Selected Reviews of John Lane’s Books 1985-2008

The Best of the Kudzu Telegraph (Spartanburg, SC: Hub City Writers Project, 2008)

“For all of us John Lane fans who can’t wait for the next ‘Kudzu Telegraph,’ this wonderful collection is just what we need. Now, whenever we want, we can savor John’s best writings. For maximum enjoyment, do your reading close to home, next to a wild river, or under your favorite tree.” –Brad Wyche, Executive Director, Upstate Forever

Circling Home (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2007)

“Lane balances his plea for environmental stewardship with a biological narrative charting his own movement from wandering poet to settler… his conversational prose style makes Circling Home a good read– a pleasant way to ponder our own obligations to our constantly changing world. — Rebecca L. Godwin,  Rain Taxi

“Taking the adage ‘think globally, act locally’ to heart, naturalist, professor, poet Lane marked his newly constructed sustainable home on a topographical map… Each locale inspired eloquent and esoteric essays… an intricate portrait of the land he lovingly calls home.” — Booklist

“Keen-eyed, Lane’s observing–always reminiscent of Thoreau, but especially in this work–sparkles with colors and scents and emotions. His language spills out with all the paid dash and billowing foam of the creek that cuts through his circle.” — Paris Post-Intelligencer

“While Lane devotes plenty of ink to the area’s quasi-rural geography . . . he delves as deeply into the area’s rich history and the conflicting agendas of a present-day community at odds over issues of land use, wetland preservation, and property rights. What really shine are the personal encounters at Circling Home’s core. Through these encounters, Lane shows us just how connected we are to the land.”  — Craig Brandhorst, Charleston Post and Courier

“[Lane] uncovers a wide range of curiosities, from the microscopic to the majestic, and in the process, cultivates a deeper sense of family and place.”  — Orion Magazine

“Two verbs: to roam, to home. Nature writers, going back at least to the great T’ang Dynasty poets, have wrestled with these two urges. John Lane spent the first half of his life roaming and writing about life on the move. Now comes Circling Home, his big-hearted account of settling down with a family and homing in on the richly textured landscape that surrounds his new hearth. Like Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson before him, John Lane superbly demonstrates the virtues and the obstacles of becoming native to one place.” –Erik Reece, author of Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness

“John Lane puts a saucer down on the topographical map of his homeplace and finds within that circle ‘a theory and practice of settlement.’ Circling Home recounts the ‘adventure travel’ he does within that one-mile radius. Whether building a sustainable home with his new wife, kayaking the flooded creek with his stepsons, walking the golf course with his naturalist’s eye, or unearthing local history in conversation with his neighbors, Lane writes with beautiful care and attention. This book makes very good company for anyone trying to live a more intentional life.” –Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Writing the Sacred into the Real

Chattooga: Descending into the Myth of Deliverance River (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2004)

“One of the 13 best new books from Southern authors…” — Atlanta Magazine’s special “summer reading” issue May 2004

“John Lane’s evocative meditation … explores the Chattooga from the viewpoints of both white-water paddler and poet. … Every time he is surprised to find echoes of Dickey’s work as he tries to master each tricky intersection of water and rock.” –Stuart Ferguson, Wall Street Journal

“John Lane has brought us a haunting review, thirty years later, of how Deliverance, the book and film, have affected the river corridor, its surroundings, and the people who live near its banks, and those who come to ride its keen white edges… John Lane treats the landscapes of the Chattooga River as places that exist not only in the mathematics of hydraulics and geomorphology but also in the aqua incognita of our imaginations. His writing is charged, alive, a little threatening, as he guides us down unexplored waters. His accounts of the people, the politics, the rapids, and the changing environments of the Chattooga flicker insistently like a flashbulb afterimage in the mind long after the book is tucked away. If any author has come close to cracking the code to the enigma of why folks are drawn to the black-rocked dangers and the white magic of fast, free-flowing water, it is John Lane.” –Richard Bangs, author of The Lost River and founder of Sobek Expeditions

“Bring together a genuinely exciting subject-the reality and the myths of the Chattooga River-and a gifted and knowledgeable writer at the peak of his powers, one who knows that subject by heart and bone, and you have the recipe for a book you will want to read (more than once) with pleasure and admiration. Chattooga is that book, and John Lane is the gifted author who earns our attention and our praise.” –George P. Garrett, author of Going to See the Elephant

