Reading Seattle #7 — Magnolia Library

Date of visit: November 25, 2017

I think this was a damp rainy weekend when I decided to have a nice transit / LimeBike adventure to some place relatively inaccessible, but also not too far away. I ended up taking a bus that didn’t actually get me to the library, but got off at the nearest stop and biked the rest. It wasn’t too bad.

Magnolia has unnervingly wide streets; if it weren’t cut off from the rest of Seattle with only two means of egress, it would be a nice place to live.

The books:

Nuclear Family (Susanna Fogel) — Oy vey what a disaster. It’s a Jewish girl who grows up into a writer; her dad divorces and remarries a woman named Mei Ling who has a son, Stuart, who is very focused on his violin studies, and ‘oriental’ conservative views as well as an implausible set of grammatical difficulties.

The entire book is a caricature of Jewish family, sure: I’m uncomfortable with the fact that a poorly-written Chinese woman is part of the caricature.

Ways to Disappear (Idra Novey) — It was a warm, hazy book, replete with handsome Lusitanian lover, featuring a translator who goes to Brazil to rescue her author (the author she translates), who has disappeared up a tree to escape her gambling debts.

Lover (Anna Raverat) — A story about a marriage that undergoes an affair and divorce. The protagonist is an executive at a hotel chain, and those tidbits are kind of interesting, but overall it was a predictable book.

Underground Airlines (Ben H. Winters) — I don’t read a lot of sci-fi or alternative history, so I was uneasy reading this description of a United States where the south won the war, a much poorer United States whose trading partners are mostly restricted to other ‘backward’ countries, like South Africa and Pakistan. I suppose the implication is that the USA as it is now is still stymied because we have not fully reckoned with our history of slavery and the racism in our institutions.

But the plot was far fetched and had more twists than the challah I made this weekend; luckily it also has a good ending for the protagonist.


Reading Seattle #6 — Ballard Library

Date of visit: October 26, 2017

We went here after having Weinberg Family Dinner at Volterra — it was a beautiful fall afternoon. I had a cocktail and a half portion of pasta, which was really quite enough.


Allegheny Front, Matthew Neill Null — A collection of short stories illustrating the high cost orimpossibility of change in Allegheny West Virginia. Ironic mode for sure.

I somewhat avoid short story collections for this project because it’s so easy to read one story in the collection and call it a day, but I kept reading because I wanted to get to one where the protagonist triumphs. Never found one.

The Good Neighbor, Amy Sue Nathan — A divorced woman, about to turn 40, moves back to her family home near Philadelphia, and starts blogging about her dating escapades with a man named Mac! Visitor count goes way up, and her friend hires her to write for her media company. Plot twist: Mac is made up, but now she has to continue. How will it end??

I almost felt bad reading this because it was so simple and far fetched, but whatever, I had insomnia.

A Kind of Intimacy, Jenn Ashworth — Told from the perspective of an delusional, murderous fat girl, who is relatable and pitiable nevertheless. She moves in to a new neighborhood and starts obsessing over the male neighbor and harassing his partner; slowly her past begins to unwind.

Ok — and — I am going to “break” a bunch of my own “rules” here: I never finished a fourth work of fiction from this library. Instead, I read parts of several non-fiction books: My Own Words, a collection of speeches about / by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing, edited by Harvey Molotch and Laura Norén.

Reading Seattle #5 — Greenwood Library

Date of visit: September 2, 2017 (ebooks were checked out sporadically)

I came here after a long soak and (anhedonically-received) scrub at the spa, so I was a little out of it. I probably should have gotten a beer at Naked City instead of thinking it was a good time to get books, as the four books I selected ALL turned out to be bad choices: they were all too dense, the type of book I think I read rather than the type of book I read, etc.

A week or so later, I realized that I was going to be on some airplanes soon, and would need a few books. I looked at SPL’s listing of available Kindle books, applied some arbitrary filters, and got a few. They were actually all winners!

For the sake of accounting, I will consider Greenwood visited, and try not to have to substitute with e-books too often — e-books are supplements in this project, where local visits and physical copies are key, but maybe e-books were fitting, as I was not at all local during this time.

Easy Way Out (Stephen McCauley) — A nice tidy story of the love lives of three brothers, told from the perspective of the gay middle brother, set in Cambridge in the 1990s. There are happy and sad anachronisms: the protagonist thought he would never be able to marry; on the other hand, the protagonist is a travel agent who fakes boarding passes and funeral excuses for his clients to make up for his procrastination.

