Monday, September 08, 2014

On My Mind Monday

Happy Monday.  It's Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving.  I've eaten all the little rice cakes, so now I'm going to blog about 4 things that are on my book mind at present:

1. I remember how I first heard of Joan Rivers (and Melissa, too, come to think of it):

I was in middle school.  My parents, my brother and I had gone out for dinner one evening.  We were on our way home when my mother suggested that we stop at 'Dirty' Walt's bookstore -- so called because of the "Over 18" section in the back.  At that time, I was into humor books.  I saw one called Having A Baby Can Be A Scream.  I liked the picture on the front of a huge cartoon baby cradling a grown woman holding a baby bottle:

My mother raised her eyebrows.  "Why do you want that?!"

"I think it's supposed to be funny,"  I said.  "Like Erma Bombeck."  My mother nodded.

I took the book home and read it, but all I vaguely remember is that the book was structured like a Q&A between Joan and her obstetrician.  The doctor also doubled as straight man.   Joan would ask a question about pregnancy.  The doctor would give advice, and Joan would reply with a self-deprecating remark about her changing body or general health.  Some jokes I got, and some were over my head.  Since I wasn't allowed to stay up and watch The Tonight Show until I was in college, I never heard anything more about Joan Rivers until she became outrageously popular in the 1980s.  I wonder if she was trying to tap into the Bombeck market with Having A Baby Can Be A Scream.

2. I just finished my fourth George Gissing novel, New Grub Street, which follows the fortunes of a group of friends and acquaintances who are trying to break into London's literary scene.  Every time I finish a Gissing novel, I'm convinced I've read the best one.  He's everything I want in 19th century literature -- he's Emile Zola and George Eliot combined.  He's in the sweet spot.

3. Speaking of Gissing, he gave some of his characters the strangest names: Biffen, Whelpdale, Bevis, and my favorite, Everard Barfoot.  Clementine Paddleford, the subject of my following read, Hometown Appetites, sounds like she'd fit right into Gissing's fiction.  In reality, Paddleford was an American food writer from Kansas, born around the turn of the century.  Although her impressive name has fallen into semi-obscurity, she was once quite famous (1930s-60s) for touring around the United States in search of new recipes featuring local comfort foods which she presented in her column (and later, book) How America Eats.

4. Clementine Paddleford got her start in journalism by writing for publications relating to home economics, which plays a large role in my current read, The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish by Linda Przybyszewski.  A historian as well as a blue ribbon-winning dressmaker, Przybyszewski looks back at the "Dress Doctors" in home economics departments all over the country who took very seriously their job of instructing women of all ages how to dress beautifully and sensibly by adhering to the same principles found in art.  So far, it's fun and fascinating reading.  I'm also amused by and sort of in love with the cover:

That's my Monday mind.  What about yours?

Monday, September 01, 2014

Booklight in August

I was pleased to be able to realize two reading goals this month: Finish the Maya Angelou memoirs and finally read The Well of Loneliness.

1. Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas - Maya Angelou. (memoir)  In the third volume of her memoirs, Maya, now in her early 20s, gets a job in a music store and meets a Greek-American who she is married to briefly.  After her divorce, she makes her living as a performer.  Her big break comes when she joins the cast of Porgy and Bess, which embarks on a European tour.

2. The Heart of a Woman - Maya Angelou. (memoir)  Maya meets a dazzling array of 20th century icons: Billie Holiday, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King.  She also begins to develop her skills as a writer as she moves to New York City and joins the Harlem Writer's Guild. After working for Dr. King for a while, she falls in love with a South African freedom fighter, Vusumzi Make. She and her son move with him to Cairo.  When Maya and Make separate, she goes on to Ghana.

