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Category Archives: annoyed bookworm

>Things You Shouldn’t Say In The Children’s Section Of The Bookstore

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>What the hell. Even the very youngest readers know that sometimes, nothing but a curse word will do:

Shit. shitshitshit.

Remember that fancy foray through What The Book? gift card and all? 48 hours later, I’m smiting my forehead (making it rhyme with “horrid”) and realizing that I left without the ONE book I went in there to get:

April 17 is my Bookleaves Book Club’s 100th book/meeting, so to celebrate, we decided to each read a Newbery winner and discuss our choices. I was determined to finally read the Newbery winner of 1961, Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell. It’s also celebrating an anniversary: it’s been part of the select Newbery circle for 50 years now.

My forgetfulness two days ago seems to be part of a trend with this book. I looked for it at Gwanghwamun’s Kyobo bookstore in March, but I remembered the title as Julie of the Wolves. Kyobo didn’t have a copy. Veronica posted a Newbery Winners list on our Facebook page a few days after that. Ooops. Armed with the correct title, I made plans to pick it up when I went to Seoul again…and there you go. I don’t see how I could have forgotten. I’m practically living and breathing Children’s Literature this semester.

I could read a different Newbery winner, but now, nothing else will do. These glitches have made me wary. If I ask someone to send it to me, it’s bound to get lost. The only thing that will do is that I must go and fetch it myself. There’s a long subway ride in my very near future.


>February: Reading But Not Loving

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>In the case of these two reads, I felt love quite often, but it was like the love in tennis. Zero.

The Foreign Student – Susan Choi. The story takes place in 1955 in a small southern university town. The title character, Chuck (Chang) Ahn, has just come from Korea to be a university student. Determined to succeed, he is also afflicted with dark memories of the recent war in his country. He is also inexplicably drawn to Katherine who is dealing with her own past.

Choi’s explanation of how the Korean Conflict began is as lucid as any I’ve read in fiction or even nonfiction. Her research was thorough and well-done. One of the characters, Charles Addison, could have justly been presented as an unsympathetic monster, but he emerges as human, sometimes kind and even has a likable, slightly rakish charm. There’s another minor character — Chang’s best friend who becomes a Communist — that is written interestingly, but he disappears from the novel fairly quickly. There’s also a chapter in which Chuck is employed at a book bindery in Chicago that is grimly funny. A batty old woman who works with Chuck always tells him to be on the lookout for money hidden in books. When he fails to find any, she accuses him of quietly pocketing his findings, so he has to plant a few bills here and there himself to keep from falling under suspicion.

Okay, that’s everything I liked about the book. Now here comes the loathing:

  • The dramatic story of Chang Ahn’s experiences during the war are told in chunked-up flashbacks that are buried under an Anne Rivers Siddons-like present-day story. The effect is muffled and annoying. It’s like some of those later Elvis Presley recordings in which they bury The King’s vocals way down in the mix underneath the cheap blare of instrumental brass and shrill background singers.
  • The situation between Charles Addison and Katherine is more icky than dramatic.
  • Katherine and Chuck don’t seem to have any chemistry at all. Their scenes together feel like sausage being forced through the grinder and into the casing that constitutes the plot and setting.
  • Katherine and Chuck are too much in their own heads for too long at a stretch to make for interesting reading.
  • Glee, Katherine’s southern belle mother starts out as a giddy Amanda Wingfield type, then after she falls ill, she drops the dizzy act and morphs into something straight out of Steel Magnolias. I’d already built up a huge cache of contempt for her because of the way she treated the younger Katherine, so when she showed up in the novel again after a long interval, I was resistant to her new, slightly more sympathetic personality.
  • There’s no feeling of being in a foreign country during the scenes when Chang is in Korea. The author never mixes in Korean words. This would have come in handy at one point when she’s bumbling all over herself trying to describe hanbok, the traditional Korean costume. I’m pretty sure that most Koreans wouldn’t describe this garment as “loose pajama-like trousers”.
  • I don’t know if Choi was trying to be profound or cute or what, but both of the men that Katherine loves (Charles Addison, Chuck/Chang Ahn) have the same initials. I half-dreaded all the way through the book that one of the characters would notice this and lapse into deep philosophical thought, but mercifully, Choi just let it lay there.
  • Finally, (this isn’t the author’s fault) the cover for this copy isn’t captivating at all. It’s pretty in a prim, middle-aged sort of way. It made me think of Jan Karon and I don’t want to.

    Wicked – Gregory Maguire. A parallel novel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz about the life of Elphaba, better known as the Wicked Witch of the West. There is also a great deal of political and social commentary about the state of things in Oz. In addition, there are numerous discussions about what constitutes good and evil.

