Carving and Printmaking

Our university’s international student center has a new artists and writers collective whose meetings Isabelle and I have been attending. At the last meeting, Isabelle taught everyone how to carve stamps out of plastic erasers with X-Acto knives. The erasers are nice and soft. For my first ever stamp design, I eventually decided on a bass clef, and the result wasn’t too bad. It’s like a rustic bass clef.

Two days later, we went to a linocut workshop hosted by the Horn Press, UCLA’s book arts society. Isabelle is quite experienced with linocut, but I had never done it before, and it’s a bit trickier than plastic erasers. We used gouges of various shapes and widths to carve linoleum plates mounted on wood blocks. It took me a while to come up with a design again. I tried thinking of things I used to draw when I was younger that I actually felt turned out well, and I remembered these little birds made of simple shapes for the crown, eye, beak, wings, tail, and feet. I don’t remember what originally inspired those drawings; I think I must’ve seen a brush painting somewhere. Anyway, I set to work with my gouge, and of course I picked a design that required me to carve away most of the plate. But I finished.

First print at the workshop

Later I did some additional cleanup with some of Isabelle’s tools, and I tried printing again.

Mobile Museums and Rare Books

Earlier this month Isabelle and I went to the Mobile Museum Fair at the Los Angeles Central Library downtown. The fair brought together a couple dozen exhibits and libraries, from the International Printing Museum‘s printing shop on wheels (which we’d once seen in front of our building on campus) to the Feminist Library on Wheels to a native plants pop-up seed museum. The trucks were lined up outside the library on 5th Street while other exhibits were scattered throughout the library’s halls and meeting rooms.

We’d heard there would be tours of the Rare Books Room, and we were lucky enough to snag the third and fourth spots out of twenty for the second and last tour. After signing up, we visited the Connecting Cultures Mobile Museum, which featured a large collection of masks and musical instruments from around the world. On a table in the middle of the room were a handful of instruments you could play, including a few thumb pianos, a guitar, and something Isabelle thought was a guzheng. She showed me how to pluck it. On the walls were many more instruments: balalaikas, an erhu, a kora, a hulusi, a banjo, a violin… There were also the masks, but I was more into the musical instruments.

Part of the instrument collection, including Scottish highland pipes and the violin-like hashtar from China

We checked out the museum trucks outside and visited the Department of Recreation and Parks’s eco trailer, with stuffed wildlife from the Santa Monica Mountains. Inside the library, we also saw the screen printing station in the courtyard, a couple of mobile libraries, a mastodon skull, and volunteers cuddling a tegu (a very big lizard) and a snake. Later on, after the Rare Books Room tour, we arrived in the rotunda just as the inflatable planetarium was toppled. We examined the seeds and seedpods at the seed museum and then took a quick look around the 21 Collections exhibit in the Getty Gallery.

Fox in the eco trailer

At four o’clock, those of us who had signed up for the tour were taken up in an elevator to the Rare Books Room, where we were welcomed by Xochitl Oliva, Senior Librarian of Digitization and Special Collections. Now, I received Susan Orlean’s The Library Book for Christmas, and I had finished reading it shortly before the Mobile Museum Fair. Orlean’s book is about the history of the Los Angeles Public Library and, in particular, the central library, the building that houses it, and the 1986 fire that destroyed hundreds of thousands of books there. She also writes about a number of current library staff, and Oliva is in her book! Reading it also gave me much more context for this visit to the library; the only time I’d been before was with Mike the Poet over two years ago.

Alice in Wonderland, illustrated by Salvador Dalí

Oliva oriented us to the library and then spoke about each of the pieces from the collection that had been selected and set out for display on two wooden tables in the center of the reading room. There was a large-format edition of Alice in Wonderland with illustrations by Salvador Dalí. There was the oldest book in the collection, a 13th century Latin manuscript from the priory of Nostell in England. There was a Shakespeare Fourth Folio, a page from a Gutenberg Bible, a map depicting California as an island, a Sumerian temple dedication cone with a cuneiform inscription (the oldest item in the collection), and samples from the library’s collections of menus and fruit crate labels.

The oldest book in the special collections, a 13th century Latin manuscript from England

The Books I Read in 2018

In 2018, I read 74 books, 4 more than in 2017. That’s the first increase in number of books read since 2015, but I’m still way down compared to the early years of grad school. (I also mentioned last year that I was reading more short fiction online and tracking the short stories I read; I did so again in 2018, and I think I read many more short stories than in 2017.)

