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How Literature Saved My Life Hardcover – 1 Mar 2013

3.3 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Notting Hill Editions (1 Mar. 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1907903755
  • ISBN-13: 978-1907903755
  • Product Dimensions: 12 x 1.7 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 829,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Here is a mind on fire, a writer at war with the page. . . . These rigorous, high-octane, exhaustive yet taut ruminations on ambivalence, love, melancholy, and mortality are like an arrow laced with crack to the brain. [Shields'] gun-to-the-head prose explicates an all-consuming passion for reading, writing, and 'the redemptive grace of human consciousness itself."--"O Magazine"
"In this wonderful, vastly entertaining book, he weaves together literary criticism, quotations, and his own fragmentary recollections to illustrate, in form and content, how art--real art, the kind that engages and reflects the world around it--has made his life meaningful as both creator and beholder. Shields is an elegant, charming, and very funny writer. . . . Although his subject is himself, his instructions should prove useful--inspiring even--to all readers and writers."--"The Boston Globe"
"Shields is a stunning writer. Within this book lies significant passion and revelation. . . . What makes for an amazing reading experience is the piecing together an argument from the fragments. . . . The guy is a maestro." --"The Huffington Post"
"Shields has an uncanny ability to tap into the short attention span of modern culture and turn it into something positive. . . . "How Literature Saved My Life" presents a way forward for literature in new forms."--"The A.V. Club"
"Eminently readable and surprisingly life-affirming. . . . Mr. Shields has written a great book, and one which matters. . . . Uncompromisingly intelligent, blisteringly forthright, and eschewing convention at every turn. . . . Mr. Shields is one engaging writer. His enthusiasm is contagious. He cares, deeply, about his subject."--"New York Journal of Books"
"There is no more interesting writer at this precise moment than David Shields. I would call three of his books among the most important we've seen in the last 15 years: "The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead," "Realityy

"Here is a mind on fire, a writer at war with the page. . . . These rigorous, high-octane, exhaustive yet taut ruminations on ambivalence, love, melancholy, and mortality are like an arrow laced with crack to the brain. [Shields'] gun-to-the-head prose explicates an all-consuming passion for reading, writing, and 'the redemptive grace of human consciousness itself."
--"O," The Oprah Magazine
"In this wonderful, vastly entertaining book, he weaves together literary criticism, quotations, and his own fragmentary recollections to illustrate, in form and content, how art--real art, the kind that engages and reflects the world around it--has made his life meaningful as both creator and beholder. Shields is an elegant, charming, and very funny writer. . . . Although his subject is himself, his instructions should prove useful--inspiring even--to all readers and writers."
--"The Boston Globe"
"Shields is a stunning writer. Within this book lies significant passion and revelation. . . . What makes for an amazing reading experience is the piecing together an argument from the fragments. . . . The guy is a maestro."
--"The Huffington Post"
"Shields has an uncanny ability to tap into the short attention span of modern culture and turn it into something positive. . . . "How Literature Saved My Life" presents a way forward for literature in new forms."
--"The A.V. Club"
"Eminently readable and surprisingly life-affirming. . . . Mr. Shields has written a great book, and one which matters. . . . Uncompromisingly intelligent, blisteringly forthright, and eschewing convention at every turn. . . . Mr. Shields is one engaging writer. His enthusiasm is contagious. He cares, deeply, about his subject."
--"New York Journal of Books"
"There is no more interesting writer at this precise moment than David Shields. I would call three of his books among the most important we've seen in the last 15 years: "The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead," "Reality Hunger: A Manifesto," and now this. His nonfiction books are as much galvanizing electrical fields as those of David Foster Wallace were."
--Jeff Simon, "Buffalo News," Editor's Choice
"Concise, fearless, urgent. A soulful writer, a skillful storyteller, and a man on the hunt for the Exquisite. Shields is, in a writerly sense, as brave as they come. A giant, thrilling ride."
--"Bookforum"
"Shields has composed not a paean to the glories of narrative or language, but a work that sits somewhere between essay and memoir, resisting easy expectations. . . . altogether fascinating."
--"Publishers Weekly," starred review
"Quintessential genre-defying Shields. His writing gives you [a] sense of vertigo. It's energizing and weird, and it works."
--"The Village Voice"
"Shields's ideas about literature come from a place of deep love; he's not trying to destroy but rebuild what is already broken."
--"ArtInfo"
"I'm grateful for "How Literature Saved My Life" because the book has made me think again--and for the first time in a while--'Well, what is it we do when we read?' It's a damned annoying question, but it needs to be asked now and then, and Shields has asked it in a way I find resonant and moving."
--Andre Alexis, "The Globe and Mail" (Toronto)
"Thoroughly rewarding."
--"London Evening Standard"
"Smart, self-deprecating, and funny."
--"The Plain Dealer"
"What else are you looking for that's as real and interesting as another intelligent, articulate, bibliophilic human's personal revelations?"
--"Austin Chronicle"
"[One of] our most genial essayists. . . . You read [Shields] for the zip of his consciousness."
--"Chicago Tribune"
"An invigorating polemicist, as well as a subtle and amusing memoirist."
--"The New Statesman" (UK)
"Both a boldly written love note to that most precious of subjects, and David Shields's latest statute in his quest for 'art with a visible string to the world.'"
--"HTML Giant"
"What makes us read and write when it is harder than ever to 'only connect'? Examining our relationships with books."
--"Salon," Editor's Pick
"We can always count on Shields to force us to probe the edges of the way we think about, read, and even write literature and criticism of any kind."
--"Flavorwire," One of Ten Books That Could Save Your Life and One of the Most Anticipated Books of 2013

