The Stone Diaries

by Carol Diggory Shields

Hardcover, 1994

Collection

Genres

Publication

Viking Adult (1994), Edition: 1st American ed, 384 pages

Description

In celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of its original publication, Carol Shields's Pulitzer Prizewinning novel is now available in a Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition One of the most successful and acclaimed novels of our time, this fictionalized autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett is a subtle but affecting portrait of an everywoman reflecting on an unconventional life. What transforms this seemingly ordinary tale is the richness of Daisy's vividly described inner life -- from her earliest memories of her adoptive mother to her awareness of impending death.

Media reviews

There is little in the way of conventional plot here, but its absence does nothing to diminish the narrative compulsion of this novel. Carol Shields has explored the mysteries of life with abandon, taking unusual risks along the way. "The Stone Diaries" reminds us again why literature matters.

User reviews

LibraryThing member LovingLit
Daisy Goodwill narrates this book, at times. She talks of herself in the third person at other times, and at still other times, others talk of her and her life. But dont be confused, it is all rather easy to follow.

Seeing as Daisy is born in 1905, and the book follows her life into her 80s, we are really getting a social history of the 20th century. A social history of a normal (whatever that is) womans life. She is a child, a student, a debutant and young bride, then an older mother (for the times), a professional, a traveller, an advice giver, home maker, caregiver, grandmother, bridge player and gardener. She has her existential worries like a lot of us do, and describes her way to old age in a distinctive way.

It was a pleasure reading this book. Revelations are announced in a calm and almost flippant way, with a "such is life" attitude. We are left to make our own conclusions about what may or may not have happened, until a few pages later when "it" is confirmed by someone elses observations. I liked this. I also liked that Daisy was human and had her human behaviour on display here. A wonderful journey
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LibraryThing member countrylife
A fictional autobiography, Carol Shields has created a memorable character in Daisy Goodwill, and placed her life from 1903 to the 1990s, living in Manitoba and Ontario, Indiana and Florida. The Canadian places were especially well written. The story is told in many different voices (sometimes even when the same): The long days of isolation, of silence, the torment of boredom – all these pressed down on me, on young Daisy Goodwill and emptied her out.

I found the writing in the beginning and near the end of this book particularly beautiful, especially in Chapter 1, of the love of the shy young man for his chosen wife. After I'd closed the book and began to think back on the story, the “Old Jew”, revealed in spurts throughout the book, turned out to be a most interesting character to my mind, from his participation at the birth, to his diagnosis of her “sorrow”.

But the main character is Loneliness. The loneliness, so palpably wafting from these pages, expressed (or sometimes not specifically remarked upon) by Daisy, and felt, before her time, by her own mother and the neighbor lady, even her own jolly childhood friends with their life experiences. In one of her interviews, Ms. Shields mentioned “women who are erased from their lives”. That phrase succinctly captures this story. One woman's life, of her longings, suppressed or sought after, of trying to make a life working around disappointments - the author's skill at showing that life had me engrossed in this book from the moment I opened it.

Moving right along, and along, and along. The way she's done all her life. Numbly. Without thinking. And. That life “thus far” has meant accepting the doses of disabling information that have come her way, every drop, and stirring them with the spoon of her longing – she's done this for so many years it's become second nature.

This book really resonated with me. Although I found some parts uncomfortable, the writing and the story drew me in. It is a very worthwhile book.… (more)
LibraryThing member auntmarge64
A gentle, compulsively readable story of one woman's life from birth to death, told interchangeably in the first- and third-persons. Each chapter takes place in a new decade, so we see Daisy's life episodically, but the intervening story, and the very detailed descriptions and experiences of secondary characters, result in an overall impression of having been present for her entire life, which spans most of the 20th century. Daisy is born in rural Manitoba; raised in Winnipeg and then in Bloomington, Indiana; raises her family in Ottawa (Canada); lives her widow years in Florida. Surprisingly, the semi-diary format does not leave the reader feeling as close to Daisy as might be expected, but her parents, husbands, children and relatives, friends, and late career as a gardening columnist, are all imagined with a richness which was a pleasure read.… (more)
LibraryThing member katiekrug
“(They) scraped with their tiny tools at the surface of the hidden world, hoping for what? To find a microscopic tracing of buried life. Life turned to stone.”

