Books: Can’t get enough of ’em

Harry Kennedy (Richard Armitage) responds to Geraldine’s question about his favorite books in “The Handsome Stranger,” the first of the two Vicar of Dibley Christmas specials that ended the series. Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery

I was wanting to post something analytical today and just can’t. I’ve got stuff drafted but not the attention to polish or finalize. My head is still spinning from beginning of term. Nothing unusual. In this department we allow students to add until very late, so a lot of little details are crisscrossing my desk unanticipatedly. The university bookstore got the book order wrong (so what else is new?). I’m teaching a survey that covers five hundred years, and then another large course on the history of my favorite country in the twentieth century that I taught for the last time in 1999 that is taking a surprising amount of extra attention from me, I find. Going from zero to two TAs means more coordination than typical; one of these TAs is extremely unsure of herself and needs to be mentored very closely because she needs to be ready for her own classroom soon. I’m mentoring a grad student who needs desperately to finish her dissertation this semester because of visa issues. The student honor society I advise is gearing up for a big semester with a regional conference, a new speaker series, and some other events. I told them for a change that I’d give the initiation talk this term, so I’ve got to write that. It will be something like my swan song here. I’m doing research including a scholarly translation. I’m involved in a few professional service activities. And so on and so forth.

Ros (Hermione Norris) looks down at the books used to create chaos in Lucas’s new apartment in Spooks 1.2. My cap.

The visible sign of the chaos in my mind is the awkward and inconstant procession of books in and out of here — they come in by post and UPS and in big bags lugged over from the library and they leave in essentially the same ways: back to the library, sold back to ama*on, entered in paperbacksw*, collected and sold in fund drives for my student organization, donated to an organization that obtains books for prisoners (of whom there are many in this state). But more always seem to come in than leave. History is a book field and so my life is filled with books. I chose this although lately it’s been driving me crazy. I have a small windowless office — I chose the windowlessness in order to get a few more square feet to store books. This time of year they just go wild, proliferating in every corner, and when the corners are full, in the center of the room. One class has twelve textbooks; the other, ten. I’ve got the secondary research piled up in order to update the lectures in the one class; I’ve got the regular rotation of stuff to read for the other class (in hopes my broader command of the historiography won’t go stale, I try to force myself to read one new monograph on each topic covered in the survey each time I teach it. This is hopeless and I never actually manage it but I learn a lot trying). I owe a lot of book reviews so I’ve stacked those books next to the computer monitor. Perched on my left are the big reference works (lexical in English, German, Latin, biblical, theological, etc.) and snuck in on top of them for perusal in spare moments are copies of The Annotated Hobbit and the Penguin Oronooko, The Rover and Other Works. New copies of journals are waiting to be unpacked, skimmed, placed on shelves. I’ve got a book bag with leisure reading, too. It’s not different at home, as I’ve noted before. If I were going to invite someone into my bed, I’d have to buy and fill an additional bookshelf first.

Which are the books that are essential for interpreting our lives, and which can we leave accidentally, stuffed down in the cushions of the sofa, for others to find and wonder about? Which books make someone Lucas North, and which ones make him John Bateman? Dmitri (Max Brown) gives Harry the copy of Blake’s poetry he and Beth found while tossing Lucas’s flat in Spooks 9.8. My cap.

But the office is at the breaking point already. On top of that I’ll have to move out by the beginning of June. It’s time to begin sifting and winnowing. I don’t have the physical or emotional energy to move all this stuff, and probably won’t have the money, either. Let’s be honest — a fair amount of these items I may never open again. I tried in the wake of the deluge last Friday to shift some stuff that I thought I could live without; it’s waiting in a workroom on the decision of the building people who need to look at the state of the ceiling above my desk. But I really don’t know what to save and what to discard. Part of it is that I truly don’t  know what I’ll be doing next year. Will I need these complicated German-language theological references, or should I attempt to sell them to another scholar? What about the books on the memory of trauma in Guatemala? The collection on secularism and religion in the U.S. public sphere? Part of me is tempted simply to toss everything that is “only” of professional interest — to keep only the books I loved, the ones I could imagine putting on the shelves of the house I never had a chance to buy. Then I wonder how I’d reassemble this collection if it turned out that I was going to need pieces of it.

