book fair blues

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This week was the first time I ever went to the book fair and came away without buying a single book. There are some annual experiences that engender a sense of permanence. But going to the book fair these days is a bit like Grandpa’s birthday. There is always the thought that it may be the last. Here in Jerusalem we have a strong attachment to books, so it took me a while to realize that something was amiss. The signs were there. The crowds seemed thinner lately. And this year there seemed to be less young adults. Children and old folks are still interested.

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With the average book costing around 70 shekels normally, there were some fantastic deals offered; 4 books for a hundred shekels. 3 books for a 100. There was one published who offered 1 + 1; you buy a book, and you get another as a present. Now this should be a very tempting opportunity. But it means that if you want to take advantage of the 4 book deal, you have to find 4 books produced by the same publisher that you would like to read.

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This was no small challenge for me. I’ve been reading book reviews of new books for the last three weeks so I’d be prepared for the fair, and even so, I didn’t have a list of books I wanted to find. In the old days, I didn’t have to make a list. Yes, I had a better memory then, but what was more important, if I saw a book I hadn’t read, on a subject that interested me, I would buy without hesitation and read with glee. But there’ve been some changes since then.

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Sometimes the name of the book has been changed without thought for the innocent. For instance, that old classic, ‘I Went To China’ is now called, ‘A Drop in the Bucket’ and bears the subtitle, ‘how a Jewish Intellectual tried to tickle the armpit of a sleeping giant’, with a beautiful cover showing an abstract photoshopped collage of far eastern headwear. The cookbooks that were once so popular are no longer in the central display. It turns out that any food you want to prepare can be found instantly on the internet with alternate recipes for gluten free diets or kosher as you wish.

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But that isn’t the only problem. I’ve always enjoyed a good novel, but nowadays novels start with the hero lying in a hospital bed, unable to speak or to move his arms and legs, with a series of pipes and electric cables attached to some life-saving device, and though no one can guess that he has more presence of mind than a turnip, he can hear what his visitors are saying. And so he listens to them discussing the challenge of finding available parking as near as possible to the hospital. And then, just when you’re hoping that some mischievous grandchild will pull the plug, the narrative begins pulling you back and forth along a zigzag route of flashbacks and forwards that leave you dizzy by the time you want to go to the kitchen and get a snack. It is hopeless trying to figure out how the plot will be resolved or who the villain or the hero is, because there are no heroes nor are there villains. It turns out that they all suffered from unhappy childhoods and have since vacillated between ADHD and the acdc gender disposition.

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If you, like me, have a fondness for history, there are a number of new volumes on the display table each year. These fall into two major categories:
1) the historiographic, which critically examines flotsam after the deluge in order to synthesize the particulars into a narrative that will uphold the agenda of the day; or
2) demythification, in which the author will tell the story exactly as it would have happened if we were living in an alternative reality in which the Nazis won in Europe, and the Indians in America, after which Marxist literature became viral, coming out of Rio de Janeiro. The two Americas unite, and live happily ever after in an ideal egalitarian state that provides people who have low self-esteem with life-long compensation because love is what matters.

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And I have to mention that the very nicest people in our town are managing the book stalls, and you’re acquainted with about 30% of those over 40. Not to speak of the real live authors scattered among the book sellers to personally sign their works for the reading public. Think about it, what a terribly anti-social disgrace it would be, to come to the book fair and not buy a book… or four.

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To make the experience all the more enticing, this exhibition takes place right at the edge of the old train station, which has become an entertainment compound featuring bars and eateries, a small railroad museum, a series of stalls selling handicrafts, and stands selling popcorn and cotton candy for the children and the nostalgic. So I visited a few book stalls, talked to a few people, tried to find four books, three books even two books that I really wanted to read and didn’t have in my own library. There was one book that I thought might be interesting, but it seemed such a provocation to buy a book at full price when they were offering all these deals that I preferred to wait till my next visit at the local bookstore.

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Noga and I did our best to retreat unobserved from the book fair to Restaurant Row. where we managed to get outdoor seating at the Asian Eatery. That’s right, the old Chinese restaurant I loved has gone out of business, and I don’t eat sushi because I worry that the raw fish might come back to life and swim away from my plate. The Asian Eatery offers selected highlights from any country east of Israel, and actually, we had a tasty dinner to conclude our adventure.

