China Bestsellers: A Tall ‘Dune’ Appears on November’s Charts, Driven by Film

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The Frank Herbert series may be finding a footing in the Chinese market, where series and relatively recent ‘classics’ are prized.

The Gobi Desert dunes at Ejina in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Sihasak Prachum

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Series have Staying Power on China’s Lists
The new Warner Bros. adaptation by Jon Spaights and director Denis Villenueve of Frank Herbert’s 1965 Dune was released on October 22 in China. With Hans Zimmer’s exhilarating score, Patrice Vermette’s design, and the complex performance of Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) as Paul Atreides, the film seems to be working its windswept magic on the Chinese readership.

‘Dune’

Dune in an edition from Jiangsu Literature & Art Press has entered the overall fiction list at No. 19 in November, just as in the United States, the film tie-in edition (Penguin Random House/Ace Books) has arrived at No. 2 on the Most Read Amazon Charts and No. 7 in Most Sold.

Our associates at Beijing OpenBook note that the book has been published in China before now, although the interest driving it onto the lists is clearly related to the film release. The edition you see at No. 19 in overall fiction–and moving up a spot from No. 5 to No. 6 on the international fiction bestseller list–was first released in 2016.

The real question becomes how much staying power something like a film-fueled Dune can be expected to show on the Chinese list.

Those who regularly follow our lists will see that the top three positions in November were occupied by the 2008 The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin. It’s followed by its series-mates, The Dark Forest and Death’s End at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. This can be interpreted to be a reflection of Dune-prompted science-fiction interest, of course, but Liu’s trilogy has been charting for decades and these books are some of the cluster of the most reliably popular in the Chinese book industry.

’30 Minutes of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms in Cartoon’

What the OpenBook team describes as a condition of “insufficient hot spots” remains in sway on the Chinese lists. New work seems to have a tough time displacing the relatively recent “classics” that dominate this market’s slowly moving –most of these titles dating from the mid-20th century. “If a new book wants to be known by more readers,” our associates say in their discussion of the November charts, “it must overcome the existing bestsellers and gain an advantage. And that increases the difficulty of selling new authors and new works” who don’t come with their own following already intact.

And in nonfiction, there are parallels to the fiction dynamics, though they take a different form.

In November’s nonfiction list, you’ll see no fewer than five of Chen Lei’s “30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon” series at Nos. 1 to 7. There are at least four more related Chen titles on the list, just not charting together.

And then from No. 3 to No. 7. And lower on the list, here are eight titles from Fei Zhi’s “If History Were a Group of Cats” series from Guangdong Tourism Publishing House. They’re on the list from Nos. 8 to 15. This means that more than a third of the nonfiction list is being held by novelty/humorous approaches to historical topics. It also shows impressive loyalty among consumers to authors and series they like.

‘Treasure Hunting in Heilongjiang’

And in children’s books, you’ll see a total 16 titles from Bei Mao, the Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House’s “Mi Xiaoquan” series, a solid wall of dominance over half the list. Another series, Treasure Hunting in China from the 21st Century Press Group, has entered the children’s list with five titles.

In what surely qualifies as a handsome understatement, the OpenBook team says that all this “once again shows the strength of the well-known series of books.” And that’s why Dune‘s Chinese publisher, Jiangsu Literature & Art Press, may be pleased to see the second title in Herbert’s six-book series, Dune Messiah, a 2017 arriving at No. 8 on the foreign-author fiction list. If Jiangsu Literature can rumble up enough market enthusiasm for the late Frank Herbert’s series, the Chinese readership may go all-in as it’s done for other series, and give the Arrakis saga the run it deserves.

Below, then, are OpenBook’s lists from November of bestsellers in fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books, followed by its lists of bestselling fiction and nonfiction in China by authors from outside the country.

At the end of our article, as always, you’ll find notes on how the lists are constructed.

