I’m Back!

I passed my dissertation prospectus defense and am now a Candidate in Philosophy or somesuch.

A couple of news items:

  • ChinaInsight, a monthly Minnesota newspaper about Minnesota/U.S.-China relations, ran a profile on me and my books in their February issue.
  • In early February, I had lunch with the 5th grade book club at the Brentwood School near UCLA. I had a delightful time, and there’s a little write-up (with photo) here.

To celebrate my successful defense, I spent the weekend being excessively cultured. On Saturday, my friend Dustin and I went to the UCLA Early Music Ensemble’s winter concert, Half Empty: A Post-Valentine’s Concert. The theme seemed to be depressing love songs. The ensemble was smaller than at the fall concert. Most of the pieces were for a few singers accompanied by vielle or viol, or maybe recorder, or dulcian. A lot of the early (i.e. pre-Renaissance) stuff was not attributed to a particular composer but simply came from some manuscript or codex. The concert featured guest artist Emily Lau, a singer with a gorgeous voice. She told us Francesco Landini, composer of two of the songs on the program, was her favorite composer; I swear I studied him in music listening back in the day, but I can no longer remember any particular works of his.

The program progressed chronologically. We got to Arcadelt’s “Il bianco e dolce cigno,” and to Dowland, and Gibbons. The final song was “I’m Stretched On Your Grave”; the words are a translation of a 17th century Irish text. Emily Lau performed this accompanied by viol and violin, and I thought it was quite beautiful. I could also understand phrases here and there, which was nice after the Gibbons, which might as well not have been in English. Afterwards, I looked up the full text and decided the third verse was, uh, dubious, but I still liked the song enough that Kate Rusby’s version is my new earworm.

On Sunday, I went to the farewell reading at Alias Books, which is, alas, closing. I arrived quite early since I’d come straight from shape note singing, so I had ample time to browse. I wound up buying Edwidge Danticat’s first two books (a novel and a short story collection). Then, while waiting for the reading to begin, I continued reading the copy of Possession I’d bought the last time I was at Alias.

The reading included poems, an excerpt from a novel, and translations (from Polish, Spanish, and Italian). There were a couple of musical acts too, one of which featured a song about a sick pet tortoise who required intensive care in a bathtub. Two of the writers I’d heard at the post-election reading last fall. One of them, Deenah Vollmer, has a particular knack for expressing what I might call, for lack of a better term, millenial angst (from which I am not exempt). Afterwards, I walked home through the rainy night, my backpack full of books.

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