The Books I Read in 2022

I read 89 books in 2022. As I’d predicted, that was fewer than I read in 2021 (but still more than in 2020!). I served on the Kids All Iowa Reads committee again, which ensured I read a decent number of middle grade books. I still tend to be most excited for adult (and sometimes YA) SFF, though.

Here are the books I read in 2022, rereads bolded, with links to any related blog posts:

The Girl Who Drank the Moon Kelly Barnhill
The Night Country Melissa Albert
How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories Holly Black, illustrated by Rovina Cai
Last Night at the Telegraph Club Malinda Lo
Starfish Lisa Fipps
The In-Between Rebecca K.S. Ansari
How to Find What You’re Not Looking For Veera Hiranandani
In the Serpent’s Wake Rachel Hartman
Too Bright to See Kyle Lukoff
How to Become a Planet Nicole Melleby
Front Desk Kelly Yang
Both Can Be True Jules Machias
Miosotis Flores Never Forgets Hilda Eunice Burgos
Beverly, Right Here Kate DiCamillo
Mira in the Present Tense Sita Brahmachari
Riot Baby Tochi Onyebuchi
Provenance Ann Leckie
George Alex Gino
Under the Pendulum Sun Jeannette Ng
The Tangleroot Palace Marjorie Liu
Doomsday Book Connie Willis
I Crawl Through It A.S. King
A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent Marie Brennan
Maizy Chen’s Last Chance Lisa Yee
Sisters of the Neversea Cynthia Leitich Smith
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Maya and the Robot Eve L. Ewing
The Legend of Auntie Po Shing Yin Khor
Echo Mountain Lauren Wolk
Himawari House Harmony Becker
Skinny Donna Cooner
The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family Sarah Kapit
Monday’s Not Coming Tiffany D. Jackson
Séance Tea Party Reimena Yee
Grown Tiffany D. Jackson
The Golden Hour Niki Smith
Yummy: A History of Desserts Victoria Grace Elliott
And We Stay Jenny Hubbard
Eva Evergreen Semi-Magical Witch Julie Abe
Of a Feather Dayna Lorentz
Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight Aliette de Bodard
The End of Summer Tillie Walden
It’s Not the End of the World Judy Blume
Cuisine Chinoise: Tales of Food and Life Zao Dao, translated by Brandon Kander & Diana Schutz
Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American Laura Gao
The Greatest Thing Sarah Winifred Searle
The American Dream?: A Journey on Route 66 Shing Yin Khor
The Legend of Auntie Po Shing Yin Khor
Himawari House Harmony Becker
Displacement Kiku Hughes
Quatre couleurs Blaise Guinin
Shadow Life Hiromi Goto & Ann Xu
The Girl from the Sea Molly Knox Ostertag
NewsPrints Ru Xu
Spirits Abroad Zen Cho
Premier Amour Ivan Tourgueniev, translated by Michel-Rostislav Hofmann
The Buried Giant Kazuo Ishiguro
Iron Widow Xiran Jay Zhao
Exhalation Ted Chiang
Trail of Lightning Rebecca Roanhorse
Kindred Octavia E. Butler
Grass Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, translated by Janet Hong
Coming Back Jessi Zabarsky
Indestructible Object Mary McCoy
The Whitsun Daughters Carrie Mesrobian
The Mirror Season Anna-Marie McLemore
Storm of Locusts Rebecca Roanhorse
The Tropic of Serpents: A Memoir by Lady Trent Marie Brennan
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue V. E. Schwab
Seven of Infinities Aliette de Bodard
An Unkindness of Ghosts Rivers Solomon
The Sun Is Also a Star Nicola Yoon
American Street Ibi Zoboi
Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent Marie Brennan
Elatsoe Darcie Little Badger, illustrated by Rovina Cai
The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories: A Collection of Chinese Science Fiction and Fantasy in Translation edited and collected by Yu Chen and Regina Kanyu Wang
A Scatter of Light Malinda Lo
Paper Towns John Green
The Four Profound Weaves R.B. Lemberg
The Unbalancing R.B. Lemberg
The Bone Witch Rin Chupeco
All the Horses of Iceland Sarah Tolmie
Raybearer Jordan Ifueko
Le jardin des silences Mélanie Fazi
A Snake Falls to Earth Darcie Little Badger
Geometries of Belonging R.B. Lemberg
Disorientation Elaine Hsieh Chou
Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab Priya Huq
In the Wild Light Jeff Zentner

The Numbers:

  • Total books read: 89
  • Books in French: 3 (3%)
  • Books that were not prose novels: 35 (39%–whoa!) (Graphic novels/comics, including non-fiction: 20; Collections/anthologies: 8; Novellas: 6; Verse novels: 1)
  • Books read in translation: 4 (4%) (Chinese to English: 2; Korean to English: 1; Russian to French: 1)
  • Rereads: 3 (3%)
  • Books by category (as decided by me): Adult: 32 (36%); Young Adult: 28 (31%); Middle Grade: 29 (33%)

The following categories are identity-based and therefore necessarily approximate. (They can also obviously overlap.) I can’t necessarily determine how someone identifies from a name, an author photo, or a set of pronouns, and not everyone chooses to identify publicly as anything, which is fine. Consequently, this isn’t guaranteed to be totally accurate; I’m just curious about my own reading habits. Take this only for what it’s worth. (For my purposes, “by” means at least one author, editor, contributor, or translator falls into the relevant category.)

  • Books by women: 69 (78%)
  • Books by self-identified trans or non-binary authors: 14 (16%)
  • Books by Black authors: 11 (12%)
  • Books by Indigenous authors: 6 (7%)
  • Books by other authors of color: 33 (37%)

And now, for my favorite books of 2022! I chose these on a whim (rereads excluded), and I ended up with 17, which is maybe too many? But who cares? Here they are!

