[NYC/BK] part of my world.


the brooklyn book festival is the event of the year for me. it’s the event that marks the end of summer in my head, the beginning of fall, and it’s the event i look forward to because it’s books, authors, readers — how much better can something get?

this year, i had the opportunity to take over the official bkbookfest instagram account (twice!), and it was so much fun, walking around and sharing random things from the day. i also took over the account earlier in the week to share some photos from previous years because this was my sixth year at the festival — six years, can you believe it? six years since i literally stumbled upon the festival that first year i moved to new york because it was a sunday and i’d somehow talked myself into going to church and borough hall was my subway stop that year. six years because i’ve been back every year since.

and i can’t wait to keep this tradition going next year.


highlights: meeting people from bookstagram “in real life,” getting coffee, going to panels together, standing around and sweating and chatting. exchanging hugs, hearing voices, revelling in the familiar. as it turns out, i’m not as much of a total introvert or a misanthrope as i thought. i love meeting people and being around people.

hearing authors talk! it’s always a pleasure hearing authors talk, especially when they’re on a panel with great moderators, like that 10 am session with jenny zhang (!!!) and julie buntin moderated by jia tolentino. jia tolentino has been knocking it out of the park for the new yorker these last few months. jenny zhang is always a delight. julie buntin made me want to read her book, which i’ve heard amazing things about but haven’t read yet.

the cookbook panel! there is always a cookbook panel (or there was this year and last; i admit i didn’t go to the cookbook panel in 2015), and it is always awesome (maybe i should stop saying “always” when i’ve only been to this year’s and last’s). this year, the theme was cookbooks and cooking at home, and chef sohui kim of the good fork was there along with cookbook authors raquel pelzel and stacy adimando, and i loved this panel because i think about that question a lot — exactly who are cookbooks written for? what are they written for? because you have cookbooks that are more like coffee table books (pretty much anything by phaidon) because the recipes are much too complicated for any home cook to attempt (like, seriously, who’s cooking from the noma books? the benu book?). and what about cookbooks that are more to record a restaurant’s history/moment in time? and how should food in cookbooks be photographed? do we want them to be exquisite and perfectly plated like the chef would plate in her restaurant? isn’t that too daunting? but what about this trend right now with artfully just-consumed food? what is kristen kish’s book going to be like? because when you have a chef who’s all about technique and has a more elevated, formal style of cooking, can that translate into recipes that an average home cook might want to attempt? and who is an average home cook, anyway? how do you measure that?!?

does someone have to cook from a cookbook for that cookbook to be considered successful?

because i rarely cook from cookbooks — my measure of a good cookbook is if it tells a story of that chef, that restaurant, the food, well.

coming back from that list of questions i spend kind of a stupid amount of time thinking about … (i think a lot about food. in all forms.) (i’m also really excited for the kish cookbook. and the cherry bombe cookbook.) (i also spend a lot of time thinking about how i can get publishers to send me cookbooks …)

more highlights: catching up with friends and getting dos toros and taking over outlets because my phone was dying. discovering another cool lit mag (the point) (it’s based in chicago), buying more back issues of the common, chatting with chef sohui kim and getting my book signed and gushing about the just-opened jeju noodle bar in the west village. chatting with authors and them not being weird about me being all OMG I LOVE YOUR WORK I THINK YOU’RE GREAT HI! sweating non-stop, taking an ice cream break at one of my favorite ice cream shops (van leeuwen), finally dropping in at books are magic and buying a mug and checking out the space and, oh, buying a cute enamel pin, too. (i’m starting to get into enamel pins.)

stepping into regular visitors and discovering that they make a great unsweetened matcha latte. roaming around my old stomping grounds (because downtown brooklyn/cobble hill/boerum hill — this whole area, all the way to park slope, gowanus, prospect heights, and clinton hill, is my brooklyn) (i know; it’s bougie as hell; and i don’t know how that works because i’ve always been broke as hell). just being in those masses of people, of readers and writers and publishers, this community of people who love stories and story-telling and came out en masse on sunday to be a part of something that i believe, that i believe they believe is a vital, thriving part of life.


i’ve walked this stretch of dean street from cobble hill to park slope so many times. i’ve walked it to go to blue bottle, to one girl cookies, to trader joe’s, and i’ve walked it in peace, in joy, in tears. i’ve walked it while starving, while full, while panicked, while depressed, while content, inspired, angry, worried, despondent, happy, lonely. i’ve walked it and been told by a nice lady that i shouldn’t look so sad, life would be all right. i’ve walked it as my arm went numb from the groceries hanging on my shoulder.

