Reflecting on My First 20 Books

As a former engineer, data and numbers speak to me. Being 20% of the way through my reading project, it seemed as good a time of ever to reflect on the journey thus far.

I had gotten this idea from Jenni at SprainedBrain who chronicles her book statistics often. She does a great job at it – you can see the statistics she looks at here! I didn’t base my statistics off of hers, so check out which data points she takes too! Thanks, Jenni!

Word Counts

Of my 12,327,956 word journey, I have read 2,041,953 words. A mere 16.5%. It’s mind blowing to think that I’ve read the two longest books on the list – Atlas Shrugged and Les Miserables – and I’ve still got so far to go!

Of those books, I wanted to look at a distribution of the word counts of each. Looking at this data surprised me, I definitely have a preference.

In my defense, the two books over 150,000 words were both over 500,000 words… but I digress. I have a problem. Maybe it’s because I know that shorter books are less of an investment and I can get them done faster. Either way, I’m hoping to read some longer books in these next 20.

Readjusting Ratings

Over the past 6 months, I’ve noticed that my opinions on certain books has changed. Having a little more perspective on my reading preferences, I feel like my ratings, particularly for the earlier books, were not so great. I thought I’d take a moment to adjust my ratings.

Book Old RatingNew RatingChange
Lolita6.55-1.5
Treasure Island98-1
The Prince54-1
The Call of the Wild8.58-0.5
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde87.5-0.5
Atlas Shrugged99.50.5
The Arabian Nights5.55.50
Murder on the Orient Express990
A Clockwork Orange3.53.50
The Time Machine5.55.50
The Art of War76.5-0.5
Animal Farm990
All’s Well That Ends Well54-1
Alice in Wonderland660
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory76.5-0.5
Fahrenheit 451660
Les Miserables990
Journey to the Center of the Earth550
Beowulf660
Of Mice and Men550

The reason I find this so particularly helpful is because I really want to be able to put a larger spread to differentiate between books. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy a book with a rating under 5, it just means that I believe it’s not a groundbreaking book.

Taking this data and cute little Excel chart, I was able to split hairs to really figure out which books I feel are necessary to recommend to others.

My Favorites

Looking back, I have clear favorites. Allow me to share.

Atlas Shrugged: Okay, I’ll be outright here. You probably won’t agree with all of the thoughts and ideas Ayn Rand shares in this book. But it is going to challenge you to ask yourself why you disagree. On top of that, the story itself is really wonderful. I think this is a book everyone must read.

Les Misérables: Please, whatever you do. Read this book someday. It’s such a profound story with characters that will leave you so attached. If you’ve seen the musical or any other adaptation, you’re missing the essence of the story – the motivations, the desires, and the thoughts of these characters that are so real they follow you for days. (Besides, my favorite scene in the book is not included in the adaptations because it involves so much backstory).

My Least Favorites

My least favorites are far less clear. I wouldn’t say I really disliked any of these books. I mean, I finished them, right? But if I had to pick, these are the two that just didn’t do it for me:

A Clockwork Orange: I still feel the same way I did about this book when I finished it: I personally didn’t like it, but I can understand why someone would. The teenage angst on a forgettable character is a little off-putting to me. Plus, the book uses it’s own slang which makes it difficult to follow.

All’s Well That Ends Well: I think I was a little too nice with my original review. This story is forgettable to me. In fact, I had to read the plot that I wrote just to remember it. I completely understand why this is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-performed plays.

With that, the first chapter of my journey comes to a close. But there’s so, so much more ahead. Looking forward to my next reads – and sharing them all!

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Of Mice and Men – Book No. 20

This book review is a part of Reading Week. To read more reviews, click here!

84. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)

Dates: 7/16/20 – 7/17/20 (1 day)

Plot: The story of two migrant ranch workers with no one but each other.

