Tag Archive | Minneapolis

Moon Palace Books and the New Uncle Hugo’s

On Sunday, I attended an author panel on middle grade fantasy at Moon Palace Books. Although I’ve known about Moon Palace for a while, it was my first time visiting the bookstore. It’s located in Minneapolis’s Longfellow neighborhood and is known for its engagement with the local community and its activist and social justice-oriented stances. In 2020, during the unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd, the plywood boarding up Moon Palace’s storefront bore the slogan Abolish the Police painted in huge letters. The bookstore was spared from damage. Moon Palace also continues to require masks in the store, so the audience at the panel was entirely masked.

The storefront of Moon Palace Books

The panel was held in a back room reminiscent of a blackbox theater. The signs reading Abolish the Police were stored against the back wall. The moderator (also an author) was J.M. Lee, and the panelists were Anne Ursu, Kelly Barnhill, Payal Doshi, and H.M. Bouwman. All the authors are Twin Cities residents. I’m most familiar with Anne Ursu and Kelly Barnhill’s work, but I had heard of all the writers.

Lee asked the panel a series of questions about what fantasy meant to them, their thoughts on worldbuilding, the characters in the novels they were each promoting that day, Ursula K. LeGuin’s quote about how fantasy isn’t factual, but it’s true, and children know that. Anne Ursu said that for her first secondary world fantasy novel, The Real Boy (which is good–I recommend it!), she created a map of the island with a river bisecting it, and her editor told her that rivers didn’t work that way. This was in the context of her expressing that she wasn’t good at the more scientifically-minded side of worldbuilding. She said she then decided she needed a real-world cognate so that she could look up all the answers to her own worldbuilding questions; she opted for an island in the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the 17th century. For her latest book, The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy (also great!), the setting was inspired by very early 19th century Romania (her heritage being Romanian on her father’s side).

Kelly Barnhill said–or at least this was my interpretation–that authors or perhaps readers sometimes get too hung up on worldbuilding details that we aren’t even familiar with in our own world. That is, you (or your characters) don’t need to know everything about your fantasy world because there’s so much ordinary people don’t know about the world we live in. She cited as an example the fact that she’d driven to Moon Palace Books in a car, but she had no idea, say, where the tires of her car came from. For her part, she was more interested in the side of worldbuilding that covers what stories everyone knows. For example, if we read an article in the sports section of the paper that uses the phrase Cinderella story, we all know what that means (at least, most people). She likes to know what such cultural touchstones are in her world. Or, what stories do children tell when they really want to scare each other/themselves? These are the things she’s interested in, even if they never make it onto the page. Separately, she also mentioned that the history of sewer systems, and how the technology kept being lost, was fascinating.

Payal Doshi shared an anecdote from when she was getting her MFA in New York and her workshop classmates thought Darjeeling was the fantasy world (I think this was about her debut, Rea and the Blood Nectar, which is a portal fantasy that starts out in India). She also talked about how people assume that fantasy by Indian authors will involve India-inspired worlds or incorporate Indian mythology. The fantasy world in her book, Astranthia, is more “East meets West,” combining different inspirations in a way that is more reflective of her childhood growing up in Mumbai.

Earlier in the conversation, Anne Ursu revealed that she and Kelly Barnhill had grown up going to the same library (the Walker library), though they didn’t know each other at the time. This was in the context of Barnhill talking about how she’d been obsessed with the Oz books as a kid because they were deeply weird and she was a deeply weird child. Her zeal for borrowing all the Oz books was how she discovered interlibrary loan. This led to a whole tangent about how strange the Oz books are and all the startling gender stuff in them and also the fact that L. Frank Baum apparently had all his royalties go to his wife. He also kept trying to stop writing Oz books in order to write other things, but then he’d run out of money and have to write another Oz book.