  • Last Night at the Telegraph Club Malinda Lo
  • In the Serpent’s Wake Rachel Hartman
  • Provenance Ann Leckie
  • Echo Mountain Lauren Wolk
  • Himawari House Harmony Becker
  • Monday’s Not Coming Tiffany D. Jackson
  • Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight Aliette de Bodard
  • Spirits Abroad Zen Cho
  • The Buried Giant Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Exhalation Ted Chiang
  • Kindred Octavia E. Butler
  • An Unkindness of Ghosts Rivers Solomon
  • Elatsoe Darcie Little Badger, illustrated by Rovina Cai
  • The Unbalancing R.B. Lemberg
  • All the Horses of Iceland Sarah Tolmie
  • Geometries of Belonging R.B. Lemberg
  • In the Wild Light Jeff Zentner

2022 in Review

Happy New Year’s Eve! I am not judging the “goodness” of years anymore, and anyway, you probably don’t come to this blog for news of the world. I’m sure you have at least some idea of what is happening, both good and bad, in various corners of the globe (can a globe have corners?). I hope your winter holidays, breaks, and vacations have been and are filled with warmth, light, and good company.

My 2022 was pretty good. Here is what the year looked like for me:

  • I taught my first three-course semester, including two new classes (Loanword Adaptation and Tone). In the fall, I taught yet another new course (Linguistic Typology). I secured another two years teaching in the Linguistics Concentration at Grinnell.
  • I curated (yes, Mom, curated!) a list of middle grade fantasy novels about fighting injustice for the book discovery website Shepherd.
  • I returned to Northampton, MA for my friend Leland’s very musical wedding. There were a number of linguists and Swarthmore acquaintances in attendance, and the wedding festivities included my first shape note singing since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • In June and July, I spent three weeks in Meudon with Isabelle and Olivier. Isabelle and I caught the Little Prince exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, and we all went to l’Hôtel de la Marine and l’Aquarium de Paris (including the pop-up Japanese food terrace Hanami).
  • My family canoed and camped in the Boundary Waters again, this time returning to Hog Creek and Perent Lake, and I never got around to blogging about it!
  • My short story “Maghda’s Song” was published in Anathema!
  • In September, I drove to Chicago for a lovely (tasty and literary) weekend with my childhood best friend Hana and her dog Bertie.
  • This fall, I fulfilled my vague ambition of playing in an early music ensemble by joining the Collegium Musicum at Grinnell. I have acquired a rudimentary ability to play the bass viol.
  • Over fall break, I saw Malindo Lo and her Minnesotan editor Andrew Karre at Red Balloon Bookshop and danced to the calling of my original dance teacher from Swarthmore Folkdance Club at Minnesota English Country Dance Weekend.
  • I turned in a new draft of my hopefully-next-novel to my agent!
  • Finally, I had two brushes with fame. First, a photo I took of moon jellies at the Paris aquarium became my most-liked tweet ever (not that that’s saying much), and the president of the aquarium replied to it. Second, the experience encapsulated in this tweet and quote tweet led to my being interviewed by a Wall Street Journal columnist for this piece (I used to have a non-paywalled link, but it seems to have expired).

Happy 2023! Wishing you good health, strong community, and much joy!

A misty morning on Perent Lake

Star of the North: Minnesota English Country Dance Weekend

Star of the North is an English country dance weekend held in Minnesota. (What is English country dancing? It’s the kind of social dancing you see in Jane Austen films. That said, the tradition now includes tunes and dances written by contemporary composers and choreographers, and dancing can vary in style and energy, so if you think the dancing in the movies looks slow and staid, well, it’s not necessarily like that.) I may have attended a Star of the North dance or ball back when I was in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps; I can’t quite remember. But certainly I hadn’t gone in recent years. Over the summer, I accidentally discovered that the caller for Star of the North this fall was going to be Joanna Reiner, my very first dance teacher at Swarthmore. Essentially, Joanna taught me to do English country dancing (and Scottish country dancing, but that’s different!). I got very excited, and I think I noted that Star of the North fell on one of the weekends of my fall break so I could actually go if I wanted. Then I promptly forgot about it for months.

When fall break rolled around, it occurred to me to check out who the callers and bands were for the Saturday contra dances at Tapestry Folkdance Center when I’d be in town, and that was when Star of the North burst back onto my radar. It wasn’t too late to register! So I did, just for the Friday evening dance and the Saturday evening ball (no workshops for me). The musicians were Karen Axelrod on piano and Daron Douglas on violin, both eminent in the relevant circles; together they form the duo Foxfire, of which I was already a fan.

Both dances were lovely. All the individual dances were taught rather than just talked through. This was mildly surprising to me, especially at the ball, but it was nice since I hardly ever go English dancing these days and don’t know any dances by heart. Of course, the dances are also called, so with an experienced crowd there are rarely any problems or “very local variations,” as Joanna calls them. It was wonderful to experience Joanna’s teaching and calling again. One of the local dancers told me that he and his wife (both of whom I know through shape note singing, contra, Georgian singing, etc.) think that, in the English country dancing world, Joanna is the best there is. She chose some excellent dances with tunes I like very much (Easter Thursday, Saint Margaret’s Hill, Candles in the Dark), and the musicians were great.

The dance weekend participants were mostly locals, but others had traveled to be there, including one couple I was expecting to see. They’re from Ames, IA, and I met them the first and only time I went to dance camp at Pinewoods, the summer after I graduated from Swarthmore. They’re also Scottish dancers (and the camp we all attended was Harmony of Dance and Song). I didn’t really get a chance to talk to them or explain this at Star of the North, but when the husband and I were partners, I said something to the effect that I thought we’d met once a long time ago, and he was like, Probably! And I said I lived in Iowa too now. There was another, younger, dancer from Iowa who asked me to dance at the ball and said he’d heard from the wife of that couple that I lived in Iowa. He asked where, and I said Grinnell. He asked if there was much dancing there; I said no. At the end of the ball on Saturday, I got to chat with Joanna a bit, and then the young man from Iowa came over, and they both told me about an English dance weekend in Fairfield, IA (where apparently they’ve had shape note singing too?) that was in just a few weeks, right over my birthday. Bare Necessities, the doyen of English country dance bands, was playing (and in fact always plays the Fairfield dance weekend). Joanna and the Iowan said I should go, so when I got back to Iowa I looked it up, but it was, unsurprisingly, sold out. (The Twin Cities couple who think Joanna is the best did go this year, and apparently they’ve already reserved their spots for next year! I think this is a popular weekend.) 

