New old books II

I can’t believe it has been FOUR years since this happened. And until this past weekend, I haven’t gone back once. (ALL THOSE WASTED OPPORTUNITIES JENNIFER LOOK AT YOUR LIFE LOOK AT YOUR CHOICES.) But in all seriousness I am grateful that I was able to catch the sale this year. It was fun browsing the tables and observing trends amongst the different genres. In the fiction section for instance, there were quite a lot of copies of Memoirs of a Geisha, as well as Toni Morrison’s Paradise. In the mystery section, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was popular, along with The Girl Who Played With Fire. (Although interestingly enough, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was nowhere to be seen.) I found a near-pristine hardcover copy of David McCullough’s John Adams in the history section, and was seriously this close to buying it—IT WAS GOING FOR $2 YOU GUYS—but decided to be reasonable and left it for somebody else to enjoy. I have a copy, my dad has a copy … I even have the HBO miniseries on DVD. We really don’t need another copy.

I was lucky this year. I had a good catch. Lots of the books that I found and purchased were ones I was specifically hunting for.

  • The Call of the Wind and White Fang, by Jack London
  • Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (the 1818 text)
  • Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
  • Paradise, by Toni Morrison
  • Othello, by William Shakespeare
  • Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare

A lot of classics, as you can see. Which is perfect, because I’ve made it my unofficial goal this summer to read as many classics as possible. In talking to my reader friends over the years, I noticed that I actually haven’t read all that many classics. True, I’ve made old friends out of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and John Steinbeck, but I’m practically strangers with the likes of Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury … pretty much the canon of American Literature at large. Even within the scope of British Lit—which was the apple of my academic eye in college—almost anything past the moors in Wuthering Heights, or the cobbled streets of Sherlockian London is unfamiliar territory. I have never read anything by George Eliot, and have only just made headway with Dickens. And let’s not even begin to talk about my unfamiliarity with minority literature. It’s about time I started catching up, and I hope to do lots of that this summer.

Readers—What are your reading goals this summer? Bought any new books recently?

Free Comic Book Day

Happy Free Comic Book Day, readers! I hope you guys had an opportunity today to take part in the festivities!

This was my first FCBD, and I was nervous as I biked to my local comic book store because I had no idea what to expect. Were there going to be cosplayers? Should I have dressed up too? Dang it I knew I should have worn my Pacific Rim tee. When I arrived and stood in line, I did feel a bit awkward. Everyone in front of and behind me were either a parent waiting with their kid, or that said kid. (That’s suburbia for you.) But everyone was so friendly, and the store staff so welcoming, that I soon forgot to care. And it’s hard not to be excited when you’re surrounded by fellow fans, regardless of their age.

Since this was my first experience with FCBD, I have no idea how the selection of free comics this year compares. But in my opinion the spread was decent and pretty varied. There was Teen Titans, Power Rangers, a Les Mis adaptation, Rocket Raccoon, and about 10 other titles that I have since forgotten. The store I was visiting limited each patron to 3 free books. I chose the above:

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Courtney Crumrin

I read all three when I got home. I was most excited for the Avatar one because GENE LUEN YANG AND FAITH ERIN HICKS OMG MY FAAAAVES. And I liked that story the best of the three. It’s a short but incredibly sweet tale about Sokka and Suki, and how they teach a timid young girl how to stand up to bullies. There’s one scene in particular that stood out to me. It’s where Sokka and Suki are in a shell store, and they witness a young girl being accused of being a fake shell collector simply because she’s a girl.

The moment I read “fake collector,” I became pretty darn convinced that this scene is an allusion to the “fake geek girl” problem—that idiotic behavior exhibited by male geeks (often but not exclusively within the context of comics) who bash on female geeks and accuse them of not being genuine fans, or being fans solely to solicit attention or street cred, or what have you … purely on the grounds of them being female. As I read on and witnessed Suki giving the jerk-of-a-store-owner what he deserved for his behavior, I cheered because the sexist attitude exhibited by the store owner got called out for the ridiculousness that it is. I’m really happy that the writers chose to address this issue, and I hope that it encourages the Fake Geek Patrol to stop with their gender-based policing. Or policing, period. It’s a waste of energy, a waste of time, it’s super destructive, and it’s super discouraging especially to new fans. Ultimately, such behavior comes from a place of arrogance and prejudice, and that has no place in comics—and geekdom as a whole.