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48 responses to “book fair blues

  1. Pretty much how I feel about current novels, too, which probably means I’m old and out-of-touch….but I’m most content to pull out old favorites, novels, biographies, poetry, and plays, and read all day, most days! Still, your day sounds like a great adventure, and fun with a friend, ending in a good meal!

    • Yes Kitty, I exaggerate in order to let humor placate the discomfort that we oldsters feel when looking at post modern culture. But it’s true that when I was looking at reviews of new books on the market, there wasn’t much that really attracted me. On the other hand, it is always gratifying to see people get together for the celebration of the written word. And I do have a very adequate library, and more to study than I’ll ever complete in this life. So I suppose these blues represent humor and perspective… which we have in common. Altogether, it was a very nice evening out. Thanks for the comment, and my best wishes to you.

  2. This post really put a huge smile on my face…although having said that I get the undertone of disappointment and understand it. It seems that everyone is trying to ‘out-clever’ the next person, regardless of field, and ultimately end up dumbing down whatever it is they are trying to do.
    Very pleased to hear that you and Noga enjoyed a good meal, despite! 🙂 xx

    • So glad that it left you smiling, Janet. I smile too when I think of what a fuddy duddy I must seem to the younger crowd. All in good fun. And what you say about the race to be clever… is most evident in what one can find in PhD theses. Since the university has become an extension of high school there’s been an astronomical increase in depthless philosophical thought as graduate students search desperately for something to research that hasn’t been chewed to dissolution by previous thinkers. Yes, it was a sweet evening. Thanks, xxx

  3. A rather sad state of affairs, going home from the book fair without a book. But a good day out all the same. At least the photos say it was.

    • It was certainly a good outing, and a celebration of summer if not an opportunity to widen my reading pleasure. Consider my histrionics an attempt at humor. My dear friend Noga, who accompanied me this time, always cautions me about expectations. Life is at it’s best, she assures me, when we face it as is. I’m still working on that lesson. But I know it’s true.

  4. Sounds like a gratifying outing if for nothing else at least a tasty meal. I shy away from crowds even when books are involved. I never even went to the renowned Miami Book Festival when I lived there. And amazon.com makes it too easy to buy books.

    • I used to tell my children when they were little, if you see the crowd heading in a certain direction, try another option. There are many to choose from, and the crowd is usually carried away. So we do have that in common, though you may be more radical than I am. Amazon has made it a lot easier to buy books in English, especially those volumes that arouse only minor interest, but when it comes to Hebrew literature, I have to depend on local talent. And it turns out that in the digital format we’re lagging behind. Thanks for coming by and your comment, ekurie.

  5. I recall past posts about book fairs, so I remember your excitement – therefore, feel the sadness around this one. But, the trip ended with a good meal, so a toast with some bourbon! … clink!

    • Yes Frank, it was always a favorite event for me. But for some time now, I’ve been aware of a change in the direction of literature. Telling a story in chronological order is passé, it seems. The idea of good and evil too. Though a hundred years have passed since Einstein’s surprising theory, we still see the consequences as our cultures adapt to its principles. How nice to meet over a shot of bourbon. To life! clink!

  6. I visited the old railway station in Jerusalem more than once. Its history is connecting. Its construction almost makes it a totem of the British Mandate period. Its footprint cries out ‘The Brits were there!’ like in so many other places.

    The stalls in the yard were full of books one time when I was nearby, there were also interest magazines and boxes on the ground by the stalls that people could rake through. Of course, I did not know the sale was an annual affair. I was certainly curious about the activities, however, on balance, I decided not to wander through the stalls and possibly be tempted. I had to keep in mind my baggage allowance! This was not a dissimilar position to you, going away empty handed,except, though, the reasons for it were different. I must admit, from what you say, my wandering away from the bookselling bustle, had a similar feel.