Experience Before Reading: I had to read it in high school 8 years ago. (Woah, sudden realization that I’m old…)

Takeaway: I’m actually very lost on this one. The first time I read it as a teenager, I felt very sorry for Lennie. Today, I don’t know how I feel. My perspective of disabilities has changed. As a child, I felt sorry mentally disabled people were unable to see the world in the way most people do. Today, I realize that disability doesn’t equal inferiority.

That being said, Steinbeck complicates the matter by writing Lennie in some unflattering, yet sympathetic ways. The nuances made me uncomfortable, which maybe is the point Steinbeck was trying to make. I struggled to figure out what I really felt.

There’s an overwhelming aura of hopelessness with all of these characters which makes it tough to read. Although they do all have dreams and ambitions. I’m not sure if that makes it a happier or sadder story.

Regardless, I’m left torn with every piece of this novella. I’d love to hear other thoughts – have you read this book? Let’s chat about it. I’m open to other interpretations and ideas.

Would I Recommend It?: Maybe. It seems like it’s a story most people know.

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Beowulf – Book No. 19

This book review is a part of Reading Week. To read more reviews, click here!

2. Beowulf from the Cotton MS Vitellius A. xv (c. 975-1010 AD)

Dates: 5/18/20 – 7/16/20 (59 days)

Plot: An epic poem telling the tale of Beowulf who slays the monster Grendel (and also a dragon).

Experience Before Reading: None.

Takeaway: I kept thinking about how this story is over 1000 years old and yet, so modern? The hero’s journey is a beloved story that has been around much longer than we have. To think that this is one of the first (that we know of) is pretty wild to wrap your head around.

Personally, I prefer the historic context and the impact of this work to the actual poem. The poem itself is hard to understand. You can get a sense of what is happening, but get lost in the details. You might have noticed the actual poem took me 59 days to read – practically a hero’s journey worth just to get through. It’s short too, so I don’t really have an excuse.

Without Beowulf, it’s unlikely works like The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones would have been made. The impact of this work is something to be admired. The fact that the story is one we all inherently know shows how it’s radiated into our cultural zeitgeist.

Also, I mentioned yesterday that I was a fan of Scandinavia in general. Bonus points from me.

Would I Recommend It?: To those who like epics.

Abbey’s Review

Dates: 3/9/20 (2 hours)

Experience Before Reading: I read this book when I was a Junior in high school and was actually quite fond of it. I am a massive Tolkien fan, and The Hobbit is largely based off of Beowulf. 

Takeaway: The main takeaway from this story is that it’s better to go through life and to die young with courage, than to die cowardly at an old age. Beowulf is the quintessential warrior that we read about in nearly every adventure book. It shows that even at the time Beowulf was written (somewhere between the 8th and 11th century) honor, loyalty, and courage were admirable traits. 

Would I Recommend It?: If you enjoy The Iliad and The Odyssey, you will like this work.  Beowulf is an epic poem orated in ancient Anglo-Saxon

Look at this video of it being spoken it’s totally crazy! So it has the same feel as those works.

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Journey to the Center of the Earth – Book No. 18

This book review is a part of Reading Week. To read more reviews, click here!

80. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864)

Dates: 7/14/20 – 7/15/20 (1 day)

Plot: After deciphering a message left in an ancient book, a professor, his nephew, and a guide head to Iceland where there’s a hole to the center of the Earth.

Experience Before Reading: This seems to be a story most people are somewhat familiar with – myself included. There’s exciting things inside the Earth, but I couldn’t tell you exactly what was there until I actually read it myself.

Takeaway: As an adventure lover, I was really looking forward to this book. Yet it left me incredibly indifferent. I’m neither upset to have read the book nor am I grateful I took the time to read it.

I have read other Jules Verne stories in the past (and will be re-reading them in the future). But this one just didn’t do it for me.

