Julie & Julia, The First Book on Food Blogging, Eight Years Later

Jun 112013
 

It seems like a million years ago that Julie Powell started her career-changing food blog, The Julie/Julia Project, in 2002, about a government drone who makes every recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking over a year.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t read it. I didn’t even know about it. Eleven years ago, I scoffed at the idea that writing not found in print could be worthwhile or change the course of published writing in America. I was a journalist, after all, with a career only in print.

Then Powell got a book deal. The book Julie & Julia, based on the blog, came out three years later. I never read that either. It was 2005, the same year the first edition of Will Write for Food came out, where I didn’t even mention blogging.

In 2009, the movie adaptation hit the big screen. I saw the movie and wrote a post about it because I had started a blog a few months earlier. In my post I pondered if “everyone” (my agent’s term) would become food bloggers as a result of watching the movie.

Fast forward to today, where the answer is: Duh. And that was only one reason people (mostly women) started food blogs.

Recently a friend offered Julie & Julia to me hesitantly, wondering if I had already read it. Embarrassed, I said I hadn’t. Then I devoured it cover-to-cover in one day. I wanted to know what I had missed, to learn about the writer who put a public face on food blogging. I wanted to see what led to a long run of sales over eight years, a movie deal and a big advance for her next memoir, Cleaving, which was universally panned. (I read that book and loved its darkness. I may have been her only fan.)

Does Julie & Julia hold up, now that it’s 8 years old? Yes, it’s about the birth of food blogging, and it’s fun to see how she approaches it and how she responds to having readers — a new concept. But it’s more about a bored but determined cook who sets a seemingly impossible task and triumphs. After work and on weekends, she makes gelatin from an animal hoof, creates Veal Prince Orloff and serves it at midnight, and barely keeps her marriage intact. The prose is funny, feisty, intelligent and sexy. The narrator is neurotic, but that didn’t put me off. If you’ve ever tackled a difficult dish or cooked from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, you’ll relate.

The only thing that didn’t make it is when she calls her blog readers “bleaders” (a cross between “blog” and “readers,” I assume). And seriously, Powell came across as obsessed and a little scary. She ignored her husband for most of a year. But since I had already read Cleaving, I knew — spoiler alert– the two of them had issues.

I tried to contact Powell on Facebook, to see what she thought about food blogging now that it’s 11 years since she launched her site and her career, but she didn’t respond. She seems to be keeping a low profile. She started another blog that ended in 2010. Her website looks like it hasn’t been updated since Cleaving came out in 2010. She is, however, active on Twitter, if this is she.

No matter what the author’s up to now, Julie & Julia is worth a read. Of course, you’ve probably already read it. How did it influence you? How do you think food blogging has changed since Powell started hers way back in 2002?

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  58 Responses to “Julie & Julia, The First Book on Food Blogging, Eight Years Later”

  1. I loved it and have reread it since I began blogging in 2010. She is a character for sure, but I like her writing style. The movie, as usual, is not half as funny as the book.

    • It’s true, she is laugh out loud funny. I forgot that part. The movie made her too much of a whiner and sourpuss.

  2. It’s fascinating; she had what so many food bloggers dream of, yet now there’s no blogging from her. I’m grateful for her story and the glimpse into how it could be for others running down this path. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been ignoring my husband while blogging and must correct that. ;)

  3. I was a blogger (and then a food blogger) before I’d ever heard of the book. My husband treated it like a delusional hobby – and occasionally felt neglected – until people started sending me wine, produce, and other stuff. I took him to his first food blogger conference a couple of years ago, and that, combined with my business that grew out of the blog, made him take it very seriously. While the book and movie may be responsible for the explosion of food blogs on the scene, I’ll stretch the point and say that, by extension, they may be just as responsible for the birth of the various food movements and public food awareness we’re experiencing now.

    • I’m sensing a theme here about neglected husbands.

      Interesting that you think the book, blog and movie are responsible for food movements. There are so many, I wonder which ones. French food has always been the defining haute cuisine in the US in restaurants, but people don’t cook much French food at home. Hmmm. Will have to ponder this more.