Daisy is an ordinary woman whose life story is told through a third person narration, occasionally alternating with Daisy’s own perspective and that of family and friends, as well as through letters written to her. Throughout the book, we see her life through others’ eyes and as it went on, I began to see this as the central theme of the book – how a woman’s life is framed by others’ perceptions and experiences of her and how she can maintain her own identity in those circumstances. Loneliness and numbness and the transience of existence are explored, not only through Daisy’s story but through those of some of the secondary characters.

The novel is broken up into several sections; interestingly, the section on “Motherhood” is broken up into several sub-parts, which brought to mind the fragmentation of a woman’s life – wife, mother, friend, etc., and the subsuming of the whole person to these various roles. And in the last section, “Death”, Daisy’s life is reduced to a recitation of lists, a few recipes, and scraps of conversation among her family who never seem to truly have known who she was.

A few favorite passages:

“Is this what love is, he wonders, this substance that lies so pressingly between them, so neutral in color yet so palpable it need never be mentioned? Or is love something less, something slippery and odorless, a transparent gas riding through the world on the back of a breeze, or else – and this is what he more and more believes – just a word trying to remember another word.”

“In turn it perceives nothing of her, not her history, her name, her longings, nothing – which is why she is able to love it as purely as she does, why she has opened her arms to it, taking it as it comes…”

“So much had happened, so many spoken words and collapsed hours, the rooms of his life filling and emptying and never guessing at the shape of their outer walls, their supporting beams and rough textured siding….. There are chambers, he knows, in the most ordinary lives that are never entered, let alone advertised, and yet they lie pressed against the consciousness like leaf specimens in an old book.”

“… hurling herself at the emptiness she was handed at birth. In the void she finds connection, and in the connection another void – a pattern of infinite regress which is heartbreaking to think of – and yet it pushes her forward, it keeps her alive.”

Shields writes with grace and a subtle depth of feeling that grows as the story advances. There is a lot to reflect on in this novel, and I have only touched on a bit of it. I have not done justice to a beautiful book that pulled me in from the beginning.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
The Stone Diaries is a book I thought I should read for several reasons. It has received multiple honors, including a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Its opening pages are filled with a genealogical tree. Part of the book is set in Indiana, a state where I have deep roots. However, I picked it up with a little trepidation. I've been disappointed in the past by books that don't live up to the promises they seemed to offer. This one didn't disappoint. I liked Daisy and most of the other characters in the book, I was drawn to their various life stories, and I continually marveled at the author's craftsmanship and the way she formed the story and characters.

The fictional Daisy was just four years older than one of my grandmothers so I mentally classified her that way. Just when I felt like I was listening to family stories of long ago days when people were different, I came to this passage:

When we think of the past we tend to assume that people were simpler in their functions, and shaped by forces that were primary and irreducible. We take for granted that our forebears were imbued with a deeper purity of purpose than we possess nowadays, and a more singular set of mind, believing, for example, that early scientists pursued their ends with unbroken “dedication” and that artists worked in the flame of some perpetual “inspiration.” But none of this is true. Those who went before us were every bit as wayward and unaccountable and unsteady in their longings as people are today.

The Stone Diaries made me think about the way each person's life is shaped by the family and friends who surround them, by those who have lived and died before, and who in turn shape the lives of those who come after. While it's women's fiction, it's definitely not “chick lit.” It's a great reading choice for Women's History Month.
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LibraryThing member 1morechapter
I loved this book. I loved the writing. It isn't a heartwarming book, but it is a thoughtful one. These "diaries" chronicle Daisy Goodwill's life from her birth in 1905 to her death in 199? (we aren't told the exact year). Each chapter of her life is told from her point of view, although in the book (and sometimes even in a single sentence) she switches back and forth between 1st and 3rd person. We learn of her childhood, her marriages and children, loves and losses, work and leisure, and finally her old age and death. The "chapters" made me think of my own life stages so far and the ones that are to come. All of us have a similar beginning and ending, but it's the middle that makes life interesting.