Here is a mind on fire, a writer at war with the page. . . . These rigorous, high-octane, exhaustive yet taut ruminations on ambivalence, love, melancholy, and mortality are like an arrow laced with crack to the brain. [Shields ] gun-to-the-head prose explicates an all-consuming passion for reading, writing, and the redemptive grace of human consciousness itself.
"O," The Oprah Magazine
In this wonderful, vastly entertaining book, he weaves together literary criticism, quotations, and his own fragmentary recollections to illustrate, in form and content, how art real art, the kind that engages and reflects the world around it has made his life meaningful as both creator and beholder. Shields is an elegant, charming, and very funny writer. . . . Although his subject is himself, his instructions should prove useful inspiring even to all readers and writers.
"The Boston Globe"
Shields is a stunning writer. Within this book lies significant passion and revelation. . . . What makes for an amazing reading experience is the piecing together an argument from the fragments. . . . The guy is a maestro.
"The Huffington Post"
Shields has an uncanny ability to tap into the short attention span of modern culture and turn it into something positive. . . . "How Literature Saved My Life" presents a way forward for literature in new forms.
"The A.V. Club"
Eminently readable and surprisingly life-affirming. . . . Mr. Shields has written a great book, and one which matters. . . . Uncompromisingly intelligent, blisteringly forthright, and eschewing convention at every turn. . . . Mr. Shields is one engaging writer. His enthusiasm is contagious. He cares, deeply, about his subject.
"New York Journal of Books"
There is no more interesting writer at this precise moment than David Shields. I would call three of his books among the most important we ve seen in the last 15 years: "The Thing About Life Is That One Day You ll Be Dead," "Reality Hunger: A Manifesto," and now this. His nonfiction books are as much galvanizing electrical fields as those of David Foster Wallace were.
Jeff Simon, "Buffalo News," Editor s Choice
Concise, fearless, urgent. A soulful writer, a skillful storyteller, and a man on the hunt for the Exquisite. Shields is, in a writerly sense, as brave as they come. A giant, thrilling ride.
"Bookforum"
Shields has composed not a paean to the glories of narrative or language, but a work that sits somewhere between essay and memoir, resisting easy expectations. . . . altogether fascinating.
"Publishers Weekly," starred review
Quintessential genre-defying Shields. His writing gives you [a] sense of vertigo. It s energizing and weird, and it works.
"The Village Voice"
Shields s ideas about literature come from a place of deep love; he s not trying to destroy but rebuild what is already broken.
"ArtInfo"
I m grateful for "How Literature Saved My Life" because the book has made me think again and for the first time in a while Well, what is it we do when we read? It s a damned annoying question, but it needs to be asked now and then, and Shields has asked it in a way I find resonant and moving.
Andre Alexis, "The Globe and Mail" (Toronto)
Thoroughly rewarding.
"London Evening Standard"
Smart, self-deprecating, and funny.
"The Plain Dealer"
What else are you looking for that s as real and interesting as another intelligent, articulate, bibliophilic human s personal revelations?
"Austin Chronicle"
[One of] our most genial essayists. . . . You read [Shields] for the zip of his consciousness.
"Chicago Tribune"
An invigorating polemicist, as well as a subtle and amusing memoirist.
"The New Statesman" (UK)
Both a boldly written love note to that most precious of subjects, and David Shields s latest statute in his quest for art with a visible string to the world.
"HTML Giant"
What makes us read and write when it is harder than ever to only connect ? Examining our relationships with books.
"Salon," Editor s Pick
We can always count on Shields to force us to probe the edges of the way we think about, read, and even write literature and criticism of any kind.
"Flavorwire," One of Ten Books That Could Save Your Life and One of the Most Anticipated Books of 2013" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