I know I always go on about how characters are written, so I won’t spend too much time unpacking this – but these characters aren’t very relatable or attachable. The quirky scientist, the skeptic boy, and the stoic Icelandic hunter. I don’t know how inventive that was when the book was published, but to a modern-day ear, it’s been overdone. For that reason, I’m not going to be too critical here.

SPOILERS AHEAD: Almost a third of the book is about the preparations for the journey, which includes a trip to Copenhagen and then a long journey in Iceland. The funny thing about it is those are two of my favorite places in the entire world. Reading about them in this setting felt a little funny. I was eagerly awaiting the actual journey that I just didn’t care about the train ride to Zealand or the voyage on the ship through the North Sea.

Although, I will concede that these drawn out parts did make the world seem realistic and plausible. There was careful attention to Victorian-era science that I appreciated. The tools they use to monitor their surroundings and the “calculations” they do seem realistic. Obviously as they get deeper and deeper underground, the science falls more and more apart, but I can set aside my convictions for a bit. But how they exit their subterranean journey…

Anyway, I appreciate the imagination and creativity it took to craft this story. The concept of ancient eras still flourishing today is surely worthy of a book. But even so, it was lacking somewhere and I just can’t quite put my finger on it. Has anyone read this book? I want to know other’s opinions on it… am I missing something? I want to love it, I really do.

Would I Recommend It?: Probably not.

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Fahrenheit 451 – Book No. 16

This book review is a part of Reading Week. To read more reviews, click here!

27. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)

Dates: 7/6/20 – 7/12/20 (6 days)

Plot: In a dystopian future where firemen start fires instead of putting them out, one of the firemen becomes cognizant of the horrors of what they’re actually doing: burning books.

Experience Before Reading: I was assigned this book in 10th grade and I detested it. A little strange seeing as I definitely agreed with the themes – but we should never claim to understand high schoolers. It was probably cool to hate it at the time. Either way, I didn’t finish it back then.

Takeaway: This book hits differently years later. I enjoyed it this time around. Ray Bradbury expresses his thoughts so well on abstract issues, I thought it would be most impactful to take some of the themes I noticed and give you some quotes that really resonated with me:

Mass Media and Condensation of Information:

Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in midair, all vanishes! Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!

p.55

Ignorance is Bliss:

We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it.

p.58

Impacting and Absorbing the Human Experience:

The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.

p.157

‘Stuff your eyes with wonder,’ he said, ‘live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds.’

p.157

He’s so eloquent, it really makes you think. Several of these passages made me stop just to really make sure I felt each and every word. I’m not sure to what extent I believe his messages, surely I find some element of truth – but I want to digest(-digest-digest!) these words before I make a definitive call on what I believe.

However, I do have to criticize this book a little bit because I thought that the world-building and character development was really lacking. This is a crazy dystopian world that could have been unpacked and it wasn’t. It’s just assumed to be normal. The characters aren’t anything to get attached to either. The main character just one day wakes up and sees everything around him. There’s no build-up at all. This was all such a missed opportunity.

This book has had a strange history. A novel that harps on the dangers of censorship, saw censorship itself. Schools have blacklisted the book from English classes. The publisher even made a censored version. In some ways the ironic boycotts may have even fueled popularity for the book. It really does hammer home Bradbury’s point, does it?

Also, just as an aside, I want to really commend Bradbury for predicting so much of the future. In this book, which was written in the 1950s, there’s flat-screen TVs, wireless headphones, and hand-held tablets. Whether he meant to predict or not, I was very surprised at how the technology did mirror present day.

All in all, there’s so much to like here, but it wasn’t wrapped up in a pretty little package. It seemed like an essay of someone’s convictions with a plot line loosely added to make it a “book.” That being said, it is a good essay.

Would I Recommend It?: Yes. In fact, I already did. Maybe I’ll update this post after my boyfriend reads it.

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Announcing Reading Week! (Again)

Okay, let’s face it. I’ve sucked at reading in the past month. Actually, I haven’t finished a single book this month. It’s mostly due to starting a new job, I haven’t entirely found my rhythm. Some nights I come home and immediately crash.

