, I remember her.  These three books were re-read over the summer, once school let out, or pulled from my shelf for another glance even years later.

What books did you read and love as a student?  Which ones did you hate?  Have you come to appreciate any since you’ve grown up?  Please do share!

 

Until next Thursday,

Katie

(unwritten, untitled)

[images of my schooltime favorites pulled from Goodreads]

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Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, jealous of friends who have jetted off to Paris and wishing he could have dinner with Julia Child — even on her 100th-if-she-were-alive birthday.

As we note what would have been Julia Child’s hundredth birthday, it strikes me that most Americans who know her as someone who had something to do with food probably think of her as … Meryl Streep.

There are worse fates.

Like the image that Julia Child had before Nora Ephron made the film that burnished her eccentricities, back when she taught her fellow citizens the joy of French cooking on public television — a frowsy, big-boned (6’2″, 158 pounds) matron with a trill in her voice, hacking up a chicken with more zest than is called for, most likely because she’s been chugging the cooking sherry.

My favorite way of considering Julia Child — the Julia Child of “My Life in France” — was a revolutionary. Not intentionally. She just had the great good fortune to find herself living in Paris with no job and nothing more compelling than a tentative interest in cooking. She signed up for classes at Cordon Bleu, got hooked, and with two friends was soon working on a book we now take for granted but was then unimagined — an authoritative guide to French cooking for Americans.

Published 40 years ago, ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One’ has never gone out of print. It never will. It is the gold standard. [To buy the cookbook from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Julia Child died in 2004. Of her 11 books, none was a memoir. But she kept scribbles and letters, and at the end of her life, she began to shape this book with her grandnephew. Like almost everything she touched, ‘My Life in France’ is a triumph — insightful, poetic, deadly accurate about people, and, above all, tasty. Reading it, you breathe French air. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Nothing in her early life would have predicted that Julia Child would become formidable in any way. Her father was a conservative Southern California businessman; her mother was “warm and social.” After college came World War II and government work in Ceylon. There she met Paul Child, an artist who designed ‘war rooms’ for the generals. The first meal she cooked for him — brains simmered in red wine — was not a success. Still, they married, and, in 1948, moved to France. She was 36. She didn’t speak a word of French.

Her first meal, in Rouen, started with oysters, served with a pale rye bread and unsalted butter. They were followed by sole meuniere, “perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.” Mr. and Mrs. Child washed it down with a bottle of Pouilly-Fume. They moved on to a green salad and a baguette, fromage blanc and cafe filtre. “Absolute perfection,” Julia decided. “The most exciting meal of my life.”

Fortunately, the Childs were not rich — two-star restaurants were the best they could afford in Paris. But Julia was reading cookbooks, making friends in the food markets, falling in love with Paris. At Cordon Bleu, her classmates were 11 former American servicemen who were studying courtesy of the GI Bill of Rights. She went right to the head of the class.

To read this book is to peer over her shoulder and learn with her. Scrambled eggs, for example. They are not whipped, just gently blended. Smear the pan with butter, add the eggs, salt and pepper, cook over a low flame. After about three minutes, the eggs will start to form a custard. Only then do you stir rapidly with a fork, sliding the pan on and off the burner. Pull the egg curds together — and, finally, add more butter, to “stop the cooking.” Sprinkle with parsley (or not). Serve. Dazzle.

The real revelations in this book are not about food, however — they’re about work. There’s a lot of it involved in the creation of a book, especially when you’re creating something new. “WHY DID WE EVER DECIDE TO DO THIS ANYWAY?” Julia writes to one of her collaborators. But after eight years, the thing is done. And Knopf offers to buy it for $1,500. The galleys weigh 15 pounds. When printed, it is 732 pages long.

In 1961, when ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ was published, Paul Child was 59 years old. Julia was 49. They had no expectations of a bestseller, much less a franchise. But the New York Times raved — the recipes are “painstakingly edited and written as if each were a masterpiece, and most of them are” — and the appearance on the “Today” show went well. The book sold and sold. In 1962, Julia taped three half-hour shows for WGBH, the public TV station in Boston. By the following year, she had taped 26 more.

But this is not a celebrity memoir. This book is called “My Life in France” for a reason — it is there that Julia and Paul feel most fully alive. Paul’s photographs deliver the country in delicious slivers. The passages at their home in the South of France lift off the page and surround you. You inhale lavender. You feel the breeze. In the distance is the smell of lamb cooking in herbs. There is laughter, and wit, and, most of all, blessed silence. If this is not a description of Heaven, what is?

Paul takes ill and dies. Julia soldiers on. She understands — you have to keep grabbing life. Food and love and very shrewd French friends have taught her well: “Nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should.”