“John Lane combines the ecological imperatives with a critic’s eye in explaining the overwhelming impact that James Dickey’s novel had on the river-both good and bad-and on our ideas about wildness and violence in general. This book is a gem-beautifully conceived and written.” –Philip Lee Williams, author of Crossing Wildcat Ridge: A Memoir of Nature and Healing

“Chattooga: Descending into the Myth of Deliverance River is a highly original blending of landscape description, environmental history, and memoir. John Lane evokes the impact upon a remote, beautiful region and its people that was caused by James Dickey’s best-selling novel and the movie based on it. By including himself in the audience for such myth-making, and by integrating accounts of his own kayaking down the Chattooga, Lane creates a stirring tale of adventure as well as a reflection about the impact of mass media on a rural community. The precision and humor of his writing, as well as the many deft characterizations along the way, make his book engrossing from the first page to the last.” –John Elder, author of Reading the Mountains of Home

“From where I sit, near the headwaters of the Chattooga, where the Dickey novel and the Boorman film are more than controversial, I see the gifted storyteller John Lane’s book as a deliverance and a healing, bridging the maelstrom and the mythos of a great river for those who love and respect its wildness, and therein, its wisdom.” –Thomas Rain Crowe, author of Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods

“I haven’t felt so ‘into’ a wilderness place since reading Bill Bryson’s account of hiking the Appalachian Trail, and I think Lane in this book is a better read even than Bryson. Except for one or two sentences (‘I am haunted by waters’) in Norman Maclean’s wonderful A River Runs Through It, Lane’s book is without parallel in giving life and voice to running waters.” –Southern Scene (published in 107 Southern newspapers)

“Having previously explored the river, Lane returns to journey the entire length of it, describing its natural beauty and danger as well as pausing to view it through the prism of Dickey’s book. . . . Lane artfully applies his poetic sensibility to the river itself . . . Lane’s own writing and observations are good enough to stand outside of Dickey’s considerable shadow.” –Publishers Weekly

“Lane’s book is a personal narrative that skillfully navigates the contemporary cultural and ecological history of its subject … A writer who would obviously rather paddle first and theorize later, Lane prefers to let the river speak for itself.” –George de Man, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“His narrative provides a kayaker’s soggy-seated perspective, describing the river’s sucking hydraulics and breath-stealing drops. … Lane writes with muscle and insight.” –Bruce Henderson, The Charlotte Observer

“In this readable meditation, Lane convincingly demonstrates that Dickey’s disturbing and powerful vision exists only “on the shelf and on the screen.’ The reality is much more complex.” –John Sledge, Mobile Register

“While the book skims the surface of Dickey’s and Boorman’s brutal world, Lane is at his strongest when writing about his own observations of the river and the people who live along its banks. … Despite using Deliverance’s cultural hook, readers will discover-through Lane’s vivid descriptions, smooth prose and obvious passion for the environment and the Chattooga-that the author has charted a course all his own, one where the wild and scenic river is one of the strongest characters.” —Creative Loafing (Charlotte, NC)

“At places, Lane’s descriptions cause you to pause and take it all in, to eddy out in the reading and savor the flow of memories you have of rivers. If you’ve ever spent time in a boat without a motor, you’ll enjoy reading the coincidence of feelings and shared conversations you’ve had on the water.” –Scooter MacMillan, Columbus Ledger

“Lane hikes alongside the Chattooga and kayaks down its waters. He explores the literature of the river and fishing and weaves in the history of the area. … Like all good nature writers, Lane adds his personal history to the natural history and human cultural history of the river.” –Danny Bernstein, Rapid River

“Throughout this book we meet not only the Chattooga, but we meet as well a man who can write with the force and power of the currents he describes. Lane not only has the descriptive talents to give us the river and the geography of the river, but he also gives us wonderful, short, and accurate descriptions of those whom he meets. Lane has the eye and the knowledge of craft to bring to life a scene in just a sentence or two, to capture a personality in just a few words.” –Jeff Minick, Smoky Mountain News