David Shields is the author of thirteen previous books, including "Reality Hunger" (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications), "The Thing About Life Is That One Day You ll Be Dead" ("New York Times" bestseller), "Black Planet" (National Book Critics Circle Award finalist), and "Remote "(winner of the PEN/Revson Award). He has published essays and stories in numerous periodicals, including "The New York Times Magazine," "Harper s," "Yale Review," "The Village Voice," "Salon," "Slate," "McSweeney s," and "The Believer." His work has been translated into fifteen languages." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
More of just me and my shadow. It is supposed to be how literature helped the author over crisis. But it is more like he is writing to see himself write.

Unfortunately it is overwhelmingly boring.
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Format: Hardcover
Intoxicating, infuriating and brilliant are the words that come to my mind when I think of my fellow Brunonian David Shields' "How Literature Saved My Life". It is an intoxicating blend of literary criticism and memoir, told in a series of vignettes which readers can view as either terse Buddhist chants of piety or the prose equivalents of Japanese haiku (or both); as a literary memoir, it deserves favorable comparison with the likes of Rick Moody's "The Black Veil" and even Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes", especially with regards to its compelling storytelling, focused often on Shield's college life, and describing how he became a writer. However, Shields can be quite infuriating, bordering on perplexing, in asserting "how literature saved my life", but leaving his conclusion as unresolved as Mahler's Tenth Symphony, giving readers tantalizing, but relatively few, clues as to how one might attain personal salvation via reading literature. For me, as a fellow Brunonian, Shields is at his best in trying to explain the perpetual insecurity expressed by anyone associated with Brown University, in describing how the university, its students and alumni, have emphasized the school's unique characteristics in contrast to the supposedly more elite Harvard, Yale and Princeton universities, its academic Ivy League siblings. He also excels in describing why certain works of literature - and even film - have left especially strong emotional and intellectual impacts on him, influencing his distinctive style of nonfiction. He does give readers towards the end, a list of those books - and other media (film, television) - that have truly helped him save his own life.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
The back of Reality Hunger quotes JM Coetzee 'I, too, am sick of the well-made novel with its plot and its characters and its settings' but omits his conclusion, that the well-made novel 'at least.. imposed a formal brake on formless garrularity'. Me? I'm saying nothing.
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Format: Paperback
Very engaging.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars 80 reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stays with you 14 Jan. 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
While I disagreed with much of what Shields writes in this book, I found it thought-provoking, and it affected me for some time after I read it.

