Monday, January 26, 2015

Modern Korean Poetry: Between Sound and Silence - Chang Soo Ko



In keeping with the spirit of surrealism that pervades Chang Soo Ko's poems, I'll start by saying that this book allowed me to find it at just the right time. It hollowed out for itself a space in my life. My relationship with Korean literature is skittish, but Between Sound and Silence was having none of that. Finding me alone at work on a slow day, it held me to my chair. The book was a suitcase whose contents I unpacked slowly and with great delight. Or was I the suitcase, and the book unpacked me, watching my reactions unfold?

Between Sound and Silence, published in 2000, is a handsome volume. A hardcover with delicately textured cream-colored end papers, it is a bilingual offering with the English version on the left-hand page and the poem in Korean on the facing page. The poet (who has also served as an ambassador for Korea) did all of his own translation, which further excited my admiration. This is one of the few times I've wished to be fully fluent in Korean, so I could get the total flavor, the complete experience of what Ko is saying. Perhaps I wouldn't survive the full impact, though. For example, a line like Let some melodies illuminate the words hanging in our trees packs quite a punch just in English.

The first poem in this collection, "At the Art Gallery" starts with a stark imperative sentence, bursting with the energy of a coiled spring upon release: Do not think you are the only one in his perspective. Immediately, my brain began to buzz. Who is the "you" in the poem? Who is the one with the perspective? Reading the poem one way, it seems as if "you" is the spectator. In another reading, I was convinced it was the painted image. And what about the artist? His eyes always reflect the flickering flames from his center. Do not think they miss your stillness. His gaze penetrates far beyond where there is only silence. Drowning in all the pronoun possibilities, I finally had to conclude that it's really a poem about Ko and his reader and the journey they're about to embark. But again, there's shifting and blurring and the uncertainty: Is Ko talking to the reader or talking to himself, or imagining what the reader might say?

The reason I'm going on about poet/poem/reader relationships is because of the poem "To Marc Chagall" in which Ko articulates the feelings that we've all had for painters, poets, writers, actors and directors that have affected us viscerally:

I want to define our relationship more clearly.
Though my human shape never cast any shadow on your life,
my glances often fed the flames of your candelabra.
The bare winter branches in your landscape
sometimes lit up with my pastels.
You sent through my nightmares your silent birds
dripping with burning pain, 
and tempered my emotions.
Our relationship has been a metaphysical one, at least.
But this definition is pointless
like a mountain perspective overlooking human events.

Pointless?  I don't think so.  As for the "mountain perspective", that's definitely not pointless. In Ko-World, static things such as locations are anything but, and the depth of their importance cannot be understated. In "Camera in the Park" when he muses on What happens inside it, on the other side of the lens? We get the point-of-view of the landscape: ...the landscapes that long for light and motion, stir quietly as summer. The landscape appears again as an active participant in a poem that bears its name:

The landscape at times lets a bird fly away, 
shedding blood drops among the foliage,
or lets a calf moo plaintively on a hill.
With its gentle breath
it sends away bright blossoms
and calls in honeybees and birds,
or gently guides sea-bound sailors to their endless voyage.
The landscape attracts things and creatures
with the irresistible force of its gravity,
and absorbs into its essence
laughter or glance, flame or flower.
This is just as sounds gravitate into silence.
The landscape quietly breathes, submerged in the sky.
As if pulled by some force beyond the horizon,
a strange bird draws an inexplicable parabola in the air.

Finally, a landscape melts inside me:
a commonplace and simple landscape;
A childhood landscape with a tree and a rock,
where I desperately called a name,
gradually melts away inside me.

All my life, jaunts into the countryside have been tedious events. With the above poem, Chang Soo Ko has put an end to that. The next time a rural landscape permits me to set foot in it, I'll be a trifle uneasy, but certainly not bored.