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War (Mary Roach) — Mary Roach is one of my favorite science-confectioners: this one was about interesting scientific challenges the armed forces encounter. In her chapter on food poisoning in the army, I was glad to learn that many soldiers develop Irritable Bowel Syndrome after an initial acute bout of food poisoning! This is what happened to me when I ate the bad mango, c. 2014.

Rory the Dinosaur Wants a Pet (Liz Climo) — Liz Climo is the best, dinosaurs are the best, and Rory is an excellent name for a dinosaur! Liz Climo used to work on the Simpsons (she’s only quit recently), and is a successor to Sandra Boynton, but more cute in the use of animals, and less (bad-)cute in usage of basic puns.

Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile (Nate Jackson) — I skimmed through most of the football and just wanted to read the gory medical details; wish he’d talked about the rehab more. Concussions are discussed only in the last chapter — I guess Nate Jackson’s problems tended to involve muscles ripping from his pelvis.

Books returned: 9/26/2017 (I know, I incurred a fine)

Reading Seattle #4 — Central Library

Visit: August 13th, 2017

I had a book on hold — about housework (Never Done, Susan Strasser), and I was desperate to leave the house, so I took a bus down and fetched it as a convenient excuse. It turned out that Never Done was a dense reference volume: I would never be done with it. So I gave it back to the librarian for reshelving and got four new books.

Damnficionados (J.J. Wilson) – I was in a hurry and this seemed like a plausible choice at the time, but then I realized I hate post-apocalyptic science fiction: I don’t have the patience for worldbuilding.

Small Beauty (Jia-Qing Wilson Yang) – I appreciated this book because it is about a 3rd generation Chinese woman living in Canada, and they leave plenty of conversation untranslated in the pinyin, mixed in with her thoughts, which are in English. The character is transgender, so this book did the PSAs of telling about the horrendous transphobia she faces. Selfishly, I recommend this book because of the pinyin.

The Slap (Christos Tsiolkas) – This book was lightweight and the binding seemed well read, so I took it. Now that I’ve read it, I am filing it under “things I didn’t like that clarify what things I like”.

I don’t like it because it doesn’t have a statement: the titular slap isn’t enough to tie together the events, except temporally, and we don’t actually see any characters “wake up” due to the slap. We get a slice of life of suburban Australia: the focus shifts from generation to generation, from the parents’ drama to the grandparents’ sadness, ending on a triumph of the children.

But try as I might, I can’t find the relationship between the stories of the generations. The best I can do is that dads and pappoúdes (there are lots of greek families in Australia; who knew) alike all want to fuck the young ladies in their acquaintance, and that there is a lucky young gay boy with a loving mother.

Exit West (Mohsin Hamid) – Turns out I had borrowed but not read a book by this same author a few library visits ago: Phil read it (How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia) instead, and thought it was beautiful but very sad. This time I read the book; it was also sad, but also a hopeful utopian sketch with likeable characters.

Books returned: August 31, except for Exit West, which had a shorter 2 week due date as part of the Peak Picks program.

Reading Seattle #3 — Fremont Library

Date of visit: July 10, 2017

I got these books for my first week of being on call — actually, I went to get them the first week of being on call, because I figured I could run from the Fremont Library to my desk quickly enough.

I ate some work dinner afterwards.

The books:

No No Boy (John Okada): Lots of long sentences with repetition that reminded me of beat poetry. I get the idea that this book is taught a lot around here because it takes place in Seattle.

The Revenant (Michael Punke): A nice book about a bear! No, it’s a man on a fur expedition team who gets mauled by a bear, is left in the care of two teammates, one of whom is a sociopath and convinces the other to also leave him for dead; they steal his gun and knife, to boot. Miraculously, the guy makes it, powered by a desire for revenge.

Conrad & Eleanor (Jane Rogers): About a marriage where the woman is more successful in her work and where the man prefers being at home with the kids.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Mohsin Hamid): This is the one I chose to skip, but Phil read it and said it was good, but melancholy-inducing.

Bikeshare trip report

I finally completed some substantive bikeshare trips today! It’s not perfect, but it is very good — more thoughts below.


I’d loaded up $20 onto my Limebike account, and thought I should finally use it for a trip of decent length. Today was the day, for a variety of reasons:

Location: I had a picnic to go to at Magnuson Park — this is a park on the Burke Gilman Trail (BGT), which is primo bike infrastructure. I wouldn’t have to ride on roads at all.

Logistics: I didn’t have to be at the picnic at any particular time, and there was food / drink at the other side. A nice bike ride would help me bring an appetite.

Light: My sleep schedule has been getting progressively later, so I decided to wake up “early” today and then bathe myself in sun and endorphins by biking to the picnic.

