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27

May
2013

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Horn Book, YA and NA

On 27, May 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I came across an interesting editorial by way of Kelly at Stacked Books. In it The Horn Book‘s editor-in-chief suggested that maybe it was time to stop reviewing young adult novels. You can read the piece here, it’s pretty short, but I wanted to share a few of my thoughts about some of the things he said. I didn’t necessarily disagree with what he was saying, but I didn’t really agree either.

What struck me about this piece was a possible argument for labeling books as New Adult, which I talked a bit about in this post.  My understanding is that he is suggesting children’s and youth review publications, like The Horn Book, stop reviewing YA novels, the stuff intended for 12 and up or maybe 14 and up. He makes the point that YA is read by a lot of adults and there is a lot of it out there. Sure, if it makes your job easier and it’s still labeled as YA so it’s easy for teen librarians to find, I think that’s reasonable.

Sutton notes that, as the years have passed, the age ranges have been shifting upward and the content is becoming more mature. He even receives requests to review books that are labeled as adult for The Horn Book, but points out that there is a distinctive and important line between adult books and children’s books. I totally agree. But I wonder if some of the books he sees as too old could and/or should be classed as new adult? This makes me wonder what age group is really reading all that YA? Because it might actually be “new adults”, like myself, who aren’t really interested in true adult literature and have some nostalgia for the late teen years. In addition classing some literature more accurately as NA could  sort out some of the content that’s more for older teens and alleviate some of the pressure created by the amount of YA being published.

Along the lines of his final point, commenters wonder if teens are becoming guests in their own sections and I agree that’s what it sounds like. However one commenter went so far as to suggest filing YA with adult books and I think that would be a mistake. Teens won’t always go looking for them there and what about all that research into giving teens their own space. The teenage years are very different from the middle grade and adult years. That’s why all that literature is written for them.

I worry that by pushing YA more into the adult realm, however, it could make the work of youth services librarians seem unnecessary. It might be a leap, but if the literature they work with is somehow lumped in with adult literature, why not have adult services subsume youth services? I don’t think libraries are all about books, but I do think the two are very intimately connected, so when you erase a distinction between the adult and young adult literature the distinction between the two groups of patrons suddenly seems a little less clear.

All in all this sounds to me more like a broken or damaged publishing system. Labeling a book as “14 and up” feels a lot more like a marketing ploy to give adults (or new adults) permission to read something that really isn’t intended for them. Which isn’t to say adults can’t or shouldn’t read YA, just that it sounds a bit like publishers fishing for the next big cross over like Hunger Games or Twilight than a genuine suggested age range.

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24

May
2013

In Reading Round Up

By Elizabeth Wroten

Tweets Round Up

On 24, May 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten

There wasn’t much this week:

Thank you Rita Meade for putting it so well.

Last week I participated in readers advisory chat on Twitter lead by Sophie and Kelly. It was a lot of fun and I got a few great ideas from some of the other participants.

 

Check out the awesome Pinterest board for movies to books! A really great use of a library’s Pinterest account.

 

I am so relieved to hear that Moonbird is still out there. I really loved this book that I read for The Hub Challenge.

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22

May
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

On 22, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

DramaFrom GoodReads:

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she can’t really sing. Instead she’s the set designer for the drama department stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!

Why wasn’t there a hold list on this book when I requested it?! Everyone needs to run, not walk, to get a copy of this book. It was awesome.

Drama really spoke to the awkwardness of middle school/early high school romance. Some people are more experienced or in relationships; some people are questioning their sexuality; some people are interested when you aren’t (and vice versa); some people aren’t there yet; you can’t drive so your parents have to. It’s just all so, well, dramatic. Despite the fact that it’s all mostly wondering about crushes and quick kisses, I didn’t find myself wanting to roll my eyes at its relative purity, which I attribute to the sentiments and actions being very organic.

I was totally a drama nerd in high school and I imagine, had I been in drama in middle school, this would have been the story of those years. Although I was not nearly as confident, mature, or self reflective as Callie in some regards. But despite the fact that she felt a bit older than middle school it still seemed in line with the novel. As if she was someone a middle school reader could look up to or emulate without her actions appearing overtly didactic.

Even if you are or weren’t a drama kid, this book really speaks to the middle school experience. Plus the graphic novel format makes it very accessible even for the most reluctant middle school reader. Sure the format and story aren’t really for everyone, but Drama should be!

