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Do People Really Read Books Anymore

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I've often wondered if part of why some people I know (and why I myself) don't ream more has to do with the expected and/or actual pace of American life . . .

I often wish I read more. Part of what's hard for me is the whole sitting thing. I get antsy, like to work with my hands or see something productive come from my time. Reading just takes so dang much time!

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I've often wondered if part of why some people I know (and why I myself) don't ream more has to do with the expected and/or actual pace of American life . . .

That is very true. One must be intentional about it in order to get it done. Something has to be given up. My wife used to read to me while I painted (before we had kids), and I estimate she read me 120 novels or thereabouts.

Then, we hosted a weekly reading club at our previous parish church. I probably got another 30 books read that way.

Now, we have a reading club with our kids. We are just starting Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It'll be my 3rd time through the book, but it's new to the rest of my family.

But I am rambling ... my point was that something else has to give way for the reading to occur.

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Now, we have a reading club with our kids. We are just starting Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It'll be my 3rd time through the book, but it's new to the rest of my family.

I've known about this book and been intrigued by the title for 10 years, but have yet to read it. Somehow my wife came across it again recently, and I was reminded again I haven't read it ::blushing:: She joined a book club at the library this year but has only made it there once (and she really enjoyed it) because of so much stress at her workplace.

She's also trying to make it through the series "The Story of the Stone," which I think I've mentioned somewhere else on A&F before. It's a crazy Chinese novel written in the 1800's, and all told is 5 volumes totallying 2000-2500 pages or thereabouts. But it's not light reading, not recreational so much, and as long as it's taken her to start them it would probably take me a decade to get through the whole thing!

We did used to read together more than we do now, and I miss that sometimes. But if she were to read to me while I was in the studio I don't think I'd be able to follow along very well. With books, it seems as though I have to see the words (I am more of a visual person) to catch most of it

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the novelist is "culturally invisible" today because his job offers few rewards to the big-dog male ego.

Rowling? Pullman? Brown? Grisham?

Maybe it's very different in the US, but over here the book world is doing better than it was a decade ago.

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So once we have decided what to read, the question then becomes, How to read? And the paradoxical answer is, Much more slowly.

Which reminds me that years ago I found Jim Sire's How to Read Slowly made for fascinating and very helpful reading.

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A Troubling Case of Reader's Block

Americans are reading less and their reading proficiency is declining at troubling rates, according to a report that the National Endowment for the Arts will issue today. The trend is particularly strong among older teens and young adults, and if it is not reversed, the NEA report suggests, it will have a profound negative effect on the nation's economic and civic future.

"This is really alarming data," said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. "Luckily, we still have an opportunity to address it, but if we wait 10, 20 years, I think it may be too late." ...

The story the numbers tell, Gioia said, can be summed up in about four sentences:

"We are doing a better job of teaching kids to read in elementary school. But once they enter adolescence, they fall victim to a general culture which does not encourage or reinforce reading. Because these people then read less, they read less well. Because they read less well, they do more poorly in school, in the job market and in civic life."

Particularly striking, Gioia and Iyengar both said, are the declines that occur between age 9 and age 17 in reading proficiency scores and time spent reading.

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Which reminds me that years ago I found Jim Sire's How to Read Slowly made for fascinating and very helpful reading.

I read that. It took forever.

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Well, looks like we've got some similarly themed threads in here over the years. This article - UNSW Library throwing away 'extremely good books' - is sad but true. I've seen other libraries do it firsthand. It's also what started me, years ago, on the somewhat strange (and technically illegal) hobby of library dumpster diving.

book_pile%20large_110311032746.jpg

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Our library sells its old books in an annual fundraising sale. Get paperbacks for 50 cents, hardbacks for a dollar. I love picking up old books that way.

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I used to go to library sales and come home with bags. Unfortunately, none of my local libraries seem to have these kind of blockbuster sales anymore.

On the other hand.... it doesn't look like declining readership is hurting ebook sales; it's the paper thing that's declining (and, really, who can blame the public? Physical books are ridiculously overpriced, and with space at a premium it's not surprising that some folks prefer digital copies).

For myself, I go with both. Which doesn't help either my wallet or my shelf space. But it's an addiction; what can ya do?

Edited by NBooth

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I used to go to library sales and come home with bags. Unfortunately, none of my local libraries seem to have these kind of blockbuster sales anymore.

Mine still do. I guess I'm lucky.

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I was an avid book-saler until that created space issues. I sold off half of my library and now have the grand freedom to browse book sales for one or two (or three) gems each time.

