OUT OF SIGHT/OUT OF PRINT BOOKS: Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers

Kang Sŏk-kyŏng, Kim Chi-wŏn, and O Chŏng-hŭi

So here’s a new thing I’m doing: reviews of out of print books. I love browsing used bookshops. And the treasures I often come up with are brilliant. I enjoyed writing my last review of More Stories from the Twilight Zone and I have a stack of vintage paperbacks that are burning a hole in my TBR pile, so…

First up (second, if you count my last review) is Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers: Kang Sŏk-kyŏng, Kim Chi-wŏn, and O Chŏng-hŭi, translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, 1989.

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BOOK REVIEW: More Tales from the Twilight Zone

More Tales from the Twilight Zone, Bantam, 1961

by Rod Serling

You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind… a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination—your next stop, the Twilight Zone!

—Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone, Introduction

 

Rod Serling began his career in radio broadcasting, but began writing for television during his college years in the early 1950s. He believed that radio drama never reached its full potential, and he wasn’t going to let television suffer the same fate. After a number of successful scripts for network television, Serling, sick of the sponsor censorship depleting his scripts of political commentary and ethnic representation, decided to create his own show.

Serling was known in Hollywood as the “angry young man.” Mid-20th century America appeared to be whole and wholesome, except to a few visionaries who surveyed the social landscape and noticed the cracks. He was dedicated to telling the stories of the people who inhabited these fault lines. Serling and his Twilight Zone television program offered more than just tales of suspense and conjecture. These are adult fairy tales–if the supernatural entities in question are aliens, mutants, atomic power, social inequality, technological advances, and vast government conspiracies. Serling all but mythologizes mid-twentieth century fears and anxieties through serial tales that are often (like their folk tale ancestors) accessible and moralistic. The Twilight Zone made possible many later phenomena that embrace the new 20th century pop culture mythologies, such as the X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That said, because I’m reading these well into the second decade of the 21st century, I will put a 21st century spin on these reviews. Continue reading

February & March Favorites

I missed February favorites because things have been so busy at the bookstore. So I’m going to include both February and March favorites here.

A Change of Scenery: Alpine, Texas

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I actually took a couple days off, and drove out to West Texas with my husband and pupper. (Tuco is so good in the car. I feel bad for everyone who doesn’t have a Tuco.) Alpine and the surrounding areas are so beautiful. Time slowed down. Stars are bright. Hills are hilly. And people are so friendly. This is the Texan-friendly that Austin sometimes forgets. We visited the McDonald Observatory for a star party and witnessed a satellite flare that was brighter than all the stars. Picked up a stack of used science fiction/fantasy mass markets at Front Street Books for under a $10 (indies forever). Alpine reminded me of Thibodaux. My parents would love it.

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Possible summer reading challenge?

For my eyeholes:

Books

Shelter by Jung Yun which I call “the quintessential Korean-American novel” here and I admit that I don’t actually have the authority to make that proclamation. And I don’t know how to exactly articulate why I think this is so (I am not Korean-American).

Human Acts by Han Kang
If you follow me on my social media at all, you would know how much I love The Vegetarian. Last November (way back in 2015), I called it “my favorite book of 2016.” Three months in and I stand by that. Human Acts is Kang’s second English language translation. It isn’t available stateside yet, but I can’t wait for it to arrive. This is a collection of interconnected stories of victims and survivors of the Gwangju Massacre of 1980. If you don’t know anything about the Gwangju Massacre, Kyung-sook Shin’s semi-autobiographical novel The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness paints a delicate picture of the social conditions and climate for South Korean factory girls around the time of the massacre.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Lauren Groff’s masterful story of a marriage offered our best (and most controversial) conversation for the New & Noteworthy book club. This is a story about an unpleasant woman married to a likeable man. As an unpleasant woman who is married to a likeable man, it’s real to me that marriage is a liberating thing.

Television

I pulled back from television a bit these last two months, but I did catch up on Broad City. God, I am so late to this, but so glad I am watching this.

For my earholes:

Audio Books

I had a bad experience with an audio book on a long drive several years ago. It was the wrong book, wrong author, wrong reader–all soured me on audio books for years. But with that 7.5 hour drive to (and from) Alpine, Texas, I downloaded a couple of audiobooks. A coworker recommended Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, which is, of course, hilarious, but also turns out Ansari as a researcher and sociologist on the evolution of dating, love, and coupling in the modern era from the middle of the 20th century to today. Sure, he calls you lazy for listening to the audio instead of reading the book (which makes me slightly uncomfortable because what about blind listeners?) but those funny voices are worth it.  Yes Please by Amy Poehler is the second book we listened to on the way home. Did you know that she built a personal recording studio at the foot of Mount Rushmore for this very recording? I’m writing this from that very sound booth (you can’t prove that I’m not)! This is the book that made me a full convert to audiobibliophile (that’s a word now). Amy packs so much extra stuff into this recording that you just don’t get in reading a book by yourself: the voice talent of Kathleen Turner, Patrick Stewart, and her own parents; interviews with the important players who helped shape her career; and a live recording of her final chapter from the UCB Theater.

Over the last two months, I’ve listened to The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero, Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema by Anne Helen Petersen, Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman, Assassination Vacation and The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell, and Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Christin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Podcast

During vacation, I also started listening to the You Must Remember This podcast by Karina Longworth. Longworth focuses on the hidden histories and forgotten stories from Hollywood’s first century. I am obsessed with this podcast. It has infiltrated my entire life. Inspired by her Star Wars episode VI on Marlene Dietrich, I read Karin Wieland’s Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives (reviewed here). And by her twelve-part series on Charles Manson’s Hollywood, I read Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders and Adam Nevill’s Last Days. (Also the reason I listened to Scandals of Classic Hollywood on audio).