I especially enjoyed when the panelists got to talking about the characters in their latest books because it turned into a discussion of their siblings. Heather Bouwman’s book features four sisters, and she herself has three sisters. When they found out she was writing this book, they were anxious to check that it wasn’t memoir. Bouwman said the story began as Little Women fan fiction, and indeed the characters’ names still echo Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Payal Doshi has a sister, whereas her main character has a twin brother, but she talked about the love-hate relationships siblings often have (you might hate your sibling sometimes, but if they get kidnapped, you’ll do anything to rescue them!). Anne Ursu said that, like her protagonist Marya, she has an older brother who, it sounds like, got a lot of attention related to his hockey playing when they were growing up. However, she said that he was much nicer than the older brother in her book. Her parents were actually in the audience–she gestured at them–and she said she’d assured them that the family dynamics in her novel were not about the hockey.

Finally, Kelly Barnhill said she was inwardly freaking out because she realized she had this thing about writing oldest daughters. She talked about growing up as an oldest daughter whose job it was to take her four younger siblings (and sometimes extra cousins or friends) to the library each Saturday to give their mother a break. She also has thirtysome cousins on one side of the family and twentysome on the other, and there was something particular about all the oldest daughters. My interpretation was that they were expected to take on a lot of responsibility and internalized that such that they were then always shouldering all responsibilities for the rest of their lives. (I am the oldest daughter of an oldest daughter…of an oldest daughter! But I only have one younger sibling, so I’m not sure how much I really exhibit oldest daughter traits.) At this point, Anne Ursu jumped in to say that she thought Kelly Barnhill also liked to write very kind characters, and Barnhill agreed.

Inside Moon Palace Books

After several audience questions, the panel ended, and the authors were available to sign books out on the main floor of the store. There was no formal setup for this; they were just hanging out, and people were going up to talk to them. I explored the bookstore, since it was my first time visiting, and I ultimately bought Kelly Barnhill’s most recent book, a novella for adults called The Crane Husband (I did hesitate over When Women Were Dragons). By this time, the small crowd had started to disperse, so I asked Barnhill to sign my book, which she did. Then I went to say hello to Anne Ursu, who I’ve met a couple of times before.

Next, since I was in the neighborhood, I crossed the street to check out the new location of Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore. This is another well-known local bookshop that I finally got around to visiting in early 2020. It was then destroyed by fire in the unrest, but happily it has reopened a stone’s throw from Moon Palace. I knew this since I’d been following updates on the store’s fundraising page. The new store feels a bit warehouse-y in its bareness (I think there was a recent flooding issue too, which may have contributed to that), but it’s chock full of books, which is the important thing. There’s also still a bookstore dog. I found what I was looking for: Arkady Martine’s A Desolation Called Peace (sequel to A Memory Called Empire) in paperback.

The new Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s

Books purchased, I walked further down Minnehaha Ave. to the Minnehaha Scoop, a little ice cream shop I hadn’t known about before this month. It’s a small store on a corner lot, with doors open on two sides. The seating is all outdoors: a few brightly painted benches under colored umbrellas, with planters of coleus and petunias. They serve Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, which comes from Madison, WI (a sandwich board outside had some amusing “nutrition facts” that included the phrases “don’t even ask” and “if you want nutrition, eat carrots”). At first, I was disappointed that they were out of chocolate ice cream and I wasn’t sure what to get, but there was a flavor called Zanzimint that combined their Zanzibar chocolate (a richer, more chocolate-y chocolate ice cream, I believe) and mint, so I chose that, and it was delicious, especially on a hot, sunny day.

My Zanzimint ice cream cone (this was “one” scoop)

On my way back up the street, I passed the art studio and store of Ricardo Levins Morales, whose artwork I recognized. I don’t think I’d realized he was local! He creates art for community organizing, social justice, and activist movements. Printed on the windows of his studio were the 10- and 13-point programs of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, respectively.