The Kindle really has revolutionized my reading habits. I have instant access to myriad free volumes and can purchase a lot more. I find myself gravitating to the great free book-sale of Project Gutenberg, which means my reading diet has become considerably more enriching than my old go-to, the library best-seller shelf.

The Kindle puts the poor person in the odd position of having to read much better things than the person that can buy whatever off of Amazon.

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The Kindle puts the poor person in the odd position of having to read much better things than the person that can buy whatever off of Amazon.

What a great quote!

Say, if you don't mind a slight tangent ... last night I took an "ebook" CD down to the family computer for the kids' bedtime stories. We'd picked up the CD at the Childrens Museum in Richmond, Va., where a woman was staffing a PBS Kids table with free giveaways.

I realize that an e-book on CD might seem clunky, and it was. The CD had four books, and I'd click on one of them and then wait about 20 seconds while the book loaded. The two titles we read each had animation and pages that you clicked on and watched "turn" electronically. The books were cute if simple; my 8-year-old quickly realized the books were way below her level, while the two boys -- ages 2 and 4 -- watched the books closely. But as soon as we'd finished the second one, all three kids demanded a bedtime Bugs Bunny cartoon. The latter had been a proposed alternative to the bedtime e-book reading, but as soon as we were wrapping up, out came the request/demand for a cartoon.

Because the books had been, to my mind, a little underwhleming, and because I'm a pushover, I let the boys watch one cartoon and then put them to bed. The oldest girl watched two additional cartoons before she joined her younger sister (who was punished earlier and sent to bed immediately after dinner, cuz that's how we roll) in bed.

Edited by Christian

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cuz that's how we roll

:icon_bandana:

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I was an avid book-saler until that created space issues.

I'm running into those issues myself.

But I don't have the heart to switch over to the Kindle. I love the form of the book too much, and the spatial quality of the text aids my memory of the text in ways that I imagine the Kindle's scrolled, sized-to-desire text wouldn't.

The Kindle puts the poor person in the odd position of having to read much better things than the person that can buy whatever off of Amazon.

Now this is very interesting.

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The Kindle puts the poor person in the odd position of having to read much better things than the person that can buy whatever off of Amazon.

This is exactly why I'm such an ardent supporter of the format: the ability to obtain for nothing (or next to nothing) any number of classic works. Mike Shatzkin compares the ebook revolution to the birth of mass-market paperbacks, and I think he's not wrong in this; and if publishers got on the ball and released more ebooks at lower prices,I'd be willing to bet they would move more "literature" in addition to genre works etc.

I love the physicality of print books, too. But I suspect they're going to become more of a luxury item as e-readers come down in price and smartphones and tablet computers gain in popularity. (And to paraphrase Andy Whitman--I hope he won't mind--any technology that will let me carry over a thousand books in my hand, and access them at any time, can't be all bad. It's a library in your pocket).

Edited by NBooth

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But I don't have the heart to switch over to the Kindle. I love the form of the book too much, and the spatial quality of the text aids my memory of the text in ways that I imagine the Kindle's scrolled, sized-to-desire text wouldn't.

As a bookbinder/restorer, historian of book technology, and fellow library-junkie, this was my first response to the Kindle as well. The spatial memory issue is a big deal to me. However, the Kindle won more over in two specific ways:

1. It really captures the spirit of the codex format, in that the transition from scroll to codex in the first few centuries AD represented a cultural transition in which literacy moved from being a distinction of the upper class to part of the very fabric of manufacturing, entertainment, and religious experience. The Kindle, being 1000 books in your pocket, is a very direct expression of how egalitarian reading became when the codex appeared.

2. The Kindle is good for reading one kind of book: Things you read from cover to cover and seldom pick up again. Reference works don't work on the Kindle. Religious texts don't work on the Kindle. Poetry doesn't work on the Kindle. Only some academic texts or textbooks work on the Kindle. The Kindle only really works for reading the kind of book that I don't really want to keep on my shelf anyway. It just saves a ton of physical space, and even reduces the amount of time I need to spend going to the library.

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The printed book's physicality presents a challenge to e-books, however convenient they are. We tend to remember the look and heft of a book that we fell in love with. Will we feel the same about the ghostly glimmerings of a monitor? In his superb "A History of Reading," Alberto Manguel caught this aspect of old- fashioned reading to perfection: "I too soon discovered that one doesn't simply read 'Crime and Punishment' or 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.' One reads a certain edition, a specific copy, recognizable by the roughness or smoothness of its paper, by its scent, by a slight tear on page 72 and a coffee ring on the right-hand corner of the back cover."

- from Eric Ormsby's Wall Street Journal article A Life Well-Read

I was an avid book-saler until that created space issues. I sold off half of my library and now have the grand freedom to browse book sales for one or two (or three) gems each time.