Shields quotes from a variety of writers and weaves in stories from his life (which I found evocative) to show how literature can and can't stave off despair. The book is weakest when Shields seems to assume the reader shares his reactions and his sense of despair, and strongest when Shields makes a personal argument for the kind of writing he finds meaningful. For example, a chapter called "Fifty-five Works I Swear By" got me excited about reading quite a few of the works, whereas a chapter that begins with Tiger Woods' car accident ("my initial reaction...was 'What's the matter with me that I hope he's been paralyzed or killed,'") led to some questionable Freudian business about "what lives wants to die again."

Shields believes the narrative novel no longer has anything to offer. Many readers are unlikely to agree with that. Yet Shields' argument for the kind of writing he feels is important is a fascinating read that makes you think critically about writing.
35 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For lovers of words for dreamers,for realists and yes even idealists! 10 Jan. 2013
By bas bleu - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I love hearing another word lovers thoughts and what they love, think and feel about words that have touched their lives, for me the author feels like and old friend, even though this is the first work of his that I have read. He gets it, all the wonderful,crazy, funny, absurd, thought provoking, endearing moments that words can bring to our experience on this journey, most importantly, he tells the truth about the hole in our lives that even really good writing cannot fill, for any of us. Why the hole? Because we are all mere mortals and perfection is not within our grasp, but learning is and that makes the journey well worth the taking. Love words, love to roll them through your mind ,fusing different thoughts in an out of the box way. Love to read authors that can mold nouns into a new way of seeing because of great choices of adjectives, or ideas drawn from the absurdity of life, love reading Aeschylus,Aristophanes,Cervantes, Milton, Goethe,Tolstoy, and more,more,more? Love different opinions and ideas-- viewpoints ,limitless suggestions and observartions in and about life, how to live it , how to perceive it, how to describe it, how to interpret it? In the end we have the scope of our experiences and what we read of others experiences, what a wonderful journey. Words are gems , the best writers are gem cutters of excellent talent, and add beauty, freshness, setting the gems they have cut,expanding our visions with the clarity of an idea to ponder and examine the beauty of a thought we had not had before. Words are a gift, a tool always changing,becoming,inspiring,provking thoughts,ideas and helping us become, if we but take the time to explore all different kinds of stories and yes even a childs book can be a true gem. If you are a lover of a good phrase, an apt description, unforgetable quotes,discovering an idea that you had never thought of, the good and the bad because they round us out and give birth to exploration of ourselves and our environments- chances are this book will inspire, entertain, and give the gift of making your mind a wiser place. Learning is supurb ecstacy.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Thoughts, But Doesn't Add Up To A Powerful Message 3 Jun. 2013
By Benny Profane - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Before picking up this book I was familiar with David Shields, having read "Black Planet," "The Thing About Life Is That One Day You Will Be Dead," and "Reality Hunger" and a few other of his essays. Shields is both brutally honest emotionally and intellectually super-powered; for instance in "Black Planet" he combines a racial study of the NBA along with personal revelations that he imagines that he is as "long and lean" as Gary Payton while having sex with his wife.

In "How Literature Saved My Life" Shields misses his mark. Ostensibly this is a work about - like the title says - how literature saved his life. However, literature really didn't save his life. Like many reviewers, I thought I was headed for a work on the loneliness and alienation of modern society and the redemptive powers of literature. Shields hints at this, but most of this work is about the literature he likes and how most of literature fails him. In fact, he hasn't read much literature since the late 1990's (pg 124). What Shields has been more focused on is the pursuit of a new literary form, one he calls collage, that would exist on the "bleeding edge" of genres between fiction and non-fiction and memoir and essay. These are the books that Shields writes about, the ones he loves, the one he quotes from and recommends. That's a big part of this book - as well as much of this book is an argument why he published "Reality Hunger" which was pretty tiresome since it is not that interesting and not that easy to relate to.

