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Ben's Picks


Ben is our beloved website maintenance man! You may find him on one of our many computers, shelving books or magazines, or perhaps making sandwiches in the Shine Cafe. He's tall with very long hair and always wears a hat. You can't miss him!
A Coney Island of the Mind (New Directions Paperback No. 74) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780811200417
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - January 17th, 1968

MARCH 2019

Celebrate this great Beat poet’s 100th birthday by checking out his most well known collection of poetry, A Coney Island of the Mind. He was a contemporary of Ginsberg and Kerouac, and set up the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in 1953, where it still operates today. Not only is this man still alive, but he is coming out with a new novel! Little Boy is it’s title, and it’s set to be released March 19th 2019, five days before his birthday. In the mean time, check out this thin (and economical) volume of poetry from 1955 if you want to figure out what he’s all about. Also check out the other New Directions titles in the store, as well as Ferlinghetti’s City Lights (yes, he also publishes books) titles. They are phenomenal and we have many throughout the store. Just ask me!

The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837-1861 Cover Image
ISBN: 9781590173213
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: NYRB Classics - November 24th, 2009


These journals bring the reader in to the true heart of what Thoreau stood for, without the more formal style of Walden or his essays. Beautiful, heartfelt, and brimming with curiosity about the natural world, as well as human nature. This is the book I go to when I’m in a rut. It just makes me happy to read.

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Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays (Picador Modern Classics) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250160652
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador Modern Classics - November 7th, 2017


This is an absolutely captivating collection of essays on all things 60s by the cultural icon Joan Didion. So many subjects are covered, from short bios on John Wayne and Joan Baez, to true crime, to the hippie movement in San Fransisco, all with a psychologically penetrating eye. Fascinating.

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Filth Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780393318685
Availability: Backordered
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - September 17th, 1998


From the author of Trainspotting comes a great new Christmas classic! Here we follow the fortunes of Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, a hugely misanthropic and manipulative cop in Edinburgh, Scotland, who has a violent streak and a dark secret. He's investigating a murder that is really starting to irk him as he makes his plans for his Christmas holiday vacation. Bruce is racist, misogynistic, and just overall an awful fellow, whom Welsh brings to life brilliantly, and strange to say, hilariously. I've seen blackly comic sociopaths before in literature, but this man is the absolute king. Filth is at times hilarious as hell, and at other times dark as a pit. Merry Christmas!

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The Changeling Cover Image
ISBN: 9781941040898
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Tin House Books - April 10th, 2018


The Changeling is one of the most surreal books I’ve read in a long time. Mystery and violence are lurking around each corner. Set in New England on an isolated island,  the story follows Pearl, the young widow of one of the island’s inhabitants, and her young child, in a downward spiral of alcoholism and post-partum depression.  The island is also inhabited by a bunch of Wicker Man-esque children who have been adopted by her husband’s domineering brother, and who may or may not practice ancient witchcraft. They might not even be human children, nor does Pearl even know if her own child is actually hers.

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Cosmos Cover Image
By Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson (Foreword by), Ann Druyan (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780345539434
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ballantine Books - December 10th, 2013


This book is just fun to read! Carl Sagan is brilliant at taking the most complex and interesting theories of astrophysics (as well as biology, chemistry, etc.) and making them accessible to anyone. He also takes the great scientific discoveries throughout the ages and puts them in their historical, social, and cultural contexts. So you get a sort of history of science, with its proponents and opponents. The things revealed within these pages gives you the sense that the nature of reality is a sort of science fiction in its own right, with mind bending possibilities. One of his proteges is actually Neal DeGrasse Tyson, another well known and brilliant scientist. If you like him, you'll love Sagan!

Deliverance Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385313872
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Delta - September 10th, 1994


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Tropic of Cancer (Miller) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802131782
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Grove Press - January 6th, 1994

JUNE 2018

This is one of the most controversial fictional works of all time, and it is also one of the great novels of all time. Writing in a style that was entirely unique, blending prose and poetry, Henry Miller created a novel that broke new ground both in its craft and its subject matter. Hedonistic, existential artists and bottom dwellers haunt the pages,  and perversity comes to the forefront in a way hardly ever seen in 1934, the date of its first publication.  However, due to it’s subject matter and our lawmakers at the time ignoring the first amendment, it was not published in the US until 1964!
So please, read a book that, alongside Ulysses and Journey to the End of the Night,  broke all of the conventions and set free generations of writers to the full potential of literary art.