Here are the books I read in 2018, rereads bolded, with links to (sometimes just barely) related blog posts:

The Starlit Wood edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe
The Bear and the Nightingale Katherine Arden
La Petite Sirène suivi de Conte du Vent Hans Christian Andersen, translated by Louis Moland
La Reine des Neiges Hans Christian Andersen, translated by Louis Moland
The Language of Thorns Leigh Bardugo
The Best We Could Do Thi Bui
The Chosen Chaim Potok
Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence Nick Bantock
Sabine’s Notebook: In Which The Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Continues Nick Bantock
The Golden Mean: In Which The Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Concludes Nick Bantock
The Gryphon: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Is Rediscovered Nick Bantock
Dubliners James Joyce
Alexandria: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Unfolds Nick Bantock
The Morning Star: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Is Illuminated Nick Bantock
The Pharos Gate: Griffin & Sabine’s Lost Correspondence Nick Bantock
Seven Surrenders Ada Palmer
Soie Alessandro Baricco, translated by Françoise Brun
The Honey Month Amal El-Mohtar
Lucy and Linh Alice Pung
Fans of the Impossible Life Kate Scelsa
Saints and Misfits S. K. Ali
Tess of the Road Rachel Hartman
All Out edited by Saundra Mitchell
All American Boys Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
This Savage Song Victoria Schwab
That Inevitable Victorian Thing E. K. Johnston
Let’s Talk About Love Claire Kann
Tash Hearts Tolstoy Kathryn Ormsbee
Raven Stratagem Yoon Ha Lee
Giant Pumpkin Suite Melanie Heuiser Hill
I love this part Tillie Walden
The End of Summer Tillie Walden
Jane, Unlimited Kristin Cashore
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk David Sedaris
Sky Blue Water edited by Jay D. Peterson and Collette A. Morgan
The Poet X Elizabeth Acevedo
Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories Kelly Barnhill
Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire Susan Tan
It’s Not Like It’s a Secret Misa Sugiura
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns Julie C. Dao
My Name Is Red Orhan Pamuk, translated by Erdağ M. Göknar
Wink Poppy Midnight April Genevieve Tucholke
The Art of Starving Sam J. Miller
The Small Rain Madeleine L’Engle
Amitié amoureuse Hermine Lecomte du Nouÿ
Picture Us in the Light Kelly Loy Gilbert
Somewhere Among Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
The Tea Dragon Society Katie O’Neill
Original Fake Kirstin Cronn-Mills & E. Eero Johnson
Wild Beauty Anna-Marie McLemore
La Jeune Épouse Alessandro Baricco, translated by Vincent Raynaud
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories Ken Liu
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores Jen Campbell
Smoke Dan Vyleta
S. J. J. Abrams & Doug Dorst
Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day Joan Bolker, Ed.D.
Till We Have Faces C. S. Lewis
Monstress Volume Three: Haven Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
And The Ocean Was Our Sky Patrick Ness and Rovina Cai
Bats of the Republic Zachary Thomas Dodson
The Drawing Lesson Mark Crilley
Feux Marguerite Yourcenar
Little Black Book of Stories A. S. Byatt
The Astonishing Color of After Emily X.R. Pan
Inkmistress Audrey Coulthurst
Another Phase Eloise Klein Healy
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing Hank Green
Puddin’ Julie Murphy
340 mps Léa Silhol
Girl Made of Stars Ashley Herring Blake
We’ll Fly Away Bryan Bliss
A Skinful of Shadows Frances Hardinge
The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy Mackenzi Lee
Darius the Great Is Not Okay Adib Khorram

The Numbers:

  • Total books read: 74
  • Books in French: 7 (9%)
  • Books that were not novels: 30 (41%) (Well, this proportion leaps up every year! Non-fiction/miscellaneous: 2 (funny how weird things customers say in bookstores and a guide to dissertation writing wind up in the same  category); Short story/poetry collections: 13 (I think about one and a half were poetry); Graphic novels/comics: 6; Shorter works: 9 (includes fairy tales and Nick Bantock’s books)
  • Books read in translation: 3 (4%) (Italian to French: 2; Turkish to English: 1)
  • Books read for the first time: 71 (96%)
  • Books read not for the first time: 3 (4%)
  • Books written by women (where at least one co-author, co-editor, or contributor is a woman): 46 (62%)
  • 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): 17 (23%)
  • Books by category (as decided by me): Adult: 34 (46%); Young Adult: 31 (42%); Middle Grade or Younger: 6 (8%); Indeterminate: 3 (4%)

Finally, my favorite books of 2018 (no rereads, I didn’t set out to choose a certain number of books, and some of these choices are because the book made me think, even if I didn’t necessarily love the whole thing):

  • The Starlit Wood edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe
  • The Language of Thorns Leigh Bardugo
  • Soie Alessandro Baricco, translated by Françoise Brun
  • That Inevitable Victorian Thing E. K. Johnston
  • Jane, Unlimited Kristin Cashore
  • The Small Rain Madeleine L’Engle
  • Amitié amoureuse Hermine Lecomte du Nouÿ
  • S. J. J. Abrams & Doug Dorst
  • Till We Have Faces C. S. Lewis
  • A Skinful of Shadows Frances Hardinge
  • The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy Mackenzi Lee

2018 in Review

2018 has been quite a year. Do I say that every year? (I actually don’t, but I probably could.) Between the am-I-finishing-grad-school-this-year-or-not uncertainty (answer: no), the politics, the traveling, and the wonderful times with friends, it’s been a full year. Here are some highlights, not in chronological order:

In 2019, I will be dissertating and, I hope, writing and perhaps beginning a brand new adventure!

