Category: General


Auto-read list

Posted 11 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 14 Comments

A friend, Lynn, posted a link to and her version of an interesting question at SF Signal a few days ago, and I thought I’d join in as well.

We all have authors whose work, for whatever reason, inspire us more than the rest, whose books standout and can always be counted on to entertain, and even to comfort. These are the ones that we’ll instantly forgive a misstep or two (maybe even three), because we love them that much, and will buy, and read, anything that they write. So, we asked our panel…

Q: What authors are on your autoread list, and why?
I’m going to discount deceased authors, for this, otherwise you’d just get it filled up with Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, Rosemary Sutcliff, and Raymond Chandler. Which in itself probably tells you a lot about me, but hey. To stick to the rules, I will also put Iain M. Banks in this group, although I haven’t read all of his work yet and haven’t quite adjusted to the idea that there will be no more.

  • Ursula Le Guin: I haven’t found all of her work memorable, and some of it I wouldn’t find worth rereading. Some of it I liked better on a reread than I did the first time. The thing with Ursula Le Guin is she’s willing to critique her own work in a way that inspires me: both in essays and by developing her themes further. The whole Earthsea sequence can be seen as a dialogue with fantasy tropes of male power which she first just accepts and then begins to work against. Or in some of her non-fiction collections, she’s critiqued some of the decisions she made in The Left Hand of Darkness to do with portraying gender and sexuality. She’s already prone to writing about diversity, and she’s willing to look back at her work and say, “Nope, screwed that up.” Except much more elegantly. What’s not to love?
  • Gillian Bradshaw: I haven’t read all or even most of her work yet, but Island of Ghosts told me all I needed to know about her attention to detail, her ability to make the historical engaging. I guess she’s comparable to Rosemary Sutcliff in some ways, though her novels are aimed at an adult audience and therefore perhaps less accessible. I should actually buy Island of Ghosts for my mother sometime, if there’s an ebook or larger print edition, because I think she’d like it too. (1)
  • N.K. Jemisin: This is precisely no surprise for anyone who knows me. Jemisin’s work is glorious, with diverse characters, exciting plots and strong world-building. I actually have a recurring dream element where somewhere in a dream about something else entirely, I will see a new N.K. Jemisin book on the shelves and have to read it. I can never remember when I wake up what the plot was about, but even my dreaming brain knows it’s gonna be good.
  • Michael Wood: Yep, this is non-fiction. All of his books are accessible, but detailed and as far as I’ve ever heard, accurate. I remember reading two of his books about medieval England while recuperating from my cholecystectomy, and I could concentrate on them even then, yet they didn’t feel dumbed down.
  • Scott Lynch: I suppose really he needs to write a bit more before I can tell whether it’s the world he’s created that I adore, or his writing alone. But on the strength of The Lies of Locke Lamora and its sequels, I’m willing to try anything he writes, and I’ve enjoyed a short story or two as well.
  • Jacqueline Carey: Okay, so I have Dark Currents on my shelf and haven’t got round to it yet, but regardless, I will eventually get round to everything Carey writes. There are many and varied problems I could point to with her work, particularly with how she deals with races other than the D’Angelines in the Kushiel books, but her work is satisfying in so many other ways. In the Kushiel books, there’s that push-pull relationship between Phèdre and Joscelin, there’s all that delicious loyalty stuff going on with Joscelin, there’s the permissiveness of their world, there’s politics and intrigue… And though many people don’t like them, I love Banewreaker and Godslayer for taking Tolkien’s pretty morally strict world and spinning it so we can see another side. (2)
  • Robin McKinley: I love what she does with retelling fairytales, I love her female protagonists, I love her writing style. Sunshine and Chalice are my favourites, but I’ve found something to enjoy in nearly all her work. Exception: Deerskin. It’s incredibly well written and all the emotions are wonderfully evoked, but it’s not a fictional space I was at all comfortable in. In a way it treats sexual violence much more seriously than, say, Jacqueline Carey. (3)
  • Joanne Harris: I started out life as a Joanne Harris reader with snobbery about Chocolat, only to discover that actually it was very readable, well written, and I fell in love with the characters. Harris actually has a genius for narrators, but also for making everything she writes a very easy read. Which she wouldn’t like me saying, if I recall conversations from Twitter correctly, but ’tis true nonetheless: I find that her books don’t throw up resistance to reading, but are easy to immerse myself in and just read. Which is, at least to me, a compliment.
  • Neil Gaiman: Periodically I come across people complaining about his privilege, or his wife, or his attitude toward women. Often I think these people have some good points to make. Regardless, his books have a similar quality to Harris’ in that I’ve rarely come across a roadblock. Anansi Boys being an exception, firstly because it made me wonder if my dad was secretly Anansi, and secondly because I got far too embarrassed for the characters. (4)
  • Ed Brubaker: At least if it has the words “Captain America” on the cover.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay: His prose is beautiful, and he’s one of the few authors who can frequently move me to tears.
  • [Previously omitted] Jo Walton: She wrote a book that felt just perfect for me, like she’d written it for me — I’m speaking, of course, of her Among Others. She’s written in a lot of different genres: dystopian alternate history with a detective story in the Small Change books; dragons in an Austenesque society in Tooth & Claw; fantasy based around the home and relationships in Lifelode; alternate Arthuriana in The King’s Peace/The King’s Name… She’s a versatile author who has yet to write a book that I didn’t enjoy, and The Prize in the Game is one of those few books that moved me to tears.
(1) I have several measures of admiration for books: do I want to give them to my mother, my sister, my partner, or all three? Island of Ghosts is probably more a Mum book than anything.

