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Reading Slothfully

I was told in elementary school that I only could read at half the speed for success in college. Oh well, one benefit of slow reading is you get to live with the characters a longer period of time. I read in a vain attempt to better understand people. At my other homes, I'm known as a spouse, pop, guy in the choir, physical chemist, computer/web dilettante and child-care provider. In theory, I'm a published author, if you consider stuff like Quenching Cross Sections for Electronic Energy Transfer Reactions Between Metastable Argon Atoms and Noble Gases and Small Molecules to count as publications. I've strewn dozens of such fascinating things to the winds.

Currently reading

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas
Jules Verne
The Spirit of the Border
Zane Grey
Ramona the Brave (Ramona, #3)
Beverly Cleary
The Underground Man (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
Ross Macdonald
Delilah of the Snows
Harold Bindloss
Mrs. Miniver
Jan Struther
Betsy-Tacy Treasury (P.S.)
Maud Hart Lovelace
A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens
The Way Some People Die
Ross Macdonald
Envy of Angels
Matt Wallace

Stephen Morris

Stephen Morris - Nevil Shute This was pretty tedious. I think I know why Shute didn't publish it during his own life. It could have been a decent story, but was very uneven. And, it dragged. Shute is one of my favorite authors, and this book is not up to his standards. As I said, he kept it buried during his lifetime.


So, at the beginning, young Stephen Morris has lost his job in rubber and decides he can't afford to marry Helen Riley. So he breaks off their engagement. Then, since his real passion had been flying—he'd been a pilot in WWI—he hooks up with a small "commercial" flying outfit run by Helen Riley's cousin, Capt. Malcolm Riley, who was a sort of famous flier in the war. Riley and his partner, Stenning, hang out around vacation spots and take people on joy rides. It's the early days of aviation, and people find it exciting. It's also the early 1920s, so people still have some extra cash, the depression being some 6 or 8 years in the future, and no one knew it was coming in 1923 when this book came out.

Well, things go along for a while, but business falls off and Riley and Stenning decide to throw in the towel. As a result, poor Morris is out of a job again. But he hooks on with a guy who designs planes. Morris, having earned a degree in Mathematics at Oxford, could help out on the design side of things, although C.G.H Rawdon can't afford to hire him to work in the office. So, they agree that Morris will work for free in the office for a while (which is to say, being an unpaid intern is not a new thing) and also be on hand to do some piloting when the need arises.

Well, things drag on, but I've set the scene, so to speak. Generally, this book is packaged with a second novella, Pilotage. But I was afraid that Pilotage might be similarly deadly, so moved on to something else. Sometime in the new year, I'll give Pilotage a "fly".

The Incredulity of Father Brown

The Incredulity of Father Brown - G.K. Chesterton This is the third in the series of Father Brown books. I read the first two back in 2011. The first was ok, the second, meh. But I thought to read some more because my spouse has taken up watching Father Brown videos, on our son's Netflix account, in the middle of the afternoon. Sometimes she even cons me into joining her at the computer. I'm beginning to be drawn in. I suspect there is virtually no similarity between the books and the videos, except for the main character's being a Roman Catholic priest who carries an umbrella around. For one thing, the videos are set well after WWII, whereas the first two books in the series were written before WWI. This, the third in the series of five, short-story books came out in the 192os.

The common theme of the stories in this volume is that someone dies in a way that seems to indicate a supernatural cause. Everyone jumps to the supernatural conclusion...except Father Brown. Now, Father Brown, being a Roman Catholic priest, does fervently believe in some things we might consider supernatural. But he's not much taken in by superstition, and generally looks for a practical answer to the conundrum of the moment.

I think I liked this series of stories better than I liked the second series, but I can no longer be sure because it was 7 years ago that I read, and declared myself to be unimpressed by, those stories. These were ok, but I find short stories difficult to read. Basically, if one can't read them in one sitting, it's way too easy to lose the thread. Novels are much easier to grasp because one naturally lives with them for several days, and also because a single chapter or two is much easier to finish in a single sitting than is a short story such as one of these. Perhaps it's my age, or the fact that I read at only half the speed for success in college, but I'm heading back to a nice juicy novel.