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20

May
2013

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

And Another Thing

On 20, May 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

A few weeks ago I talked about how staying home with my daughter is, much to my surprise, making me a better librarian. I have also talked about how my parenting philosophies have crossed over into my professional philosophies. I have since realized another crossover between my parenting and my career.

Now, I have virtually no experience with babies and very young children. I was terrified when they wanted to send me home from the hospital with no manual for my daughter. To calm myself down I did the next best thing, I read. I read a lot. I read books and websites and just about anything I could about parenting. After a few weeks with my daughter, I realized that my instincts and common sense were enough to get me started.

I also realized I could rely on all the literature I had read, instead of choosing one method or approach. There was a lot of trial and error as we figured out things like sleeping arrangements, feeding, weaning, sleeping, schedules and the like, but I was learning what suited our personalities and our family values in terms of parenting techniques. And that in turn made it easier for me to find ideas for what to do when my daughter cried in the middle of the night or how I wanted to go about introducing solid foods.

It may not be a new or particularly original idea, but I think it’s really important to realize that knowing your culture is applicable to libraries. Just as I needed to discover our family culture, it is essential to learn the institutional culture in order to know what kind of tools and programs will work. I love to look around at ideas for library activities and services, but that doesn’t mean every good idea I come across will work for whatever library I find myself in. I can pick and choose activities, services, and technologies or adapt them to fit the culture I find myself in. The whole messy parenting process taught me this.

I think I should note that none of this is meant to imply culture can’t or shouldn’t change. I think changing the culture of an institution can be extremely necessary and important, but knowing the culture will help you implement programs and innovations much more successfully. It can also be immensely helpful when beginning to work toward changing the culture itself.

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17

May
2013

In Reading Round Up

By Elizabeth Wroten

Reading Round Up: Twitter

On 17, May 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten

I’ve decided to do something a little different with these posts for the future. Now that I’m feeling more on top of following blogs and librarians on Twitter, I want to start actually tweeting more. To that end I am going to start actually tweeting the links I would normally include here. Then every Friday, I’ll aggregate them here for anyone who missed them or isn’t on Twitter. I can also add a little more detail to my thoughts on the articles.

Since most of the links I find to share are in blogs I follow, I tend to come across them on Thursdays when I read my blogs. I found a service that allows me to set up tweets in advance (Twuffer, a Twitter buffer) so that I don’t inundate my tweeps. Without further ado:

I agree so much with the idea here that customer service in libraries needs to be top notch and of a type that is more than pointing to the bathroom. I know added value is an irritating buzzword, but I think it’s still a relevant and necessary concept.


I have mixed feelings about this piece. I agree in so many ways, but I also think that undergrads (and other patrons like the general public and younger students) do not always approach librarians. It’s true that the results they get from new fangled, improved search interfaces may not be the best, but are they better than what they got before? I don’t really know the answer to that. I think the issue lies more with marketing reference services and getting students to the reference desk (virtual, real or otherwise). However, I hadn’t really thought of those types of tools in regard to writing librarians out of reference. I think this underscores the importance of digital/information literacy skills.

I didn’t work with these types of teens, but as a new parent I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to be a single, teen parent. The sentiment is really sweet and I think the ideas are really awesome.


I think a lot of people believe technology is some sort of silver bullet. That you can just take a new technology and use it the same way in every situation. But that just isn’t true. As with any program or tool you need to know your culture in order to know if it’s right and how it should be implemented. I’m going to address this topic in more depth next week.

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15

May
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez

On 15, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Pregnancy ProjectFrom GoodReads:

Growing up, Gaby Rodriguez was often told she would end up a teen mom. After all, her mother and her older sisters had gotten pregnant as teenagers; from an outsider’s perspective, it was practically a family tradition. Gaby had ambitions that didn’t include teen motherhood. But she wondered: how would she be treated if she “lived down” to others’ expectations? Would everyone ignore the years she put into being a good student and see her as just another pregnant teen statistic with no future? These questions sparked Gaby’s school project: faking her own pregnancy as a high school senior to see how her family, friends, and community would react. What she learned changed her life forever, and made international headlines in the process.

In The Pregnancy Project, Gaby details how she was able to fake her own pregnancy—hiding the truth from even her siblings and boyfriend’s parents—and reveals all that she learned from the experience. But more than that, Gaby’s story is about fighting stereotypes, and how one girl found the strength to come out from the shadow of low expectations to forge a bright future for herself.

This book would make a nice companion to Girlchild in some ways. It read a bit like the real story behind that book, minus actually living in a trailer and the sexual abuse.

