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A Foray into Korean Literature


During the beginning of this month, I went to a store and bought a book. The book turned out to be Weathered Blossom (마른 꽃), one of Park Wan-suh’s novellas, but at the time I didn’t know that. I only wanted a thin and pretty book with depth, so that’s what I picked. I didn’t read any descriptions or reviews or anything else besides the title. My concern didn’t extend that far.

I told myself that if it were thin, I would read it. Even if the plot and characters were horrid, the work, as a whole, was bound to be fascinating because it represented a genre I’d never experienced: Korean literature in Korean. An English translation even came with it, which meant that I would keep dictionaries far away from me.

Weathered Blossom is told from an often ignored perspective. Its protagonist is a grandmother. Teenagers saving the world, 20 year olds coming into their own, Prince Charmings marrying poor young girls–none of that overdone stuff has anything to do with this.

Still, when I was about 27 percent into Weathered Blossom, I decided that it was going to be a “love story.” I confirmed my suspicions by finally reading the description on the back cover: this was a “love story.”

Mere moments before I finished the “love story,” all of my conviction about it being a “love story” disappeared. I didn’t even know what conviction was. I only had my blank reaction that had been caused by confusion and a buffering brain trying to find sense in the scanty information the protagonist gave me. Basically, I had no idea about what it was that I had just read and I didn’t like that I didn’t get it because I get stories—I don’t blank out in confusion—but this one had been different from beginning to end and it insisted on being difficult too.

Determined to get something, I read the analysis of the story and even a translation, but the translation didn’t have any meaning. It contained words, of course, but their arrangement was so awkward and foreign that despite them being in English and grammatically correct—in the context of the story, it was hopeless. Phrases like “sensible politeness,” “charming facade,” and “sentimentality” were too vague. They meant nothing.

But then I saw this:

Even with careful thought while reading, it’s difficult to know what’s truly going on inside the elderly woman’s mind.

(작물을 읽는 동안 내내 눈치를 살펴도 그 진정한 속마음을 읽어낼 수는 없었던 것 같다.)

I had been trolled. Ironically, what I didn’t get was that there wasn’t something to get. People are complicated. They have baseless fears and strange motivations. Sometimes, things end reasonlessly, abruptly.

At any rate, reading about Korean characters in Korean is fun because Korean characters have a tendency to dwell on things that Americans have trouble simply conceptualizing and it turns into an awkward bloody mess when translators go after them (family terms, I’m looking at you).

I already picked up another book. I went with the same method, except I switched “pretty” for “interesting.”


50k words in a month is easy

I participated in National Novel Writing Month and wrote slightly more than fifty thousand words of fiction during November.

Even though the screen shot above is of my story, I find the picture a little intimidating. It makes my-still-unnamed-tale look as if it is a massive project. It never felt like that while I was writing it perhaps because I used Scrivener (which is an amazing program for working with long documents) rather than Word.

Regardless, after having completed the challenge, my primary impression of it is this: it is easy. If you can meet the following two requirements, you too can write fifty thousand words of fiction in a month.

The first thing you need is a vague story idea.
The second is time. But it’s not a lot of time, just about 90 minutes almost every day. I’ll even go so far as to say that if you devoted two hours to writing—take note: not to editing and not to thinking about writing, but to actually writing—every day, you would be hard-pressed not to reach that magical number of fifty thousand in a month. It’s just that easy.

And that leads me to one of NaNo’s less thrilling aspects. The challenge has absolutely nothing to do with quality and everything to do with word count. NaNo is fundamentally not about producing something matters, being thoughtful, or even just rethinking parts of one’s story so that it’s better. Any writing challenge that does nothing to address, not so much quality, but revision is a bit wtf. Revision is an essential part of writing and it’s hard; writing something with substance is likewise hard. But, again, NaNo doesn’t care about those important things. It’s only about how many words one can vomit out of her head. That’s a huge problem, but everyone has to start somewhere and for those who have trouble with simply writing habitually, NaNo does help with that.