And — to seal the deal — it turned out that I left home without my wallet (+ bus pass!); there would be no way to cheat by getting on a bus, and I couldn’t take car2go because the wallet also had my driver’s license. Not risking it today.


My plan was to take a bus towards Seattle Pacific University (SPU), find a bike, and get on the BGT at Fremont. This is the bus I take to go to work every day (except I take a second bus or walk from SPU to Fremont), so I know it well. A kindly bus driver let me on the bus without my pass, and I got off where I thought I saw a bike on the app.

I soon ran into my first problem of the day. The app says there is a bike at a map point. I am standing as close to the map point as possible without trespassing. Where is the bike?

It wasn’t such a busy area that someone else would have taken it before the map had a chance to refresh; I can only imagine that the location was inaccurate — or, less charitably, the location was perfectly accurate but inaccessible. Like, someone has put the bike into their garage. Not a bad deal, right? You have 100% access and no risk, and if you don’t want to bring it back one day, go ahead, leave it somewhere truly public.

I assume the bikeshare companies have a way to deal with this, or just factor it into costs, but it’s not a great experience to be stumbling around suspiciously in quiet neighborhoods, peering into yards and alleys.

How was it?

Eventually I got a bike and got myself onto the trail. The bike emits a loud chime when you unlock it, which was pleasant feedback — I wish car2go did this, instead of me putting my hand on the car door and feeling for the lock to release, as if I was trying to exchange energy with the smartcar.

I should say now that I am far from a confident cyclist: I veer a lot, I’m always afraid that I’ll catch an edge and fall, and I can’t reliably start if I’m not on a decline. (I know the theory of starting uphill, but I don’t always land in the saddle.)

But generally, the ride was comfortable — no clanking derailleur issues, the problem I’ve had on every bike I’ve owned. The gears also worked well; biking on all flat or downhill, I didn’t have to use gears 1-5, but gears 6-8 were fine and easy to shift. I also really liked the handlebars — they are broad and contact your palm more than a plain cylinder. I felt that this helped me relax my upper body.

As an aside, the _existence_ of gears 1-5 is what convinced me to deposit my money in LimeBike, btw. If, for some reason, I had to climb a hill, I would be able to. That, and that I swore I had put my payment info into SpinBike, and it seemed like it’d lost it.

Of course, there are a few small problems: the bell worked on my first bike, but didn’t on my return trip. Worse, the bike is so heavy (or the kickstand is so short) that the kickstand can support only its own weight: if you have anything in the basket, the kickstand is useless, and you have to lean the bike against your pelvis.

I’m sure LimeBike is aware, but reliability in starting and ending trips could be improved — I had app flubs on both ends. On the way back from the picnic, I wanted to take the same bike, but was unable to unlock it. Let it be known that I _intended_ to bring it back to civilization — however, I tried three times, and each time, the app said that the input was invalid, unlocking failed, please try later, etc. In the end, I walked out of the park and, as luck would have it, found another bike that I was able to unlock.

And when I ended my trip, I locked the bike, listened for the little chime, and went inside to shower — imagine my alarm when I saw that the clock was still running on my ride! I trotted outside to check (definitely locked!); then I went to see my trip history in the app, and I had indeed ended that ride successfully — it just hadn’t been reflected the screen I had been on.

Overall, this was a great experience. I got some exercise (hopefully I’ll sleep early tonight), and felt more confident about biking. Unfortunately, even if unlocking a bike became more reliable, the fact that you can’t know that there will be a bike near you will always limit bikeshare’s role as transportation. But for a fun weekend picnic jaunt, it was excellent.

Reading Seattle #2 — New Holly Library

Date of visit: July 1, 2017 (7/1/17, how palindromic)

Have you heard of New Holly? Newholly? I hadn’t, and while looking through the map of Seattle libraries, that is how I chose to go to this one. I decided to take the bus on the way there and take light rail back; the 36 drops you off right there, or so it looked on the map.

It proved slightly harder to find than that. The library is in a compound, except the three buildings that made up the compound were only one or two stories high, and in my mind, compounds comprise tall buildings, with lots of shops / services at the ground floor so that you don’t really have to exit the building clump to live your life.

These buildings were the Newholly Early Childhood Center and Newholly Learning Center, and the library was inside the learning center. I think there may have been only one or two people there besides me and the staff; notably, there was a good selection of English language learning books, as well as books in other languages, with targeted resources for East African immigrants.

And it was very small — a single rectangular room, and I think the low shelves and low ceilings further reminded me of elementary school.

Anyway, the books!

