Category Archives: Books

Enjoying the Olympics? Check out Some South Korean Books!

I love, love, love watching the Olympics – especially the Winter Olympics!! It’s all so exciting, so many cool new things I’ve never seen and don’t know. (I’ll never understand curling – but I will watch it for hours!)

And it’s fun to learn some things about each country. Check out this article from The Guardian, by Mary Lynn Bracht with some suggested books about South Korea, and how incredibly fast-paced and dynamic this country really is.

“Historically known as the Hermit Kingdom for turning away western envoys, as well as the Land of the Morning Calm for its regal mountain ranges and tranquil valleys, South Korea has become a nation famous for its cutting-edge technology and pop-star mania, and continuously features in news headlines for its tense relations with its neighbour, North Korea. At the end of the Korean war in 1953, South Korea was one of the poorest nations in the world. Its people were starving and its cities were in ruins. Following a succession of civilian governments overtaken by military regimes and autocrats, South Korea’s Sixth Republic has finally established a liberal democracy that has seen its nation flourish. Today, many South Koreans are looking back at their nation’s past to make sense of the world they now find themselves in. The stark differences make the stories we read about this fascinating country all the more appealing.

While researching Korean history for my novel White Chrysanthemum, I was interested in both modern and historical material for the dual timelines. I came across many books that quickly became favourites – fiction and non-fiction. Each of them takes the reader into the South Korean psyche, often exploring the past and the present country. The country has a strong literary tradition, and with increasing interest in the country, translations of Korean works into other languages have given the rest of the world the chance to view it through the eyes and words of its own people.

1. Please Look After Mother by Kyung-Sook Shin (2011), translated by Chi-Young Kim
An elderly woman, visiting her family in Seoul, is separated from them on a metro platform. When the train pulls away, her family are mortified to realise she has been left behind. Shin reveals the relationships between the mother, her husband and their life in the countryside, as well as with each of her children as they all search for their missing matriarch. It reveals the lives of young and old, while asking big questions about the bonds of family and the struggles with the passage of time. It was a bestseller in South Korea and won the 2012 Man Asian literary prize.

2. The Guest by Hwang Sok-Yong (2005), translated by Kyung-Ja Chun and Maya West
Hwang’s fascinating life reads like a novel. Born in Chinese Manchuria, his family moved to South Korea at the end of the Korean war. He reluctantly fought for the US in Vietnam, and later became a writer and political activist. He was jailed twice for his political beliefs, all the while writing and publishing novels, short stories, and plays. The Guest tells the story of a preacher visiting his childhood village in North Korea, and powerfully reveals that a massacre historically attributed to American soldiers was in fact perpetrated by Korean Christians from his village.

3. The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang (2014), translated by Chi-Young Kim
A quirky book that has been compared to Animal Farm and Charlottes’s Web. It follows a hen forced to lay eggs that will never hatch because they are destined to be sold at market, but she dreams of having a chick of her own. She escapes from her pen and sets out in search of her dream. This story explores notions of freedom, motherhood, diversity and sacrifice, and has been adapted into a successful cartoon film, play, musical and comic book.

4. I Have the Right to Destroy Myself by Young-Ha Kim (2007), translated by Chi-Young Kim
This is Kim’s first novel and has been translated into 10 languages. The story follows a man who is both a would-be novelist and “suicide assistant” – a serial killer who stalks potential victims who have nothing to look forward to in life, so that he can offer to facilitate their suicide for a fee. He then writes their stories down in a manuscript he plans to submit anonymously to publishers. We meet his victims as well as those whose paths they cross. Kim’s dark yet beautifully written novel reveals a modern Seoul, full of intriguing characters often tied up in failed love affairs.

10. The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture by Euny Hong (2014)
Born in the US to South Korean parents, Hong moved with her family to their homeland when she was 12. She grew up in Seoul’s Gangnam district and was privy to the rapid cultural and economic changes occurring in the late 80s and early 90s. Hong is a cosmopolitan writer with a sharp wit. Her book is an entertaining look at how the country has wilfully modernised to become the 15th-largest economy in the world. The Hermit Kingdom is no more.”

Read the rest of this article, and get all the book suggestions!

Book Suggestions: Every Day

Every Day, by David Levithan

I saw the commercial for the upcoming movie based on this book, and I have enjoyed other books by this author; so I was predisposed to like it.