Music


I usually avoid concerts because I don’t typically enjoy crowds. I specifically don’t enjoy Austin concert-going crowds in which there are always people who stand in front of me and talk loudly to each other above the music that I’ve paid to see and to hear. (Always.) But I did attend one concert at SXSW at K-Pop Night Out. (I’m trash for pop music from a certain area of the globe.) And because that area of the globe is not this area of the globe, I don’t get the opportunity to see some of my favorite bands. I was happy to drop everything and see Love X Stereo & Mamamoo at the Belmont. I had to leave early, so I missed Haihm, which I suspected would be a little bit too loud for me (I also missed Zion.T but I’m not exactly a fan of his anyway so there was no big loss there). Also, Block B just released their comeback single (their first in over a year in a half!) 몇 년 후에 (A Few Years Later) earlier this week and yes, I am trash for this group.

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Mamamoo at SXSW


Follow these Accounts:

Weseldoesart for daily drawings. She even gave me the two she made of her unicorn.
Jjoongie shares the same tastes as I do in fiction, but her photos are way better than mine.

Happy reading!

~jan

The Furious Fist and The Open Hand of Fate: The New & Noteworthy Book Club Weaves Through Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies

If you’re in Austin, you can come to my book club…

fates&furies“Tell me the difference between tragedy and comedy…There is no difference. It’s a question of perspective. Storytelling is a landscape, and tragedy is comedy is drama. It simply depends on how you frame what you’re seeing.” (High school literature substitute Denton Thrasher could be the authentic voice of Lauren Groff–or another unnamed goddess of circumstance.)

I have read reviews of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies that mention that this is a realistic story about a marriage. And that’s true, but it’s mostly about the parts that make up a marriage: the partners. The story of a marriage has to be told by each part. Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite’s story is told in the first section called “The Fates.” His marriage, like himself, is complacent, naive, and even optimistic. He pegs his gorgeous wife Mathilde as “a pathological truth-teller,” but he really talks about himself, revealing his core value and virtue. Lotto…

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Blurb: SHELTER by Jung Yun

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photo by @bookpeople on instagram

“This book is haaaaaaard,” is what I posted on Instagram the day I started this book. Kyung Cho is a college professor who is facing the loss of his home. Then a random act of violence forces his parents, people who he cut out of his life, to move in with him. With his parents comes the painful past he’s been trying to erase–a past that can cost him everything he has, depending on how he chooses to react.

Shelter is the ultimate in fucked up family drama. “Shelter,” in any form, is conspicuously absent from this story. Forgiveness is shallow and impermanent, and though scars have faded over time, the emotional wounds are still very much open. Kyung wants to erase his past, but he faces down the uncertainty of the future. Kyung lives in an in-between, timeless state, but he is at risk of being steamrolled by the forward march of time itself. Jung Yun has written the quintessential Korean-American novel, deftly describing how Korean attitudes of obligation, fairness, and resentment clash and (possibly) overlap American attitudes towards these same ideals. I’m certain that it will become a “discovery” of literature: one of those slow burns that will eventually explode into the landscape of literature over time.

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Wolf blanket recommended, but not included.

Happy reading,

-jan

Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Weimar’s Daughters in Hollywood and Berlin

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Inspired in part by the stories of Marlene Dietrich in Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This podcast about the hidden and forgotten histories of 20th century Hollywood, in party by my local indie bookstore’s 2015 catalog, (and in part by Dietrich’s smoldering on-screen chemistry with Anna May Wong–no, I don’t mean Clive Brook–in 1932’s Shanghai Express) Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin and a Century in Two Lives by Karin Wieland marks the second biography I’ve read this year.

“I am, at heart, a gentleman.” -Marlene Dietrich

While the two women essentially begin on equal footing and from similar backgrounds, the directions of their lives are primarily influenced when they meet two powerful, authoritarian men: when Hollywood director Josef von Sternberg “discovered” Marlene Dietrich and cast her as Lola-Lola in the internationally acclaimed The Blue Angel; and when Leni Riefenstahl went to a political rally where she first laid eyes upon Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, Wieland focuses on the roles that these two men played in shaping the careers of both women rather than the decisions that both women–who remained independent of men for all of their lives–made about their own lives.

This may be due to the book’s clunky translation, but Wieland’s portrayal of Leni Riefenstahl is contradictory at times. She was a strong-willed woman who sought only to advance her own art (and thus her own fame), but she was a complicated woman. Wieland does not portray Riefenstahl with the same level of compassion or consideration that she does Marlene Dietrich. (Which begs the question, does Riefenstahl deserve equal compassion or consideration? A question that Wieland neither addresses directly or indirectly). Riefenstahl is definitely a product of her environment: while she was not a Nazi party member and did not commit war crimes, she  certainly benefitted from the racism that National Socialists made the foundation of their philosophy. Her dedication to her art and the resulting images make things complicated when we consider the eye of the artist. (The actor depicting Riefenstahl’s subject, was often herself.)

Wieland gives plenty of page space to Riefenstahl’s work, as though through her work is the best way to understand her life. Not so with Dietrich. Though Wieland wants to depict Dietrich without judgement, more time is given to her personal affairs and family life than to her films and stage work. The goal appears to be to depict these two seemingly opposite women as having nearly identical qualities that led them to pursue their passions so fervently (albeit in opposing directions). But it takes a careful combing through the text to get at that purpose. Bad translations are unfortunate to read because it becomes nearly impossible to tell whether the work is poorly written or if the spirit of the work is just lost in translation.

Regardless, if you really want a blast in the face of old school Hollywood glamor, just Google image search “Marlene Dietrich.” (If you want a kick in the face, Google “Marlene Dietrich’s legs”).

Damn, Marlene.

Better yet, check out her films.