Mr. Thornton at the Hales’ for his Greek lessons in North & South, episode 4. Which books are the ones that carry us forward? Which ones do we cling to in order to bolster our notion of who we are, or who we might be, if we were different?

I dream of being Lucas, abandoning everything and moving on, even if it’s to an illusion. I fear I am Thornton, studying a topic of no practical use to me anymore, but one that allows me to clinge to a particular notion of who I am. And so the books come, and go, and mostly: accumulate. While I wait for clarity. And crave grapefruit juice — and as always, in the last year, Armitage. [Rueful grin.]

~ by Servetus on January 27, 2011.

45 Responses to “Books: Can’t get enough of ’em”

  1. Don’t worry about being analytical on this site. It’s winter here, though you probably don’t feel it’s impact, where you are now. We can just have a bit of levity when we feel like it, and wait for the rebirth of Spring to return to gravitas.

    Books. And more books. And bookcases. Received some Christmas presents of book gift cards. And just spent them on two murder mysteries. A recently paperbacked Dalziel snd Pascoe, and a Charles Todd concerning a Scotland Yard detective, shell-shocked in WW1. Which could be a rather fine role for a series featuring Mr.Armitage.

    Not exactly highly intellectual fare, but helping to get through the admittedly fairly mild winter, with only two days (so far) of -30 C days, not TOO much snow (we can see over the snowbanks, even me), and skeletal trees.


    • LOVE those Charles Todd novels. The shellshocked soldier could be another Armitage role.

      I actually miss the cold here. It’s been hovering around freezing in the mornings here, which is a bit cold for us, but I long for the WI winters of my childhood …

      It’ll be back to analysis soon. What i think is an important part of my life, not just how I feel …


  2. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “You can NEVER have too many books!!” However, last summer, I went through basement books. Mainly college antiques. Dare I say it? I threw some away! Gasp. Divided the boys’ books amongst their kids and made room for, yep, MORE BOOKS! In fact, I went to bookstore today looking for “Where the Red Rern Grows” for a grand and ended up with 2 more Cornwell books! Asked for “The Fort” cause hubs and I love Rev. War history. Guy next to me says, “If you like the Saxon Series, you should read “Agincourt”. So I walked out with 2 new Cornwells. Can’t wait for the next in the Saxon series tho. And like fitz, I find roles for Mr. RA everywhere I look.

    No grapefruit for me. Puckers my mouth thinking about it! Past the stage most of you are still in, but hormones still rage. Sigh. Apple fritters do it for me. Or fried peach pies. Or bourbon pecan pound cake. or…nevermind. Would temp storage be any solution?


    • I’m actually starting to think that’s the way to go, at least for a few months. Once I have a plan for the fall it will be clearer which books should stay and which should go, but until then maybe my life will be a little less uncluttered.


  3. We have snow in my part of the world today – started as sleet and now wet snow. A rush hour nightmare for us. More winter still ahead.
    I find it difficult to give things away, especially books. I have many bookshelves at home and books under my bed, and more waiting to be read. Books have always been my company and my friends.
    I often wonder now if books will go the way of the newspaper and whether the experience of reading on a Kindle or iPad can be the same as holding a book and turning the pages.


    • I say an emphatic NO, Musa! The feel and smell of a book are just irreplacable. Piling up pillows w/jammies on, book in hand and Walkman charged, ear plus at the ready…nothing like it. Almost better than…well? I wonder if they said the same thing about our old 45s and record players?

      I gave books to all my grandsons this Christmas w/accompanying movies…National Velvet, Flicka, Tom Sawyer, Black Beauty. So far they all love books. The ggranddaughters too. Tho I decided to start giving them some of my dolls, storybook dolls with corresponding books like Laura Ingalls, Rebecca of Sunnybrook (Rebecca was one of my 1st books!), Fancy Nancy. I have Little Women, Charolotte’s Web and a bunch more waiting in the wings. It is SO much fun having little girls around..dolls, tea parties, dress up. I am so loving this!

      We have to travel at least 120 miles to get to a town larger than 20,000. When we DO get there, guess where we go first? And spend most of our time there? Yep, Barnes and Noble or Borders. Good idea they had putting coffee bars in those places!!!