OpenBook’s Fiction Bestsellers, November 2021
October 2021 Ranking November 2021 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
5 1 9787536692930 2008-01 The Three-Body Problem Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
7 2 9787536693968 2008-05 The Dark Forest Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
8 3 9787229030933 2010-11 Death’s End Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
1 4 9787506331746 2005-05 Distant Savior Dou Dou The Writer’s Publishing House
4 5 9787540487645 2018-06 Moments We Shared Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
3 6 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 7 9787530220481 2021-05 Ordinary Word (2021 Edition) Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
28 8 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder The Writer’s Publishing House
6 9 9787572602825 2021-08 Always Have, Always Will Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
2 10 9787530215593 2017-06 To Live Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
9 11 9787530221396 2021-06 Ordinary Word (3 Volumes) (2021 Edition) Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 12 9787506368698 2013-06 The World Under the Sky Dou Dou The Writer’s Publishing House
14 13 9787544766500 2017-01 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee Yilin Press
11 14 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Keigo Higashino Nan Hai Publishing Co.
10 15 9787559614636 2017-12 Fang Si-Qi’s First Love Paradise Lin Yihan Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
23 16 9787020002207 1998-07 Dream of the Red Chamber Cao Xueqin People’s Literature Publishing House
16 17 9787020008735 1998-07 Journey to the West Wu Cheng’en People’s Literature Publishing House
12 18 9787500601593 2005-08 Red Crag Luo Guangbin, Yang Yiyan China Youth Press
Not Ranked 19 9787539967363 2016-12 Dune Frank Herbert Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
20 20 9787530219218 2019-02 A Wavy Life Mai Jia Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
18 21 9787544267618 2014-06 The Devotion of Suspect X Keigo Higashino Nan Hai Publishing Co.
22 22 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Keigo Higashino Nan Hai Publishing Co.
24 23 9787020164776 2020-07 A Late Bloomer Mo Yan People’s Literature Publishing House
13 24 9787020090006 2012-07 Fortress Besieged Qian Zhongshu People’s Literature Publishing House
15 25 9787530221099 2021-02 Wencheng Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
19 26 9787544298995 2020-09 Miracles of the Namiya General Store (2020 Edition) Keigo Higashino Nan Hai Publishing Co.
21 27 9787559455000 2021-06 First Frost (The End) Zhu Yi Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 28 9787540491949 2019-06 I Belonged to You (Revised Edition) Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
17 29 9787555285298 2020-03 Hidden Love Zhu Yi Qingdao Publishing House
Not Ranked 30 9787208061644 2006-04 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini Shanghai People’s Publishing House

OpenBook’s Nonfiction Bestsellers, November 2021
October 2021 Ranking November 2021 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787201161693 2020-08 Counselling for Toads: A Psychological Adventure Robert de Board Tianjin People’s Publishing House
8 2 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover Nan Hai Publishing Co.
3 3 9787539999883 2017-03 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
4 4 9787549632725 2020-09 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (5) Chen Lei Wenhui Publishing House
5 5 9787544382045 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
6 6 9787544387866 2019-09 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (4) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
7 7 9787544382052 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (3) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
10 8 9787557024413 2021-05 If History were a Group of Cats: Prosperity of the Tang Dynasty Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
11 9 9787559313652 2017-09 If History were a Group of Cats: Xia, Shang and Western Zhou Dynasty Fei Zhi Heilongjiang Fine Arts Press
12 10 9787559330260 2018-06 If History were a Group of Cats: The Spring-autumn and Warring State Period Fei Zhi Heilongjiang Fine Arts Press
15 11 9787557023041 2020-10 If History were a Group of Cats: Sui and Tang Dynasty Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
18 12 9787557017477 2019-02 If History were a Group of Cats: Qin, Chu, Western Han and Eastern Han Dynasty Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
21 13 9787557020149 2019-09 If History were a Group of Cats: Three Kingdoms Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
23 14 9787557021856 2020-05 If History were a Group of Cats: Wei, Jin and the Northern and Southern Dynasties Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
24 15 9787557020132 2019-09 If History were a Group of Cats: The End of Eastern Han Dynasty Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
20 16 9787547739549 2021-05 30 Minutes of World History in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Beijing daily publishing house
26 17 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
28 18 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
22 19 9787559418111 2018-04 30 Minutes of World History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
9 20 9787508095226 2018-09 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg Huaxia Publishing House
Not Ranked 21 9787572603839 2021-09 Sai Lei’s Party History in Comics Sai Lei Hunan Literature & Art Press
25 22 9787540484880 2018-01 The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo Lin Yutang Hunan Literature & Art Press
14 23 9787540489304 2019-01 Danshari Eiko Yamashita Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 24 9787555912156 2021-10 30 Minutes of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms in Cartoon Chen Lei Henan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 25 9787549636358 2021-10 30 Minutes of The Analects in Cartoon Chen Lei Wenhui Publishing House
Not Ranked 26 9787521210255 2020-08 The Tough Brilliance Jin Yinan The Writer’s Publishing House
27 27 9787559639134 2020-06 The Rise of China Jin Yinan Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
Not Ranked 28 9787530214787 2017-04 The Stories of the Sahara Echo Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 29 9787521731224 2021-06 Hi I’m China (2) Institute for Planets CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
29 30 9787559620125 2018-05 Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right (Full Version) (New Edition) Gao Ming Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.

