North Station: 4/5 Stars
This is an interesting collection of longish short fiction by the Korean writer Bae Suah. It’s a recent translation (actually maybe brand new) from the University of Rochester imprint “Open Letter” and I received a subscription to their press as a gift from my old colleagues.
This book presents a really interesting set of questions for me. I have read a few different books by Korean authors, but not many at all. In fact, I think it would be true that I have read more Korean-American authors than authors from Korea outright. And I can’t say I know MUCH about Korea as a society or a culture, but I do watch a pretty regular number (5-10) Korean movies each year.
The character of these stories is spare, slightly detached, and impressionistic (ie about the feeling of feeling rather than a direct expression of feelings in the stories) and so this kind of detached narration is applied to several interesting moments, but it’s hard to feel directly connected with any particular one.
One more really curious thing is something that leads to wonder about the connection Korea and European culture. The lead character in more than one story is interested in German and Austrian literature and definitely have an eye toward central European literature. It is absolutely my chauvanism as an American to only think through connections among culture related to: toward America or from America. And so, I found myself sheepishly enjoyed the character’s reading list so peppered with contemporary European lit like Peter Handke, for example.
Autumn: 3/5 Stars
This is not the famous collection of autofiction/everyday fiction novels he’s been publishing for the last 10 years or so. So while some of the writing is decidedly similarly (I have only read excerpts), this is a very different project. Essentially, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s wife is pregnant with their third or fourth child and so Knausgaard sets out to narrate the experience of everyday life through a mediation of various concepts and objects. Each month of this project is punctuated with a letter of more direct expression of ideas. This is the first of four books in theory.
The writing in this book is spectacular. I will say that first. His thoughts are so precise and clear and his thoughtfulness and intelligence are on display in subtle ways, but they are equally apparent and elusive. This is not a book or kind of writing that pretentiously celebrates its own brilliance. In fact, I was specifically worried about this because the “Min Kamp” series has such an arrogant title and arrogant American covers, but who knows, that could be ironic or a marketing choice. So the result of this shorter less daunting work is that I will soon pick up the first edition of the longer series. If I read those in reverse I might be disappointed. This is an easy book to enjoy and appreciate, but it’s not a satisfying book. The entries are curious and interesting, but they’re not meaty at all. So it could be a disappointment to make it through 2000 pages of one series to end up with the slightest taste of more with this.
Ghost and Patina: 4/5 Stars
So I really like Jason Reynolds’s books. These are the third and fourth books of his I’ve read this year. I didn’t really know what the books were heading into them because I was happy enough to read another book by Reynolds.
Ghost – The premise though is a tough kid with a tough past finds his way to a track practice by accident and after taunting one of the members, he runs a race in his hi-tops and impresses slash pisses off the coach enough to make the team. As happens, his mom is not too happy about the arrangement just yet since a strange man has brought him home and not fully explained what’s going on. It turns out that they make an arrangement and so long as he keeps his nose clean it will be ok. He does not keep his nose clean.
This is a good sports book. It focuses on the pride and energy and passion and not on any real sense of accomplishment. Middle-schoolers can’t really achieve much except self-respect.
Patina – This is the follow up book, taking place literally on the heels of Ghost. Ghost ends at one track meet and this one picks up at the same one. Patina is on Ghost’s team and she’s a middle-distance runner. She has a younger sister she has to take care of and a mom with severe Type II diabetes and a mom stand-in who cares for her. This story covers more ground and more meaningful ground from Ghost as we see Patina navigate all this and her private school.
Code to Zero: 2/5 Stars
This book is pretty dumb. Both in the sense that it’s not a super intelligent book, but also in that it’s a kind of blunt force trauma kind of book. It’s almost written as a kind of noirish spy thriller, but one, it’s never very thrilling, which is an obvious problem, but two, he can’t seem to figure what he wants this to be to be like a throwback but then there’s like gross and weird sex scenes and anachronistic cursing. So it’s this weird book where it wants to be a Graham Greene novel, but it lacks the charm or it wants to be like a Raymond Chandler, but it’s not tough enough and then it fakes its toughness.
So I had been thinking about reading the Pillars of the Earth but this book is pretty bad, so maybe I won’t after all.
One huge issue the book has is that it involves amnesia, which like real but not really “real” and it also plays too much with the fiction like silencers are real too. So if the character has amnesia and the narrative position is always over his shoulder and he can’t recall anything, then who the hell is recalling the past before the war? It just doesn’t make sense and there’s not enough care to frame so it will make sense. It comes off as clunky and poorly-handled.