  4. I watched the movie a gazillion times, a calorie-free pick me up movie. The movie writers did a great job with paralleling the lives of Julie & Julia. However, I was not impressed with the book. But disappointments aside, I think that the book & the movie has moved mountains for many wannabe and budding bloggers. It gave us a bigger goal: that maybe one day, someday we (I) would get a book deal / become a “real” writer.

    I myself have that very goal: to be published. I still have that goal, but somehow I think that this shouldn’t be the be all and end all motivation to continue blogging because one might end up in disappointment.

    I still have my hopes up that I would be published someday soon. For now, I take blogging as my training ground for writing and a way to share and document my personal food story / journey with my family & friends, who are thousands of miles away from me. The bonus of having a blog is it is also a means of connecting with like-minded strangers :) Very helpful for expats like me who are constantly moving around and in need to friendly faces.

    • You are already a real writer, Didi! It’s harder for non recipe writers to get book deals, as most of them are for cookbooks, so keep that in mind.

      I will look up your posts on eating in Dubai soon, as I am hoping to go.

  5. I saw the movie first, because I love Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep, then read the book. What I loved about the book was her voice – strong and true and funny throughout, even at her darkest moments. Before her blog was removed from the web, I read through parts of it, and her voice is equally strong there. The movement I see from Julie’s first blog to today’s food blogs is she wrote about the experience of cooking and managing a life around an obsession; food blogs today speak more to recipes and life’s meditations on getting that recipe on the table. And like Liz, I’ve re-read the book numerous times – it’s a fun read.

    • Yes, good point. Her voice is clear throughout — quite an accomplishment for a new blogger. She was pretty obsessed, maybe unhealthily so, but that’s what it took to become famous so quickly.

  6. I haven’t read the book but did see the movie. And I am glad she got people blogging about food. I love to read about it, write about it, cook it, eat it. Food (and travel) are great pleasures. Now if only my bank account would be a bit more helpful :-)

    • Yes, we can’t all have bank accounts that grew the way Julie Powell’s did as a result of her first book and movie deal. She must have received a huge advance for her second book too.

  7. Why all the disappointed husbands?! I cook, my husband eats. I photograph my plate, not his. What’s not for him to like? (And I haven’t read the book.)

    • Well, you seem to have the system down, Liz. I think the issue is neglect more than disappointment.

  8. It’s the first thing most people say to me when they hear I’m a food blogger “Oh, have you seen that film Julie and Julia?” Interested to hear that you hadn’t read the book, I haven’t either and was blogging before I saw the movie. I’ve seen it on the bookshelves and felt almost embarrassed that I hadn’t picked it up earlier, so there it stayed. I read Ree Drummond’s book recently which put me off ever buying another ‘story of the blog’ book every again (and actually it said nothing about the blog just her ‘romance’). Now motivated to take the plunge though – in the movie she comes across as a difficult and prickly character – and I read articles by her when Cleaver was released which seemed to confirm this…always a good start for an interesting read.
    I wonder why she removed the blog? To drive book sales or because that side of her life was over? It’s a little bit of food blogging history in a way – I wish it was still there….but perhaps that sums up the transient nature of blogging better than anything. It’s permanent…until it’s not! PS Hope you do come to Dubai – a warm welcome awaits.

  9. I must say I haven’t read the book, nor am I tempeted to. The only reason I wtached the movie was because it had Meryl Streep as Julia, was about food, a cookbook and blogging.
    While I could relate to some part of the “blogging” part of things, “Julie” in the movie didn’t come across as someone whose book I would want to read!
    I’m probably doing her a dis-service by forming an opinion without knowing much about the person behind the character, but I don’t hink I’m likely to read the book.

  10. I have to agree with Sally and Aparna – her book, although a fascinating story, made her sound (and funny that she wrote it herself) like a disagreeable, self-centered person. I never read the blog so the book could have been more a result of an editor than the writer, but I was sorely disappointed that the book focused more on her personal problems and those of her friends, about their drinking and their sex lives, than about either the challenge or about her relationship to Julia and The Book. I read it so long ago, but what sticks with me about the book is that she was always angry, upset, disappointed and looking for pity. It is just what came out of it for me.

    A really great, fascinating story can make a book even if the author is no writer – this is my opinion of books like Julie & Julia as well as The Devil Wears Prada, which is why subsequent books by the same authors don’t make it. And sometimes what works for a blog does not work for a book. I am currently reading Poor Man’s Feast and what makes this so wonderful is the writing, not necessarily a fascinating story. Elissa is just a great writer.

