Emily’s Ghost

Emily’s Ghost: A Novel of the Brontë SistersDenise Giardina’s novel Emily’s Ghost is the third novel about the lives of the Brontës that I’ve read this year. The other two were Jude Morgan’s Charlotte and Emily and Syrie James’s The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë. Perhaps because Wuthering Heights is my favorite novel, I felt Emily’s presence lacking a bit in these other two novels as they were both told from Charlotte’s point of view. Giardina’s novel is told mainly from Emily’s point of view, but also includes the perspectives of the curate William Weightman, supposed by many to have been a love interest of Anne Brontë’s. Giardina chooses instead to depict William Weightman as Emily’s beloved. As no substantiation exists for a definite relationship with Anne, I suppose Giardina can take the license to offer a different portrayal of Weightman’s affections than is traditionally shown.

Emily’s Ghost is not a sweeping saga of the Brontës so much as a collection of important vignettes. Giardina notes that the story we traditionally read of the Brontës has been Charlotte’s, as she was the sister who survived and her biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell, naturally had Charlotte’s point of view to work with. Emily’s story, at least as Giardina imagines it, is very different. I found her William Weightman charismatic and her depiction of their relationship plausible. Patrick Brontë is particularly well drawn in this novel, and Branwell is portrayed in a much more sympathetic light than usual, due mainly to his concern over Emily’s reaction to Weightman’s death and his care for Weightman as he died. Charlotte, on the other hand, suffers a great deal from Giardina’s characterization. She comes off as a little bit man-crazy, and certainly whiny, self-absorbed, and vain (about her talent, especially). In the final pages, she’s downright appalling.

I actually think of the three Brontë novels I’ve read, I enjoyed this one the most. I was swept away—it’s easy to tell Giardina is a fan of the Brontës. I also felt somehow that this novel captured something accurate, something very real about the Brontë household. Or perhaps a somewhat romanticized version of it. It’s much more like Wuthering Heights than Jane Eyre, which is to be expected. A couple of favorite lines stand out:

They were sisters. They loved one another. They were also rivals, though they never admitted to it.

I can easily picture the Brontës feeling this way—so much talent in so little space.

And Emily, remarking to her sisters, who do not like Wuthering Heights:

And do you despise Heathcliff? Then despise me! Because I—” She jabbed her finger against her chest as she leaned forward across the table. “I am Heathcliff! I am!”

Be sure to check out the much more comprehensive review at BrontëBlog. If you are a fan of the Brontës, you will enjoy this novel.

Rating: ★★★★★

Happy birthday, Emily Brontë.

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Charlotte and Emily

Charlotte and Emily: A Novel of the BrontësJude Morgan’s Charlotte and Emily is mistitled. It is actually the story of Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontë, as well as their parents. In the UK, the book was titled The Taste of Sorrow, a title much more apt, though one could argue again that the Brontës endured much more than a taste of sorrow. I imagine the reason for the change stems from the notion that Americans will be more interested in Charlotte and Emily, as though we aren’t as likely to buy a book the book with Morgan’s title. I grow tired of this sort of retitling.

Morgan’s novel begins on the deathbed of Maria Branwell Brontë and traces the familiar family story from the coming of Aunt Branwell to help care for the children, to the loss of Maria and Elizabeth, casualties of the harsh conditions at the Clergy Daughters’ School in Cowan Bridge. Branwell is given the gift of toy soldiers, and he and his sisters create imaginative stories. As they grow, they find it difficult to leave behind their created worlds of Angria and Gondal. As adults, the sisters try their hand at teaching and governessing, but they are ultimately unhappy. Their brother Branwell succumbs to drinking and dissolution; meanwhile, they write.

