Chai Book Club – Introducing Weekly Book Giveaway, starting with Korea

I make no apologies for appreciating the intellectual. I travel because I grew up reading histories, from Herodotus on down. When I am driving through Tunisia and see a road sign for Jugurtha’s Table, my heart skips a beat.

Algeria Tunisia Libya 036

In my weekly Chai Digest column I highlight articles that I find particularly useful or thought-provoking. To my regret, I find the more I do online, the less I read books, and I am determined to change that. I am creating Chai Book Club to share books of interest to the informed traveler and citizen. Each week I will highlight a book or topic, and give away a book to a reader. I welcome suggestions that will help me and readers expand our horizons on the subject of the week.

Ground rules for each entry are to comment on the post within the appointed time, preferably with something that will be of interest to other readers. Winners will be selected at random. Available only to US addresses.

Let’s get started.

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I am in China this week but my mind has wandered over to Korea. I am reading The Koreans by British journalist Michael Breen. His perspective is nuanced and refreshingly direct, American readers conditioned in political correctness will be shocked. I came across this on the superlative China Law Blog.

I am pairing it with Wayfarer: New Fiction by Korean Women, edited and translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton. I read this in college and still remember Pak Wan-so’s “Identical Apartments,” with the drunk husband who stumbles back to the wrong home unaware. This is out of print but used copies are readily available.

Please leave a comment by Monday, May 6 at 23:59 EDT. I will select a winner who will have a choice of either title.

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And the winner is #13, amy c.

Chai Book Club 05May13

Thanks for the great discussion and happy reading!

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  • dundili

    This is such a great idea! Thank you for your blog and I am really looking forward to learning about your recommendations!

  • Chris

    I’ve been to Korea twice and enjoyed it very much. I would be very interested to win the book.

  • It is always nice to read a historical account free from politically correct revisionism.

  • Denise L

    Chai Book Club – a fabulous idea! Even without a giveaway.

  • Andrew

    I’ve often admired Stefan’s love of reading non-fiction, and his ability to retain much of what he learns. My own literary habits flit between my professional journals, jazz history, and fantasy novels (no bodice-rippers) A book club to highlight worldly topics and quality writing sounds like a great idea.

    I know next to nothing about the Koreas, save that South Koreans love to play StarCraft, and North Koreans are too busy slaving away in labor camps to know about StarCraft. Therefore I’m not sure I’d even know a politically-correct take on Korea if I read/heard it. Also, Gangnam Style. And kimchi, Ban Ki-moon, and bibimbap.

    My (again, limited) understanding of (South) Korean culture is that it’s somewhat insular, not very open to marriage/procreating with other races/cultures. I wonder if this is actually the case, or simply the product of my personal encounters.

  • SC

    I would like to recommend a fiction — The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. This book has been turned into a movie which is out now. Really thought provoking book.

  • glenn

    As someone who has lived in worked in Korea for a significant part of my life, I highly recommend “The Two Koreas” by Don Oberdorfer. In military circles, this is considered one of the definitive books to read to understand the political-military situation on the Korean Penisula.

  • Nat

    those both sound like interesting books. Thanks for the giveaway!

  • john

    I think this is a great idea (talking about books, not necessarily giving them away). I am happy I am not the only one who is not reading books as much as I would like and instead spending too much time on wikipedia. I am actually a funny case where I buy interesting looking books all the time (who wouldn’t for $4.00 shipped), and never get around to reading them.

  • Isaac B.

    I’m hoping to go to Korea sometime in the next few months so one if these books could offer some valuable insight for me!

  • Michael H.(oldfox)

    I love the book giveaway idea. I’m a retired educator and love reading. Korea is an especially interesting topic for me not only for discussions about North Korea, but also because of the incredible struggles South Korea went through from the 50’s in order to develop its economy. I visited several schools in South Korea a few years ago and simply couldn’t believe the rigors children, teens and young adults face in their studies. I would love to read more about Korea, a fascinating topic!

  • David

    My parents are from South Korea and I would like to visit again before military tensions get out of control. Over 4 million dead. The smell of garlic was everywhere.

  • amy c

    Great idea. Just finished “escape from camp 14” about north korea and learned a lot. I’m anxious to continue my learning.

  • Dan

    I lived in Korea for about a year and I loved it. I’d be really interested to hear this author’s perspective.

  • Natalie M

    Thank you! It is always interesting when someone else picks a book for you to read.

  • James

    I look forward to visiting Korea. Your adventures are inspiring.

  • Goofy Foot

    I enjoyed the book Brother One Cell by
    Cullen Thomas.
    Life in the South Korean Prison System (SKPS);-)

  • Ari K

    Trying to convince the wife to try Korea…books help maybe?

  • Jamie

    I don’t have anything of interest to other readers to say right now. But still I would love to win one of the books and am excited for the book club. Great idea.

  • Justin

    I just started reading the blog and you’ve touched on a destination close to my heart. I’d like to pick up on a theme from Andrew’s post (9:24AM), particularly the last bit in which he questions the insular nature of Korean society. I have had the chance to spend a good deal of time in Seoul, both for work and travel, and what fascinates me the most about Korea is the country’s complicated relationship with the outside world, especially as it becomes a global player in everything from electronics to pop culture. I think it is very true that this is a generally insular country — Korea hasn’t been refereed to as the “Hermit Kingdom” for nothing, and in the past Seoul was actually a walled-in or castle city. Like Andrew mentioned in his post, there is a strong ethnic nationalism in Korea and the country is, to this day, one of the most ethnically homogeneous places in the world. Yet contrast this with the architecture, infrastructure and the international ambitions of the country, all of which Korea has aggressively marketed at a global scale: Incheon “world’s best airport”, Songdo “International Business District” and “Financial Capital of Northeast Asia”, and Seoul “Seoul of Asia” to name just a few. These two factors collapse into an interesting contradiction: how does Korean society, historically deeply insular, maintain its ethnic purity and sense of tradition as it embraces its newfound role in the global economic system and as a global city? It is precisely this confrontation between inward-looking tradition and a technological futurism that seems so pronounced in Korea and keeps me visiting Seoul year after year.

  • Aptraveler

    Wow, what a cool idea, I’m in. I look forward to your suggestions, and le’s see where this new book club takes us!