The book ends this way: “The pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite — toujours bon appetit!” As you read these words, you finally get it — this is not a book about food, this is a book about life. A wise life, a life of beauty, art and invention. You can learn a lot from a life like that.

Start with this book.

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London style

Aug 14, 2012

I had a different post planned for this evening but, when I saw Luli’s sweet post on The Time-Traveling Fashionista (which looks like SUCH a fun read by the way), it reminded me of this incredible little video of a time-travelling couple who dance their way across a century in East London. And as the world has just focused its attention on London for the past three weeks, I thought there would be no better time to share it with you.

What did you think? Which era did you like the most?

Yours truly,
Naomi xo

Categories: Fashion | 2 Comments »

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I read this lovely book last year, and I’ll be honest: I was drawn to this book because vintage fashion takes center stage.  The Time-Traveling Fashionista, by Bianca Turetsky, is about time-travel via a very special vintage dress.  Our 13-year-old heroine, Louisa,  discovers this fact after she tries on a lovely gown and is transported back to the Titanic.  Oh no! Will she or will she not return back before the ship sinks?

I won’t give anything away, but even though this book is Young Adult (YA) and Louise is only 13 years old, it was still an interesting and very fun read for us grown-ups.  Also, the book features original and beautiful illustrations of vintage gowns.

Next month, the second book in the series, The Time-Traveling Fashionista at the Palace of Marie Antoinette will be released.  This time our heroine is transported back to the court of Marie Antoinette. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

PS. Last week I read Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner and this week I’m reading The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner.

Oh, and yesterday Grimm started back up again. So I’m basically in TV & Books heaven right now.

What are you reading?

xoxo

Luli

Categories: Books | Tags: | 9 Comments »

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Like stained glass, I don’t often think of mosaic as an exciting contemporary art medium. These works by Laura Harris however, might make me reconsider.

I love her use of watch parts and beads mixed in with the more traditional ceramic pieces.

These are whimsical mosaics, they transcend the geometric pattern that I expect from mosaic.

Beautiful,

Have a lovely Tuesday,

Sarah from Design Flourishes

 

all images from Melon Head Gallery

via My Modern Met

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Hello, Muse readers!

Today, I just wanted to pop in quickly to share a few books that are currently on my reading list. Life is so busy right now with traveling back & forth to New York, lots of projects at work, as well as a new Secrets of a Belle due out September 1st so reading has become my perfect little escape. I, like a lot of you I’ve learned, like to keep a few things on my nightstand at once so I can pick depending on what mood I’m in. Here are my current picks:

Imagine: How Creativity Work by Jonah Lehrer

I am only a couple of chapters into this book but it is absolutely fascinating. It’s pretty intense, but I highly recommend it.

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Whateverland: Learning to Live Here by Alexis Stewart & Jennifer Koppelman Hutt

My bestie scored me a signed copy by Alexis herself! I have always been a huge fan of Martha and her daughter’s dry wit & honesty has made me love her as well. Also, if you haven’t seen the awkwardness of this interview on the Today Show, you’re truly missing out. I don’t know why, perhaps it’s my twisted sense of humor, but I both pity & laugh at poor Savannah every time! 

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Walt Disney: Conversations

I had this one checked out for so long from the UT Library when I was a student that I probably should have just kept it. Needless to say, I was thrilled to be able to revisit this collection of interviews with one of my heroes any time I like when my sweet mother-in-law got me a copy for Christmas!

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I’ll see you next week. Until then, find me on Twitter, and we can chat about what you’re reading!

xo~ Hannah B.

 

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Morning guys. Lelanie here from of  Beauty and Love. How was your weekend? Did you get up to anything interesting? We moved into our new home this weekend, so things have been pretty crazy. I feel like I haven’t touched the ground since it all started on Thursday. I have so much to do today as I neglected my laptop a bit over the weekend. So, I thought I would leave you with a bit of inspiration from Catherine’s Sheppard’s amazing styling portfolio, to get you week started off right. I will hopefully be back to more in depth posts from next week.

And these are images of her own, lovely home.

Have a lovely Monday,

Lelanie.

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Hello English Muse readers! Karen from A Simple Cup of Tea once again. This week I’ll be talking about choosing the good things.

I am a pretty positive person. I try to see the best in people and until proven otherwise I assume people are good. That doesn’t mean that nothing ever goes wrong in my life and that’s where things tend to go awry.

I’m not good at forgiving something. Or at least I have trouble with distinguishing forgiving and forgetting and so usually I don’t forgive things easily. Cue the following picture:

Yes. I felt a bit moronic too when I read this. Just a tad.

Because it really is that simple. Yet at the same time it totally isn’t. There are lots of reasons why we hold on to resentment, anger, a lousy job or an awful relationship. Lots of excuses for why we don’t choose the best for ourselves. We don’t want to hurt other people, we want to live up to people’s expectations, we got hurt and don’t want it to happen again.

