How I started: sight-singing

Sight-singing is looking at written music and producing the pitches / rhythms / lyrics / etc. that were written.

I’m terrible at rhythm / lyrics and don’t even think about being expressive or having a nice tone. I think this is because I started sight-singing on the car ride home from piano lessons: when I got assigned new music, I was usually so curious to know what I’d gotten that I couldn’t wait to get home to hear it. Instead, I just hummed it out to the best of my ability.

I didn’t sing words or syllables (everything was just a hum), and usually if I could recognize the melody, the rhythm would come (as well as implied harmonies; I guess I never got anything with really surprising harmonies).

I’ve looked at Modus Novus a little bit, for atonal things. I like singing perfect fourths a bunch of times until you reach the note a half step above the one you started on (so you can check yourself).


Reading Seattle #15 — Beacon Hill Branch

I’d been doing so well, and then I seemed to have checked out a batch of duds. It’s been two weeks since I checked out these books, and I still haven’t read a single one.

I tried to read Poison (Galt Niederhoffer); I understand that it is about a perfect family that descends due to suspicion, perhaps founded, but the description of the perfect family (including the wife’s body) was so cliche for so long that I

  1. had to check if the author was male
  2. didn’t have the stomach to wait for the subversion of the norms

The book I started reading on the light rail platform from Beacon Hill Station was Hotels of North America (Rick Moody). I am almost done with it and am determined to finish it, but the author uses SO MUCH anaphora that for each repetitive rant, I just read the beginning and skip to the end of the paragraph. The author went to Brown.

[now having finished the book] It had a nice ending. Phil found some of the things buried in the anaphora hilarious; I suppose this book just didn’t suit me (though I am also a reviewer of hotels of north america, I guess).


Reading Seattle #14 — University Branch

Date of visit: May 30, 2018

As there are 27 branches of the Seattle Public Library system, visiting branch #14 means I am at the halfway point!

This was a quick weekday visit — I was even on call, the library was closing in 15 minutes by the time I got there, and had to rush home in a Lyft because I promised my secondary I would be home by . It was a bizarrely wonderful riding experience because my driver, Rafael, decided that I was conversant in Spanish, and so we spoke partially in Spanish, with a lot of me going, “sorry, what does that mean”? He drove very well, but I swear his car was an automatic and yet he was shifting all the time as if it were a manual.


Hausfrau (Jill Alexander Essbaum) — I am so, so certain that I have read this book before, or attempted to read some of it. An American woman has moved to Switzerland with her (local) Swiss banker husband and two kids; she is depressed and sees a psychotherapist throughout the book, completely fruitlessly. She sleeps with people because she’s good at it and it makes her feel alive; very Tove Lo.

Eeeee Eee Eeee (Tao Lin) — My reaction when I finished this book? “well, those were some words on pages”

I chose this book because it was not like the other books I’d read by young Chinese-American authors about them and parents with high standards or incomplete ways of loving; this book was a guy who delivered pizza for Domino’s (a nod to Snowcrash?), had similarly disaffected suburban friends, seemed to not be able to get over some girl (until the end of the book, which I guess counts as growth in the protagonist), and runs into talking bears and dolphins and moose in his adventures.

Hence the title.

I dunno, if you’re sticking it to your parents, this book is definitely that.

Ambitiously, I checked out The Sovereign, by Andrew Elias Colorusso. This is an MFA project of a book; I checked it out because the guy went to Brown, and because it was about Puerto Rico, which is still in darkness after Maria, etc. It is more ambitious and adventurous than any of the other books I’ve checked out and I do intend to read it eventually, but if I stopped the project based on finishing this book where I have to look things up twice every page, I would add months to the length of this project.

So instead I read Family Life (Akhil Sharma). An autobiographical immigrant story; the author is the younger brother of a pair that immigrate to the US with their mother to follow his father. The impetus was Indira Gandhi’s policies. They settle in ok; his brother gets into the Bronx High School of Science, and then gets trapped underwater at a public pool and is in a persistent vegetative state for the rest of the book. His dad becomes an alcoholic, and his poor mother struggles to figure out their place in the local Indian immigrant community.

Eventually the author finds release in writing; he gets into Princeton because the admissions officer who read his essay had his wife die of drowning. (Funnily, he gets rejected from Brown.) He makes $700k in his first year as an i-banker, working 20-hour days.

Refreshingly raw expressions of how immigrants handle race in America; this is also the first book I’ve read where an immigrant family deals with disability and addiction. I hope the author has used his banking money to get some therapy.