Guardians of the Galaxy was all right. It was more of a prologue, or an introduction to all the guardians than a proper story. But I enjoyed it all the same, and appreciated the insight. I think, though, that it spoiled a few things for me in light of the upcoming movie. Baaaahh.

Courtney Crumrin was a bit too dark for my taste. I now regret not grabbing Rocket Raccoon instead. Or Teen Titans. Or Les Mis.

I wasn’t obligated to buy anything, but I felt bad at the idea of walking out without at least purchasing something, so I ended up buying some of the books from the Avatar series. I’ve read them before, but I’m a firm believer in buying books that you can read over and over again, and the Avatar books are definitely that. Gene Luen Yang did a great job on the writing, and the artwork by GURIHIRU is drool-inducing.

Readers — how was your FCBD experience this year? Which comics did you choose?

THE WEEKEND : Northern Grade SF

See more photos here.

What a packed weekend it has been! But man, how awesome too. Amongst the activities partaken was a visit to the San Francisco installation of Northern Grade, a menswear pop-up event hosted by GILT and the awesome folks at Pierrepont Hicks. Between the beautifully-crafted goods, and the friends who tagged along, and being in the midst of some seriously talented & passionate people, it was most definitely a slice of menswear heaven.

In comparison to previous installations in Los Angeles and Nashville, San Francisco was a bit on the small side: not as many vendors, not as much venue space. This was cause for some concern. Without a larger vendor turn-out, I was worried that the event would turn out to be some social nightmare where the atmosphere is all but nonexistent, and the crowds as thin and awkward as a pimply teenager. When I passed under the gilded door frames and into the venue, I realized I was worrying for naught. The turn-out was incredible. People were everywhere, and tables stood cheek to jowl, to the point where it became difficult telling one vendor apart from its neighbor.

While I was pleased to see many of the vendors present, I was all but in total fangirl mode over a few in particular. I made a shameless beeline to the Kiriko table, where I met the super cool Dawn Yanagihara and fawned over the beautiful pieces on sale: neckerchiefs made from authentic boro, scarves from some seriously fetching kasuri, and pocket squares from patterned kimono. I briefly forgot to breathe when I found Pierrepont Hicks, thinking to myself: I totally remember seeing these ties on their website, and my gosh I can’t believe I’m actually TOUCHING them. And I may or may not have oggled at a chambray shirt at Taylor Stitch. Multiple times.

Menswear goods aside, what I appreciated most about the event was the opportunity it provided for us consumers to see and talk with the people behind the brands. Nowadays, when we go to a store to make a purchase, we’re buying something that was made half a world away, by workers we don’t even see. At the pop-up, when I asked for a different sized shirt, I was talking to the brand owner himself. When I asked about a watch on display, I was conversing with the watchmaker himself. When I was deciding between two scarves, I was helped by the creative director herself. It was seriously surreal, looking down at a pocket square or a leather wallet, and then looking up into the eyes of the very people who’ve spent countless hours designing, cutting, sewing, and marketing that very item. It was engaging in a very personal level of human connection, something we’ve largely lost in the midst of our clamor for cheap clothes and quick fashion.

It was well into the afternoon when my friends and I finally took leave. By then, the crowds had thinned considerably, and my legs were threatening to give way from under me. I left hugely satisfied, and yet wistful all the same. I was like a  kid again, leaving Disneyland stuffed to the neck with cotton candy, head swirling with snatches of “It’s a Small World” transposed over images of Mickey Mouse and Splash Mountain, legs about ready to snap off from exhaustion, and yet looking over her shoulder, wondering when it’ll be the next time her parents will bring her back for a visit. Sooner than later, she thinks as she yawns, leaning against her mother as the tram speeds away, back to parking lot, to car, to real life. And while Northern Grade ain’t no Disneyland, it sure was fun. And I eagerly look forward to the next menswear pop-up that comes our way.

OUT & ABOUT: Half Moon Bay

Amelia Earhart once said, “When a great adventure is offered, you don’t refuse it.” Which was my mentality precisely when I was given the chance to join in on a trip to Half Moon Bay. My decision to go did mean that I had to forfeit the unstructured plans I had for the day, but I don’t regret it. Going and being there and experiencing all that I did was nothing short of magical. For the first time in a while, I felt alive, and free to enjoy, and free to let go and indulge my inner adventurer. The world suddenly became a little larger, a little more exciting. And I discovered that I was a much braver photographer than I previously believed.