Searching for Caleb

Searching for Caleb - Anne Tyler So, my spouse's best friend from high school has a daughter, Becca, who just gave birth to a son. Apparently, in Jewish culture, it is common to write up a little essay on the new child's name and what it means to the parents. Becca's new son is to be named Caleb, and one of the reasons, it seems, is that one of her favorite books is Searching for Caleb. So, I figured I should check the book out. It was quite good.

It seems that back in the 19th century, Justin Peck set up a very successful import/export business in Baltimore. One of his sons, Daniel, decided to study law. The other son, Caleb, wanted to be a musician, but he was forced by family pressure into taking over the family business.
But, one day in 1912, Caleb had had enough and he disappeared. No one knew where he went, and no one bothered much trying to find out. Well, some sixty years (more-or-less) later, Daniel takes it into his mind to find his brother Caleb. He gets his granddaughter, Justine, to help him. Justine was a bit of a free spirit, having taken up fortune telling and having married a cousin, Duncan, also a bit of a family renegade. Duncan was restless and kept switching from one location and one career to another every couple of years.

Anyway, we have sections where we learn about the family or mostly repressed individuals living in the same neighborhood in Baltimore (the city of my birth). And also sections wherein Justin and Daniel wander around looking for clues to the whereabouts of Caleb. It's all rather fascinating, and well worth the time to read through to find out whether or not Caleb is actually found in the end (I know, but I'll never tell).

The Goodbye Look

The Goodbye Look - Ross Macdonald I really need to write down my thoughts and impressions about a book sooner than two months after having read the book. Whatever, this is pretty much classic noir, private-eye fiction. Ross Macdonald is a worth successor to Raymond Chandler.

So, Lew Archer is hired by John Truttwell, a lawyer, to help find a missing gold box that belonged to Truttwell's neighbors and friends, Larry and Irene Chalmers. It also appears that the Chalmers' son, Nick, is missing, and perhaps the gold box with him. There's much that the Chalmers don't want Archer to know, which, of course, hinders his investigation.

As Archer investigates, he untangles various weird relations from the past, a previous trauma Nick suffered as a child, which may impact the present, and so forth. Very tangled, very convoluted, and very engaging.

The Innocence of Father Brown

The Innocence of Father Brown - G.K. Chesterton When I read this, in August, 2011, I wasn't much keeping track of things (it's November 2018 when I'm trying to remember this stuff). This was a book of short stories about a Roman Catholic priest in England. He solved crimes in his spare time...or something. My recollection was that it was ok, but not all that great. But then, I'm not much of a fan of reading short stories.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen "For what do we live but to make sport for our neighbors, and to laugh at them in our turn?"

And so, here we are...

I dunno, what can one say about one of the great masterpieces of English literature. I know that my friend, Michael, an actual English teacher would be appalled by my characterization of Austen as a master of English literature, he's more taken by X-Men comix, but whenever I read Austen, I'm enthralled. I've read this book multiple times and seen at least three movie adaptations of the tale. It never fails to engage me.


The Flaming Forest

The Flaming Forest - James Oliver Curwood My grandfather-in-law was a huge fan of James Oliver Curwood. When I'd visit my spouse-to-be at her parents' house in New Hampshire, he'd be sitting in a chair reading Curwood. So, I borrowed a copy or two and got interested as well. After he passed away, I inherited his collection of Curwood novels (most of which my spouse recently gave away to our church's annual "Faire"). But, I'm wondering about this particular one.

When we were first married, my spouse and I used to read to each other, and some of the things we read were Curwood (also The Lord of the Rings). In particular, we read this one, The Flaming Forest. We used to jokingly call it The Flaming Asshole. I thought perhaps we were engaging in a play on words, but now that I'm re-reading this book after several decades, I'm wondering if we renamed the book because the main character was one, a flaming asshole that is.

Anyway, we have David Carrigan, a most noble specimen of the Royal Mounted Police. He's off in his beloved north woods, tracking down the ruthless killer, Black Roger Audemard. For many years, people thought Black Roger was dead, but then he was sighted, and Carrigan has been dispatched to bring him to justice.