OpenBook’s Children’s Bestsellers, November 2021
October 2021 Ranking November 2021 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
5 1 9787544288590 2018-06 Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window (2018 Edition) Tetsuko Kuroyanagi Nan Hai Publishing Co.
3 2 9787557694784 2021-08 30 Minutes of Puberty in Cartoon: Physiological Features Chen Lei,30 Minutes in Cartoon Tianjin Science & Technology Press
22 3 9787532767373 2014-08 Charlotte’s web Elwyn Brooks White Shanghai Translation Publishing House
1 4 9787556855339 2021-08 Treasure Hunting in Heilongjiang Jingding Comic 21st Century Press Group
14 5 9787521726473 2020-12 A Dog Named Money Bodo Schafer CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 6 9787543464582 2007-05 My Dad Anthony Browne Hebei Education Press
Not Ranked 7 9787543464575 2007-06 My Mum Anthony Browne Hebei Education Press
26 8 9787533299224 2018-10 Fantastic Mr. Fox Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake Tomorrow Publishing House
4 9 9787536593749 2020-05 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Game of the Wise Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
11 10 9787536574397 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Clever Little Prodigy Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
6 11 9787536593756 2020-05 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Password Discovery Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
8 12 9787536593459 2020-05 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: ‘Have a Meal’ Restaurant Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
7 13 9787536593442 2020-05 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: The Magic Lamp Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
12 14 9787536574366 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Strategy Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
10 15 9787533274269 2013-08 Guess How Much I Love You Sam McBratney, Anita Jeram Tomorrow Publishing House
Not Ranked 16 9787556848515 2020-04 Treasure Hunting in Hainan Jingding Comic 21st Century Press Group
16 17 9787536574380 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Who’s the Smart Guy? Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
17 18 9787536574373 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: The Great Adventure of the Castle Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 19 9787556844128 2019-10 Treasure Hunting in Xinjiang Jingding Comic, Sun Jiayu, Wu Chengqi 21st Century Press Group
Not Ranked 20 9787556834549 2018-04 Treasure Hunting in Beijing Sun Jiayu, Wu Chengqi 21st Century Press Group
Not Ranked 21 9787556834532 2018-04 Treasure Hunting in Shanghai Sun Jiayu, Wu Chengqi 21st Century Press Group
2 22 9787558900648 2017-07 Winter of Three Hairs (With Chinese Pinyin) Zhang Leping Juvenile & Children’s Publishing House
25 23 9787536587731 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Trouble of the New Deskmate Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
15 24 9787536587694 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: I am a Pupil Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
24 25 9787536596313 2019-12 Mi Xiaoquan’s Idioms Comic Games Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
27 26 9787536587762 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: If I Have a Time Machine Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
28 27 9787536587755 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Secrets of Nature Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
29 28 9787536587748 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: A Lot of Fun Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
18 29 9787536587724 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Look at This Family Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
21 30 9787536587700 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: My Good Friend Tie Tou Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House

Foreign Author Fiction Bestsellers, November 2021
October 2021 Ranking November 2021 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
8 2 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder Norway The Writer’s Publishing House
3 3 9787544766500 2017-01 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee United States of America Yilin Press
2 4 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
6 5 9787539967363 2016-12 Dune Frank Herbert United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
4 6 9787544267618 2014-06 The Devotion of Suspect X Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
7 7 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 8 9787539981147 2017-08 Dune Messiah Frank Herbert United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
5 9 9787544298995 2020-09 Miracles of the Namiya General Store (2020 Edition) Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
11 10 9787532175512 2020-05 13 Steps Kazuaki Takano Japan Shanghai Literature & Art Press
12 11 9787208061644 2021-03 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini United States of America Shanghai People’s Publishing House
10 12 9787544291224 2017-08 After School (2017 Edition) Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
9 13 9787544297905 2021-06 The Nameless Town Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
19 14 9787540485337 2018-03 Tsubaki Stationery Store Ito Ogawa Japan Hunan Literature & Art Press
14 15 9787532776771 2018-03 Norwegian Wood (30th Anniversary Edition) Haruki Murakami Japan Shanghai Translation Publishing House
16 16 9787544281102 2016-01 Newcomer Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
17 17 9787201116693 2017-05 My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry Fredrik Backman Sweden Tianjin People’s Publishing House
18 18 9787544297059 2020-03 Love in the Time of Cholera (3 Million Sold Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
13 19 9787530217054 2017-12 The Alchemist Paulo Coelho Brazil Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
20 20 9787539983295 2015-10 Foundation Isaac Asimov United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press

