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"arrogant twaddle"
February 11, 2011 5:13 AM   Subscribe

Martin Amis hates children, ok, not children but children's literature. "People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children's book," Amis said, in a sideways excursion from a chat about John Self, the antihero of his 1984 novel Money. "I say, 'If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book', but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable." Remarks about children's books made by Martin Amis on the BBC's new book programme Faulks on Fiction, broadcast this week, have caused anger and offence among children's writers.
posted by Fizz (111 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Who would ask Martin Amis to write a children's book?
posted by drezdn at 5:14 AM on February 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm waiting for Chuck Palahniuk's debut in children's literature.
posted by Memo at 5:19 AM on February 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


Time's Arrow would be just fabulous as a pop-up book.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:20 AM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I once heard Terry Pratchett discuss his experience writing for adults and for children. For his children's literature, he had awards -- and for the adult literature, he had truck loads of money. (I'm not a genious like Pratchett -- it was funnier when he said it).

Anyways, Pratchett's kids books are amazing and I like them even better than I like his "adult" books.
posted by jb at 5:21 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Warning: If you came here to snark about Amis, you have Julie Burchill's example to live up to:
'If Martin Amis had stuck to writing about smoking, shagging and snooker he might have been the next Nick Hornby.'

Disclaimer: I enjoy Amis's prose and do my best to ignore his attention-seeking media pronouncements.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 5:22 AM on February 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


"...in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable." -Martin Amis

"The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self." -Igor Stravinsky
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:26 AM on February 11, 2011 [23 favorites]


I don't normally like Burchill, but that was brutally brilliant.

Amis' quote ("the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me") seems odd - children aren't going to understand some of the language in his books, or what he's writing about in general (and arguably, much of his writing isn't really appropriate for children). So either we give children a copy of Money or London Fields and tell them 'deal with it', or we write literature that works on their level. I suspect the latter is probably a better approach.

On reading teh Guardian article, I see he addresses that: "I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write". Well, OK, but maybe there's an art and a skill to writing simply? Good writing isn't just about using the most complicated words that one can, surely?
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:29 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I shouldn't have given my nephew a copy of Dead Babies for his 5th birthday?
posted by nathancaswell at 5:30 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


"The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self." -Igor Stravinsky

"Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room" -- William Wordsworth
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:33 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


So I'm reading this book to my daughter and the first line is, "Jim put on his hat." And I'm thinking, this utterly banal opening line is worthy of the mantle of "writing"? This diseased prattle is supposed to follow in the footsteps of Pynchon? Why, I ought to write a nasty, snark-filled review in the New Yorker.
posted by fungible at 5:34 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Remarks about children's books made by Martin Amis... have caused anger and offence among children's writers.

The ones with serious brain injuries, presumably?
posted by orthogonality at 5:36 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


So I'm reading this book to my daughter and the first line is, "Jim put on his hat." And I'm thinking, this utterly banal opening line is worthy of the mantle of "writing"?

How about this, then: "Jim put on his hat, which was the color of a television tuned to a dead station."
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:39 AM on February 11, 2011 [24 favorites]


Mart's dad had similar views. This story comes from his autobiography, about a time he met Roald Dahl:

"Dahl suggests to Amis that he should write a children's book 'cos "That's where the money is today, believe me." Amis replies "I couldn't do it...I don't think I enjoyed children's books much when I was a child myself. I've got no feeling for that kind of thing." Dahl: "Never mind, the little bastards'd swallow it."

(Couldn't find the complete extract, but it's worth reading Memoirs for the full story alone)
posted by DanCall at 5:39 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tolerable restraints on the freedom of a fiction author: Intolerable restraints on the freedom of a fiction author: posted by LogicalDash at 5:45 AM on February 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write

Does he know what "register" means? Always singing in the highest register one is capable of is not exactly a sane way to make music. I wouldn't mention it, except that he does seem to make such a thing of his special gift for words.

But then, if his position is "I don't care to think about to best communicate to a particular audience," I suppose I should swallow my complaints and just say "Thanks for the warning."
posted by tyllwin at 5:46 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Infinite Jest: So either we give children a copy of Money or London Fields and tell them 'deal with it', or we write literature that works on their level. I suspect the latter is probably a better approach.

...and I suspect that Martin Amis would agree. He just wouldn't want to be the one producing this child-level literature. People seem to be generalising comments on how Amis feels about writing children's books himself, to opinions on children's literature altogether. I'm not sure this is helpful, or at all his intention.
posted by Dysk at 5:48 AM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh for pity's sake. The guy was expressing his own, personal view of why he, personally, does not want to write children's books, and now the offence brigade are squealing? Fuck them. Seriously. The pitiful, whining wankers deserve to be offended. God's turban and tutu, I'm sick to the back teeth of people screeching and complaining every damned time someone says something they don't like. There are far too many of the tissue-skinned bleeders around, and by Christ they weren't beaten soundly enough as children.

So I shouldn't have given my nephew a copy of Dead Babies for his 5th birthday?
posted by nathancaswell at 1:30 PM on February 11


Marvellous book, that. But I think you need to be at least ten to appreciate it.
posted by Decani at 5:51 AM on February 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


'If Martin Amis had stuck to writing about smoking, shagging and snooker he might have been the next Nick Hornby.'

Very true, and Julie Burchill is one to know; if she had stuck to writing about drugs, pop music, and bisexuality she might have been the next Camile Paglia.

Every year Amis fils becomes little less distinguishable from Amis père.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:51 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Intolerable restraints on the freedom of a fiction author: Genre.

"It's supposed to be about big men! In tights!" -Jack Lipnick
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:51 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm waiting for Chuck Palahniuk's debut in children's literature.

