Category Archives: Books

2011 Books of the Year

Because I try to stay on top of new theology book releases from Christian publishers, when I choose my books of the year, they are mostly from the field of Christian books. I do read many other books published by “secular” presses throughout the year, but I rarely read them in the same year they are published. This year, for example, I finally got around to reading Laura Hillenbrand’s incredible book Unbroken, although it was a 2010 release. And I do plan to read Walter Isaacson’s 2011 release Steve Jobs, but probably not for another year or so. So when I choose my favorite books for 2011 they are Christian books.

Choosing my top two favorites published in 2011 was no challenge. Here they are:

First, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New by G. K. Beale. The theme of “inaugurated eschatology” is not a new one in theology, but there doesn’t seem to have been many attempts to center a full theology of the Bible around the theme. Enter Beale. Beale’s work is a massive and excellent contribution, arguing that eschatology is not something relegated merely to the future. For Beale, the end-time new creation has already begun, a fact that permeates our Bibles. And he’s spot on.

Second, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards by Michael J. McClymond and Gerald R. McDermott. In the last few years Yale has completed their online archive of the writings of Jonathan Edwards, so it was only a matter of time before we saw attempts to bring theological synthesis to his writings. This is the first major attempt. I’m certain more will follow in the future, but this one is a gem — readable, enjoyable, and a comprehensive look at the many God-centered facets of Edwards’ thinking. “One might interpret the whole of Edwards’s theology as the gradual, complex outworking of a vision of God’s beauty.” Bingo! In this sense McClymond and McDermott “get” Edwards’s theology.

And here is my full top-ten list:

  1. Greg Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Baker)
  2. McClymond and McDermott, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford)
  3. Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (Dutton)
  4. Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Zondervan)
  5. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Abridged in One Volume (Baker)
  6. John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (P&R), technically released at the end of 2010.
  7. Jared Wilson, Gospel-Wakefulness (Crossway)
  8. Tim Keller, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Dutton)
  9. Russell Moore, Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ (Crossway)
  10. DeYoung and Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Crossway)

On a related note, you can also find my books of the year for 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010.

Interview on Book Reading

By reading his blog and his books over the years I have a deepened respect for my friend Trevin Wax. If you don’t read his blog, you really should take the time to subscribe.

Today Trevin posted an interview with me on the topic of book reading and my new book Lit!. Trevin is an experienced interviewer and asks questions that get directly at important points. He asked questions like these:

  • What are the different ways one should read a book? Why should certain books be read one way and other books read another way? And how can you tell the difference?
  • How much time and attention should we give to classic literature?
  • How have you found classic literature to be spiritually beneficial?
  • You recommend marking up books. Why?
  • Name a few novels that you’d recommend Christians consider reading.
  • How can we read discerningly from Christians in other theological streams?

You can read the full interview here.

Book Recommendations Needed: Sibling Friendships

This request is much different than the last one. In this instance I’m looking for books that were written to help parents foster healthy sibling friendships among their children. I know books on this topic exist because I recall hearing about them long ago in the past, long before I became a parent. It is now apparent that I am a parent.

Special thanks to one well-read friend who suggests that I read the fiction book Enemy Brothers by Constance Savery. It looks really promising, especially for my boys.

Any other suggestions, fictional or otherwise, that will help my wife and I build sibling friendships in our home?

The 30 Best Books I Read in 2010

Since much of my time was spent writing, I ended up reading fewer books in 2010. Oddly, I was separated from books because I was writing about them. And most of the books that I did find time to read were books on the topic of reading. This prohibited me from reading many of the new books released in 2010.

By God’s grace, I still managed to read a fair number of books this year and—thanks to your kind prodding—I was encouraged to recount the books I read and assemble my favorites into this list. So I scoured my shelves and heaped my favorites into a bloggable pile.

In effect this is a list of my 30 favorite books that I read in 2010 (besides Scripture, of course). Not all of these books have been read from cover-to-cover (and you will soon see why: several of the books are large reference works). But many of these I have read in their entirety (or close to it).