The Shepherd’s Life (James Rebanks, @herdyshepherd1): Consider this the Northern English / Lake District translation of JD Vance (@jdvance)’s Hillbilly Elegy, but with less social commentary on inequality, and more sheep. “I thought school was stupid until my grandfather died and in grief, I read all his books”

A nice read, but I don’t think I learned anything about herding sheep. Namely, I want to know how Old English Sheepdogs were ever useful with all that hair, and how you train a Border Collie to herd. How do you show it what you want to do without running circles around your own sheep?

Watch out for the BIG GIRLS (J.M. Benjamin): This is under the imprint of ‘Urban Books’. It’s about a lesbian motorcycle gang of plus-sized women in Vegas that the Feds are trying to infiltrate. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and will note that I have never seen this publisher in the Queen Anne library.

A Map of Betrayal (Ha Jin): I basically will read anything by Ha Jin. I feel like he understands my parents’ cohort — educated Chinese emigrants from the north. I mean, I think he sent the protagonist (a history professor) to be a visiting scholar at Beijing Normal University, my parents’ alma mater (though he calls it Beijing Teachers University), and then he puts the protagonist on the BU campus. The familiarity is reassuring.

I also like his translations of Chinese phrases — you can see exactly what is being translated, but it doesn’t try to make them sound exotic.

Books returned: Still have them; I’ll do it this weekend.




Reading Seattle – An Introduction

A while ago, I started going to a branch of the Seattle Public Library and browsing for books. Instead of going in with a list of books to fetch or just going in to pick up a hold, I scanned along the shelves for books that seemed fun, and preferably, were not too big.

The first week, I went to my neighborhood library, just blocks away, but the second week, I decided that this was a good way to visit neighborhoods in Seattle — ones I wouldn’t visit or even know about otherwise. And I was reading more.

Here’s why: I decided to stop choosing books that I thought I should read, and instead, just checked out books I would read. I’m not a very strong reader, and checking out books above my level, even if they were prestigious or “good for me”, wasn’t going to help if I never opened them. On the other hand, if I read horrendous trashy tales and didn’t like them, this would just push me back towards the virtuous, “name” books; if I did like them, well, great!

The order of visits is mostly by convenience / “is there anything interesting to eat nearby”, and I started doing this last July; I’m only now publishing these entries and I have no idea how the backdating will work.

Without further ado, Reading Seattle #1 — Queen Anne Library.



Reading Seattle #1 — Queen Anne Library

Date of visit: June 18, 2017

This library is blocks away from home, but I pass by four separate coffee shops on the way, if I use the term coffee shop loosely.

Cederberg Tea House specializes in Rooibos drinks — they put rooibos in the espresso machine, pull shots, and prepare drinks in the same way with steamed milk; they will also make the drinks with coffee beans. Most drinks come with a tiny cookie, and the rooibos drinks have a dusting of sugar on top. (also, you can book tea parties here!)

Then there’s Queen Bee, the coffee shop that always seems to be on the ground floor of the ritzy assisted living community, Aegis Living. I got a coffee from them this morning because Cederberg was closed (it doesn’t open until 10:30 on Sundays! That’s commitment to work-life balance for a coffeeshop.).

Caffe Fiore is the organic coffee shop; I’m sure I’ve been to the Ballard location and enjoyed the coffee there, but something about this one intimidates me, so I always walk past and look at the cool building next door, fittingly housing an architecture firm. Maybe it’s set back from the street too far and I feel like it’s a home to which I haven’t been invited, not a business.

And finally, Top Pot; technically a donut shop, but in a pinch, also a source of caffeine. It’s a great place to sit and look at rich people’s dogs walk past outside. Oh, Dunkin’ Donuts, why do you have locations in Stockholm and Shenyang, but not Seattle?

My visit was in the early afternoon; there were lots of parents with children reading and playing.

Here’s what I got:

Law (A Very Short Introduction), Raymond Wacks – Didn’t read this one; clearly, my fleeting interest in law fled before I got home.

Black Boy, Richard Wright – You know, this was written about Richard Wright’s upbringing in the Jim Crow south in the 1920s, but most of his insights and observations about being black in America are just as relevant today. That’s heartbreaking.

Cabin Fever, Mandy Smith – The salacious tales of being a Virgin Atlantic stewardess, or “trolley dolly.” I love industry insider accounts regardless of the industry, and this told me a little bit about the work of being a flight attendant, but it was also about the author’s sexcapades. It read like a Cosmo article, edible underpants and all; I have reminded myself not to judge other people’s preferences.