Lullaby is all about children.
posted by Fizz at 5:51 AM on February 11, 2011


"Everybody poops. Some people do it with very famous fathers and get written up in big glossy magazines."
By Marty Amis
posted by Enigmark at 5:52 AM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Heh. Well, assides from his generally frumpiness and disagreable implictaion that writing childrens fiction is for people with brain damage I don't exactly disagree with him- All the best kids stuff is by people who aren't compromising to meet a target audience.
posted by Artw at 5:53 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


dead channel
posted by fixedgear at 5:54 AM on February 11, 2011


I've always thought that the difference between great children's literature and terrible children's literature is that the great stuff is written for everyone, and happens to be about (usually) kids and is written in a way kids might find accessible. The terrible stuff is written for kids, and works from within a pre-established set of confines and language that hobble innovation and creative thought.

I suspect that some "serious" novelists labour under the apprehension that children's books are not written with the same joy and verve and imagination as other books, and are instead taken on as a grinding and manacled chore or the pursuit of those who can't write "above" a child's reading level. They're seeing confinement where the children's authors are just seeing a different palette to paint from.

Amis's viewpoint seems like an orchestra conductor putting down Bob Dylan, or a multi-media performance artist poo-pooing people who "just" dance. It's a bit myopic. Just because somebody chooses to work with a different toolbox doesn't mean they can't produce equally creative and equally profound works.
posted by Shepherd at 5:56 AM on February 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


Anyway, Time's Arrow is not nearly as good as the Tharg's Time Twister it's based on.
posted by Artw at 5:56 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


dead channel

Right you are. Hell, I shoulda looked that up, instead of just going from my godawful memory.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:56 AM on February 11, 2011


Audio book of Dick and Jane as written by Bret Easton Ellis and narrated by Christopher Walken.
posted by Ritchie at 5:58 AM on February 11, 2011


Brother Dysk: fair comment, though I'd still take issue with the latter part of his statement "I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write". I'm really not sure that writing for children should be characterised that way. (On preview, see Shepherd's comment).
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:00 AM on February 11, 2011


Next time Martin Amis eats a taco a tiny Neil Gaiman will appear inside of it and tell him to fuck off.
posted by Artw at 6:01 AM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Having spent the past few years reading chilldrens' books to my oldest son (now 4), I've begun to notice how incredibly skilled the best childrens' writers are. The difference between a good childrens' writer and a bad one is like night and day. There are some stories I find myself reading again and again, while others mysteriously disappear off to the local charity shop while he's at school.

My son, on the other hand, has terrible taste in literature.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:01 AM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


To expand on what Shepherd said, part of the problem is what is considered "children's literature" today. Historically, stories meant for children have been full of awful stuff -- think of the original version of Hansel and Gretel. Traditional fairy tales are full of cannibalism, torture, and even hints of sexual violation.

A more modern example is The Grounding of Group 6, a novel I suspect wouldn't get published today.
posted by localroger at 6:02 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading to my kid (also 4) I'm overjoyed when she's picked something well written - the alternative usually being stumbling through some (mostly Disney related) media tie-in hackwork which looks bad on the page but is far worse when you actually try to speak it out loud.
posted by Artw at 6:03 AM on February 11, 2011


I totally agree with Martin Amis, and I think that those who don't agree with Martin Amis are simply unfit to have an opinion on whether or not they agree with Martin Amis in regard to the statement made by Martin Amis about the opinion of Martin Amis which was recorded in the abovementioned article about Martin Amis featuring Martin Amis.

For many years now, Martin Amis's books, in which Martin Amis shines a profound intellectual light on the modern environment in which Martin Amis is forced to live, have set new, high standards in the literary arts that Martin Amis practices. Martin Amis's fiction is story-telling of the most intense kind, a style now globally recognised as "Martin Amis's"; and Martin Amis's essays are intellectual feasts that make other, non-Martin Amis works, pale in comparison to the works of Martin Amis.

These Martin Amis comments by Martin Amis are a "Eureka!" moment in the Martin Amis philosophy of Martin Amis. All over Martin Amis, thousands of fans of Martin Amis agree with these weighty words of Martin Amis by Martin Amis. Martin Amis went so far as to call Martin Amis: "a genius of the highest Martin Amis". I pray to Martin Amis that Martin Amis himself will defend Martin Amis from the ignorant reaction of those other than Martin Amis.

Martin Amis,

Martin Amis.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 6:07 AM on February 11, 2011 [22 favorites]


I'm waiting for Chuck Palahniuk's debut in children's literature.

On the other hand, if you had started reading Roald Dahl's work in chronological order, I don't think you would have predicted The BFG from reading "Beware of the Dog" and "Man from the South."
posted by Mayor West at 6:10 AM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've always thought that the difference between great children's literature and terrible children's literature is that the great stuff is written for everyone, and happens to be about (usually) kids and is written in a way kids might find accessible

"It certainly is my opinion that a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then."--C.S. Lewis
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:19 AM on February 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


If I was writing good children's books, I would not care a whit what someone who writes lousy books for adults, and no children's books at all, has to say about writing for children.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:28 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The implication that children's literature is a lesser task that requires less intelligence and capability from the writer than writing for adults is stupidly, offensively wrong, but then Martin Amis is something of a tool who never manages to talk about himself or his own concerns (or his father, heh) with any measure of objectivity.

But it's reasonable for him to decide that children's lit isn't his forte. I do believe writers generally have certain limitations within themselves as to what they can or cannot write, and that it doesn't work to try to manufacture a different voice. A lot of writers are good at one genre or writing for one kind of audience, but when they try to write some other kind of fiction it doesn't work. I'll never be a literary fiction writer - I can only produce light fiction. And I'm fine with that. I'd rather produce good or at least workmanlike light fiction than some piece of pretentious crap.
posted by orange swan at 6:31 AM on February 11, 2011


A more modern example is The Grounding of Group 6, a novel I suspect wouldn't get published today.