Ko can be weird and intense, but he also does weird and cute well, as is evidenced in "Ocean-liner":

Slowly the ocean-liner
Moves in dreamy motion
As if an island were shifting gournd,
Weary of its fixed gravity.

Like a baby whale coming for milk,
The pilot boat comes near,
Snuggles the ship for a while
And then reluctantly moves away,
Leaving the island on the sea.

A little hurt despite its elegance,
The ocean liner struggles over the boundary
Between affection and disowning
And gradually travels into memory.

Sometimes he explodes into fun and rolls around in language like a kid in a big pile of raked leaves ("Joke About Culture"):

Our culture in its broadest sense largely determines:
Whether we practice monogamy, polygamy, or hierogamy
Whether our madness is schizophrenia, spirit-posession or psychedelic
Whether we love monologue, dialogue, or paradox
Whether our viewpoint is bird's-eye-view, fish-eye-view or simply belle-vue
...Whether we consider nature a friend, a foe, or a dump...
Whether our life is dominated by by-laws, in-laws or outlaws.

Then there are his creature poems, in which Ko mimics perfectly the style of movement of subject of the poem. Of course both poems somehow manage to be about the poet/reader relationship. How does he do it? But of course, most great artists have a single theme and they attack it repeatedly in a range of variations.

"What the Spider Said" is divided into seventeen sections (Why seventeen? It's driving me crazy.That can't be arbitrary.). Here are my two favorites:

7.
I seem to grasp the real motives of
The mountain-climbers.

15.
I arrange and rearrange reality
In my fool-proof webs,
Making everything visible from my perspective.
Look, with what authority I order and command
The elements to conform to my grammar!

And a very different creature ("A Cat's Landscape"):

When the cat walks away,
the landscape quivers a little.

Those are my favorite lines, but the whole poem is neat, the way it alternately stalks and undulates.

There's no way I can do justice to the poems of Chang Soo Ko, but I've given it my best shot. I'm a little humbled and freaked-out that I wasn't aware of his work for the whole decade I've been here in Korea, but his poems found me now that I'm within a hairsbreadth of  leaving...forever? Once I step on the plane, the process of this 'landscape gradually melting away inside me' will begin.

I suppose there will be some sort of send-off for me, a leaving party to mark the occasion. Although no one gave it to me and the book is not mine to keep, Between Sound and Silence feels like my going-away gift:

Hey Susan, 

Here's some poems. 

Love Always, 
Korea

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What A Strange Non-Reading Week It's Been

He can't read. If he could, page-turning would be a challenge.


Color me crabby. After my terrific reading streak, I went into a slump, and I haven't been able to settle into a book since last Wednesday. The most I've done is dip into a couple of re-reads, skimming and skipping at will.

Here's what I've been doing with my time:

  • Packing
  • Going to the post office
  • Trying to figure out what is deserving of international postage
  • Trying to interest people in my stuff
  • Watching old episodes of Family on YouTube
  • Making stacks of books
  • Eating bungeoppang
  • Working on the Nano project
  • Doing conversation tutoring on Wednesdays

Although my life is full, I still feel the need. The need for read! 


Age 2. I couldn't read yet.  

Thursday, January 08, 2015

What A Strange Reading Week It's Been

This is a potato that came in a bag I bought 3 years ago. I didn't eat it. I showed it to everyone who came over.


I've had a good reading week to start the year, but my list looks strange. 'All over the place' doesn't even begin to describe it:

I started out the year with The Book of Margery Kempe, which is generally considered to be the first autobiography in English. This book has been on my shelves for years, so it was a matter of read & release and also flexing my reading muscles a little by reaching back before the 19th century.  I thought of my old pal Faulker Guy.  When Faulkner Guy's not being FG, he's Medieval Guy or Old English Guy. He's the one that told me something along the lines of 'Middle Ages reading is the pause that refreshes.'  Margery Kempe was anything but refreshing. Mystic or crazy or both? Pages and pages of rather lively conversations with The Holy Family, weeping, crying aloud, trying to fend off her husband (after fourteen children) and other men so that she can take back her chastity, the trip to the Holy Land, people disparaging her and sometimes trying to burn her at the stake...the summarizing is much more fun than the reading. I'm glad I read The Book of Margery Kempe.  I'm just as glad I'll never have to read it again.  For my Book Blackout Bingo, this will cover the PASSION square.  If you're in doubt, consider the part in which God/Jesus gets married to Margery then He tells her that they can get into bed together and she can put the arms of her soul around Him and kiss His hands and feet and do everything she used to do with her husband.