There were many, many beautiful passages in this book. I'll leave you with one as an example of the excellence of Shields' writing:

"Something has occurred to her--something transparently simple, something she's always known, it seems, but never articulated. Which is that the moment of death occurs while we're still alive. Life marches right up to the wall of that final darkness, one extreme state of being butting against the other. Not even a breath separates them. Not even a blink of the eye. A person can go on and on tuned in to the daily music of food and work and weather and speech right up to the last minute, so that not a single thing gets lost."

Carol Shields died of cancer in 2003. She was a gifted writer, and I definitely plan on reading more of her works.
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LibraryThing member blackhornet
I came to this via Marilynne Robinson's 'Home' (if you like this then why not try...) and it suffers by comparison. That's not to say it isn't a good novel, just that it never approaches the linguistic perfection of Robinson's work, nor can it escape the occasional stylistic cliche to which all but the truly remarkable must resort.

An example of the cliche: the book opens with the birth of the main protagonist, Daisy Goodwill. Her mother never knew she was pregnant and dies after the labour. Gosh, haven't read that kind of thing before.

And so, somewhat clumsily, we have our isolated subject whom we are to follow for the best part of the twentieth century. And here Shields is very close to Robinson's novel. For reading on, it gradually dawns that Daisy, despite featuring in every part of the novel is, like the female protagonist in 'Home', notable largely by what she doesn't do, by her lack of character: a woman without a mother, whose first marriage is not consummated, who remarries an older man who fell in love with her when she was eleven and, so, keeps her is a state of perpetual girlhood. It goes on. Interesting stuff, particularly given the experimental form of the narrative as it shifts in voice as it moves from decade to decade.

Best parts are the most playful, the chapter made up of letters (though none from Daisy herself, another absence) and the closing chapters where others comment on her late years.

Well worth a read, but most illuminating in showing exactly how good Robinson is.
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LibraryThing member AlisonY
I know I'm going to be massively in the minority here, but although I didn't dislike this book, I really didn't hugely love it either.

Shields was evidently a great writer, but I feel like this book - in trying so hard to break down literary boundaries - just lacked something. Whilst the faux biography style was interesting, despite reading about Daisy Goodwill's life from birth to death I felt like I never really got to know her character very well.

The style of dipping between first and third person was hailed a literary marvel, yet to me it felt like lazy writing - a convenient way for the author to get herself out of tight spots when the story couldn't easily be told in the first person.

Photos were included in the book - again an attempt to push those literary boundaries and make it feel more like a real biography, but the first photo was so flawed I didn't even bother looking at the rest of them. The first chapter talks at length about how hugely fat Mercy was, and how she was taller than her husband, yet the photo that is supposed to portray them shows a woman who is clearly not hugely obese, and whose husband is taller than her. I read a transcript from a Carol Shields interview in which she was asked about this, and the answer was fairly grey. So again, to me this just felt like author laziness - a new idea about adding photos to fiction, but then just throwing anything in when it came down to it.

Daisy's story itself I found to be quite depressing. I actually don't mind a sad tale in a book, but rather than evoking an emotional response to the characters, this book just left me feeling faintly depressed. The overall message I took away was 'life is sometimes just so disappointing'.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
The Stone Diaries presents the fictional biography of Daisy Goodwill Flett whose mother died at birth. She was reared by a neighbor who left her husband and moved away to her son's home to rear Daisy. The story is told through narrative and through letters. It is also told in many voices. While I can understand why the book won the Pulitzer Prize, it's not a book that was particularly meaningful or absorbing for me. The author does include a family tree to help readers understand the family and relationships. There are also photographs included. I did, however, check the 1911 Canadian census at Ancestry.com and if the main characters of Daisy Goodwill and the Flett family are real persons, it appears their names have been changed.… (more)
LibraryThing member janeajones
I don't really understand why Shields' The Stone Diaries won so many literary awards including the 1995 Pulitzer and The Governor's General Award. It's not a bad book, but I found it a rather flat and shallow journey through one woman's life and most of the 20th Century from Manitoba to Bloomington, Indiana to Ottawa to the Orkney Islands to Sarasota, Florida. While purporting to be a novel, the fictional aspect of the book is undercut by the inclusion of photographs of a number of the characters, an elaborate family tree, and a section that seems to use (rather desultorily) genealogical research to connect the present-day characters with some of their ancestors. The reader is thus led to assume that the protagonist, Daisy Goodwill Flett, was a real person, probably related in some way to the author. But if so, there is little authorial reflection on or connection to the family.

