Reading .xlsx files into R, quickly

The gdata library is fantastic for reading small .xls or .xlsx files into R, but it can be very slow for large files. Today I had to read data from the second sheet of a 64Mb .xlsx file. It should have gone something like

library(gdata) <- read.xls("myfile.xlsx", sheet=2, header=TRUE)

but R just hung there, unresponsive, for minutes.

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