3. All God's Children Need Travelling Shoes - Maya Angelou. (memoir) The story of Maya Angelou's years in Ghana. Among other things, she ponders on the differences between Africans and African-Americans. During this time, she tours in a revival of the Jean Genet play The Blacks, and goes to Germany and Italy. While in Berlin, there is a horrible, yet almost hilarious scene in which she and a Jewish friend have breakfast with a wealthy German family that is unashamedly racist.

4. A Song Flung Up to Heaven - Maya Angelou. (memoir) This volume takes place in the years between the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.  In an eerie coincidence, both men asked Maya Angelou to come work for them.  In both cases, she accepted, but postponed for personal reasons.  In the times during the postponements, both men were killed.  I read this book on Kindle, but it is probably best experienced on audiobook.  Narrated by the author, it won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album.

5. Mom & Me & Mom - Maya Angelou. (memoir) - Maya Angelou's tribute to her mother, Vivian Baxter, "Lady B".

6. Financial Peace Revisited - Dave Ramsey. This book seems like a warm-up for The Total Money Makeover.  

7. Food Rules: An Eater's Manual - Michael Pollan.  Pollan boils down his previous writing into a list of rules for sane and healthy eating.  This small volume would be ideal for your Readathon stack.

8. The Well of Loneliness - Radclyffe Hall.  (novel) This classic and groundbreaking novel about lesbianism from 1928 is a bit melodramatic, but gets so many things right.  Although there is nothing graphic like one sees in Lady Chatterley's Lover, The Well was banned probably because of Hall's insistence that "inverts" are born, not made.  Also, Hall maintains that people like her should be able to live openly and proudly.  She asserts that their time will come, and the novel ends with a demand for sooner, rather than later.  I'm so glad this book was written and wasn't completely quashed.  I imagine it's been a comfort to many generations of readers.

9. Landline - Rainbow Rowell.  (novel) Over the course of three novels, Rowell wrote characters that are funny, lively, engaging, attractive and alive.  Then there's Landline.  Oh, Rainbow.

10. Bad Feminist - Roxane Gay.  I read this book of essays to take out the bad taste after reading Landline.  Roxane Gay is a marvelous writer.  Her mastery of the essay makes me want to fall at her feet.  In addition to feminism, she also covers race, gender, entertainment and Sweet Valley High.  I was hooked from the first page, but she truly won me over when she wrote about her participation in Scrabble tournaments.

On to September!  For starters, I'm back with George Gissing, reading his 1891 novel, New Grub Street.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Of reading in July and changing my spacing habits and not blogging long?

When I went to the Missouri State Fair in 2013, I really wanted to try a fried Oreo, but I couldn't bring myself to go up to the window and order one because of the unnecessary apostrophe on the sign. Instead, I took a picture.

Then I went and stood in line for this gorgeous cinnamon roll. I can't remember anything about the sign.

Hello Blob,

It's been a while, I know. It's not you; it's me. A couple of days after my last post, I had a disappointment that bordered on humiliation. I didn't cry, but my ears burned a fierce red as I sat on the futon and wondered if I should ever write anything again. If I had the right to sully people's eyes...well, that kind of thing gets tiresome quickly. Being somewhat sensible, I took a break, and now I'm back. Since you're a forgiving Blob, this is the part where you might say "I'm glad/you're back/don't explain." Too late; I already did. Sorta.

xoxo Bybee

From now on, I'm going to try to remember to space once and not twice after a period. My very scary typing teacher from high school, Mrs. Peggy Bowman, trained me to two spaces back when Carter was president. One-spacing feels like an aberration. OK, enough. Here's what I read in July, and it's one of my weirder lists:

1. Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher - Joan Reardon. (biography)

2. An Abundance of Katherines - John Green. (YA novel)

3. In the Year of Jubilee - George Gissing. (novel)

4. Ella Enchanted - Gail Carson Levine. (Juvenile or YA novel. I can't remember.)

5. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein. (YA novel)

6. Five Came Back - Mark Harris. (nonfiction)

7. Lessons from Madame Chic - Jennifer L. Scott. (nonfiction)

8. 1,000 Outfits from Just 30 Pieces - Wendy Mak. (nonfiction)

9. The Tidy Closet - Marie-Anne Lecoeur. (nonfiction)

10. Looking for Alaska - John Green. (YA novel)

Favorites: In the Year of Jubilee; Code Name Verity; Five Came Back; Lessons from Madame Chic; Looking for Alaska.

