from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Random #16: The Cemetery of Forgotten Books

with 4 comments

On a student’s recommendation, I took the Magma down to Nokdu (Mung Bean) Street after class to check out a secondhand book store. The neighborhood, also known as goshichon, test(-takers’) village, is a peculiar place, a depressing shithole where the living dead wander about listlessly, roaming the streets for brains (figuratively). And beer. And secondhand books. It’s no wonder I feel at home there. I’ve lived there twice: it was my first home after the Army and I returned there, years later, while finishing up my Master’s thesis.

The store was generically named Secondhand Books and its entrance led down a cluttered stairwell into the basement, a labyrinth constructed of old, rickety bookshelves and random piles of musty books. At the beginning of the book Shadow of the Wind, the protagonist, the young son of a bookseller, is taken by his father to a secret library of old books, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. If this place were open to a renaming, that would be the name I would advocate for it. It’s fitting.

“As a writer, you must read a lot,” I was urged one night over drinks by Krystn and James. I don’t disagree with them. I admit that I was embarrassed when they asked me who my favorite authors were and I was at a loss for words. (“I guess I kind of like French existentialists*,” I believe I responded in an excruciatingly lame attempt to sound sophisticated.) It’s not that I don’t like to read. I just haven’t been exposed to much and so what I read, I tend to read over and over.

I spent over an hour in the Cemetery, poring through its surprisingly ample selection of English books. After coming across countless shelves of books on yoga, economics, and self-help, I was finally able to uncover a handful of books I was willing to spend some money on. (I can’t help but wonder who these Koreans were that bought these books in the first place.) I picked up the following five books from authors I like for about twenty dollars.

1. Factotum, Charles Bukowski

A book I’ve been searching for for years.

2. Diary, Chuck Palahniuk

Palahniuk is the author of Fight Club. Yes, the film was based on a novel.

3. Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

The earlier copy I mention in my very first entry was lent to me by Beatrix.

4. To Have and Have Not, Ernest Hemingway

According to hearsay, a book he hated and considered his worst.

5. Mythology, Edith Hamilton 

A good reference and a good read.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, people don’t change, and of the five books, only two are books I haven’t read (Diary and To Have and Have Not), but all were written by authors I enjoy. If you know their writing styles, perhaps you can get a picture of the kind of novel I would like to write once I’m done with this infernal memoir.

* The French “existentialists” to whom I was referring were Albert Camus (The Outsider) and Jean-Paul Sartre (Nausea). Another notable favorite (but neither French nor an existentialist) is John Steinbeck (particularly Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday). I can go on but I’ll leave it at this. And yes, I know that Camus did not consider himself an existentialist, thus the quotation marks around the word existentialists.

[edit: For those of you who know when my birthday is, it is now perfectly acceptable to gift me with a book, as long as it is literature and something I would read and not a self-help book. I know I need help but don’t need to be reminded of that fact on my birthday. Alcohol is also perfectly acceptable.]


4 Responses

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  1. I really need to start reading Vonnegut, starting with Slaughter House Five. I hear so much about it.


    October 20, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    • It’s a good read. I felt a strong identification with Billy Pilgrim (the protagonist) even though (or maybe because) he is passive and weak-willed, disoriented, and just lets things happen to him. I think(/hope) the book I’m working on shares many similar characteristics with Slaughterhouse Five.


      October 20, 2010 at 7:30 pm

  2. I haven’t read the novel of To Have and Have Not, but the Howard Hawks film is one of his best & the film which made Bogart dump his wife and take up with 19 year old Lauren Bacall (“you know how to whistle don’t you? put your lips together and blow”) Faulkner worked on the script!


    August 27, 2013 at 11:53 am

    • I haven’t seen the movie but maybe I’ll take the time to check it out. Bogart and Bacall with Faulkner on the script? I still haven’t read the book. It’s just been sitting in my library. I need to start working on all these books I haven’t gotten around to yet.


      August 28, 2013 at 8:59 am

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