    That said, I thank my own lucky stars for blogging as it has put me on the road to writing as well, giving me opportunity and practice. And an audience. People like Julie Powell did create this for all of us who followed, and for that I am extremely grateful. It is a harder road today, what with all of the competition, but a road that is open to many of us that would not otherwise have had the chance.

    • Yes, who knows what the editor asked for. Perhaps she wanted more sex and drinking to make the book sell to younger readers. And her second book stil sells, though it’s not the mega-hit. It must be hard to write ANYTHING after you’ve had that much success with your first book, because of the pressure.

      There were food bloggers before Powell, but none of them had her success. It’s definitely harder today. As you said, there’s competition, but there’s also standards for photography and original recipes, and mastery of SEO and social media — all things she didn’t have to worry about.

  11. I saw the movie and loved it – years before it occurred to me to start a food blog. Now you’ve made me want to read the book. I have to chime in on the obsessed blogger/ignored husband themes because lots of people in my neighborhood assume that my husband is incredibly lucky to have a food blogging wife. They imagine the beautiful, exotic nightly dinners we have at our house. I’m new to food blogging and I don’t know any other food bloggers yet, but if you are anything like me, there are definitely those wonderful exciting meals that we all enjoy together, but there are also just as many times where I’m spending 3 days testing a recipe. It might be artichokes. My fridge will be filled with them – some steamed, some boiled, some grilled – and my family is having pasta with bottled sauce and steamed broccoli for dinner. They don’t complain. I think they love to see me obsessed with something I love. Back to your question, I’m not sure I was influenced much by “Julia on Julia” other than to see a door open for an opportunity. But I do feel that the real Julia is a huge influence. She is a definite role model and often, when I’m struggling to find my voice, I think of her and her cheerful, enthusiastic, down-to-earth style.

    • That’s so typical, Lisa, that people think you are having the glamorous life every night. If you are taking 3 days to develop a recipe, you may be doing more than most food bloggers. I suspect many of them adapt.

      Re the real Julia, she is a peerless role model. Sometimes when I am writing or editing recipes, I open her books randomly and read — not just for pleasure, but to see her mastery of how to communicate with the reader. She always inspires me.

  12. I’m glad she put a face on food blogging, but she’s not my cup of tea. The movie candy coated the real blog which was very political with rough language, with a agenda outside of food. I’m glad her 15 minutes is over, and the way I understand it, her hero, Julia didn’t have much respect for her either. Hollywood did great job, however, of bringing Julia Childs back to life and for that I’m grateful.

    • Yes, I don’t think Child got that the blog was an homage to her, that Powell idolized her and was committed to learning how to cook through her. It was an incredible compliment, yet Child didn’t get it. Maybe all those other subjects threw her off? We’ll never know. I don’t think she was offended by course language.

      • Hmmm, I wonder if Julie actually was trying to learn to cook, as you say. I think that was one of the problems with the book (again, I never read the blog): she didn’t seem to give the impression that she was learning to cook. It seemed to be more of a challenge and one that she took little pleasure in. Again, maybe that was more the job of the editor…

        But now you have me curious to read her second book.

        • Interesting. I always assumed that was the case, but perhaps I am wrong. Our buddy Denise said that Child was offended because she complained about the recipes.

          Yes, try the second book. Will be interested to know what you think.

  13. I blog, but I’m not a food blogger (unless you count the fact that I use food to discuss things like marketing a business). I loved the movie but never read the book. I *did* however, read “Cleaved.” And like you, loved every bit of it. So now we know there are at least two of us who enjoy that kind of dark introspection. Every time I clean a rack of ribs, my mind drifts back to that book. It’s definitely made an impression on me.

    Thank you for sharing this bit of yourself (and for trying to get an update on Julie for us). I met you at a WordCamp event in SF a few years ago and purchased your book. I’m hoping that someday I can shift away from blogging about marketing to blogging about food.

    • Make that three! I read J&J thinking “This B—H is crazy” – but it was like I was the only one who could see it. ‘Cleaving’ proved it and I loved that about her. I could thoroughly enjoy the movie knowing that the Hollywood-love-story and picture perfect happy ending was just that – fiction. “Normal” is only a setting on the dryer.