    I would like very much to see the musical of the same name based on this book. I believe that I would enjoy it in that form immensely. I would rather watch this musical every day of the week than have to read the book ever again — except for the first 150 pages. During that part of the novel which describes Elphaba’s early life, I was entertained. After that, the fun packed its bags and my reading experience began to resemble wading through partially dried concrete.


  • For reasons that no one in the story could fathom, Elphaba was born with green skin. In case you forgot that detail, Maguire reminds the reader on almost every page. Guess what? She’s green! Her skin is green. She’s green-skinned. Emerald. Celadon. Jade. Kiwi. By the way…she’s GREEN!!! I have an idea for a drinking game…Wicked is available on audiobook, isn’t it?
  • I hope I’m not scarred for life after reading that one uh, romantic scene between Elphaba and her Winkie paramour, Fiyero, but if I am, I guess it’s a good thing that I’m at midlife. Arrgh. Ewww. Bad visuals. I need to go scrub my brain.
  • There are too many long and boring philosophical and political discussions among the characters. Zzzzzzzz. Worse yet, Maguire simply pressed “repeat”. This is one of the reasons I believe the musical would be superior to the book.
  • I find it difficult to reconcile the Witch with which we’re all familiar with the one presented in the novel. It feels like pieces from two different puzzles in the same box, but Maguire seems to think that if he keeps valiantly bashing away he’s going to create a full, cohesive picture.
  • Maguire has that tin ear for dialogue that I noticed with James Cameron’s script while watching Titanic. For example, the latter part of this novel is set in the first years of the 20th century. One minute, the characters are speaking in a stiff, mannered style. In the next minute, someone uses a phrase from a later time. I’m only complaining a little, though. The rest of the narrative and dialogue was so boring that the anachronisms gave me something to help me regain focus — even if only for a second — before I began nodding and drooling again.
  • Except for Elphaba, it’s difficult to distinguish which character is speaking. They’re all pretty full of hot wind — more than enough to get Dorothy and Toto back to Kansas.

>Abridged Too Far


I dipped my toe into the audiobook waters, but now I’m thinking of pulling it back out, drying it off and never going in again.

Recently, I bought an audiobook of Black Boy, Richard Wright’s 1945 memoir of growing up in the Jim Crow American South. I paid more than $20 USD for it, and I’m disappointed in what I got for the money.
The news is not all bad. Black Boy was performed back in 1973 by Brock Peters, who is best known for his role as Tom Robinson in the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird. His reading is mesmerizing and fits perfectly with Richard Wright’s powerful prose.
What’s left of the prose, that is. When I was at the bookstore and I saw that the audiobook was abridged, alarm bells should have gone off in the library of my mind, but I sauntered to the cash register without concern. Abridged. So what? A few skillful editorial cuts here and there. No problem, right?
Wrong. Take away Peters’ performance and the audiobook fails on every other level. First of all, the tape starts with Peters reading an anecdote from Richard’s early life. The title of the book is not introduced and the author’s name goes unmentioned. Second of all, Wright’s brilliant and harrowing narrative is spoiled by choppy editing — it’s like they went in there with pruning shears. In addition, not only is the editing choppy, it’s clumsy. Later in the audiobook, Richard references something that happens when he was six years old. If I hadn’t read an excerpt from Black Boy when I was in college, this reference would have made no sense at all, since the incident was never related in the audiobook, so I imagine that many listeners were puzzled.
Wright’s book is approximately 450 pages long. The 2-tape audiobook clocks in at less than 2 hours and there’s almost 3 minutes of dead air at the conclusion. All of this was annoying enough, but to add insult to injury, the audiotape only covers Part 1 of Black Boy, the years that Wright lived in Mississippi. Part 2, “The Horror and the Glory”, which details his years in Chicago is completely omitted. That omission isn’t mentioned in the packaging; I found it out when I visited Amazon this morning and compared the memoir with what I’d just listened to.
Black Boy is an amazing work, full of raw anger and power and it deserves better than shoddy treatment. This audiobook needs to be redone by a company who values quality and integrity in all parts of production. Sadly, Brock Peters died in 2005, but there must be a voice actor out there who could do justice to Richard Wright’s memoir.
If it weren’t for Brock Peters, I wouldn’t waste any time before flinging this audiotape. I’m going to put it aside and do what I should have done in the first place: Find Black Boy in book form, read it properly and steer clear of the audiobook section of the bookstore in the future.

>Readathon Hour 8: Company

>Despite the title of my last post 6 hours ago, I promise that I have NOT been sleeping.

Sometime around midnight, Mr. Bybee showed up at the office and was in an uncharacteristically chatty mood. So to be polite, I left off reading and blogging and talked with him keeping one eye on the clock. Pages read between midnight and one a.m: A big, fat goose egg.