I'll be back in a couple of days to talk about my great month of reading in August.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A BEL for Susano

I'll never stop appreciating The Busan English Library.  When I was there on Saturday, I saw a sign that they've just had their 5th birthday.  I've been here almost two years.  Hmmm. So was it a Field of Dreams thing?

On Saturday, I was in one of those amiable moods in which I wanted every book I touched.  In keeping with library policy, I had to hold it to five, so this is what I brought home:

1. Ella Enchanted - Gail Carson Levine.  I polished this one off as soon as I got home.  I read it because an old friend of mine read it for a YA literature class.  I was curious when she said her classmates complained about the invented languages.  I liked that part and the rest of it as well, but the friendship/budding romance between Prince Char and Ella got a little tiresome.  There's a movie version as well.  I should check it out. Yeah, maybe. Someday.

2. will grayson, will grayson - John Green and David Levithan.  I really wanted Looking for Alaska, but it's John Green.  I'll take what I can get!

3. I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive - Steve Earle.  There's no way I could pass up a book with the title of a Hank Williams song for its title.  Not to mention that the author is one of my all-time favorite badass country singer-songwriters.

4. Godric - Frederick Buechner.  A novel based on the life of a 12th century holy man.  It was nominated for a Pulitzer back in 1981, but I think that's the year it would have been up against A Confederacy of Dunces.  Nobody puts Ignatius J. Reilly in a corner!

5. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein.  I've been watching a lot of book vlogs on YouTube lately,  This Printz Honor book set during WWII is getting a lot of love from YA vloggers.

I can't decide which book to read next.  They all look good.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Korea Shelf

Sometime in the next few months, it will become necessary to dismantle the Bybee-ary.  I'll have to make some hard choices.  Some of the books will be sent back to the U.S. and some will find new homes in and around Busan.

My Korea shelf, pictured above, falls into the first category.  These babies are going with me.
 Do you hear that, books?  Ga chi gaja.

First, a moment of silence.  Here are some of the physical books have gotten away from me over the years:

1.  A short novel called An Appointment with My Brother by Yi Mun-Yol  was so good that I kept insisting people read it and finally, it didn't come back.

2. Another was a cookbook called Korean Cooking Made Easy. No, they didn't make it easy, with beaucoup ingredients and recipes that went on for two or three pages, but the pictures of the finished dishes were gorgeous.

 3. A 1931 novel, Three Generations, by Yom Sang-seop was...hard going.  I tried, I really did, but those first 50 pages seemed iterminable.  I'd borrowed it forever from the International Zone at my old university, but I changed my mind and took it back.  I still feel bad about quitting that book.  In retrospect, I could have muscled up on the reading process and made it more of an interactive thing.

4. Tears of Blood, a memoir by Korean War POW Young-Bok Yoo somehow disappeared before I had a chance to read it. That was my autographed copy!  [Smiting forehead.] 

5. Finally, I had a Korean travel guide by Lonely Planet but the chapter about Busan had such a shitty, mean-spirited attitude that I ripped out the Seoul subway map for future use and left the rest of it in some waiting room somewhere.

As my departure date gets closer, I predict I'll get all soppy and sentimental about leaving Korea and start adding titles like Good Morning, Kimchi! to the Korean collection.

Here's a closer look at my Korean shelf:


1. Admiral Yi Sun-Shin -Author unknown.  A short biography about the man who invented the "turtle ship" and almost singlehandedly defeated Japan several hundred years ago  He's the most admired historical figure among Koreans.

