Spool Five



Journal - Korean Books

Author: Eoin Carney Published: Jun, 2021



Wed 2 Jun 23:18:06 KST 2021

Dear Gopherspace,

I still haven’t gotten the hang of journaling. Perhaps my life isn’t eventful enough. I imagine journals to be writings you look back over later in life to trigger memories of places, times, people, feelings, thoughts, etc.

The best journals go into quite a lot of detail about daily activities and moods. I would like to be able to express myself in that way, because I have a terrible memory. I rarely think of past times, but when I do, it’s often when I feel low, and then waves of memories wash over me. I try my best to cling to them and live with them for a while, but they are usually fleeting.

It becomes frustrating to try to cling to the past, and all I can do try to accept that it is gone and try to keep moving forward. But, I would still like some of those times back, in some kind of form. Oh, well.

Anyway, the point of this post was to mention something I wanted to remember about Korea. Something small and insignificant that I’d probably forget later. It’s to do with the kinds of books people read here. More specifically, the kinds of ‘western’ books. First, there is Herman Hesse. People love him here. Everyone seems to have read Demian. Maybe it is prescribed reading in high-school or something. Even BTS references it. This was surprising to me, as he certainly isn’t a major author in Ireland, outside of people who really care about 20th century literature of course. Here, it’s not just literary types who love him, it’s more general. I’ve only ever read Steppenwolf, and it was incredible, so maybe the Koreans are onto something with this one.

The second two are more obvious - The Selfish Gene and Sapians. Those books are popular everywhere, but here they are on the front stand of every bookshop I’ve been to. Even my school’s tiny library, which consists of tiny kids English books, has a couple of token ‘serious’ books (which very few - if any - of the 9 year old Korean kids will ever read). They are, the first Harry Potter book and Sapians. It seems like if you want to appear ‘cultured’ or ‘educated’ in polite society here, you have to have an opinion about those books (usually about how wonderful they are). I don’t like either of those writers, though, admittedly, I’ve never had the patience to read the entirety of either book.

Finally, there is another curious one - Bernard Werber’s “Ants” books. I had never heard of these before coming to Korea, but I’ve met a couple of people who’ve read them, and I’ve seen the entire set in a few bookshops.

Anyway, my selection is probably biased based on my own experience, but its something I’d never considered before moving to a distant country - western cultural hegemony can ‘express’ itself in different ways in local contexts. Imitations of western cultural canons will produce their own variations, peculiarities. This phenomena is, of course, most evident in the case of K-pop, which to me at least (I’m not a fan), sounds like a blatant imitation of US/UK styles of pop/hip-hop, but also sounds totally different and unique. It’s the same with the Western literary cannon here.

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