    I have a sense, from your post, that if the annual literature exposure is to survive, it will have to have a pick and mix of media and options that not only interest public curiosity for all ages, but, that don’t make the customers who are there, feel they are being short-changed, especially, if they only want one or possibly two items. It seems there is a public relations learning curve to achieve.

    xx

    • How nice that you’re familiar with the old train station, Menhir. Actually, it’s not an inheritance from the British Mandate. Work on that railroad was begun in the middle of the 19th century, when we were still a colony of the Turks, and by the time the English arrived it was a part of the landscape and was of great benefit to the local population. Unfortunately, as the years passed, other means of transportation improved, and the train remained rather old fashioned. I remember using it a lot when I was young. It still had its advantages before the ‘6 Day War’. But afterwards it was just too slow, and since then there have been some improvements and a new train station as well. We are supposed to get a brand new train this year, with a new rail line as well. The trip from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will be less than a half an hour! As for the books at the fair, they are still 100% Hebrew. Both original works, and translations from other languages to ours. This makes it that much harder for the book sellers, because the audience is limited, but I think the printed book is approaching a crisis everywhere. Thanks for your comment. xx

  7. Imagine being an author and being told that if you want to sell, you have to make likable villains. I can’t do it. In a world that increasingly blurs the line between good and evil, it’s a challenge to stand against the tide of change. Sounds like you made a lovely day of it anyway. 🙂

    • I hear you Judy, and I can imagine just how excruciating that might be. Some changes are forever, like the discovery of the wheel and that of electricity, I think the digital revolution is something like that. But other changes are just relevant within a specific society. I remember as a young student, reading Gibbon’s decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and thinking ‘I will never see such things in my lifetime,’ but actually, a lot of what I see today reminds me of those days. Indeed, it’s challenging. But we did have a fine evening after all. Thanks.

  8. Am happy with my own collection of books, friend Shimon … some are from way back when I was still in high school … and I love them all … Always. cat.

    • Yes, my dear cat, many of the old books are timeless. And now in my old age I’ve returned to some of them, to read them again… and it was like a new experience, because though I had memories from those old books, I see them now with a different perspective, and they often bring new thoughts that didn’t occur at first reading. Thanks, and here’s to getting lost in a book… xxx

  9. Some days are like this. I particularly enjoy second hand stores. Some days I find treasures, other days, nothing. I have a thing for visiting public libraries, as well as still buying things on Amazon. Though lately, I feel bad when I buy a used book online and discover it has old library stickers on it, as if I deprived the general public of a retired book? Sometimes the book is suspiciously new and in immaculate condition and I wonder if it was stolen and sold online and I feel a mix of thrilled it’s mine for a great price and shame at how it may have come to me. Very little brings me as much joy as seeing my daughter really engage with a good book, though. I guess I’ll risk many awkward things and situations to keep her interested in learning and loving a good story.

    • It truly saddens me to see libraries downsizing, but it is happening here as well. They’ve been a second home for me most of my life. But I think there’s no avoiding the fact that our entire world is soon to be replaced. First came the toys, like the computer games, because professionals still hadn’t learned to use the new tools. But now, our entire world is changing. Family cars replaced by autonomous vehicles, and homes, airplanes, and schools totally different from what we grew up with. How wonderful it is to hear of your daughter perched over a book! And it’s very good to see you Rusty. Best wishes for all your family!

  10. You do make me laugh, just loved your descriptions of the books!!! What a wonderful location though, it must be good to round the day off with a good meal rather than a fish coming back to life and swimming off your plate! Hahaha…..Loved this post, shame you didn’t get any bargains.xxx

    • I can’t think of anything more worthwhile for me to do than sharing a laugh with a friend. And actually, I don’t need any incentive to read. But strangely, now that I’m old, I have much more interest in what the young are reading these days. But it turns out that the bestsellers are too much like the movies now. Which only reminds me that when I was young, I read many more old books than I hit sellers even then. I was terribly curious then about what happened before I arrived. I’m afraid it’s much harder to guess what’s going to be happening after I leave. Still, it’s fun to contemplate. Thanks Dina. xxx