      • Hah! How right you are. Hollywood does love those happy endings. I did hear from Powell on Twitter and Facebook. She says she’s in hermit mode right now. Cant’ say that I blame her.

    • So glad there are 2 of us who enjoyed Cleaving. And I met with someone a few days ago who also liked it, so now there are 3. “Dark introspection” is a good way to describe it.

      I remember meeting you a few years ago. Thanks again for purchasing my book, and for blogging about my talk at WordPress Camp.

  14. Wow, what a loaded question Dianne.

    Food blogging has evolved tremendously. I didn’t start my first blog until 2009 (always the late bloomer) and while a great friend gave me Julie & Julia, the book, I didn’t crack it. I was caught up in learning how to blog and was a newlywed (no neglect in this family-hee hee). I adored the movie, but Meryl Streep can do no wrong. :)

    I know food bloggers who make a productive, (not to be confused with financial security) life out of product endorsement, giveaways and food blogging events. And food blogging has lead me, and others, to a few paid writing gigs, (but I’ve not booked the trip to space on Virgin Atlantic yet either.) There are food blog forums, conferences and web sites dedicated to teaching SEO, HTML and video on how to peel a mango. Julia & Julie sprouted an entire new aspect of the food industry. Look, food bloggers are running food trucks, another off-shoot of blogging. Although I’m not claiming blogging can take the credit for that industry entirely. I think it’s a fantastic thing, this from someone who has worked many avenues of the food industry. Certainly the big food companies are faring well here.

    I’m curious where “food blogging” will take us in the future. For instance, I know of several food bloggers that are claiming burnout (me included). The nature of the beast-that you can still find something original without compromising your health, family values, and sanity, is a hard nut to crack, year after year.

    It’s about priorities and what your goals are, I guess. I’m grateful I get to cook and write.

    Thanks as always for the stimulating discussion Dianne. I’m off to dig out that book. :)

    • Thanks for this thoughtful reply, Maureen. You summed up beautifully what has happened to food blogging since Powell’s blog took off.It’s a whole different world.

      Re burnout, it would be hard to leave a blog behind, but if it’s not fun anymore, then I wonder about the point. These days you could shut down a blog and still communicate with people through social media. Fortunately, I can’t imagine it. Not yet. I am celebrating the beginning of year five this month.

      • Dianne, you found your niche at the right time. Author services are in demand more than ever-as a direct result of bloggers turned writers.

        I didn’t realize, it’ll be five years for me too, in October-thanks for the reminder. :)

        I should have mentioned, just because I feel burnout, it hasn’t stopped me from blogging! Ha. I don’t think I could shut it down if I wanted. I’m more streamlined and have a different focus (I post my weekly newspaper articles, for one.)

        Congrats on your five years! You offer a great service to all of us.

  15. Honestly, “Julie and Julia” inspired me to get out of the rut I was in.At that time, I was miserable and bored to death in a horrible job that paid the bills but didn’t do anything for my soul. Julie taught me to be brave and do what I love. Thanks for featuring this today. I’m curious to know where she went after the blog.

    • How wonderful, Betty Ann, to be inspired to make a change for the better. I wonder if other women made the same decision, and if Powell knows. Maybe she got tons of mail like yours.

      Re where she went after the blog, she wrote to me on social media that she’s a hermit right now.

  16. Finally got to read this! I loved the book and hated the movie (mainly because ‘My Life in France’ is one of my most cherished books and it deserved its own movie). I’ve often wondered how she feels about the food blog explosion and really wish she would have responded to you. Is she pleased? Bitter? Over it? I want to know!

    • I wish I knew too! But I can’t help you there, Jen. You can follow Powell on social media and see if doing so gives you a clue.

  17. Hi Dianne,

    When your blog post came through in my email this morning, it really caught my eye. I loved the Julie and Julia movie and have seen it multiple times. I don’t think I knew who Julie Powell was nor had I ever seen her blog or heard about her prior to the movie. By the time I learned about her, I believe her “Julie and Julia blog” had already been taken down because of her book deal. But after I saw the movie, I couldn’t wait to read the book.