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Blindness Cover Image
ISBN: 9780156007757
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Mariner Books - October 4th, 1999

MAY 2018

In this truly haunting novel by Portugal's best known novelist and Nobel Prize winner Jose
Saramago, blindness is spreading like a plague, and a quarantine zone is set up.  From here, we begin to see how all semblance of humanity can be stripped away from us in the face of  adversity. Amidst the general confusion, there arises new social factions and leaders, as well as new predators, operating off of the basest of human traits, preying on the magnified vulnerability and weakness of others.

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Wake in Fright Cover Image
By Kenneth Cook, Peter Temple (Introduction by), David Stratton (Afterword by)
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ISBN: 9781921922169
Availability: Special Order
Published: Text Classics - April 2nd, 2013

APRIL 2018

This Australian exploitation novel is the story of a mans physical and existential descent into despair, violence, and self loathing in the dead dusty Outback, stuck in a sort of living purgatory. It's a quick read, but one that definitely sticks with you. (watch the amazing movie as well, with Donald Pleasance.)

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A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594633942
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Riverhead Books - September 8th, 2015

MARCH 2018

This novel gripped me from the very beginning. Chaos, drugs, and gang violence rule this depiction of Jamaica in the 70's, with little room to breathe. It's narrated by dozens of different characters, each with their own unique voice (a similar narrative style to Savage Detectives, one of my favorite books), many speaking in various degrees of Jamaican Patois. It has an epic feel to it as well, with violence reaching monumental crescendos and falling away through the decades in which the novel takes place, as the characters struggle for survival both inside and out. It's certainly a side of Jamaica most have never realized existed.

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The Tunnel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781564782137
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Dalkey Archive Press - April 1999


This grand teetering monstrosity could only have been penned by the now dead virtuoso author William Gass (1924-2017). The writing style is an ungodly blend of ranting, sheer nonsense, limericks, poetry, and alliterations, which resonate with deep pain and bitterness. The imagery as well rockets out of control and it seems like the verbal and visual fireworks are never ending. The narrator flows between musings on his current life (slowly losing his mind in the basement of his home), morbid childhood, and that of a researcher on Nazi Germany.
This book is a true monument to insanity.

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Roughing It Cover Image
ISBN: 9781626360631
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Skyhorse - February 4th, 2014


This book is an eminently hilarious gonzo style autobiography of Mark Twain’s early days trying to make it big in the west. I don’t think any book has ever made me laugh quite as much. It lampoons absolutely everyone and every institution of the time.
This particular edition (the one I personally read), is also illustrated my a man who truly understood Twain’s humor. Highly recommended.

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Trump's America: Buy This Book and Mexico Will Pay for It Cover Image
ISBN: 9781501172670
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Published: Gallery Books - February 21st, 2017


Regardless of what you think of the man, this book is hilarious! Its by the creator of The Onion, so how could it not be?

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I, Claudius (Vintage International) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679724773
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Published: Vintage - October 23rd, 1989

JUNE 2017

I read this fascinating, violent book at a pace of a hundred pages a day, it was so gripping. If you are at all interested in roman history, tales of intrigue, or just really good books, I would highly recommend  I Claudius. Its historical fiction at its finest.

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What Are People For?: Essays Cover Image
ISBN: 9781582434872
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Published: Counterpoint LLC - May 25th, 2010

MAY 2016

Dive into this beautiful collection of essays from the great conservationist, poet, novelist, and overall rationalist Wendell Berry! Ranging from literary criticism to agriculture to land ethics, These essays highlight his fundamental life philosophy of moderation. His prose is among the best I’ve ever encountered. Once I finish an essay I feel as though every word was exactly as it should have been. In a time that is troubled both politically and environmentally, he speaks with a voice of undeniable reason.

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The Savage Detectives: A Novel Cover Image
By Roberto Bolaño, Natasha Wimmer (Translated by)
ISBN: 9780312427481
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador - March 4th, 2008

APRIL 2017

I had heard about this book back in 2008, when I was really beginning to get in to literature. I recently picked it up, and I am glad I did. As far as literary books are concerned, this is one of the most engaging that I have ever read. It's a fast paced, existential look at the literary underground of Mexico and the world at large. Following two main characters through the eyes of their companions and acquaintances, each with a unique and unmistakable voice of their own, It tells of their journey to the unknown center of Mexican poetry and life itself.

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A Scanner Darkly Cover Image
ISBN: 9780547572178
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Published: Mariner Books - October 18th, 2011

MARCH 2017

This is one of my all time favorite books by one of the all time greats. I am always suggesting books by this cerebral SF giant. Whereas much of SF deals with grand galactic themes and romances a la Star Trek, Phillip K Dick prefers to delve far into the human psyche and the fear and paranoia of modern and future society. Sure, there are many robots, spaceships, and other genre tropes throughout his works, but it takes a backseat to his themes of identity, mental illness, what it means to be human, and the existence of reality. This is one of his most philosophical novels, and an absolute mind-bending experience, like most of his great works.