Joanna always had the band play a bit of the tune before teaching each new dance, and at the Saturday ball, when it was time for the last dance, she told us we might recognize the music. Foxfire started to play, and the tune meant nothing to me, but a few other dancers made noises of realization. I still don’t know why Joanna thought we might know this tune in particular. I thought maybe they’d done the dance at the workshop, but it seems not, so maybe it’s just popular? In any case, the dance was Sapphire Sea, and it was a very fine dance–dolphin heys! I also loved the tune, so when I got back to Grinnell, I looked it up: it’s Tom Kruskal’s, by Emily Troll and Amelia Mason. Now I’m…kind of obsessed? I’ve played it on violin and cello already. I looked for recordings of Sapphire Sea online to listen to the music, and I found a good one from a ball that took place not far from Boston. At first, I just listened to the band, but at some point I looked at the video and was like, hey, I know those dancers! That’s par for the course when you have niche hobbies.

Malinda Lo and Andrew Karre at Red Balloon

My fall break happily coincided with the St. Paul stop on Malinda Lo’s book tour for her just-released YA novel, A Scatter of Light. (It’s set in 2013–does that make it contemporary or historical? :P) When I learned she was coming to Red Balloon Bookshop (where I had my release parties) and would be in conversation with her editor, Andrew Karre, I reserved my spot, well, on the spot. I’ve read nearly all of Lo’s books (which encompass fantasy and science fiction, contemporary and historical), and Karre is the editor of several other authors whose books I love, including Kristin Cashore and E.K. Johnston. Plus, he’s a Minnesotan!

The event took place on a brisk Sunday afternoon. I arrived a little early to pick up my preordered copy of A Scatter of Light, which Lo had already signed. Then Lo and Karre took the stage and launched into a discussion of how much art (and information about art) Lo had consumed in order to write her books. The protagonist of her earlier novel A Line in the Dark, which I’ve also read, is a comic book artist, and the heroine’s grandmother in A Scatter of Light is an artist and photographer. The main character also develops (oh, no, a pun) an interest in photography while she spends the summer with her grandmother in Marin County. Lo talked about how her research into art (for the grandmother character) led her to abstract expressionism, which she liked, and contemporary abstract art, and this special type of camera with two lenses that facilitates taking double exposures, and at one point she remarked that this was getting very esoteric, but I don’t think anyone minded.

Fairly early on, Karre made the comment that non-writers are frequently horrified to learn what an inefficient process writing a book is, and a lot of us laughed, possibly in partial commiseration. As Lo told us, she began working on A Scatter of Light in 2013. She wrote a great post about this book’s journey to publication that makes it clear it wasn’t just because writing books is an inefficient process that A Scatter of Light didn’t hit shelves for nearly a decade (basically, it was because the publishing industry wasn’t ready for such a book yet). But it was still sort of comforting to me as someone who is now revising a book whose genesis dates back to over a decade ago now! I’ve been working on it since before I wrote Wildings.

Lo joked that we should ask Karre all our hard questions about things like themes in her books because he had those answers. There was a funny moment where he was describing how the layout of the lesbian bar in Last Night at the Telegraph Club (Lo’s previous novel) mirrored the main character Lily’s experience: you first enter through this narrow passage, and then the space opens up to something much wider. Lo exclaimed that she’d never thought of that before, and Karre applauded her subconscious.

After Lo and Karre talked back and forth for a while, it was time for audience questions. The first was from an English teacher sitting in the front row who wanted to hear more about themes because she asks her students to talk about the themes the authors had woven into the texts they read all the time. Something in the way she asked her question made me think, Oh, no! because there was an implication that students had to look for the meaning that the author had put into the work, and this was a stumbling block for me in English class. My junior year of high school, I somehow reached the epiphany (possibly thanks to my teacher!) that it didn’t matter what the author had intended; the reader could discern meaning in the text, and this meaning was real whether the author meant to put it there or not (assuming the reader could point to some textual evidence). All of a sudden, literary analysis made sense to me and actually seemed potentially interesting, worthwhile, and exciting (I still never wanted to be an English major). Anyway, coming back to the book event, both Lo and Karre gave excellent answers with which I agreed wholeheartedly. Lo said she never thought about themes or what lessons she wanted the reader to get from her books when she wrote them, though she allowed that some writers might consider these things. I think she also said that what the author intended or meant didn’t matter once the book was out in the world. Karre said he believed that authors crafted “pattern-rich spaces” within which readers created their own meaning based in part on their own experiences. I thought this made a lot of sense. I think it was Lo who said that what her perspective as an author was didn’t mean that English teachers couldn’t ask their students to talk about what they thought a text meant or was doing.

The next questions were from Shannon Gibney, a Twin Cities author I was pretty sure I’d spotted in the audience at the beginning of the event. She was curious about Lo’s approach to genre, given how many she’s written in, and also about what it meant that A Scatter of Light was called a companion to Last Night at the Telegraph Club. With respect to genre, Lo said that once she determines the genre of the book she’s writing, she does think about the conventions of that genre and what readers’ expectations of that genre are, just so that she can adhere to or subvert these conventions and expectations in a conscious way. Essentially, she does practice genre awareness for a given project.

Lo and Karre both said that the companion designation was a publishing term or a marketing strategy. I interpreted this to mean that labeling A Scatter of Light a companion to Last Night at the Telegraph Club was meant to capitalize on the success of the latter–fans of Telegraph Club will be on the lookout for more of what they loved, including familiar characters! We’re told that in A Scatter of Light we’ll find out stuff about Lily and Kath 60 years later. Plus the books do have other elements in common: first love, queer coming-of-age, etc. Karre added (and I’m paraphrasing from memory) that adolescents’ tumultuous lives don’t realistically lend themselves to pat endings and he doesn’t like it when YA novels tie things up too neatly, but at that same time, readers kind of want to know what happened to the characters! So if you can give a glimpse of how someone’s story turned out in another book, that can be a very nice touch. Lo made reference to Madeleine L’Engle’s novels, which she grew up reading and which feature a large cast of characters who walk in and out of one another’s stories.

