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Posts tagged "my reading year 2013"

Jan 01, 2014
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My reading year, 2013

Breakthrough this year: thinking of books as potential experiences, not just objects. Matching a book with my mood, life situation, etc. In 2013 I had a book to write and an infant to care for, both of which gave me a lot of hell, so I read a lot of novels and Nancy comics.

Here are my 10 favorite books I read in 2013:

Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers

This book couldn’t have been more perfectly matched to my tastes: it’s a great story, a Western, it’s funny, it’s violent, it features a digressive narrator, it has tight, short chapters, and it’s 300 pages long. I heard from at least a half a dozen people who read this book on my recommendation and loved it.

Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

When I was writing Steal Like An Artist, I wasn’t really aware that it would eventually be shelved in the self-help section. So after finding myself there, I became increasingly interested in self-help as a form. One of my favorite things about this book is that it riffs on self-help books without totally abandoning the structure of many self-help books—in each chapter, there’s usually a story, mentions of a few studies, and a lesson, or extrapolation. (The Malcolm Gladwell-ish “story-study-lesson” formula.) It’s a slick trick, and it works. Burkeman is also a good follow online: @oliverburkeman

Ernie Bushmiller, Nancy Is Happy: Complete Dailies 1943-1945

As I mentioned before, this was not an easy year. There were many, many nights when I sighed at my Kindle, sighed at the books on my nightstand, and then picked up a Nancy book and read until I fell asleep. Go out and buy this or the second collection so that Fantagraphics will print another one!

Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Once again, a book with self-help ties: the novel’s structure “mimics that of the cheap self-help books sold at sidewalk stands all over South Asia, alongside computer manuals and test-prep textbooks. Each chapter begins with a rule—‘Work for Yourself,’ ‘Don’t Fall in Love,’ ‘Be Prepared to Use Violence’—and expertly evolves into a narrative.” The whole thing is written in second person, and none of the characters have names. It might sound gimmicky, but it doesn’t come off that way — the execution is pretty perfect, and really moving.

Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

I started meditating last year, so I got interested in Zen Buddhism. I had this book on my shelf for years, but only read it recently. A lot of my favorite artists have Zen backgrounds, but it was really surprising to me how much of this book applies to creativity and art. (Of course, half of it makes no sense to me at all.) Contrast Suzuki’s line, “When you give up, when you no longer want something, or when you do not try to do anything special, then you do something,” with Andy Warhol: “As soon as you stop wanting something you get it.”

And then there’s my favorite line, which I quoted in Show Your Work!: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts

Another breakthrough for me this year: realizing the value of re-reading books. So I’m doing something out of the ordinary and putting a re-read book on my list. In a way, the book was a kind of dark therapy for me—as I increasingly found my inbox stuffed full of emails from desperate aspiring artists, there was Miss Lonelyhearts to suffer a breakdown so I didn’t have to. Everyone who has ever though about dishing out advice on a mass scale (is there such a species? oh dear) should have to read this first.

Mason Currey, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

For some time, my motto has been “something small, every day,” so what’s more delicious than a book full of the daily routines of famous artists? Some of my favorites here.

Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures

Did I underline more sentences in a book this year? Probably not. My friend Kio wrote of the first essay, “the end of each sentence leaves me gasping the way a kiss can begin in a gasp.” What a wonderful collection of lectures.

Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices

In many ways, 2013 was my Year of Eno. Listening to Another Green World while working, Music for Airports while meditating, watching his lectures, following the Oblique Strategies — Eno had such a big influence on me that I started Show Your Work! with his concept of “Scenius.” This book is really two books: 300 or so pages are the diary Eno kept in 1995, and 100 or so pages are the “swollen appendices,” little mini-essays on various topics. Sadly, it’s out-of-print, and used copies are very expensive, but it’s worth tracking down. I downloaded a PDF online and read it on my iPad in GoodReader, which was an interesting experience in itself.

Carl Hiaasen, Tourist Season

If you ever go on vacation in Florida, this is the perfect reading material.

10 more good books I read:

And 3 good books I started, was enjoying, but somehow didn’t finish:

For fuller recaps of all of the above and every book I read this year, browse the tag: my reading year 2013

See my favorite books from the past eight years of reading here.

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My reading (with my son) year, 2013 

I probably spent more hours this year reading with my son (he’s 14 months now) than reading by myself. Here are 10 books that we both enjoyed reading a lot. (There are a handful of books he adores that I cannot stand, and a handful that I love but he could care less about.) If you need a gift for a newborn or a toddler, I highly recommend all of these.