Then, around 1 a.m. he said, “Well, since you’re just reading, can I get on the computer and play some games?”

I wanted to whine that I would be missing challenges, but didn’t. I just said sure. Am I too polite and dignified for my own good, or am I a mouseburger? I yearned for computer time, but on the bright side, I finished How Koreans Talk then really got into and was completely charmed with Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry. I took notes; this is going to be a full-blown review.

Around 2:15 a.m, Mr. Bybee decided that he wanted to run home for a few minutes (I forget why), so I walked him downstairs, where we ran into my co-worker, Baldy and a Canadian woman that I’d never met before. She used to live in Gumi. Anyway, we chatted for a bit and walked out together. Then we ran into Steve, our office worker who gets more and more dazzling every day with his mastery of English (complete with an Aussie accent!). So we chatted with Steve for a bit. After that, I was so disoriented I walked Mr. Bybee all the way back to Dorm Sweet Dorm. He got whatever it is that he wanted and we walked right back to the office, and he made a beeline for the computer.

And he stayed.
And stayed.
And stayed!!!
He had the computer mouse in a viselike grip, but I kept reading, grimly knowing and so determined that I would outlast him. Finally at 4:45, he gave up and staggered home to bed. Sweet dreams, Mr. B.
Hopefully he’ll be there for hours.

Here is my page count so far:
Hour 1: 31 pages
Hour 2: 75 pages
Hour 3: 98 pages
Hour 4: 0 pages
Hour 5: 56 pages
Hour 6: 29 pages
Hour 7: 50 pages
Hour 8: 23 pages

OK — Now I’m going to cheerlead for 8 hours, so I’ll be dropping by your blogs soon. Just let me dig my pom-poms out of the file cabinet.

>Book Groups, Real and In Film

>I haven’t said much about my book group, BOOKLEAVES lately. A couple of meetings ago, we ate Indian food in Bundang and discussed Persuasion then traipsed over to Mitzi’s apartment to watch The Jane Austen Book Club and scarf down freshly-baked chocolate cookies and pumpkin empanadas.

For the following meeting, we read A Spectacle Of Corruption and met at a nice Italian restaurant in Gangnam called Mad For Garlic. The place is not misnamed; I thought I’d walked past the place, then my nose gave me the delightful information that I was on the right track. Wonderful food — I could have eaten my way through the whole menu without pause. The lower-level location and the dark wood paneling seemed to recall Benjamin Weaver’s clandestine meetings in disguise in out-of-the-way taverns and coffeehouses around London. Even better than the food was when Veronica showed up with 50+ books that she wanted to loan, swap or give away. Visit Amber’s blog to see a picture of my haul (the rest of the Green Gables series!) and me, looking every inch the bibliomaniac that I am.

Next week, on October 12, we’re meeting at our usual bright and friendly coffee shop to discuss The Road. It doesn’t quite match the bleakness of the novel’s setting. Maybe the weather will be gloomy and we could walk around the city and speak to each other in sentence fragments without much punctuation! Or not.

The beauty part of meeting at the usual coffee shop (which is called Angel-In-Us — isn’t that disgustingly cutesy?) is that Kyobo bookstore is one floor down, and that’s where we usually conclude our meeting. It’s a nice way to wrap up. I’ll need to go down there anyway to grab a copy of the following meeting’s book, Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. This is the first time we will have read any pop psychology in book group, and I’m eager to see how it goes.

As you can see, my book group is wonderful. Not only are all the members double-cool, but the group itself is intelligently done. For example, new members are encouraged to suggest books, and ideas for changing things up and keeping it fresh are always given consideration. Although members have come and gone, BOOKLEAVES remains vital and seems like something that could go on forever.

All of this is why The Jane Austen Book Club annoyed me so much. At the time, I enjoyed watching it because Amy, Amber and Rebecca kept up a steady stream of delightful snark throughout the whole picture, and of course, there were those cookies and empanadas. Afterwards though, the movie stayed with me in an unpleasant way, like a stubborn popcorn kernel lodged between the teeth and gums.

What about this movie bugged me so much? Yeah, it was a book group. Yeah, it was Jane Austen. So far, so good. But as conceived by the older woman in the group (I can’t think of her name, but the actress was Lynn Redgrave), the group was only meant to have six members and only meant to meet for six months. After that, Game Over. And no one objected! No one said: Yo, What if we want to keep meeting and reading? What are we — just a damn diversion for you while you grow your hair out and work on meeting husband #7? Begone, Dilettante!