Another audience member said she’d loved Lo’s first novel, Ash, as a teen and loved her more recent books too and was curious how Lo felt her writing had changed over time (I think?). Lo talked about genre again and how as she switched from fantasy to conteporary sci-fi/thrillers, she had to adjust her prose style. Similarly, switching from a third person to a first person POV necessitated adjustments too (e.g. inhabiting the character’s voice). But she still thinks all her books have something in common because they were written by her.

What I believe was the last question was more of a comment: someone shared their theory that Aunt Judy from Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Lily’s aunt and a computer at the Jet Propulsion Lab, was gay too. Lo and Karre were both struck by this; it didn’t seem to have occurred to either of them before, but they were game. Also, somehow the topic of grandmothers came up again (and I might be misplacing this in the chronology). Lo said that her grandmother (not sure which one) was amazing and had written a book (I think) about the family’s experience during the Cultural Revolution and had gone on PBS, something Lo herself has not achieved. She said she thought her grandmother would have been flattered to be compared to Aunt Judy (and maybe another character?) but that after thinking about it for a while she’d have said she wasn’t anything like her.

After the Q & A, we could get our books personalized; I’d brought my copy of Last Night at the Telegraph Club for Lo to sign in addition to my newly acquired copy of A Scatter of Light. I told her I was looking forward to reading about a mixed Chinese American protagonist in this newest book because I didn’t encounter a lot of them. She said she didn’t either! As soon as I finish reading it, I’ll add it to my (non-comprehensive) list of books with mixed Asian main characters.

Trip to Chicago

This past weekend I took a mini road trip to Chicago to visit my first and oldest friend. Hana is a professor of history and Asian American studies on the East Coast (check out Campu, her podcast on Japanese American incarceration!), but she’s spending the month doing archival research in Chicago, which is not so very far from central Iowa. I left Grinnell on Friday afternoon and drove east on I-80 (it was only my second time doing so; the first was on my single visit to Iowa City). At one point, I noticed a billboard for the World’s Largest Truckstop, but I didn’t think much of it. Eventually, I was getting a little low on gas, and I saw a sign for plentiful gas stations, so I decided to get off at the next exit. Only when I was on the ramp did I realize I was arriving at the World’s Largest Truckstop. It was practically a campus. I filled my tank and nipped into the nearest building, which housed a vast gift shop and a food court. I’m sure there were many amenities, but there were a lot of semis, and I made a mental note not to stop here for gas on the way back.

A mural at the World’s Largest Truckstop

I-80 in Illinois was quite pleasant (fewer big rigs). There was a big slowdown on the freeway into Chicago (typical rush hour, probably), but I finally arrived at Hana’s building in the South Loop. After dropping off my stuff and briefly meeting her dog, Bertie, I drove us to Avondale so we could eat dinner at Staropolska, a restaurant one of Hana’s friends had recommended. We ordered the Staropolska salad (with dried cranberries, goat cheese, and pickled beets), the potato pancakes, and the potato and cheese pierogi. The salad and potato pancakes were delicious; I found the pierogi a bit dense, though they tasted good. We shared the apple cake for dessert. It was more turnover-like, with sliced apples cooked between layers of pastry. There was cream on top, as well as scattered grapes and a dusting of powdered sugar. It was also very good.

On Saturday morning, we headed out toward Printers Row. We stopped in an Asian bakery called Sweet Bean just to look around, and then Hana grabbed a pistachio doughnut next door at Stan’s Doughnuts (unrelated to the Stan’s Doughnuts by UCLA, which, alas, has apparently closed!). We stumbled upon the Printers Row farmers market, which had lots of intriguing stands (tamales, honey, a savory pastry called “the love child of a sexy empanada and a hot muffin,” bean pie, and more). Then we visited Sandmeyer’s Bookstore. It was a nice shop with hardwood floors, ample natural light from large windows, and a single spacious room for all the sections. I ended up buying The Way Spring Arrives: A Collection of Chinese Science Fiction and Fantasy in Translation. I recognized the cover from Twitter because I follow one of the translators. Sandmeyer’s SFF section wasn’t that extensive, but they had this!

We walked north toward our next destination, but we were on the lookout for something quick to eat. We stopped in a coffee shop called Happy Monday and bought Texas-style kolaches with egg, spinach, and feta. (Iowa is full of kolaches too. They’re a food of Czech immigrants, and multiple vendors at the Grinnell farmers market sell them, in a variety of fruit flavors. I haven’t found the ones I’ve tried to be particularly impressive. Our savory kolaches were filled buns, not flat, danish-like pastries like the sweet kolaches in Iowa.)

We arrived at the Gene Siskel Film Center, in what seemed to be the theater district, right on time. We’d come to see the film 80 Years Later, a documentary about two Japanese American elders who were incarcerated during World War II and their intergenerational conversations with their children and grandchildren. The showing was a partnership with and benefit for Chicago’s Japanese American Service Committee, which was founded to help with Japanese Americans’ post-war resettlement and today offers a range of services and cultural opportunities. The movie was under an hour long. Its central figures were Kiyoko Fujiu and Robert Tadashi Shimizu, who lived in Chicago and Cincinnati, respectively, after their incarceration. Kiyoko and Robert are first cousins. While the film did touch on their experiences and those of their parents during the war, it was very much not a Japanese American incarceration 101 story. Instead, it focused more on their coming to terms with what they endured, the experiences of their often mixed race children and grandchildren, and the reverberations of that traumatic history through the generations. 

After the screening, a local professor moderated a panel with the crew and cast of 80 Years Later. The crew members included the film’s director, Celine Parreñas Shimizu, who is Robert’s daughter-in-law. The Chicago cast members were Kiyoko, her daughter Jean, and two of her grandsons. The moderator had a few questions, and then she took several questions from the audience. Hana asked the last one, about something Kiyoko had said in the film, namely, that when she was forcibly incarcerated, she felt rage that she couldn’t express because it wasn’t safe to do so. Hana wondered how she had come to a place of expressing it. In her answer, Kiyoko referred to a conversation she’d had with Mary Oliver, the poet! This answer aside, it was rather sobering to hear Kiyoko speak. She’s 97 years old, and she acknowledged that there’s a lot to despair of in the world (for instance, how the international community has handled a global pandemic). She more or less said she didn’t expect to live to see things get a whole lot better. But it wasn’t all hopeless. Another interesting thing she said was that she’d like to know what the impact of her telling her story to various audiences was. What happens after? How are people changed, and what does that lead to?