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin by Lloyd Moss and Marjorie Priceman

This one has it all: bright, beautiful illustrations, great rhyming verses, and a great narrative: each instrument comes onstage to make a new musical combo, ending with an orchestra. Love this book.

Amazing Machines: Truckload of Fun Box Set by Tony Mitton and Ant Parker

A set of 10 books about how various kinds of machines operate. (I actually didn’t know how a submarine worked until I read the submarine book.) My son is obsessed by anything with wheels, so I’ve read Cool Cars about a bazillion times, and when we’re not reading the book, he’s pushing the truck box around making truck noises. At $18, this set is a steal.

Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry

Speaking of wheels, this book is probably my son’s favorite. It rhymes, there are animal noises, and occasionally you’ll see a little blue truck out in the wild. Excellent.

Harry The Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham

A classic for a reason. Love Bloy Graham’s illustrations. And we have a dog who looks a lot like Harry.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Believe it or not, I didn’t grow up with this book. At first I thought it might be too intense or scary for Owen, but he loves it, mainly, I think, because the pictures are so textured and gorgeous. Another classic for a reason.

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

The rhyming scheme is a little wonky, but the illustrations are so great.

Hop On Pop by Dr. Seuss

My copy doesn’t have the tagline “the simplest Seuss for toddlers’ use,” but that’s actually a great description. Plus, it contains the truest spread in American literature.

Jungle Animals/Animales de la selva by Mike Lowery

Various jungle animals captioned with their names in English and Spanish. I love Lowery’s style.

Andy Warhol’s Colors by Susan Goldman Rubin

Super simple short book that matches some of Warhol’s animal drawings with little cute captions. Was really surprised how much Owen liked this. Because it’s so small, we can throw it in the diaper bag, which saved us at many restaurants and airports over the year.

Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

This is a brand new addition to our library, but it’s been an instant hit. (Plus, my wife is a PhD in architecture, so…)

Filed under: my reading year, 2013

Dec 21, 2013
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Max Barry, Lexicon

I had A LOT of fun reading this. It’s also a book where you don’t want to miss the acknowledgments, which begin like this:


  Acknowledgments used to be rare glimpses inside the author’s mind when he/she wasn’t trying to lie to you. Stephen King had some of the best. They were long and rambling, like you’d caught him after dinner and a few glasses of wine. I grew up in rural Australia, the nearest bookstore a town away, and Stephen King never toured there, not even on a motorcycle*. I didn’t even realize authors did tours. Acknowledgments were all I had. They were blogs, before blogs were a thing.
  
  Now blogs are a thing, and tweets, and you never need to wonder what any author thinks about anything. Which is a little sad, I feel, for Acknowledgments. They’ve been reduced to a parade of names. Important names, if you are the author, or one of the names. The names are the reason we have Acknowledgments. But still. I liked the rambles.


He then gives this great shout-out to the folks who read his drafts:


  You might think this doesn’t sound too bad, getting a sneak peek at a book, but that’s because you don’t realize how terribly broken my drafts are. Imagine your favorite story, only every so often the characters do stupid things for no reason and then nothing ends like it should. It’s horrible, right? It’s not merely less good; it ruins the whole thing.


Thanks to @kissane for the recommendation.

See all the books I read this year.

Max Barry, Lexicon

I had A LOT of fun reading this. It’s also a book where you don’t want to miss the acknowledgments, which begin like this:

Acknowledgments used to be rare glimpses inside the author’s mind when he/she wasn’t trying to lie to you. Stephen King had some of the best. They were long and rambling, like you’d caught him after dinner and a few glasses of wine. I grew up in rural Australia, the nearest bookstore a town away, and Stephen King never toured there, not even on a motorcycle*. I didn’t even realize authors did tours. Acknowledgments were all I had. They were blogs, before blogs were a thing.

Now blogs are a thing, and tweets, and you never need to wonder what any author thinks about anything. Which is a little sad, I feel, for Acknowledgments. They’ve been reduced to a parade of names. Important names, if you are the author, or one of the names. The names are the reason we have Acknowledgments. But still. I liked the rambles.

He then gives this great shout-out to the folks who read his drafts:

You might think this doesn’t sound too bad, getting a sneak peek at a book, but that’s because you don’t realize how terribly broken my drafts are. Imagine your favorite story, only every so often the characters do stupid things for no reason and then nothing ends like it should. It’s horrible, right? It’s not merely less good; it ruins the whole thing.

Thanks to @kissane for the recommendation.

See all the books I read this year.