i’ve walked this stretch of dean street on nights i was too anxious, too depressed, to do anything else. i’ve walked it because i was forcing myself to get out of my apartment, to do something, even if it were walking and walking and walking. i’ve walked it to nurse my broken, fractured brain and heart. i’ve walked it to exhaust my insomnia into letting me sleep. i’ve walked it to mull over story problems, writing problems, life problems.

i walked this stretch of dean street after the brooklyn book festival, after dinner with a friend and her boyfriend. it was humid, and it was night, and it was everything familiar — the trees, the buildings, the house with the zebra in its front yard, a zebra that now has giraffe friends. i walked it with my heart throbbing inside me because, yes, i do concede now that coming back to california earlier this year was what i needed, that this move literally saved my life, but it hurt still, it hurts, but it hurts now in the way that tells me, you are alive, and it is on you to find your way home again.

i walked this stretch of dean street again knowing exactly where i want and need to be, that 2017 has been a weird, incredible year, despite all the struggles and pain and disappointment, that i am lucky to be here, to have the people in my life whom i do, people who have and continue to do so much for me, to love me, to care for me, to support me.

i walked this stretch of dean street, knowing that this won’t be the last — i know i will walk this street countless times again.


deborah smith!


2016 october 5 at AAWW:  deborah smith is the translator of han kang's the vegetarian (hogarth, 2016) and human acts (hogarth, forthcoming 2017) and bae suah's a greater music (open letter books, 2016). i can't believe she only started learning korean six years ago and is already translating literature — i've known korean my whole life (it was actually my first language, despite the fact that i was born in new york), and i get so tangled up with insecurities over how my korean isn't fluent that i don't translate, even though i can (and have for fun).

that's not the point, though — i was so thrilled that deborah smith was going to be at AAWW, talking about translation and korean literature, and i loved hearing her talk. in general, i'm loving that there is a larger, concentrated effort being made to translate korean literature and get it out into the world, and i just love the work that translators do. it's not easy work; it's so much more than simply converting words; and i think it's awesome that smith pretty much just dove in because she wanted to be a literary translator and there was an opportunity with korean literature.

smith is also translating bandi's the accusation (grove, forthcoming 2017), which i am so excited for. i've read some of the accusation in korean, too, so it will be interesting to read it in translation.

  • ed park:  this idea of — i think, it's easy to put a lot of attention on the vegetarian because it's had such a strong reception here. did you know as you were reading it or contemplating translating it, that this was something new, something fresh, something that a western reader perhaps would not be familiar with?
    • deborah smith:  definitely, i felt that it sort of, in one sense, exemplified what made south korean writing different from what was going on in the US, [the book] also being an outlier in korea at the same time. it wasn't a bestseller, but it became a steady seller.
    • DS:  one of the things that excited me about korean literature as a whole was the formal diversity because the short story historically had more prestige attached to it than it does in anglophone writing.
    • DS:  the way the vegetarian does read as a novel — it has one central story and is fairly chronological — the fact that it hangs together as these three tone pieces and these perspective shifts are really offering you a really different story in a sense felt not completely unheard of but sufficiently different, and that difference was incredibly well-done, so i thought it could at least be appreciated as that.
    • DS:  [han kang] published [the three pieces] in order. it just happened that the second won the prize.
  • EP:  would you say that this is typical of the way other novelists' novels are constructed? kind of building off short stories?
    • DS:  this was the first book that i read in korean all the way through, which was very lucky for me.
    • DS:  i'd recently discovered [it] in 2011; it was a year after i started learning korean. 
  • EP:  why did you settle on korean?
    • DS:  it's a really boring answer. it was almost a random decision. i didn't know any other languages, and i wanted to be a literary translator, and that was a barrier. it was a sort of pragmatic decision.
    • DS:  i'd always read more in translation than anything else, and i think that was because, at the time, i felt a bit alienated from mainstream british fiction. to someone who is british, the booker prize is very class-marked, and, as someone from the working class, i found this all very bizarre. the books written in other languages do not feel Other in that way.
    • DS:  i had been obsessed with japanese literature when i was in school, which is something that could happen because it was already there [in translation]. it was murakami.
    • DS:  i read everything i could read [in korean]. and, yes, i read a lot of female authors, authors who are doing something different. [...] nowadays, the people winning the prizes are women.
    • DS:  the first thing i read that i was really excited by was a story by o jeonghui.
  • DS:  both of these books (the vegetarian and human acts) are describing things of great violence, but the prose is so restrained and carefully restrained that it never allows itself to become hysterical. i think that's something i had to pull back on as well. different languages have different ideas of what is too much.
    • DS:  the relationship with working with [han kang] on both these books was very different because the vegetarian was the first book i was in contract for. i wasn't sure what the procedure was, so i wasn't in touch with her — i wasn't in touch with anyone — and no one [was in touch with me], so i didn't think about it.
  • DS:  bae suah is another contemporary korean writer who started in the 1990s. she also translated from the german to korean. this book (a greater music) is semi-autobiographical in the sense that the narrator is a young female south korean writer who is in berlin learning the language, having a go at writing in the language and existing in this nebulous state where words don't really exist in reality. this one was the first i translated at all in 2012, and it was — it i did it in the winter in seoul. and this is also set in the winter in berlin. so i was having pretty much an identical experience of korean as a language i was learning but i didn't know much of it and here i was trying to translate one of the most difficult writers to translate.
    • EP:  not just this work, but all of bae's work is seen as difficult.
    • DS:  someone described her as doing violence to the korean language. her korean sounded translated; it sounded particularly as though she had translated it from the german. you cannot replicate that in english because the structure of german is much more similar to english than korean is. i tried to make it sound more dissonant in other ways.
  • DS:  i don't read korean like i read english. i don't think i will ever read it like i read english. [i only read short sentences without translating it into english. i don't read it the way a korean reader would.]