I still remember the sharp, icy wind on my face; the exhilaration of riding in the back seat, the roof down and my untamed hair positively wild as we carved along the rugged California coast. I remember the grey skies and the wrinkled water, and the damp sand beneath my TOMS. I remember the craggy rocks, and the thunderous breaks. I remember the surfers – so many of them – and how they, to my great amusement, all looked alike. (There is a reason for the stereotype, I thought.) I remember feeling the strange and utter abandoning of my usual timidity when snapping them, the curiosity and affinity and awe that stirred within at witnessing their energy, strength, and physical grace.

Looking back at the photographs taken has taught me that being a good photographer is as much about being quick & assertive as it is being patient & still. A lot of my snaps turned out unsatisfactory only because I didn’t wait the one extra second or two for the seagull to look my way, or for the surfer to rise to the crest of the wave. It’s a hard balance to strike, especially when you understand very well that the difference between The Perfect Shot and a bad one can be hair-thin and determined by a split second’s timing. But I suppose it’s like driving stick: the concept is easy enough, but finding that crucial clutch point – that perfect intersection between letting go and pushing forward – only comes with experience and practice, and a whole lot of stalls in between. I just need more practice. I’m certain that I’ll one day find that sweet middle ground.

In the meantime, I’ll be thankful for the photographs that turned out well.


There is something so fun, and magical, and rad about watching a dramatic stage performance in an open-air theatre at night. Especially when people in the audience are just as excited as you are. And furthermore, if the play involved is a Cal Shakes production. I’m relatively new to this amazing Bay Area theatre, having only seen three of their shows so far, but I genuinely like them and the work that they put on year after year. I like that they do classics with a twist. They’re not afraid of taking something very period like Shakespeare, and putting a very modern or fantastical spin on it. And the results are always clever, creative, and true to the spirit of the original story. What I watched last night, “The Taming of the Shrew,” was no exception. (I’ll talk more about my thoughts regarding the play in my next entry.)

This was my first play in some time. And it wasn’t till I had sat down and the play begun that I realized how much I enjoy and by extension have missed the experience of watching a live dramatic performance. There’s nothing quite like being a part of an audience, and engaging with the actors on stage with laughter and sympathy. You can’t get that almost-tangible human connection in films, or even books.

Readers – What do you think? Have you seen a play recently? How does it differ from other story mediums, in your opinion?

Much thanks to my friend Virginia who gave me and The Roomate comp tickets. Virginia was on board with Cal Shakes this season as the costume design assistant, and can I just say she did a stellar job!

New old books

My recent acquisitions, courtesy of the used book sale Jeanee and I visited this weekend.

1. Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.
2. I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.
3. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier.
4. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.
5. The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
6. The Portable James Joyce
7. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy.

All rather heavy and/or depressing stories, I’ve only just realized, but I look forward to reading them in the coming months.

ETA — I apologize for not being more active on this blog. I’m hunting down new employment opportunities on top of prepping for Nanowrimo, which means less time to write (or read or do anything else really). But I am working on a Book Notes post for my latest read, and I promise to get that out soonish.

OUT & ABOUT : City Lights Bookstore

I paid a visit to City Lights Bookstore today. My second visit so far. The first being last week, after I had watched the trailer for Howl and felt acutely embarrassed for 1) not having realized sooner that a famous bookstore is only six blocks away from my office, and thus 2) not paying my respects to the venerable establishment sooner.

But all that aside, City Lights is a really charming place. Being small, the store easily exudes the cozy, almost cramped atmosphere that I have come to love in a bookstore. Wooden bookcases jostle politely with each other over floor space. In addition, a medley of vintage posters and black & white photography line the walls. And very creaky staircase leads upstairs to a room devoted entirely to poetry. The Beat poets naturally get an entire wall to themselves.

I wish I had taken more photos, esp. of the shelves in the poetry room. But I was alone, and super nervous, and self-conscious, and overly worried about what the store owners and my fellow patrons would think of me if I played tourist in the store. I swear I’ll get over this phobia one day. Because I really can’t bear the thought of depriving myself of future prime photo-capturing opportunities. And anyway, the fear of people is a very unhealthy concept to accommodate.

Readers — Have you visited City Lights before? What was your experience like?