On our way out, Hana and I picked up some JASC swag (stickers and magnets, with their pretty lotus logo). Then we made our way a little bit east and south. We saw the famous bean from outside Millenium Park. We walked over to Lake Michigan to stroll along the water, toward the Field Museum. (When I was in high school and our Quiz Bowl team went to nationals in Chicago, we walked a similar path! And when I came to Chicago to accept the Friends of American Writers’ Young People’s Literature Award for Sparkers, I stayed near Grant Park.) The color of Lake Michigan’s water in Chicago is always so pretty.

Sailboats on Lake Michigan

Next, we visited another bookstore: Exile in Bookville, inside the Fine Arts Building (which appears to house at least four or five luthiers!). This shop had very high ceilings and bookshelves that extended far above our heads. That and the fact that it comprised three smallish rooms gave Exile in Bookville a different feel from Sandmeyer’s. The selection was great, and we browsed and talked about books we’d read (or not) for a while. 

For dinner, we got takeout from Nepal House and ate it with Bertie (he wasn’t sharing the food) on the terrace of Hana’s building. We had butter chicken with rice, vegetable momos, naan, and mango lassis. Then we returned to her apartment to eat dessert while watching a movie. We’d ordered rasgulla and kheer (rice pudding). I’d never had rasgulla before, and the texture was unexpected and not quite to my liking. I enjoyed the kheer. We decided to watch Clueless to remedy a glaring gap in the list of cult movies I’d seen. It was entertaining (and I knew what the Valley was!). We also tried the Ovomaltine chocolate bar my Swiss second cousin had given me the previous weekend. After Clueless, Hana had me watch the first episode of A League of Their Own, about women baseball players during World War II. I liked it a lot, but it still won’t prod me into actually starting to watch TV.

On Sunday, we headed to Chicago Chinatown for dim sum at MingHin (which is a chain). There were no carts; instead, we checked what we wanted off a picture menu. We ordered har gow, radish cake, shrimp crepes, chicken and dried scallop steamed buns (which also had shrimp in them), sesame balls, and, obviously, egg tarts. (The menu had all the typical dishes I’m familiar with, as well as some that were new to me.) The har gow and sesame balls were both excellent. The radish cake was also great; it had much bigger chunks of radish than I’m used to, but it made the dish more vegetable-y. The egg tarts were perfect. We drank only tea.

After brunch, we explored the rest of the little mall the restaurant was in. We looked at the pastries in the Asian-style French bakery and peeked in a Chinese bakery too. There was a square with statues of all the animals of the Chinese zodiac, so we read the description for those born in the Year of the Horse, which Hana and I both are. It was similar to what’s on those ubiquitous Chinese restaurant placemats, and I’ve never thought it fit me very well. We crossed the street and went into an Asian grocery store. It looked like a convenience store from the outside and was fairly cramped, but there was a lot crammed inside, including fresh seafood. They were also selling discounted mooncakes. I didn’t get any mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival earlier this month, so I was interested in finding some in Chinatown, but the grocery store only had boxes containing four large mooncakes each, which was too much.

We walked under the Chinatown gate and down Wentworth Ave., which seems to be the neighborhood’s main commercial street. (One interesting thing about Chicago Chinatown is that there were a lot of Chinese flags flying.) We went into several more bakeries, most of which were selling similar items. One of them seemed to be a hangout for elderly Chinese men. Something that stood out to me was that most of the bakeries sold two kinds of egg tarts, one just called egg tarts and the other called Portuguese tarts (these looked more like pastéis de nata, with the blistered surface). I’m used to Asian bakeries only having one kind of egg tart, though they can vary in type, from the Cantonese dim sum ones to the more “deep-dish” ones I’d get at Taiwanese bakeries in LA. Anyway, Chiu Quon Bakery & Dim Sum had miniature mooncakes, so I bought one with lotus seed paste and also got a 粽子 for good measure.

Soon it was time to say goodbye to Hana and drive back to Iowa. I ate my 粽子 for dinner on Monday; it had mung beans, pork belly, Chinese sausage, and a salted egg yolk. I had the baby mooncake for dessert, and it was delicious too. Chiu Quon was cash only, and I think it must have been there that I picked up two shiny 2022 quarters I later found in my wallet. These brand new coins depict Wilma Mankiller, a former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, and they have a couple words written in the Cherokee syllabary on them! 

New Story: Maghda’s Song

Happy September! This is a special Thursday blog post brought to you by my newest short story publication. “Maghda’s Song” came out yesterday in the August issue of Anathema. Although my short fiction is less consistently musical than my novels, music, as the title suggests, features heavily in this story. There is also a cat, if you need that in your life.

Fun facts: “Maghda’s Song” is set in the same world, but in a later era, as another story I wrote first and for which I have yet to find a home. I hope you’ll get to read that story someday too (it’s also…very musical). Additionally, I originally wrote “Maghda’s Song” for a call for submissions to khōréō, a young SFF magazine that publishes immigrant and diaspora authors and often features stories that touch on themes of migration. That focus is definitely reflected in “Maghda’s Song.”

I’m so pleased to be appearing in Anathema for the first time. Plus, it’s my first short fiction publication since 2020! You can read the story here.

L’Aquarium de Paris

I’m behind on my Paris posts, but this is the last one! Toward the end of my visit, Isabelle, Olivier, and I took the bus and the metro to Trocadéro and crossed the plaza in the middle of the Palais de Chaillot, which was full of tourists milling about and taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower across the Seine. We wended our way downhill within the Jardins du Trocadéro. Our destination was the Aquarium de Paris and, specifically, Hanami, the temporary outdoor Japanese street food café the aquarium had set up. The menu was pan-Asian but with a Japanese focus.