Wedding Cake Murder, Joanne Fluke – HAHAHAHA a small town baker makes it onto a nationally televised cooking competition and the celebrity judge gets killed. WHODUNNIT? Very, very loose plot, with characters that seem to eat their bodyweight in cookies daily.

Books returned: June 29th, 2017


natural language

I find you delightful and interesting. I admire you. But if it seems like I am quiet or never talk to you, it’s probably because I literally cannot.

I don’t mean “literally cannot” in the flippant way, as if you’ve done something unforgivable. I think I have an inability to react to certain conversational cues in the expected way, and it makes it painful for you to talk to me.

If you and friends have left a group of people after I tried to join a conversation, or let an opening question wither after I answer in my way, I don’t blame you in the least – it’s good signal, and helps me get closer to figuring out what’s going on.

On the other hand, I’d prefer not to skip events due to not being able to talk to most people (and the natural opposite, monopolizing a few people’s attention because they are the only people I can talk to), so I’m going to list out some observations.

Here are some things that happen in a one-on-one conversation:

  • When someone asks me a question, I answer too fast or too briefly, without asking my own questions, and what should be a conversation turns into an exhausting interrogation.
  • When someone asks me a question, I answer with an entire paragraph, anticipating all future questions. “So what do you do?” “I work for X, the location at Y, doing Z in role W — I’ve been there for about k years. It’s pretty good, I like it!” “Oh, neat…”
  • I interrupt. Horrendously. I can’t tell if the gap is for me to ask a question / paraphrase, or for you to say m–ok, I guess you were going to say more. Sorry!

And in groups:

  • In larger groups, I just. can’t. get. a. word. in.

I vividly remember one end-of-rehearsal discussion at Strictly Seattle about “conversations,” and in 20 minutes, I could not find some way to give my perspective, which was that I have a hard time getting into conversations, and that we should consider whose voices do not sound. (basically, what Jarrett Walker said)

I especially rued this opportunity because Strictly Seattle is a dance intensive, dancers are very body-aware, and maybe they would have had ideas — or maybe they would have just looked at me, “Poor awkward Lu,” left a lot of silence, and moved on in what they were all talking about before.

  • In medium (3-5) groups, I leave dead air.

I actually feel like I talk too much in medium groups, especially when other participants are women. But if I’m saying something, I don’t indicate well that I’m finished with a thought, and it seems like the other people are courteously hanging, waiting for me to conclude. This is a natural opposite of the aforementioned interrupting problem.

One thing that makes these (fairly mild, in the grand scheme of things) worse is that it seems to happen so much more with women than men, especially women who are mostly friends with women.

I fear being seen as a homewrecker or otherwise unacceptably heterosocial, but mostly, it’s a problem because I can’t be friends with so many of you.

Are men more tolerant of me because I share interests with them? Have I deliberately cultivated interests that primarily let me interact with men?  Under the assumption that people are mostly homosocial, maybe a greater percentage of men are awkward, and so, men have more practice talking to awkward people and waiting out conversational awkwardness?

Are women’s conversations more advanced: more teasing fragments, confiding of piquant opinion, and other devices I don’t even understand, arenas where a drily-delivered pun has no currency?

I guess I’m looking for a Speech-Language Pathologist, but one who deals with gestures and sentences, not phonemes as atoms. I don’t have trouble putting my lips together and parting with a pop, just once, crisply, but I do have problems answering a question and returning it gracefully, not with a kludge like “what about you?”, and not with a torrent of information.

I do realize that a lot of these ‘awkwardnesses’ I list are due to the assumption that conversations are about declaring facts. Maybe the easiest thing I can do is to think of conversations as opportunities to learn about people, and that I should ask more questions. Maybe this is what makes some people seem easier to talk to: they are comfortable with conversations composed of statements, and others feel that this shuts them out?

(addressing the smaller-eared elephant in the room: no, I don’t think it’s race or age – there are counterexamples all over the place)

Or you know, it could just be that I am still a nerd, and I forget how much of a nerd I am until I am with people who are not nerds. I like digital cats, partner dance, fitness, music, transit, and using words from science while having forgotten most of the details behind them. I dunno. This seems like a long-enough list of things.

You might be tempted to think, “well, I’ve never had a problem talking to you!” This is what makes this problem so hard to figure out: if I can’t talk to you, I can’t become good enough friends for you to take me aside and say, “Hey, Lu, do you ever notice that you do X?” It’s unfair for me to expect people who don’t know me well to do the hard work of observing and commenting.

But if it’s not a lot of work for you and this post inspires you to help, please, post just that. I really appreciate it, in unspeakable amounts.