    Sadly, I was very disappointed with the book. Maybe I am just too old school but I found the language she used highly offensive, so I never finished the book. Also, when her next book came out, I did not read it and was just saddened to hear that she and her husband had divorced. Overall, I think most people like happy endings. Unfortunately, at least in print, Julie’s life didn’t seem to measure up to her life as portrayed in the movie.

    I think blogging of any kind takes a long time and although I have dabbled in it from time to time, I found that it did take away from the time I could spend with my family. And my family – my husband and son – are so much more important to me than anything else. I wanted to be there for my husband and I did not want my son to grow up without me being present and living in the moment. Now that he is in high school, I am so glad that I was there for him 100% when he was young. The time goes sooooo fast. :-)

    Now that we’re done home schooling, and my son is in high school, I have a little more time to try blogging again while he’s at school and my husband is at work. And at least in my case, I am so glad I waited. The people we love and the people who love us need out time and attention. I’m not familiar with Julie Powell’s life but maybe her husband missed her and found all the frenetic behavior overwhelming and exhausting.

    As far as food blogging goes – Oh my! The number of food blogs is staggering. And most that I come across are very well done with lovely recipes and beautiful photos. The quality just seems to be improving every day. And I love seeing more videos. But it’s funny – for all the new food blogs out there, I still regularly go back to the very first blogs I read. They are still my favorites and pretty much the only ones I read on a regular basis – - – Wednesday Chef, 101 Cookbooks, and Reluctant Entertainer.

    Great post today. So glad I found your blog. Although new to me, I think you are going to become one of my regulars! :-)

    Love,
    Mary

    • Hello Mary,

      How delightful to hear from a new reader and one who took the time to write such a long comment. Thank you.

      I do think you’re right that people like happy endings and might have been offended by the foul language in her book. I like messiness and imperfection, so her books worked for me.

      Good that you feel you now have space in your life to blog. There are all kinds of food bloggers, I suspect: obsessive ones, lazy ones, super-talented ones and those who just want to express themselves and aren’t perfectionists. The beauty of it is that there’s room for everyone.

  18. I’m totally going to use “bleaders” from now on – though only to refer to negative, sour commenters. :)

    • Oh gosh, Andrew, I don’t think you’ll be using it much! Can’t imagine that you get very many of those.

  19. I guess I really am going to have to stop putting off reading this book now. I got into the blogging game a little late too, and though I didn’t know it at the time I did so indirectly because of Julie Powell. She shifted the paradigm in a way from which there is no going back, and whether or not I like the book, I guess I’m grateful to her for making blogging something that the world takes seriously/giving me something to work towards with my own writing.

    • That sounds good. I’m a big fan of being grateful, so why not give the girl some credit? I’m sure it never occurred to Powell, as she was blogging her heart out, that thousands of woman would be inspired to start their own. Blogging got me writing again on a regular basis, for which I am grateful as well.

  20. Dianne,
    I loved the movie and enjoyed the book. Julie’s approach to food blogging was vastly different that most at the time, and now… I was already food blogging when the movie came out. I wasn’t familiar with her work before that, which was a bit odd, as I was definitely out there with regard to my reading the “first” food blogging sites. I am sad she didn’t respond to you. Maybe she will once she reads this article. It would be a great interview. Julia Childs was such a character. It is her work and her books I have read from cover to cover… and recall watching her hilarious antics on TV as a child. I learned how to butcher a chicken from one of her old reruns in University. I admired Julie’s obsession and her ability to stick with a project and how that so closely aligned to Julia’s obsession with food. The sad difference was that it wasn’t shared with her husband…. as, you have said – they have/had issues. And for some reason, I am squeamishly uncomfortable reading on line real time, about personal issues. :)
    Valerie

    • I did some research for my book on the first food blogging sites, and believe me, they had nothing on Julie Powell, who was literary, funny, and knew how to write to a popular audience. So I’m glad you enjoyed the book.

      She’s kind of in hibernation right now, so I don’t blame her a bit for not responding, and as it turns out, I didn’t need her comments to generate a conversation. I love that about that about my readers!

      Yes, there’s definitely TMI in some blog posts. I’ve been asked several times what constitutes TMI. Maybe I should write a blog post about that. Although many people thought the husband/wife/sex stuff in Julie & Julia was TMI and look how well that book did.