Hanami by the Aquarium de Paris (nobody wanted to sit in the sun!)

At the counter, we ordered takoyaki, three kinds of yakitori (one type was beef, actually), two kinds of dumplings (duck and veggie–in French, dumplings are called raviolis, although at Hanami they might’ve called them gyoza?), and sweet potato fries for good measure. It was sunny and very hot, but some of the (rustic) tables were under a wooden roof, so we were able to sit in the shade. The food was tasty!

Part of our lunch

Next, we went into the aquarium and followed the path through the various exhibits and sections. The Aquarium de Paris is focused on the sea life of France, but France in the sense of its global empire, including its overseas territories in more tropical climes. There were digital panels on the walls that asked True or False questions (aimed at children, judging by the color schemes), and one that struck me was about the largest lagoon in the world. After revealing whether the statement had been true or false, the text noted of the two lagoons (the largest and the second largest?) that “both are French.” That is, they belonged to France. I think one of them was in New Caledonia, and the other was also in the South Pacific. It was very…colonialist.

The kissing fish! They kept doing this; it was very cute.

That aside, the exhibits were pretty nice, with lots of colorful fish. No mammals, however, unlike at the Aquarium of the Pacific. The Aquarium de Paris is known for its Médusarium, which features many species of jellyfish. Somehow, they still seemed harder to photograph than the jellyfish in Long Beach.

Nemo!

Garden eels

A little pufferfish

This last picture of moon jellies comes with a good story. I thought it was one of my better aquarium photos but not intrinsically that amazing. Still, I tweeted it after our visit, and thanks to a few lucky retweets, this became possibly my most successful tweet ever (not that that’s saying much). I hadn’t tagged the aquarium, but somehow its Président Administrateur général found the tweet and replied to it, thanking me (in French) for the beautiful photo :O

Moon jellies

L’Hôtel de la Marine

In early July, while I was still in Meudon, Isabelle, Olivier, and I went to l’Hôtel de la Marine on the Place de la Concorde in Paris to see the exhibit “Gulbenkian par lui-même” (“Gulbenkian through himself”). Calouste Gulbenkian was an Armenian born in the Ottoman Empire who became a fabulously wealthy oil magnate and an art collector with a dazzling collection. When Isabelle and I were in Lisbon, she (but not I) went to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum and saw some of his treasures, which was what made her want to go to the Paris exhibit. (The Lisbon museum now houses most of Gulbenkian’s collection, but when he was alive, he kept his collection at his home in Paris.)

Qing Dynasty jar (famille noire) with 16th c. velvet hanging from Bursa in the background, both from Gulbenkian’s collection

L’Hôtel de la Marine is a very grand and imposing building, with a colonnade and pediments. It faces the Place de la Concorde, with its gold-tipped obelisk, and has views of the Eiffel Tower beyond. La Marine is the Navy, and the building housed the Ministry of the Navy from the French Revolution to 2015. (I didn’t know all of this when we actually visited; I looked it up for this blog post.) Before that, it housed the royal Garde-Meuble, the office in charge of the king’s furniture. It was first built in the third quarter of the 18th century. The fact that the building was for the Navy until 2015 probably explains why I hadn’t heard of it before this trip.

L’Hôtel de la Marine is now a multi-faceted museum. A relatively small part of it is long-term host to the Collection Al Thani, a different art collection assembling pieces from ancient civilizations. This was the collection of a Qatari sheik. The Gulbenkian exhibit was on display in one gallery inside the Collection Al Thani space, so on our visit, we first passed through two galleries with items from this collection.

The first room reminded me of photos I’ve seen of Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. It was very dark, there was black all around, and it was hard to tell where the walls were. Hanging from the ceiling on black strings were hundreds, maybe thousands, of gold ornaments about the size of the palm of your hand. They looked like a cross between a snowflake and a chrysanthemum. They glittered in the lights shining from above, and the effect was kind of like moving through a very orderly swarm of mechanical butterflies. Evenly spaced throughout this small room were eight or so items from the Collection Al Thani. They were all fairly small and displayed inside tall narrow black and glass cases. There was a Mayan jadeite mask-pendant, the inscribed jade wine cup of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, a golden bronze bear from Han China, a 4,000-year-old gold rhyton in the shape of a deer…

Bear, China, Han Dynasty

The next gallery was long and narrow, leading from the first room to the temporary exhibition room, and it was dedicated to sculptures of human heads, from many different cultures and eras. It sounds weird when put that way, but it was actually very cool: all these individually rendered faces, produced long ago by people from around the world. One 4,000-year-old terracotta head was from Mesopotamia; the head of a princess carved from quartzite was from the 18th dynasty of Ancient Egypt. There was a 2,000-year-old Nok culture head from Nigeria, and the head of a statuette of Serapis, carved from lapis lazuli. There was a jade mask from Guatemala and a gold one from Gandhara. There was a 2nd century chalcedony head of the Roman emperor Hadrian and an 18th or 19th century Fang wooden reliquary head from Gabon. The diversity of features, expressions, and styles assembled in one gallery was quite compelling.

Head of an Amarna princess, Egypt, 1351-1334 BCE

Beyond the row of faces was the Gulbenkian exhibit. It occupied a single rectangular room, but there was an incredible number and variety of pieces on display. The information panels on the walls emphasized that Gulbenkian sought only the finest works of art, items of truly exceptional artistry and craftsmanship. And his interests were very broad: this selection from his collection included everything from a fragment of an Ancient Egyptian statuette to Safavid rugs and illuminated manuscripts, from Chinese porcelain to Japanese lacquerware, from 18th century French books to René Lalique jewels, and much more. The sheer breadth of his collection and the number of treasures assembled in one room was almost dizzying.

Ottoman and Ilkhanid ceramics, from present-day Turkey and Iran

Manuscript of a ballet by 18th c. French composer Pierre de La Garde

We left the temporary exhibit through a gallery parallel to the one with the heads. In this last room displaying items from the Collection Al Thani, we saw quite a few more small artifacts from antiquity, including a Sumerian lapis situla (bucket), an Ancient Egyptian obsidian cosmetics vial carved in the shape of a duck, a Sassanid silver rhyton shaped like an antelope’s head, a Tibetan banquet service made of gold and encursted with mosaic turquoise birds, a gold lunula (crescent-shaped necklace/collar) from Bronze Age Britain or Ireland, an Olmec pendant plaque made of jadeite and bearing a Mayan inscription, and plenty more. This gallery led back to the infinity room, and then we exited the Collection Al Thani.