(2) Carey’s Kushiel books would be a I will give this to everyone in the world recommendation if it weren’t for the overabundance of kinky, often violent, sex which can’t be skipped because sometimes it’s plot relevant and it’s usually emotionally relevant for Phèdre in some way. Mum, if you read these books, a) no you cannot borrow my copies, you’d damage their spines, b) for the love of god, I don’t want to know if you read them, c) yes I am a prude, d) I’m twenty-four, I really need to stop addressing parts of my blog posts to you like you get to approve or disapprove! I think you gave up trying to regulate my reading material by the time I’d chewed my way through two libraries at the age of twelve anyway.

(3) Mum — and Lisa, if you haven’t read it — Chalice.

(4) Thing about Anansi in Gaiman’s work: if he names something, that name sticks. This can be observed with my dad and the local wildlife, teddy bears, people, or whatever else you can think of. These names somehow spread beyond the immediate circle who should know about it, so that by some alchemy I am Squeak to people who’ve never met my dad and who I don’t recall telling that story to.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 6 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

If I can just be persuaded to log off LOTRO, perhaps you can have my “what are you reading Wednesday” post before it’s Thursday…

What did you recently finish reading?
Other than what I’ve posted reviews of here, which is a little obvious, I read Jacky Hyam’s Bomb Girls, an account of what women working in munitions factories did during WWII, including their own stories and opinions. Before that, it was Frankenstein for my Coursera class.

What are you currently reading?
The Holders by Julianna Scott, which is an ARC I’ve had for a little while. Still reading my book on panic attacks, still reading half a dozen other things at least, but none of them particularly actively. At the moment I’m focusing on knocking down one… book… at… a… time. Which is difficult for me, as I’ve always been a bit prone to reading at least half a dozen books at once. Which is fine, until it gets overwhelming.

What do you think you’ll read next?
I’ve been neglecting a couple of ARCs which I’m already partway through, so I think I’ll work on those — it’ll be relatively easy to knock them off the list and stop feeling so guilty about them! So that’ll be The Darwin Elevator (Jason M. Hough) and Republic of Thieves (Scott Lynch), though I’ve since bought the Scott Lynch for myself…

Books acquired:
A few P.G. Wodehouse books from the second hand store (Troutmark Books in Castle Arcade, in Cardiff, always excellent) — not the Jeeves & Wooster books, sadly, but still. Wodehouse. Should be fun. I think there’s also been a few fantasy books involving dragons, including The Second Mango (Shira Glassman), which has me very curious from the title alone. It’s also a lesbian fantasy story, which should be interesting.