Reading Seattle #13 — Northgate Branch

Date of visit: May 10th, 2018

I think this was a quick ‘what’s convenient on a weeknight’ visit; I went from work and did not eat anywhere after, since there would be a parking lot to cross before I could enter any restaurant.

I did read two of the books in cafes, though!

The Riddle of Life and Death (Tell Me a Riddle, Tille Olsen, and The Death of Ivan Ilych, Leo Tolstoy) — I suspect I’ll need to read both of these a few times to have any insight worth writing; both novellas are about people near the ends of their lives. This combination-book is by The Feminist Press at CUNY, and I’m glad that the bundling made me read two stories that I otherwise never would have.

I read this book in Bedlam Coffee, drinking a lavender latte. First I sat outside on Second avenue, watching people pass by on the protected bike lane, and others walking to / from their Mother’s day brunches. After a while I went inside and upstairs, where I found the most extraordinary nook — I ensconced myself in there and finished.

The Bridges of Madison County (Robert James Waller) — So I feel like I know of this book from one of those 90’s commercials: “Favorites like Revolutionary Road. Some other American novel. The Bridges of Madison County.”

It’s very touching and romantic indeed. I lost a little respect for the book when I read that the author says that he took inspiration for the attractive, lithe, man-character from himself.

Border Town (Shen Congwen) — This is one of those books where everything is so gentle and idyllic that you know something terrible is going to happen, and it does. I’m not sure I know what it’s saying — it was published in 1934, pre-communist revolution, and I feel like that exempts it from the style of obvious allegory that I’ve gotten so used to (Zhang Yimou I’m looking at you). I think there’s the suggestion that life goes on, but of course it won’t; it’s pre-communist china and tumult is coming.

I read this book at Cafe Ladro. I think the manager and a higher-up manager were having a meeting when I joined them on the back porch. My soy latte was very good.

And the one I didn’t read:

I Don’t Want to Kill You (Dan Wells) — Maybe horror stories are all kind of painfully derivative, and it’s only the size of your reputation that makes you the original one and everyone else derivative? The guy returns to his hometown to defeat a shapeshifting spirit named Nobody. (It kind of rings a bell) I couldn’t.

Reading Seattle #12 — Greenlake Branch

Date of visit: April 19th, 2018

I was in Greenlake taking dance classes at Exit Space / the NEST in preparation for classes in the Ailey Experience Tour. Which is to say, they have a show in Seattle, some company members come here a week early to teach some kids (and adults, but mostly kids). I was really in it for the Horton class, which was as great as I’d hoped.

But I’m not sure my two-week preparatory run-up to the weekend was actually helpful; I took a whole bunch of modern dance classes at Velocity Dance Center and Exit Space, and there were so many different styles, none of which were anything like Horton (i.e. what most of my intro to modern dance class in college was, it turns out). I also talked to my friend Ellen afterward, who took some modern dance at Boston University, and we had the same shared vocabulary of familiar Horton-y moves.

Is there like, coastal dance drift?

Uhhh, anyway, before class, I went to the library and then went to Peet’s Coffee to start reading. I got a hibiscus herbal iced tea.

Goodbye, Vitamin (Rachel Khoong) — Another book by an Asian woman who went to a school Lu didn’t get into who writes about a facet of her life in her 20s! I mean, in the book, the protagonist seemed to drop out? of an unnamed school in New Haven (maybe it was Albertus Magnus, lol), moves to SF to be a somnograph tech with her boyfriend; they break up and she moves back home to be with her father, who is in decline due to Alzheimer’s.

It’s a series of adorable sketches. Lots of punny jokes; it kind of feels like the author has been keeping a notebook of adorable punny sketches and needed a reason to stitch them together. The protagonist also drinks a lot, which I appreciate.

Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri) — One year during college I coerced a classmate into taking me home over spring break, and with his parents, we watched a long sad movie about the partition of India after the British left. I’m not proud of this, but I am glad that I got some minimal base knowledge of that conflict, because it’s prominent in a few stories in this collection.

The theme seems to be betrayal, or departure, if it’s positive. They’re moving stories.

Fear of Dying (Erica Jong) — Bookend? Sequel? to Fear of Flying, Jong’s seminal novel where the protagonist, Isadora Wing, fully embraced her sexuality. This book is about Isadora’s friend, Vanessa, who is in a loving but sexless marriage with parents who are dying and a daughter who is pregnant. Seeking life for herself, she signs up on a site,, for some NSA sex.

Shrug; I don’t relate to her at all. Will I marry a very rich man? no. do I orgasm from vaginal intercourse? no. do I believe that circumcision is what drives Jewish men to marry Asian / black girls? [page 204, I’m not kidding, folks, she goes on about this for a while] ….no?

