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

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

January Favorites

In December I finally subscribed to Austin Kleon’s newsletter. Each Friday he sends a list of 10 things he’s into. Considering that my weekend starts on Friday, that’s excellent reading for the weekend. So, in honor of Kleon and his famous Steal Like An Artist, I’m going to steal from this artist.

I’ll start with the thing that made me start this list:

Austin Kleon’s newsletter and blog. If you don’t follow this guy, you should. He’s great on all his social media platforms, balancing work life and personal life. He also has the most photogenic family ever.

Other Internet Media Things

A few weeks ago Marie Kondo’s second book on organizing came out. Of course, I sell this book (it’s a bestseller), but as an archivist (someone who focuses on collecting) I dislike its emphasis on present-feeling emotions. That’s why I’m glad counterculture exists. In “The Tao of Trash” and “Sifting: Technology, Trash, & Digging for Memories” the New England Media & Memory Coalition examine the arbitrariness of “value.”… Sort of like the arbitrariness of “sparking joy.”

Books

The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee crafts a heart-wrenching tale of three women, all American expatriates living in Hong Kong. Mercy, in her mid-twenties and without a job or direction; Hilary, struck between the two tidal forces of her husband’s midlife crisis and affair, and the stalled adoption of a child; and Margaret, mother of three who literally loses her youngest child on while on a short trip to Seoul. As a chronic list-maker, I’m creating a brand new personal reading list just to put this book at the top: Fiction – The Complex Inner Lives of Women. (I just don’t know where this list will live just yet.) Lee puts into words what would be otherwis unmentionable. It’s beautiful and harrowing and foreign and familiar.

Movies & Television

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014). I’m not sure why it took me so long to come to this film, but this is what I want horror to become. This Persian-language American horror film takes place in the fictional Iranian ghost town of Bad City (its name implies the seedy underworld that it depicts). The film’s director, Ana Lily Amirpour, describes it as “the first Iranian vampire Western.” The plot follows Arash, a hard-working young man; Hossein, Arash’s heroin-addicted father; Saeed, a pimp and drug pusher; Atti, a prostitute working for Saeed; The Girl, a music-obsessed loner who stalks those she finds on the streets late at night; and a cat. I especially love the visual of the chador replacing the traditional “Dracula” cape. I have a new favorite fictional vampire. Skateboarding into the night.

The X-Files. People who know me are surprised to discover that I didn’t watch the X-Files when it aired in the 1990s. My parents weren’t into it, so we didn’t watch it. So when a friend (whose taste is impeccable) began live-tweeting her adult re-watch of the series, and I noticed that Hulu Plus has all 9 seasons, I decided to check it out. I’m about midway through season 5 as of publishing this post. If you follow me on Twitter at all, you know that I think Mulder is silly, Krycek is annoying, Scully a goddess, and Assistant Director Skinner is…well, let’s just say I’m into it.  #janwatchesxfiles on Twitter.

Bookstagrams

Last year, suspenders83 took photos of every book she read. To keep things interesting, she scoured second-hand bookshops to find the most unique book jackets and covers out there. This year, she is hand-drawing each cover in her book journal. This is such a cool way to creatively engage with the book-as-object.

readasaurus_rex includes a lot of older fantasy and young adult books in her reading. I love seeing the tattered covers of books that took me to far of places when I was younger being given new life on new social networking platforms.

Food

Maangchi’s Korean Lettuce Salad 상추겉절이 is spicy and delicious and so easy to make. Try not to get sucked into a YouTube hole of Maangchi’s cooking videos.

BookPeople’s In-Store Displays

My favorite book store is always doing something for the community. Black Lives Matter and David Bowie’s Favorite books are two displays that are deeply meaningful to us. (I worked on one of these.)

Finally

The return of the Boston Yeti. I am now, and forever will be Texas’s biggest Boston Yeti fan.

 

Squirmy! Wormy! Shock!

A book review of The Troop: A Novel of Terror by Nick Cutter

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I’m inadvertently developing a tradition: I tend to straddle the old and new years with a horror story. Last year around this time, I dove into Nick Cutter’s atmospheric horror novel The Deep–a chilling tale of mysterious forces that operate at extreme pressures in the world’s uncharted depths. This year I camped out with The Troop. While The Deep is a penetrating, almost Lovecraftian tale of the unknown (specifically the machinations of the unknown) that asks, “what’s out there?,” The Troop has a different flavor of horror: it utilises conventions established by the likes of Stephen King and William Golding cut with Cronenberg-esque body horror–all while asking, “what do we do to each other?”

One of the conventions well-established by King (and a slew of 1980s horror films) is the group of pre-adolescent boys in various stages of social and emotional maturity–the “coming of age” story gone horribly, horribly off-trail. Scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads his troop of 14-year-old boys to isolated Falstaff Island for their annual weekend overnight camping trip. When an obviously ill stranger stumbles into camp, Tim, the small town’s only doctor, sends the boys on a walkabout while he assesses the new unknown element. The boys wander aimlessly, playing “would you rather” and taking digs at one another, while the adult nearby faces off against an unstoppable force. (When King calls this, “old school horror at it’s best,” we can guess whose stories he’s referencing.) Before long, the boys have no choice but to lock their Scoutmaster in a closet, leaving the boys to their own scouting survival skills, but also to their own imaginations and fears.

Cutter gives the reader much more information than the boys get. We know the nature of the infection (mutated hydatid worms) and the source (an escaped human test subject) and the outcome (a sole survivor leaves the island). This information is delivered to the reader in after-the-fact documents: newspaper articles, courtroom examination transcripts, lab notes, and academic conference papers–all things that children (especially these children) don’t read. The outbreak story itself happens in real-time. Cutter’s omniscient narrator gives equal attention to each troop member–to the point where it is possible that any one of them (with a couple of exceptions) can become that sole survivor. Another convention that Cutter plays with is the horror-story-as-morality-tale. An author will direct a reader’s moral compass by the order and manner in which characters die (or survive). But when one character says, “bad things happen to good people, and bad people die happy in their beds,” the reader believes that the worst of them may survive. When another uses his survival skills to help his fellow scouts even though they don’t treat him kindly, the reader believes that the best of them may survive. Ultimately, the identity of the sole survivor is credible, but it takes a skilled writer to make us postulate that if situations skewed a different way only slightly, the entire outcome could have been different.

In the midst of all that death, there are moments of life that solidify the boys’ innocence and humanity. I found the most touching of which to involve a sea turtle. Two of the boys, hungry and frightened (a formula for desperation), catch and attempt to eat a sea turtle. They see just how fervently life clings to life. While devastating to the characters themselves, the reader is offered hope that children can be bearers of a wise innocence–especially when this scene follows that of a third boy as he remembers torturing a kitten for pleasure.

Yes, the humanity is poignant, but it is so because the horror is so unrelentingly brutal. It is probably not a good idea to read The Troop while eating (definitely not while eating a pasta dinner). The descriptions are so vivid the reader sees–and sometimes smells (thanks, Nick Cutter, for that addition for your readers who have acute olfactory sensitivity or disorders of olfaction) what is in front of the characters. Considering that the infected are described as having a “sickly sweet” smell, you would do as well to keep these covers closed until after dessert.

Recommended if you like Stephen King’s The Stand, or the serious parts of David Wong’s John Dies At The End.

Self derision taken to extremes…in a children’s song. Kids are weird.