    • Musa,

      Books have also always been my company and friend, too. I think it will be quite a long time before e-readers do away with conventional books. After all, when I was a child, they were predicting we’d all have flying cars and colonies on the moon well before now–and that hasn’t quite happened yet. 😀

      I do enjoy my Kindle very much–it’s lightweight and easily portable and being able to adjust the font size is wonderful. I could see it being a real boon to my visually impaired sister (we would also be able to swap books!), saving her money in the long run on what she spends on large-print titles. But I still love regular books, too, and I am sure I always will.

      I often give either books or book store gift cards as gifts to my nieces, nephews and greats. A book–like Mr. Armitage–is the gift that keeps on giving. BTW my great-niece Abbi LOVES Fancy Nancy. Actually, so do I!!


      • Second round: Grands evidently punched some buttons while I was cooking lunch. Let’s see. Can I remember ANY of it?

        I found Fancy Nancy several years ago and promptly sent her first book to my childhood best friend, Nancy. Her sig is FN now! A friend in Dallas was first in line to purchase the dolls. Sent me 2. At that time I had only 2 granddaughters. Cute, cute doll!

        I don’t know. FN just speaks to my Inner Southern Belle somehow. We do FN tea parties now with a friend’s granddaughters. I love my boys bunches but this little girl thing is new and fun!

        I’m betting that years from now, your nieces and nephews will open the book you gave them and remember what a great aunt you are/were. Ick, that sounded somewhat morose but then I think of those who gave books to me with fond memories and most are still with us. More or less.

        Still looking at the Kindles as per your advice, Angie. Didn’t realize there are 3 models. Maybe more? Staples had 3 anyway.

        Ended up with 6 grands this am. They just left. Know what I said about napping several post back? Well, forget that! I NEED A NAP!!


        • NovemberBride,

          When my sister and her children would visit my folks for a weekend, after they headed back home and the dust had settled down, my mom used to sigh and say, “I’m glad to see them come, but I’m kind of glad to see them go” LOL If you aren’t used to kids and all their energy and inquiaitiveness, it can take its toll on you.

          I’ve always been quite a girly-girl at heart, so the Fancy Nancy books definitely speak to my inner southern belle. They also teach some great vocabulary words to the little girls! My great-niece is very girly like me and we have a special sort of understanding between us, I guess you could say.

          I used to play pretend with her mother –I was not even 17 when Heather was born–and put a “widdle bit of makeup” on her, sing for her, read to her. So now I do it with Abbi on those all-too-rare occasions we get to spend time together. And when baby Zoe gets old enough and so desires, I will do so with her, I hope.

          I do hope they will remember their aunt with fondness as the years pass (of course, I am not planning to go anywhere QUITE yet, but I will reach the point where I can’t sit on the floor and play games with them, I suppose . . .)

          There are three Kindles: I have the intermediate one, which retails for $189. It has 3G and Wi-Fi, versus Wi-Fi only on the basic model. That just means when I travel I should still be able to upload books just about anywhere I go. Wishful thinking on my part (the traveling, that is) . . . The DX has a bigger screen and weighs more, and I don’t really see the reason to pay $50 for the extra size when you can simply change font size as far as readability.


      • I’m starting to see a role for a Kindle in terms of books I know in advance I probably won’t want to keep or read again, OR alternatively stuff that I need in both my office and at home or in Europe.


    • I can’t imagine life without actual physical books, and the issue for me is not so much their tactility but their existence as a record of things — today in class we discussed Stefan Zweig’s _World of Yesterday_, and I used the copy I had in grad school, which has my original markings, highlightings, and reactions in it. It’s not so much that I need that information as that it gives me a record of who I was in 1993. I’m reluctant to let go of that possibility, and e-readers don’t allow the same kind of markup.


  4. Can I say that, at this moment, especially after my writing duet with Angie last night, I appreciate non-analytical.

    Regarding your books and the looming June event is it possible to do two things (you could even have a work studey, TA or Grad Asst. help you or even a student in your major) First, create a “professional” bibliography of your books and then Second, have the perosn to check to see which books are available in electronic or other format (either e book, Guttenberg project, etc.)

    This might help you decide which cannot be easily replaced.

    Just a thought…

    I had a grad student crying in my arms yesterday because she found out the night before that she has throat cancer (she’s a teacher). It has been a very difficult term start this semester.