  21. I’ve read the book and seen the movie. In fact, I’ve read Julie’s book about her time in France. I was a fascinating read. I had never thought of blogging in general, much less food blogging but here I am do just that.

    Blogging has changed my world. Not just in food but in building relationships and learning all about SM and the different nuances. You just never know where something will lead you.

    She may have started something but there are other pioneers our there now doing things that will make a difference, all because of blogging.

    • Yes, I had no idea where blogging would lead me either. I was just doing research for the next edition of my book. And here I am, starting year 5, so I know what you mean.

      I’m not sure she started the food blogging craze, but she certainly had the most commercial impact. And now other bloggers have the chance to make their mark as well.

  22. I was never a fan of the book. I had not read many blogs at that time and did not like the flow or style of her writing. I continued to read it because of my love for everything Julia Child. I ended up thinking she was not that likable, but she had a great idea of cooking Julia’s recipes.

  23. Dianne, I haven’t read this book, but am now curious, particularly given your snippet here, as well as the comments I’ve read above. Thank you for sharing.

  24. As I was reading this I thought that I had read the book. In fact, I haven’t. I did see the movie and loved it…mostly. I do remember one of my thoughts after seeing the movie was that they should have just stuck with Meryl Streep playing Julia and dropped Julie completely. I found that part of the story much more interesting than a whiney Amy Adams. However, I should mention that that the underlying theme of feeling lost and trapped in a terrible job and the path of finding your niche spoke to me as I was going through a similar struggle at the time.

    • Many people didn’t like the whiny Amy Adams in that movie, but she provided a good counterpoint to the ebullience of Julia, I thought. And you could relate to her situation, so that was worth something. Maybe now you’ll read the book, Dina!

  25. Dianne,

    I admired both women for how they coped with the issues of their times, both personal and political. I am very grateful to Julie and Julia for pushing me to become more adventurous as I approached the age of 60 and to make a few changes in my life.

    Before seeing the movie I knew absolutely nothing about blogging. Julie’s day job inspired me to reconnect with my community and start blogging as a continuation of the radio show I had co-hosted at a local university. Then my mother died and I began a second blog which turned into a food blog. Through it I have reconnect with my original Maltese roots, joined a few Food Bloggers groups and gotten to meet people from around the world. So, thank you to Julie for changing my world.

    I also read Julie’s second book and was saddened by how things worked out for her.

    Margaret

    • Margaret, how exciting that a movie inspired you to make changes in your life. It sounds like it was all for the good.

      • Dianne, Happy Anniversary to you and Maureen C. Berry!! I started blogging in September, 2009. What a fine time for beginnings!
        It’s fun being a late bloomer. Your expectations are so low, you’re thrilled by any interest shown by readers.
        My husband doesn’t feel neglected, as he was missing the Maltese meals we used to enjoy at my Mom’s. They do take a bit more work, but I must admit I was missing them, too.

  26. I had never heard of Julie Powell before the movie, and I only saw the movie because I had enjoyed a slight acquaintance with Julia Child in her final years and had had the great pleasure of chatting with her on several occasions. (So I can tell you, Meryl Streep did an amazing job!) I loved the movie but did not read the book, having decided I might not like the real-life Julie as much as I did Amy Adams’ portrayal. I don’t think the movie influenced me at all. I had been writing for magazines for several years; and it was not until six months after I saw the movie that I even started looking at blogs, decided to start one and immediately did so. The first thing I noticed was that there was an extraordinary number of new food bloggers who appeared to be great fans of The Pioneer Woman (I hope they’ve all since found their own voices!). Now there are so many really good food blogs out there I wonder how anyone has the time to even scratch the surface. Thanks, Dianne, for all you do to raise the level of professionalism of food writers (print and Web).

    • Hah! Very funny comment about Pioneer Woman. She has been an inspiration to many, no doubt. But you went down a different path. I hope you’re still enjoying it, Jean.

  27. As much as I love the movie, I found the Julie Powell’s writing quite tedious and non-moving. I found myself unable to finish the book ( but I did read it entirely later on).

    It was the movie that prompted me to buy the book

    • Hmm. Interesting that you didn’t like it. Maybe you had a pre-conceived idea about her after seeing the movie? She was pretty whiney.

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