Nov 22, 2013
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Kenneth Goldsmith, Seven American Deaths And Disasters

It’s the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination — one cool read is this book, which includes KG’s transcription of radio broadcasts from the day. You can watch him read the whole JFK section here, but I think the text is much weirder and disorienting.

From Dwight Garner’s NYTimes review:

In his chapter about President Kennedy’s assassination, Mr. Goldsmith tunes in to KLIF, a radio station in Dallas. Ads for Armour Star broad-breasted turkeys (Thanksgiving was approaching) and Falstaff beer segue into “I Have a Boyfriend,” a hit by the Chiffons. He prints the lyrics:

(Boom-sh-boom)

(Boom-sh-boom)

He made a promise

(Boom)

(Whoo-eee-whoo)

He’ll never make me cry

(Boom-sh-boom)

Every time we kiss good night

Feels so good to hold him tight …

Then an announcer cuts in: “This is a KLIF bulletin from Dallas. Three shots reportedly were fired at the motorcade of President Kennedy today near the downtown section. KLIF news is checking out the report. We will have further reports. Stay tuned.”

The station cuts back to “I Have a Boyfriend.” It broadcasts advertisements for pimple cream and a Sandra Dee movie, and plays Tommy Roe’s song “Everybody” before switching over to cover the breaking news.)

Indeed, the ads are some of the best parts:

The first of the two most glorious holidays of the year is coming. So it won’t be long until you make a most important meat purchase.

I mean, those sentences are both completely mundane and super weird—which is exactly what KG is trying to highlight.

(Photos via book designer, Krzysztof Poluchowicz)

Filed under: my reading year 2013

Nov 19, 2013
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Heraclitus, Fragments

Man, translations are so damned tricky. I was a little underwhelmed by this one—turns out, for a reason. (If somebody else has a translation they recommend, lemme know.)

Nov 10, 2013
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Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


  Perhaps you need some tidy aphorism to tuck away in the back of your mind…


What’s interesting about reading “classic” books is just how fucking weird most of them are. Consider Meditations:


  Not only was it not written for publication, but Marcus clearly had no expectation that anyone but himself would ever read it….[T]he “you” of the text is not a generic “you,” but the emperor himself….It is not a diary, at least in the conventional sense. The entries contain little or nothing related to Marcus’s day-to-day life: few names, no dates and, with two exceptions, no places. It also lacks the sense of audience—the reader over one’s shoulder—that tends to characterize even the most secretive diarist….[It] is not tentative and exploratory…and it contains little or nothing that is original. It suggests not a mind recording new perceptions or experimenting with new arguments, but one obsessively repeating and reframing ideas long familiar but imperfectly absorbed.


It is, as Gregory Hays, the translator, puts it: “a self-help book in the most literal sense.” It’s Aurelius helping himself, reminding himself of what he needs to do, which leads to the “repetitiveness” of the text—“the continual circling back to the same few problems.” The entries in the book are “‘spiritual exercises’ composed to provide momentary stay against the stress and confusion of everyday life.”

The book feels modern because it’s unfinished—there’s no solid organizing principle or structure to it, so the reader has to do a lot of the work, pulling out the threads, connecting entries, and making sense of the whole. It seems to me a book ripe for remixing and reshuffling—I’d love my friends who have such huge boners for the book to make top-ten lists of their “greatest hits” from the book.

(Actually if you click Mark’s “stoicism” tag, there’s a bunch of good quotes there.)

Mine:

Uncomplicate yourself.
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
The things you think about determine the quality of your thoughts.
Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.
It’s quite possible to be a good man without anyone realizing it. Remember that.
People out for posthumous fame forget that the Generations To Come will be the same annoying people they know now.
Get a move on—if you have it in you—and don’t worry about whether anyone will give you credit for it. And don’t go expecting Plato’s Republic; be satisfied with even the smallest progress, and treat the outcome of it as unimportant.
To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.
As you kiss your son good night, says Epictetus, whisper to yourself, “He may be dead in the morning.”
Everything’s destiny is to change, to be transformed, to perish. So that new things can be born.
UPDATE: One thing I need to point out: I actually didn’t have a great time reading this book, because I tried to read it straight through, start to finish. Because it’s so repetitive and collage-like, it can be kind of mind-numbing if you to try to devour it at once. To me, it’s best read in little chunks, like a bathroom book, over several days.