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Something a little different

Posted 2 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 11 Comments

Here’s something a bit different from the rest of the content on the blog… I’ve been using Coursera.org to do several MOOCs, and one of those was on comics and graphic novels. The final project was to create your own four page comic. The point isn’t to judge the art, but to think about the use of the grid and comic conventions, think about adding colour, etc. I’ve decided I’d like to share mine here as well as on the forums there — I make no great claims about my art, but I really enjoyed the process.

Click on the cover to view the PDF, and feel free to ask questions, etc!

Cover of a comic by me, reboot

Creative Commons License
reboot by Nikki Walters is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Reading resolutions

Posted 1 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

It’s a new month and a new start and a new chance to make some resolutions about What I Will Get Done, which I probably won’t get done. It’s always worth setting out some goals, though, because I never know when I’m going to be pigheaded and insist on following through. My main problems at the moment are overflowing shelves, a backlog of books I’ve started and not finished, a backlog of ARCs, and the fact that I’m butterfly minded somet

Joking aside, here we go. I read about a book a day usually, maybe more depending on my mood and how busy I am, so I’m going to give myself a goal of twenty-five books. Normally I’d probably pick specific books, but that tends to arouse my mood of rebellion more than anything else, so I’m going to go for five categories, instead. Why five? Because I like it, that’s why.

  • Read five ARCs
  • Read five books that were in progress before 31st October
  • Read five books bought in 2o12
  • Read five books bought in 2013
  • Read five books from the library
  • BONUS: Give away five books, either on Bookmooch or as some kind of contest on here

I can do that, right?

Right?

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What Are You Reading Wednesday

Posted 30 October, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Reza Aslan’s Zealot was the last thing I finished, and before that it was Fables vol. 3: Storybook Love, by Bill Willingham et al. I’m really ambivalent about the Fables series, somehow: I’m interested and I want to see where it goes, but when I read other people’s criticism, I can’t help but agree. It uses some tired old tropes, and the stories often feel banal. Still, there’s something in the sheer interest of watching characters from fables navigate the “real” world, and in recognising them and guessing ahead how their unique properties will affect the story.

What are you currently reading?
I’m mostly trying to work on ARCs that I still owe reviews for, so I’m currently reading David Hoffman’s Seven Markets. The structure is a little awkward, but it remains to be seen whether that ends up working for the story or not. I still have my “book prescription” to read, too, Christine Ingham’s Panic Attacks; I think I’ve barely started it. There’s a lot of other books I’m technically partway through… Oh, I did start The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman, which is fun enough but not really keeping my attention.

What do you think you’ll read next?
I think I’ll be trying to finish Seven Forges (James A. Moore), from my ARCs list. Although I just got a couple of new ones, and I’m very tempted by Strange Chemistry’s The Almost Girl (Amalie Howard)…

Books acquired:
I think it might be none. I got the latest issue of Young Avengers in the last week, I’m sure, but other than that, I really think it might be none. My most recent ARCs were The Almost Girl, The Cormorant (Chuck Wendig), Iron Wolves (Andy Remic), and Shadowplay (Laura Lam).

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The genetics of bookworms

Posted 28 October, 2013 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

Earlier I was joking with a friend that my sister can’t really be related to me, because she’s not a voracious reader and she was actually complaining about having a long reading list. Then because said friend and I are both doing an online genetics class, they joked to me that perhaps my sister just didn’t get the gene for bookwormishness. This wouldn’t actually work, as my sister is a reader (hard SF, paranormal romance, fantasy, crime — not too dissimilar to me, in fact), just less voracious than me.

