Archive | January 2017

Roxane Gay and the Women’s March LA

A week ago I went to Roxane Gay’s reading at Skylight Books with a friend of mine from high school. Jean and I were in Writers Club together, but we hadn’t seen each other since graduation. Now that we both live in LA, we’d been meaning to meet up, and Jean suggested going to see Roxane Gay. I’d wanted to visit Skylight Books for a long time too, so I decided to seize the opportunity.

While familiar with Roxane Gay, I hadn’t read any of her books, just some of her essays in the New York Times. Last week she was reading from her new collection of short stories, Difficult Women. On that rainy evening, Jean and I arrived at the bookstore within minutes of each other to find it already very crowded. We couldn’t move very far beyond the entrance, and we were squished in the standing room up against the checkout counter. I slithered my way over to the part of the counter where I could purchase a copy of Difficult Women, noticing as I waited the signed and numbered prints by Yumi Sakugawa commemorating the 20th anniversary of Skylight Books. Then I had an extraordinary experience.

I’d thought the bookseller behind the counter looked like a writer I’d seen at the Bushwick Book Club reading/concert at Alias Books in November. Isabelle had invited me to that reading, which was two days after the election, and one of the authors was a young man who’d had a bottle explode on him before it was his turn to read. We’d really enjoyed his story. When I saw the bookseller, I thought it didn’t seem that unlikely that that writer also worked at Skylight Books. So as I was paying for Difficult Women, I asked him if I could ask him his name, and when he said it was Beau, I was triumphant. (He thought I looked familiar too. A lot of people find I look familiar.) “I saw you read at Alias Books back in November, right after the election!” I said. “My friend and I really liked your story!” I said that twice, actually. And then he and another bookseller started talking about how Alias Books was closing. (Alas, it is, and the building is being demolished! I stopped in during their closing sale last week and picked up a boxed and illustrated edition of Possession and Scandinavian Folk Dances and Tunes.)

Roxane Gay appeared at last and read from her short story collection. There followed a wonderful Q & A, during which she talked about growing up Haitian-American and dual consciousness, academia, body diversity in comics, and more. She also fielded the perennial (inevitable?) question about writing the other (i.e. a white woman asked her for advice on writing black women). Afterward, Jean and I went through the signing line, so I’ve met Roxane Gay! Even if I had nothing intelligent to say to her.

On Saturday, I chose to bring Difficult Women along to read during my journey to the Women’s March in downtown LA. It felt fitting. Plan A was to take the Expo Line train, but in the morning when I walked to the station, even after bypassing the massive line for fares, I found the platform packed. Pink hats and signs abounded. It felt good seeing so many people turning out with the common goal of taking the train to the march, but it also looked like the Expo Line wasn’t going to be able to handle the throngs. Indeed, an eastbound train rumbled into the station, and through the windows I could see it was already stuffed. The doors opened, but there was no room. I texted the fellow linguists I’d been planning to meet a few stations east to say I was giving up on the train. Instead, I took a bus to Wilshire Blvd and there caught a 720 bus headed downtown. Fortuitously enough, the same friends I’d intended to meet on the train wound up on this bus much later, as did two friends from church, one of whom gave me a pink sign she’d made that read, “Women’s rights are human rights! -Hillary”.

Before my friends boarded my bus, a man who apparently took this bus more often than most of us got on and said conversationally, “What are all you people doing on my bus?” He sat down in front opposite two women who told him they were going to the march, and he said, “Only white women go to that.” From the people on that bus alone, this was demonstrably not true (though there’s certainly a discussion to be had about race and the Women’s March). He kept talking to them, but I tuned out (to read Difficult Women).

The bus disgorged us near 6th and Flower, and we joined the crowds filling the streets. Eventually, it became clear which way the march was going, and we walked from Pershing Square to City Hall. From the reports I’ve heard, there were between 500,000 and 750,000 people at the LA Women’s March. It was heartening and inspiring. There were dozens and dozens of fantastic signs, but here are a few I made a note of:

  •  צדק צדק תרדף Justice, justice shall you pursue (I learned this bit of scripture by reading Davita’s Harp, one of my favorite books)
  • Pro-choice, pro-cats, pro-feminism
  • Queer the fight!

I also saw a lot of THE FUTURE IS FEMALE shirts, including on a whole family with two small children. And I saw a 101-year-old (immigrant?) woman in a wheelchair, carrying a sign (which explained, among other things, that she was 101!).

Then there were the chants:

  • Education, not deportation!
  • No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!
  • Men: Their body, their choice! Women: My body, my choice!
  • The people united will never be divided! (I like “defeated” myself, but anyways.) El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!
  • Sí, se puede!
  • No justice, no peace!

On our walk away from the rallies to catch the 720 back to the Westside, we passed the Last Bookstore and the Los Angeles Public Library.