Ricardo Levins Morales’s art studio and store

Merry May

Nothing terribly exciting has been going on, but I have some cheery highlights from this month as May draws to a close. I mentioned in my 2022 in Review that I’d joined the Collegium Musicum, Grinnell’s early music ensemble, this academic year. I have been playing the bass viol (viola da gamba). At the beginning of May, the St. Paul-based Baroque ensemble Flying Forms came to campus to give a concert, as well as a series of lessons, master classes, and workshops for Collegium members. We in the viol ensemble enjoyed a workshop with Flying Forms’ cellist and gambist (that’s the same person), though I did not personally feel very coachable (pretty sure my musical abilities–at least the cello-related ones–peaked around my senior year of high school/first year of college).

The concert on Saturday evening was fun; Flying Forms was joined by a local mezzo-soprano who has been teaching voice at the college but who is moving out of state this summer. The program was a mix of vocal and instrumental pieces. The concert opener was Henry Purcell’s “Music for a While,” which I first encountered thanks to The New York Times’ 5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Baroque Music feature (I already loved Baroque music). My initial parse of the title was parallel to music for a party or music for a birthday. You know, music for a while. But grammatically it’s actually Music, for a while, shall all your cares beguile, which really makes more sense. Anyway, it’s kind of a weird piece, though appropriate to begin a concert, and I don’t think I was the only audience member seized by the urge to laugh by the fifth or sixth repetition of drop (in case you’re wondering, it’s snakes that are dropping).

My favorite part of the concert was the very end, and to explain why, I have to go back. When I was leaving for the performing arts center, I wondered vaguely whether the evening’s program might include Handel’s “Flammende Rose,” a song I like very much. After all, it was a Baroque ensemble performing with a mezzo-soprano. I arrived at the auditorium, found a seat, and opened the program to find that it listed a different one of Handel’s nine German arias. Ah, well. At the end of the concert, I had a feeling there would be an encore; it just felt like the right context for one (fairly intimate concert, the singer’s last local appearance…). The musicians filed back on stage, and the mezzo-soprano announced that the encore would be…”Flammende Rose”! I was delighted. And it was splendid. I came to know this aria through music listening in high school, and it was wonderful to hear it performed live. (A week later I got to tell the mezzo-soprano all of this at a party, but I digress.) Shortly after the concert, there was a reception at the local wine bar, which ended up being more of a small gathering in which I was the only amateur musician. It was a fun time, though.

The following weekend was our concert. The viol ensemble, along with a four-member choir and a countertenor, performed Orlando Gibbons’ “This is the Record of John.” This was my favorite piece we played all year. My parents came to the concert since it’s one of my mother’s favorite musical works too. The countertenor was my student in introductory linguistics a year ago, and he has an amazing voice. At the concert, I also played (in ensembles) a Byrd pavan and galliard and a paven by William Lawes (whom I hadn’t heard of before we got the music). The Lawes was the first piece in which I had to shift on viola da gamba.

About another week later was Commencement. I did not march this year or last (someday!), but I still enjoyed seeing some of my students graduate. The Class of 2023 were first-years when I arrived at Grinnell, so I’d taught some of them in their and my very first semester. Also, three first-year students in that first Intro to Linguistics class I taught eventually declared concentrations in Linguistics, and I taught all three of them this semester–their last–in a sort of capstone class!

This past weekend was the Midwest Morris Ale (an event I have previously mentioned in passing). My friend David and I went to Minnehaha Falls to catch the mass Morris dancing. I recognized a number of people from contra dancing and shape note singing and such, and I got to say hello to a college classmate who dances with one of the sides attending the ale.

Morris dancers at Minnehaha Falls Park

Finally, my brother’s housemate adopted a kitten recently, and I got to meet him! He’s so tiny.