Morgan’s writing style draws you in. He doesn’t attempt to mimic the style of the Brontës, and some expressions (Tabby’s “What’s up?”, for instance) seem jarring, but the overall effect is an admirable piece of work that brings the Brontë family alive. Patrick Brontë, the family patriarch, suffers a little under Morgan’s characterization, but as I don’t know much about the man, I can’t say that the characterization is unfair. Once again, I walk away from a book about the Brontës with the notion that no matter their unhappiness in life, I would really like to have sat at the table with all of them for tea and conversation. Branwell is the great unrealized genius, fiery and passionate. Anne, the dutiful, honest thinker. Emily, the blunt, private dreamer. Charlotte, much like her heroine Jane Eyre, a person whose passions run deep beneath the surface.

I highly recommend this novel to fans of the Brontës. It’s highly readable historical fiction that brings the reader into the world of the Brontës. Don’t take my word for it, however. The BrontëBlog has a glowing review of the book.

Rating: ★★★★★

This book concludes the All About the Brontës Challenge for me and is my fifth book in the Bibliophilic Books Challenge (one more will bring me to Litlover status). This book is also my sixth selection for the Typically British Reading Challenge, bringing me to the “Bob’s Your Uncle” level. I’ll keep going.

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Summer Reading

Summer is rapidly approaching. I have one more week of teaching, one more week of finals, and a couple of days of post-planning, after which my teaching responsibilities for 2009-2010 will have ended. Of course, before you tell me how lucky I am to have two months off (it’s not actually three), don’t forget I am actually not paid for that time. Most teachers are paid for ten months, but have their pay divided among twelve. Also, no teacher—let me rephrase that—no good teacher I know really takes that time off. Most of us usually spend that time planning for the next year, doing professional reading, and taking professional development courses or college courses. I’ll be doing all three. However, more time will also mean more time for reading. Here are the books on my radar (subject to change) for summer reading.

The Story of BritainThe Adventure of English: The Biography of a LanguageMedieval Lives

Rebecca Fraser’s The Story of England and Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language are on tap as I plan my British Literature and Composition courses. I have also checked out the DVD companion for Bragg’s book from my school library. Both books should help me plan my courses. Terry Jones’s Medieval Lives should add some dimension to studies of Chaucer next year.

In terms of professional reading, I plan to finish some books I’ve started, specifically:

Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do  About It The Grammar Plan Book: A Guide to Smart Teaching

Even if I am not teaching 9th grade next year, which is the grade level at which our grammar instruction is focused, I still think a solid foundation in how to teach grammar in a way that will stick and will make a difference in student writing is a good idea. In addition, I would like to try to read this book:

Plagiarism

In this day of easy cut and paste, plagiarism is much easier, and I believe, more tempting than ever before.

Finally, for pleasure reading, I plan to select from the following:

I thoroughly enjoyed Syrie James’s second novel, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, and as a fan of Jane Austen, I look forward to The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. I originally purchased both The Forgotten Garden and The Meaning of Night for potential reading for the last R.I.P. Reading Challenge. My husband is thoroughly enjoying The Meaning of Night, and he highly recommends it.

These first two books will indulge my interest in the Romantic poets. The first book, Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land, explores the story of Byron’s own contribution to the famous writing challenge that produced Frankenstein and the first vampire novel. Passion: A Novel of the Romantic Poets explores the lives of Byron, the Shelleys, and Keats. As a child, I was extremely interested in dinosaurs and paleontology. Of course I want to read Remarkable Creatures, the first novel I know of written about Mary Anning, who discovered the fossil of an ichthyosaur and two plesiosaurs near her home at Lyme Regis.

The Little Stranger comes highly recommended from our art teacher. Emily’s Ghost promises to be an interesting novel about Emily Brontë: most of the novels about the Brontës either focus on Charlotte or broaden the focus on the Brontës in general. The Dream of Perpetual Motion will be my first steampunk novel.