Comic Arts LA

The other weekend Isabelle and I went to Comic Arts LA, an annual festival featuring tons of graphic novelists, zinesters, and printmakers. It was held at an Armenian American community center in Glendale. We made the rounds of all the artists’ tables, flipping through zines and admiring artwork. In the middle, we took a break at the drawing wall.


That cute fuschia cat is Isabelle’s doing. I’m drawing a cat’s paw.

I ended up getting two zines by Maia Kobabe. Then I circled back to Aminder Dhaliwal‘s table because I’d decided I wanted a copy of her new graphic novel Woman World, set in a future with no men. It had occurred to me to worry that she might be sold out, and as we approached, I noticed that the only book I could still see was the display copy. Indeed, it was the last one left, and I got to buy it! She seemed very happy too and took a picture of me with the last copy, which she’d signed and dedicated to me.

My CALA comics

After leaving the festival, we walked to the nearby Forest Lawn cemetery, which is immense. Through the tall wrought iron gates and past the half-timber main building, there was a fork in the road and a huge sign, like a tablet of the Ten Commandments, indicating which way to the Little Church of the Flowers, the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather, and so on. We took the path toward the Little Church of the Flowers, but then we turned toward the mausoleum, which looks a bit like a castle. After getting a good look at it from multiple sides, we left the way we’d come, and unlike last time we didn’t get locked in the cemetery after closing.

The Forest Lawn mausoleum

The Giant Robot Post-It Show

Giant Robot is a store and art gallery in Sawtelle, the traditionally Japanese-American neighborhood on the Westside where I’ve gone to Obon the last couple of years. I’ve been to exhibits at Giant Robot’s gallery before. Every December, they have a post-it show for which dozens of artists (many of whom have exhibited at the gallery or have works available in the store) create art on actual post-it notes. The post-its are then displayed in a wide band around the perimeter of the small gallery; rows and columns are labeled so a given post-it can be pinpointed. The public is invited to view the post-its during a preview event, and then sales begin. People camp out for hours for the chance to buy the post-its they want. Also, there’s now a second drop of post-its on a second weekend.

Isabelle and I caught the end of the preview on the first day of this year’s post-it show, but first, we shared a bowl of Japanese-style dan dan noodles at Killer Noodle. Sawtelle is full of popular restaurants, and Killer Noodle is a relatively new one I had yet to try. Their core concept is two seven-point scales: one for   (the numbing flavor/sensation of Sichuan peppercorn) and one for (spiciness, in this case from cayenne pepper). We got three and three, and it was very tasty, but I’d go for less next time.


After lunch, we went to the Giant Robot gallery. There were already people parked on the sidewalk, waiting for sales to begin; I couldn’t see how far the line went once it turned the corner. The preview was also packed. We entered a sort of human river that slowly flowed clockwise along the walls. It was hard to take in every post-it, but we spotted a lot that we liked. Here are some of my favorites:

La brune habillée en soie

Towards the end of the summer, I went through another French Canadian music phase, this time focused on albums by De Temps Antan, including À l’année, Les habits de papiers, and Consolez-vous. I came across the song “La brune habillée en soie” (The brunette dressed in silk), which I quite liked and also reinforced my impression that there is really only one Québécois song, and all songs express facets of that one ur-song. Actually, the most significant overlap I can detect is between “La brune habillée en soie” and the song “Les larmes aux yeux” (With tears in (one’s) eyes) by Le Vent du Nord. Both are from the point of view of young men who are disappointed in love. Both young men say that if they’d known things weren’t going to work out, “j’aurais pas tout dépensé mon argent” (I wouldn’t have spent all my money) on frivolities (exactly which frivolities varies between the two songs). In both cases, the object of his affections replies (and here again the lyrics are extremely close) that if he spent his money, it was because he wanted to, and how many times had she told him politely to leave because he was wasting his time?!

“La brune habillée en soie” also has the line “C’est par un beau dimanche au soir” (It was on a nice Sunday in the evening). In this case, that’s when some people come tell the young man his brunette has changed lovers, but for me the line echoed “Par un dimanche au soir” (One Sunday in the evening) from Le Vent du Nord’s “Vive l’amour” (Yay, love), which is a fair bit more cheerful. I guess everything exciting always happens on Sunday evening.

“Les larmes aux yeux” and  “La brune habillée en soie” differ in that in the former the young man never seems to have gotten anywhere with the young woman (i.e. it’s all in his head, she’s already committed to a young officer) while in the latter it seems the young man and the young woman were actually together in some sense (though conceivably it could all have been in the young man’s head too, who knows) and she leaves him. That’s probably why the second young man is more bitter at the end of the song. In “Les larmes aux yeux,” he just talks about drinking to heartbreak and saying goodbye with resignation, but “La brune habilleée en soie” ends with the vindictive lines: “Un jour viendra, ta beauté s’en ira / Chère Léona t’épousera qui pourras” (One day your beauty will be gone / Dear Léona, you’ll marry who you can (then)).