Foreign Author Nonfiction Bestsellers, November 2021
October 2021 Ranking November 2021 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787201161693 2020-08 Counselling for Toads: A Psychological Adventure Robert de Board Britain Tianjin People’s Publishing House
2 2 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover United States of America Nan Hai Publishing Co.
6 3 9787111495482 2020-03 The Courage to Be Disliked Ichiro Kishimi Japan China Machine Press
9 4 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen United States of America Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
10 5 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
3 6 9787508095226 2018-09 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg United States of America Huaxia Publishing House
7 7 9787520711531 2019-11 A Compass to Fulfillment Kazuo Inamori Japan Orient Press
8 8 9787540471194 2019-02 Relationship: Bridge to the Soul Christoper Moon Canada Hunan Literature & Art Press
11 9 9787210096528 2017-09 Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Carol S.Dweck United States of America Jiangxi People’s Publishing House
4 10 9787540489304 2019-01 Danshari Eiko Yamashita Japan Hunan Literature & Art Press
12 11 9787547734315 2019-09 Life is Worth Living Tsuneko Nakamura, Hiromi Okuda Japan Beijing daily publishing house
16 12 9787220114045 2019-07 Rich Dad Poor Dad Robert T.Kiyosaki United States of America Sichuan People’s Publishing House
15 13 9787508633558 2012-07 Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kanneman United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
17 14 9787535732309 2001-11 A Brief History of Time Stephen W.Hawking Britain Hunan Science & Technology Press
19 15 9787508687216 2018-08 Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty Abhijit V.Banerjee, Esther Duflo United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 16 9787108009821 2014-03 1587, a Year of No Significance Ray Huang United States of America SDX Joint Publishing Company
5 17 9787020116133 2017-06 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow United States of America People’s Literature Publishing House
14 18 9787115536198 2020-05 Heart: Kazuo Inamori’s Philosophy of Life Kazuo Inamori Japan Posts & Telecommunications Publishing House
Not Ranked 19 9787508684031 2017-12 Principles Ray Dalio United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 20 9787508672069 2017-01 Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd

Notes on the Charts

OpenBook is a privately owned industry-data research firm based in Beijing. It functions somewhat as Nielsen and NDP do from the West, and Nielsen Book Research International has worked with OpenBook in Asian operations. With authoritative data and information resources, OpenBook is able to deliver consulting service to partners who would like to explore the Chinese book market and identify suitable partners.

Jiang Boyan LLC advises authors and right’s holders on global intellectual property and investment opportunities.

As of January 1, 2020, OpenBook monitored more than 10,000 online and offline bookstores.

The online channel includes digital retailers such as large self-operated online stores, platform stores, and small- and medium-sized stores. The offline channels include 4,495 bookstores. Coverage includes most of the state-owned and influential privately owned bookstores in 30 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions. Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet are not included in OpenBook’s system.

In 2019, OpenBook tracked around 71.72 billion RMB in sales (US$10.1 billion).

Retail outlets include:

  • Traditional bookstores
  • Supermarkets
  • Campus bookstores
  • “Professional” stores, said to be small stores with a specific industrial or trade focus
  • Airport stores

In addition, OpenBook is drawing data from online bookstores of three main types:

  • The “Tmall” stores of Alibaba (Tmall is described as a marketplace of companies that create storefronts online to sell products including books)
  • The “JingDong” Stores of JD.com (similar to Tmall as a marketplace of both individual companies and bookstores operated by JD.com)
  • Ten independent online bookselling retailers

China has 500 or more publishers in operation today. Most of them, Jiang Boyan CEO James Bryant clarifies, are government-owned. Private publishers are required to generate ISBNs for their titles from a publishing company that is government-owned—which, in other words, creates a system in which all ISBNs are in one way or another registered through government channels. The government approves each book published in China.


More China bestseller reports from Publishing Perspectives are here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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