Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Planning a Move: Books and Reviewing.

As I have mentioned before, my current contract, which expires August 25 (although with my 8 vacation days, I should be moving back to the US before August 14 depending on my summer camp schedules--yes I plan this far in advance), will be my final contract in Korea for the time being. That means I have to think about how I will transport all of the stuff I've accumulated during my three years living in this country. I have resisted buying much, relying mostly on hand-me-downs from departing native teachers and taking careful care of things like clothes so that the last until the bitter end and then I can toss the fraying, decayed bodies into the bin.

However, I have managed to collect quite the little library in my house. Books have always been my downfall. I inherited the vice from my mother, whose basement library was so impressive that I often remarked to her that I could have gone to Harvard with no debt had she simply used the library.

I have tried to ban myself from buying any more books until all my current books have been read while giving away the books I read as I finish them, and I've been somewhat successful (although I cheated a little here and there--borrowing books or buying a few new ones--still I've purchased only five new books in the last year including The Lonely Planet guidebook for our upcoming honeymoon to Cambodia and Thailand and two books about the nasty disease I was diagnosed with last May). I'm giving away books to friends and through Bookmooch, which I love but did have the negative side effect of allowing me to acquire four more books (I'm also not allowed to request books on it for now).

It seems though that there are still about 25-30 English titles left on my shelf that are unread or partially read that I'd rather not take home with me. I didn't buy most of these and many are not even to my taste. But still, I'd like to read them. This means, with about seven months to go, I must read at least four books each month.

I think I can manage that (although some, like The Two Koreas will be a bit heavy and slow-going). This last month I read about five without even really trying. The nice thing is that this might also help me manage my money goal of not going out and spending money so I can finally pay off my grad school debt.

Money and books and fewer things to pack? This is a win.

To keep me honest, I will make Wednesdays a book review day. I promise to review one new book I've read a week on Wednesdays in the blog. This will also keep my blogging up a bit more. Woohoo.

So, for today, I will start with the book I just finished, The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. Parkhurst is a DC area resident and graduate of American University's MFA in Fiction program. I purchased the book when I was researching MFA programs in the DC area four years ago before scrapping that plan in favor of moving to Korea. However, I'm really glad I kept her book with me.

This moving portrait of one man's grief as he copes with the loss of his young wife by trying to teach their dog, the only witness to his wife's fall from the tree in their yard, is at times quirky, funny, strange, mystical, and spectacular. Parkhurst's characters are believable, even if her situations are not quite so, which engages us in a sort of mid-Atlantic magical realism. Yes, the book is about a man and his dog, but it's about so much more than that--human connections, criminal minds, psychic hotlines, mask-making artists.

Ultimately, it is both surprising and wholly predictable in a way that the book needs to be to make it genuine to the human experience. I loved it. I devoured it on the train to Seoul and back. It inspired me to get back to work on one of my put-aside stories. It's been at least a few months since a book has inspired me to work on my own writing so directly. Thank you, Ms. Parkhurst.

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