I realize this is a matter of personal taste, but one of the reasons I will never use kindle and refuse to read e-books is because I simply do not care about space issues. Yes, it makes moving a pain in the ass. And yes, it can make a room or two crowded. But I am of the philosophy that a house or apartment can never have too many bookshelves. I fail to see how overflowing bookshelves ever detract from any room of the house. Also granted, I'm a bachelor right now. But it's the girls with the overflowing bookshelves at their homes that I most enjoy dating. Have you ever visited a reading friend's house who has this philosophy? Those homes are by far the most enjoyable to visit.

The Kindle really has revolutionized my reading habits. I have instant access to myriad free volumes and can purchase a lot more. I find myself gravitating to the great free book-sale of Project Gutenberg, which means my reading diet has become considerably more enriching than my old go-to, the library best-seller shelf.

This is a good thing, but I'd have to note that it is not something inherent to Kindle. I learned long ago that the great books/classics are easily obtainable in cheap paperback/pocket-size editions at most used bookstores. When you can buy nice looking used copies of even Don Quixote or War and Peace for $3-$5 a piece, and then have actually have the word in print in front of you instead of on some electronic/battery powered device, I could never prefer the latter to the former.

The Kindle puts the poor person in the odd position of having to read much better things than the person that can buy whatever off of Amazon.

I don't think this is true. But see, while I disagree with you here, I intend my disagreement with you to be a compliment. You feel this way because you actually seek to read what is worth reading. And that's awesome. However, [1] there is just as much less better free things to read on Kindle as anywhere else, [2] the fact that authors who just can't cut it in the publishing world can manage to get their e-books published on Kindle cannot be good for the average quality of writing, and [3] I personally know a number of poor friends (in and out of college) who read higher quality stuff because they seek out dollar paperback versions of the classics at cheap used bookstores rather than buying books online. But the method that they obtain books doesn't really affect what they read, however, there are just as many readers of crap from cheap used bookstores as well.

The two titles we read each had animation and pages that you clicked on and watched "turn" electronically. The books were cute if simple; my 8-year-old quickly realized the books were way below her level, while the two boys -- ages 2 and 4 -- watched the books closely. But as soon as we'd finished the second one, all three kids demanded a bedtime Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Oh man, the prospect of electronically simulated animated page turning ... just ... seems ... wrong. What's next? Maybe the e-books can simulate aging by electronically animating page tears and watermarks on your Kindle book after you've owned it for a couple years. Would there be anything wrong with doing that? I guess not, but ...

But I don't have the heart to switch over to the Kindle. I love the form of the book too much, and the spatial quality of the text aids my memory of the text in ways that I imagine the Kindle's scrolled, sized-to-desire text wouldn't.

Our big challenge is going to be to raise our kids to think this way also.

The Kindle puts the poor person in the odd position of having to read much better things than the person that can buy whatever off of Amazon.

This is exactly why I'm such an ardent supporter of the format: the ability to obtain for nothing (or next to nothing) any number of classic works.

An ability we already have with used bookstores.

Mike Shatzkin compares the ebook revolution to the birth of mass-market paperbacks, and I think he's not wrong in this; and if publishers got on the ball and released more ebooks at lower prices,I'd be willing to bet they would move more "literature" in addition to genre works etc.

Alright look, the objection to e-books replacing printed books is more than just a sentimental one. Have you ever read Neil Postman's Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology? I don't agree with all of it, but his point that the medium can affect the message is true. Reading affects and exercises the brain in different ways than watching television. I'm getting to the point of figuring out how to argue that reading words on physical printed paper affects and exercises the brain in slightly different ways than reading a florescently lit computer screen. I'd be willing to bet that it at least affects your memory differently. And it certainly affects your enjoyment. Just like there are places you can put a Kindle where you can't but a printed book, there are places you can take a printed book where you can't take a Kindle.

I love the physicality of print books, too. But I suspect they're going to become more of a luxury item as e-readers come down in price and smartphones and tablet computers gain in popularity. (And to paraphrase Andy Whitman--I hope he won't mind--any technology that will let me carry over a thousand books in my hand, and access them at any time, can't be all bad. It's a library in your pocket).

I'm not opposed to being able to reference a thousand classic books electronically in your pocket. Kindle is a great new technology that helps people, and I'm glad it exists even though I'm not interested in using it myself. But I am opposed to everyone reading all the great books only on their little electronic device, and I will be passionately opposed to e-books regulating printed books some kind of out-dated luxury/diversion for the occasional eccentric counter-cultural Chestertonian.