But, as the book opens, Carrigan is on a river bank, hiding behind a rock because someone is shooting at him. Eventually, he feels a searing pain in the side of his head and passes out. When he comes to, a most beautiful woman is looking at him with concern written all over her face. Then he passes into and out of consciousness and feels like there are actually two women, one with lustrous black hair and beautiful eyes, and one with flaming, golden hair and blue eyes. He gets dragged up into the trees and is then left.

Eventually, a canoe comes by with the stunning woman with the black hair and beautiful eyes and a massive, half breed with long, apelike arms. The half breed lifts him like a feather and deposits him into the canoe and they're off on the river. The magnificent woman is Jeanne Marie-Anne Boulain, and the half breed is Concombre Bateese. They put him in a well-appointed cabin on a rather large boat on the river and head "downstream". I put downstream in quotes, because they are so far north that downstream is actually towards the north further away from civilization. This is tough for those of us in more southerly climes to keep in mind: once you get far enough north, the rivers flow even further north into the Arctic Ocean. Anyway, they're heading north, further into the wilderness. Eventually, they'll go to the Chateau Boulain, the center of one of the richest fur gathering areas in the world.

"Marie-Anne" claims to be the wife of St. Pierre Boulain, the head of the fur trapping business. Why she tried to kill David Carrigan, and many other things will become clear once they reach the Chateau Boulain. In the mean time, Carrigan is locked into the cabin, trying to figure out how to escape so that he can take up his mission of bringing Black Roger Audemard to justice. It drives him mad that some broken shell of a man wanders around on the boat and in the woods, muttering, "Has anyone seen Black Roger Audemard?"

Well, it sounds like it could be quite an adventure. But the greatest part of it is Carrigan living in his mind. Although he is the manliest of men, and a 35-year old virgin, he has the mind of a 12-year-old boy who has just discovered testosterone. He spends much of his time, when he's not thinking about his exceptional manliness, exulting over the beauty of "Marie-Anne" and dreaming of possessing her. Occasionally he'll feel slightly guilty because she is the wife of another. Yes, the word "possessing" is correct. Carrigan is a hair fetishist who believes women are to be possessed, something one owns and cherishes. Certainly they're not real people like manly men.

Well, I could go on, but I don't want to. Basically, we have many boring pages of adolescent-boy drivel, with an occasional bout of manly-man posturing. Not a whole lot of actual action or adventure. Obviously, there is some. The title gives away that there is a forest fire involved as some point in the action.

I'm not sure why I gave this 3*s. It really should be 3*-, but we can't give pluses and minuses. It doesn't totally suck, so is vaguely better than a 2* book, but only just vaguely.

The Music Shop: A Novel

The Music Shop: A Novel - Rachel Joyce I was a bit skeptical about this at first. My friend, Gay, recommended it, and we don't exactly have similar tastes. However, this was actually a rather wonderful book. I expect it will have more meaning for people with some musical background.

Anyway, there's a small run-down street in London, Unity Lane, where a handful of shops are still "open" for business. Not that there's much business these days. Frank runs the music shop. He only sells vinyl records. He knows his stock quite well, and has a knack for "listening" to people when they enter his shop so as to ascertain what music would be most appropriate for them. It's not always what one might expect. One gentleman claims only to love Chopin, but Frank can "hear" that this man would benefit from a dose of Aretha Franklin, and sets him up. And so it goes with all his other customers, Frank "listens" to them for a bit and "hears" the music their souls need at that moment.

But one day, a woman collapses outside the shop, and Frank, upon going to her aid, can't hear a thing. It's most curious. Even more curious is that Frank is immediately smitten and besotted by the woman, one Ilse Brauchmann. Ilse comes back a time or two, and next thing one knows, she's signed Frank up for music lessons. In this case it's lessons in listening to music. Frank, it seems, had a rather eccentric mother and the two of them would spend hours lying on the floor together listening to great music. The mother would point out the things one might hear. It reminds me slightly of the time I became besotted by the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin by Bach. I'd come home from college and lie on my parents' living room floor listening to them over and over again. I don't think my siblings or parents were amused. To this day, I get goose bumps from the Partita no. 2 in d-minor, whether it's done up on violin, or the transcribed version folks play on the classical guitar.