“Lane’s strength as a writer lies in his poetic descriptions and vivid imagery, which makes this a truly enjoyable read about a beautiful and special place. Whether you’ve never seen the Chattooga River or you live in its watershed and know it well, you’ll enjoy seeing it through John Lane’s eyes.” –The Chattooga Quarterly

“This book is both a personal pilgrimage and an oral history of one of America’s most fascinating waterways.” –Appalachian Heritage

“[Lane’s book] is valuable as a naturalist narrative, a series of adventure stories, and a valuable addition to our understanding of James Dickey and the river on the Georgia-South Carolina border that he had such a hand in making famous. … Lane is a highly dependable guide down a stream that has offered both beauty and danger in fiction and reality to thousands of individuals.” –William B. Thesing, James Dickey Newsletter

“[A] good book from a subtle and gifted writer.” –Rick Matthews, Chattanooga Times Free Press

“Lane not only has the descriptive talents to give us the river and the geography of the river, but he also gives us wonderful, short, and accurate descriptions of those whom he meets. Lane has the eye and the knowledge of craft to bring to life a scene in just a sentence or two, to capture a personality in just a few words.” –Jeff Minick, Smoky Mountain Review

“John Lane’s talent as a poet is evident in the lyricism of his prose, and his expertise in whitewater shows in the dynanism and precision of his river descriptions. Lane is also an engaging storyteller who layers narratives of the rich literary, cultural, and environmental history of the Chattooga watershed while allowing us to listen in on his conversations with paddlers, environmentalists, land managers, and local residents (including some who were used as extras in Boorman’s film). And Lane is a Southerner, which makes him sensitive to the unique combination of dream and slander that has created the legend of his home river.” –Michael P. Branch, ISLE

“A native Southerner, Lane loves the leisurely, unfolding front-porch tale. … Yet he has written a very modern book, one that argues that to look at a landscape or an animal in just one or two ways is to diminish it. … [A]n insightful and companionable examination of a book, a movie, and a river that still runs free.” –John Calderazzo, Orion

Waist Deep in Black Water (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2002)

“Even more impressive than Lane’s engaging writing is his self-editing. The 22 pieces in Waist Deep in Black Water seem to span an eight-year period and have been arranged to reflect a very moving voyage-from a meditation on mountains to tales of remote adventure to a search for intensity back home and finally to a consideration of his family’s history.” –Rob Neufeld, Asheville Citizen-Times

“John Lane finds stories in rocks or water or wind. He is a storyteller whose range is the outdoors, from the high peaks to the low swamps. His essays about his experiences, collected in this new book, shine with a sense of discovery about the world outside and within. . . . Lane writes with eloquence of a world, “where time moves in more than one direction and no landscape holds steady for long.’ His essays map both our geography and our soul with a questioning detachment and a willingness to accept the contradictions inherent in the answers.” –William W. Starr, The State

“In measured, thoughtful, often witty prose, Lane takes us along on a wide range of journeys: to a cottonmouth-infested Florida swamp; his ancestral cemetery in Greene County; a crocodile lair in the dark backwaters of the Yucatan; a woodland area within Spartanburg’s city limits; the Suriname rain forest; the Pacolet River; an island off the Georgia coast. Wherever Lane ventures, however, his destination is ultimately internal- a spot deep within himself, where he hopes to find connection, meaning, truth. . . . Early on in this collection, Lane says he is hoping ‘to find a language big enough to fit our landscape.’ In Waist Deep in Black Water , he seems to have done that-to have come up with just the right words to describe the geographical and interior vistas he explores with such fervor and passion” –Polly Paddock, The Charlotte Observer

“Some journeys are physical, others emotional. In Waist Deep in Black Water, John Lane chronicles both with achingly vivid truth.” –Beverly Knight, Spartanburg Herald-Journal

“Let this author take you away from the cacophony of the modern world to the wild places-eons-old settings that remain unchanged. . . . John Lane’s collection of 18 outdoor essays features exquisite descriptions that recall the beauty and mystery of the earth as it must have been in raw and unfettered times. . . . For those seeking escape from the crush of contemporary times, this book leads to sanctuary.” –Eric Chaney, Southern Living