    • Obviously, she trusted you, Ann Marie. My prayers are with her and you as you help her.


    • @Ann Marie
      What a sad information about your grad student. I hope she will be healed and I wish it with all my heart


    • Blessings to the grad student and her family. I feel like this sort of stuff tends to descend at the beginning of the term on everyone.

      A lot of people here are starting use Zotero and a bar code scanner to keep track of their libraries.


  5. Oh, Ann Marie, I am sorry to hear that about your grad student friend. I was at my cancer society board meeting today and this is a reminder to me all the more how important it is we keep raising funds and raising awareness. I can certainly see why you were down yesterday. Thoughts and prayers go to her.

    Books? Oh, I can never get enough of them. My husband, lovable fellow that he is, has at times threatened to put out one of my eyes, I have accumulated so many over the years. Now that I have my Kindle, I am determined to cut down on the number of books coming in and work harder on getting them out of here–I am a hopeless packrat in some ways. The annual public library used book sale is coming up in April–I will donate books then. Unfortunately, I will likely also buy more . . .

    Mysteries have always been my favorite genre. I enjoy trying to figure out the puzzle and it’s a great form of escapism.
    The Todd mysteries have shown up as recommended for me so I shall have to check them out. I I do love Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia mysteries. An intelligent and personable Victorian heroine and an enigmatic half-Gypsy, half-Scots hero that has RA written all over him (he plays the violin!!! Squee!). I love to re-read Carole Nelson Douglas’s Irene Adler novels, also, and enjoy her Midnight Louie series that is working itself through the alphabet.

    I enjoy Ruth Rendell’s stuff, the wonderful PD James . . . the Dazliel and Pascoe books . . . oh, so,so many. I also love historical books, non-fiction and fiction, biographies and even read some of my husband’s sci-fi books from time to time.

    Right now I am working my way through Jane Austen’s movels again and I just re-read Jane Eyre for the umpteenth time and followed it up with the fine television adaptation featuring Toby Stephens and Ruthy Wilson. I read both for pleasure and as research for work and for my fanfic. And I also find myself studying various writers’ styles.

    I really should shut up now, but this is one of my favorite subjects. *sheepish grin*


  6. Anne Marie, I’m so sorry about your student. No platitudes to offer, but hope that treatment will win out.

    Books. Love the feel of them, even cheapy paperbacks. I have copies of faux-leather Jane Eyre, Lorna Doone and P&P, parent birthday presents when I was 9/10/11. No doubt one day, I’ll overcome the constitutional Luddite tendency and give in to the e-book age. Maybe.

    Bookcases. Well, aren’t they just one person’s concept of interior decoration? Hold the fireplace; it takes up bookcase space. My bookcases are in subject/alphabetical order. Old librarians don’t die, they just reincarnate to everyone’s irritation. (Ssshh) Even the spice cabinet is alphabetical. As a counterpoint to the anal, champion procrastinator, dilletante and totally incapable of algebra. Or solving PC breakdowns…And DIY means “where’s the duct tape”.

    Could do with a Mr. A around here. For laminating floors of course. I mean, he has to know his place, n’est-ce pas?


    • @fitzg, My hubbie and I are voracious readers so if I send you my address would you come on over and get us organized? *cheeky grin*

      The student I mentioned was why I needed Guy last night. Her tears were heartbreaking because they weren’t for herself but for her husband and her love and worry for him, how he would be. I handle many similar student scenarios but this one really hot me and I still can’t shake it. Not trying to dwell on it just trying to but it in its box.


    • My dream for a house in this town (one I didn’t realize; I rent an apartment) was that I’d have a combination formal dining room – library. The room would have a heavy oak table and dark bookshelves on the walls, so that people could either sit and read, or sit and dine, in the room.

      Richard Armitage installing the bookshelves — that actually showed up in his guise as John Porter in the last chapter of KiplingKat’s fanfiction. What a fantasy. 🙂


  7. I sympathise Servetus, it’s horrible when books become a problem. I have no solution for you, but I’m sure you’ll find one.


    • Books? A problem? Surely not! 😮

      We got ourselves a half-metre deep double book case from IKEA a few years ago. It’s FILLED with books. The pocket books are about four rows deep. Ahh, to have a room lined with bookshelves! Like a library! Oh what a dream that would be.