My list is pretty haphazard, as you have come to expect. Here’s my list, broken down categorically and in no particular order.

ON READING AND LITERATURE

Leland Ryken, Realms of Gold: The Classics in Christian Perspective (Wipf & Stock, 2003). In my research on reading I came to value Ryken’s books that equip Christians to benefit from classic literature. By far, this book is my favorite book on the topic. Ryken moves from classic to classic, drawing out edifying themes. In this book Ryken provides a clinic on how Christians should read fiction for the benefit of the soul.

Leland Ryken, editor, The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing (Shaw, 2002). This book is a compilation of the best Christian writing on the topics of literature. Any Christian interested in reading or writing literature should own this collection. If it’s been said, and if it’s worth reading, you will find it somewhere in here.

Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen, editors, William Shakespeare Complete Works (Macmillan, 2008). This 2,500-page mammoth published by the Royal Shakespeare Company was a sweet find. Shakespeare’s writings expose the limitations of my literacy skills, and I bought this book in the hopes that it would help guide me along. It has. The editor’s introductions are skillfully written and brief explanatory notes at the foot of each page “explain allusions and gloss obsolete and difficult words, confusing phraseology, occasional major textual cruces … bawdy innuendo, and technical terms (e.g. legal and military language).” Readers should be forewarned that the editors refuse to let any “bawdy innuendo” pass silently, and they are quick to suggest innuendo that I think is more a reflection of the editor’s imagination than of Shakespeare’s intention. But in general the introductions and the brief notes make the experience of reading Shakespeare less laborious and more delightful.

C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge, 1961). Readers often critique books, but this is one book that critiques readers. Only Lewis could write this, and he pulls it off brilliantly. I was left with a holy reverence for books that I didn’t have, or had lost over the years. Reading is a sacred act and we should handle books–at least the best of them–with great care and respect. Thank you, Mr. Lewis, for the reminder.

Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word (Eerdmans, 1985). Measured in influence, images tend to get more attention than the written word. This book celebrates the importance of language and revelation, and it cautions us about life in a culture that is dominated by visual communication. Of all the books on this list, I disagree with this one more frequently than any other. And yet of all the books on this list, few were more intellectually invigorating. Ellul is like that.

ON CHRISTIANS + CULTURE

James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford, 2010). This book is a thoughtful discussion about how the Church can and should seek to influence culture. It’s worth reading, because when Hunter is spot-on he is also vivid. I’ve posted examples of these excerpts on the blog. Here’s one. This book gets much respect, and it’s a well deserved respect.

Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just (Dutton, 2010). A careful biblical look at the Christian’s responsibility to care for those most vulnerable to injustice: widows, orphans, immigrants, minorities, and the poor. I counted 234 biblical references in this book. The book is well researched, biblical, provocative, and it gives me eyes to see the needs of the culturally vulnerable. It is too easy to neglect our most needy ‘neighbors.’ But Keller makes this neglect more difficult.

ON THEOLOGY

D. A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Crossway, 2010). One of the great living Bible scholars, writing about the pinnacle of our Savior’s work, with the goal of edifying a broad Christian audience … need I elaborate?

D. A. Carson, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story (Baker, 2010). One day we will hold in our hands a full biblical theology of Scripture from Carson. But until then we can make due with this book that traces the major themes throughout Scripture. If you are looking for a book that will help you make sense of how the Bible fits together from Genesis to Revelation, while avoiding reductionism, this is the best book I’ve read. It is also offered as a discussion leader’s guide and as a DVD series (see the free materials here). In my opinion, this is the most important Christian book published in 2010.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Baker Academic, 2008). Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck was born on December 13, 1854. His birthday (Monday) is an annual reminder to me of God’s kindness in giving the church this theologian and his 4-volume systematic theology. Rarely does a day pass that I don’t reference this opus in my research. It is an incredible accomplishment; clear, precise, useful, and worth noting on this list. But if RD is too much, check out Our Reasonable Faith.