Gold plaque, Tibet, 600-800 CE

Our tickets to the exhibit included much of the rest of l’Hôtel de la Marine (though there was a separate part–the intendant’s apartments–that required a different ticket). We got to wander through the reception rooms and also go out onto the loggia, with its collonade and view across the Place de la Concorde. The reception rooms were very ornate: high ceilings, tall, narrow doors, parquet floors, gigantic chandeliers, wood paneling, mirrors, elaborate molding, curtains drawn back with tasseled cords, classical imagery, and tons of gold.

The reception rooms

In a room just before the loggia, there was an interactive display about French maritime history. You could follow different historical figures, and the first one I was presented with was Marie-Louise Victoire Girardin, an 18th century Frenchwoman who disguised herself as a man and went to sea, joining an expedition to Australia and the South Pacific.

The loggia

After leaving l’Hôtel de la Marine, we took the metro to Batignolles and walked through the Square des Batignolles to go to Pastelaria Belem, a little Portuguese bakery and restaurant. We wanted to eat pastéis de nata, like we had in Lisbon (though in fact there’s a little Portuguese-accented supermarket right near Isabelle and Olivier’s apartment where we also bought frozen pastéis de nata twice). The bakery looked a little bit like Pastéis de Belém, home of the original pastéis in Portugal, insofar as there were azulejos on the walls and paper napkin and cinnamon dispensers on the tables. Before we went in, we noticed a big multi-colored cat dozing on a chair inside, next to the window. We ordered three pastéis to eat at the bakery and three to take home, plus Compal fruit juices, like we’d drunk in Portugal. The proprietress told us the name of the cat, which was something like Abada, but not that. He wasn’t as easy to photograph as we’d hoped, though he briefly approached our table before disappearing behind the counter. Ah, well. The pastéis were delicious.

An apartment building in Batignolles

À la rencontre du petit prince

I’m visiting Isabelle in Meudon again, and at the end of June, we went to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris to see the exhibit “À la rencontre du petit prince” (“An encounter with the little prince”). The Musée des Arts Décoratifs is right by the Louvre, but I had never been there before. We actually caught the last day of the exhibit (although Isabelle and Olivier had gone before).

English first edition of The Little Prince with a dedication by the author in French to Annabella Power

According to the museum, “À la rencontre du petit prince” was “the first major museum exhibition in France dedicated to the timeless literary masterpiece, The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.” It was a big show (many rooms!) that explored seemingly every moment of Saint-Exupéry’s (tragically rather short) life, as well as the writing and publication of Le Petit Prince. There was a lot of emphasis on his dual identities as a writer and an aviator and on his humanistic vision of the world. On display was the original manuscript of Le Petit Prince, which is normally kept at the Morgan Library in New York City and had never been exhibited in France before. There were also scads of drawings, sketches, and personal letters in Saint-Exupéry’s own hand.

The little prince and the fox

I think I first read Le Petit Prince in 7th grade, in my French class. But I believe we also had a copy at home, so maybe I had looked at it before. I was very taken with the drawing of the elephant inside the boa constrictor. I also imitated others of Saint-Exupéry’s drawings, especially an image of two overlapping hills with a lopsided five-pointed star overhead, which I drew in the margins of a lot of school notebooks.

The little prince watching the sunset on his planet

I don’t know how many times I’ve reread Le Petit Prince, but it definitely had more of a lasting impression later. When I was in college, I wrote a story (which wound up basically novel-length) about a group of teenagers living on their own in a closed environment. One day, they discovered a hidden room in their living space. It was a library of books and music. They all began reading different books, and the main character discovered The Little Prince and was stirred by some of the passages in it. (The story was probably not very good; the premise was that the teenagers were sent unsupervised on a generation ship to populate a new planet, and a rogue member of the team that conceived the project built the library into the ship to break the teenagers free from their stultifying existence and state of forced ignorance.) Anyway, this story prominently featured my favorite part of Le Petit Prince, which is the little prince’s encounter with the fox. Isabelle also loves this part. In grad school, she made me a pin with a tiny book inside a glass dome, and on its pages she penciled an excerpt from the conversation with the fox.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s contract with his U.S. publisher for The Little Prince

Returning to the exhibit, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born in 1900 in Lyon. His father died when he was young, and his family scattered (boarding school, living with relatives, etc.), but they kept in close touch via letters. Many handwritten letters to his mother, from throughout his life, were on display in the museum.

Stamps of various countries featuring the little prince and Saint-Exupéry the aviator

Saint-Exupéry was taken with the idea of flight from a young age and became a pilot during his military service. He then worked as a mail pilot, flying routes in North and West Africa and South America. His flights inspired his first novels, published when he was around thirty. The exhibit went into quite a bit of detail about pretty much everything, so there were lots of photos of airplanes, a flight log, newspaper clippings, illustrated advertisements for airmail companies, various editions of all of Saint-Exupéry’s books… There were quite a few pictures of Saint-Exupéry too, and Isabelle and I agreed that he bears an (unfortunate?) resemblance to Mr. Bean.

Saint-Exupéry’s writing and art materials

In 1935, Saint-Exupéry and his mechanic, André Prévost, attempted to beat the record for fastest flying time from Paris to Saigon. They crashed their airplane in the Libyan desert and eventually set off across the dunes in search of help. Saint-Exupéry encountered some fennec foxes during this sandy trek. He and Prévost were ultimately rescued by Bedouins. As the exhibit pointed out, this episode inspired the opening of Le Petit Prince (and probably the fox too).