      • I have always dreamed of having a house with a real library (rather than a library’s worth of books scattered all over the house LOL) . . . with a fireplace and big comfy chairs perfect for curling up in to enjoy a good read . . . and a globe. For some reason, it must have a large globe. And a window seat.
        Well, a girl can dream . . .


        • @angieklong
          I have similar dreams, maybe someday…


        • I remember watching Beauty and the Beast when I was a kid and loved the scene when the Beast showed Belle his library. I want that library!(Something tells me I’m telling this to the wrong crowd…) Indeed, a girl can dream.


          • OK, I should ammend my first statement. You can NEVER have too many books OR BOOKSHELVES. And I don’t have enough either. That’s with a study/library including 3 desks…they make a huge T. Also, 3 file cabinets (fairly small) and 5 sets of nearly to the ceiling book shelves. Still not enough room. So book shelves are built in aon each side of the fireplace in living room, filled to the brim w/books. Doesn’t count cooking/baking books in kitchen shelves. And the basement bedroom closets are lined w/shelves loaded w/books. We won’t even talk about my scrapbook room…what you need is a house with every room’s walls lined w/shelves. That might do it. But I doubt it.

            Good idea on the globes. Had 2 and gave them to sons. Found one that seemed to be made of quartz??. Just gorgeous but expensive. Wasn’t it Sense and Sensibility that had a scene in the library with a globe? One of my DILs has always wanted a library w/the ladder that rolls around the room so you can reach the top shelf. LOL!

            All I know for sure is…the older you get, the more “stuff” you have. I purge once a year, but you can’t tell it by looking.


    • Yeah, not sure what to do. On the one hand, as my mother would say about me, I feel at home where my books are. But lately they feel limiting. And last spring I was having dreams about walking into my office and setting all the bookshelves on fire, OR, and this was really disturbing, running through my favorite library in Germany, taking books off the shelves and throwing them in big bunches down flights of stairs. Thanks for the sympathy.


  8. I love read books 🙂 I am of the opinion that there’s always room for the new book (only that I live in a flat so I’ve fewer and fewer places)


  9. Has any obsessed Lucas-fan ever tried to identify the books he has so artfully scattered around the floor? Doesn’t the orange hardback one in the middle look like som sort of young adult novel? And the blue one on the right’s got a very chick lit-ish cover. Who’d have thought Lucas read that kind of stuff, eh?


    • I was thinking about this yesterday. The titles I could clearly identify was Mark Haddon, _The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime_ (2003 — i.e., raises a potential continuity issue for the Lucas story). We also see Zola, La bête humaine, and Marcel Pagnol, Le chateau de ma mere.


      • Riiiight, I thought I had seen the blue-covered book before. They’ve got it in a local book shop with the exact same cover. However, they also have a line of “girl-books” with similar style covers; bright colours, big scribbly font and a funny little image at the bottom. Tee hee, so his litterary tastes weren’t quite so questionable after all.

        I’m thinking the swastika-book is probably some sort of analysis of the Nazi regime or a satire. Even if he was previously EvilJohn (which he wasn’t when that episode was written, anyway) he probably wouldn’t read Nazi-stuff.


        • Just remember, Annie–EvilJohn DOES NOT EXIST AND NEVER DID. And Lucas is SND (So Not Dead). That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. *grin*

          Of course, he could have been on some sort of undercover assignment requiring him to delve into chick lit-dom, if indeed the book had been of that genre. Lucas always struck me as one who liked to be prepared . . . I could see him reading a satire or history of Nazism.


    • There’s also a swastika on one of the ones toward the top of the screen.


      • I think there is a fanfic plot bunny–or several–somewhere in the books scattered in Lucas’s flat. I showed the movie adaptations of Pagnol’s . . . De Ma Mere and De Mon Pere to my French students. Charming films.

        Hmmmm . . . Guy’s mother was French . . . interesting.


  10. It might be Mein Kampf. Or perhaps that’s simplistic. Still, I can imagine the “Good” Lucas having it, on the basis of knowing thine enemy, and recognizing evil.

    It’s a bit regrettable that the swatika was highjacked, considering its long history as a Hindu symbol and prominance in Hindu art.