Athanasius, On the Incarnation (St. Vladimir, 1977). A ‘classic’ is a book that everyone talks about but nobody reads. I had not read Athanasius’ classic until a few months ago. I was surprised at the simplicity and clarity of writing. Although to say this is a book about the incarnation is limiting. Athanasius covers everything from the creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, simultaneously explaining the incarnation, life, substitutionary death, resurrection and return of our Savior. And of course the introduction by C. S. Lewis on old books is worth the price of the book (literally!). This is a classic that should be read.

J. Mark Beach, Piety’s Wisdom: A Summary of Calvin’s Institutes with Study Questions (RHB, 2010). A few excellent study guides for Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion have been published in the past couple of years. And some are still forthcoming (Douglas Wilson will eventually publish his excellent study guide). Beach’s summary oozes with pastoral sensitivities. For an audience that is frightened by the Everest-like size of Calvin’s work and the rock face of 16th century prose style, Beach is the experienced sherpa you want along for the climb. A brilliant book that can broadly benefit the church.

Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission (IVP Academic, 2004). I dipped into this 2-volume book a few times throughout the year and was impressed at its breadth and its detail. Schnabel has an encyclopedic mind and he traces the expansion of the church beginning with Jesus and the twelve disciples (vol 1) to Paul and the early church (vol 2). If you are interested in how God’s church has expanded in the NT, this 2,000-page work is a trove of biblical, historical, and archeological information relevant to biblical missiology. And he excels at applying early church history to contemporary topics in missiological discussions. If you want to learn about church planting and missions from a reliable Bible scholar, Schnabel is your man.

ON THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition (Crossway, 2010). This is an outstanding book on taking risks and shooting big for God’s glory. “Risk always leads us to experience God in a deeper way. This is by design. Risk rescues us from misplaced security by anchoring us in the eternal” (180). The boost of motivation I experienced while reading this book was a key factor in my decision to write my own book. Dave’s message is very important, and especially for any Christian who dreams big for the glory of God. And it’s for any Christian who has never dreamt big. This is a horizon-expanding book.

Samuel Ward, Living Faith (Banner, 2008). A short 96-page booklet that is loaded with wisdom. Whenever I travel I keep this little book in my backpack. “It is sad to see a Christian pursuing joy in coarse and earthly pleasures when he has more noble and angelical delights, second only in degree and manner of enjoyment to heaven itself. Our faith takes us to the third heaven. We roll and tumble our souls in beds of roses, that is, our meditations of justification, sanctification, and salvation through Christ” (p. 30). This book makes a great gift, too.

ANTHOLOGIES

Charles J. Daudert, Off the Record with Martin Luther: An Original Translation of the Table Talks (Hansa-Hewlett, 2009). Off the Record is a handy collection of Luther’s off-cuff statements, freshly translated from German into English and collected into topics. The chapter on “Advice to Pastors” is very good (pp. 205–240). The publisher includes a download URL in the introduction for those readers who wish to read Luther’s most racy comments. I posted more details about this book on Justin Taylor’s blog this summer.

Danny E. Olinger, A Geerhardus Vos Anthology: Biblical and Theological Insights Alphabetically Arranged (P&R, 2005). This book is not new but very useful when I want to quickly find Vos’ punch line on just about any theological topic. This book is a collection of brilliant quotes, organized topically. If I ever meet Olinger, I will give him a bear hug, lift him from the ground, and spin him in a circle! It’s that good.

ON VOCATION

Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0 (Gallup, 2007). This book is built around an online test that gauges personal strengths. The test revealed my five personal strengths after completing a 20-minute multiple-choice test. This simple exercise was life-focusing (no hyperbole!). The results of this test have helped bring clarity to my daily priorities and direction to the long-term goals that I set. The test and the book also helped me discover personal weaknesses. By seeing these weaknesses I can better appreciate the co-laborers that God has placed in my life. The test, and the direction offered in the book, has been incredibly encouraging, humbling, and helpful.