Anyway, back to the book, we have the interplay between Frank and Ilse, but also with the other folks on Unity Lane, the tattooed, somewhat butch tattooist, Maude, who's in love with Frank; the shy Williams brothers who run a funeral parlor; Father Anthony who runs a gift shop featuring religious items; Mr. Novak the baker; and of course Kit, Frank's bumbling assistant. Over time Unity Lane goes further down hill, people leave and so forth. Then too, we begin to wonder if Frank and Ilse ever get together. Ilse has a mysterious past, after all, perhaps even a fiancé. Then intermingled with these concerns, we have flash backs to Frank's listening sessions in the olden days, lying on the floor with his mother.

If you like music, listening to music, with a spot of romance and mystery mingled in, this book can be rather a nice indulgence.

p.s. Sorry I didn't write this before the lapse of a month and several other books. Perhaps I'd have been more coherent. Doesn't matter. Just read the damn book. You won't regret it.

A Bear Called Paddington

A Bear Called Paddington - Michael Bond My spouse was throwing out the books we had for our kids quite some time ago. I guess she figured we'd never get the chance to read them to our grandson. Perhaps not. Whatever, I snagged a few before I took the rest to church to be sold at the annual church "Faire". Ordinarily, I don't read dead-tree books anymore, but now and again, I can make exceptions, right?

Anyway, this is the first in the Paddington Bear series. It seems that Mr. and Mrs. Brown are at the train station with their daughter, Judy. They see a small bear in a corner, and he seems to be lost. He is very polite and he tells them that he's come from "darkest Peru". The Browns take him home to live with them. They name him Paddington, after the train station where they found him. [For a few months, I lived in a place in London that was only a couple of blocks from Paddington Station. My daughter was born at St. Mary's Hospital, also just a block or two from Paddington Station. Obviously, we have "family" connections there. 😉 ]

So, Paddington becomes a fixture in the Brown household, a household that also has a son, Jonathan, and a housekeeper, Mrs. Bird. The problem with Paddington is that he is unschooled in the ways of the world. So he always finds a way to make a mess of things. But always an adorable mess, and always a mess that can be turned into something nice. So, we get lots of chuckles at his antics, and re-experience, for a short time, the joys of being 8-years old again.

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History - Kurt Andersen So Kurt Anderson is trying to tell us how we got to the place we are in America these days, a place where half the population doesn't have problems with a highly corrupt, ignorant, pathological liar running the country. Basically, he says we're pretty much always been this way. The people [European white people] who "settled" the country were prone to believing fantasies. In the southerly parts, the settlers sincerely believed there was gold to be had for the taking. In the northerly parts, people believed all manner of religious fantasies, and insisted their particular fantasies were the only "true" ones. So, they came for religious freedom, but only for their own kind of religion. Religious freedom was not for folks who thought differently.

So, anyway, he traces history through P.T. Barnum and the Buffalo Wild West Show, to Disney World, and then to the academics who denied the very existence of truth, it was only differences of opinion. They even claimed that scientific truth was only a construct of the rich and powerful to keep the lower echelons down. Or something. I thought those peculiar idiots had been discredited long ago, but apparently not.

Whatever, it's a rather scary story and doesn't give me much hope for the future. On the other hand, we've been believing fantasies for some 400 years now, so perhaps we'll continue to thrive on our peculiar fantasies for another 400 years.

The Cold Dish

The Cold Dish  - Craig Johnson This is another book my brother (or sister-in-law) insisted that I just had to read. I have no idea why. Maybe Craig Johnson is a friend of their's? His bio doesn't make that seem likely. Whatever, they wouldn't take no for an answer, so to speak, and so I snagged a copy and read it.

I guess the book was ok. I wasn't much taken by it and will likely not bother with more. We have a sheriff, Walt Longmire, in a small town in Wyoming, near a Cheyenne (I think) reservation. His best friend runs a bar and is a Native American (or Indian), Henry Standing Bear. He also has a young, potty-mouthed deputy, Victoria (Vic) Moretti, and some other "helpers".