alexandra kleeman & liz moore!


2016 september 16 at powerhouse arena:  last friday, i walked over to dumbo to hear alexandra kleeman (intimations, harper, 2016) and liz moore (the unseen world, norton, 2016) in conversation.

i'm a huge fan of kleeman; i absolutely loved both her books (her novel, published last year by harper, is you too can have a body like mine); and i love how atmospheric her writing is, the ways she captures mood and strangeness/weirdness but does so very thoughtfully, not haphazardly. it's easy to get lost in her writing, and i highly recommend both of her books.

  • alexandra kleeman:  the stories in this book started in different ways, but they all started from the grain*, i think.
    • * (i think she said "grain." she may not have used that word specifically.)
  • AK:  [“you, disappearing”] actually started from a tweet that i tweeted where i just said, what if the world started disappearing piece by piece?
  • AK:  i think that it’s difficult for me to think about creating a whole plot and organizing it for story. i start with an idea — it helps me feel like i’m learning something instead of investigating a plot inadequately.
  • liz moore:  “choking victim” gave me so much anxiety because it’s basically every fear i’ve had since having a child.
    • AK:  because maybe you have longer to think about being a mother now than you used to in [that] you have a lot to worry about and think to be prepared for it. i definitely have no experience, and one thing i was interested in with that story was how i could create this situation where this character realistically makes this major mistake. [we’ve all been in situations where we make decisions that are bad decisions, but, at that moment, we think it makes sense.]
    • AK:  i began from that point [at the end], that plot point in that story and worked backwards to see how to funnel everything towards that.
  • AK:  to write a novel, you have to keep yourself in pretty much the same mental condition, i think. your novel kind of anchors you to time and place. these stories, i wrote over a period of six years, and i wrote them as an escape from the novel. the earlier stories — yeah, it’s changed stylistically. i’ve gotten very interested in making characters with problems that mirror mine more literally.
  • LM:  every time i write something, i feel like i’ve started from scratch — like, what do people say, and what do they look like? i’m interested in personification as a thing you can do to people but you can also do to non-people.
  • LM:  we both have lobsters in our books. we should have done something lobster-themed tonight.

brooklyn book festival, 2016!

today was the brooklyn book festival, aka one of my favorite days of the year! unfortunately, i didn't make it to all the panels i'd hoped; a weekend of little/bad sleep and the humidity drained me by mid-afternoon, especially because i started when the festival started, bright and early at ten am! here are some photos and panel recaps.


no attempts at introductions today; i'm pooped.

10 am:  unsung heroines
alexander chee (the queen of the night, hmh, 2016), desiree cooper (know the mother, wayne university press, 2016), irina reyn (the imperial wife, thomas dunne, 2016), moderated by clay smith (kirkus)