So I set out to work it out properly. I took sickle-cell anaemia as my model: it’s one of those genes which is not dominant or recessive, but is partially expressed even when there’s only one copy of it (i.e. in an heterozygous individual). With the allele for sickle-cell anaemia, if you have both all of your red blood cells will be formed wrongly (in a sickle shape); if you have one, then some of your blood cells will be formed correctly and some will not (coincidentally somehow giving you an advantage when infected with malaria).

In my model, Bm and NR are the two variants of the allele. Bm = bookworm, NR = non-reader. So someone with two Bm alleles will be a complete and total bookworm… perhaps even a bibliophibian. Someone who is less interested in books but is still a reader to some degree has one copy of each, BmNR. And someone who is not interested in reading at all is NRNR. Some of the work on this family tree is guesswork, and not all BmNRs are created alike, but this is what my family looks like…

A family tree showing the "bookworm" genes throughout three generations of my familyIn putting this together, I was amazed to learn that my Grampy was a BmBm; he died when I was very young, and my only memory of him involves playing with Lego. I wonder what he’d have made of me and my taste in books!

It may be conjectured that Loserface (my cousins’ father) is a loserface in my eyes because he was NRNR. This isn’t so, but it’s gratifying to know that he had no redeeming qualities. Of my cousins, I am only sure of C.; I made my guess on AM. based on the fact that I know she secreted books all over her room and consequently nearly killed her mother, and on F. based on the fact that he asked for books for Christmas once. S. and K. I guessed based on the fact that I’ve seen their house and they do have books, but they don’t ask for books for Christmas, therefore leaving me to conclude they cannot be BmBm.

Caveat: I know this is all ridiculous and environment probably has a lot more to do with this than genes. This is just fun and mostly meant to prove that I really am a geek in many ways. Though not geeky enough to care about the differences between geeks, dorks and nerds: we’re all enthusiasts, okay?

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Book prescription

Posted 24 October, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

I’ve been planning to be fairly up front about all aspects of my identity here — yes, I’m sure that means that if some potential employers found my blog, that might be a mark against me. But I want to be a whole person, and not compartmentalise stuff where I can’t see it myself half the time. Which, hey, potential employers? That takes bravery, and self-knowledge. Just sayin’.

I started with a new counsellor today. Now, despite all I said above, this blog isn’t about my mental health issues, I promise. What is relevant, though, is that my new counsellor wrote out a book prescription for me. That sounds like a really weird concept, but I promise you, it’s a real thing. You can get more information about the scheme in Wales here. Basically, though, it means that counsellors all over Wales have a pool of books that they can recommend to their clients about various different disorders and emotional problems, and those books are easy to access because each branch of each library has at least one copy.

I’ll review the book I was given here in time — it’s Panic Attacks, by Christine Ingham — but I just wanted to say a word or two about the process, to begin with. I don’t know how helpful this is going to be for me in particular, but I think it’s a valuable service that might help people access books that teach coping mechanisms and show them, most of all, that they’re not alone.

So what happened was that my counsellor wrote out the “prescription” for me. It’s a pretty simple form, just stating your name and address and a code for the book (not the title of it). You then go to a local library and present that. In my case, I had to present it a couple of times while they figured out where in the library I was meant to go! But it’s not so bad, and they didn’t make any comments about the fact that I had a book prescription, or when they found the book for me, what book had been chosen for me. When you get a book out on this scheme, the person prescribing it will suggest a length of time you can have the book. In the Cardiff area, at least, it goes on your library card as one of your total, and you can return it to any branch, but you can’t renew it yourself.

And that’s it. You go home with your prescribed book and… hopefully read it and get something out of it. I think it’s an interesting initiative: if I have any more to say on it, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, here are some of the books on the subject I’ve read in the past that are worth a look:

Loving What Is and I Need Your Love: Is that True? by Byron Katie
Introducing Mindfulness by Tessa Watt
(A Very Short Introduction to) Anxiety by Daniel Freeman

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What Are You Reading Wednesday

Posted 23 October, 2013 by Nikki in General, Reviews / 0 Comments

In the circle of friends I have on some other sites, Wednesday is the day to talk about what you’re reading, and someone came up with a little format for that — just to get people talking about books more, thinking about books more, sharing books more. And lo, obviously this idea appealed to me, and I took it up as well. Now it seems to make sense to start posting that here as well, with links to my reviews on goodreads.