So in the most DJ Khaled way, I’d like to announce a reading week next week. Anotha one! From July 13 to July 17, there will be a new book review every single day!

Don’t worry, I’m not completely unprepared. It’s not like I haven’t read at all this month, I’ve got a few books that are partially complete. I’ll finish them all and deliver the good (or bad) news to you!

It’ll definitely be a challenge, since the first reading week was filled with the shortest books on the list, whereas this one has some longer reads. In fact, why not just announce it now? I’m almost finished with the longest book on the list: Les Miserables.

As for Abbey, I’ve picked a few books that she’s already read, but work has been busy for her too. She hasn’t promised anything, but there will definitely be a few of her reviews present too next week.

I would announce the books, but frankly, I’m not entirely sure which ones will make it and which ones won’t, so I’ll let it be a surprise for all of us! I suppose I’m open to recommendations, which classics should I read for next week?

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Announcing Reading Week!

Following on the coattails of yesterday’s good news – I’m now a dot com! – I come with even more announcements!

Next week, 5/11 – 5/15, there will be a new book review every day!

Since I finish school tomorrow, I’ll have plenty of time to sit down and crank some books out.

Reading Week will include book reviews from both myself and Abbey. Her reviews haven’t yet been shared because she hasn’t read any of the same books as I have. I intend to update the posts retroactively to include her opinions. It should be noted that her opinions are often fairly different than mine. I’ve been excited to share them with you all and get a conversation going.

We’ve both agreed to read the same books – many of them on the shorter end of our list. For those of you looking to play along at home, this will include The Time Machine, The Art of War, Animal Farm, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. If we finish those, we’ve got more backups to keep Reading Week going.

We look forward to sharing our thoughts and diving deeper into Project 4!

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A Clockwork Orange – Book No. 9

18. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)

Dates: 4/20/20 – 4/23/20 (3 days)

Basic Plot: In a futuristic society where young gang members are active at night, the narrator, Alex, finds himself indulging in “ultraviolence” which leads to potential reform.

Experience Before Reading: I was technically assigned this book alongside One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in high school. I didn’t really read either and just read enough Sparknotes to get by. I think my knowledge on the plot was blended with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, because there were moments I thought were in the other book and moments I expected to turn out differently. Regardless, the one thing I remembered was a feeling of staunch hate for the book.

Takeaway: I didn’t like it. However, I’m not going to completely bash this book because I can see why others would enjoy it. There are certainly good elements to this story. Anthony Burgess is a talented storywriter and I do feel there is a clear theme that could strike people. (Slight spoiler warning) The message that it is our ability to choose that makes us human is very interesting and I do feel it was unpacked in a way that was different from other philosophy books.

A Clockwork Orange is set in a futuristic society where gangs run rampant at night. Many of these gang members use heavy slang known as nadsat talk. I think this is where the book leaves a bad taste in my mouth (or in nadsat: leaves a baddiwad taste in my rot). The slang is so thick it’s often difficult to tell exactly what’s happening. While I recognize that it’s used to hide the graphic scenes and portray his youth – since not all characters use the slang – it was too much for me. For instance, take this scene where he describes a beautiful woman he sees:

O my brothers, to viddy. That is to say, she had real horrorshow groodies all of which you could like viddy, she having on platties which came down down down off her pletchoes. And her nogas were like Bog in His Heaven, and she walked like to make you groan in your keeshkas, and yet her litso was a sweet smiling young like innocent litso.

p.142

While context clues can give you a sense that he likes what he sees, even after reading the entire book, I’m not sure exactly what he’s saying. Personally, this slang created a massive barrier to relating to the narrator, Alex. I couldn’t find much to his personality besides the fact that he likes “ultra-violence” and classical music. Because his personality was centered around, well, bad, I found him forgettable as a character. Maybe there was more, however, I couldn’t decipher it from the nadsat madness.

