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:

History/Culture

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.

Language/Education

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.

Food

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.



Fiction


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.)

3 comments:

Vasilly said...

I have a copy of Drifting House and it's been sitting on my shelves for YEARS now. I'm bumping it way up on my tbr pile now. I'm going through the same dilemma as you. I'm trying to ruthlessly cull my tbr shelves down this year but I want to read most of the books first.

Susan Bybee said...

Vasilly,
You won't be sorry about bumping up Drifting House. It's wonderful. Krys Lee is not only a great writer, but when she makes appearances, she talks a lot about what she's reading and what she's read.

jamesreadsbooks.com said...

I've been on too many blind dates...too many to want to make them a hobby. They did typically end up as "quite a story" one way or another.

Maybe thinking of them as a "hobby" would have made them more enjoyable.