Sleepy kitten on a couch

Eternal Offerings: Chinese Ritual Bronzes

A couple of weekends ago, I went to the exhibit “Eternal Offerings: Chinese Ritual Bronzes” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It was somewhat reminiscent of the last exhibit of Chinese art I saw at MIA, “Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty,” which placed Qing dynasty artwork amid various roomscapes, some dark, some brightly lit, and many with music or a soundtrack. “Eternal Offerings” featured painted scenes on the walls of some galleries, music or sounds of activity in the background, artifacts resting on mirrored sufaces, and dramatic contrasts of darkness and light. As the subtitle suggests, the exhibit was of bronze vessels and other items from Ancient China, all of which came from the museum’s own collection. There were no labels to read alongside the objects on display, so the focus was entirely on the bronzes themselves. The show was conceived and designed by Liu Yang, the curator of Chinese art at MIA, and Tim Yip, the art director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

In the first room, pale models of fragments of bronze artifacts were suspended from the ceiling over a horizontal mirror. Next was a sort of anteroom featuring a single, Shang dynasty wine vessel in the shape of an owl, standing atop a pedestal on a round mirror. The vessel dates from the 13th or 12th century BCE, which means it’s over 3,000 years old. It’s an amazing piece, and it’s incredible to think that someone crafted this finely worked object over three millenia ago and it’s still here for us to look at.

Shang dynasty owl-shaped wine vessel

Another view of the owl

Beyond the wide strips of mottled gray cloth that hung behind the owl stood several display cases of small bronze animals, including tigers, water buffalos, a bird chariot finial, winged dragons, and what looked like a pair of doorknockers (but were probably just handles?), the rings held in the beaks of bird- or dragon-like masks. Many of the items further on in the exhibit also incorporated decorative elements depicting animals.

A mythological beast with a tiger’s head, hooves, a curly tail, and turquoise accents (5th c. BCE)

The next gallery contained a variety of wine vessels (and the occasional food vessel) in different shapes and styles. Some were like vases, others like three-legged pots, and still others like decorative boxes with over-the-top handles. On the side walls were bronze spearheads and dagger-axes, some with jade blades and turquoise inlay.

Three-legged wine vessel with spout, side handle, and lid, with a pattern of scales on its rounded body (11th-10th c. BCE)

The next two rooms were large, with many vessels on display. The first room’s walls were painted with mountains while the second room’s showed men and women seated indoors at a banquet (I think). In the second room, the floors and opaque walls of the display cases were red, and there was a soundtrack of clinking dishes and utensils. Some of the objects in these galleries had inscriptions in an early Chinese script.

Footed water vessel with dragon-headed handle (9th-8th c. BCE), with a ritual food vessel decorated with dragons and a water basin with animal-headed ring handles in the background

Covered vessel (5th-4th c. BCE)

Four-legged rectangular food vessel (fāngdǐng) with geometric designs, spikes, and bird figures (11th c. BCE)

Wine vessel with pattern of stylized, interlaced dragons (5th-4th c. BCE)

The next gallery was also large. In the center was a display of a large horse, several vessels, a goose-shaped wine vessel, and a few human figures, including a farmer, an ox, and a cart, all of bronze, made for a Han dynasty tomb and found in Sichuan Province. Also in this room were five bronze bells of varying sizes, placed on high shelves on the wall behind the horse, a series of gilt bronze belt hooks with glass, jade, or crystal inlay, a series of round mirrors with varied decorations and inscriptions, and assorted other objects, including mountain-shaped censers for burning incense.

Han dynasty celestial horse surrounded by vessels, with bells and mirrors in the background

Mirror (4th-3rd c. BCE)

The last room contained one display case with a mirrored floor. Inside were many different types of vessels, including a double-owl wine vessel (back-to-back owls), a large, round, Eastern Zhou wine vessel with gold, silver, and copper inlay, and a vase-shaped wine vessel depicting hunting scenes. Against one wall, a video projection showed slowly rotating close-up views of some of the objects in the gallery.

All in all, the exhibit was a fascinating opportunity to see pieces from the museum’s collection that often aren’t on view and to admire the intricate craftsmanship of Chinese bronzes made thousands of years ago.