What did you recently finish reading?
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It’s horrifying stuff, slightly mitigated by being presented in fictional form — when I read Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, I think I went around for several days in a state of horror. Perhaps even more horrifying is that amidst the horrors of the gulag, Solzhenitsyn’s character finds a way to go on, even to be cheerful, while the highlights of his day involve smuggling a broken hacksaw blade into the camp which he can use for a tool, getting to do some good hard work on building a wall, a single mouthful of sausage, and an extra helping of skilly.

What are you currently reading?
In the Garden of Iden, by Kage Baker, which is more of a romance than I’d hoped — what I’m really hoping now is that the plot comes together and gives me some greater meaning and context for this adolescent immortal’s love affair than “she’s on a training mission”. I did enjoy the opening part, where she’s found by the Inquisition, and where she becomes an immortal, but I am losing patience with people having sex like rabbits. I’ve got some other books on the go, like James A. Moore’s Seven Forges and Ian C. Esslemont’s Night of Knives — I’m really trying to cut down on how many books I’m reading in one go, but at the moment the count is probably around fifteen.

What do you think you’ll read next?
I’ve got Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall from the library, which I think might be the next thing I read that I’m not already partway through. I have some course books to read, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but I’m already halfway through that. I think I’ll go for some Wodehouse next, and then my first taste of John le Carré.

Books acquired:
Too many. One of them is Scott Lynch’s Republic of Thieves; I’ve actually had the e-ARC for a long time, but I always intended to get my own copy once it was out. I didn’t expect that I still wouldn’t have got round to reading it by then, though…

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Bookaholics Anonymous

Posted 23 October, 2013 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have it, or something like that, right? Well. I have a problem.

A photo of all the books I bought today

I think I have a problem: an illustration

Altogether, that’s twelve books (one of them is an omnibus). Plus two ebooks because I had an amazon voucher. Admittedly I also had the help of £10 on a Waterstones card, and my sister being a terrible influence, but really. I have a problem.* And I love it.

So let’s see, what did I get today…?

-Ngaio Marsh omnibus containing A Man Lay Dead, Enter a Murderer and The Nursing Home Murder (Waterstones card)
-Rose Tremain, Restoration (Oxfam)
-John le Carré, Call for the Dead (Waterstones)
-Donald Sturrock’s biography of Roald Dahl (The Works)
-A biography of Amelia Earhart (The Works)
-Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives (The Works)
-Gail Carriger’s Etiquette & Espionage (The Works)
-Matt Forbeck’s Vegas Knights (Waterstones)
-Michael Wood’s non-fiction The Conquistadors (Waterstones)
-Chuck Wendig’s Unclean Spirits (Waterstones)
-Scott Tracey’s Witch Eyes (Kindle store, with voucher)
-emily m. danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Kindle store, with voucher)

Someone asked me to make a post someday about my eclectic approach to reading: this isn’t it, but it certainly prepares the way for it. Crime fiction, biography, history, urban fantasy, classic horror, YA, LGBTQ fiction, fantasy, historical fiction… And I was reading the SF(ish) In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker on the train.

If it comes between two covers (and ha, yes, my ereaders do; they have leather covers) then I’ll probably read it, if it stays still long enough. Which is not a problem. The problem is that I read so awfully fast.**

*Joking aside, I do actually have a problem in that I have an anxiety disorder that is probably GAD but damn well looks like OCD sometimes. Books are all tied up in comfort for me. Don’t let that make this less amusing for you, though. I get through it by laughing at my overflowing shelves.

**Yes, I have calculated my rate of expenditure on books, and it is roughly equal to the worth of the books I’m reading. Seriously.

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RIP print?