At any rate, a couple weeks ago, I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. It was much better than I thought it would be, but I had low expectations. I like it because it was easy to read, extraordinarily interesting, and not at all misogynistic. I wish that they’d stuck with the original title in English, Men Who Hate Women, but … Anyway, along with the story, I found the author’s experiences and motivations for writing the trilogy interesting. As a teenager he witnessed a violent sexual crime and did nothing to stop it.

I read five books in November and I’m looking for another to read fairly soon. I may finish Larsson’s trilogy or go for another from the short list I created in May. I love suggestions and am always open to them—it will probably just take me a while to get around to what’s suggested.

At this moment, I’m strongly considering picking one or maybe even some the following:


How to Read

My Reading Style
What’s below is said in jest, but if you’d like to read books as I do, follow the guidelines. If not, consider adding a comment with your own.

  1. Do not dog-ear or fold any pages in any books, ever.
  2. Underline prodigious amounts of phrases and passages.
    1. Sparkly and/or brightly colored pens are ideal for this.
    2. Highlighting is an acceptable alternative to underlining.
    3. This is the newest guideline and was established in 2001. It replaces “Do not write in any books on any pages, ever!
  3. Writing comments in the margins is permissible, but should be done sparingly. The comments should express feelings for the characters or author. They should never be complete sentences. X for something obnoxious or reprehensible and lulz for something ridiculous should suffice in the vast majority of cases.
  4. No rereading.
    1. Be constantly mystified by people who reread novels.
    2. Exception: Books in foreign languages that aren’t well understood may be reread.
    3. Exception: Parts of books may be reread, but rereading a novel in its entirety from front cover to back is to be avoided.
  5. In books that are to be shared with others, leave notes every once in a while. Do not write on the pages of the book, but fold up an absolutely tiny sheet of paper. Use a .18mm pen or smaller. Place the note randomly in the book.
  6. After a book is completed, stamp the inside cover with an extraordinarily fancy bookplate. The bookplate should feature your full name and a monogram/initial.
  7. If a book is read for fun and annotating isn’t important, read it on the Kindle.
  8. If a book is written by a beloved author, buy a physical copy. Place the physical copy on a shelf. Then, get the book on the Kindle and see the guideline above (read it on the Kindle).
  9. Buy and keep all university (text)books.
  10. Stock up on books.
    1. Try to keep the ratio of unread books to read books reasonable. Ban the purchase of new books when the ratio becomes skewed.

*The illustration above was done in Paper on an iPad. It doesn’t represent a real bookshelf, but books that I own and cherish(ed).


What Are You Reading?

These are some of the books I’m currently reading. They’re alright. :)

  • Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories. In three words: strange and bitter.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m reading this again. It won the Pulitzer Prize, ♥. I like it.
  • IQ84. I have no idea because I’m moving through it at a glacial pace. I’m on page 22 of about 1,000. This is my first time reading Murakami.

So, anyway—since I read a lot and am viciously opinionated about this kind of thing, here’s a list of 10 of my favorite books. They’re not ordered. I’m also keeping my descriptions to a minimum. I don’t want this to turn into an exercise in fangirling.


From the titles above, a few things about my reading preferences become clear.

ONE.I like stories that involve writing and books. Ella Minnow Pea and Dangerous Acquaintances are epistolary novels. People of the Book is about a book as its title suggests. 😛

TWO. I like confusing things. See Faulkner, Ella Minnow Pea, and 1984.

THREE. I don’t follow guidelines. I said that I would list 10 books, but Faulkner isn’t a book. Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice are also two different things. Whatever. 😀

I’m contemplating using goodreads or shelfari to keep better track of what I read and when, but I’m not sure if using one of those will be worth it.

Feel free to comment with 10 of your favorite books and/or suggestions. If you suggest something, I may get to it in 5 years. 5 years is a long time, but I’ve found that I generally do get around to reading things people suggest. It just takes time. I’m interested in reading books written in French, Japanese, and Korean too. However, if you suggest one of those, the expected completion time increases to about 15 years. :) I’m busy!