  • alexander chee:  this novel (the queen of the night) was my attempt to write about these women i would see at the edges of things or mentioned in a sentence in other works, where the line would be something like "she was a favorite of the emperor's" [or ...] "she could walk on her hands," and the narrative would move on from there — and i was like, wait a minute, can we go back to the woman who could walk on her hands?
    • AC:  i was a boy soprano — but, when you're a boy soprano, you know your voice will leave eventually. i think female sopranos know this, too, but they have longer than 3-5 years.
    • AC:  women had to become these supernatural women [...] to be seen as more than normal women.
  • desiree cooper:  women [hold] a lot of dimensions of their lives in secret, and it's sort of like a giant well-kept secret. [know the mother]'s not an autobiographical book, but it's definitely mined from the experiences of my friends.
    • DC:  detroit is not the kind of town where you can go very far without meeting people who are not like you. it was the gift that i got, to be able to step into different lives.
    • DC:  the stories hang together around the issue of what happens when gender asserts itself when you least expect it, when those roles come down on a woman.
    • DC:  i used to be a lawyer and worked in a corporate setting, and there really was a bathroom with two stalls [for women] in this office of 150 people. [she was pregnant at one point while working here.] when you can't even talk about a happy event, how do you talk about a loss? you hide every aspect of your womanness just to survive.
      • (the story she read from is written from the POV of a woman who miscarries while at work.)
  • irina reyn:  the 18th century is no joke; there's not a lot of information about that. it's a lot of things to negotiate with the historical narrative.
  • IR:  i think what's interesting [about writing historical fiction parallel to contemporary fiction] is that we get to ask "have we come a long way?" putting those side by side really asks those questions — "where are we now?"
  • DC:  women's rights are human rights. when you humanize women, everyone can relate to them.

11 am:  culinary comfort
julia turshen (small victories, chronicle, 2016), andie mitchell (eating in the middle, clarkson potter, 2016), pierre thiam (senegal, lake isle press, 2015), moderated by helen rosner (eater)

  • andie mitchell:  in my cookbook (eating in the middle), i talk about how losing 135 pounds doesn't mean you stop loving food. i had to shift my thinking of what is comfort food and how do i remake not only my mindset of comfort food and what i think those are.
  • pierre thiam:  senegal, our culture, is comfort food. we eat around the bowl, so anyone can come and mix in. there's always room for someone, a new perso, around the bowl. and for me that's comfort food, because of the love that's in it.
    • PT:  food is healing; it's love. in senegal, that's my inspiration and that's how i wanted the hook to be translated for american readers. i didn't want it to be just about recipes but about comfort and sharing.
  • julia turshen:  for most of my career, i feel i've been very tuned into other people's comfort.
  • JT:  i studied poetry in college, and i think of recipes as these poems, and they're [things] to translate what i did at home and condense them into instruction. i try to be as encouraging as possible. i think the biggest thing i try to do with recipes is try to answer questions before you ask them. it's sort of giving all these clues, and, within that, i find there to be opportunities for descriptive language.
    • JT:  i think food is the best thing to write about because there's so much to describe.
  • JT:  telling the stories that are true to you — that's what makes a cookbook successful.
    • JT:  the thing i love about cookbooks is that they're a means to tell stories [but then people take them and cook from them and these new stories come from them].
  • PT:  i don't think the cookbook should be approached as the bible because i don't cook that way. it's always an evolution, and i think that's how food works. it evolves, but you recognize the same dish even if it's not the same dish. cooking should be a personal, intimate affair, so you come with your own contribution to the recipe.

after my first two back-to-back panels, i moseyed around a little, browsed a little, snuck into a store to use the loo, then i managed to catch half of a poetry panel and hear ocean vuong (night sky with exit wounds, copper canyon press, 2016) and monica youn (blackacre, graywolf press, 2016) read — they're both so good.

1 pm:  witches
robert eggers (the witch), robyn wasserman (girls on fire, harper, 2016), alex mar (witches of america, FSG, 2015), moderated by jaya saxena (the daily dot)

  • alex mar:  paganism as an actual movement is now a phenomenon in this country.
    • AM:  there's a lot we see in film that's real; it's high drama. there's a specific reason for all of it. the reality is that a lot of things we associate with horror films is now actually — we should start to be more open-minded about how we view what these things are, which are part of a religious movement.
  • AM:  part of this [fear] is that paganism is related to radically independent women. we were joking about this earlier — about girls and how dangerous they are — but it's true.
  • robyn wasserman:  [...] these girls are children, and they're nice innocent little kids, but, somewhere, there's a turn, and it's like something has colonized this child, and this thing is a sexual impulse. and we as a society are so afraid of acknowledging sexuality and sexual feelings in adolescent girls [...] that we talk about it as a sort of colonizing. like the devil has taken over.
    • RW:  witchcraft [is] a tool you deploy against powerful women — but also, this idea that women can't be magical in their own right? if they have some kind of strong power, they must have been taken over by some greater power.
    • RW:  we're so terrified by female sexuality that we [make it this other thing].
  • robert eggers:  i think the misogyny of the early modern period was so great that they actually thought these girls were witches. witches were real.
  • RW:  there's something so threatening about girls doing something beyond the male gaze.
  • AM:  there's no evidence that anything we recognize as witchcraft was being practiced in salem.

why is there a photo of an apple cider doughnut? because i traded my email address for a doughnut, aka i signed up for a newsletter because it meant i could have a doughnut. which goes to say that enticing people with food? it works, folks. (heh, joking; i would've signed up, anyway.)

and that was the brooklyn book festival for me this year! thanks for reading!

minsoo kang!