After Margery, I scuttled back to the 21st century as fast as my little bookworm legs would carry me. Lionel Shriver's So Much For That is a novel that I half-expected to give up on, but I couldn't put it down. Shepard Knacker, who is a couple of years short of fifty has scrimped and saved to retire early to East Africa. On the day he quits his job and decides to leave, his wife informs him that she's got cancer and will be needing him to return to work because she will need his health insurance. This book was written a few years ago, but the harsh home truths about the U.S. healthcare system still apply. So Much For That is ranty and occasionally grotesque with loads of black humor, and readers know how it's all going to go down, but then suddenly they don't, and *that's* where I couldn't stop reading. If you bring this book home, unpack your strong stomach.  SMFT was a library book from my beloved BEL, but I checked it out in the waning hours of 2014, so I didn't stray from The TBR Double Dog Dare.

A couple of years ago, I went through a stage in which I was feverishly reading and collecting "Evil Children" books.  After I finished The Bad Seed and something else I can't remember (Daughter of Darkness, maybe? The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane?), the urge was gone, and Let's Go Play at the Adams' began gathering dust on my TBR shelf. Again, in the spirit of read & release, I began reading this 1974 well-written but unremittingly bleak and evil story based on a real murder case. Even though the book is technically good, the subject matter is so disturbing and nightmarish that I hate to release it. I almost want to throw it away. Author Mendhal Johnson died shortly after Let's Go Play... was published.  I shouldn't wonder.  Book Blackout Bingo: the UNSETTLING square gets covered.

After wallowing in darkness for a few hours, I suddenly remembered that I had Let's Go Play at the Adams' 2 in the cloud on my Kindle. Written by Peter Francis, an ardent fan of Mendhal Johnson's book, Let's Play...2 flashes-forward twenty years from the events detailed in the first novel.  For readers of that first novel, this is more of a 'howdunit' as an FBI agent is called to a crime scene that leads him to another murder with similar hallmarks. Of course he stumbled over every red herring on this long and winding road, and the plot was bogged down by a couple of romantic subplots and the idioms were puzzlingly, inexplicably British, but by the end, the reader has got the catharsis that wasn't there at the end of the original novel. Perhaps that's why Peter Francis was compelled to write a sequel.

Even though death is a major theme in Anne Tyler's The Beginner's Goodbye, it is Anne Tyler, and compared to the harsh, horrifying and crazy stuff I had read so far in 2015, it was like letting the light in. After a tree falls on Aaron Woolcott's wife and kills her, Aaron is haunted by her at intervals, in which he examines the trajectory of their marriage as well as the process of grief and how others play a part in helping and healing.  Aaron seems like a younger brother or cousin of Macon Leary from The Accidental Tourist -- they both go to live with their sisters after tragedy befalls them, they both have a finicky air about them, and they even have similar jobs -- Macon wrote travel guides for an "Accidental Tourist" series while Aaron is the publisher of a series of "Beginner" books, which resemble the Idiot's Guide or Dummies series. And of course, everyone is from Baltimore. What really thrilled me about The Beginner's Goodbye was a couple of glimpses of Luke Tull from Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Luke (resembling his Uncle Ezra in every possible way) is a friend of Aaron's and as a way to distract Aaron from his grief, invites him for dinner at the restaurant every week, although the place is just referred to as "the" restaurant.  But it's The Homesick Restaurant!  I know! [Edited to add: Luke Tull also gets the profound summing up about life towards the close of the novel.] Can't wait for Tyler's new book, coming out next month.