Posted 22 October, 2013 by Nikki in General / 13 Comments

Last year, there was a lot of noise around the Hay literary festival about a particular bookseller, Derek Addyman, deciding to go on a crusade of sorts against ereaders. You can read all about that here (warning: link goes to the Daily Fail website); suffice it to say that this is a guy who declares Kindles his “enemy”, talks about people who have ereaders having “no soul”, etc, etc. He actually banned people with ereading devices from his shops.

Display of books with a tombstone and a "bleeding" Kindle

RIP Kindle

I’m pro-ereader, I’d better say this up front. And back when that article was published, I sent an email to Derek Addyman, suggesting the need for some tolerance and understanding. I never received any acknowledgement or reply, so I’d like to post a modified version here. There’s plenty of other anti-ereader rhetoric about, like Franzen’s diatribe or Sherman Alexie’s comment about ereading being like “masturbating with a condom”, so I think this isn’t just a thing Derek Addyman needs to hear.

My name is Nikki; I’m a twenty-four year old English Literature postgrad. I live and breathe books, and was raised in a house where I was daily surrounded by books and encouraged to read them, with supervision if they might be disturbing to me. These days I read an average of two books per day, and currently have around thirty books out of the library. My mother and father are similarly voracious readers, and my mother has even said that she couldn’t live without books.

The fact is, in your world, she would have to. She has macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of visual impairment in the UK. Books with small print are already very difficult for her to read, and her condition is only going to deteriorate more. A couple of years ago she bought her first ereader, which of course allows her to adjust the size of the font to a comfortable size for her to read without difficulty or straining her eyes. As a result, we can still share the experience of reading and talking about reading. This “soulless” invention allows my mother to continue her lifelong hobby of reading, to read the same books as me, to keep up with popular books that people are talking about, even to read literature related to her job. Without it, she would not be able to do so anymore.

She still loves bookshops, of course. Just last week, the two of us went into a local bookshop and she helped me pick some new books. She buys books for me all the time, and continues to support the publishing industry through buying ebooks as well. She’s even bought some of the books she’s excited about in hardback, just to have them. I don’t think she’s your enemy.

I also own an ereader. Right now, just beside me, I have my Kindle loaded with several hundred books, my tablet which I read advance e-galleys on, and twelve paperback books in my ‘to read soon’ pile. My bookshelves are loaded high with books. I can guarantee you that Kindle users like me are not contributing to bookshops going out of business! Many polls I have seen online show that a lot of people buy both “dead tree” and electronic books.

“Books are sociable and people stop and talk to each other about them. Kindles are just a phase and they won’t last. They are our enemy.” That is what you are quoted as saying in the Daily Mail. In your desire to promote the paper books, you would want people like my mother and me to be unable to talk about books — without ereaders, they would become a painful subject, because she could not read them.

I’m sure you didn’t intend to be rude to people with disabilities, but my mother was very upset by your article and its heartless accusations of people who use ereaders being “robots” or “soulless” or perhaps even the “enemy”, to extend your rhetoric. I am not currently a customer of yours, and nor do I intend to become one while you continue this campaign against ereaders.

There are, I will note, legitimate concerns about ereaders. The problems of DRM and censorship, for example; the digital divide (post by Seanan McGuire); even concerns about how environmentally friendly they are considering people’s tendency to indulge in fads. And yes, ebooks are changing (though not killing) the publishing industry.

But seriously. I love ebooks, and I love dead tree books. Sometimes I’ll end up carrying two ereaders and two dead tree books in my handbag. The two really aren’t mutually exclusive — and while I understand Franzen’s fears about the impermanence of ebooks and how that might affect society, I also see positive effects as well. I’m a volunteer for the RNIB and the Macular Society: so many people I come across are frightened of losing their ability to read, and so grateful for everything that helps them carry on reading. And it’s not just people with visual impairment, but people who physically can’t hold and manipulate a book. Heck, my Kobo even has a font option for dyslexic people. Ereaders offer a way to bridge some of the gaps in society, to level things out and make life better for everyone.

And hey, here’s a picture of a selection of my bookshelves, just to prove that I really mean what I say about loving both formats…

RIP print?

RIP print?

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