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.

A Chilly Minnesota Spring

I’m in Minnesota for spring break just now, but it hasn’t been a very warm spring break, on the whole. At the very beginning, there was one balmy day, and I took advantage of the nice weather to walk around Lake Harriet. The ice on the lake is getting soft and slushy, and there are some patches of open water along the shoreline. Here are some Canada geese–scoping out nest sites?–as well as other fowl flying low in the sky.

One day, my mother and I had lunch at FIKA, the restaurant inside the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. We had kroppkakor (potato dumplings filled with spiced pork) with crème fraîche and lingonberries and a semla (a cardamom-flavored roll filled with almond paste and topped with whipped cream). They were both excellent.



Another day, we made an excursion to Keefer Court, the pre-eminent Chinese bakery of Minneapolis, which after all these years I’d still never been to. The side of the building is painted with a cute mural depicting birds and flowering trees.

Otherwise, life is busy! I hope to be back in April with some more exciting posts!

The Best of Uncanny, Part I

The blog has been quiet lately in part because I’ve been staying home, as one does during a pandemic, and not having any notable adventures. But I have been slowly reading my way through a doorstopper of an anthology, and since I’m just past the halfway point, I thought I could share some of my favorites thus far.

The collection is The Best of Uncanny, which brings together some of the best short stories (and poems) published in Uncanny Magazine, a dream market of mine. The book came out in 2019, and the editors, Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, went on tour, visiting bookstores around the country. At these events, they were joined by local authors whose stories appear in the anthology. Back in February, when I visited Honolulu, flying in and out of the Twin Cities, Isabelle alerted me to the Minneapolis event at Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore. Alas, it was the night before I came back from Hawai’i, so I missed it. But Isabelle had heard there might be extra signed copies available at the bookstore after the event, so I decided I’d go check the day I returned from Honolulu. The book is gorgeous, but as a nearly 700-page hardcover it was also not inexpensive, so I decided to leave it up to fate: if I could snag a signed copy, I’d buy it, but otherwise I wouldn’t.

I was also glad of the excuse to visit Uncle Hugo’s because although I knew of it, I’d never visited (there are far too many Twin Cities indies I’ve still never been to!). I think I knew where it was, because it’s across the street from the Midtown Global Market, but I’d never been there. So the same day I got back from balmy Hawai’i, I drove over. It was a pretty cold afternoon, with occasional snowflakes swirling in the air. I think a bell rang when I entered the shop? I was immediately delighted; I mean, the bookstore looked like this:

It reminded me a bit of Raven Used Books in Northampton. Except Uncle Hugo’s specializes in SFF; in fact, it was the oldest independent science fiction and fantasy bookstore in the country. I poked around for a bit (and saw my first physical copies of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, another dream market), and then I saw it on a book cart: a single copy of The Best of Uncanny protected by a plastic sheath. I checked the title page: the book was signed by the editors and Twin Cities short SFF author Merc Fenn Wolfmoor. I was so pleased, and I left Uncle Hugo’s the proud owner of that copy.

I returned to Grinnell and left the book there when I went to France (it’s hefty, and I was already taking two thick books on the plane). Of course, I ended up staying in France for months, so The Best of Uncanny languished in my lonely Iowa apartment. Then, in May, while I was still abroad, Uncle Hugo’s burned down in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. I was stunned. I’d hoped to go back, to show it to Isabelle someday. Little had I known in February that my first visit would also be my last. At least for the foreseeable future: if you’d like to donate to help the owner recover and rebuild, you can do so here.

But this was supposed to be a post about my favorite stories so far! Now, none of the pieces collected in The Best of Uncanny would have been included if they weren’t already excellent, so here are my very subjective feelings about some of the stories that I enjoyed the most.