Looking at what books came before, anyone would wonder: What next?  Well, I really went off the rails and read a book of Korean poetry, Between Sound and Silence by Chang-Soo Ko. Call it a palate cleanser.  I didn't think I'd like it, but I did, so I want to give full props by giving Between Sound and Silence its own blog post, which will be coming up in a few days. I always feel a little awkward when talking about poetry. Overly pretentious. This may take a while.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Reading Resolutions: One of these years, I'll stick my landing.

Here's the sad, sad truth -- the dirty lowdown about the bookolutions I made for 2014.
Outcomes are in red.


2014 New Book Resolutions

1. Eyeballs to the wall:  Read 138 books in 2014.* 139

2. Powdered wigs and the like:  Read some 18th century books.  I read ONE.

3. Long arm:  Reach back before the 18th century and read some of that.  Didn't do it.  Short arm.

4. French connection:  Read more Zola and say bonjour to Balzac.  Non.

5. Do you hear what I hear?:  Get more into audiobooks.  I listened to 2 audiobooks.

6. Get it on, bang a gong:  Participate in both Readathons and the Readers of Kindle Books challenge on Goodreads.  I did both Readathons.

7. Keep your hands to your shelf:  TBR Challenge.  No books but mine till April 1.  I lasted until January 6th, when I read a book borrowed from my mom, but I tried to get back on task as often as I could.  Mixed results.

8. Hunting and gathering:  Resist the new book itch.  Yeah, right.  January 8th found me in a bookstore in the USA ordering Hyperbole and a Half.

9. Roam if you want to/ Roam around the world: More books by non-USA authors.  37 out of 139 authors were from other countries.  Not a very good example of armchair traveling.

10. Blog better:  Fewer lists, more thoughts, and more often, but don't get windy. I think I got listier and less thoughty.  Not to mention less bloggy.  Just the opposite.

11. I wish I could quit you:  Give Henry James another go.  Still trying to get the momentum to read Washington Square. Taking deep breaths, cracking knuckles...


*The Secret Resolution:  I believe that I can get to 150 books this year.  The conditions are favorable.  All signs point to yes.  TRY AGAIN LATER.


I was a little shocked when I went back and read my list.
 I resolved that?
 Really?!
Definitely a case of having too much to think that day. Or night.

Even in the face of such colossal failure, I can't give up making resolutions.
One of these years, I'll stick my landing.
Maybe 2015 will be the year...


Bybee's 2015 Reading Resolutions

1. Read 100 books this year.  I'm repatriating to the USA at the end of March after a decade in South Korea.  This event will either catapult me into the reading stratosphere or be the destruction of my identity as a reading athlete.  Best to have a modest goal and see how it all shakes out.

2. Book Bingo Blackout with Unruly Reader  This looks like fun!  The only one that worries me is the Magical Realism square.  Definitions for each category here, if this looks good to you.





3. Log my location with Goodreads.  Another challenge.  The Readers of Kindle Books group on Goodreads will be documenting where each book they read takes place.  This will dovetail nicely with Resolution #2, Book Bingo Blackout.  I hope that it will also prod me into reading more internationally.

4. Read something by Joseph Conrad.  Just writing that sentence made sweat pop out on my forehead and elsewhere.

5. Join a book group when I get to the USA OR Start a nonfiction book group when I get to the USA.  I like the idea of the second one; I've already selected titles for the first two meetings.  The Spawn fears that the nonfiction angle will bring out the literate lunatic fringe in the old hometown.

6. Get the NaNoWriMo project up and going.  I've done a rewrite, and I'm about to do a re-rewrite.  If this thing ever does see the light of day, can I count it as something I've read, or is that too meta?