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Maria Brontë

Maria Brontë

Maria Brontë
Photo by Gary Myers, via Find a Grave

I’m currently reading Charlotte and Emily by Jude Morgan. I am new to the Brontës, having only read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in the last three years. Upon reading Syrie James’s The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë earlier this year, I became much more interested in the Brontës themselves. I highly recommend BrontëBlog if you want to keep up with Brontë references in both pop culture and academia. I haven’t read any Brontë biographies yet. Syrie James’s novel begins just as Charlotte Brontë has returned from Belgium. All of the surviving Brontës are adults, and their sisters Maria and Elizabeth, who died as children, are logically not a part of the story. Jude Morgan begins his novel with the death of Maria Branwell Brontë, wife of Patrick Brontë and mother of the six Brontë children. After a flash forward of a few years, Patrick Brontë seizes an opportunity to educate his daughters inexpensively and sends first Maria and Elizabeth, then later Charlotte and finally Emily to the Clergy Daughters’ School in Cowan Bridge, some forty miles away from Haworth, the Brontës’ home. Because Morgan chose to begin his story of the Brontës at an earlier time, his novel provides a glimpse not only of the Brontës’ mother, but also Maria and Elizabeth.

My first thought upon reading about Maria’s abiding patience and endurance in the face of outright child abuse at the school was that she sounded just like Helen Burns in Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre. Eager to learn whether or not this was true or conjecture on behalf of Morgan, I searched for references to Maria as the inspiration for Helen, and I discovered some quotes from Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë. Indeed, Charlotte did claim, in the face of criticism that Helen was “too good to be true” (and I admit I felt the same way when I read Jane Eyre), that “she was real enough.  I have exaggerated nothing there.” Mrs. Gaskell described an incident that Morgan works into his narrative in which Maria, not well enough to get up, was urged to stay in bed by the other girls, only to be abused by their teacher, Mrs. Andrews. Maria struggled to dress herself, urged the other girls to have patience, and was subsequently punished for being late (presumably to breakfast or class—Gaskell did not say).

After reading about Maria and learning that her story as presented by Jude Morgan was true, the first thing I wanted to do was go back in time and rescue her from that awful place and take care of her, which I’m sure her father and siblings wished they could have done. Her story is heartbreaking, moving, and sad. Given Patrick describes talking with eleven-year-old Maria  “on any of the leading topics of the day with as much freedom and pleasure as with any grown-up person,” one cannot help but wonder what books Maria might have written had she lived.

I learned more about Maria Brontë at these websites:

On an unrelated note, I am appreciating Morgan’s writing style a great deal. His use of stylistic fragments and run-ons to evoke events whirling out of control as well as occasional adjectives shifted out of order popped off the page because I have recently been teaching students these techniques using Image Grammar by Harry Noden. Though Noden gives examples from prominent writers in his book, it’s fascinating as a lover of the craft of writing and and avid reader to catch these interesting techniques in action.

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Kindle TBR Pile

Most avid readers I know have a TBR (to be read) pile. I mostly keep my TBR pile on Goodreads. I sometimes remember to put these books on my Amazon Wishlist. I have recently acquired a Kindle, and my department at school gave me an Amazon gift card in honor of my being selected as the Georgia Council of Teachers of English (GCTE) Secondary Teacher of the Year.

Since purchasing my Kindle, I have downloaded several books, all now in my TBR pile.

HornsContested Will

Medieval LivesThe Dream of Perpetual Motion

I really added Horns at Steve’s request, as he has been wanting to read it, but it has received good reviews, and I think I’ll eventually check it out, too.

I think I first heard about Contested Will via Twitter, but I’m not sure if it was @shakespearetav or @madshakespeare. I’m reading A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 by James Shapiro, the author of Contested Will, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I see the anti-Stratfordians have begun panning Contested Will in Amazon reviews.

I have long enjoyed Terry Jones’s take on medieval history. Many people don’t know it, but Jones is a medieval scholar with a degree in English from Oxford. He has a gift for bringing history alive with humor, and I always enjoy whatever he does. Medieval Lives has been on my Amazon Wishlist for ages, so I finally purchased it.