  11. And dreaming of libraries and ladders and fireplaces, a nice comfortable dog is also required “decor”. A St. Bernard…


  12. I absolutely LOVE books and can’t seem to stop buying them. Somehow I never got into the habit of using public libraries as it would have been too hard to give the books back! I always have to have a number at hand and when I see I am coming to the end of the pile I’m almost in a panic until I buy some more. Yes I do go back and read favourites over and over but there is something magical about a new book. If I enjoy a particular author I tend to buy every book he/she has written. Good to see you too like mystery novels Angie, and PD James has to be one of my all-time favourites! I believe I have every one of her books. I always have a notebook and dictionary handy when reading her stuff as she has such an amazing command of the English language and inevitably there is at least one word that I am not familiar with! I have also read a lot of Elizabeth George’s books and enjoy them very much. I think most of her novels are set in the UK and it is hard to remember she is American as she has such an amazing grasp of all things English.
    I recently bought a couple of Georgette Heyer’s novel’s “Sylvester” (I have the audiobook of it on back order) and “The Corinthian”. Because I have Richard reading “The Convenient Marriage” and “Venetia” I went to my local Chapters/Indigo to try to buy the books but they didn’t have them. If any of you can recommend another of her novels please do!!
    After all the great comments I have read about it, I recently ordered the audio book of “The Lords of the North” which I am so excited about. Hours and hours of listening to Mr Armitage’s voice!!! What could be better??
    I also have all of Jan Karon’s books which I just adore. I’ve got shelves and shelves full of novel’s about English village life by various authors including Joanna Trollope (a descendant of Anthony Trollope). Thankfully my late husband was a total bookworm and he had well over a thousand books – maybe closer to a couple of thousand – although his taste in books differed from mine somewhat. I used to joke about having bookcases in every room in the house except the bathroom but somehow one or two books would end up there also!! Being a Pastor his tended to be of the “required reading” variety with less time for reading merely for pleasure. After he passed away I “lost” his office/library as I had to downsize. I also had to give away lots of his books (or his jewels as he called them!!) which I found very hard. Happily quite a number went to family or friends.


  13. While always being a library patron, there is something so much more satisfying about buying books. Greed, acquisitiveness, and the pure sensuality of a new or second-hand book.

    Murder mysteries – yes P.D.J! The oldies, Tey, Ngaio March, John Dickson Carr…the more contemporary, Reginald Hill, Rendell, Rankin; my favourite Irish writer, the late Bartholmew Gill. It’s inconsiderate of a writer to have a coronary when one has already read all his books. They continue to give pleasure in re-reading, though.

    Historical biographies: Alison Weir for fun (a bit too much of the “she would have felt” “He must have been..” – a few too many assumptions. The pontifical Dr. Sharky. Ian Mortimer; Anthony Goodman; Antonia Fraser…

    Books for owning, not borrowing.


  14. @Teuchter, Chapters/Indigo has its good points, but I’ve often found that after discovering a new writer, they don’t carry all that writer’s previous publications. Still, Amazon dot ca or dotcom do often come to the rescue, don’t they!


  15. […] Now, the one aspect of moving to look forward to is “the great purge,” as Dear Friend calls it — the scads of things that you look at and discard, the feeling of knowing that at the end of a move you will have fewer things than before. I didn’t quite manage that with my apartment this time, but I estimate that I have something like two-thirds less stuff by volume than I had when I finished grad school. I had a lot of rickety stuff accumulated from relatives or friends, and as it fell apart, I just didn’t replace it. But the real challenge stems from my office, and there, more specifically, from the books. In ways I can’t describe exactly, books are important constituting factors of my identity, much more so than clothes or any other object I interact with regularly. If that hadn’t been entirely clear to me, it would have become so in the fall of 2008. When things started getting really bad here, I started to have regular dreams — every three weeks or so — about burning down my office, interspersed with dreams about hurling the books at my favorite library down flights of stairs in order to ruin their historic bindings. I read these as “I want to trash my professor self and start over” messages from my subconscious. And yet, I hang onto books especially in defiance of logic, even though I know I have to get rid of them. […]


  16. […] Armitage’s remarks in that review pushed a lot of my buttons. Religion, filming in 48 fps, reading experiences, audience enjoyment, Tolkien’s view of his life history, nostalgia, ongoing […]


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