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A People's History of the United States Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062397348
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Perennial Modern Classics - November 17th, 2015


Now more than ever it is important to read up on our country’s history, and the political trends that led up to where we are now. This book gives honest accounts of the events in history that we may not be particularly proud of, and may have even expunged from the textbooks. From Columbus landing in the new world, on through the Revolutionary War, Vietnam, and the Bush era (when  it was last updated before the author’s death), read about the civil rights advocates, union organizers, anti-war protesters and many others who fought for freedom and liberty who you may have never heard of. On the other end, read of the reactionaries, robber barons, feudalists, and oligarchs who have continually opposed them along the way.

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Tree of Smoke: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312427740
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador - September 2nd, 2008


This is one of the great war novels of our time, and one of my favorite books. It deals with the psychological aspects of Vietnam, from the widespread use of psychoactive drugs to the horrors of PTSD. On the surface, it is a sort of CIA intrigue thriller. Beneath the surface, With its dark and gritty realism with occasional insanity, it is reminiscent of Full Metal Jacket. Many ungodly, unforgettable scenes. Recommended.

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The Birds Cover Image
By Tarjei Vesaas, Torbjorn Stoverud (Translated by), Michael Barnes (Translated by)
ISBN: 9780914671206
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Published: Archipelago - May 3rd, 2016


The gorgeous and ghostly, but fast flowing prose of this Norwegian Nobel Prize nominee makes it an eminently readable book, and one that is hard to put down, despite its sensitive subject matter. And beneath the story itself lies a beautiful mystery known only to the protagonist.

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In the Heart of the Heart of the Country: And Other Stories (NYRB Classics) Cover Image
By William H. Gass, Joanna Scott (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781590177648
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: NYRB Classics - November 4th, 2014


Harsh, exuberant, dark, dreamlike, bursting with life (and death). These are some of things I would say about In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, and about William Gass as a whole. In the haunting midwestern landscape of this book, everyday life is constantly giving way to the dormant fears and pains that lie beneath its thin exterior.

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No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes (American Empire Project) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250069269
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Published: Picador - May 5th, 2015

JUNE 2016

A truly poignant and relevant book, chronicling the lives of three separate people in post  9-11 Afghanistan,  and the pervasive brutality and folly of the war that raged around them.

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Jesus' Son: Stories (Picador Modern Classics) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250074805
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Picador Modern Classics - November 3rd, 2015

APRIL 2016

Denis Johnson is one of my favorite modern authors. He writes in a style reminiscent of  William Burroughs and other stream of consciousness style beat authors  at times, but  is also capable of heart rending tenderness. In this book, which uses lyrics from The Velvet Underground’s song Heroin as its title,  we step inside the chaotic mind of the unnamed narrator, a paranoid drug addict living somewhere in the Midwest. It is written in the form of short stories, stark and often terrifying scenes within the young man’s life as he struggles to live. I would highly recommend this lovely hardcover edition.

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Waiting for the Morning Train: An American Boyhood (Great Lakes Books) Cover Image
By William B. Catton (Foreword by)
ISBN: 9780814318850
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Wayne State University Press - August 1987


Bruce Catton is one of my personal favorite authors, his having crafted a beautifully flowing within his many historical writings, mostly on the Civil War. He won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for these. This book, however, is about growing up in his (as well as my) hometown of Benzonia, Michigan, around the turn of the century. It is both a memoir of his own life, filled with many fun and interesting stories of life in the pioneer days, and the story of Northern Michigan itself, with all its ambitions and failures.

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Butcher's Crossing Cover Image
By John Williams, Michelle Latiolais (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781590171981
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Published: NYRB Classics - January 16th, 2007


\Written in Williams' sparse yet shimmering prose (think somewhere between Hemingway and Steinbeck), this book is an epic, ideologically encompassing tale, chronicling in a microcosm the ending of the Old West era.

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I Spy Spooky Night: A Book of Picture Riddles Cover Image
By Jean Marzollo, Walter Wick (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780590481373
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Published: Cartwheel - September 1996

October 2015

One of my favorite halloween books as a child. It contains many spooky pictures with cleverly arranged objects hidden inside. At 24 it is still fun to scan through this book, and still somewhat challenging.

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The Complete Stories (FSG Classics) Cover Image
By Flannery O'Connor, Robert Giroux (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780374515362
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - January 1971

June 2015

Winner of the best of National Book Award for 1950-2008, this collection of stories rivals the best of Faulkner in it's intensity, eeriness, and quest for social justice in the old Deep South.