Filed under: my reading year 2013

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Perhaps you need some tidy aphorism to tuck away in the back of your mind…

What’s interesting about reading “classic” books is just how fucking weird most of them are. Consider Meditations:

Not only was it not written for publication, but Marcus clearly had no expectation that anyone but himself would ever read it….[T]he “you” of the text is not a generic “you,” but the emperor himself….It is not a diary, at least in the conventional sense. The entries contain little or nothing related to Marcus’s day-to-day life: few names, no dates and, with two exceptions, no places. It also lacks the sense of audience—the reader over one’s shoulder—that tends to characterize even the most secretive diarist….[It] is not tentative and exploratory…and it contains little or nothing that is original. It suggests not a mind recording new perceptions or experimenting with new arguments, but one obsessively repeating and reframing ideas long familiar but imperfectly absorbed.

It is, as Gregory Hays, the translator, puts it: “a self-help book in the most literal sense.” It’s Aurelius helping himself, reminding himself of what he needs to do, which leads to the “repetitiveness” of the text—“the continual circling back to the same few problems.” The entries in the book are “‘spiritual exercises’ composed to provide momentary stay against the stress and confusion of everyday life.”

The book feels modern because it’s unfinished—there’s no solid organizing principle or structure to it, so the reader has to do a lot of the work, pulling out the threads, connecting entries, and making sense of the whole. It seems to me a book ripe for remixing and reshuffling—I’d love my friends who have such huge boners for the book to make top-ten lists of their “greatest hits” from the book.

(Actually if you click Mark’s “stoicism” tag, there’s a bunch of good quotes there.)

Mine:

  1. Uncomplicate yourself.

  2. At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

  3. The things you think about determine the quality of your thoughts.

  4. Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.

  5. It’s quite possible to be a good man without anyone realizing it. Remember that.

  6. People out for posthumous fame forget that the Generations To Come will be the same annoying people they know now.

  7. Get a move on—if you have it in you—and don’t worry about whether anyone will give you credit for it. And don’t go expecting Plato’s Republic; be satisfied with even the smallest progress, and treat the outcome of it as unimportant.

  8. To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.

  9. As you kiss your son good night, says Epictetus, whisper to yourself, “He may be dead in the morning.”

  10. Everything’s destiny is to change, to be transformed, to perish. So that new things can be born.

UPDATE: One thing I need to point out: I actually didn’t have a great time reading this book, because I tried to read it straight through, start to finish. Because it’s so repetitive and collage-like, it can be kind of mind-numbing if you to try to devour it at once. To me, it’s best read in little chunks, like a bathroom book, over several days.

Filed under: my reading year 2013

Oct 31, 2013
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Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures

Here’s David Kirby in the NYTimes:

In many ways, “Madness, Rack, and Honey” reads like a steroid-boosted version of a commonplace book, those thinking persons’ scrapbooks that became popular in early modern Europe and contained quotations from the classics, scraps of conversation, poem fragments, recipes, proverbs and lists of every sort. With all of Ruefle’s borrowings and rephrasings, it’s difficult sometimes to tell exactly who’s talking, which may be the idea. One authority burrows into another, as when the painter Cy Twombly is cited as quoting the poet John Crowe Ransom’s assertion that “the image cannot be dispossessed of a primordial freshness which ideas can never claim.” I believe the rappers call this “sampling.”

I like her idea for a class called “Footnotes”:

“For years I planned a theoretical course called Footnotes. In it, the students would read a footnoted edition of a definitive text—I thought it might as well be The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge—and proceed diligently to read every book mentioned in the footnotes (or the books by those authors mentioned) an in turn all those mentioned in the footnotes of the footnoted books, and so on and so on, stopping only when one was led back, by a footnote, to The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.”

And her connection between drawing and writing:

“The greatest lesson in writing I ever had was given to me in an art class. The drawing instructor took a sheet of paper and held up a pencil. She very lightly put the pencil on the piece of paper and applied a little pressure; by bringing her hand a little ways in one direction, she left a mark upon the paper. “That’s all there is to it,” she said, “but it’s a miracle. Once there was nothing, and now there’s a mark.”

And here is a bunch of sentences I underlined:

  • “if you have any idea for a poem, an exact grid of intent, you are on the wrong path”

  • “dread has the word read inside of it, telling us to read carefully and find the dead, who are also there”

  • “fear is overcome by procedure”
  • “In one sense, reading is a great waste of time. In another sense, it is a great extension of time.”
  • “I began writing because I had made friends with the dead: they had written to me, in their books, about life on earth and I wanted to write back…”
  • “I do not care if I am writing a poem or a letter—it is just making marks on a sheet of paper that delights and envelops me.”
  • “Poets are dead people talking about being alive.”
  • “Insanity is ‘doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.’ That’s writing poetry, but hey, it’s also getting out of bed every morning.”
  • “For me, there is no difference between writing and drawing.”
  • “When I make contact with a piece of paper without looking up I am happy.”

