Tag Archive | libraries

Carmen Maria Machado at Prairie Lights

About a week and a half ago I ventured to Iowa City for the first time. One of my new colleagues at Grinnell lives there, and it seemed like a literary paradise, with readings practically every day at the evocatively named Prairie Lights bookstore. Iowa City is home to the celebrated Iowa Writers Workshop, after all, and it’s also a UNESCO City of Literature. What finally convinced me to make a trip was Carmen Maria Machado’s appearance; I was seeing lots of positive press about her new memoir, In the Dream House, so I decided to make her reading my first excursion to Prairie Lights.

I made the one-hour-and-a-bit drive and had to wander around to find parking, but it turned out to be a good thing, because walking west toward Prairie Lights, I ran right into the Iowa City Public Library. I had lots of time before the reading, so of course I went in. They had my books!

And in the lobby, there was a Literary Kiosk: a machine which, at the press of a button, prints on receipt paper a piece of writing for your enjoyment. The concept and the machine were developed in France. At this kiosk, you could choose between World Writers and Local Writers. I chose Local and received an excerpt from “The Farm at Holstein Dip,” a memoir by Caroll Engelhart.

I hastened on to Prairie Lights, which I discovered boasts three floors and a café. I bought a copy of In the Dream House, checked out the children’s and young adult books in the basement, and then climbed to the top floor where I spent a long time in the SFF section. There I experienced a moment of despair contemplating how many more wonderful books there are than I have time to read.

The top floor began to fill up for the reading. I snagged a seat in the middle of a middle row of chairs, and my colleague later joined me when she arrived. By the time the event began, the place was packed the way Skylight Books was when I saw Roxane Gay there.

A bookseller and Writers Workshop student introduced Machado, who then read excerpts from her book. In the Dream House recounts her abusive relationship with a woman she met when she herself was a student in the Iowa Writers Workshop. Each chapter corresponds to a particular genre or trope, such as Myth, Spy Thriller, Second Chances, or Choose Your Own Adventure. I finished the book last week, and it is indeed dazzlingly written. I admired many a deft bit of figurative language. I liked the reflections on how archival silence can make people feel alone, and I was touched by the gestures of care offered by Machado’s roommates John and Laura and by her uncle.

After the reading, the author Garth Greenwell joined Machado for a conversation about her memoir and how it came to be. This part was great, but the moment that had the deepest impact on me was when Greenwell asked her what the role of friendship was in her life as an artist. (I’m always up for a good conversation about friendship.) In replying, Machado mentioned that her mother used to tell her she always made such good friends. This struck me as an excellent quality–an enviable quality–to have.

Grad Student-itis

This past Sunday was Isabelle’s and my last zine workshop at the West Los Angeles Regional Library. I was deciding between a new zine on weird grad school ailments and one on the things people say to you when you take a cello on public transportation in LA, and I ultimately decided on the grad school zine. Like all my other one-page zines, this one is available to download and print here. And if this zine makes you concerned about my health, don’t worry, I’m fine!

A Cupcake Zine and Maia Kobabe at Book Soup

Last Sunday was the July zine workshop at the West Los Angeles Regional Library. Last month I mentioned I was working on a new zine that I hoped to reveal soon, and this month I finished it! A Cupcake ATM Misadventure tells the true story of what happened when I tried to use the cupcake ATM at USC at this year’s LA Times Festival of Books.

From the zine workshop, Isabelle and I took the bus to Book Soup, a bookstore on Sunset Blvd. Maia Kobabe and Samuel Sattin were there to talk about their recent comic books. They were joined by their respective collaborators, Phoebe Kobabe and Ian McGinty. Maia and Samuel met as members of the guinea pig cohort in California College of the Arts’ comics MFA program. Isabelle and I had discovered Maia’s zines at Comic Arts LA in December, and I was interested in eir debut book, the graphic memoir Gender Queer.

The event was pretty intimate, and the authors seemed to know a lot of the attendees. Maia and Samuel kind of interviewed each other, with Ian and Phoebe contributing their thoughts. They discussed the genesis of their books, the comic making life (taking care of your body is important too!), time management, themes (identity, climate change, anti-capitalism), and trusting that the time you’re investing in creating art rather than, say, registering voters is still worthwhile. (Or is it? Sometimes I wonder… Sarah McCarry’s diamond-sharp expression of a certain kind of hopelessness hit home this week.)

Afterward, I asked both Maia and Phoebe to sign my copy of Gender Queer, and I gave Maia a copy of my just completed A Cupcake ATM Misadventure. By the way, this zine, with all the others, is available to be printed under Other Writing.

Agave Baroque, Etc.

Summer is here! What have I been up to since spring break, besides defending my dissertation? Well, I can safely say I’ve finished my doctorate; I graduate tomorrow! I also went to the LA Times Festival of Books and YALLWEST, which were fun, but I wonder whether I’m starting to get author paneled out… I went on a couple of top secret trips to the Upper Midwest; sooner or later the outcome of those trips is likely to become clear.

In between said trips, Isabelle and I went to a wonderful concert at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, which is part of UCLA but is located in the West Adams neighborhood. The Clark houses a rare book and manuscript collection and hosts UCLA’s Center for 17th- & 18th-Century Studies’ chamber music concert series. We had actually been to the library before, for a performance combining piano pieces and personal storytelling. This time, the performers were Agave Baroque, a San Francisco-based ensemble, and the countertenor Reginald Mobley. Apparently it was the first time a singer had ever participated in this concert series.