COMMENTARIES

Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews (Eerdmans, 2010). For years I have benefited from Peter O’Brien’s commentaries on Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians. In 2010 O’Brien gave us a commentary on Hebrews. I studied this commentary in my devotional times and was richly blessed by my deepening appreciation for the work of the Savior. This is a wonderful commentary.

Gary A. Stringer, editor, The Variorum Edition of the Poetry of John Donne, Volume 7, Part 1: The Holy Sonnets (Indiana Univ., 2005). Donne’s sonnets are brief but devotionally rewarding. To study the sonnets in greater detail I use this commentary. Just about every substantive comment ever published by a scholar on the sonnets has been collected into this “comprehensive digest.” Studying this commentary has made Donne’s sonnets come alive in striking depth, color, and detail. Commentaries like this one do more than provide information for the reader, they inform our interpretation, and they sharpen our ability to read other poetry.

Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, The Lord of The Rings: A Reader’s Companion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005). This is a paragraph-by-paragraph commentary of The Lord of the Rings. It is paginated to the retypeset 50th anniversary edition of LOTR. This commentary offers valuable background information that only the nerdiest Tolkien fans would ever discover without assistance. This beautifully designed commentary illuminates many details and helps me better appreciate the LOTR storyline.

BIOGRAPHY

Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Fortress, 2000). A huge biography (1,050 pages) written with detail, clarity, and warmth, reflecting the close relationship the author enjoyed with Bonhoeffer. I have completed about 30-percent of this book so far, choosing to read it slowly on Sunday mornings between devotions and breakfast. Bonhoeffer was brilliant, and Bethge proves to have been a faithful and capable biographer. I look forward to waking early on Sundays to meet with Bethge.

Bruce Gordon, Calvin (Yale, 2009). This is another biography that is ‘in progress.’ Gordon has done a fine job bringing Calvin to life in this book. Here is what struck me from the beginning: Gordon applauds Calvin’s genius and his theological contributions without glossing his failures. This is an honest biography of a spiritual giant, which is evident from the book’s opening words: “John Calvin was the greatest Protestant reformer of the sixteenth century, brilliant, visionary and iconic. The superior force of his mind was evident in all that he did. He was also ruthless, and an outstanding hater.” I don’t think I could have put this book down if not for a writing deadline that slapped this book from my hands.

BOOKS ENJOYED WITH THE FAMILY

Stephen J. Nichols, The Church History ABCs: Augustine and 25 Other Heroes of the Faith (Crossway, 2010). Teach kids church history and make them laugh, too? This brilliant book raises the standard for Christian books written for little munchkins. No child is too young to be introduced to pillars of church history like Zacharias Ursinus.

Sally Lloyd-Jones, Jesus Storybook Bible, Deluxe Edition (Zonderkidz, 2009). The deluxe edition includes an audio CD of the entire book, which our kids have listened to many times while riding around in the car or listening at night before bed. This audio version has made a deep impact in the lives of our kids. We are on our third copy of the book (they get trashed from heavy use in our home).

Peter J. Leithart, Wise Words: Family Stories That Bring the Proverbs to Life (Canon Press, 2003). The book is a collection of brief fantasy stories, that each illustrate a particular Proverb. Leithart is an imaginative writer and these short stories are loaded with allegorical biblical inferences. I know of nothing like it, and few books have gained more widespread appreciation from the kids. After dinner we read a chapter from this book as a family.

So that’s my list of 30 favorite reads from 2010.

Tell me, what were a few of your favorite books from the past year?

Extrabiblical Books and Scripture’s Sufficiency

Without extrabiblical literature we cannot make use of the Bible, argues John Frame. He makes this point in a chapter on the sufficiency of scripture (ch 32) in his new book, The Doctrine of the Word of God (P&R, 2010), 220–238. On pages 232–233, Frame writes this of our need of extrabiblical books in order to properly apply Scripture to our lives:

All our use of Scripture depends on our knowledge of extrabiblical data. Scripture contains no lessons in Hebrew or Greek grammar. To learn that, we must study extrabiblical information. Similarly, the other means that enable us to use Scripture, such as textual criticism, text editing, translation, publication, teaching, preaching, concordances, and commentaries, all depend on extrabiblical data. So in one sense even the first premises of moral syllogisms, the normative premises, depend on extrabiblical knowledge. So without extrabiblical premises, without general revelation, we cannot use Scripture at all.