Yes it would. If Neil Shusterman's Unwind can get published, Grounding of Group 6 would be cake.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:36 AM on February 11, 2011


God's turban and tutu, I'm sick to the back teeth of people screeching and complaining every damned time someone says something they don't like.

Kind of ironic! You sure do like getting spitting mad and vociferous at the opinions of others, Decani.
posted by Drexen at 6:41 AM on February 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


How about this, then: "Jim put on his hat, which was the color of a television tuned to a dead channel."

Kid: "How do you tune a TV? Like a guitar?"
Me: "No, like when you change the channel to one without anything on it."
Kid: "All the channels have something on it. That doesn't make sense."
Me: "Like you know how there's nothing on channel 99, because we don't have an apartment entrance camera -- there's nothing there."
Kid: "Well, the TV goes right from 98 to 100, but if I type it in...so the hat is a bright sunny blue, with a big blocky '99' in the corner."
...
later
...
Kid: "What do you mean ringing each payphone as the guy walked past it? A whole WALL of payphones? I was four the last time I saw ONE payphone, and that was in a truck stop parking lot. You said this book is supposed to be about the future."
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:41 AM on February 11, 2011 [18 favorites]


Yeah, I'm thinking

"Live Babies"?
"Pocket Money"?
"London Playing Fields?"?
"Big Red Dog"?

c'mon, Marty boy, work with me here...
posted by Segundus at 6:46 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmmm. I dunno. When I was around 12 I read Borges, Anne Frank, Ray Bradbury, William Golding, Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens. And those books stayed with me. I also read a ton of children's lit that have completely vanished and evaporated from my brain.

I don't have any children so I'm just wondering here, but isn't it better to introduce them to grown up literature as soon as possible? There is this whole debate that children who read Harry Potter never" graduate to harder stuff. I've seen this a little bit with my younger (15-18 year old) cousins. They go from HP to Twilight to Percy Jackson & the Olympians to...
posted by Omon Ra at 6:50 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Amis' quote ("the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me") seems odd - children aren't going to understand some of the language in his books, or what he's writing about in general (and arguably, much of his writing isn't really appropriate for children). So either we give children a copy of Money or London Fields and tell them 'deal with it', or we write literature that works on their level. I suspect the latter is probably a better approach.

Or, alternatively, we let someone else write the children's books.

Guy was explaining why he didn't want to do something. Why the hell is anyone upset? You're in love with offense.
posted by grobstein at 6:50 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just came in here to recommend Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom to anyone who's a fan of children's literature. She was the head of Harper's Department of Books for Boys and Girls for over 3 decades. She's an engaging writer and it offers and interesting look into the world of a children's book editor.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:58 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Guy was explaining why he didn't want to do something. Why the hell is anyone upset?

There's a fine line between saying (a) "I'm not interested in writing children's books" and saying (b) "sure, I might write children's books if I had brain damage."

Oh hang on, it's actually a thick line. It's a line so thick you can see it from space.

If you can't see the difference between (a) and (b), I don't think I can help you out here.

You're in love with offense.

We're in love with people not being condescending douchenozzles about genre work that isn't to their personal taste. There is, again, a line there.
posted by Shepherd at 6:58 AM on February 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


Metafilter: the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:02 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't have any children so I'm just wondering here, but isn't it better to introduce them to grown up literature as soon as possible? There is this whole debate that children who read Harry Potter never" graduate to harder stuff. I've seen this a little bit with my younger (15-18 year old) cousins. They go from HP to Twilight to Percy Jackson & the Olympians to...

It depends somewhat on what the adults in the kid's life introduce next. My son graduated from Harry Potter to completely loathe Twilight and Percy Jackson, but he loves Neil Gaiman and all sorts of non-fiction. He turns 14 this week and has expressed interest in reading some of the David Foster Wallace books we have on our shelves. Most kids only have other kids for reading influences. For that matter, if I read what many of my peers read, I'd be stuck with shit.
posted by cooker girl at 7:44 AM on February 11, 2011


On the one hand, that seems a bit daft. But on the other hand, I've really enjoyed Martin Amis's work, so I'm inclined to give him a pass.
posted by moss at 7:46 AM on February 11, 2011


When I say "enjoyed Martin Amis's work," I of course mean "enjoyed a couple of very amusing Twitter memes that happened to use his name."
posted by moss at 7:47 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]



I don't have any children so I'm just wondering here, but isn't it better to introduce them to grown up literature as soon as possible?


I don't think so; there is an age at which you just don't have the life experience to deal with adultery, parenting, psychosexual motivations and mid-life crises as the subjects of literature, and there's an age at which you don't have the literary experience to deal with deeply buried subtext and certain flavors of experimentation. (I think this may be a reason why so many smart teens get into science fiction -- they're reading at an adult level, but don't quite have the emotional sophistication to deal with some of the issues in mainstream adult literature. Though certainly there is science fiction that's extremely sophisticated, you can also still read about people on a quest saving the world).
posted by Jeanne at 7:52 AM on February 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


Who?
posted by Brocktoon at 7:52 AM on February 11, 2011


He says he hates children's books, but would he hate them in a box? Would he hate them with a fox?
posted by w0mbat at 7:56 AM on February 11, 2011 [25 favorites]


Sonya Hartnett and Margo Lanagan and Geraldine McCaughrean, certainly, are not just stepping stones up to something more adult.
posted by Jeanne at 7:56 AM on February 11, 2011


I don't have any children so I'm just wondering here, but isn't it better to introduce them to grown up literature as soon as possible?

