Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Adoxist Society Book Swap!

My co-worker, CanadaBoy, can be so very sweet. He's not exactly a bookworm, but he has the gift of being attuned to his friends' addictions. He called me up a few weeks ago and said the five magical words I've been dying to hear since I moved to Korea two years ago:

"I found a book group."

I was still a sickly bookworm. I'd been lying flat on the bed, convinced that all the phlegm lodged in my chest was actually concrete, but CanadaBoy's announcement had me struggling to a sitting position pretty damn quickly. "Where?" I rasped.

"In Daegu." [a 20 minute train ride] "At Seattle's Best Coffee downtown."

"I'm there. Oh, God -- I'm there. Thank you. I love you, [CanadaBoy]!"

I snapped my cell phone shut, aglow with vindication. I knew there had to be an English-language book group somewhere in Korea! I knew there had to be other bookworms out there somewhere! I knew there had to be something in that great abyss that separates the two main foreigner groups in Korea -- Jesus Huggers and Bar Huggers. After all, I'm not that much of an anomaly; I'm just a Bybee who loves to read too much. Did I say too much? Bite my tongue!

Hungrily doing some research, I found out that The Adoxist Society, the wise and wonderful, brilliant and bookwormy people spearheading this effort didn't actually have a book group per se. Reading through their blog, I was able to ascertain that the group read A Tale Of Two Cities then sputtered and died sometime last spring.

I shrugged philosophically. Book groups live and book groups die and dumbass people quit book groups in a huff like whiny little babies because no one else in the group wants to read The Sunlight Dialogues by John Gardner. (But that's another story, obviously.)

Reading on, I saw that there was still a book swap once a month. Even better, because you weren't limited to discussing just one book, and it was time well spent cruising for books!

The Adoxist Society's motto is that they are a "literary organisation made up of foreigners living in Daegu who like books and don't mind people." When I read that last part, I knew that this was my tribe and these were my people.

The day finally arrived, and the train pulled into Daegu. I was right on time, clutching my bag of 12 books to swap, but discovered that I had a slight problem: I'd been to Seattle's Best Coffee before, but it was with my nemesis, Shanghai. Because I had actively despised each and every moment spent with Shanghai that evening, I had subsequently blocked out the exact location! Oh shit! I got on the phone and called Pablo, who (you guessed it, if you read this blog regularly) patiently gave me impeccable directions.

The day was really nice for late November, and The Adoxist Society was gathered out on the patio of Seattle's Best Coffee, books spread all about on tables and chairs. I was dazzlingly happy. I nearly forgot to reply to Jason's and Ben's friendly introductions and greetings as I unpacked my bag, but I was really gratified when they fell upon the titles I'd brought like they'd missed breakfast and lunch.

Speaking of what I brought to swap, I have to admit that I struggled about this for several days. I've noticed that bookworms often tend to hoard really good stuff and trade stuff that is:
a) really shit reading
b) in really shitty condition
c) really shit reading that's in really shitty condition.

Because I like to rescue books and people like to give me books, I have plenty of the first group. Because this is Korea, and English-language books are a relatively scarce commodity, I also have plenty of books that are in the second group. And I also have a boatload of books in the last group because I rescued some books from Pablo last year.

Pablo had been given a bunch of books by a well-meaning Aussie friend who'd gone to a secondhand store in Australia and just grabbed a bunch of crap, including historical romance novels, much to Pablo's great disgust. ("I told him I was interested in history!") Pablo let the books gather dust for a year or two, then when he started making noises about their next stop being "the rubbish pile", I said, "Oh now, they can't be that bad!" and insisted that he bring them to me. He did. Yeah, it was and is a pretty cruddy selection, but I salvaged what I wanted, bookcrossed some, and put the rest on a shelf in my office.

Anyway, I wanted to unload this category c) stuff, but felt strongly that I should include books that would add variety and sparkle to the swap, if that makes sense. So here's what I swapped:

1. Twilight Of The Superheroes -Deborah Eisenberg (short story collection). [It got a rave review in Time magazine, and it's got a really cute cover that grabs everyone's attention, but the stories were a little too New Yorker-ish for me. I hate that I didn't like this book more.]