7. Work on the Pulitzer shelf.  Both reading and procuring.

8. Blog better.  Better blog.  Better blog better.  Blogging about books is a fine thing, but I've been groping my way to the computer at vast intervals then letting my fingers flop all over the keyboard like dying fish.

9. The TBR Double Dog Dare - The goal is to read my own shelf for the first three months of 2015.  I need to read and release like nobody's business.

OK, I'm tired.  I want to stop resolving now.  Happy Book Year!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Breaking It All Down: Reading Stats 2014



Total # of books: 139

Pages read: 40,276

Library books: 31    Thanks, BEL! xoxo

Kindle books: 81

Audio books: 2

Tree books:  56


Fiction: 61

Nonfiction: 78

Graphic Novels: 15

DNF:  8

Should I stay or should I go?:
Van Gogh - Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (page 258)

Always come back to you: (author I read the most in 2014)
Maya Angelou - 7 books

I read the book, I saw the TV show, got the t-shirt:
Orange is the New Black

Shortest book:
The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr (27 pages)

Longest book:
A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True (1,056 pages)

Newest book:
What's Living in My Knickers?  (December, 2014)

Oldest book:
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

You go back, Jack, do it again (rereads):  9

Doorstop Dreams (500+ pages): 12
Small Packages (-100 pages):  8

Translated books: 3

Funniest book:
Hark! A Vagrant! and Dear Coca-Cola

Saddest book:
My Brother Sam is Dead

Blood pressure spike:
 The Devil's Knot

WTF?!:
Touching The Void
What's Living in My Knickers?

Frustrated, Incorporated:
The Caine Mutiny - Herman Wouk
American Rose - Karen Abbott
Highway with Green Apples - Suah Bae
Bark - Lorrie Moore
Landline - Rainbow Rowell
Labor Day - Joyce Maynard
You Are What You Wear - Jennifer Baumgartner

Favorites  - Fiction:
My Name is Mary Sutter - Robin Oliveira
Flight Behavior - Barbara Kingsolver
Rifles for Watie - Harold Keith
A Mummer's Wife - George Moore
The Nether World - George Gissing
Silas Marner - George Eliot
The Street - Ann Petry
Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein
The Homesman - Glendon Swarthout
Stoner - John Williams
Hangover Square - Patrick Hamilton
Lila - Marilynne Robinson
Euphoria - Lily King

Favorites - Nonfiction:
The Devil's Knot - Mara Leveritt
Food of a Younger Land - Mark Kurlansky
Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor Frankl
The Total Money Makeover - Dave Ramsey
Maya Angelou memoirs
Lessons From Madame Chic - Jennifer L. Scott
Five Came Back - Mark Harris
Bad Feminist - Roxane Gay
The Lost Art of Dress - Linda Przbyszewski
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Marie Kondo
Beverly Cleary memoirs
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? - Roz Chast

When it was 2014, it was a very WOW year:
Euphoria (fiction)
Lila (fiction)
The Lost Art of Dress (nonfiction)
Bad Feminist (essays)
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (graphic novel)


I remember doing the Time Warp:
Books written before 1800:  1
Books written 1800-1899:   8
Books written 1900-1960:   12
Books written 1961-1999:   29
Books written 2000-2014:   89

On the road again (Author Birthplace):
Australia: 1
Austria:  1
Canada: 3
Dominican Republic: 1
England:  19
Ethiopia:  1
France:  2
Ireland:  4
Japan:  2
Scotland:  1
South Korea:  2
USA:  102

Books with male authors: 48
Books with female authors:  73
Books with co-authors:  4
Books with...not sure of gender: 1


Time to make some book resolutions!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

December 2014 Reading


Reading got real in December.  When the goal is in sight, I've got eyeballs and I am not afraid to use them.

1. Insomnia - Stephen King. (novel)  This book is now firmly ensconced in my shelf of Stephen King favorites.  Sleep and death are so often compared; King takes this conceit and turns it inside out. An unusual and attractive element of this novel is an action hero who is 70 years old!  I hope this is made into a movie or TV series.