I was an early and avid reader -- I remember reading Treasure Island sitting on the couch in the home we lived in before I started Kindergarten. My family thought they were helping me by giving me books at or above the mathematically-calculated reading level my teachers came up with, but being given high-school level books mostly turned me off of reading.

When I was seven or eight I got the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series from my grandmother -- the massive flow of satirical cultural references was beyond my ability to understand. I could read it, but I couldn't comprehend it.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:00 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Guy was explaining why he didn't want to do something. Why the hell is anyone upset? You're in love with offense.

I'm not upset by Amis' comments, I said I find them odd, and I'm disagreeing with them. He is, of course, personally entitled to write what he wants. See Shepherd's comment for why I disagree with Amis's more general arguments (the bit about writing at a lower register).

[for what it's worth I'm a big fan of Amis' novels. The author, not so much]
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:01 AM on February 11, 2011


I'm going to write a children's book about a children's book author who has to do massive amounts of hookers and blow in order to write anything for the little shits. I will call it "The biography of a Roald Dahl."
posted by happyroach at 8:18 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the first link:

Coats said that as a children's writer she certainly did not "write down" to her young readership. "Children are astute observers of tone – they loathe adults who patronise them with a passion

... and this explains the success of Harry Potter how?

Seriously. I don't doubt that there's some pretty amazing literature aimed mainly at children out there, but most of what I pick up and flip through feels like it's got exactly the same kind of patronizing voice that many adults use when they speak to kids; a tone of voice that sort of works when the kids are quite small, but come a certain age (ten?), it starts to grate (at least it did for me -- not that I was consciously aware of it).

Hmmm. I dunno. When I was around 12 I read Borges, Anne Frank, Ray Bradbury, William Golding, Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens. And those books stayed with me. I also read a ton of children's lit that have completely vanished and evaporated from my brain.

Different authors and books but this is very much my experience. Up until I was almost twelve, it was the regular stuff of the time (Hardy Boys, various children's classics, wilderness adventure stuff, whatever boring thing the teachers were shoving down our throats at school). Then, by a moment of parental absentmindedness, I managed to see the adult movie LITTLE BIG MAN, which totally flipped my lid. A week or two later, I noticed a paperback copy of the book lying around at a friend's place, picked it up and got swallowed by a world of raucous energy, wit, violence, sex, obsession, OBSERVATION. It was like my whole life had been canned spaghetti and suddenly I'd stumbled into a proper Italian restaurant.

I fell in love. The Godfather was next, then the James Bond books and any number of lurid detective novels: hardly high-end literature but man, I was ravenous for it.

So anyway, back to Mr. Amis. I can see his point and, grumpy choice of words aside, I support it big time. We spend way more of our lives as adults than we do as children and, much as childhood is a "wonderland of fancy and imagination", it's a realm that it's our evolutionary business to escape from any weird way we can. And getting pandered to by adults who would really rather being doing something else ain't helping in this regard.
posted by philip-random at 8:21 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Reading to my daughter, I've marveled at how many books in fact do appear to be written by brain-damaged authors. The bar seems set so low I've wondered what tripe won't get published; the true gems seem so few and far between. That said, maybe he just hasn't run across enough gems yet to know better.
*off to write a children's book with one hand while playing XBox with the other - see you in the Hamptons.
posted by hypersloth at 8:21 AM on February 11, 2011


I don't think so; there is an age at which you just don't have the life experience to deal with adultery, parenting, psychosexual motivations and mid-life crises as the subjects of literature, and there's an age at which you don't have the literary experience to deal with deeply buried subtext and certain flavors of experimentation.

When I was seven or eight I got the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series from my grandmother -- the massive flow of satirical cultural references was beyond my ability to understand. I could read it, but I couldn't comprehend it.

Yeah, but so what. At 12 I didn't understand why Anne Frank had to be locked up in an attic. I didn't get that Borges was writing funny stories. I didn't question why Bradbury's astronauts could breathe w/o helmets on Mars. I didn't comprehend the allegorical implications of Lord of the Flies. A lot of that stuff I didn't question until years later, but they planted a seed. I think children around that age (what's considered Young Adult) are a lot less fragile than modern culture wants to admit.
posted by Omon Ra at 8:37 AM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was reading my sister's O-level texts at six, so he can knob off. When he writes something as funny as I found both Hitchhiker's Guide and Tracey Beaker when I was eight, I will give him my money.
posted by mippy at 8:43 AM on February 11, 2011


A lot of that stuff I didn't question until years later, but they planted a seed. I think children around that age (what's considered Young Adult) are a lot less fragile than modern culture wants to admit.

Or, more to the point, we're not doing kids of that age any favors by essentially encouraging them to remain fragile. It reminds me of the early days of punk rock when many tried to write it off as reinforcing a worldview that was disillusioning for young people ... as if it were bad thing to be stripping young people of their illusions.

If I were putting together a reading curriculum for middle-school age kids, it would be one disillusioning book after another (full of fun stuff like sex, violence, laughing at authority) ... with intensive discussion of the various themes and provocations as part of the program. In effect, what it would be saying is, "Look around, young humans. Much of the world your parents and grandparents have made is a horrible mess. Your job is not to grow up and make the same horrific mistakes."
posted by philip-random at 8:46 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I was seven or eight I got the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series from my grandmother -- the massive flow of satirical cultural references was beyond my ability to understand. I could read it, but I couldn't comprehend it.