I found out about The Dream of Perpetual Motion via Mad Shakespeare, which is a clever blog that you should be reading if you are a Shakespeare fan. This novel is a steampunk version of Shakespeare’s late romance The Tempest. I have never tried steampunk before, but I have tried books with elements of steampunk, such as Stardust. I was dithering about whether to download this book when @paulwhankins, who created a wonderful introduction to steampunk using LiveBinders, said it was good. That was enough for me.

I also found a good deal on three novels from the Brontë sisters on Kindle for $0.99. I haven’t read anything by Anne Brontë, and this collection affords me the opportunity not only to add an additional Brontë novelist to my TBR pile, but also to have my favorite novel (Wuthering Heights) and Jane Eyre at my fingertips wherever I go. The collection comes with Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Agnes Grey. If I can, as we say down here in the South, “get off the stick” and read it, I might finish it in time to include it as part of the All About the Brontës Challenge.

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Multiple Copies

Emma’s recent comment on my review of The Annotated Pride and Prejudice inspired this post. I don’t own multiple copies of many books, but I do own multiple copies of a few. Perhaps it is telling in terms of my literary interests?

I own two copies of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The image on the left is the US cover of the novel, and the reason I have a copy of that edition is that I use it to teach the novel. The image on the right, which is my favorite of the two, is the UK edition, which my friend Roger sent me.

I have three editions of Wuthering Heights. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite book, but it might be Wuthering Heights. Certainly it’s safe to say it’s one of my favorites based on the number of copies I own.

Wuthering Heights, Norton Critical EditionWuthering Heights, Barnes and Noble Classics SeriesWuthering Heights audiobook

I have the Norton Critical Edition for teaching. It includes a variety of lit. crit. articles and reviews. I think it might be most appropriate for college studies, but I use it with my high school students, too. I am not a fan of the Norton typeface, and neither are my students. I especially like Emily Brontë’s diary, which is included in this text. The edition to its right is the Barnes and Noble classics series edition. I love the pink cover and the beautiful image on the cover (Weymouth Bay by John Constable). This edition is the first one I read. It is directed at high school students, I think, and it has really good footnotes, a list of famous quotations from the novel (with page references),  Charlotte Brontë’s preface to the 1850 edition, an introduction by Daphne Merkin and notes on the Yorkshire dialect by Tatiana M. Holway, and a good family tree in the front. For some inexplicable reason, the Norton edition, which throws in everything but the kitchen sink, does not have a family tree. I don’t know how to keep track of the characters in Wuthering Heights without a family tree. The third edition I own is the audiobook as narrated by Janet McTeer and David Timson. Janet McTeer has actually played Nelly Dean before. Both actors do a masterful job with the text, McTeer of course reading the parts narrated by Nelly Dean, and Timson the parts narrated by Lockwood. I have every intention of buying an edition for my Kindle (I am just settling on the right one). *Yes, I bought a Kindle after doing the research on Kindles, Nooks, and iPads, and I will post about it, soon.* I also really want a paper copy of this edition because I’m in love with the cover:

Wuthering Heights Penguin Edition

Here is the full image, front and back:

Ruben Toledo Wuthering Heights cover

Click on the image to see a larger version. Gorgeous, right?

I also own two editions of Pride and Prejudice: the annotated edition Emma described as her favorite (mine, too), and the Bantam Classics edition, which was the first edition I read.

The Annotated Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice, Bantam Classics

The cover of The Annotated Pride and Prejudice is actually a drawing of Austen’s niece, Fanny Knight. Bantam‘s cover painting is Miss Rosamond Croker by Sir Thomas Lawrence.

There was a time when I didn’t mind mass market paperbacks at all. Over the last few years, I have decided I don’t like them much, and I don’t know whether to attribute it to older age and failing eyesight or the fact that mass markets crowd too many words on the page, too closely together, which just doesn’t make for as pleasant a reading experience as a trade paperback or hardcover. For a mass market, the BN edition of Wuthering Heights is pretty nice, and the words aren’t too crowded, but the Bantam edition of P&P—well, the Bantam edition of anything, really—seems more crowded. I actually stopped reading my Bantam edition of Persuasion because it was too hard on my eyes and took up reading the book on Stanza on my iPhone.