  11. Books are a uniquely portable magic… and I like the paper one, not the kindle. Since I was very young I started to read and collect books, I gave away many of these to kindergarten or school library. I only kept the one I started to fill with notes written with the pencil 🙂 I admit it, I have a really bad and nasty habit. Maybe because of it, I’m somehow jealous of my books and I don’t like to lend them. When my dad died, I received his own collection… he started to collect books saying “when I’m retired, I will have all the time to read!” Unfortunately, he became blind before he had this precious time, I was his eyes and I tried to give him the chance to travel with his mind among the stories I read to him. He had loved few good novels like “the city of joy”, “seven years in Tibet” or Pasternak’s “doctor Zhivago”… I do miss so much the hours I spent with him reading… I do miss my dad.
    Since you didn’t find a good deal at the book fair, I could send you one of mine for free (one is translated into English)… but I don’t know if it’s the kind of literature you would like. I’m only a citizen of the world trying to change things, I’m not a writer, but I do love to read and write… mostly for myself, my unforgettable utopia. Let me know, and just in case, let me have your e-mail. Hugs and serenity 🙂 c
    claudine.giovannoni@ticino.com

    • Like your father, I too bought some books with the thought that I’d read them after retirement. How sweet to picture you reading to your father. I am sure it brought him great happiness, Claudine. I don’t think that writing notes in books is a nasty habit. I do it to this day, both in paper books and on the Kindle. I would be very honored to receive a book you wrote. My address is humpict@gmail.com . Thank you so much for everything, and my wishes to you for good health and happiness, and continued pleasure making music and sharing your thoughts with others.

  12. So good to hear you ended the day with a good friend, good food and a good drink. Otherwise, I understand your frustration, Shimon. Most of the books I read, I check out from my library. I can now place up to 20 books on reserve. There was a time when I reached my limit consistently. These days? I cannot find 20 books worth putting on reserve. I often go to Barnes & Noble’s site to discover books of interest and books soon to be published. Even with that resource, the pickings get slimmer by the month. As you noted, with novels these days, plots are just too cute or convoluted or outrageous. Or,there are pages and pages and pages are devoted to mindless dialogue. What a pleasure it is to occasionally find a book by an author who writes in a page-turner fashion: clear, concise prose. I have, over the years, developed the habit of reading the ending to a novel if I don’t like the plot or characters – or both – early on, in my reading of the book. If the ending doesn’t suit me, I close the book and move on. That practice has saved me many wasted hours. PC has also played a role in the dumbing-down of writing, as you noted in the Chinese tale. Sad. For what it’s worth, my two favorite novels from the past year or so are Kristin Hannah’s THE NIGHTINGALE (WWII based) and, recently, THE GREAT ALONE (living rough in Alaska). One I read a few years back might be of interest: ONE SECOND AFTER (the very real after-effects of an America without any electrical power due to electromagetic pulse bombs being deployed over the entire country). In the reality section, I sometimes wonder which alternative reality the author lives in. I am a paper book person. E-readers don’t interest me. Eventually, if I live long enough, I’m sure there will be little choice, but until that happens, a book in the hand sure beats two on an electronic device. Blessings, my friend.

    • Actually Myra, even though I didn’t buy any books at the fair this year, I do enjoy watching people get together to celebrate books, no matter what it is they’re reading. When I was young, it was books that made life bearable, and I’ve loved them ever since. but I find that books are much like people; there are those that you can identify with to such a degree that they become true friends. And many others that appeal to different tastes. Often, one book will lead to another, or open up a new continent for adventure. My father used to check endings just as he was starting a book, and it seems that as a reaction to that, I was always very strict about not peeking. But hearing that you do that too, I might try it a bit. It might save me from wasting my time, especially when it comes to newly popular volumes. I have jotted down the books you mentioned, and will check out the reviews to see if they encourage my appetite. I agree with you about electric books. I have no doubt that they are the way of the future. But they don’t bother me. For me the reading experience is much the same. Many thanks for your blessing, and my best wishes to you too.

  13. This post is enjoyable, Shimon. I felt as if I were with you, going from to table, checking out the people, the booths, and the books. This type of outdoor literary farmer’s market is unheard of now in the Bay Area. Actually, book stores are almost unheard of. So sad!! I am a discriminating reader and will never suggest a book title unless I loved the read. I also loved your pictures. Well done, my friend.