Still, Shields' voice is powerful enough that it kept me intrigued the entire time, and I'm sure this will be a book I reread passages of continually. Shields will deconstruct himself, including the less pleasant parts of himself, with exacting laser vision and leave himself bare to the reader. He has a similar ability to render an entire novel to a single powerful sentence - so much so that even though I have read some of these works I'm left saying "wait that's the point of ___?" I also found it interesting when Shields says that the novel was created to "access interiority" (pg 129) but that social media is catching up and surpassing the novel in this regard.

The sparse nature of the book leaves the short memoir passages that much more powerful. In particular, the essay regarding Tiger Woods and how our strengths and weaknesses are indivisible from one another is particularly fantastic. Shields assembles a murderer's row of thinkers and writers to back his argument. Nabokov, Tolstoy, Pynchon, DF Wallace...quotations by all these writers are here in stripped form, rippling with intellectual power. I was a little surprised with how often the ghost of David Foster Wallace floated across the pages of this manuscript. But since Wallace was primarily concerned with literature as a salve for loneliness, Shields finds much common ground with him, though Shields apparently has no time for Wallace's novels finding that "...the game is not worth the candle." (pg 192). Wait, what? Your time is that valuable?

That's one of the reasons it is so tough for Shields to be representative for all readers when he's quite clearly allergic to plot or any literary devices at all. Shields believes that we are all terminal patients, so writers should just get to the point already. He doesn't want anything between him and the artist - just the artist on an autopsy table, laid bare for Shields to examine. He wants to know the secret of "...how the writer solves being alive."

I agree with Shields on a lot of points; hell, which one of us doesn't want to know how to live? That's what Franzen, an author Shields derided in "Reality Hunger," was examining in his latest book. As Shields tells us, writing should be the "axe to break the frozen sea within us" (Kafka), or the "bridge constructed across the abyss of human loneliness" (Wallace). At this, Shields only succeeds at moments, glancingly. I don't agree with his argument, and he talks about himself very little. Since most of this book is a a personal literary argument rather than personal memoir, I'm left with not much to connect to. So no matter how strongly he makes his case for collage and for the hollowness of the novel, I can't seem to meet him out on this abyss spanning bridge.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disorganized, self-indulgent, postmodern ramblings - weak in substance and style 18 April 2013
By Tracy Marks - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When books like HOW LITERATURE SAVED MY LIFE have catchy titles but little substance, and receive numerous positive reviews in reputable publications, while truly superb new books (BREAKING OF EGGS by Jim Powell comes to mind) receive little publicity or acclaim, I despair about the future of quality reading.

Shields' style doesn't begin to compensate for the fact that he has little of value to say. His hodgepodge of disconnected vignettes which hopscotch from topic to topic might appeal to people whose attention span inclines them to read tidbits rather than linear stories or chapters - but is likely to be annoying to those of us who prefer a coherent narrative.

At least in regard to substance, Shields does provide a few gems, although most are quotes from other authors, such as Annie Dillard. A few times, however, what he writes isn't a quote from someone else, and expresses real insight. One such nugget: "Our deepest strength is indivisible from our most embarrassing weakness....Everyone's ambition is underwritten by a tragic flaw...In short, what animates us inevitably ails us." How true!

But what ails us can help us discover what animates us, and unfortunately, HOW LITERATURE SAVED MY LIFE is lacking in animation or emotional engagement. Perhaps because Shields is so relentlessly self-revealing, we're supposed to care about his adolescence and early adulthood, and be interested in his one-and-two-sentence sketches of books and movies that appeal to him. But unfortunately, I didn't care, and if I hadn't made a commitment to review the book, I would never been able to read past the first few pages. As it was, I barely read 2/3 of it before I gave up.