I thought The Pregnancy Project had a really wonderful message about being your own person and defying stereotypes. As a librarian, I can see championing this message with patrons or students. Like Gaby says, sometimes all it takes is one person to be there for you, cheering you on. I agree with Gaby that you don’t need to be beholden to what other people think or what the statistics tell you and this is a great story for that message.

However, the book also felt very young. Or rather, Gaby sounds very young and inexperienced. She can be endearingly preachy in the way that only adolescent girls can be. I don’t think this is a bad thing, I was certainly that way in high school, as were a lot of my friends and I love her optimism. Part of my issue is just me as a reader coming to it from the other side of my twenties. I’m not exactly the targeted audience for this book.

While I found myself agreeing with her on a lot of points, such as how problematic shows like 16 and Pregnant are, I also think there is a lot more nuance to the topics she tackles. Nuance that you come to see with time, age and experience. Teen pregnancy isn’t always about simply taking a breath and not “going all the way”. There are a lot more emotions and baggage and history that can get tangled up in sex that someone in their teens (and far beyond) may not be able to disentangle. I was really glad she pointed out that abstinence is not always a realistic method of birth control.

Her brief discussions of abortion were another place I think she addressed things as too black and white. I also didn’t feel the topic was especially germane. While she may be pro-life, not everyone is. Abortion a touchy subject and I think it is also a very personal choice. Even if it wasn’t a choice she would have made, many girls do make it to avoid the gossip, lowered expectations, limitations and general disappointment she faced. I think by putting it down she detracted from her own message of being non-judgmental.

As a side note, I think this was a fabulous, if over-the-top senior project. The school where I was working does a similar project although the time allotted to it is much much shorter. Every year I found myself wishing students would choose something more than cake baking and decorating. I don’t think everyone needs to go to quite the extreme of faking a pregnancy, but I do think making a difference and really learning something would be a great goal.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. Gaby’s perspective is something I would be very interested to hear in another 10 to 15 years and once she’s become a mother herself.

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13

May
2013

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Blended Learning and Educational Change

On 13, May 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I talked briefly in an earlier post about my research into parenting philosophies that had led me to ecuational philosophies, which in turn led me to begin thinking about how I want to teach in the library. I was reading the CUE journal a few weeks back and these connections occurred to me again. I was struck by this quote from one of the feature articles by Ferdi Serim:

“In reflecting back on two or three decades in which the rallying cry was ‘integrating technology into the classroom,’ I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to call the contest. We didn’t win. But the opportunity to learn from failures is how we progress. The classrooms we were trying to integrate into were still ‘stand and deliver, lecture driven, knowledge transmission’ environments. In too many classroom the lecture now shines on a whiteboard.”

So many people think technology is going to be a silver bullet. If you put technology in the classroom all students will be engaged and learning and they will all ace the test. But if you want students engaged in the learning process, technology alone is not going to do this. Technology is a fantastic tool, but it is only a tool.

The issue of On Cue and the article were focused specifically on blended learning and I take Serim’s point in regards to it, but I don’t think the issue is limited to blended learning. One of the biggest failures in (American) education, in my opinion, has been it’s failure to innovate and change on a pedagogical level. Or at least it took a wrong turn and focused on the wrong pedagogy. Like Serim says, classrooms are still lecture based. This is the transmission model of education in which people belive there is a body of knowledge that must be taught to students (and then tested to ensure they have learned it) and I really disagree with strict transmission.

I think educators need to accept the idea that students have valuable contributions to be made to the classroom and to content. One of the reasons blended learning really appeals to me is because it encourages using a variety of ways to interact with information and curriculum. I think it also encourages a mix of transmission and discovery. You engage everyone (or should) and have the flexibility to meet students where they are and teach them in a way that works best for them. It also creates a much more autonomous classroom where the teacher can be both a resource and a facilitator of learning. They help the student gain knowledge through exploration rather than exclusively giving it to them. I think that takes some of the pressure off the teacher, too. It’s okay to say you don’t know and that you will find out together. I suppose in theory this could happen in a traditional classroom, but I have yet to see it.

I realize this isn’t necessarily a library issue, but I do think as central learning hubs, school libraries are well situated to make shifts in their pedagogy and in their programs. They can then serve as evangelists of sorts and even help with integration of new ideas into the classroom. I also think blended learning doesn’t necessarily have to focus on technology. To me it’s so much more than any one physical piece (like an iPad or a laptop), it’s about pedagogical change. Libraries are already champions of knowledge and content creation. They are already facilitators of knowledge. They are already resources for knowledge. It seems a natural step into pedagogical shift and blended learning.