    • We too have had a reduction in bookstores in recent years, and I do miss them. But it seems to me that the sort of browsing that I used to do in bookshops and libraries is very much like browsing on the internet today. I can find book reviews and discussions on almost every subject, and it takes only minutes to find (though longer to read them all).I agree with you about recommending books. I try to be careful. So glad you enjoyed the post, Cheri.

  14. I fear books may become a thing of the past if we don’t start producing some with substance that people enjoy reading. I’m working on a biography that I think you might like as it’s going to tell the story straight through with no flashbacks or extreme drama. I’ll let you know when it’s finished.

    • You know Bev, when I first started hearing the term ‘post modern’, it really shocked me… because I was used to associating ‘modern’ with contemporary. What was happening, I wondered. Was I already seeing the future? And little by little I found myself adjusting to the viewpoint that modern was already in the past. Please let me know when your biography goes public. I look forward to reading it. Thanks very much for your comment.

  15. Perhaps my ambivalence with book publishers lies in the difference between what I’m buying and what the content may suggest. We over-advertise the wrong things, and I feel a bit duped.
    That said, there is nothing more engaging than the smell of books and coffee, readers emitting a scent of devoted intensity that one sees too infrequently these days. I am drawn to it all, as I am happily always drawn to your posts. Shalom, Shimonoseki

    • So true what you say about looking at advertisements for books Mimi. And looking at the cover of a new one can be even more misleading. So what I try to find is a couple of reviews when I receive a recommendation. And I find I learn a lot more from those critical or unenthusiastic than what I can get from a rave review. Even if the reviewer is a stickler for grammar or good editing, which isn’t that important to me, I get a more balanced review. And I agree with you, it’s delightful to see a person wrapped up in a book. So glad you enjoyed the post, and here’s wishing us both many great adventures reading the creations of others. Peace and pleasant smiles.

  16. Thank you Shimon, for taking me to the book fair with you. I am glad you had time with Noga and shared food together. I am struggling with modern tales and writing too. I signed up as a book reviewer, as I thought this would be a pleasurable task. It hasn’t turned out that way and I understand your light hearted touch on modern writings. I return to old favourites and books from authors of yesteryear, that I didn’t get to read when I was growing up. Hugs for you, always. ❤ Xx

    • Yes, reviewing books can become work just like being a sales person or a taxi driver. But there are times when there’s fun to be had at such work too. What’s most significant is realizing how varied and immense the amount of books we at our disposal. Truly, worlds upon worlds. And the more different worlds and points of view we can discover by way of reading, the more we can enjoy and understand the world around us. Knowing your positive attitude towards all things, Jane, I am sure that you do appreciate as I do, seeing the world through others’ eyes. Thanks for the comment and the hugs, xxx

  17. I can so relate to this post, Shimon. A free book for everyone you buy is some offer, if only you can find one you’d like to buy. It’s said that history is rewritten by the victors. And publishers won’t publish till they run books by a sensitivity reader. What a sad old world it is. I’ll stick to my little collection.

    PS your blog must have dropped out of my follow box. I was getting a bit worried something had happened to you. So happy I remembered that you were the human picture and looked you up.

    • So glad to hear that you found me again, Mary. I know that sometimes when I get distracted from writing by occasional despair, I risk being dropped off the map altogether. Just recently, I read about sensitivity readers and was dismayed. This is more misled idealism of the sort that sponsored ‘politically correct’ speech, and in my mind it interferes with rich communication. Still, I’m grateful that I keep finding new ideas and thoughts… new books and old, all the time. In fact, I’ve started rereading some old books that I loved in the past and often it’s like reading a new book, because I’ve changed so much since the last read, and see and learn things I didn’t understand the same way the last time around.

  18. This post delighted me, Shimon. When I wasn’t smiling in wry recognition, I was actually laughing at your clever way of raising and neatly disposing of so many of our current cultural tics.

    There are indications here and there that the classics — even more modern classics — still are thriving. When a friend quoted a line from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From The Sea, I suggested she might enjoy reading the entire book. When she put her name on the reserve list at the library, she found there were twenty people ahead of her. Quality certainly does endure.