Perhaps there are readers who want to read a detailed description of how women responded to Shields sexually, or find out how he reacted when he learned that Tiger Woods had a minor accident. His list of 55 books he recommends might intrigue some readers - most likely, those who who resonate with Shields' apparent nihilism. This book is so littered with brief, unenlightening references to other books he has read that he appears to be doing a kind of pseudo-intellectual namedropping. I did so myself when I was a freshman philosophy student. It is for many of us, a necessary stage, one which has value at the time, but which we eventually outgrow.

Yes, David Shields dares to reveal many of his struggles and embarrassments (e.g. stuttering), but in the process he comes across as an unfunny, solipsistic, self-deprecatory, postmodern Woody Allen.

Clearly, there is an audience for this book, but it is likely to be the jaded and cynical, or the depressed and nihilistic who sadly are unable to experience the richness of their lives and human connection, and who seek - as most of us do - confirmation in what they read. Hopefully such confirmation will help them move on to the next stage - and feel more life-affirming.

Some facts:
The book is divided into these chapters or sections: Prologue, Negotiating Against Myself, Love is a Long Close Scrutiny, Why Is the Human Animal So Sad, One Ground Time Here Will Be Brief, The Sound of the Bow, All Great Books..., Life vs. Art, How Literature Saved My life.

Each section has a subtitle. For example, for Negotiating Against Myself: "In which I evoke my character and personality, especially the way I always argue against myself, am ridiculously ambivalent - who knew?" For The Wound and the Bow: "In which I make various self-destructive gestures, flirt none too successfully or seriously with suicide, pull back from brink via the written word".

HOW LITERATURE SAVED MY LIFE is really not about how literature saved David Shields' life. It is a collection of disconnected self-indulgent ramblings, a verbal collage - and inverted at that, as if he is speaking to himself rather than seeking to connect with his audience.

In my opinion, Shields has little of value to say, and he is no master at saying it. Why he is acclaimed as a writer is beyond my understanding. The wizard is only a little man behind a curtain, and "the Emperor wears no clothes."
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ultimately, I'm Not Convinced I Should Care 22 Mar. 2013
By Erin O'Riordan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Remember the 'Simpsons' episode in which Bart sold his soul? He dreamed of an afterlife that could only be reached by rowboat, and the rowboat was only functional and useful for reaching the afterlife to those whose doubles, their souls, accompanied them. Bart had no soul, no double, so his boat could only limp around in a sad circle. David Shields believes that literature is, like Bart Simpson's soul, both a reflection of one's self (for the reader as much as for the writer; he'll only accept literature through which he can strongly identify with the author) and a necessity. Shields views life as a brief, doomed enterprise of self-aware, diseased creatures headed inexorably for death, and the only way he can think to make this enterprise endurable is to communicate with his fellow-creatures as we tumble headlong toward oblivion. Communication, he admits, is imperfect at best, but the written word (including its digital 21st century evolutions) is the best tool we have for it.

I can imagine this was an enjoyable book for Shields to write, crammed as it is with quotes and borrowed ideas from the authors with whom he most closely identifies and can, therefore, tolerate. It's not as enjoyable to read. At times it veers dangerously close to whiny/nebbishy/neurotic/self-pitying-whilst-self-deprecating material I associate with Woody Allen and Philip Roth, a tone I find grating and artless. (I think I can say that - I have the one Jewish grandmother.) Shields appreciates artlessness. He doesn't want layers of artifice between himself and the author of the book he's reading; he wants minimally-filtered truth so he doesn't feel alone in the universe. He denies that escapism has a place in literature, bleak though the human landscape may be.

In the end, has David Shields convinced me to care what he thinks about the purpose of literature? No, he has not. If a book is intended to be an instrument through which reader and author connect as mirror images of one another, this one fails. Or does it? Maybe the truth is that I see too much of myself in David Shields, and I dislike the book because I dislike certain aspects of myself. I could explore this theory in a series of loosely-connected, short essays full of borrowed thought, but I doubt anyone else would want to read it.
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