2. The Paris Architect - Charles Belfoure. (novel)  Lucien Bernard is an architect living in Nazi-occupied Paris who gets caught up in the scheme of building hiding places for Jews, although he really has no empathy for them.  I enjoyed Belfoure's hardboiled style and his rat-a-tat dialogue. He reminds me of Ken Follett. Again, I would like to see a movie version.

3. Mrs. Mike - Benedict and Nancy Freedman. (novel)  16-year-old Katherine Mary O'Fallon goes from her home in Boston up to her uncle's home in Calgary, Canada to improve her health.  After a short time, she meets and marries Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman Mike Flanigan.  Soon after the marriage, he is reassigned to a far northern region.  Parts of this book, with its gritty descriptions of life in these remote outposts, appealed to me, but the narrative conventions of the 1940s as well as some of the plot devices have not helped the book to age as gracefully as it might have.

4. Marbles - Ellen Forney. (graphic novel)  Forney's story of her several-years' struggle to find a workable balance of medication for her bipolar symptoms.  I love her artwork; it reminds me of Alison Bechdel's, except with these madly delightful flourishes.

5. Touching the Void - Joe Simpson. (memoir)  In 1985, while hiking in the Peruvian Andes, Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, met with an accident in which Yates presumed Simpson had died, and cut the rope that bound them together on their climb. Simpson was still alive however, with a badly broken leg. Although the story is dramatic and riveting, it was a difficult read.  I have trouble relating to the need to conquer a mountain of ice.  Also, the book was heavy with mountaineering jargon.

6. Lila - Marilynne Robinson. (novel)  A sequel to Robinson's earlier novel, Gilead, which is told in letters written by Lila's much-older husband, Reverend John Ames.  Lila is about the title character's odd childhood with a band of drifters in 1920s and 30s America, and how she eventually met and married "that old man".   Robinson's descriptions of this hardscrabble life hearken back to Steinbeck, but also resonate clearly with a modern reader's sensibilities. Because Lila's upbringing was unconventional and her education limited, her responses to things are also unconventional.  I read a review in which she was referred to as "a Faulknerian idiot", which is just not true.  Perhaps the reviewer only meant to show his or her erudition. Unfortunately, they ended up showing something else. Lila reminds me of the Bible; every sort of language you could wish for is in this novel to be pondered and savored.  I wouldn't be surprised if Robinson snags herself another Pulitzer.

7. Cardboard - Doug TenNapel. (graphic novel)  Cam's father can't find carpentry work anywhere. He brings home an empty cardboard box for his son's birthday, and creates a figure for him. The cardboard is magic and the figure comes to life.  Things get out of hand because of a rotten neighbor kid, Marcus, and Cam has to save the day.  All the characters feel real, which gives the story a good base for the magical stuff. I imagine the ideal reader for this book as a boy in 4th-6th grade.

8. A Girl From Yamhill - Beverly Cleary. (memoir)  The author of the Ramona books details her childhood in 1920s and early 1930s Oregon until she departs for college in California. She was an only child and her parents, perhaps because of their own disappointments, were emotionally distant, especially her mother.  This information surprised me and made my heart ache for her, but although Cleary relays the frustration she felt at the time, she doesn't wallow in self-pity.

9. My Own Two Feet - Beverly Cleary. (memoir)  Cleary takes up her life story again from her college days during the Depression, through WWII, when she worked as a hospital librarian on an army post, and ends with her as a newly-minted children's author.  Cleary's parents become more overbearing as they oppose her romance with Clarence Cleary because he's Catholic.  Both of these books are straightforward and entertaining. It was a treat to read both volumes, one after the other.

10. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? - Roz Chast. (graphic novel/memoir)  After years of not "having to deal", Roz Chast finds herself faced with two parents well over 90 years old who can't live unassisted any more, but they aren't accepting the fact gracefully.  Scary look at the costs of elder care in America and the implications of lingering illnesses and the shifting relationships as parents become helpless and Chast, an only child, is faced with making decisions about their lives and finances.  As the only daughter and eldest child of a mother in her late 70s in increasingly perilous health, this book had a profoundly disturbing effect on me.