2. Independence Day -Richard Ford (novel) [I really love Ford's writing, but the Frank Bascombe novels just don't float my boat. I say this, fully planning to buy The Lay Of Land, the newest in the trilogy soon. I thought this would be a good swap, because it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction a few years ago.]

3. Vernon God Little -DBC Pierre (novel) [I really thought I would enjoy VGL more, but the satire annoyed me after a while. I was eager to find an appreciative reader for this book.]

4. Blow Fly - Patricia Cornwell (novel) [Just not my genre, but I wanted to add variety to the selection I was offering.]

5. Venetian Song -Kay Nolte Smith (novel) [One of Pablo's castoffs. I wasn't interested in it either, but the story looks like it could be good, and the cover is pretty.]

6. The Water-Method Man -John Irving (novel) [This is one of Irving's early novels. It contains the seeds of greatness that went on to bear fruit a few years later in The World According To Garp.]

7. The Rule Of Four -Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason (novel) [Maybe I'm mistaken, but I'm under the impression that it's sort of like The Da Vinci Code.]

8. Teacher Man -Frank McCourt (memoir) [read and enjoyed, but felt as if I'd read it before in his previous works.]

9. Left For Dead -Beck Weathers (memoir) [Weathers was one of the people on the ill-fated Everest expedition written about in Into Thin Air]

10. The Friendship Factor -Alan Loy McGinnis (self-help) [This was a RABCK from a fellow Bookcrosser. Very nice of him or her, but I don't really care for self-help books. I thought this might possibly fall into the appreciative hands of a Korean who reads at a fairly high English level. Koreans are relentless self-improvers.]

11. The Bonesetter's Daughter -Amy Tan (novel) [read and enjoyed, but not enough to hang onto it indefinitely. I know there are many Amy Tan fans out there.]

12. Crime And Punishment -Fyodor Dostoevsky (novel) [I got 2 copies of this novel last year for my birthday. What were people trying to tell me? Although I thought a classic would round out my offerings nicely, C&P turned out to be a bit of a clunker, because there were already a couple of copies available for swap.]

Anyway, back to the swap. A pretty good selection, a little heavy on the classics, but CanadaBoy later told me that only just a few years ago, classics were the only novels available in Korea. Dang. I guess if I'd arrived in 2000, like I originally planned, I could have plugged many of the shameful literary gaps in my reading.

An unexpected pleasure was that while I was jumping on their titles like I'd missed both breakfast and lunch, Jason and Ben kept asking me: "Have you read this? Have you read this?" I forgot which one put Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett into my hands. (I've since found out that this is on a banned books list for some damn silly reason or another, so I'm determined to read it now!) Ben and I got into a lively discussion about The Catcher In The Rye -- we both like it.

Jason asked me if I'd read Ulysses, and without thinking, I replied, "My husband did", which made everyone laugh. Manfred, Sr. read it about 10 years ago, and he read so many sections aloud to me that I almost feel as if I read it as well. Actually, I read the Molly Bloom section.

The book swap lasted about 2 hours. I think it's more of a come-and-go sort of thing, but I couldn't bring myself to leave the conversation and the books. In fact, when Ben finally packed up all the books in a large black suitcase and wheeled it out of the coffeehouse, I was walking close behind. Ben treated everyone to hotteok, (which is a delicious pancake snack filled with a mixture of brown sugar, honey, cinnamon and peanuts) then he went in search of a taxi. I watched the wheels on that suitcase full of books roll out of sight. The next meeting is December 16.

*Of course* I walked away with a bag full of books:

1. Catch-22 -Joseph Heller (novel) [I've crapped out on this novel twice before, but I'm determined to finish it before I die or whatever. Besides, this novel came out in 1961, like so many other good things, lol.]

2. Shirley -Charlotte Bronte (novel) [I read Jane Eyre and I read Wuthering Heights. After WH, I decided that even though Charlotte Bronte had published more books, Emily Bronte could kick her sister's literary ass all over the place with just her one novel. But of course, there was that dark horse, Anne Bronte, whom I had not read. To be fair, I must read everything in the Bronte canon before I make my final judgment about which Bronte sister owns the other two. Shirley will help me get started on that project.]

Autobiography Of Malcolm X [I picked this up thinking that Manfred, Jr. might like to read it, but actually, I want to read it myself.]