2. Introduction to Korean History and Culture - Andrew C. Nahm.  I admire an author that can get 5,000 years of history into less than 400 reader-friendly pages.

3. Korea's Place In The Sun: A Modern History - Bruce Cumings.  I haven't read this one yet.  When I get back to the U.S. and I'm homesick for Korea, Cumings' book will be just the ticket.

4. How Koreans Talk: A Collection of Expressions - Sang-Hun Choe and Christopher Torchia.  So many good ones. My favorites are: "Go and wipe your own nose" = mind your own business and "He burned down his hut to kill the fleas" = he couldn't control his emotions.

5. Korea Bug - J. Scott Burgeson.  An entertaining look at the quirkiest bits of Korea.  I wrote more about it here.

6. Korea Unmasked - Won-bok Rhie.  The history and culture of Korea in comic book form.

7. Picky, Sticky or Just Plain Icky? - Valerie Hamer.  Hamer interviews a 30-something Korean woman named Su-jin whose hobby is going on blind dates.  The title refers to the type of guys she unfortunately seems to attract.

8. Culture Smart! Korea - James Hoare.  A helpful guide to customs and culture.  Presumably, if you read this book you'll never put a foot wrong.  I did and I have, sad to say.


9. Korean Phrasebook - Lonely Planet.  So tiny and so useful.  I'll send the rest of the shelf on ahead of me, but this will stay tucked in my bag until Korea is completely in my rear-view mirror.

10. Survival Korean - Stephen Revere.  I never studied this book as thoroughly as I intended, but in those first few months in Korea, I would play the tapes and feel reassured that I could learn the language anytime I wanted to.

11. English Games for Korean Elementary Class - Most of it is written in Hangul for Korean teachers teaching English, but enough of it is in English for me to get the gist.  Some of these games are fun for university students as well. Great resource during the first week when we're doing icebreakers.


12.  Let's Eat Korean Food - Betsy O'Brien.  A great resource when you know what you liked at the last Korean restaurant you went to, but can't remember the name of the dish.  Clear explanations and descriptions.  Illustrated with drawings.

13. Bee-bim Bop! - Linda Sue Park.  A children's picture book in rhyme about a little girl who helps her mother prepare one of the most popular traditional Korean dishes. Fun for all ages.


14. Your Republic Is Calling You - Young-Ha Kim.  A strange, yet compelling novel about a North Korean spy who has lived in South Korea for so many years that he presumes he's been forgotten.  He's settled, married, a father, has a career he enjoys, then one day, he gets the call to return to Pyongyang.

15.  I'll Be Right There - Kyung-Sook Shin.  This is Shin's follow-up to the wildly popular 2011 novel Please Look After Mom.  I haven't read it yet.  I have high hopes.

16. Three Days in That Autumn - Wanseo Pak.  A gynecologist at the end of her career finds herself conflicted about the ways in which she's helped women in the years after the Korean War.  This was my very first Korean novel; I was so excited to finally read some Korean literature.

17. The Chronicle of Manchwidang - Moon Soo Kim.  A father is obsessive about wanting to hang on to his ancestral home.  The son has other plans.  As usual, when generations are involved, it's never just a story about a family -- they represent different aspects of Korea -- in this case, old vs. new.

18. Drifting House - Krys Lee. For me, Krys Lee is THE definitive voice of Korean fiction.  In Drifting House, a collection of short stories, she reflects the people and culture, and they're real, not just convenient symbols for an allegory.  She probes, but she's got a light touch.  This is one of the best short story collections I've ever read.

North Korea

19. Escape From Camp 14 - Blaine Harden.  The true story of Dong-Hyuk Shin, who escaped from his birthplace, a prison camp in North Korea where Kim Seung-Il had ordered that his family be kept captive for generations.

20. The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag - Chol-Hwan Kang and Pierre Rigoulot.  I haven't read this book yet.

21. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea - Barbara Demick.  For this book, Demick interviewed in depth six former North Korean citizens who escaped to South Korea.  She explores what their lives were like there, and how they've adjusted to a markedly different culture.

E-Books on my Korean shelf

Our Happy Time (novel) Gong Ji-Young
Waxing Moon (novel) H.S. Kim
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader (nonfiction) Bradley K. Martin
Highway with Green Apples - (short story) Bae Suah
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly (novella) Sun-mi Hwang
Korea: The Impossible Country (nonfiction) Daniel Tudor
The Living Reed: A Novel of Korea - (novel) Pearl S. Buck
Please Look After Mom - (novel) Kyung-Sook Shin
Angry Young Spaceman - (novel) Jim Munroe.  Technically, this book takes place on another planet, but it's easily recognizable as South Korea.)

Friday, July 04, 2014

Bookstore Bargains

Since it's the 4th of July and I'm not in the U.S. doing my regular celebrating, I had to do something to cheer myself up today.  How about a walk that would ultimately lead to the bookstore?  Yes.  Brilliant idea.  A little sashay around the shelves would put the roses back in my cheeks.

A tall, narrow shelf caught my eye because it had a sign taped to it saying "Books 3,000.  Flat Price." Definitely worth a look.  After all, 3,000 Korean won = $2.97 USD.  That price is almost unheard of here even among used books, and these were new books!

Here's what I found:

1. The Artificial Silk Girl - Irmgard Keun.  A 1932 German novel about the life of a young woman-about-town -- Berlin -- in the early 1930s.  In the introduction, the translator compares it to Sex in the City, Bridget Jones' Diary and the Shopaholic books, which set off my Snobbish Inner Bookworm.  SIB was quickly silenced when I got to the part about how Keun's book was banned and copies were destroyed the following year by a Nazi censorship board.  By that time, The Artificial Silk Girl had been published in English, so they couldn't deep-six it completely.  Isn't the cover to this edition fun?

2. Jubilee - Margaret Walker.  I wasn't familiar with this 1966 novel, but from the description, it seems like a Gone with the Wind from the enslaved point of view.  Jubilee covers the same years in Georgia as GWTW -- Antebellum through Reconstruction, following the life of Vyry, the daughter of a white plantation owner and his black "mistress". The book is based on the life of Walker's great-grandmother, which makes it sound a bit like Roots as well.  I have a feeling that when I start reading Jubilee, I'll go into a reading stupor and I won't want to put it down for even the most necessary chores.

Great finds and excellent prices!  It's almost like the bookstore knew that I needed a bit of consolation.  This excursion takes the sting out of no barbecue, fireworks or Sousa.  Well, almost.  Not quite.

Monday, June 30, 2014

June Reading: Leaps and Bounds

Whoaaaaaaa! 17 books this month.  What happened?  This has got to be tied to my recent resolution to DNF with impunity.  Or it could be that I read a few short books.  Either way, it was a great reading month in both quantity and quality.  New books, new discoveries.  There's nothing like being a bookworm.

1. Gather Together in My Name - Maya Angelou.  This is Angelou's life from age 17 to 20.  A lot of activity during these years, a lot of missteps, but she owns it all.  I must get the other volumes of her memoirs.

2. Plainsong: For Female Voices - Wright Morris.  This is a forgotten classic. Find it. Read it.

3. Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 - Susan Campbell Bartoletti.  A lucid, moving account of those terrible years in Ireland.  For younger readers, but don't let that stop you.

4. Blankets - Craig Thompson. I first thought this graphic memoir was going to be like Stitches, with evil, creepy parents.  So glad I was wrong!  Offbeat story of growing up and first love.

5. Veggies Not Included - Christine Leo.  Her rather unconventional method helped her lose 130 pounds and keep it off, and that's because she's put a hell of a lot of brain work behind it.

6. Highway with Green Apples - Suah Bae.  This is a long short story (47 pages) translated from Korean.  I wrote a review of it here.