And limiting the group to 6 members, with the one token guy? Please. What if a really cool bookwormish type like one of us had moved to the area and became friends with one of the characters? Sorry, we can’t invite you to our club because Austen only wrote six novels. Aaargh, excuse me while I gnash my teeth and possibly vomit. It wasn’t a book club; it was an effing sorority. I refuse to believe that any group could be that shallow. I’ve heard of groups that have had a Jane Austen phase, but they stayed together and had a George Eliot phase, a Charles Dickens phase and so on. The Jane Austen Book Club sounds smart, especially when they’re discussing the novels, but ultimately, it’s someone’s dumb idea of what book clubs actually are about.

>Book Chase

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>Poor Sam Houston! Blogger has locked him out of his blog. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they called him a spammer! To heap even more insult on top of injury, they said that Book Chase will be DELETED in 20 days! The turd on top of this less-than-appetizing banana split is that a software program, a damn robot is doing all of this!
Since I read and enjoy Sam’s blog every day, this is an unfair hardship. If I were Sam, I wouldn’t take this lying down; he should light out for the territory, i.e., WordPress or some other place that knows how to treat a gentleman and a scholar. Please express any sympathy and/or advice in my comment section. Thanks.

>Lost Book

>I lost a book. This hasn’t happened to me in years! I think the last time was in 8th grade, back in 1975. I have had some near misses over the years, but the book was always found. There was also the time I inadvertently sold Manfred, Jr’s copy of Election on eBay. I thought it was my book. It’s not lost — it’s just somewhere in Duluth. Manfred, Jr. is still not happy about it, though.

But back to the book I lost. To make matters worse, it wasn’t even my book. It was a book Pablo loaned me. After looking in all possible places, I decided to tell him.

“Dontcha hate it when you can’t find something? And you’ve looked and looked EVERYWHERE. And dontcha hate it when it’s a book you’ve lost…well, maybe misplaced. A book you were enjoying so much! And dontcha hate it when it’s not even your book, that it’s a book that someone let you borrow?”

Pablo’s attention sharpened. “What book?”

Song of Solomon. But I’ll find it, don’t worry. Or replace it. You know I will.”

“Well, that’s all right. I thought you were talking about my folio edition of The Maltese Falcon, and then I’d have to kill you.”

“Oh no, I’m careful with that one.”

(Folio books intimidate me. I won’t even touch them unless I’ve scrubbed my hands with soap and water two or three times!)

I really hate it that Song of Solomon seems to have vanished. It’s my own fault. I was enjoying the book so much, I was carrying it from place to place to place, trying to capture a few stolen minutes of reading time.

What else was there to do but go to and bleat piteously, shamelessly begging for a replacement copy? As an act of contrition, I offered The Historian as an exchange. Well, I guess it wasn’t just contrition — I knew it was also pretty damn good bait. Still, I had hoped to hang onto The Historian for a while longer and use it as bait for something that I might covet later on down the road.

A kind woman living in Tennessee with whom I’ve traded before just happened to have Song of Solomon on her bookshelf, so she answered my pathetic plea and now the book is winging its way to Korea.

Naturally, this bookwormy crisis has affected my reading. One minute I’m eagerly reading, waiting to see if Hagar is really going to go ahead and bump off her cousin and lover, Milkman Dead, and wondering what other crazy skeletons his family has in their various closets, and if Guitar is going to be able to carry out his grisly duty as the Sunday man, and the next minute, the damn book’s gone and I’m stranded with nothing to read!

Nothing to read. Ha. At last count, I had a mountain of 20 books piled up, waiting to be read. None of them would do. I gazed at the titles disinterestedly with a glazed eye, muttering things that made me sound like I was a refugee from Deadwood.

Finally, I grabbed Arrowsmith, the book I liberated from that bar in Busan last spring. Usually Sinclair Lewis can shake me out of a funk. I read a few sentences then slammed it shut, exclaiming: “Where IS that fucking book? Damn it!” Clearly, Arrowsmith was not having the desired effect.

I went to and browsed moodily. Suddenly, I sat upright. A new Harvey Pekar book! A novel! THE QUITTER. A graphic novel! Pekar had suddenly been quiet after the AMERICAN SPLENDOR hoopla, and he hadn’t updated his blog, so I’d been worried about his health.

I smiled. THE QUITTER would cheer me up. Then I snarled at the monitor. No, I wouldn’t order it! I’d punish myself further for losing a book! I wouldn’t allow myself any enjoyment from books until SONG OF SOLOMON arrived and I finished it and gave it to Pablo!

Sulking and reading. It’s like the walking and chewing gum thing; I can’t do both at once. My reading totals for October are gonna suck. Damn! I can’t stand it! WHERE THE HELL DID I LEAVE THAT BOOK??? Furthermore, why couldn’t this have happened to one of my books, preferably ATLAS SHRUGGED?