The Clark Library (check out that theorbo!)

The program was devoted almost exclusively to the extended Bach family. I’m a big Baroque music fan, so I enjoyed the whole concert, but I was especially excited for the penultimate piece, the chaconne “Mein Freund ist mein” from the cantata Meine Freundin, du bist schön by Johann Christoph Bach. I had stumbled upon this piece on Youtube, searching for music by J. C. Bach, as one does, and I loved it. (Amusingly, for the title of the cantata Google Translate gives “my girlfriend you are beautiful.”) I should’ve realized sooner the text was from the Song of Songs. The organist told us the cantata had been composed for a Bach family wedding, but it was a Lutheran wedding, so the piece was in G minor. In any case, it was as wonderful as I’d hoped to hear the chaconne performed live. I was surprised to understand some German I had never caught before, just listening to a recording.

The title given in the program for the final piece, also by J. C. Bach, wasn’t familiar to me. It was “Es ist nun aus mit meinem Leben” (Google Translate: “it’s over with my life now”). The organist said the song was about death, but it was happy (can anyone say shape note?). As soon as Reginald Mobley began to sing, though, I recognized the piece, which I knew as “Welt, gute Nacht.” It’s very beautiful and soothing, and I was delighted to hear it performed live too.

The next evening, I got to see Rachel Hartman (of whom I am unabashedly a fan) and Fran Wilde at Children’s Book World, the bookstores where I held my Los Angeles release parties. I’d enjoyed Fran Wilde’s Updraft, and she was touring for her newest book, an MG novel with a protagonist named Eleanor! She also had a stamp of a witch ball, which she was using in signing books. It was lovely to see Rachel in person for the second time and catch up a little. She was promoting her extraordinary Tess of the Road.

At the end of May, Isabelle and I went to the LA Zine Fest at the historic Helms Bakery in Culver City (the official baker of the 1932 Olympic Games). We discovered some new-to-us zinesters, saw artist Maggie Chiang in the flesh, ran into Jackie Lam, whom we knew from the West LA Burrito Project, and donated some zines to other branches of the LA Public Library.

Speaking of zines and the public library, last Sunday we went back to the zine workshop at the West Los Angeles Regional Library. I kept working on my latest zine, which I hope to finish and reveal soon, and we found that some of our previous zines were now on shelves in the library’s collection!

Blackout Poetry and West LA Zinemaking

At the latest meeting of the artists and writers collective, our warm-up activity was blackout poetry. To create a blackout poem, you take a printed text and black out all but the words you want to incorporate into your poem. It’s a kind of constrained writing, and it’s rather tricky because you have to see something of your own in the midst of someone else’s text. We used pages ripped from the author’s note of this year’s UCLA Common Book, The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú. (I picked up my free copy in January and read the book then; I recommend it.) In the end, I found it easiest to dispense with the vast majority of the words on the page, and I came up with: “the absence of stories is the crisis / nothing else frees us from anonymity”.

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My local library, the West Los Angeles Regional Library, recently launched a zine collection and has also begun holding monthly zinemaking workshops. Isabelle and I went for the first time last month and recently went again. Thanks to these workshops, we’ve discovered the library has a second floor (!), hung out with cool librarians, and used an old-fashioned typewriter (much cooler than my inherited electric typewriter). Over the two workshops, I also completed my newest zine, Confessions of an Obsessive Journaler (also available to print and download under Other Writing).

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

Sea Creatures and Zines

Last week Isabelle and I went to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. It’s a splendid aquarium, and we spent a long time looking at everything. Here are some of the highlights:

Our first stop were the pools with rays, sharks, and horseshoe crabs, all of which you could pet. This is a bluespotted ribbontail ray, which has beautiful blue spots. I like how you can see the reflection of the leaves on this ray.

Then we bought nectar to feed the lorikeets!

A puffin!

Jellyfish! There were many different kinds, and they were all mesmerizing.

Blue and yellow-banded poison dart frogs

Sea turtle!

Me and Ellie the harbor seal! We caught part of the seal and sea lion show in the morning, and when one of the trainers announced that Ellie (short (?) for Elga) was 28 years old, we were quite astonished! That’s our age, basically.

In addition to the above, we saw:

  • Penguins, who did some every enthusiastic laps of their tank, leaping and diving like dolphins and swimming very fast
  • An otter
  • A petting tide pool with colorful starfish, anemones, and sea urchins. If you put a finger or two among the sea urchins’ spines, the spines gently close around your fingers–the tide pool volunteer called these hugs!
  • Seahorses and seadragons (both weedy and leafy)
  • Many, many fish, many of which have fantastic names. There are all the compounds imaginable, from rabbitfish to porcupinefish, and then there are the Korean lumpsuckers and the sarcastic fringeheads…

After visiting the aquarium, we had pho for lunch and then walked to the central public library, which has a zine collection. (We’d tried to go after the Long Beach Zine Fest, but that was a Sunday, and the library was closed.) First we found my books!

Then we browsed the zines, picked out ones that had caught our eye until we each had a stack, and sat down to read them. I had chosen a couple by and about indigenous women and one that was a collection of someone’s Livejournal entries. Isabelle passed me one in which the artist/zinester annotated the journal he’d kept on a high school trip to Paris. I like the idea of reading other people’s diary entries, I guess, though I should know from my own journal that they’re often quite boring. I’m definitely not enmeshed in zine culture, and so far zines have tended to be hit or miss for me, but every so often I stumble upon a sentence that’s so relatable it feels a little magical.