I read the first Adrian Mole book at the same age and it sparked a great interest in 80s culture with me. You can read it as a teen book, and then with a re-read a few years later, the satire reveals itself further.
posted by mippy at 8:47 AM on February 11, 2011


Kind of ironic! You sure do like getting spitting mad and vociferous at the opinions of others, Decani.
posted by Drexen at 2:41 PM on February 11 [4 favorites +]


And do you see how that is not at all the same thing as squealing that I'm offended by them?
posted by Decani at 8:55 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tracy Beaker, funny? It's darker, in a way, than Amis's late 70's stuff.
posted by tigrefacile at 9:06 AM on February 11, 2011


When I was four I read War and Peace. In Russian.
posted by fixedgear at 9:07 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Or, more to the point, we're not doing kids of that age any favors by essentially encouraging them to remain fragile. It reminds me of the early days of punk rock when many tried to write it off as reinforcing a worldview that was disillusioning for young people ... as if it were bad thing to be stripping young people of their illusions.

Young people are kept weak and stunted on purpose. Historically, older generations have always feared usurpation from the younger generations, and suppressed them accordingly. Past methods were more overtly forceful, but these days they're a bit more sophisticated and subtle, often operating under the guise of "protecting" children instead.
posted by PsychoKick at 9:11 AM on February 11, 2011


Infinite Jest: "Good writing isn't just about using the most complicated words that one can, surely?"

Indubitably.
posted by boo_radley at 9:32 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I was four I read the complete works of Shakespeare in pig Latin.
posted by blucevalo at 9:37 AM on February 11, 2011


When I was four, I wrote War and Peace. In Russian. I recreated it, not transcribing it but immersing myself in it so that I would make it, word for word, as Tolstoy did.

The story does not end happily - I then tried the same thing with Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote and promptly disappeared in a vortex of recursion.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:41 AM on February 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


Who is Martin Amis? I've only ever heard of that Sir Kingsley fellow.
posted by New England Cultist at 9:48 AM on February 11, 2011


Unwind (publishable today) vs. Group 6 (probably not so much):

Take away the abortion angle and Unwind is every "fugitives fleeing the bad police" story ever told, which the average 6 year old has already seen about 100 times. The reasons the three protagonists are to be unwound are flat and impersonal. Two of the kids are poor innocent victims and one is guilty only of "getting into fights a lot." There is no sense of betrayal; it's simply a law which everyone takes for granted, which spells your doom. Then there turns out to be an underground, and it all gets much bigger than any of the protagonists. Only the abortion angle makes this seem remotely controversial, and that slides over the transom because we all know every 6 year old has heard of the whole abortion thing anyway.

Group 6 starts with five cases of deep parental betrayal; these parents don't have the justifications that the parents in Unwind enjoy; they have the resources to deal with their kids but instead they lie to them that everything will be OK before sending them off to die. One of the kids drinks, one is a slut, and one has a gambling habit. All of these characteristics become key to the plot at one point or another, and while they are in hiding some of them pair up and actually have sex, and it turns out to be a positive thing for several of them. The resolution doesn't save the world; there is a range of reactions to their inevitable return from "pay up or else" to "no, really, I never want to see you again."

There are several things in there I think would get your manuscript shitcanned if you tried to get it published today. I think you would have a problem with bad parents. Sure, you can have parents who are misguided, parents who are overwhelmed and make a mistake, maybe even parents who are outright Snidely Whiplash evil, but you don't have parents who are regular well to do upper middle class people who just wake up one day and say fuck it, I'm tired of dealing with this brat, let's kill him. I think you would have deep problems portraying the drinking, gambling, or sex in anything but the most moralistically negative light. I think you would have problems both with the character who uses the opportunity to blackmail his parents and the one who cuts his off completely. These are not the resolutions your editors are looking for.
posted by localroger at 9:48 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is the same Martin Amis who wrote Invasion of the Space Invaders, yes?

What a pseud.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:51 AM on February 11, 2011


The guy was expressing his own, personal view of why he, personally, does not want to write children's books, and now the offence brigade are squealing?

It's the rudeness factor. A simple "no" would have done. Or, "not my sort of thing, really."

But then I would argue fiction in general is not Amis' thing. Rachel Papers (if you like that sort of thing) worked okay mostly because it was semi-autobiographical. His other novels, well- a little contrived (sometimes a lot contrived) a little too clever by half. Prose spiked just a little too much with creme de Nabokov.

Just like his response to the question.

Question is, was the jokey snottiness in this instance just his nature or is he trying to get himself talked about. Haven't seen his name around for awhile, myself.

Some of his essays are good.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:56 AM on February 11, 2011


I think you would have a problem with bad parents.

You really don't read much current YA if you think that. There are so many bad parents in YA these days that there was a jeremiad against them in the Times.

One of the kids drinks, one is a slut, and one has a gambling habit. All of these characteristics become key to the plot at one point or another, and while they are in hiding some of them pair up and actually have sex, and it turns out to be a positive thing for several of them.

And now I know that you don't read much current YA if you think that any of this would be a problem. Cf. Uglies and The Hunger Games and Looking for Alaska and Living Dead Girls, &c., &c.

I have read YA novels with positive depictions of incest, and at least one YA novel with a depiction of cannibalism. Suicide, BDSM, gang bangs, you name it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:58 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me

Come to think of it, that one line probably explains why so much writing in general is so unreadable.

If you don't care about your audience, why should they care about you?
posted by IndigoJones at 9:59 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


while they are in hiding some of them pair up and actually have sex, and it turns out to be a positive thing for several of them.
In How I Live Now, the fifteen-year-old protagonist has sex with her first cousin, and it's a fine and positive thing. I'm thinking you don't read a lot of contemporary kids' books.
posted by craichead at 10:06 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


"I have read YA novels with positive depictions of incest, and at least one YA novel with a depiction of cannibalism. Suicide, BDSM, gang bangs, you name it"

Blimey. I remember when 'Junk' was controversial. But I remember reading a YA book from the 80s about a blended family, with the brother falling for the sister...don;t think it was ever consummated, though.
posted by mippy at 10:16 AM on February 11, 2011


If I were putting together a reading curriculum for middle-school age kids, it would be one disillusioning book after another ... with intensive discussion of the various themes and provocations as part of the program.