1. It really captures the spirit of the codex format, in that the transition from scroll to codex in the first few centuries AD represented a cultural transition in which literacy moved from being a distinction of the upper class to part of the very fabric of manufacturing, entertainment, and religious experience. The Kindle, being 1000 books in your pocket, is a very direct expression of how egalitarian reading became when the codex appeared.

So why is it that Kindles are really mostly used by only the young upper-middle class?

2. The Kindle is good for reading one kind of book: Things you read from cover to cover and seldom pick up again. Reference works don't work on the Kindle. Religious texts don't work on the Kindle. Poetry doesn't work on the Kindle. Only some academic texts or textbooks work on the Kindle. The Kindle only really works for reading the kind of book that I don't really want to keep on my shelf anyway. It just saves a ton of physical space, and even reduces the amount of time I need to spend going to the library.

I would suggest that the kind of book that you would never ever pick up again and that you would never want on your bookshelf is not worth spending your time reading anyway.

This is because I have been persuaded that none of us are going to live long enough to read all of the books that we would want on our bookshelves.

I'm not sure how argumentative all of this is going to sound to everyone, but I do not mean to give offense or to persuade anyone that it is wrong to use Kindle. But I believe all the enthusiastic talk about how e-books are on track to virtually replace printed books is not a productive band-wagon to jump on.

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An ability we already have with used bookstores.

Not as easily as you might think. The small town I grew up in had a very nice library close at hand, but no used bookstores to speak of; and the difference between shelling out $4 for a copy of "Great Expectations" and shelling out $2.99 for the complete works of Charles Dickens is a substantial one, particularly in this economy. And with booksellers shuttering the way they are, I can only imagine that the number will dwindle.

Alright look, the objection to e-books replacing printed books is more than just a sentimental one. Have you ever read Neil Postman's Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology? I don't agree with all of it, but his point that the medium can affect the message is true. Reading affects and exercises the brain in different ways than watching television.

I have no use for Postman; everything I've read by him (which is, granted, not the bulk of his work) reeks of "kids these days"ism. If he wants to toss his wooden shoes into the engine of technology, fine for him, but he's raging at the whirlwind.

And reading on a Kindle is not at all analogous to watching television. It's not even like surfing the internet. It's like reading a book.

I'm getting to the point of figuring out how to argue that reading words on physical printed paper affects and exercises the brain in slightly different ways than reading a florescently lit computer screen.

I think you're confusing the Kindle with the iPad; there is no backlight on e-readers. They read like paper.

BTW, check back over that article I posted, as well as over the history of the printed word going back to Gutenberg. I think you'll find that every time publishing has become easier, people loudly exclaimed that it was the end of literate culture, now that anyone could publish anything they want. The truth is that the reading public does a pretty good job (with notable exceptions) of sorting out crap from gold. In the long run, anyway. (BTW, self-publishers aren't just folk that can't cut it in the publishing world; J.A. Konrath did cut it, and several of the self-publishers on the Amazon Top 100 didn't even attempt traditional publishing. And when an author can make more money--substantially more, if they market themselves correctly--by self-pubbing than by the traditional way, well, there's all the more incentive. Let's not stereotype here).

Edited by NBooth

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Not as easily as you might think. The small town I grew up in had a very nice library close at hand, but no used bookstores to speak of

This would have been a bigger problem before the rise of the internet. Now it's quite easy to buy used books no matter where you are. Sure, it's still slightly more expensive than collecting lit for the Kindle, but believe me, I'm no rich guy. That said, I do not have the obligation of supporting a whole family like others here, so much of my income can be put to selfish use. With children, my point of view would probably be somewhat different.

BTW, check back over that article I posted, as well as over the history of the printed word going back to Gutenberg. I think you'll find that every time publishing has become easier, people loudly exclaimed that it was the end of literate culture, now that anyone could publish anything they want. The truth is that the reading public does a pretty good job (with notable exceptions) of sorting out crap from gold. In the long run, anyway.

My senior seminar for my English major, which I had with evangelical scholar Alan Jacobs, was all about the nature of reading and the way it has been transformed by technology in the past and is continually being shaped by technology in the present, and from there, into the future. As a class, we spent a lot of time grappling with--and largely disagreeing with--the "doomsday" attitudes towards the rise of the internet and the Kindle and the future of reading. Our consensus was that much of there arguments were grounded not in serious concern, but nostalgia and unwarranted paranoia (we also spent a lot of time discussing the more utopian points of view, which are similarly overblown). I think there is something to be said for our culture's loss of more meditative, deep reading; that we have come to emphasize quick consumption. But that's a somewhat different idea than believing literary culture will vanish wholesale.