“[The] book is not political, but rather deeply personal, in the tradition of nature writers who feel that the noise and hustle of the urban landscape is the perfect place to get lost, while the undeveloped areas are the place to get found-or to find oneself. He records his discoveries in carefully crafted, almost poetic prose. –Augusta Magazine

“Waist Deep in Black Water is the work of a deep soul … The many-sided graciousness of his prose reminds us that the past is not dead, and that ‘we don’t stand in a line. It’s more like a circle, and anyone at anytime can be the center.'” –John P. O’Grady, ISLE

“Concise forays into the heart of places scattered throughout the Americas and within his family’s history . . . Lane has a fluid eye in a ‘world where time moves in more than one direction and no landscape holds steady for long,’ and it’s energizing to see through that eye, open as it is to both light and darkness.” –Kirkus Reviews

“…Lane’s command of language and images is riveting, and his stories are fetching. All 18 pieces carry explicit and implicit pleas for stewardship of the natural world, and all are semi-autobiographical (as were the essays of Henry David Thoreau, of whom the reader will be reminded in reading John Lane).” –Southern Scene (published in 107 Southern newspapers)

“John Lane writes with equal measures of wit, wisdom, passion and humor about natural places that matter to him-a medicine wheel in the Big Horns, a cypress swamp in Florida, a rain forest in Surinam, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia, not to mention the priceless woods and rivers near his home in South Carolina. Like all good nature writers, Lane explores himself as he explores the landscapes that inspire him, and this book is a wonderful account, written with clarity and depth, of his travels within and without. John Lane takes the land seriously. His essays matter.” –Christopher Camuto, author of A Fly Fisherman’s Blue Ridge, and Another Country: Journeying to the Cherokee Mountains ”

John Lane’s essays are each a gem: occurring naturally, apparently effortlessly, but revealing beauty beyond anything man-made. This is a wonderful collection, and John Lane is an important American author.” –Bret Lott, author of Oprah Book club selection Jewel

“Intriguing and well-wrought essays from a southern boy who is a collector of stories, each like a pretty rock gathered from some high place. John Lane’s pockets are full. His informants are wind and sage, storms and dark water, a love of land, the strange muteness of history. This is a book of searching, traveling through the uncharted territory where the human psyche meets wildness, to glean what lies in the depths of life. Lane’s adventures carry us down many unknown and beautiful roads; like the best of journeys, they bring us back to ourselves.” –Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

“In eloquently natural prose, John Lane’s essays draw us into a sense of intimacy with the world, from hidden domestic treasures to the darkly threatening backwaters of the Yucatan. Together the essays become what might be the most intriguing form of memoir: we leave the book feeling we’ve come to know the the kind of observing, truth-telling, daring character we wait to hear more from.” –Rosa Shand, author of The Gravity of Sunlight

“In this engaging collection of narrative essays, John Lane has taken the notion of Southern story telling beyond its immediate boundaries, letting it roam to the cairns of Wyoming, the crocodile lairs of the Yucatan, the cypress swamps of Florida, even the jungles of Suriname. Reflective, attentive to both people and place, naturalist Lane carefully reveals the landscape—of outer geography and inner spirit—that helps define us.” –Bill Belleville, author of Deep Cuba and River of Lakes

“John Lane is a good snake man full of the kind of homesickness that snakes represent to the cognoscenti, and his writing will satisfy others afflicted with that homesickness.” –Padgett Powell, author of Edisto and A Woman Named Drown

“Any life worth living is full of friction, contradiction, and errancy. John Lane has led a life worth living. He accepts its difficulties and open-endedness with remarkable equanimity. He does not dramatize, advertise, or accuse himself. His narratives are always excursions, which may be into the exotic outback of Surinam, up a local mountain road, or down a suburban creek. They produce knowledge that is never final, momentary illumination of what cannot be systematically elucidated. The stories have real drama and real grief, yet a musing and bemused detachment is their dominant tone. That, and a serenely implacable resistance to the psychological and ecological atrocities that are committed in the name of what is sold to us as the American Way of Life.” –Franklin Burroughs, author of Billy Watson’s Croker Sack and The River Home