Then he writes:

None of those considerations detracts from the primacy of Scripture as we have described it. Once we have a settled conviction of what Scripture teaches, that conviction must prevail over all other sources of knowledge. So Scripture must govern even the sciences that are used to analyze it: textual criticism, hermeneutics, and so on. … Scripture must remain primary. …

Frame’s argument culminates here:

Certainly, it is a misunderstanding, then, to think that the sufficiency of Scripture rules out the necessity of extrabiblical information. At every stage of our use of Scripture, we should legitimately refer both to the content of Scripture and to extrabiblical revelation. But each in its proper place: when we are convinced that a teaching is the teaching of Scripture itself (even when we used extrabiblical information in reaching that conviction), that teaching must take precedence over any conclusion derived from outside Scripture.

That New Book Smell

As you may know I suffer from abibliophobia, the fear of running out of good reading material. And of course this means that I love getting new books. Thankfully I have a job, and some associations, that ensure that I get new books on a very regular basis. And in one of those new books—Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr.—I came across a letter about receiving new books.

Here’s the background.

In 1779 John Newton published a 3-volume collection of hymns titled Olney Hymns. It contained 348 hymns, including Amazing Grace, and were mostly written by Newton himself (William Cowper pitched in 68). Upon hearing of the book’s release John Ryland Jr., a friend of Newton’s, wanted a set for himself. Ryland wrote Newton to express his anticipation. Newton mailed him a free set. But ahead of the books Newton sent the following letter:

The hymn books will be with you soon, how soon I know not. Your hungry curiosity will not be long in appeasing. When you have read the preface, twirled over the pages, run your eye down the tables of contents, and have the book by you, you will feel much as you do about any other book that has been lying by you seven years. At least I have often found it so (but perhaps your heart is not just like mine). I have longed for a book, counted the hours till it came, anticipated a thousand things about it, flew to it at first sight with eagerness as a hawk at its prey; and in a little time it has been as quiet, as if placed upon the upper shelf in a bookseller’s shop. [Wise Counsel, 127]

How true it is.

Librophiliac

is a word that denotes someone who suffers from an inordinate love of libraries. Two librophiliacs (always more dangerous in pairs), after being “shocked into a library induced euphoria” (yikes), assembled a compendium of photographs of some of the world’s most beautiful libraries. See the collection here. Beautiful.

Warning

The following video contains images may not be suitable for those suffering from bibliomania. Viewer discretion is advised.

Al Mohler – Study Video by Together for the Gospel on Vimeo

HT: JT

Indexing Books (Paper/E-/Audio)

Two things I wanted to accomplish this weekend—lay a new wood floor in our main level living room and, secondly, finish the novel The Betrayal. This meant my weekend was going to be filled with the sound of carbide teeth scraping through hard wood planks and the complete solemnity of reading. If I ever write an autobiography it will be titled My Life of Books and Saw Dust. So overall it was a loud weekend and I finished the floor this afternoon. The novel will take another day.

As I opened up my computer this evening to dig out of a pile of weekend emails, I opened an email question from blog reader Alyona. It’s a good question and one I thought I would answer publicly. She writes:

I’ve been reading your blog, and after seeing a post on organizing a library, I decided to ask you a related question. How do you read (listen) to the electronic books you’ve got? I mean, while reading paper book you can underline it, write in the margins etc, but what to do with electronic ones? Since I’m living in a country with no public libraries, all my books are borrowed or digital. Can you give any advice on how to read them more productively, retain information and be able to refer to selected passages in them more efficiently? Thanks a lot and God bless you!

Wonderful question, Alyona.