“Blessings” by Naomi Novik: I really liked Novik’s novels Uprooted and Spinning Silver (I’ve vaguely meant to go back and read her Temeraire series). Anyway, this riff on fairy godmothers features a wealthy mother determined to secure some nice blessings for her newborn daughter, a very funny narrative, and a satisfying ending for the daughter when she grows up.

“Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu: This novella is set in a fascinating future Beijing and has a sympathetic protagonist. Although I can’t really explain why, it also felt distinctly Chinese to me (I haven’t read tons of modern Chinese fiction, but I’ve read some), and it’s nice to read SFF with different sensibilities.

“Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad: I found this story hilarious and adorable even though I’m only fandom-adjacent, at best.

“Catcall” by Delilah S. Dawson: I hesitated on this one because I’m not sure “enjoyable” is the right descriptor. More like “horrifying.” But it was certainly memorable and raises questions about the limits of revenge.

“Wooden Feathers” by Ursula Vernon: This one has some beautiful and creepy passages, and I liked how the relationship between the two main characters was of a type we see less often (in this case, vendor-customer/younger person-older person/sort of apprentice-sort of teacher/sort of friends). Also, this sentence: “The moon was the eye of an ink-dark whale overhead, barnacled with stars.”

“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong: A beautifully rendered setting (even if it’s a desolate one) and an intense platonic love story. I really liked this one.

“She Still Loves the Dragon” by Elizabeth Bear: I’d read this story before I bought this book because Isabelle had told me about it. The main reason I like it is for its depths of possible interpretation. You could spend a long time talking about it.

“Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon: This one was so wholesome and sweet! Farming > fighting.

I’ll stop there for now. There were even more stories in the first half of the collection that I really liked, and this list probably could’ve been twice as long. Maybe by next week I’ll have finished the book!


Return from France

I returned to Minnesota this week after spending nearly 90 days in France. If you’d asked me in the winter how I thought my spring was going to go, I could not have envisioned what actually came to pass! But I feel very lucky to have gotten to spend the entire French confinement, as well as the first phase and a bit of the déconfinement, with Isabelle and Olivier outside of Paris.

A walk in the Forêt de Meudon

Writing-wise, I ultimately had a very good confinement. (This is not to promote any kind of if you haven’t learned a new language or launched an online business during quarantine you’ve failed at the pandemic sentiment. No one needs to do anything more than do their best to make it through.) I sank back into drafting what I hope will be my next book, and when it looked like the finish line might actually be in sight, I strove to cross it. I finished the rough draft (emphasis on rough) on my last full day in France. Toward the very end of my stay, I also made two short story sales within a week; I hope to have more to say about those stories soon.

I have returned, of course, to a country still grappling with COVID-19 and lit by a renewed uprising against violent racism and police brutality. I have returned to the city that sparked the latest protests. Like I said at the beginning of the pandemic, I don’t have much to say that others aren’t already saying better. But we must all be doing the work. Here’s something I wrote almost exactly three years ago when the police officer who killed Philando Castile was acquitted. I think we need to be thinking seriously about what role, if any, police forces should have in our cities. What would it take to abolish the police? In the meantime, take care of yourselves, your family, your friends, and your communities.


What I’ve Been Reading: Christmas Edition

Merry Christmas! It’s the last Wednesday of the year, so if I was going to get in any more blog posts in 2019, it was going to have to be today. Here are a few things I’ve read and loved recently:

“Away With the Wolves” by Sarah Gailey: This short story in Uncanny features a beautiful, tender, already established best friendship between two girls who understand each other and look out for each other in large and small ways and love each other deeply. Its triumphant ending shows how sometimes you can break free from self-imposed restrictions and dare to seize everything you want. I read it twice this fall, and I can see it being a story I return to again and again.