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Doctor Zhivago (Vintage International) Cover Image
By Boris Pasternak, Richard Pevear (Translated by), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translated by)
ISBN: 9780307390950
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - October 4th, 2011


Doctor Zhivago is a book of unflinching moral intensity, set within a landscape of incredible beauty and desolation. It is the story of doomed love during the Bolsevik Revolution and the ensuing civil war. It is a sort of companion piece, in my mind, to the seminal And Quiet Flows the Don (even though Sholokov later became a Soviet apologist), with many similiar themes. The meaning of life, the soul changing effects of violence, and the sense of moral ambiguity during times of suffering each have their place among the central themes of these two novels.

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Child of God (Vintage International) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679728740
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - June 29th, 1993


Cormack McCarthy is an author I have been meaning to use for a staff pick for some time. He is an all time American great, and one of the giants within the southern-gothic genre. In this tale of darkness and depravity, McCarthy uses his hallucinogenic prose as a tool, prying into the mind of a killer as well as our own.


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And Quiet Flows the Don Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679725213
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - December 17th, 1989


And Quiet Flows the Don
As Harrowing and powerful a story of war and suffering as has ever been told. It follows the Don Cossacks during the first World War and the Bolshevik  Revolution,  as they struggle with the powers of the polarizing ideologies of the time. It Sweeps in and out of darkness with a soaring prose, at times jarringly dark and stunningly beautiful. Underlying is the theme that violence begets violence, and that beneath that violence, we are all human after all. For, as fellow Russian Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

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Walden and Other Writings Cover Image
ISBN: 9780553212464
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Published: Bantam Classics - September 1983

MAY 2014

It's Walden! What more needs to be said? It is perhaps the single most widely celebrated nature book of all time. Filled to brimming with wit and wisdom, these profound musings encompass the meanings of life and death, our complex relationship with all living things, and includes day to day nature observations. It's a classic American summer read.

Trees of Michigan Field Guide (Our Nature Field Guides) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781591930006
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Adventure Publications - August 21st, 2002

APRIL 2014

Get into the spring spirit by learning how to identify all of your favorite trees as they bloom! Hopefully that's soon, but who knows? This particular book highlights only Michigan trees, to make it easier to find just what you're looking for regionally.

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In the Spirit of Crazy Horse: The Story of Leonard Peltier and the FBI's War on the American Indian Movement Cover Image
By Peter Matthiessen, Martin Garbus (Afterword by)
ISBN: 9780140144567
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Published: Penguin Books - March 1992


Taken off the shelves originally because of the controvercy it incited, this meticulously researched book is key to understanding the crisis of modern Native Americans and what their future holds. Heartbreaking, violent, and harrowing as it is, it is something that we, in Indian country, must be made aware of in order to stop the atrocities that take place even today.

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Shadow Country Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812980622
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Modern Library - November 26th, 2008


Winner of the National Book Award, Shadow country is a huge, sweeping story of the Florida Frontier. To me, it is one of the great American novels, as it encompasses the violence, hardships, and beauty of the time in a wise and incredibly poetic prose particular to Matthiessen. A must read.

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The Story of Yellow Leaf: Journal of a Sioux Girl Cover Image
By Gavin Mortimer, Tony Morris (Illustrator)
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ISBN: 9780764161094
Availability: Special Order
Published: Barron's Educational Series - October 2008


As we enjoy the  post-Thanksgiving and pre-Christmas holidays, it is important for us to remember a piece of our society that is slowly fading away. That is to say, memories of the tremendous influence the Native Americans had in the founding of our country. The  Story of Yellow Leaf follows a young Sioux girl as she grows up on the North Dakota plains. She matures, plays outside, and learns to ride a horse, the descriptions of which are very traditionally accurate (and have interesting flip out bits). Things take a turn for the worse near the end. She eventually encounters the Battle of Little Big horn, and sees many of her people slain, the remainder sent to live in poverty on government reservations. It is a sad and beautiful book, and a way of life children  should all be aware of, so that they can understand and move forward.

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The Pickwick Papers Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780553211238
Availability: Special Order
Published: Bantam Classics - August 1983


In Charles Dickens’  first (and, I find, most endearing) book, we follow the  ludicrous Mr. Pickwick and friends as they ramble  about England to “observe things” for the club that they are a part of.  Along the way they meet up  with the quintessential Dickensian array of insane characters. The format of  having them wandering about without a clear purpose besides observation really gives Dickens the chance to stretch his legs comedically. hilarious, even for Dicken, though it is equally wise. I would not recommend it on that basis alone. It contains some of his best social commentary, a thing which he became well known for, mocking a decadent aristocratic class that is just a blown up version of those we see today.

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