7. Medicine Men: Extreme Appalachian Doctoring - Carolyn Jourdan.  There's already a lot of great material here, with the oral histories of the Appalachian doctors and their patients, but at times, Jourdan gets in the way of her own objective with her overly folksy manner.  As a reader, I felt vaguely insulted when, in the middle of a funny, interesting narrative, she broke in and said something along the lines of, I was doubled over with laughter. As if the readers might not be getting it.  Still, it was a fun read that kept me occupied during a few subway rides.

8. Radical Frugality: Living in America on $8,000 a Year - Nic Adams.  Difficult and Spartan, but not impossible.  I enjoyed the lists of the cheapest states and towns/cities.

9. The Odd Women - George Gissing.  What I like best about Gissing is how he illustrates how his characters fit (or don't fit, in some cases) into the society they are part of.  This novel, published in 1893, follows a group of women who are unmarried by fate or by choice. Gissing also turns his attention to one woman who didn't want to struggle along, settled for marriage and got a husband that makes Mr. Casaubon from Middlemarch look like a picture of mental health. Gissing throws his readers some curve balls, but I respect an author who has confidence that his audience can keep up with him.

10.  The Street - Ann Petry.  This novel of a single mother in 1940s Harlem struggling to give her 8-year-old son a better life is a combination of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth and Native Son by Richard Wright with a few of Sherwood Anderson's 'grotesques' from Winesburg, Ohio sprinkled in.  Another forgotten/neglected classic.

11. Gentleman Jim - Raymond Briggs.  In this graphic novel, Jim, a janitor, decides to change careers after 20 years.  His Walter Mitty-like daydreams and befuddled notions of how to proceed and Jim's wife, the most perfect straight man ever, make this a hilarious read.

12. The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr - Nicolas Debon.  A short graphic biography of the 19th century strongman from Quebec.

13. Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China - Jen Lin-Liu.  The author went from America to China in search of her family's roots.  Her explorations led her into the world of cooking.  She went from reviewing restaurants to attending a cooking school in Beijing, to working as a noodle intern, then to working in the kitchen of  a high-end restaurant in Shanghai.  Eventually, she opened her own cooking school, Black Sesame Kitchen in Beijing.  Thanks to my friend Nancie for giving me this book.  I'm looking forward to reading another offering by Lin-Liu called On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome with Love and Pasta.

14. Shirley - Susan Scarf Merrell.  This novel reminds me so much of Call Me Zelda -- imaginary person becomes intimate friends with well-known literary figure.  I have to stop reading these types of books because they irritate me.  Too much of the imaginary person and not enough of the other. Who am I kidding? I can't stop; they are like candy.  Shirley is odd and brilliant like the author herself.  I love all the details sprinkled in from the Oppenheimer biography of Shirley Jackson and the psychological needling.

15. How to Start Out or Over on a Shoestring - Annie Jean Brewer. I have fond visions of Annie Brewer going toe-to-toe with Amy (The Tightwad Gazette) Dacyczyn in a frugal-off.

16. The Nether World - George Gissing.  In this novel, written a few years before The Odd Women, Gissing depicts the lives of several different families living in the slums of London.  He is sensitive to the subtle differences of poverty.  Some of the characters are managing with a job or renting out rooms and some are so poor they are compelled to pawn their clothing.  Most of the characters want something better for themselves, but scarcity leads to bad decision making and schemes gone wrong.  Really depressing, but I loved it.

17. The Price of Salt - Patricia Highsmith.  What's not to like about this 1952 classic?  Snapshots of New York City in the late 1940s.  An unconventional (for that time) couple.  A road trip. Romance. Suspense. Highsmith's dry sense of humor -- the couple succumb to passion in Waterloo. So much smoking and drinking and drinking and drinking.  The smart and literate writing demands and deserves an instant reread.  I have to get back into reading Patricia Highsmith's work.