We had this when I was in school - it was called the Great Books program, I think? Tons of stories about kids dying or doing fucked up things that we would read and talk about.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:21 AM on February 11, 2011


"I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write".

He's a fucking liar.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:30 AM on February 11, 2011


The guy was expressing his own, personal view of why he, personally, does not want to write children's books, and now the offence brigade are squealing?

No, it sounded like he was expressing his own, personal view that writers of children's books must be brain-damaged haters of True Art and Freedom. He comes across like a jackhole, which shouldn't surprise anyone, really.

It seems that people are expressing their own, personal opinions that it's tiresome to hear Amis flap his ignorance in the public street.
posted by rtha at 10:30 AM on February 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Winnie the Pooh; The Wind in the Willows; The Moomin books (all the way through to Moominvalley in November); Truckers, Diggers and Wings and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett; Swallows and Amazons; Tom's Midnight Garden; The God Beneath the Sea; The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Owl Service; The Molesworth books.

And that's just what this bourgeois middle-aged man can think of off the top of his head. Dozens if not hundreds of superb books for children are published every year.

Martin Amis: why does anyone pay attention to this pompous, absurd little man?
posted by Grangousier at 11:02 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow, another fan of the Moomin books! Love those.

How about The Phantom Tollbooth? Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH? These are flat out classics and can be read and enjoyed by adults as well as children.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:25 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Remarks about children's books made by Martin Amis on the BBC's new book programme Faulks on Fiction, broadcast this week, have caused anger and offence among children's writers.

I'm confused. Children's writers are angry and offended by the fact that Martin Amis is a dick?
posted by steambadger at 11:26 AM on February 11, 2011


I'm overjoyed when she's picked something well written - the alternative usually being stumbling through some (mostly Disney related) media tie-in hackwork which looks bad on the page but is far worse when you actually try to speak it out loud.

I made it a policy not to read Disney tie-ins to my kids before they were even born, when I stumbled across the Disney book of Cinderella. As she walks into the ballroom in all her finery, Prince Charming falls in love with her at first sight because she, "looked so adorable."

Really, adorable? That's the word you want to use there? Is he going to marry her or adopt her, for heaven's sake?

I agree there are excellent books out there for kids, though. My son read the Harry Potter novels, sure, and he went on to other stuff. He's now tackling the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He's fifteen.

When his older brother was assigned Night at the same age, I read it as well, and the stark honesty just gobsmacked me. It was so matter-of-fact in its description of atrocities, the people in it so real, that I knew it would stay with me for a long time (and it has).

So, older brother reads it, and we are having some serious discussions about the novel (one of my favorite things, talking about books with my kids). Younger brother wants to read Night, too, and he is 13. I struggled with that, but I felt that if he wanted to try it, I should let him. They both read the book, and last year we went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. I sat on a bench and cried. They grew somber and then asked what was for lunch.

Kids are resilient, and they can handle more than adults give them credit for, sometimes.
posted by misha at 11:30 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Narnia, all of the many novels and stories by L.M. Montgomery, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh -- these are all books I read as a child which not only stuck with me throughout life, but which I have read and re-read as an adult because they were just so enjoyable.

And to this list, I could add reams of lesser known authors and books, like Jane Yolen or Tamora Pierce, The girl from the Emeraline island, Alan Mendohsoln, the boy from Mars, Talking to dragons -- that was a novel so good that I remembered the story for years after I had forgotten the author and title, until I finally found it again via askmefi.

Maybe people who forget children's literature weren't lucky enough to read novels such as these.

that said, I don't think that children's literature has gotten worse. There are bad books in every genre -- indeed, in my experience, the percentage of badly written, shallow, "candy" books in the adult genres is far higher than in children's lit, where librarians and teachers have more influence than grocery stores.
posted by jb at 11:42 AM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dahl is a better writer than Amis will ever be, and I say that as someone who's quite enjoyed some of the latter's fiction. The former is also the co-inventor of a reasonably complicated bit of medical technology. The latter is notable for being a publicity whore. If I were to guess at which one were brain damaged, well, the result would not swing Mr Amis' way.
posted by rodgerd at 11:46 AM on February 11, 2011


Here are some quotes from Martin Amis' 1982 Invasion of the Space Invaders (subtitle : "An addict's guide to battle tactics, big scores and the best machines"; with an introduction by Steven Spielberg!!) in which he reviews Atari's BattleZone.
(to be fair, arcade machines weren't seen as "just for kids" in the early 80s and had a large mainstream adult following)
posted by Bwithh at 12:23 PM on February 11, 2011


i picked up ellen raskin's the westing game again recently and in the foreword her friend and editor writes: "she didn't know what children's books were like. She read only adult ones. But I never even tried to edit her 'for children.' ... She said that she wrote for the child in herself, but ... I think she wrote for the adult in children."
posted by kliuless at 12:34 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


In How I Live Now, the fifteen-year-old protagonist has sex with her first cousin, and it's a fine and positive thing. I'm thinking you don't read a lot of contemporary kids' books.

I just came in here to talk about Meg Rosoff. I read How I Live Now for the first time just last week and oh my god. Such a beautiful, sophisticated book.

Also MT Anderson. Also Philip Pullman. Also metafilter's own Kirsten Hubbard, whose book isn't out until next month but is amazing. I could talk about classics, too: Madeleine L'Engle or the aforementioned Dahl or Lewis or God, so many. Yes, there are children's books that talk down to children. Those are the bad ones, and in no way representative.