And here is my mother and several of my high school friends (with family) at the Minnesota State Capitol:


The 29th Annual All-California Sacred Harp Convention

After attending the 26th in Los Angeles and the 27th in the Bay Area, I missed last year’s All-California Sacred Harp Convention in San Diego, but the convention returned to LA this year, and I went! It was once again at Angels Gate in San Pedro, in the Friends meetinghouse-like building on the hilltop overlooking the Pacific. Saturday, the first day of the convention, was very clear, so you could see Catalina Island and what I was told was San Miguel Island, though having now looked at a map I’m not so sure. In any case, it was beautiful!

I went to my last two All-Cals with my friend Leland; this time, my friend Ames (also of the Swarthmore shape note/folk dance set) came down from Portland to go to the convention with me! He arrived in time for Datvebis Gundi’s inaugural rehearsal of 2017. Ames has in fact been on a singing trip to Georgia, so, you know, all the cults intersect.


Ames and me on the muddy hilltop, with the ocean and the Marine Mammal Care Center (think barking sea lions) in the background

On Saturday morning, just before the singing was to begin, Elaine, a singer from San Diego, told me she was going to try to see the SpaceX rocket launch. Intrigued, I followed her outside, picking up Ames along the way. According to Elaine, the launch was scheduled for 9:54am. We positioned ourselves on the hilltop and looked northwest up the coastline toward Santa Barbara, where the rocket was launching from. At one point, I saw a small red and blue object (like a Southwest plane?) moving horizontally across the blue sky until it vanished. I mentioned this, and Elaine wondered if that was it. But then I spotted a small white object, sort of bullet-shaped, rising vertically above the land to the northwest. Its location and trajectory seemed more plausible. I pointed this out, and eventually a contrail appeared below, along the upward path the rocket had taken. Because this was definitely the rocket! It began to arc southward, and eventually I lost sight of it. But we caught the rocket launch!

On Saturday afternoon, Isabelle and Adeline from the department stopped by the singing, and Brice, also from the department, came all day on Sunday, so UCLA Linguistics was awfully well-represented at the convention. And funnily enough, who should I run into on Saturday morning but Linnea, the person who taught the Georgian yodeling workshop Isabelle and I went to at the Machine Project last summer! I didn’t know she did shape note singing too, but I was not surprised.

I’m preparing to defend my dissertation prospectus in a few weeks, so if this blog goes silent, that’s why. But hopefully I’ll be able to come up for air now and then.

The Books I Read in 2016

In 2016, I read 88 books, 25 fewer than in 2015. I’m going to blame that on 紅樓夢 (A Dream of Red Mansions), which took forever to read. So here are the books. As usual, bolded titles are rereads, and there are links for the rare books I blogged about during the year. Oh, and this year, I’ve included the names of the translators for books I read in translation, since translators deserve recognition. Also, I read a lot more short fiction this year than I think I have in the past. More on that after the list of books.

The Hollow Boy Jonathan Stroud
My Brilliant Friend Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein
Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages Gaston Dorren
Illuminae Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
The Story of a New Name Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein
The Sparrow Mary Doria Russell
The Blackthorn Key Kevin Sands
The Goblin Emperor Katherine Addison
Children of God Mary Doria Russell
Bone Gap Laura Ruby
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein
This Is Where It Ends Marieke Nijkamp
Serafina and the Black Cloak Robert Beatty
The Young Elites Marie Lu
The Rose Society Marie Lu
Sorcerer to the Crown Zen Cho
Goodbye Stranger Rebecca Stead
The Rest of Us Just Live Here Patrick Ness
The Story of the Lost Child Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein
The Game of Love and Death Martha Brockenbrough
Pax Sara Pennypacker
Contes de la Tisseuse suivi de Voix de Fées Léa Silhol
Full Cicada Moon Marilyn Hilton
Nest Esther Ehrlich
The Dark Is Rising Susan Cooper
The Golden Specific S. E. Grove
The Perilous Gard Elizabeth Marie Pope
The Curse of Chalion Lois McMaster Bujold
A Study in Charlotte Brittany Cavallaro
The Scorpion Rules Erin Bow
Six of Crows Leigh Bardugo
Nimona Noelle Stevenson
A Madness So Discreet Mindy McGinnis
The Raven King Maggie Stiefvater
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street Natasha Pulley
Une vie à refaire: Mary MacDonald, fille de Loyaliste Karleen Bradford, translated by Martine Faubert
The Magician’s Land Lev Grossman
The Fifth Season N. K. Jemisin
A Bestiary Lily Hoang
A Long Stay in a Distant Land Chieh Chieng
The Blood Between Us Zac Brewer
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky Heidi Durrow
Carry On Rainbow Rowell
The Lie Tree Frances Hardinge
Flexible Wings Veda Stamps
Novecento: pianiste Alessandro Baricco, translated by Françoise Brun
Sacra: Parfums d’Isenne et d’ailleurs, Opus I–Aucun cœur inhumain Léa Silhol
Exit, Pursued by a Bear E. K. Johnston
Summerlost Ally Condie
Court of Fives Kate Elliott
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out Susan Kuklin
Anna and the Swallow Man Gavriel Savit
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club Genevieve Valentine
The Girl from Everywhere Heidi Heilig
How to Say Goodbye in Robot Natalie Standiford
Guardian of the Dead Karen Healey
Dark Metropolis Jaclyn Dolamore
A Strangeness in My Mind Orhan Pamuk, translated by Ekin Oklap
Glittering Shadows Jaclyn Dolamore
Future Shock Elizabeth Briggs
The Steep & Thorny Way Cat Winters
Girl in Reverse Barbara Stuber
The Golden Compass Philip Pullman
Conversations avec la Mort Léa Silhol
Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid Lemony Snicket
I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You Yumi Sakugawa
Flora Segunda Ysabeau S. Wilce
A Dream of Red Mansions Cao Xueqin and Gao E, translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang
Monstress Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Seasonal Velocities Ryka Aoki
The Crimson Skew S. E. Grove
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog Adam Gidwitz and Hatem Aly
The Reader Traci Chee
The Story of Owen E. K. Johnston
Prairie Fire E. K. Johnston
Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul Ryka Aoki
Journey Aaron Becker
Quest Aaron Becker
Return Aaron Becker
Murder Is Bad Manners Robin Stevens
Poison Is Not Polite Robin Stevens
Ondine Jean Giraudoux
A Darker Shade of Magic V. E. Schwab
None of the Above I. W. Gregorio
Scarlett Undercover Jennifer Latham
The Smaller Evil Stephanie Kuehn
The Creeping Shadow Jonathan Stroud
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World Ella Frances Sanders

