Throughout college (and for a lot of high school) I complained about not having enough time to read for fun. Well no more! My goal is to be intentional about leaving space for reading (and not just Korean dramas).
I want to share what I’m reading this grant year, not only to give my opinion, but to share literature related to Korea. I had a really hard time finding books on Korea in the US, particularly while doing research for a historical fiction piece set during Japan’s occupation of Korea. So maybe it’s no surprise that Americans know so little about Korea. Yes, Japan did occupy Korea. For forty years.
First is a list of books on Korea. Further below is a list of books I’ve read in Korea.
Books on Korea
Korea: The Impossible Country – Daniel Tudor
Please Look After Mom – Shin Kyung-Sook
Kimchi and IT: Tradition and Transformation in Korea – Choong Soon Kim
Without You, There is No Us: My time with the sons of North Korea’s Elite – Suki Kim
When My Name was Keoko – Linda Sue Park
The Old Garden – Hwang Sok-Young
There a Petal Silently Falls – Ch’oe Yun
Korea: In Search of the Country, the Society and the People – Won-bok Rhie (comic!)
Who Ate up All the Shinga? – Park Wan Suh
Three Generations – Yom Sang-seop (dropped)
A Sketch of the Fading Sun – Park Wan Suh (anthology)
The Vegetarian – Han Kang
The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness – Kyung Sook-Shin
My Reading List
- Almost White – Rick Najera
The autobiography of comedian, actor, writer and producer Rick Najera. The title immediately caught my eye and I bought it.
- And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini
I loved both of Hosseini’s previous books, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, so I’d wanted to read this for a while. This is now my favorite of the three; it’s incredible how much I could relate to many of the characters’ experiences.
- Korea: The Impossible Country – Daniel Tudor
This book was recommended to me by another teacher at my school. She let me borrow her copy and I found it to be a very good overview of Korea (mostly South Korea, despite the title). I was particularly impressed/relieved that the author, an English journalist, didn’t write about Korea in a demeaning tone, like other authors I’ve encountered. I’d definitely recommend this book for a broad overview of Korean culture.
- Walden (and Civil Disobedience and selected poems) – Henry David Thoreau
Borrowed from another coteacher. While at some points I grew to dislike Thoreau, he sneakily began to influence me, and I found myself wishing I could live a simple life outside of all our various systems (but especially thinking of academia). His philosophy seemed to be in stark contrast to the culture around me, in which beauty products and luxury goods are a dominant feature of many people’s lives.
- Please Look After Mom – Shin Kyung-Sook
I’ve wanted to read this book for so long! It’s a beautiful, but sad story that was fun way look into Korean values and culture.
- 1984 – George Orwell
There are plenty of classics I haven’t read, and actually, being in Korea is a good opportunity to catch up. The books available in English, whether in stores or the Gimhae library, are usually classics or bestsellers. I’d love to finally read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, but I’m skeptical that I’ll be able to find it here. I can’t believe I hadn’t read 1984 until now!
- Son of a Witch – Gregory Maguire
The sequel to Wicked.
- Warrior of the Light – Paulo Coelho
A series of short memos. They could even be read as daily devotionals, one page a day.
- Lean In – Sheryl Sandberg
Despite all the critique I’ve heard, I enjoyed the book. At many points it seemed like we were stuck in a negative spiral, but it was a truthful look at women in the workplace. While depressing, I also took encouragement from it.
- The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
- The Shack – Wm. Paul Young
This is a Christian novel – I’ll let you know up front. I found myself a little uninterested in the beginning, and later I had to acknowledge that the experiences in the book are described through the lens of a white man, but the “meat” of the book is thought-provoking and well worth the read. I like it because it lines up with many of the questions and criticisms I have, yet doesn’t contradict fundamentals in the Bible. I’m late to this bandwagon, but I’d absolutely recommend The Shack.
- Kimchi and IT: Tradition and Transformation in Korea – Choong Soon Kim
Written by a Fulbright scholar!
- Without You, There is No Us – Suki Kim
The experiences of a Korean-American writer teaching at a North Korean university. Reading accounts of life in North Korea is still a bit of a novelty. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough for this book. The author’s own views came off as a little too strong for my liking and, despite her underlying sense of expertise, I didn’t get the impression that she ever came to a good understanding of her students.
- The Case for Faith – Lee Strobel
A book covered by my Bible study. The author, a journalist, runs through six common criticisms of Christianity by visiting experts in each area.
- Three Cups of Tea – Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
The novel started off with beautiful descriptions of nature, but was ultimately a white savior-type narrative and later really felt like it was dragging on. Apparently the author(s) have also been accused fabricating some events of the book.
- When My Name was Keoko – Linda Sue Park
I stumbled across this novel in the little tiny English section of my local bookstore. Although it’s a children’s novel (the author also wrote A Single Shard), I was thrilled to find a book set in the same time as my own novel in progress! A nearly effortless way to learn about life in Korea during the Japanese occupation.
- The Old Garden – Hwang Sok-Yong
Follows the life of a man jailed during the Gwangju Revolution and released twenty years later, only to find that Korea has become a vastly different place.
- There a Petal Silently Falls – Ch’oe Yun
A collection of three short stories by Ch’oe Yun: “There a Petal Silently Falls,” “Whisper Yet,” and “The Thirteen-Scent Flower.” The first addresses trauma in the aftermath of the 1980 Gwangju Massacre, the other two touch on more abstract aspects of Korean society.
- The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
Great read. Also, I don’t want to give any spoilers.
- When You Reach Me – Rebecca Stead
Young adult fiction. A fun read.
- How to be a Writer – Barbara Baig [in progress]
Before you judge the title, I actually really like this book. It’s not something I’ve read cover to cover, but the author’s tone is conversational and easy to access, and there are a plethora of writing activities to try for yourself.
- Korea: In Search of the Country, the Society and the People – Won-bok Rhie
Alternative title might be “Korea Unmasked.” A comic book on Korean history!
- Who Ate up All the Shinga? – Park Wan Suh
An autobiographical novel on the Japanese occupation of Korea. The story is told through the eyes of a young Park Wan Suh, a well known author in South Korea whose works often feature strong independent women. In Shinga, she gives an intricate and honest look into her family’s experience. I highly recommend it.
- Three Generations – Yom Sang-seop – dropped
A novel that takes place in Japanese-occupied Seoul. Apparently this novel is a literary classic that some of my coteachers read in school. The writing style was interesting enough and meandered from one character to the next, like most Korean literature I’ve read. However the story (little that I read) and characters were incredibly frustrating to me. The familial spats and hierarchies highlighted all the aspects of Korean culture I dislike. When I continue to come away from a book feeling irritated, I call it quits.
- A Sketch of the Fading Sun – Park Wan Suh (anthology)
A collection of short stories from well-known feminist author Park Wan Suh. Stories included are “During Three Days of Autumn,” “Poverty That is Stolen,” “A Sketch of the Fading Sun,” and “Momma’s Stake (Part 1-3).” Fascinating stories, beautifully translated (by Hyun-jae Yee Sallee). Personally, I liked this collection more than Who Ate up All the Shinga?
- The Vegetarian – Han Kang
- The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness – Kyung Sook-Shin
Author of Please Look After Mom. An autobiographical novel that address both the author’s past demons working as a factory girl and reflects on what writing means in her life.