Good ridda

Reading Seattle #11 — Southwest Branch

Date of visit: March 17, 2018

We took an excursion to West Seattle! After visiting the Southwest Branch, we had dinner at Endolyne Joe’s (the same company as Five Spot, a restaurant just a few blocks away from home). Well-fed and watered, we then took a nice walk in Lincoln Park before heading back.

Bitter Almonds (Laurence Cossé) — Describes the goings-on between a Frenchwoman, Édith, and her Moroccan laundress, Fadila. The employer is a translator / interpreter who discovers that Fadila cannot read and asks if she wants to learn. The employee has had a hard life, and we get glimpses into that as she gets glimpses into literacy. Spoiler: there is barely any progress. In fact, her employer / teacher keeps trying to get Fadila to enroll in a real literacy course so she can hand off the teaching.

Major spoiler: the book ends with Fadila being hit by a car and entering a coma. Édith realizes with anguish that she will never be able to use the Count of Monte Cristo system of “blink once for A, blink twice for B” system of communication. It’s almost like the author decided they didn’t want to keep writing anymore, and they might as well free Edith and Fadila from trying.

A note on this book — it is a translation, by Alison Anderson. I suppose this must have been a fun translation job; how do you render an old Moroccan immigrant’s French? Or her confusion between words that differ only by vowels (“Camellia, Camilla, Chameleon” is a triple that the translator chose)? It’s lucky that English and French use a similar alphabet, so our perspective of “oh, those are of course the mistakes a person used to Berber / Arabic, ambiently from childhood, would make”, e.g. connecting all words together” is also the same. Not sure how you would translate this into Chinese, e.g., where literacy is a real bear for lots of people and you’d be hard-pressed to describe the “whole word” method vs. the “analytical” method.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (John le Carré) — this took a LONG time to read. It was so episodic, without enough interest for me to read more than one episode at a time. Once I got through it, all I can say is that the one woman is written as a helpless, simpering mess, and the plot is as lame as Leamas the protagonist.

The Vegetarian (Han Kang) — A lady wants to turn into a plant, and her first step is going vegan.

No, it’s not actually whimsical like that; everyone descends into some kind of life-limiting obsession because frankly, Korean culture is brutal. The author is adamant that the book is not just about Korean patriarchy, but you have to admit that that’s a big part of it.

This was also a translation, by Deborah Miller.

Not read: Turn of the Screw

Reading Seattle #10 — Madrona Branch

Date of visit: February 25th, 2018

Back when Phil lived at 24th and Olive, some builders had started laying foundation for new homes near him; now, those homes were having open houses, and we decided to go check it out.

On the way we also stopped by IHOP; I was sorely tempted to order the Fish and Chips that the on-table placard was advertising, or a chicken burger (what I ordered the last time I went to an IHOP, probably in 2009), but Phil advised me to order a waffle special. It was alright. The coffee was pleasant.

We arrived at the library four minutes before opening, so we walked through the main stretch of Madrona. We marveled at the density of artsy ceramicsy gift shops, and made it back to the library for opening.

So — the books. We had eight minutes before a bus home was going to come, so I basically chose the first four that caught my eye. Having read all the books now, I think it’s not a bad method / I got lucky this time.

Chemistry (Weike Wang) – A woman who grew up with a frustrated mother and demanding “the only way I know how to connect with you is by teaching you math” father realizes that she doesn’t really want to get a chemistry PhD, and now has to figure out what she really wants.

She has a lot of rage issues that her super-calm, securely-attached boyfriend tolerates but never understands; she has some turns of phrase that reveal that she is not a native speaker; in the process of self-discovery she ends up drinking a lot of wine. Eerily relatable; not at all autobiographical, I’m sure. After all, the author has a PhD in public health.

How to Survive in a Science Fictional Universe (Charles Yu) – Stand back, Lu is going to try to read science fiction! Luckily, despite all the SF-dressing trying to explain a model of time travel, this was effectively the same book as Chemistry!

Charles (the name of the protagonist!) was never able to connect emotionally with his father — the closest they got was when they were working on their time machine prototype, which failed at a critical time — and that his mother was severely depressed.

I guess this is the batch of Asian-American writers that I’ve been waiting for.

The Assistants (Camille Perri) – This is a utopian fiction set in reality. At an unnamed media company, an assistant to the editor accidentally gets a $20k reimbursement check that she’s not supposed to, and cashes it to pay off her student loans. The assistant in accounting catches her, turns out to also be extremely poor and in debt, and demands the same for herself — paying off her student loans.