Really enjoyed this. Recommended.

Filed under: my reading year 2013

Oct 21, 2013
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Nicholson Baker, Traveling Sprinkler

This Dwight Garner review does the book justice:


  “Traveling Sprinkler,” for all its felicities, is B-grade Baker. Graded on the curve of all his stuff, it would actually score something worse than a B. It’s his most aimless and least realized novel. At one point, Paul falls asleep while narrating it, and we sympathize. Poor guy. Poor us.


I once said that I liked Nicholson Baker because his books put me to sleep but they aren’t boring. This book was very boring, and yet, I couldn’t stop reading it, mostly because there were these little nuggets of goodness scattered throughout.

But really, Paul Chowder just needs a blog. Garner, again:


  When Paul says, “I used to want to start a museum of the water fountain,” or muses about what happened to NPR’s Bob Edwards, you think: this has gotten pretty dire. This is filibustering. This is what Twitter accounts are for.


If you still haven’t read Baker, I highly recommend The Anthologist.

Filed under: Nicholson Baker, my reading year 2013

Nicholson Baker, Traveling Sprinkler

This Dwight Garner review does the book justice:

“Traveling Sprinkler,” for all its felicities, is B-grade Baker. Graded on the curve of all his stuff, it would actually score something worse than a B. It’s his most aimless and least realized novel. At one point, Paul falls asleep while narrating it, and we sympathize. Poor guy. Poor us.

I once said that I liked Nicholson Baker because his books put me to sleep but they aren’t boring. This book was very boring, and yet, I couldn’t stop reading it, mostly because there were these little nuggets of goodness scattered throughout.

But really, Paul Chowder just needs a blog. Garner, again:

When Paul says, “I used to want to start a museum of the water fountain,” or muses about what happened to NPR’s Bob Edwards, you think: this has gotten pretty dire. This is filibustering. This is what Twitter accounts are for.

If you still haven’t read Baker, I highly recommend The Anthologist.

Filed under: Nicholson Baker, my reading year 2013

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Richard Pryor, Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences

Huge fan of Pryor, and had been meaning to read this for years. Finally picked it up after reading this Dave Chappelle profile in The Believer:

Another book you should buy if you can spare twenty bucks is Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences, Richard Pryor’s autobiography. In it, he tells of a dinner party thrown in his honor by Bobby Darin. Pryor is seated across from Groucho Marx, who told him “that he’d seen me on The Merv Griffin Show a few weeks earlier, when I’d guested with Jerry Lewis.”

It hadn’t been one of my better moments—Jerry and I had gotten laughs by spitting on each other, and Groucho, it turned out, had a few things to say about that.

“Young man, you’re a comic?” he asked.

“Yes,” I nodded. “Yes, I am.”

“So how do you want to end up? Have you thought about that? Do you want a career you’re proud of? Or do you want to end up a spitting wad like Jerry Lewis?”

The man was right… I could feel the stirrings of an identity crisis. It was coming on like the beginning of an acid trip. Groucho’s comments spoke to me. “Wake up, Richard. Yes, you are an ignorant jerk, pimping your talent like a cheap whore. But you don’t have to stay that way. You have a brain. Use it.”

The next sentence? “The thing was, I didn’t have to.”

Unfortunately, it’s a terrible book. Not terrible in that it’s poorly written or structured or bad, but in the fact that everything that happens inside its pages is terrible. Pryor was a really tortured man—he grew up around pimps and whores, was sexually abused at a young age, snorted and smoked insane amounts of cocaine1, and chased “pussy” his whole life like a maniac (he often uses the word “bitch” to refer to many of his half dozen wives).2

And yet, in his own terms, he was one funny motherfucker. The very best of him is in his comedy, and I highly recommend That Nigger’s Crazy (YouTube) for an introduction to his work. (Most of his stuff is out of print, though you can get it in a box set.)3


  1. A previous book borrower did the math—literally! on the last page of the book—on Pryor’s cocaine habit: comes out to $20,833 a month. 

  2. You also won’t learn anything about the craft of stand-up comedy here. For that, read Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up. 

  3. There’s also a good New Yorker profile of Pryor from 1999 that’s worth reading. 

Sep 16, 2013
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Peter Straub, Ghost Story

Scared the shit out of me.

Filed under: my reading year 2013

Peter Straub, Ghost Story

Scared the shit out of me.

Filed under: my reading year 2013

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