11. Poor Cow - Nell Dunn. (novel)  Written in 1967 and set in London, the "poor cow" of the title is Joy, who is married with a new baby.  She has a genius for making bad choices: Her husband makes his living as a thief, and is sent to prison.  She then falls in love with his partner in crime (who is a good sort, otherwise) who also ends up in the clink. Joy tries to stay faithful, but she's beautiful and young and swinging 60s London beckons. The novel is like a documentary filmed with three different cameras:  There's the omniscient author, commenting on the squalid state of things, but generally protective of her characters; there's Joy's dreamy, stream-of-consciousness thought; and there's the  badly spelled letters Joy writes to her lover, Dave in prison.  Brilliant with slice-of-life and atmosphere, but I could never escape the feeling that Dunn was merely slumming.

12. Tom's Wife - Alana Cash. (novel)  I didn't realize that this 2011 novel first breathed life as an indie film about ten years before.  Depression-era Arkansas. Annie is married to Tom, who alternately abuses and neglects her.  Not my favorite read for the month, but props to Cash for the authentic feel for time and setting. Now I want to find the movie.

13. What's Living in My Knickers? - Valerie Hamer. (nonfiction)  Tales from expats living in Asia about their medical and dental mishaps, often due to cultural differences.  I've been in South Korea ten years, and I thought I'd heard almost everything, but this book was an education.  I nearly missed my subway stop.  Both hilarious and horrifying.

14. Euphoria - Lily King. (novel)  Based loosely on anthropologist Margaret Mead and her second and third husbands during the time all three were in New Guinea, this is an incredible story about making sense of cultures so different from one's own, the excitement of discovery, and feelings of jealousy, both personal and professional.  I finished it a few days ago, and it hasn't settled with me yet.  I just keep walking around going, WOW and Wow.  Thanks to Susan at Pages Turned for recommending this one.  I'm going to call it now:  If Lila doesn't get the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, it will go to Lily King for Euphoria.

15. Daddy Needs a Drink - Robert Wilder. (humor, essays)  I shied away from this book for a while, thinking it was just going to be a bunch of poopy diaper anecdotes, but Wilder can actually write.  He keeps it real in beautifully crafted essays.

16. Gridlock - Matt Gaffney (nonfiction)  This book about the world of crossword puzzle makers and competitors was a fun read.  Gridlock reminded me of Word Freak, the book about Scrabble competitions and competitors.  I fell under its influence and now I've started doing crossword puzzles online every day.  A little gem of a book that I plucked from the shelves at the Busan English Library.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye: The DNF Files 2014


I gave up on a lot of books this year.  For some reason, there's no longer that primal urge to hang on and keep reading until blood is popping from the pores on my forehead just for the sake of finishing.  Now, if my brain says it's time to pack up and go, I start putting on my shoes.

None of these books is necessarily bad.  It's true I did some flinging (tree books) or "Delete from Device" with a heavy finger (Kindle), but most of the time, it was just a mismatch of reader/mood/book/timing.

Whatever the reason, I can say with confidence that we are never ever getting back together.

In no particular order, here's my DNF list for 2014:


1. The Enormous Room - E.E. Cummings. (novel)

2. The Biography of a Prairie Girl - Eleanor Gates. (novel)

3. Babe: The Legend Comes to Life - Robert Creamer. (biography)

4. The Wife of Reilly - Jennifer Coburn. (novel)

5. Inside of a Dog: What Animals See, Smell and Know - Alexandra Horowitz. (nonfiction)

6. Effi Briest - Theodore Fontane. (novel)

7. The Mill River Recluse - Darcie Chan. (novel)

8. Godric - Frederick Buechner. (novel)