Then the head of accounting catches them both and demands they do this for someone she mentors, etc. etc. Because / before it gets completely out of hand, they turn it into a ‘crowdfunding approach to student debt forgiveness’ idea. It works, hooray!

It’s a little implausible in some parts, but most of it is so real. It also makes me understand how much of a favor my parents did me by paying for college — I usually roll my eyes when I hear how so-and-so’s kid bought a house in Seattle, and they “helped them out a little bit”, but this is effectively the same. (Of course those kids probably also had their college paid for, and also got their job by parental connections, but whatever; this is not a fruitful tree to shake)



Reading Seattle #9 — Capitol Hill Library

Date of visit: February 3, 2018

Ah, the Capitol Hill branch, my old stomping grounds — so close to the (big) QFC and CorePower Yoga, such a usefully located public bathroom.

I had to get a key cut and decided to go back to the ancestral (big) QFC; I tried selling some clothes at Crossroads (to limited success); I got a hamburger from Dick’s; I got some books from the library, and then had a flight of red wines at Aluel Cellars, where I asked no fewer than three questions per 1 oz pour.

The books:

Rubyfruit Jungle (Rita Mae Brown): The protagonist seems like such an excellent human being. She is fearless, confident, and brilliant; most of all, she refuses to take the easy way out of anything. I think I take the easy way out most times.

The History of Great Things (Elizabeth Crane): A mother and daughter write biographies and possible biographies of each other. I think the mother is dead. Again, two very cool-sounding people — the mother pursued a career as an opera singer despite all expectations to the contrary, and, eh, I can’t remember what the daughter does. I thinks she becomes a writer (so maybe this is autobiographical)?

Willful Disregard (Lena Andersson, translated from the Swedish by Sarah Death): And now, for a woman who seems all too-familiar and not at all cool — she’s a cerebral writer who lives a simple life until she gets a crush on one of her assignment subjects. The rest of the book is her willful disregard for all signals that he is not interested.

Terribly inconvenient that the story wasn’t Danish — then it could be Willful Disregård.

The fourth book in this batch was The Red Badge of Courage; which I’d first heard of through The Brady Bunch. It seems like a book that got assigned to middle schoolers.

Can’t wait for the next library visit!

Reading Seattle #8 — Wallingford Library

Date of visit: December 27, 2017

Wow, this was a tiny library! I had trouble finding it at first because the sign outside was for Solid Ground, a social services organization. Half was it was shelves for holds pickup — the browsable section was so small that I thought I had made a mistake. For the sake of my project, that wasn’t a problem: I did manage to find four novels (plus one non-fiction book).

I thought about going to Ramen Man, the tiny ramen restaurant that I heard gives you as many soft-boiled eggs as you like, but I decided to go home instead.

The first book that I spent most of my long weekend reading was The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I couldn’t believe my luck that this book was available — it seems like the type of celebrity book that will always have a waitlist, but even then I hesitated a little to get it because 1. it was non-fiction and thus, did not qualify for the project, and 2. it was a pretty large book.

I’m glad I got it: I had a great holiday weekend with lots of time spent outside or with friends, but I was always thinking about the book a little bit. Don’t be intimidated by the size: it is an immediately engaging read and rips you through it. Sometimes I felt like the pacing and writing left me too breathless for comfort.


Trains and Lovers (Alexander McCall Smith): Uh, four strangers sit together on a train and spill their cute life stories. I chose this book over two others, both called “Transit: A Novel”.

The Bluest Eye (Toni Morrison): This book is so accurately depressing, and it is depressing how accurate it still is. There is a white doctor who tells his residents about his (black woman) patient, “these women you don’t have any trouble with. They deliver right away and with no pain. Just like horses.”

I checked out What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeyemi, and read about half of it. It is skillfully written, cleverly connected set of short stories, but it’s fantastic realism and because of that, I can’t make myself keep reading. There were people waiting on this book, so I returned it instead of renewing.

In the meantime, I also read The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa’s Wealth by Tom Burgis — Phil was hoping for more connection between old-fashioned colonialism and modern wealth extraction via the resource economy, i.e. how one led to the other; this book doesn’t cover that, but hammers home how African nations’ misery is the combination of several vicious cycles (Dutch Disease, Survival of the Fattest, Plain-Old-Racism).

Every mobile phone and every share of VTX I have ever held is complicit. I don’t know what to do: the poison is so dilute and so sweet.

The last book is The Expatriates, by Janice Y. K. Lee. This is yet another story of a bunch of interwoven families’ lives, here, those of four women who have moved to Hong Kong. It began with a lot of angry, resentful feelings that I almost felt I shouldn’t read, but ended in a celebration of womanhood and the bond between mother and daughter.