Currently I archive about 2,000 e-books on my computer that are searchable and readily available whenever I need them for research. I enjoy reading books on my computer and Kindle device, but you are right, e-books and audio books pose a problem for indexing, and that’s bad news for a quote-collecting-junkie like me.

The answer to your question is yes, I do have a process. And I hope to develop my process in further detail in the near future. For now let me say I use a simple Excel database on my computer that provides me with endless empty boxes that I can fill with references. I’m aware there are computer programs that will do the same thing, but I prefer a database. It has worked well for me over the years and I have no plans to change.

I use a four-column approach. This allows me to type in relevant information for each individual quote. In the first column I type the broad category (lets say, “Grace”), then I type in the secondary and more precise category (“definition of”), and the author in the third (“Jerry Bridges”). In the fourth column I type the quote out in the box (if I will not have access to the original source) or I simply add the book title and page numbers for easy reference in the future (for print books or e-books I own).

This simple Excel database provides me with a lot of needed flexibility to archive insights, quotes, and random info I want to keep on hand. My simple four-column approach makes it possible for me to categorize various sources of media. I can archive the text from blog posts, copy-and-paste from websites, record notes on audio podcasts, note YouTube videos, capture song lyrics, file away an audio book excerpt transcript, make notes on an MP3 file that can be found in my iTunes folder, reference both electronic and print books, cite the content from pages and paragraphs and individual sentences, and I can archive even down to individual Twitter lines.

As you can see, my process allows me the flexibility to capture broadly differing sizes of information in one place. Here in the columns I will archive a reference to an entire book, a podcast, a paragraph, or a single sentence. It really does not matter the size of length of the media.

Maybe it would help to show you a picture of what a few references in my database look like when I sort them alphabetically. I’ll show you three references to parenting that I captured in the past 3 weeks.

excel-database

The first is a reference to a book in my library. I merely need a general paraphrase of the point and the page number to find it again. The second reference points to an online article. I can easily find the entire article using the excerpt I’ve copied but likely this excerpt is what I found most helpful from the article. The third reference was a Tweet published a few weeks back by biblical counselor Ted Tripp.

The challenge is to develop your own list of categories and sub-categories to provide the framework for your archive of quotes and references. This will be different for every person.

Two benefits of this system come to mind.

First, when I print the full list I can review substantial points that I never want to forget. That 20-page document of quotes contains some of the most important things I need to remember and being able to print them out and to re-read them for review is very helpful.

Secondly, this method of organizing information frees our books from the badgering questions of where to shelve them, as if books are to be shelved in a single topic. Some books—like J.I. Packer’s Knowing God—contain as many topics as there are chapters. Where would you shelve it? The four-column approach provides me the flexibility to electronically shelve it in as many topics as I wish and unburdens me from this age-old question. And I’m kicking around the idea of organizing my library by author name and keeping an extensive record of the topics in my electronic database. Pre-database I would never have considered organizing my library by author.

Well I have strayed off the path a bit in my random answer, Alyona. But is it helpful? Do you have any further questions? Thanks for reading!

My Library

Blog readers, you are like one big, happy, functional family to me. And to those of you who quietly lurk, waiting for the next round in the infralapsarianism vs. supralapsarianism debate to erupt, you are part of the family too, making us a bit less functional, but more like a real American family.

Which is why I would love to invite you over to my house to grill burgers and talk books. I can imagine us now—eating, laughing, disagreeing, and reconciling like real blog families do, then stepping into my modest library to peruse titles and talk about books and theology until the wee hours of the night.

But alas; we are separated by distance.

And my library will not fit in a camera frame.

But if I had a dollar for every time you requested a picture of my library I could have easily funded my film project: My Library (2009).

My Library was written, produced, funded, filmed, and acted out by me. It had a total budget of $0mil, was filmed in less than 8 minutes, and was uploaded to YouTube in a torturous span of 3 hours. So I hope you like it.

And please leave nice comments. Nothing like: “Wow. Why are you so disorganized and messy, man? I’m amazed you can find anything!”

Be nice.

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