The problem seems to be that some two years previously, a bunch of young punks raped and brutalized a young, special-needs (fetal alcohol syndrome) Indian woman. The boys were taken to trial, but essentially got off with little more than slaps on the wrist. Then one is found dead in what might vaguely be construed as a hunting accident. Oops, another is shot. So, Walt has to protect the remaining young men. Along the way, he begins a romance with a woman of his vintage (60-ish) who appears to be rich and artsy and stuff, but who might have a "dark" side. Oh, we also get a bunch of mystical appearances of Cheyenne apparitions who help Walt in his investigations, his tramping through blizzards, and so forth.

Well, it could have been an ok story, but I didn't much like any of the characters, nor the ways they interacted with each other. It all felt contrived so as to make things seem hip or modern or "western" or something. It didn't much feel "real" to me. Or, perhaps, despite being an Eagle scout, I'm just not rough 'n' ready enough to appreciate such behavior ... or something. Meh!

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown - Maud Hart Lovelace, Lois Lenski Well, I never figured I'd read all of the first four Betsy-Tacy books, but I did. I've got to do a better job of choosing "adult"-style books and not keep coming up with crap, which is, of course, why I kept reverting to yet another dose of Betsy-Tacy. Perhaps it's all for the best. I rather liked my delving into Betsy-Tacy, although I might now suffer from a terminal case of heart warmedness.

So, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are now 12 and are grown up enough to do things like go downtown on their own. After some difficulties, they make friends with another girl, Winona Root, who has tickets to a theater production of Uncle Tom's Cabin. They're all smitten. And now, for all practical purposes, the threesome becomes a foursome.

The first horseless carriage comes to town. Betsy has big plans to be a writer, but her mother thinks she needs a better class of literature to read than the paper backs she gets from the housemaid. So, she sends Betsy to the newly opened library every other week. It seems that some things never change. The librarian is, of course, awesome, and opens up a whole new world to Betsy.

[Interestingly, the librarian in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was not so awesome (the first one I've ever known not to be so). However, the presence of the library in her neighborhood opened up a whole new world to Francie Nolan. God bless public libraries.

I find it bizarre that so-called "conservatives" are now calling for defunding public libraries. I gather rich people aren't able to read, or something. Or perhaps all that money just turns people into assholes...but I digress. Sorry].


Betsy makes friends of a lonely rich woman who lives in a hotel, and they plan a Christmas party to which all their friends will be invited. Later, she gets Betsy & Co. involved as extras with a traveling theater company, including Betsy's long lost Uncle Keith. And so forth. It's rather heart warming and also tells of life, albeit idealized, from a different time, e.g. 100+ years ago, shortly before my mother was a little girl.

I dunno, I never really expected to read any Betsy-Tacy, and now I've read four of them and liked them all. I find it weird that I keep reading how it is a children's classic, but I've yet to find anyone who has actually read any of the books growing up, and I have a lot of book-worm peers, and a couple of relatives who are librarians [ok, my librarian sister-in-law, whose mother was once president of the American Library Association, admits to having read them].

Also interesting to me is that the books describe kids' lives and activities at the turn of the 20th century. Other than some anachronisms, like horse-drawn carriages, the lives of the kids weren't much different from the lives of people like me in the 1950s. But, it's all different today. I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Pastoral (Vintage Classics)

Pastoral (Vintage Classics) - Nevil Shute I suppose in a way this was a bit silly, but I rather liked it. It was a bit calmer then most of the other stuff I'd been reading. We have a WWII bomber pilot, Peter Marshall. His bomber mates get him interested in fishing. One day, he catches a "big one", a pike. He wants to show it off, but no one is much interested in seeing the amazing fish, except for a young WAAF, Section Officer Gervase Laura Robertson. She's in the signaling corps. She likes the fish, and gets Peter to show her where he caught it. She's a country girl from Yorkshire and likes out doorsy kinds of things. Naturally, she and Peter begin to fall in love, especially after he takes her out one day to see a badger hole...or something.

Well, there are problems, of course, the airmen and WAAFs aren't supposed to consort on base. Then too, Gervase is not sure she could contemplate marriage because she has a job to do helping to defeat the Germans. Peter flies some bombing runs and has some issues with one. And so forth.

As they would have said back in those days, "it's rather a lovely book". It is also a bit silly. The romantic parts are so muted as to be easily missed. Perhaps it's a bit like the Amish romances that appear to be all the rage these days. So we get something like,

They turned aside presently behind a spinney and exchanged a token of mutual goodwill; presently they came out again a little dishevelled and sat upon a style and smoked a cigarette together before turning back to camp.