“Waist Deep in Black Water is a trek into two realms: wild landscapes that are among the most mysterious and compelling on earth, and the tangled halls of human experience. John Lane’s writing is casual and honest, but also full of insight. He gracefully accomplishes two of the essayist’s most difficult tasks: building a sense of place and revealing the workings of his heart.” –Jan Deblieu, author of Hatteras Journal and the Burroughs Medal-winning Wind

“John Lane’s Waist Deep in Black Water is a compelling book that draws readers into many worlds. Life is an adventure for Lane: his work, his travels, his everyday activities are of a piece. Passion and caring inform his life and his writing. Communities, landscapes, ecosystems, people, and all living things matter to him. Waist Deep in Black Water is a gift to readers who are seeking ways to explore the good and wondrous in the lives and passions of others.” –Melissa Walker, author of Living on Wilderness Time

The Dead Father Poems (Raleigh, NC: Horse & Buggy Press, 2000)

“… a compelling, lovely series of poems tied to losses… not a false word or false step in them…they confront grief and healing with the tongues of memory, the flickers of revelation.” –The State (Columbia, SC)

The Woods Stretched for Miles: New Nature Writing from the South Edited by John Lane & Gerald Thurmond (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1999)

“This is an important book–the first of its kind exclusively on the Southeast. It should appeal to general readers who wish to read about the genre in the Southeast, about the long and complex relationship between American culture and nature, and also about the controversial environmental issues in the region.” –John Murray, editor of American Nature Writing

“Mingling environmental concerns, naturalist observation and appreciation of the South’s distinctive landscape and culture, this adventurous anthology is full of indelible forays deep into nature, the American South and ecology.” –Publishers Weekly

“…these writers are careful and accurate observers of both emotion and place… Recommended for public and academic libraries collecting nature writing and regional literature.” –Library Journal

“The region’s bone-deep regard for the land is the theme that binds together these diverse subjects–from alligators to hurricanes. What truly makes this anthology shine, though, is the sheer quality of the words and the strength of each writer’s passion for the natural world.” –Southern Living

“The editorial balance of tone and approach makes this book a pleasure to read and a valuable resource of models for students of nature writing.” –News and Record (Greensboro, NC)

Midnight on the Water by Mark O’Connor (with poetry improvisations by John Lane (New York: Sony Classical CD, 1998)

“O’Connor varies the program. Six caprices pay tribute to 19th-century violinist and composer Nicol Paganini. Four improvisations acquire programmatic depth from companion poems by John Lane.” –The Tennessean (Nashville, TN) album review by Jay Orr

“The art of poetry has found some new supporters in the music world… Midnight on the Water features four “improvisations” which, as the name implies, are basically “done in the moment,” says his spokesman. While that makes for great music, it also made putting liner notes together a little more difficult. So O’Connor decided to enlist the help of Spartanburg, South Carolina poet John Lane to interpret in verse his improvised compositions. The liner notes now feature four poems.”–My Launch (web review)

Hub City Anthology: Spartanburg Writers & Artists Edited by John Lane & Betsty Teter (Spartanburg, SC: Holocene, 1996)

“Novelist Lee Smith says you can’t swing a dead cat in Chapel Hill, where she lives, and not hit a writer. A new anthology of personal essays shows that the same must be true for Spartanburg, SC. . . The book is a carefully constructed, lively anthology with both words and pictures to enjoy and ponder.” –The Charlotte Observer, Reviewed by Michael Chitwood

“Hub City is bringing the dream of community back into the body of industrial sleep.” –Point Magazine (Columbia, SC)

Against Information & Other Poems (Cullowhee, NC: New Native Press, 1995)

“Against Information is a provocative act of defiance against the “Internet” spirit of our time. Lane often mentions and alludes to William Blake, but instead of Blake’s blank verse, he writes in large chunks and slabs of concentrated verse paragraphs, dis tinguishable from prose only because incantatory. His poems, epic in scope (indeed, they read like latter-day versions of Blake’s prophetic books) satirise inhuman jargon and technological gadgetry. His is a dark vision of lives shackled by PCs, mobile telephones, bleepers [sic], faxes, you name it.” –Lines Review No. 138 (Edinburgh, Scotland) Reviewed by Mario Relich

“In a time when poets run in fear of content, especially the content sustaining the language we all live by, Lane’s fearless celebration of the materials of words…is a sign of hope… We need him.” –Small Press Review (California) Front page Review, June ’95 Reviewed by Joe Napora