And wow, I really did like it!

The basic story is told by A, the main character. They wake up in a new body each day, aging along with A’s life; so everyone is about 16.  Each day they could be male, female, popular, persecuted, happy, suicidal, or any other possibility.  A falls in love with a girl she meets in one of these bodies, and it is so interesting to see how they work to build and maintain the relationship that is, necessarily, so very unstable. It’s a YA book, so read it if you enjoy that. It’s very LGBTQ-friendly, so read it if you like that. I’m into science fiction, and the issues involved in ever-changing bodies really interested me.

The movie comes out Feb. 23:

From Amazon:

“A has no friends. No parents. No family. No possessions. No home, even. Because every day, A wakes up in the body of a different person. A is able to access each person’s memory, enough to be able to get through the day without parents, friends, and teachers realizing this is not their child, not their friend, not their student. Because it isn’t. It’s A. It’s a lonely existence–until, one day, it isn’t. A meets a girl named Rhiannon. And A falls for her after a perfect day together. But when night falls, it’s over. Because A can never be the same person twice. But yet, A can’t stop thinking about Rhiannon. She becomes A’s reason for existing. So every day, in different bodies–of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and walks of life–A tries to get back to her and convince her of their love. But can their love transcend such an obstacle? Fans of David Levithan’s books, from Boy Meets Boy to Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist with Rachel Cohn, to Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green, will not want to miss this wholly unique love story.”

CMLE Reads Across MN: The Life We Bury

The Life We Bury, Book 1 in the Detective Max Rupert Series , by Allen Eskens.

Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, and it also has many interesting books. In this series, we are sharing some of the books we like from Minnesota, or Minnesota authors.

We are mapping our literary journey around Minnesota, so you can see all the interesting places where our books are set. Follow our progress on our Google Map, accessible by clicking that link or searching for the title CMLE Reads Across Minnesota! (We located this book, entirely arbitrarily, at the Spam Museum in Austin – because it’s a cool place, and it was mentioned in the book.  Enjoy!)

From Goodreads: “College student Joe Talbert has the modest goal of completing a writing assignment for an English class. His task is to interview a stranger and write a brief biography of the person. With deadlines looming, Joe heads to a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, and soon nothing in Joe’s life is ever the same.

Carl is a dying Vietnam veteran–and a convicted murderer. With only a few months to live, he has been medically paroled to a nursing home, after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder.

As Joe writes about Carl’s life, especially Carl’s valor in Vietnam, he cannot reconcile the heroism of the soldier with the despicable acts of the convict. Joe, along with his skeptical female neighbor, throws himself into uncovering the truth, but he is hamstrung in his efforts by having to deal with his dangerously dysfunctional mother, the guilt of leaving his autistic brother vulnerable, and a haunting childhood memory.

Thread by thread, Joe unravels the tapestry of Carl’s conviction. But as he and Lila dig deeper into the circumstances of the crime, the stakes grow higher. Will Joe discover the truth before it’s too late to escape the fallout?”

Book Suggestions: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We love to read books, and to talk about books. Check out our entire series here! Need more book chatting and suggestions in your life? Listen to our Books and Beverages podcast!

I’ve been making an effort to read more African American literature, and also to select books that fit our CMLE 2018 Reading Challenge! Americanah fulfills both these requirements, and I’m finding it incredibly interesting. I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about Nigerian culture and also more about the immigrant experience. The writing is really witty and observant, so I’m enjoying this one so far!

From Goodreads: “As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face?

Fearless, gripping, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today’s globalized world.”

Get Excited for Teen Lit Con 2018!!

Do you work with teens that love to read? Then you absolutely need to start planning to attend this year’s Teen Lit Con! (It’s a FREE event for teens!)

This year the event will be held Saturday May 12th from 10am – 4pm at Chaska High School. According to the Teen Lit Con site, “the purpose of this day is to celebrate teen literature, promote reading and writing, and to create a community of readers by connecting teens and authors.”

If that’s not enough, read this recap from Rogers High School Media Specialist Bethany Kauffman, which describes the joy of last year’s event, along with some awesome pictures.

And finally…the authors this year are fantastic! Authors at this year’s event include:

We hope you are able to share this event with your students/teen patrons and encourage them to take part in this fantastic, FREE day of YA literature!