The novel is divided into ten chapters beginning with "Birth, 1905" and ending with "Death, 199-." The beginning, chronicling Daisy's conception and birth, is actually quite intriguing. Daisy's parents, Mercy Stone and Cuyler Goodwill, are elemental, almost Laurentian characters, who seemed to have saved each other from stunted existences. Cuyler is besotted with Mercy: "He knows that without the comfort of Mercy Stone's lavish body he would never have learned to feel the reality of the world or understand the particularities of sense and reflection that others have taken as their right." Cuyler Goodwill is, by far, the most interesting and well-developed character in the book. But Mercy dies in childbirth, and Daisy is taken to be raised by a neighbor, Clarentine Flett, for the first eleven years of her life.

The tantalizing richness of the first chapter is never fulfilled in the rest of the book. I have to admit, I did find the next-to-last chapter of the novel, "Illness and Decline, 1985," somewhat entertaining as I was reading it lying in Sarasota Memorial Hospital, recovering from knee surgery. Grandma Flett, as Daisy has come to be known, has moved to Sarasota and ends up in the same hospital for a double-bypass surgery after collapsing from a heart attack on her condominium balcony.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
2006, BTC Audiobooks
Read by Sara Botsford

First, Sara Botsford is a stunning reader! Her accents are so spot-on, so authentic, that it’s hard to believe one person narrates the entire audiobook. My favourite was her perfect southern drawl – delightful!

I had high expectations going into The Stone Diaries, and Carol Shields did not disappoint; neither did Daisy Goodwill. I think the most remarkable thing about Daisy is that she is entirely unremarkable, and I don’t mean that at all offensively – quite the opposite. She is, if you will, “remarkably unremarkable” – “extraordinarily ordinary.” It strikes me that such a story would be difficult to write – an impressive accomplishment for Shields.

My absolute favourite part of The Stone Diaries is when Daisy’s mother-in-law-to-be, Mrs. Arthur Hoad, thinks to educate Daisy before her upcoming wedding and European honeymoon. This ensues in a hysterical discussion about European customs and manners, particularly regarding hygiene and sex. Daisy’s bridesmaids, Elfreda Hoyt (Fradie) and Labina Anthony (Beans), are also present to help out:

“She means a bidet … a bottom washer. You fill it up with water and sort of squat over it and scrub your Aunt Nelly clean.” (2.1)

“The thing you have to remember about the French, is that they are absolutely filthy about certain matters and religiously proper about others. For them a bidet is a necessity, for before and after … They have intercourse much, much more often than American women to, or English women for that matter. They’re much more highly sexed. They’re very keen on it, very creative; they do it other ways.” (2.1)

Highly recommended. This BTC audiobook will not disappoint.
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LibraryThing member ursula
The Stone Diaries purports to be a biography/autobiography of Daisy Goodwill, and as such it begins slightly before her birth in 1905 and ends slightly after her death in the 1990s. The thing about Daisy, though, is that (with apologies for co-opting Gertrude Stein) there is no there there. She is adrift, lacking an inner life, detached from the world around her but seemingly not curious enough to spend much time trying to figure out why or how to remedy that.