I know none of these ideas are new and I’ve even talked about them here before, but I guess this article really made me realize how important I find it. Apparently CUE really gets my feelings about education and how it needs to innovate.

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10

May
2013

In Reading Round Up

By Elizabeth Wroten

Reading Round Up: Makers and School Libraries

On 10, May 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten

Just a couple links this week. Two are related and the other is something I ran across through Pinterest.

  • Kollabora is a maker community where people can post and find projects. It’s mostly sewing and knitting with a bit of crafting thrown in. I thought it would be a pretty cool site to promote in a library that has an active crafting/knitting/fabric arts community.
  • David Lankes gave a presentation at the Texas Library Association about school libraries. I thought he made some really great points. “The school library is about exploration, not regurgitation.” I wish that was also true about the classroom, but that’s my topic for Monday. You can see the presentation here.
  • Maureen Sullivan published a piece on the Huffington Post about the state of school libraries. In it she talks about how important school libraries are, but that they are on the chopping block due to budget cuts. It’s a short piece well worth the time to read it.

 

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08

May
2013

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

My Gap Year(s)

On 08, May 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

showmetheawesome2This post is part of Show Me the Awesome: 30 Days of Self-Promotion, an initiative started by Kelly at Stacked, Liz at A Chair, a Fireplace and a Teacozy, and Sophie at SophieBiblio. Follow along on their blogs and on Twitter with the hashtag #30awesome. The banner is by John LeMasney at Lemasney.com.

If you’ve read my About Me page (or keep reading this sentence) you’ll know, among other things, that about two years ago I had a baby and quit my job. What you won’t know is how terrifying that prospect was and how difficult the decision was to make. I worried that no one would ever look past that gap in my work history or worse yet, would write off motherhood as a busy, but ultimately easy, job requiring no skill. Even in a profession dominated by women it can be hard for mothers to justify putting their family first. But what I wish I had known then, is how much better a librarian I am for having made that choice and actually staying home.

Now, I’ve never been the kind of woman who believed she could have everything. In fact, I’m not sure I know what that means to me and if I would even want it. But two years ago I had a job I loved in a profession I loved. Sure, it didn’t pay well, but that was fine for starting out.

I also had a husband I loved and wanted to start a family. When we sat down and actually looked at the financial reality of having a baby we realized my job wouldn’t cover quality daycare, not to mention all the additional costs that came with a baby. And deep down I knew it would take a lot more than a financial wash for me to go back to work immediately. I have to say in her infinite wisdom, when I told my boss I wasn’t coming back, she already knew what choice I would make, but thought I would have to see the baby’s face before making it. At least I didn’t have to feel guilty leaving.

I know it sounds terribly trite to say being a mother made me a better sort of person, but I can actually agree with the list of ways everyone says being a parent changes them for the better. I’m more patient with everyone. I’m more empathetic, although I think that’s mostly the hormones talking. I’ve learned to embrace unpredictability and imperfection because you can never be sure your kid won’t melt down in the grocery store or that you’ll handle it well when it happens. I’m great at managing time and often wonder what I did with myself before having a baby. I appreciate community more and want to be a part of it for my daughter’s sake. Considering librarians are essentially customer service professionals, all those characteristics are positive, but not all the ways I became a better librarian were so obvious (or cliched).

One of my first worries when I was home was that I would show up to an interview and sound hopelessly out of touch and outdated. I wasn’t especially connected with the library world and needed a way to stay involved without having a job. So, I started up a Twitter account (@AtomicBeeRanch) and began following other librarians, professional associations, and book sources. I set up a Google Reader account and got my mom to babysit one day a week so I could spend some quality time reading the various library blogs and the professional publications I began subscribing to. I also set up this blog (with a lot of help from my husband, thanks Tom!) to have a place I could leave a record of what I was doing. I joined a couple professional organizations and began attending their conferences (when our budget allows). I take professional development classes through ALA and catch as many free webinars as I can. Now I have a collaborative network I can rely on even once I’m back in the workforce.

Part and parcel with engaging in the library community, I’ve also become a lot more aware of the wider world of librarianship and the many ideas and opinions that are out there. I worked full time through library school and jumped into a library job where there was only one other person working with me. I was too inexperienced and there wasn’t time to worry about the big picture or much pressure to once I was working in a library. Which isn’t to say the future of libraries or the next big technological advance is something all librarians need an opinion on, but I think it’s important to have a philosophical foundation to work from, to guide you and I didn’t really have that before.