First editions, in English and French, of The Little Prince

After the Nazis invaded and occupied France in 1940, Saint-Exupéry went to New York to help persuade the United States to enter World War II. While in the U.S., he published a war memoir, but it was also in New York that he wrote and illustrated Le Petit Prince. The book was published in 1943 in both French and English in the United States; it wouldn’t be published in France until after the war, in 1946. Saint-Exupéry wanted to fight for France, and he returned to Europe to fly military missions. Apparently he didn’t fit in that well with all the young pilots, since at this point he was in his forties. Only a year after Le Petit Prince came out, in the summer of 1944, Saint-Exupéry and his aircraft disappeared during a reconnaissance mission. He was probably shot down by a German plane. He was recognized as having died in service to France.

Unpublished illustration of the little prince, with the narrator’s hand in the foreground (ultimately, Saint-Exupéry decided not to show the narrator in any of the book’s illustrations)

One room of the exhibit was dedicated to the original manuscript of Le Petit Prince, although there seemed to be pages from several versions, which was a bit confusing. One version was the manuscrit autographe, which is the one held by the Morgan Library. Another was the premier état, which suggests an earlier version…? I have not figured this out. In any case, it was cool to see the pages of the book written in Saint-Exupéry’s own hand. Le Petit Prince is dedicated to Saint-Exupéry’s best friend, Léon Werth, but somewhere in the exhibit, there was a letter he wrote to his wife, Consuelo, in which he said he regretted not having dedicated the book to her. He and Consuelo had a tumultuous relationship echoed by the relationship between the little prince and his rose in the book.

Manuscript (premier état–first draft?) of the first chapter of Le Petit Prince, with the iconic elephant inside a boa constrictor

In another room, there were draft chapters and illustrations that didn’t make it into the final version of Le Petit Prince. In the book, the little prince visits a number of planets inhabited by odd characters, and Saint-Exupéry apparently came up with some other characters, like a crossword puzzle fanatic, that he ultimately cut. There was also a scene in which the little prince walked into a house where a couple was eating dinner, and they basically ignored him.

The little prince and a baobab, surrounded by those lopsided stars

The last room in the exhibit displayed over a hundred different translations of Le Petit Prince. The book has actually been published in nearly five hundred languages, often with a version of the original cover but sometimes with art by another illustrator. I always love seeing the same title in a bunch of different languages and scripts. In this case, it was a testament to how broadly this slender and deceptively simple book has resonated.

Réunion Creole translation of Le Petit Prince (other translations on display included Basque and Breton editions)

Michelle Zauner at Grinnell

Back in May, the Grinnell Asian American Association hosted a reading and Q & A by Michelle Zauner, the author of the bestselling memoir Crying in H Mart. Zauner was also on campus to perform with her band, Japanese Breakfast, which I personally did not know of but which seems to be kind of a big deal? I had heard of Crying in H Mart, though pandemic time being what it is, I somehow thought it had come out before the pandemic rather than in April 2021. I wasn’t originally planning to attend the reading, but then my friend Laura, a colleague who also comes from a Taishanese-speaking family, asked if I wanted to go with her, so I did. It was well worth it.

The event drew a crowd that filled the auditorium. When Zauner walked out of the wings, I was surprised to realize she was mixed race. Somehow I had assumed she was just Korean; maybe Zauner was her married name. But the chapter she read from her memoir made her background pretty clear. Crying in H Mart is generally about her Korean mother’s death from cancer. I haven’t read it, though I’d definitely like to now. Zauner read the chapter about her and her white father’s vacation in Vietnam after her mother had passed away. They had thought to take a trip for a change of scene, to take their minds off things, and they decided on Vietnam. Unfortunately, Southeast Asia did not furnish an escape from the fog of grief, and the trip was not exactly fabulous. The chapter describes some of their sightseeing and then relates a fight she and her father had a Franco-Vietnamese restaurant, which culminated in her father telling her her mother had warned him not to let her, their daughter, take advantage of him after she was gone and Zauner saying to her father that she was exercising great self-control in not telling him all the things she could be. She then stormed out of the restaurant and wandered around the town. She ended up in a karaoke bar frequented by locals, where she met a young Vietnamese woman. They each told the other they were sad. When the Vietnamese woman asked Zauner why she was sad, she said because her mother had died. The Vietnamese woman was sad because she wanted to be a singer but her parents didn’t support this. She encouraged Zauner to sing a song, and by the sound of it, everyone in the bar did.

The chapter was very well written and funny in places, and Zauner read it compellingly. Afterward, the floor was opened for audience questions. I don’t remember all the questions and their answers, but Zauner was great at this part too. There were some questions about her dual careers as a writer and a musician. Zauner said that, funnily enough, when she was growing up, becoming a rockstar seemed more possible than becoming an author. I believe she said she wasn’t much supported in artistic pursuits. In college, she took all the creative writing classes available to her except creative nonfiction because she didn’t think someone like her (a mixed race person) could write nonfiction that anyone would be interested in reading. It sounded like she hadn’t seen any examples of this, that is, she hadn’t had any mirrors, so she didn’t think it was a possibility.

Someone asked her if her father had read Crying in H Mart and what he thought of it. By the sound of it, the memoir may not have been the most flattering portrait of him. Zauner said he claims to have read it, though she’s not sure if that’s true. He did object to her having written that he’d sold used cars to the military because actually the cars had been new. She found it funny that it was this of all things that he’d complain about.

Another thing Zauner brought up, although I can’t remember what prompted it, is a notion a fair number of mixed race people subscribe to, namely, that we aren’t “half” anything. I might not be recalling how she expressed it exactly right, but she said that a lot of mixed people nowadays see themselves or at least choose to describe themselves as whole: wholly X and wholly Y (rather than half-X and half-Y). And she thinks that’s great, but for her personally, that doesn’t really resonate or feel authentic to her own experience. She does feel half-Korean, and I think she also said it felt like an asset, in some way? (This is what comes of writing blog posts a month after the fact!) Maybe that it had helped her in her musical career somehow, this feeling of not being fully one thing or the other? I was struck by her comment because I count myself among those who try not to use “half-X” language when talking about their own identities. But adjusting your language is one thing, and how you actually feel is another. That’s not to say I feel “half,” but being mixed is definitely a disinct experience. I liked how Zauner addressed that head on and shared what she actually thought, even if it perhaps didn’t fit into recent prevailing sentiments.