The Numbers:

  • Total books read: 88
  • Books in French: 6 (principally due to the good influence of Isabelle)
  • Books that were not novels: 18 (20%) (Wow, I seem to be diversifying! Non-fiction: 2; Short story collections: 3; Essay collections: 1; Poetry: 1; Picture books: 3; Plays: 1; Not easily categorized: 5; also Nimona and Monstress are graphic novels)
  • Books read in translation: 8 (9%) (Italian to English: 4; English to French: 1; Italian to French: 1; Turkish to English: 1; Chinese to English: 1)
  • Books read for the first time: 84 (95%)
  • Books read not for the first time: 4 (5%)
  • Books written by women (where at least one co-author is a woman): 68 (77%)
  • Books by authors of color (obviously, how someone identifies can’t always be deduced from a name and an author photo, so this isn’t guaranteed to be 100% accurate): 18 (20%)
  • Books by category (as decided by me): Adult: 30 (34%); Young Adult: 34 (39%); Middle Grade: 21 (24%); Picture Book: 3 (3%)

A note on short stories: For many years, I haven’t read much short fiction, spending almost all my reading hours on novels. (When I was younger and subscribed to Cricket magazine, I read a lot more short stories.) This year, though, I started reading more short stories, probably again thanks to the influence of Isabelle, who recommended half of the titles on the list below to me. Sometime in the latter half of the year, I started keeping a record of the short stories I was reading. Hence this list, in case you’re curious.

“The Uncarved Heart” Evan Dicken
“Cat Pictures Please” Naomi Kritzer
“Taste the Singularity at the Food Truck Circus” Jeremiah Tolbert
“Her Sacred Spirit Soars” S. Qiouyi Lu
“Limits” Donna Glee Williams
“The Circle Harp” Donna Glee Williams
“Almost Days” D.K. Mok
“Made of Cats: A Love Story” Judith Tarr
“Selkie Stories Are For Losers” Sofia Samatar
“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” Alyssa Wong
“Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy” Saladin Ahmed
“Where We Live” Heidi Heilig
“Hurricane Heels” Isabel Yap
“White Lie Sympathy” Isabel Yap
“Boat in Shadows, Crossing” Tori Truslow
“Fist With A Kiss” Isabel Yap
“Only Fools Fall” Isabel Yap
“Kaleidoscope Heart” Isabel Yap
“Water Finds Its Level” M. Bennardo
“RedChip BlueChip” Effie Seiberg
“Makeisha in Time” Rachael K. Jones
“On the Acquisition of Phoenix Eggs (Variant)” Marissa Lingen
“Razorback” Ursula Vernon
“Laws of Night and Silk” Seth Dickinson
“The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Her Field-General, and Their Wounds” Seth Dickinson
“Samantha’s Diary” Diana Wynne Jones
“The Fisher Queen” Alyssa Wong
“Santos de Sampaguitas” Alyssa Wong
“Dragon Brides” Nghi Vo

And finally, my favorite books of 2016 (in chronological order)! I didn’t let myself include rereads. And I didn’t set out to choose a certain number of books.

  • Illuminae Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
  • The Sparrow Mary Doria Russell (I think I owe this one to Andrew!)
  • The Goblin Emperor Katherine Addison
  • Sorcerer to the Crown Zen Cho
  • The Watchmaker of Filigree Street Natasha Pulley
  • The Fifth Season N. K. Jemisin
  • The Lie Tree Frances Hardinge
  • Anna and the Swallow Man Gavriel Savit
  • The Girls at the Kingfisher Club Genevieve Valentine
  • I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You Yumi Sakugawa
  • Seasonal Velocities Ryka Aoki
  • The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog Adam Gidwitz and Hatem Aly
  • A Darker Shade of Magic V. E. Schwab

Lucky thirteen, I guess!