I worried, at one point, that being home might make it more difficult for me to find my way in my career, but instead it crystallized it. A few months into motherhood I was surprised to find I was missing the students. I also really missed the energy and excitement they brought to school. I had never felt tied to one particular type of library before, but leaving the kids behind made me realize I want to work with them again. And after all that fretting over staying home, I also decided that I don’t want to work for a company or library that would look at my gap years as a black spot. I know that my family will always come first and an institution that can’t respect that is one I can’t see fitting into. If at all possible, I also want a flexible, part-time schedule so I can still be home, even if it’s just a few hours after school.

I think most importantly though, I know now I made the right decision. I know how lucky I am to have had the ability to make a choice between work and staying home and I am grateful every single day that I don’t have to miss a minute of my daughter growing up; even the not so great minutes. I can see her flourishing right before my eyes and I will never have to ask myself if I shouldn’t have put my career first or if the financial sacrifice would have been worth it. I’ll never feel guilty that I didn’t give my daughter enough time and equally importantly I’ll never have to worry that I didn’t give my library enough time. Which means I’ll never have to resent the profession I love for taking that from me.

In the end, realizing all this doesn’t necessarily make me worry less about rejoining the workforce, but it does make me feel confident in my decision to leave it for a time. Sure it’s a cliche to say that being a mother has made me a better librarian, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

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06

May
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

On 06, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Raven BoysFrom GoodReads:

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Okay, despite reading the blurb about this book, I thought this was going to be a fantasy novel set in another world. Maybe I was mixing it up with blurbs about The Scorpio Races (which I don’t actually think is set in another world, either), but I was very wrong. And also very confused for the first few pages. Every time something modern and familiar popped up, like a car, I would think, oh I guess they have that in this world.

I was also prepared to dislike this book mostly based on the fact that the main character’s name is Blue. I hate it when authors come up with names that are different. I know they usually do it for a reason, but it just always makes me think some overwrought teenager named them. Thankfully The Raven Boys won me over after the first ten pages, which, incidentally was the point at which I thought, hey wait a minute, this is set in our world. Palm to forehead.

The characters in this were all really unexpectedly complex, even if they felt a bit young to me (which I think is more a function of my getting older than anything). Blue especially had a few really naive moments that I probably had as a teen. Besides being a group of misfits, they’ve got a lot of baggage that makes them a bit mysterious and interesting. Plus they’re on a quest to find the corpse road to raise a legendary king and I am all for dark, atmospheric quests.

I loved that Gansey was so manic about this quest, even to the point that he built a model of the city in his living room and keeps a journal of ephemera. If I ever go looking for something, I want to do those things. Adam was a bit infuriating for being so principled about leaving his family. I’m not really sure how true to life his refusal to seek help was just so he could do it for himself, but it also made him rather admirable. Blue seemed a little flat to me at first, but I think she has a lot going on under the surface and some of her plot points (her mother and Neeve, her father) will surface later in the series. I would guess she’ll be the one to change the most by the end of the journey.

Ultimately, though, it was Ronan I really loved. He’s got tons of baggage, but his f#%&-you attitude was refreshing. Punch first, ask questions later. He is clearly intelligent and even though it was a bit ambiguous at the beginning, he is clearly a good person. And he has a pet raven. Anyone with a pet raven is awesome in my book. Read this article about it, you will agree. Judging by the cover of the next book and it’s title, he’ll play a much bigger role.

I think another reason I connected with this book was because I went to a private school that was predominantly wealthy. I was not, so the way Blue and Adam feel awkward about money and infuriated by some of the feelings of entitlement rang pretty true for me. On the other hand, I was really irritated by Gansey beating himself up over comments he would make about money. I always felt that the reactions of Blue and Adam (and others) were not so much about Gansey being insensitive (self-confident doesn’t necessarily equal entitled) as it was about how they were misinterpreting his naivete about money as entitlement.

One of my favorite YA blogs, Forever Young Adult, read this book for their book club and has an awesome post about predictions for the next book in the series, The Dream Thieves. You can read that post here and be sure to scroll through the comments.

It could have been the creepy scene in the graveyard or the entanglement of love and death for Blue that sucked me in. Maybe it was the mystery surrounding it all. Or maybe it was the Tarot card readings and fortune telling. Or maybe it was Gansey’s neurotic obssession with the spirit road and his journal stuffed with ephemera. Or all those things. Whatever it was I am hooked.

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