“As You Know, Bob” by Jeannette Ng: There were many bits I liked in this Uncanny article about the place of telling (vs. showing) in speculative fiction, especially for authors writing from a culture their readers may not be familiar with. I particularly appreciated this line about how, say, writers of Chinese heritage may not be explaining things just for a Western audience but also for each other: “We don’t all have the same story, the same traditions, nor the same cultural touchstones, despite sometimes sharing a nominal sourceland.” This rang so true to me. I’m Chinese, and I have friends who are Chinese, but our Chinese cultural heritage is not always the same, and so I’ve learned many things from them. Similarly, what I write about being Chinese-American may not be familiar to all Chinese-Americans. I also like the part about how we often engage in telling not to convey new information but rather to build a story and a relationship. It can be lovely to reminisce with friends about past shared experiences, and families often tell the same stories over and over again, sometimes because people clamor to hear them once more.

“Windrose in Scarlet” by Isabel Yap (who I first read on The Book Smugglers): I loved this dark and violent and tender and hopeful fairy tale mashup in Lightspeed. It’s about finding love and fighting curses and taking care of each other and also just…recognition. I think I want to read this one again too.

The Stars and the Darkness Between Them by Junauda Petrus: I usually can’t resist YA novels set in Minnesota (Minneapolis, in this case), and I loved the vibrant community Petrus brings to life in her début. The families and the friends are so great. Also, I thought I saw this book described as a romance (maybe I’m mistaken?), but it didn’t really feel like one to me. It is about romantic love, sure, but what stuck out the most to me, in a good way, was the focus on all the gestures, small and large, of deep friendship. This book is partly about how to be there for someone through the worst days of their life. It will probably make you sad and happy.

Summer’s End in Minnesota

At the end of my summer, which for the rest of the world is mid-to-late September, I went to Minnesota and brought Isabelle along. We visited the cats at Wild Rumpus in Linden Hills.

We stumbled upon the Highpoint Center for Printmaking on Lake Street and saw the juried print exhibition and Michael Kareken’s black-and-white watercolor monotypes of majestic forests in the Pacific Northwest.

With my brother, we visited Minneapolis’s first cat café, Café Meow! We met a very sweet cat named Oreo.

Photo by Isabelle

We saw Minnehaha Falls in its late summer glory.

We attended the second day of the 29th Annual Minnesota Sacred Harp Convention, again at The Landing, and I led 547 Granville.

On our last day, we took a walk in my neighborhood and found this:

Qing Dynasty Treasures and Boundless Peaks

I am woefully behind on blogging about my adventures, but such is the way of things. In the last month or so, besides diligently writing my dissertation, I’ve returned to the aquarium, enjoyed a 4-hour “study session” at the new cat café in my neighborhood, and spent nearly three weeks in Portugal and France. This post, however, harks back to early May, when I was in Minneapolis with Isabelle for the 175th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. It was my first phonetics conference. We presented posters in the same session, and I met exactly the linguists I wanted to talk to about my somewhat perplexing study (one of them, from the University of Minnesota, lives practically down the road from my parents!). I also got to see a friend and fellow linguistics Ph.D. student I know from Swarthmore.

After our poster session, Isabelle and I had lunch on Eat Street and then walked over to the Minneapolis Institute of Art to see Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty. This exhibit was meant to weave objects and artwork from the Qing Dynasty into an immersive, sensory experience drawing on elements of theater. It began with ten minutes of meditation in a dark room. It was almost pitch black, but a vase placed high in one corner was illuminated. A piece by John Cage involving what sounded like pencils being dropped onto a stage played in the background. Several of the exhibit rooms included music, some of it rather strange. One of the rooms, featuring a carved wooden throne, had walls painted red with the image of a rather Western-looking dragon and a soundtrack of screams (possibly not all human?). The whole thing was rather unusual, but I liked the art.


Look at those bats!

After emerging from the Qing Dynasty exhibit, we stumbled upon another temporary exhibit, Boundless Peaks: Ink Paintings by Minol Araki. Araki was a Japanese painter born in China who studied with Chinese painter Zhang Daqian. I was quite taken with his paintings, especially a monumental one covering several walls depicting mountains and trees.