I have two editions of Persuasion, too. The Bantam edition I just mentioned and an audiobook version I won from Austenprose. I haven’t listened to the audiobook yet, but I am excited to do so. I’m not sure whether Persuasion or Sense and Sensibility is my second favorite Austen novel. Maybe they’re tied. Nah. Sense and Sensibility is second. But I do love Persuasion, and I especially love Captain Wentworth’s letter. I deleted Persuasion from my iPhone after I finished it to save space. I wouldn’t necessarily do that on my Kindle because I only intend to have books on the Kindle, but my iPhone has all my music and tons of other apps, too.

The only other books I own multiple copies of are the Harry Potter series. I have multiple copies of these books for several reasons:

  1. I have read some of them so many times I literally wore them out and had to replace them.
  2. We couldn’t share books when they were first released because we all wanted to read them (we have multiple copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).
  3. I really wanted the tenth anniversary edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I have to say the paper feels very nice, and the cover is gorgeous.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Which books do you own multiple copies of and why? Please share in the comments.

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Living the Literary Life

NovelWhore tweeted a good question: “What book most represents what you want your life to be like?”

This is a tough questions to answer. I would love to be able to go to Hogwarts and do magic like the characters in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, but Harry and Company go through some very rough times. They lose their loved ones, they’re tortured and outcast for their beliefs, and they experience a great deal of pain and suffering. Not even magic can eradicate these types of problems.

Una Spenser of Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel Ahab’s Wife is one of the strong female protagonists I most admire. She touches so much history, and she’s truly a remarkable woman. However, she also is forced into cannibalism to survive a shipwreck, an experience that drives her husband insane. I certainly wouldn’t want to have some aspects of Una’s life, but others sound truly amazing.

While I admire the passion and windswept beauty of the landscape in both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, the characters again must live through such ordeals, much of it at the hands of other people who are cruel for reasons that are difficult to fathom. Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange, and Thornfield Manor might be interesting to visit, but I can’t honestly say I’d want to live there.

Manderley seems like a great house to explore. I love Daphne DuMaurier’s descriptions of her unnamed narrator in Rebecca. However, if Mrs. Danvers must come with the house, I have to decline.

No, if I had one choice, one book in which I could live, one book that represents what I wish my life could be like, it would be Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Here are my reasons:

  1. Empire waists are flattering. The clothes are simply gorgeous.
  2. Despite the supposed repression of the time, Lizzie manages to express her true thoughts quite well, especially when she’s been insulted. She does not accept Mr. Collins’s proposal: she knows she will be miserable. When Mr. Darcy insults her with his first proposal, she lets him know in no uncertain terms, exactly where he can stick that proposal.
  3. England. You will not meet a bigger Anglophile. If I could live anywhere in the world and money/job were no object, I’d pack my bags for the U.K. this red hot minute.
  4. Austen’s economy of description evokes just enough of the setting to give the reader an idea without becoming bogged down in detail. Even so, I can see all of it, and it’s so beautiful.

In Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, characters are able to jump inside books, and Thursday even lives inside one for a time. If anyone ever works out how to visit books, I want to book a trip inside Pride and Prejudice.

In which book would you like to live? Blog about it and tag others (we can make this a meme) or leave your answer in the comments.

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Wuthering Heights: Audio Book

Wuthering HeightsI became a member of Audible last month. To me, $14.95 a month for an audio book each month seemed like a fairly good deal. I know that Audible uses DRM, and some folks have a problem with that, but if I am just going to listen to the book on my iPhone or computer, it shouldn’t be a problem. When you join Audible, they give you a free audio book, and I did not hesitate a bit in choosing my first book: Wuthering Heights. My only hesitation was in wondering which version to choose. I decided on a version read by David Timson and Janet McTeer. If you have any interest in an audio version of Wuthering Heights, I cannot recommend this version highly enough. Timson takes on the role of Mr. Lockwood to McTeer’s Nelly Dean, and both of them capture their respective characters beautifully. Janet McTeer does a masterful reading of the Yorkshire dialects of Joseph and Hareton; she manages to make each character distinct. Her rendering of Linton Heathcliff is dead on.