The first few sections were interesting, and the end was thought-provoking. The middle 200 pages were mostly tedious for me. Although I understand the meta comments about the difficulties of biography/autobiography as it relates to truth, I just didn't find it compelling. We're always kept at arm's length from Daisy, and she in turn is always at arm's length from everyone in her life. It's a challenge to make a reader care about someone we can't really get to know, and it just didn't happen for me in this case. The book contains a section of photographs which are supposed to be the people in the story, although their physical characteristics don't always match up to what is written, nor do the photos always seem to be from the right era to my inexpert eye, so I found them more distracting and off-putting than intriguing.

Recommended for: stonemasons, ... I give up - I cannot think of anyone to whom I would recommend this book.

Quote: "When we say a thing or an event is real, never mind how suspect it sounds, we honor it. But when a thing is made up - regardless of how true and just it seems - we turn up our noses."
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LibraryThing member Muscogulus
Like nothing else I've read.

I initially gave this fine novel a 10 out of 10 (on the Bookcrossing scale) but am docking a point for the author's cudgel-fisted mishandling of Southern dialect in chaper nine. It actually set my teeth on edge. Also made me realize that I feel somewhat proprietary about the speech of my native land. It's amusing to realize how exotic we are at times to our fellow North Americans.

Ms. Shields’ imaginings of how we talk down here (our “muddied southern tones”) were simply bizarre. Really. I’ve heard a lot of Southern dialects, and nobody, I assure you, talks like that. I probably wouldn’t have minded as much if the rest of the novel hadn’t been so skillful.

My main point, though, is that this novel is well worth your time. The dialect speeches in chapter nine did make me wince, but even so, the same chapter managed to draw me back with new insight to the last illness of my mother-in-law, who died in our home a few years ago. Thanks to Carol Shields, I could almost (a big “almost”) imagine how sad, how irritating, and how humorous it is to be the dear old woman who is dying.

Think about the title as you read.
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LibraryThing member Nickelini
Considering that this won the 1993 Governor General's Award, was nominated for the Booker Prize that same year, and won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize, and furthermore has been in all three editions of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, I'm going to guess that a lot of peoplea familiar with the idea of this book. So I'll save you the book report and summary.

What I really liked the most about this was how Shields called it a "diary" in the title, but it really wasn't at all. In fact, the only section written in a strong first-person voice was the opening bit about her birth and details about her mother that the narrator wouldn't know. Most of what you put together about Daisy Goodwill's life is what other people say (or don't say) about her. And her name constantly changes (in one section she is referred to as Mrs Flett). Terrifically clever. Great writing.

Recommended for: lovers of good writing. Some people call this a "woman's novel," but I think that sells the novel, and intelligent men, short.
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LibraryThing member karenmerguerian
Fiction but using the trappings (photos, letters, stories that differ depending on the teller) of geneaology and biography, as if you were writing the story of your grandmother by piecing together what evidence you have. Daisy is not a famous person, but her descendents would take the time to describe her, to try to understand her and her family. This is one of those books in which prose style and mood is more important than plot.… (more)
LibraryThing member doxtator
The life of Daisy Goodwill is followed from her birth through to her death, as well as delving slightly into the lives of many of the family and friends around her.