I don't have any children so I'm just wondering here, but isn't it better to introduce them to grown up literature as soon as possible? There is this whole debate that children who read Harry Potter never" graduate to harder stuff. I've seen this a little bit with my younger (15-18 year old) cousins. They go from HP to Twilight to Percy Jackson & the Olympians to...

It's better to let them read whatever they want to read and not worry about that sort of thing. I went from Edward Eager to LJ Smith (who wrote Twilight-esque vampire novels) to Cynthia Voigt (another amazing writer!) to Anne McCaffrey and Frederick Pohl to Camus to The Odyssey to Joyce to Chuck Palahniuk and Nick Hornby. The key was that my mom let me go to the library whenever I wanted, and take out as many books as I could carry. People need both books that edify and entertain to be well-rounded readers, and that includes children.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:43 PM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dahl is a better writer than Amis will ever be

Really? Different trajectories though. Dahl's early short stories are spare and beautiful, I think, but he became increasingly misanthropic and gothic even in his children's writing. His late work is fun because of it, much as Amis's early novels are fun. I'm not a big fan of Money but it is widely regarded as a kind of Vanity Fair for the Eighties. London Fields is one of the masterpieces of post-war English writing, I would suggest. I haven't seen Amis since 1999 and then he struck me as a bit of a prick. It seems likely that he has deteriorated. Doesn't make him a bad writer.
posted by tigrefacile at 12:47 PM on February 11, 2011


So I shouldn't have given my nephew a copy of Dead Babies for his 5th birthday?

Marvellous book, that. But I think you need to be at least ten to appreciate it.


But make sure they get through it before they grow out of it five years later.
posted by Grangousier at 12:53 PM on February 11, 2011


I suspect that some "serious" novelists labour under the apprehension that children's books are not written with the same joy and verve and imagination as other books, and are instead taken on as a grinding and manacled chore or the pursuit of those who can't write "above" a child's reading level. They're seeing confinement where the children's authors are just seeing a different palette to paint from.

You know, this is something I've struggled with, as someone who wants to write for children but has been, in the past, in communities of "serious" novelists. There's this feeling, especially today, with Harry Potter and Twilight et al. that writing children's literature is just something you do for the bux and something anyone could do easily if you felt inclined to lower yourself to the task.

But, uh, it's hard writing from the perspective of a child, to capture a child's experiences with empathy and sensitivity and, more, accuracy. Part of this is, I think, how even many generally sensitive adult writers tend to oversimplify their own childhood experiences, or tend to want to see their children's lives through rose colored glasses, and hence deny the fact that many kids live lives that are fundamentally dark--with shades of death and violence and sexuality and loss, but all viewed through this very limited filter of culturally-ingrained and encouraged inexperience. It requires a really delicate balance and approach to talk to kids respectfully and accurately about their experiences. And because most children's writers are, by definition, not children, it takes a great deal of imagination, too. So many adult writers write autobiographically, and from such recent experiences (as one grad school friend put it, "I hope someday to write fictional fiction"), and it shows my own biases, but I can't help but think sometimes how easy it seems to write about and for grown-ups, compared to writing for an audience who, say, still believes in Santa, but stays up all night sometimes wondering what happens when you die.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:01 PM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Personally, I think "Horton Hatches the Egg" is genius.
posted by MarshallPoe at 2:01 PM on February 11, 2011


Anyway, Time's Arrow is not nearly as good as the Tharg's Time Twister it's based on.

I can't really hold that against Amis, as I wrote a version of the exact same time twister once. Of course, I was 12 and nobody ever saw it, but at least we both steal from the best.
posted by Sparx at 2:11 PM on February 11, 2011


No, it sounded like he was expressing his own, personal view that writers of children's books must be brain-damaged haters of True Art and Freedom.
posted by rtha at 6:30 PM on February 11


"If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book, but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable."

Might I suggest that your facility with basic English comprehension is somewhat lacking?
posted by Decani at 2:48 PM on February 11, 2011


Decani, I think you will find it is you who are misparsing Amis. Saying "If I had a brain injury I might do X" is a very common English-language rhetorical figure that implies that all those who do X have the intellectual and cognitive capacities of people with brain injuries.

rtha's comprehension is fine.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:59 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Decani, I might agree with you if I were really fucking stupid.

See how that works?
posted by Shepherd at 3:01 PM on February 11, 2011


Decani, I might agree with you if I were really fucking stupid.

See how that works?
posted by Shepherd at 11:01 PM on February 11


No, I have to confess I do not. Perhaps I am really fucking stupid. That's okay. I can live with that.
posted by Decani at 4:00 PM on February 11, 2011


Saying "If I had a brain injury I might do X" is a very common English-language rhetorical figure that implies that all those who do X have the intellectual and cognitive capacities of people with brain injuries.

rtha's comprehension is fine.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:59 PM on February 11


I would respectfully suggest that you need to consult a book dealing with elementary logical fallacies.
posted by Decani at 4:02 PM on February 11, 2011


Might I suggest that your facility with basic English comprehension is somewhat lacking?

You might suggest anything. Your reading of Amis' opinion ("The guy was expressing his own, personal view of why he, personally, does not want to write children's books,") is distinctly at odds with what he actually said: "'If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book',".

I understand that clear communication of one's ideas is highly valued by many writers. If what Amis meant was "I'm just not interested in writing books for kids," he certainly chose a poor way of going about it. If, on the other hand, he meant to say "I am not moronic enough to write for kids," then he nailed it.
posted by rtha at 4:09 PM on February 11, 2011


You might suggest anything. Your reading of Amis' opinion ("The guy was expressing his own, personal view of why he, personally, does not want to write children's books,") is distinctly at odds with what he actually said: "'If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book',".