The biggest factor in this however is fear. We are afraid of a myriad of things, we don’t want to get too far out of our comfort zone. Well, guess what darlin’, that’s where most of the magic happens.

In this light I want to close with a wonderful quote I used on my blog a couple of weeks ago:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

—-from A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson.

 

True. Truer. Most true.
I hope you had a lovely weekend and have a fabulous new week!

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I have just finished reading Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing and Adam Haslett’s Union Atlantic and am fixing to start Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! Other people’s recommendation (Brooks) and Haslett and Russell were fellows at my former workplace, American Academy in Berlin and I’m curious to know their work. And you, what are you reading and why?

Happy Friday!

Smiles, Marta

Photos: 1, 2

Categories: Books | 26 Comments »

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Aug 09, 2012

I collect words here.  I collect words in my journal.  I jot words on the endpages of books.  I forget where they all come from and don’t always know where they end up, but I continue to collect words.

Some of my favorite words are pulled from book pages:

“…if you find yourself at a loss for what to do with [your hands]…it’s because your hands remember a time when the division between mind and body, brain and heart, what’s inside and what’s outside, was so much less.”

Nicole Krauss, The History of Love, p. 73

Others come from sources unknown:

And still others come from poets:

What do you collect?

[image 1: source unknown/image 2: Sylvia: Air Print by Leah Flores]

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Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, this week going back almost four decades to Cambodia, and a five-year-old girl…

I used to think physical torture was the worst that could happen.

But there’s worse: when a man with a gun tells you that you are no longer the person you’ve been all your life.

That happened with horrifying regularity in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, when the Khmer Rouge seized total control and made their first priority the eradication of “decadent” urban culture. If you wore glasses or could read, you were sent to the fields. If you ever had a thought, you suppressed it. You surrendered your identity or you died. Or you surrendered and died — in just four years, the Khmer Rouge executed as many as two million of their countrymen.

Vaddey Ratner was born into the Cambodian elite. Her father was a poet and a prince. Their hands alone betrayed them. No way could they pass as illiterate peasants when a man dressed all in black forced his way into their home and gave them just minutes to leave. “GET OUT OF THE CITY!” voices shouted through bullhorns. “THE AMERICANS WILL DROP THEIR BOMBS!” There were no Americans, no bombs, just Cambodians gone insane.

Vaddey Ratner was just five when her family was sent to the rice paddies. In her first novel, ”In the Shadow of the Banyan,” she calls herself Raami and adds two years to her age. She changes most names, compresses events. Don’t be fooled — this is not fiction. It is fiction-plus, a memoir of a novel, written in blood and dreams. Indeed, it barely feels like a book; you read it in a state of suspended animation, drunk on the beauty of the writing and terrified for Raami and her family, who are, one by one, broken by the Khmer Rouge, until only Raami and her mother are left. As she writes:

There’s not an ordeal she faces that I myself didn’t confront in one way or another. The loss of family members, starvation, forced labor, repeated uprooting and separation, the overwhelming sense that she’s basically alone but also the tenacious belief that there’s a spirit watching over her — all this I experienced and felt. Raami had polio as a baby. I had polio also when I was still an infant.

The year’s only half gone, but several critics have already put “In the Shadow of the Banyan” on their list of 2012’s best. I agree. So, I suspect, will you. No way around it — this is a magnificent book, astonishing on every page, thrilling in its outcome. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

When the Khmer Rouge were routed, Vaddey Ratner and her mother walked out of Cambodia. Vaddey knew no English when she arrived in the United States; she graduated high school as the valedictorian. Summa cum laude from Cornell. A couple of writing classes, but no formal training to speak of.

What she had was this: the example of her father, who was taken from his family early in the madness and never seen again. “When I thought you couldn’t walk, I wanted to make sure you could fly,” he tells his daughter. “I told you stories to give you wings, Raami, so that you would never be trapped by anything — your name, your title, the limits of your body, this world’s suffering.”

It is for him that she writes. “Every page was a struggle,” she says. “I labored and labored, from a single word to a sentence to a paragraph. Each ordeal that had broken my heart when I was a child broke my heart again as an adult writing it. There were moments when I spiraled downward, to a depth I didn’t think I could come back from. It was a painful story to write, to relive.” [To read an excerpt, click here.]

To hear her is to know this is literal truth:

The Khmer Rouge told its victims: “To keep you is no gain, to kill you is no loss.”

Vaddey Ratner writes: “While all else will vanish, love is our one true eternity.”

The vast reach of evil. And what it cannot touch. Not many books give you both. Few are as credible when it comes to the proof of love.

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