One of Jacobs' blogs, Text Patterns, is all about these issues. It's great reading. (So is his tumble-blog, which often features interesting quotes about technology its role in contemporary culture.)

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This is a fascinating discussion for me. I just got rid of hundreds of books (I still have hundreds more, but we're downsizing and the new place won't have three rooms I can dedicate to books and music), and I've been happily enjoying my new Kindle since Christmas.

I keep reading the dire pronouncements about the effects of e-readers, that I'll miss the heft of physical books, that there's just nothing like turning the pages of a real book, etc. I just shrug my shoulders. Whatever. "Heft" is not something that I've ever consciously thought much about as a desirable quality in anything. I basically like the idea of toting around a thousand books on a device that weighs six ounces. Pressing a button seems neither more nor less laborious than turning a page, and frankly neither one does much to keep that well-toned body in prime condition (that's a joke; trust me). And as someone who has spent the last five years or so of my life trying to catch up on all the "classic" literature of the world, I'm delighted by the fact that the Amazon Kindle store offers these books to me for the low, low price of $0.00. What's not to like?

I agree that the Kindle doesn't do all literary things well. It's not intended for reference material, it doesn't do graphics, and there's no easy way to "flip" to a particular section of a book. But for linear material that is intended to be read cover to cover, it can't be beat. The Kindle page looks like a book page. I am reading more, not less, since the Kindle arrived under the Christmas tree. And I can make notes, underline passages, and do all the other destructive things I did to the books I loved, and still love. I'm a fan.

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But I am of the philosophy that a house or apartment can never have too many bookshelves. I fail to see how overflowing bookshelves ever detract from any room of the house. Also granted, I'm a bachelor right now. But it's the girls with the overflowing bookshelves at their homes that I most enjoy dating. Have you ever visited a reading friend's house who has this philosophy? Those homes are by far the most enjoyable to visit.

Yes, that is my house. Once you hit around 5k volumes, space becomes an issue regardless of how much you love books.

I'm getting to the point of figuring out how to argue that reading words on physical printed paper affects and exercises the brain in slightly different ways than reading a florescently lit computer screen. I'd be willing to bet that it at least affects your memory differently. And it certainly affects your enjoyment.

E-ink technology is a different ball of wax. And there are already lots of studies on e ink tech in education, reading habits, brain fog, etc... Tap in "e reader" at Questia, and you will get a hefty search result. If you are interested in reading psychology, this is a good place to start.

Just like there are places you can put a Kindle where you can't but a printed book, there are places you can take a printed book where you can't take a Kindle.

Prison? Inside of a dog?

So why is it that Kindles are really mostly used by only the young upper-middle class?

Kindle demographics.

I would suggest that the kind of book that you would never ever pick up again and that you would never want on your bookshelf is not worth spending your time reading anyway.

This is because I have been persuaded that none of us are going to live long enough to read all of the books that we would want on our bookshelves.

This strikes me as a non-sequitor. I have been using the library since I was quite wee. You know, that place where you can borrow books that you don't want to buy and store on your shelf at home. The fact that I want to read a book without physically possessing it has no bearing on the quality of said book. I think your quibble with the Kindle would have more heft if you complained about how e-readers will privatize reading by stripping it of the communal ethos of the local library. I do miss the experience of stepping into the shoes of the previous reader, grease, snot, and mystery stains notwithstanding.

What I do buy? The physical literary artifacts my kids need to grow up around. Daddy/daughter day in the dusty used book store, where she gets to pick out five books each visit is the best form of book-nostalgia maintenance I can think of. And of course, they grow up watching dad sew signatures together, crimp bands, tuck tapes into split boards, and flatten corner folds. I am totally on board with your bibliophilia. I just like having a library in my pocket too.

I'm not sure how argumentative all of this is going to sound to everyone, but I do not mean to give offense or to persuade anyone that it is wrong to use Kindle. But I believe all the enthusiastic talk about how e-books are on track to virtually replace printed books is not a productive band-wagon to jump on.

I dig your resistance to the mothership, and appreciate the push-back. But the ecological, financial, and personal convenience of e ink readers has a very ethical rationale.

Edited by M. Leary

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I was given a kindle as a gift and not too excited about it. Then I had the same conversion experience as Andy and others have noted, particularly when several authors I like began republishing their out of print work as ebooks.

I'm not particularly interested in converting others, but the lack of a back-lit screen is a big deal.

I'm mostly past this stage, but a year ago my son was a light sleeper that I often cradled during his naps to keep him from waking his sister. It was a struggle to do this while reading a book, but quite easy with a Kindle. It even worked on a three-hour flight.

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