I was struck anew by my original sentiment. The characters are on one level easy to dislike, but strangely sympathetic. I said after originally reading the book, “one thing I think Brontë did quite well is paint characters who while flawed and perhaps even reprehensible, still manage to evoke the reader’s sympathy.” Heathcliff is such a person. How to reconcile his great love for Catherine (and the pure poetry Brontë places in his mouth upon her death) with his wickedness to others. He lashes out like a wounded animal, effectively alienating anyone who might have been a friend to him. Yet he is strangely charismatic. Hareton, for instance, is drawn to that side of him, as is Isabella Linton (at least at first). I really liked Hareton much more in this reading.

I will mention that the background on my computer is a photograph taken of Top Withens, believed to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights, with the great cloudy sky and moors stretched out below. A solitary tree stands sentinel over the ruins. It’s how I imagine Wuthering Heights would look today: abandoned by Hareton and Cathy for Thrushcross Grange and left to decay as Joseph passed on.

I think Wuthering Heights is one of those books that is under my skin. I think about it a lot. I can’t explain very well to anyone why I like it so much. The characters are not those plucky good sorts of people. You don’t really root for them. No, they provoke you and make you feel for them in spite of it. I don’t rightly know what to make of my fascination with this book.

Typically British Book Challenge Brontë Challenge

This book is my second selection for the  All About the Brontës Challenge and the first for the Typically British Reading Challenge. I need to read at least one more Brontë-related book for the first challenge, and I need to read three more British novels to meet the level of the British Challenge to which I’ve committed. I am currently working on Thursday Next: First Among Sequels, but aside from this book, I’m not sure what other books will comprise my the challenges. However, my next audio book will be The Help, as I have had it recommended by two colleagues.

Wow. Wuthering Heights. Just brilliant. What a genius Emily Brontë was. Thank goodness she left something of it behind.

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The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte BrontëI have just completed Syrie James’s novel The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë. Depending on your knowledge of the Brontës’ biographies, this review may be a bit spoilery. As an English teacher, I knew a fair amount, but I learned a great deal more than I previously knew about the Brontës from this book.

First and foremost, Syrie James has carefully and lovingly researched the Brontës in order to write this book: a fact which shines from every page. I have often said I wished I could sit and eat dinner with the Brontës just once, just to hear what they might talk about. To be around just a great collection of literary genius all gathered in one household would truly be a delight. While that wish can never come true, reading James’s novel is a close approximation. The conversations that James conjures among Charlotte, Emily, and Anne as they write their novels, discussing the merits (and deficiencies) of each other’s work capture what it must have been like to be a writer in that family. Their closeness and love for each other is beautifully rendered. Knowing the pain that Charlotte would endure as her siblings all passed away within a short span of time, I was more or less prepared for it, but I admit I teared up a little with each loss.

Charlotte’s own life story is equal to any of her novels and those of her sisters as well. It was with pleasure that I read of her happiness with her husband, but with sadness, too, especially for him, as I knew she did not live long after her marriage. If you like the Brontës, Victorian literature, or just books about books, my suggestion would be to read this book without delay. I found it a pleasure from start to finish and can hardly wait to read more of Syrie James’s writing.

Brontë Challenge Bibliophilic Books Challenge

This book is my first selection for both the All About the Brontës Challenge and the Bibliophilic Books Challenge, and if you are participating in either challenge, I can’t recommend the book highly enough.

I have a fun poll for Brontë fans:

What is your favorite Brontë novel?

View Results

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Feel free to discuss further in the comments.

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