4. The Pillars Of The Earth -Ken Follett (novel) [The first line grabbed me: "The small boys went early to the hanging". Couldn't resist.]

5. The Agony And The Ecstasy -Irving Stone (novel) [Another 1961 novel! What a year for literature! Of course, on the down side, it's also the same year that Hemingway committed suicide.]

6. Empty Promises -Ann Rule (true crime) [There's nothing like snuggling up with a true crime book and reading about pyschopaths that could be The People Next Door.]

7. Of Human Bondage -W. Somerset Maugham (novel) [I really liked this movie. Bette Davis was such a BITCH! Leslie Howard was such a doormat...I mean gentleman! I read somewhere that Maugham was popular and a bestselling author, but he never really got respect from the critics because he wrote simply and directly instead of in a more complicated style like Joyce or Faulkner.]

8. The Rainbow 9. Women In Love (Both novels by D.H. Lawrence) [BIG SCORE! I've wanted to read these novels one of which is a sequel to the other, but in my picky way, I wanted to own both so I could finish one and continue on to the next immediately. Well, I wanted the option!]

10. The Count Of Monte Cristo -Alexandre Dumas (novel) [Also picked this up for Manfred, Jr. since he liked the movie with James Cavizel. I never knew it was such a doorstop of a book! Maybe I'll give it a try myself.] sick is this??? After the book swap and the hotteok, I headed back down the street towards Kyobo bookstore and picked up these 2 books:

1. Let's Eat Korean Food -Betsy O'Brien (Food guide)

2. The Known World -Edward P. Jones (novel)

So, to recap: 12 books out, 12 books in. CanadaBoy remarked, during a recent visit to my office: "You're going to need another bookshelf soon."


Les said...

What a great concept for a book group. I love the idea of just sitting around, swapping books, talking up why we loved (or hated) them. Might work better than assigning a monthly book to discuss. Hmmmm, might have to give this a try with some of my friends.

Yep, 1961 was an excellent year! ;)

I loved Pillars of the Earth. You're in for a treat with that one. It's big, but it goes quickly.

I have The Agony and the Ecstasy on my shelves somewhere. It was my grandmother's copy and I've always planned to read it, but it's been at least 10 years since she gave it to me! I also have Lust for Life to read as well. Sigh.

I've tried Catch-22 two times now and there it sits with a bookmark about fifty pages in. I think this will go down with Moby Dick as one I'd love to read, but simply can't stick to it.

Glad you had such a great time (and that you're feeling better)! You wouldn't want to be sick on your birthday. :)

Bybee said...

I hope I haven't missed it, but happy birthday...I know it's coming up sometime this week, you Sagittarian, you!

Anonymous said...

Are you in BookCrossing (

Les said...

Nope, it's not until the 13th (my daughter's is on the 10th).

Bybee said...

Yes, I've been in Bookcrossing for nearly 4 years. I love it. My user name is the same as for this blog --Bybee.

Oh, right, you're YOUNGER than me!

Anonymous said...

Awesome! Glad to hear you're feeling better.

I am also on the search for a bookclub - the key is finding a group that actually talks about books and is not just common ground for a bunch of housewives to sit around and gossip. I will probably end up trying to start one myself once we get settled.

Great post! I felt like I was watching over your shoulder through the day. And the group sounds like great fun.

nessie said...

Hahahaha I cannot part with my babies ever.

A trashuy romance once a month has its place. In my stacks anyways ;)

SO you are not Korean? But moved there? Is this the point where you want to shoot me because I am ;'late to the party'.... ahhh!

Bookfool said...

Oh, wow, what a cool concept. I love that motto! I gave up on Catch-22. Love Catcher in the Rye and The Count of Monte Cristo (I just watched the Jim Caviezel version and then trudged to the old VHS shelf and got out the 1974 version with Richard Chamberlain and watched them back-to-back, two weeks ago - great fun). I like both the movie and book Of Human Bondage, also.

You did well, Bybee! I can't believe I managed to post to your blog. It's a miracle. We're about to see if it happens twice . . .

Kucki68 said...

I read Catch-22 just now as part of my Winter stack challenge, and I did not find it bad at all. Sometimes a bit hard to go on, but still interesting. I am just glad I put Eragon in between Im Westen nichts Neues and Catch-22 otherwise all those war horrors would have gotten to me much worse.