The slang itself is massively creative and I do want to applaud that. Much of it is Russian-based but other elements are rhyming slang or other linguistic techniques. Basically, each word really does have a reason that it exists which I very much like. I appreciate the effort that went in to creating a cohesive universe.

Lastly, I do want to call attention to the book’s title. I don’t want to spoil the meaning for someone that intends to read the book, but the title is full of symbolism. It was very creative and well-crafted, so again, props where props are due.

Would I Recommend It?: Unfortunately, I think this is a skippable classic. While you may find it entertaining, I think the message of the book is not strong enough in relation to the amount of work you have to put in to decode it.

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Word Counts of Classics

I’ve got exciting news: I’m about to pass the 1 million words mark! Since starting Project 4 at the end of January, once I finish my next book (A Clockwork Orange), I will have read 1,000,000 words!

Abbey and I have compiled the word counts of our entire list to see just how many words we were reading. And, well. It’s a bit shocking. We are reading:

12,327,956 total words

That’s pretty massive, huh? We compiled this list by simple google searches. When a word count didn’t appear, we took the estimated time to read the book and multiplied it by the words per minute (usually 250). So while this word count estimate isn’t perfect, it’s pretty damn close.

Just to make this project a little crazier, since we have a deadline of the first day of my last year of law school (August 23, 2021), that averages out to 21,255 words per day. While I can’t say I’ve been reading that much, I hope that during the summer I can pull some days that are well over that number. But I am proud that I’m almost at my million mark! Abbey is trudging along, but she reads in chunks so once she starts up again, she’ll blow me out of the water.

I thought I share the list with you all too. For a little bit of context, an average fiction book is about 75,000-100,000 words. Here’s the list of word counts, from lowest to highest for the books in our project.

TitleWord Count
The Art of War11450
The Importance of Being Earnest22000
All’s Well that Ends Well24086
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland26432
Beowulf26548
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde26601
Canterbury Tales27130
The Old Man and the Sea29160
Of Mice and Men29160
Animal Farm29966
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory30644
The Prince31026
Night31931
The Divine Comedy32000
The Time Machine32059
The Call of the Wild37058
Heart of Darkness38000
The Alchemist38342
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe38421
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz39295
The Giver43617
Fahrenheit 45146118
Grimms’ Fairy Tales46500
The Outsiders48523
Slaughterhouse Five49459
A Brief History of Time50250
As I Lay Dying56695
Murder on the Orient Express58154
A Clockwork Orange58695
Dracula59000
The Hound of the Baskervilles59392
Lord of the Flies59900
Tales from the Arabian Nights62000
Mrs. Dalloway63422
The Scarlet Letter63604
Swiss Family Robinson63979
Tropic of Cancer64000
Brave New World64531
Around the World in 80 Days66281
The Color Purple66556
Treasure Island66950
To the Lighthouse69264
Little Women70000
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer70570
Catcher in the Rye73404
A Farewell to Arms74250
Frankenstein75380
The Picture of Dorian Gray78462
The Secret Garden80398
Pale Fire81000
Journey to the Center of the Earth85059
Faust88567
Nineteen Eighty-Four88942
The Handmaid’s Tale90240
Paradise Lost93000
The Sound and the Fury96863
Beloved98148
To Kill a Mockingbird99121
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes105071
Gulliver’s Travels107349
Wuthering Heights107945
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest108000
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn109571
Lolita112473
All the President’s Men112500
Madame Bovary115456
On the Road116277
In Cold Blood121890
Robinson Crusoe121961
Pride and Prejudice122189
Atonement123378
The Odyssey134500
A Tale of Two Cities135420
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea138138
The Iliad140000
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn145092
Dr. Zhivago160250
The Godfather163500
Uncle Tom’s Cabin166622
Oliver Twist167543
Grapes of Wrath169481
Catch-22174269
Invisible Man177000
Great Expectations183349
Jane Eyre183858
The Lord of the Rings187790
Moby Dick209117
Crime and Punishment211591
The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe216000
Three Musketeers228402
The Collected Works of H.P. Lovecraft278000
Middlemarch316453
Don Quixote345390
Anna Karenina349736
The Brothers Karamazov364153
Gone with the Wind418053
The Count of Monte Cristo464234
War and Peace561304
Atlas Shrugged591996
Les Miserables655478