2016 august 25 at AAWW:  minsoo kang (left) is a professor of history and the translator of the story of hong gildong, an iconic korean classic, which also recently became the first korean classic published by penguin classics.  ('BOUT TIME, PENGUIN.)

last night, the asian american writers' workshop hosted an event dedicated to hong gildong.  first, authors marie myung-ok lee and min-jin lee gave brief talks about the significance of hong gildong to them.  dr. kang then gave a brief but informative and hilarious presentation on hong gildong and had a conversation with ken chen, the director of AAWW.

this was so interesting, and i wish i could have gotten more down.  dr. kang is working on a book on hong gildong, though, so there's that to look forward to!

also!  he's working on a translation of a book about queen inhyun and jang heebin (the title of which eluded me), which i am so excited about!

(i only took notes during dr. kang's presentation/conversation.  everything below is him.)

from his presentation:

  • the best history books are the ones that defamiliarize the familiar.
  • it's obvious that we lionize the defenders of the law, but why is it we also lionize the outlaws?
    • you can find the bandit — robin hood —everywhere in the world.  [...]  they're not local variations of robin hood; this is a universal figure.
  • every korean knows — or thinks they know — hong gildong.  it's so steeped into their culture.
    • there are 34 versions of hong gildong.
    • it has to do with how popular stories were spread in the joseon dynasty.  when stories got really popular, publishers would start publishing shorter and shorter versions to save paper.
  • i actually thought [translating] this would be an easy task.  even for most koreans, the premodern korean language is so difficult, and you also have to deal with how many chinese characters [there are].
  • i found, to my horror, that there were these 34 different manuscirpts, so i had to go through them to decide which to translate and consult with scholars in korea as well.
    • [note:  there wasn't only the issue of having to decide with version was most accurate; there was also the issue of the cultural significance of what hong gildong represents to koreans.  and then there was also what is being taught about hong gildong in schools in korea — he found out that it's all wrong.]
    • the thing [all the scholars] complained about — why doesn't the latest research get out?
    • this is such an important story.  even for the majority of koreans who have never read it, it has such great resonance.
    • this has to do with the problem of how korean literature is taught in schools.  as you know, in korean schools, it's all about memorizing.  so the way in which literature is taught, students aren't given entire works to read — they're given a couple paragraphs, and then, they're given 5-6 facts to memorize that will show up on the college entrance exam.
      • [note:  as it turns out, all 5-6 facts about hong gildong are wrong.]
      • [note:  in korea, you take one exam — the soo-neung — and that decides where you go.  there's one test day every year in november, and it goes without saying that it is a big deal.]

from his conversation with ken chen:

  • hong gildong represented so many things.  for instance, in south korea alone, you have hong gildong as the enduring symbol of the fights against authority.  and then you have hong gildong as this masculine symbol that men cannot really become.  [...] there's so much lament about "i can't be like hong gildong!"
  • one of the cliches about korean people is that we are a people filled with han.  [...]  i recently discovered that the notion of koreans being full of han was something that was come up by japanese people during the colonial era*.  the concept of han did exist in the joseon dynasty, but you can't find a single writer who thought of it as a depiction of korean nature.  [...]  we adopted it unthinkingly when it's very recent and it's not even our tradition.
    • [* because the japanese thought of koreans as savages, this idea of han as being central to koreans was pushed on them to explain koreans' sorrows.  the more korean thing is that, while, yes, we do have han, which is very simplistically translated as a deep sorrow/melancholy, we also have heung, which is joy, and the two balance each other out.]
  • when you read hong gildong as the classical text coming out of the joseon dynasty, there is no question that it's a product of a very patriarchal society.
    • in 20th century versions, the gender stuff gets really interesting because, in every new version, there is a love interest.
    • the suffering of women is used to measure the strength of men.  [i.e. men should be able to protect their women.  if the woman is harmed, the man should avenge her.  it has nothing to do with the woman and everything to do with the man.]
    • you see that in modern hong gildong stories.  there's a woman who's harmed, and so hong gildong needs to jump in to save her.
    • i think it has to do with how, during the colonial era, korean men were feminized under japanese colonialization.