I very much enjoyed the first half of this book, but by the middle section and then the end, I had grown weary of it. There are often long internal narrative and descriptive sections that wear thin for anyone not interested in that sort of thing. Much of the writing was beautiful, but pften bogged down with too much imagery, and far too much introspection. The point of the section being blunt like a baseball bat to the head, even if the point itself was ephemeral and complex.… (more)
LibraryThing member dancingwaves
It was okay. Not, OH MY GOD YOU NEED TO READ THIS book, but definitely interesting in that it's very obvious that the main character never gets a say about who she is or why what happens to her happens or even what it means to her. The book is told about her through others' eyes. I haven't yet figured out how I feel about that.… (more)
LibraryThing member miketroll
I enjoyed this book without achieving the rapture that many reviewers averred. Carol Shields (RIP) spreads the story across several generations, with 10-15 year quantum leaps in the narrative. This technique naturally suggests breadth and depth of view, but I would have welcomed more connecting threads between the episodes.
LibraryThing member keely_chace
Shields tells the happy, sad and thoroughly human story of Daisy Goodwill. But she jazzes up the tale with several bizarre, almost magical, instances, beginning with the dramatic circumstances of Daisy's birth in 1905, making for an interesting mix of ordinary and extraordinary.
LibraryThing member iayork
Fun Historical Fiction: This book is in fact written very much as a journal or diary, which would naturally include the real, human gaps of time for recordings in its volume. Even though it's mostly comprehensive in the lifeline of Daisy (Stone) Goodwill Flett, the coverage of her children's lives (her own offspring, grandchildren as well as those of her cousins), her friends' lives, her parents' lives fill the pages, only some of their information was integral to progress the story. I didn't feel compelled to want to know how anyone fares; there is no suspense or real intrigue. I enjoyed the gardening and botanical references since that is among my own hobbies.… (more)
LibraryThing member DelasColinasNegras
This is an AMAZING book! Not only is the family history riveting, the format of the book is fascinating. I admire the way Shields uses language. By the last chapter, I was so wrapped up in the lives of the Characters that I was physically sick when Diaries ended. So much to think about during and after this novel.
LibraryThing member actonbell
The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields, is another one of those beautiful roses that I would not have appreciated at an earlier age. (According to Amazon, this book is frequently purchased with my last read. That's almost scary.)

This is the fictional autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett, a woman whose life spanned almost a century. Daisy knew absolutely nothing about Mercy Goodwill, her mother, who died giving birth to her in 1905, and never really bonded with her father, who did not raise her during her early childhood. She was born in Tyndall, Manitoba, but raised in Winnipeg by Clarentine, a middle-aged woman who had befriended her mother. Unfortunately, Clarentine met an untimely death when Daisy is eleven, and that is when she joined her father, Cuyler Goodwill, in Indiana. Got that? Daisy was repotted many times in her life. She was widowed twice, became enthralled with a career as a columnist at a local newspaper, where she was known as Mrs. Greenthumb, suffered a nervous breakdown when this career ended, but eventually recovered and then struggled to make sense of who she was and what her life was about.

Daisy Goodwill Flett's life was certainly not unusual or interesting, but Carol Shields allows us to see her from all sides, from different points of view, and explores what a life story is, exactly--is it what others remember about Daisy, what Daisy herself remembered and believed, or is her story the sum of the documented facts about her? I found this book tragic because she is so all alone most of her life, especially at the end, when she cannot make herself understood and is left with her memories. Her children are puzzled as to why she would leave this possession or that to them, and when they encountered facts they did not know about, they misinterpreted them. Surely, Daisy's last life, in a retirement home in Florida, must have been unrecognizable to her. At this point, her children and grandchildren were geographically spread far and wide, and Grandma Flett became an idea, an abstraction. In the end, her children even chose the wrong flower for her funeral.

When I read obituaries of women who were born eighty or more years ago, I'll wonder all the more what exactly happened between bridge club, gardening, and cooking. Is that all there was? The Stone Diaries is a fascinating novel that will stay in my mind for awhile.
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LibraryThing member taconsolo
Not sure about this book - I think I need to read it again. Sems a bit autobiographical but I'm not srure it was. Very simple story of a woman growing up which almost made me ask "what's the point?"
LibraryThing member saskreader
The Stone Diaires is a simple story of an ordinary woman, which by a mediocre author would be unremarkable. However, Shields has an uncanny ability to draw characters so real, you feel like you have known them all your life or like how you would have written them if you could write.

I read this book in less than 24 hours about 10 years ago, and it's still my favourite. Now that I have grown a little more since then and had time to reflect on the book, I see now that Daisy Goodwill is my grandmother, an ordinary Canadian woman living an ordinary Canadian life. Shields is able to capture the subtle qualities that make the "ordinary" people so treasured and cherished to their loved ones.… (more)
LibraryThing member booklady2031
It took me a long time to get into this. I kept at it, because it had such good reviews, and I thought I should like a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. I did finally get into the rhythm of the author's writing style, and I ended up thinking it was OK, but I did not love it, even though I wanted to.

Pages

384

ISBN

0670853097 / 9780670853090
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