Yup, that's what passes for a "sex scene" in this book. 😉 I didn't mind in the least.

A Red Death

A Red Death - Walter Mosley It seems that the IRS are wondering why Easy Rawlings seems to own property. He has never appeared to have had enough income to justify his buying the property. An IRS agent, Reginald Lawrence, is threatening to throw Easy in jail muy pronto, unless Easy can come up with proper documentation, documentation that Easy doesn’t actually have. In reality, Easy pretends someone else owns the properties, and that he’s just a janitor.

But, before the IRS agent can get too far, the FBI grabs Easy and says they will delay the IRS audit if he’ll work for them, trying to uncover the perfidy of a den of Reds...or something. It seems they’re interested in a Jewish survivor from the German death camps who is preaching Socialism. It wasn't necessarily the Russian version of Marxist/Leninism, but in the 1950s, many in America couldn’t tell the difference. Actually they can’t now, given that many pretend that Bernie Sanders is the second coming of Stalin.

Whatever, Chaim Wenzler is working with an African-American church and Easy becomes the guy’s driver on various acts of charity, mostly delivering clothes to needy folks and the like. Easy and Chaim become friends and Easy is hard pressed to see his way to turn the guy in. But he investigates here and there and finds out things, some folks end up mysteriously dead, Easy is shot at, and so forth. Pretty typical Easy Rawlings, but a pretty GoodRead all in all.

A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles My brother used to be a journalist in Moscow during the reign of the Soviet Union, so he has some interest in Russia and its history. This book essentially follows the history from about 1922 until 1954 or so by following the life of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who was living in a fancy hotel in Moscow, The Metropol, under house arrest from about 1922 on. For some reason, the Soviets didn't feel that the Count was enough of a threat to execute him or exile him to Siberia.

As we begin, a 9-year-old girl, Nina Kulikova, comes over to him and makes friends with him. She's allegedly under the supervision of a nanny, but the nanny seems uninterested. So Nina begins showing the Count all the ins and outs of the hotel. She has a pass key and knows the way to all the most secret interior places.

Count Rostov also makes friends with some of the hotel staff, including the fancy chef Emile Zhukovsky, the Maître d’ Andrey Duras, and bar tender Audrius.

Well, as time goes on, the Count begins working at the hotel as the head waiter. At some point Nina grows up, goes off and has a daughter. But then her spouse is sent to Siberia for something or other. So she brings her daughter to live with the Count in the Metropol until such time as she, Nina, can come back for her. And so on. Oh right, at some point early on, the Count has a one-night stand with a famous actress, Anna Urbanova. But, she reappears a number of years later, no longer quite so famous, and they begin a regular relationship.

It's a pretty interesting story, a sort of microcosm of life under Soviet rule, but all carried out within the gentlemanly, civilized walls of the Metropol.

Devil in a Blue Dress

Devil in a Blue Dress - Walter Mosley This is the first of the Easy Rawlings books, it seems. I started the series somewhere down the line, and then pretty much read to the end. So, I decided I should begin in at the beginning.

It's around 1948 or so, and Easy has just got out of the Army. He’s living in Los Angeles and just got laid off from a job at an aircraft factory. He needs money because he bought a house and needs to come up with mortgage payments. A sort of friend, who runs a bar suggests Easy do some work for a white man, DeWitt Albright. It seems that DeWitt wants a young woman found, one Daphne Monet. Allegedly, Albright wants Easy to find Daphne for a Mr. Todd Carter, a politically connected tycoon of some sort. But there might be more going on.

Well, some seemingly peripheral folks end up dead and Easy is shaken down by the cops, trying to pin something on him. He does find Ms. Monet, but she is a young woman running from some demons in her past. Easy’s violent best friend, Raymond Alexander, aka Mouse, sidles up from Houston and gets involved. And so forth. It’s a pretty engaging yarn. Perhaps too much sex and drinking for this elderly, repressed Calvinist, but that’s pretty much unavoidable these days, unless one is into Amish romances (who knew there was such a thing?).