“Startling…Lane likes to stand cliches on their ears and the world on its head, and his results are often hilarious. When the poems are deadly accurate–as they almost always are–the hilarity is doubled.” –The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) Reviewed by Fred Chappell

“. . . a controlled histrionic tinged with anti-technology sentiments that would have done the Luddite and Agrarian movements proud. Lane wafts it with Whitmanesque exuberances.” –Southern Seen by Larry McGehee (Syndicated in 103 Southern newspapers)

“Against Information and Other Poems represents not only a stylistic but a philosophical evolution for John Lane.” –House Organ (Ohio) Reviewed by David Starkey

“Imagine a cross between Walt Whitman and comedian George Carlin and you’re getting close to John Lane’s poetry in his new book Against Information. This book is part rant and part language romp and is seriously funny in its tacking of unlikely poetic subjects such as cellular phones and the national health care plan… These poems rail like an evangelist, and they aren’t afraid to take up a diamondback or two to show what a little old-fashioned gospel can do.” –The Charlotte Observer

“John Lane’s “Against Information” rises in a long line of literary works that doubt the goodness of progress, of technology, of uniformity. Lane’s ode to a more spontaneous and direct life is a wailing laugh, disheartened and excited, disturbed and hopeful.” –The Billings Gazette (Billings, Montana)

Weed Time: Essays from the Edge of a Country Yard (Charlotte, NC: Briarpatch Press, 1993)

“One of South Carolina’s finest writers, Lane has built his reputation as a poet. In this handsome little collection, he turns to the essay form, though the poet’s sensibility is still strongly evident. Lane… writes them with grace and thoughtfulness.” –The State (Columbia, SC) Review by William Starr

As the World Around Us Sleeps (Charlotte, NC: Briarpatch Press, 1992)

“John Lane enjoys a varied career as writer: poet, screenwriter, essayist, short story writer and editor. But the Spartanburg resident is, first and foremost, a serious writer of poetry. A new collection by Lane is reason to celebrate… a volume of poetic sensitivity and imagination that gets high marks.” –The State (Columbia, SC)

“John Lane may be the best argument against Thomas Wolfe’s edict– “you can’t go home again”– to come along in the second half of this American century. And as one of the most visibly documented, well-traveled writers of the younger generation, Lane, against all odds, has returned home to “the real work,” and is doing just fine. Just read the book. Is this the voice of someone who is lost?” –Greenline (Asheville, NC)

“In loss be gentle sorrow? In John Lane’s poems there is room for both praise and quiet lamenting… Lane creates images both powerful and tender… He is a rising star on the literary scene, one whose work to watch for, but most of all to read.” –The Pilot (Southern Pines, NC Reviewed by Sam Ragan

Quarries (Davidson, NC: Briarpatch Press, 1985)

“John Lane is a poet who knows natural things, and who watches, records and celebrates… he is a poet to watch.” –The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) Reviewed by Ruth Moose

“Lane celebrates not only a sense of place but a unified vision of the world, wisened with what he rightly calls ‘sense and bearing.'” –The Journal(Winston-Salem, NC) Reviewed by Robert Hedin

“A rewarding and richly-textured volume of poetry, Quarries works toward a singular vision of the world in which all things–past and present, animate and inanimate– are linked in natural unity. It is a gathering of healing songs, with poems bridging the distance between personal and cultural histories.” –Loblolly (Wilson, NC)

“South Carolina is richer in its poetic diversity and artistry than the small size of the state would lead most people to suspect. Case in point: John Lane… In the landscape of his words, Lane is unmistakably Southern; in his reasoned expressiveness, he is universal. He is a delight to encounter, and I would have to believe he will only become better and better known.” –The State (Columbia, SC)

“… a stringent poetic intelligence that has absorbed and rechanneled to his own use the two great streams of the American tradition– Dickinsonian precision and quirkiness, Whitmanesque expansion. Lane accomplishes both the minute examination and the grand, inclusive gesture, a feat the more impressive one considers how few living poets attempt either.” –Asheville Arts Journal(Asheville, NC) Reviewed by David Brendan Hopes

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