    I’m also a repeat reader, and I’ve probably read Lindbergh a dozen times since I received my first copy as a gift in 1975. I always make a point of using a differently colored ink for notes when I re-read. With a key to year and color on the flyleaf, it’s a fascinating way to look back at my own responses over time.

    I’ve never been to a book fair, but i’m a great fan of library book sales. Donated books can be had for a dollar and often less, with proceeds going to the library. The best part of the experience is that wonderful books from an earlier age can be had, as people dump those in order to fill their shelves with Fifty Shades of Illiteracy.

    • Hadn’t heard of Anne Lindbergh till you mentioned her, and I’ve already read a bit about her and a few quotations attributed to her. Her husband was quite unpopular here, and that could be the reason I hadn’t heard of her. But she sounds interesting.

      I used to have a very good memory, so it was rare that I felt the urge to reread a book. It’s only in recent years that I’ve started doing that, and I find it gratifying. It’s like viewing something known from a different perspective. And though I’ve enjoyed many a book fair, library book sales are something new for me. I’ll have to investigate if such a thing exists here. I can hardly imagine it. We used to have a corner in town, where people would leave piles of books they no longer wanted, and others were free to come and take what they wanted. But since then, the free libraries have evolved, and they’re better organized and serve the same purpose. Old books are very precious. And there are new ones that can enlighten us and teach us too, as well as entertain us. But we have to search for them. Thanks for your comment, Linda.

  19. I loved your gently satirical observations on the trends of modern literature.
    As for Hebrew Book Week (Month?), or whatever they call it nowadays – I do have 2 or 3 books on my list which I have waited until Book Week to buy, as even new books can be had at a reduced price now, but to tell the truth, since I joined the Steimatzky Club and enjoy special offers such as 3 books for 99 shekels, throughout the year, I don”t feel the pull of Book Week as much as I used to. It’s the same, to tell the truth, with the Israel Festival. As a student, I used to wait all year and save up to buy tickets to four different performances at (if I remember aright) a 20% discount, but that was when concerts, ballet and opera performances were relatively rare in Jerusalem. Now we can see them all year round (well, except for opera, but the Opera House in Tel Aviv is only an hour’s drive away), and Festival tickets are grossly overpriced anyway.

    • Hi Shimona. Very glad you enjoyed. Actually, I never went to the book fair because of the bargains. Because I’m not much of a sports fan, this was my annual opportunity to see the masses enjoying what I love, and it was great fun. But now I sense a great change coming… and I can’t imagine what would tempt me to join a crowd once printed books are all replaced by digital. Thanks so much for your comment.

  20. Things do change, don’ they, and even the Chinese restaurant you depend on disappears (happened to us, too). We love our used bookstores in the Pacific northwest, and there are a lot of them, but one of our favorites closed not too long ago. Your book fair sounds like a really nice event – I remember large book fairs in New York City when I lived there, but not outdoors so much. Nice images Shimon!

    • When we’re young, everything is new to us; learning new things is an exciting challenge. But then as the years pass, we get attached to certain parts of our environment, and find some changes a little hard to take. But my impression is that we are at the start of a new epoch, and almost everything we know is going to change. We’ll probably continue to enjoy books, but I doubt they’ll be printed on paper. So it’s best we enjoy the pleasure of having a bit of both worlds while it lasts. Thanks Lynn

  21. Ha ha, very amusing! I hate books that ricochet between time zones too … what’s wrong with the writers, that they can’t write in a straight line? I also get irritated at the ever-decreasing approaches to history. A good meal is always an excellent idea, even if your suchi do swim around in your stomach …

    • It does seem as if some writers these days have tried to recreate literature in the style of popular movies. I keep hearing of books praised as ‘page turners’. I’ve turned a lot of pages myself, but my favorite books were those that made me stop and think in the middle of the page. All the excitement in contemporary literature just wears me out. After a few hours of frantically moving ahead, I have to take a nap to examine the images peacefully in my mind. But I haven’t given up yet, Gill. I still find a good new book now and then. Glad you enjoyed the post.

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