I do not understand your point.

Amis was saying that for him, he would need to be brain damaged to write a children's book.

Okay?

You get that?

So what is wrong with saying that? He's saying that he does not have the capability of writing children's books. He is saying that with his mind, he has to write whatever he writes, and not think about any target audience. What is wrong with that? What is wrong with that sort of honesty?
posted by Decani at 4:16 PM on February 11, 2011


I guess I can see how it could be read that way?

But come on - in ordinary colloquial English, it's not like it's unusual for people to say "You'd have to be crazy to [climb Everest, surf an 80-foot wave while blindfolded, etc.]!" with the implication being that people who do those things are crazy.

And when Amis says ""I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write," he added." he's really just showing off his ignorance about children's literature and the people who write it. If he doesn't want to be pigeon-holed as being a writer of [thiskindofgenre], that's fine. If he doesn't want to feel like he has to stick to some sort of formula, then that's fine too - he should stay far away from mystery and sf. But he's under the mistaken impression that in order to write for children you have to write a certain kind of story, or tell it in a certain way.

He is saying that with his mind, he has to write whatever he writes, and not think about any target audience. What is wrong with that? What is wrong with that sort of honesty?

Then why specifically say "brain injury"? How does that not imply that he'd have to be stupider, less capable, than he is now in order to write for kids?
posted by rtha at 4:25 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is wrong with that sort of honesty?

It ain't honesty, it's him showing off. Again. The way he expressed the sentiment, there is no way it can be construed as anything other than condescending and rude. (And even if it could be, there are a thousand and one nice or even neutral ways of saying that it's a skill he just doesn't have.)

Bit of a twaddle, our Martin.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:29 PM on February 11, 2011


Chuck Palahunick wishes he could be as twisted as Rahl Dahl.
I don't like kids, but I like kids literature. Though I'm still waiting to grow out of genre fiction.
If you write well, you can get kids interested in reading. I don't read much modern British humor writing but i'm betting my love of Hitchhiker's Guide prepared me well for it.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:47 PM on February 11, 2011


He says he hates children's books, but would he hate them in a box? Would he hate them with a fox?
posted by w0mbat at 7:56 AM on February 11 [20 favorites -] Favorite added! [!]

Besides wanting to favorite this about 10 more times, I'd just like to say here that Mr. Amis is not worthy of shining Dr. Seuss' shoes. And, like Yertle the Turtle, Mr. Amis will someday wind up falling splat into the stinking mud of his own hyper-inflated ego.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:24 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


And do you see how that is not at all the same thing as squealing that I'm offended by them?


Once it reaches a certain pitch, all squealing basically sounds the same, I think. Offended at Martin Amis, offended by people being offended by Martin Amis... it just reads as squealing.
posted by DNye at 5:49 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Once it reaches a certain pitch, all squealing basically sounds the same

So, you're saying you can't tell the difference between Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:14 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting question! I think that, rather, if you into jazz, you see the difference between Albert Ayer and Ornette Coleman, but you might think that all rock music is just immature noise.

So, if you are one of the people who are highly sensitive about other people seeming to be oversensitive, and who start shouting whenever one perceives it happening, that's just going to sound from outside the echo chamber of one's head and peer group like somebody squealing.

Obviously, you're going to think that you're making a principled stand for good old common sense, or similar, and that what is read as squealing is actually totally calm and rational, but from outside the glass that sturdy basso rumble sounds like squealing. It's a danger of being that sort of sensitive type, I guess - one feels the initial thing so deeply and personally that even one's protestations of not caring at all seem mined from the very bedrock of human feeling.

Back ontopic, I do find Amis' position a litte strange, just because the idea that he writes with no idea of who is going to read it, or who he is writing for, is quite odd. That the role model of contrarian boomer cynicism is approaching the craft of writing so romantically, like the musician earnestly explaining that he just plays the music he loves, and if the kids dig it too so much the better, seems strangely off-key.

I guess it's part of the defence of the literary novel - that it is distinct from the genre novel (including the children's novel) because it is pure in conception - created from the disinterested desire to create art, rather than the grubby concerns of market research and consumer segmentation. Still, I can't imagine anyone is going to twist his arm and make him write a children's novel, so I wouldn't worry too much either way.
posted by DNye at 6:48 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


(If you are into jazz, probably, unless I am doing the Billy Crystal jazzman skit, which I am not.)
posted by DNye at 6:50 AM on February 12, 2011


I guess Amis just watched the episode of Black Books where Bernard and Manny decide to write a children's book. (links go to different ways to see the episode, first to hulu, second to youtube.)
posted by winna at 9:07 PM on February 12, 2011


From a recent Globe + Mail piece ...

Amis is saying that writing to a specific audience is a constraint on his art. This answers a question often posed in creative-writing classes and by novice literary interviewers: For whom does one write? A lot of people believe that a creator must, before starting any project, define its “intended audience,” presumably including its education and tastes. This insidiously generates cynicism. I don’t think it ever works well.

and ...

The best advice to writers is never to wonder for a second for whom one writes, to write only the book that one wants to read. This doesn’t mean “writing for myself” – that phrase connotes writing as some kind of catharsis or therapy, writing that is meant to stay in a drawer. Instead, write for a reader who has your tastes and will understand every joke and note with appreciation every subtlety. (You might call this the optimal or maximal reader.)

and ...

And after this kerfuffle, we’re all going to have to tread extra carefully around these offended and indignant sensibilities, and honestly that’s a bit of a bore. I think a lot of this was an excuse to vent the limitless supply of hatred for the guy who spent so much money on his teeth.
posted by philip-random at 9:22 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


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