Murder on the Orient Express – Book No. 8

55. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934)


Dates: 4/18/20 – 4/19/20 (2 days)

Basic Plot: There’s a murder on the orient express. Obviously.

Experience Before Reading: In high school I worked at a bookstore. For some reason, I equated Agatha Christie with Toni Morrison, since books by those two came in so often. I apparently took that observation and conflated it quite a bit into adulthood. But I assure you that those two women wrote very different books.

Takeaway: Allow me to first clarify that this review is entirely spoiler-free. I do think this is something everyone should read and I’d hate to be the one to ruin the fun.

I’ve been in a bit of a train phase lately. This began, no doubt, with Atlas Shrugged. But I also watched a few travel videos on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, played Ticket to Ride for the first time, and recently played a Nancy Drew game with Abbey about a disappearance on a train. (The Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon – I cannot recommend these games enough if you want to solve some really difficult mysteries and puzzles. Abbey and I are suckers for the Nancy Drew games!)

Anyway, my toddler-like obsession with trains is mostly irrelevant – besides the fact that it got me to pick up this book.

I really picked it up alright. I have spent the last 15 hours doing nothing but reading this book and sleeping. I’m serious – the only thing I did during this entire experience was write my post for Arabian Nights. I knew I had to stop to write it or my thoughts on it would be washed away by this mystery.

It was written in an almost formulaic way: the exposition, the crime, the character’s testimonies and alibis, pondering the evidence, following up on their theory, and the reveal. I actually really liked this structure because it allowed you to play along.

To be entire honest, I did figure out who the murderer was. However, I do not think predictability should be a deterrent to read it. First, I didn’t solve it until the back half of the evidence analysis. Second, I don’t think it’s an obvious solution. Third, it’s more fun to hear the howdunnit than the whodunnit which comes right at the end.

Rave-review aside, I do have a little bit of criticism. There were absurd moments and connections of evidence the reader cannot do with what was given to them. Regardless of the nonsense, it comes together to click in a solution that could be reality.* (Or at least, reality-adjacent.)

I realize not everyone is a fan of mystery books like myself. But there is something different about this one. It was a pioneer in the genre and it is a fantastic adventure, both of which lead to my high rating.

And I’ve gotten lucky just like I did with Call of the Wild and a movie remake has just been made. Hello, quarantine movie night!

Would I Recommend It?: Absolutely. Because of its brevity and general amusement, I think there’s something for everyone to enjoy.


Abbey’s Review

Dates: 5/15/20 – 5/31/20 (16 days)

Plot: A man is murdered in the first class carriage of the Orient Express. Poirot, a famous investigator, must solve the case while living among the only suspects – the other first class passengers.

Experience Before Reading: I saw the movie when it came out, but couldn’t remember the ending. I was constantly remembering plot points while I was reading, which was quite an odd experience.

Takeaway: This is a quintessential murder mystery, a genre I hold very dear to my heart. I often find myself reaching for mystery novel whenever I am in the mood for a book, as I usually find them a quick and enjoyable read. This did not disappoint. 

Would I Recommend It?: If you are even a small fan of mystery books, I would definitely recommend reading this. Agatha Christie is a God among mystery writers, and for a good reason. The final reveal, in the last few pages, is a wonderful culmination to this novel.


Who got it right? Have you read Murder on the Orient Express? Share your thoughts with us down in the comments below.

Read our next review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Click here to see our full list of 100 classic books

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