31 Dec

2014: The Year in Books

Long story short: I read 90 books this year! I’m quite pleased because that is nearly double last year’s 46 books.

I made a more detailed list this year, noting whether books were from the library or not, digital or analog, or written by a man or a woman. Here are some statistics about my 2014 reading habits:

  • Page count: approximately 35,177 pages. I used the page count from each book’s LibraryThing page.
  • Library use: 55 of this year’s books I borrowed from the library. The other 35 are books I bought.
  • Female and male authors: I read 30 books by female authors and 59 by male authors. I read more than one book from some authors. In total, I read work by 26 female authors and 34 male authors.
  • Digital and analog: I read 39 books analog (also known as “dead tree”) books and 51 digital books.
  • Fiction and Non-Fiction: I read 23 non-fiction and 67 fiction books
  • Series: I tend to read a lot of series (the lot of a genre reader). I finished Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy and Vinge’s Zones of Thought. I read through all extant Dresden Files (that’s 14 books plus a volume of short stories), Leckie’s Imperial Radch as it stands so far, Butler’s Xenogenesis, the Jemisin’s Inheritance Triology, Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, and Grossmans’ The Magicians.
  • Favorites: I think my favorite books this year were Ancillary Justice, Station Eleven, The Bread We Eat in Dreams, and The Girl in the Road. That said, I read a lot of really great novels this year. I think there are a lot of interesting, fresh stories coming from women in science fiction and fantasy right now, in particular.

Books read by month:

A bar graph displaying how many books I read per month in 2014

Here’s the full list of what I read in 2014:

  1.  Schooled: How the System Breaks Teachers by Dalton Jackson
  2.  The Hobbit by J.R. R. Tolkien
  3.  Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now by Douglas Rushkoff
  4.  MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
  5.  Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser
  6.  A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
  7.  From Asgard to Valhalla by Heather O’Donoghue
  8.  Storm Front by Jim Butcher
  9.  Makers by Cory Doctorow
  10.  Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
  11.  The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge
  12.  A People’s History of the United States: From 1492 to the Present by Howard Zinn
  13.  The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
  14.  Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
  15.  Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar
  16.  The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
  17.  Sea Change by S. M. Wheeler
  18.  Loki by Mik Vasich
  19.  Notes from the Internet Apocalypse: A Novel by Wayne Gladstone
  20.  In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People by George K. Simon
  21.  Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss
  22.  The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff
  23.  The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne Valente
  24.  Queen of Kings: A Novel of Cleopatra, the Vampire by Maria Dahvana Headley
  25.  Summer Knight by Jim Butcher
  26.  The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
  27.  Lexicon by Max Berry
  28.  City of Dragons by Robin Hobb
  29.  The Pilgrims by Will Elliott
  30.  Death Masks by Jim Butcher
  31.  Parasite by Mira Grant
  32.  Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb
  33.  Writing Effective Policies and Procedures: A Step-by-Step Resource for Clear Communication by Nancy J. Campbell
  34.  Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  35.  A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski
  36.  Lockstep by Karl Schroeder
  37.  Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
  38.  Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
  39.  Jennifer Government by Max Berry
  40.  No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald
  41.  Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
  42.  Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler
  43.  White Night by Jim Butcher
  44.  Artemis Awakening by Jane Lindskold
  45.  When We Wake by Karen Healey
  46.  The Waking Engine by David Edison
  47.  Small Favor by Jim Butcher
  48.  Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
  49.  Changes by Jim Butcher
  50.  Side Jobs by Jim Butcher
  51.  Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
  52.  Cold Days by Jim Butcher
  53.  The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx & Friedrich ENgels
  54.  The Googlization of Everything by Siva Vaidhyanathan
  55.  The Girl in the Road by Monica Bryne
  56.  Skin Game by Jim Butcher
  57.  Supercapitalism by Robery Reich
  58.  Lock In by John Scalzi
  59.  The Bone Flower Throne by T. L. Morganfield
  60.  Dawn by Octavia Butler
  61.  Adulthood Rites by Octavia Butler
  62.  Imago by Octavia Butler
  63.  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
  64.  The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
  65.  The Kingdom of Gods by N. K. Jemisin
  66.  The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil
  67.  Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
  68.  Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Force by Radley Balko
  69.  The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
  70.  Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
  71.  The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
  72.  The Queen of the Dark Things  by C. Robert Cargill
  73.  The Last Colony by John Scalzi
  74.  Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi
  75.  Vicious by V. E. Schwab
  76.  Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy by Noam Chomsky
  77.  Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  78.  When Google Met Wikileaks by Julian Assange
  79.  The Human Division by John Scalzi
  80.  The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  81.  God’s War by Kameron Hurley
  82.  The Magician King by Lev Grossman
  83.  The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman
  84.  Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim
  85.  Krampus: The Yule Lord by Brom
  86.  Revolution by Russel Brand
  87.  I, Q by John De Lancie and Peter David
  88.  The World Split Open (multiple authors)
  89.  WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy by David Leigh and Luke Harding
  90.  This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

 

16 Dec

North Korea Is Not for the Faint of Heart

book cover: Without You, There Is No Us

Without You, There Is No Us

I saw Suki Kim on The Daily Show a few nights ago. Although I barely registered the content of her interview, I heard enough to decide her book would probably be interesting. Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite is a memoir detailing the six months Kim spent teaching English in a covertly Christian university in Pyongyang. Luckily for me, the library had a digital copy of the book available, so I was able to pick it up immediately.

Without You, There Is No Us has a nice narrative flow (Kim notes at the end that she did rearrange the order of some events for the sake of storytelling). Despite the fact that there is no real climax, I was captivated by Kim’s description of life in North Korea and finished the book in about two days. The short version: North Korea sounds like it really sucks.

The first time Kim visits North Korea is as a journalist. She goes on a press trip when an orchestra from the United States visits North Korea. Although the trip was hailed as a victory for diplomacy and culture by most of the press, Kim disagreed. She became more interested in North Korea and eventually applied to work at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST).

PUST is a school with a strange mission: brining Christianity to North Korea. As you might expect, Christianity is outlawed in North Korea. The only religion is the state-sponsored Juche ideology, which is not so much a religion as the North Korean regime’s all-consuming cult of personality. Kim accepts a summer position at this Christian school that cannot teach any form of Christianity (as daring as they get is trying to show students the Chronicles of Narnia movie—such a strong Christian message!). To do so, she has to pretend not only to be Christian, but also to be a teacher. After the summer term, she ends up staying on for the fall, despite her reservations.

Suki Kim on The Daily Show

Suki Kim on The Daily Show

Kim contextualizes the narrative by discussing her Korean heritage, discussing her own experience and that of her parents during the Korean War. Kim is from South Korea; her family immigrated to the United States when she was 13. She explains to readers that all South Korean families, or clans, if you will, have a home turf in Korea and a history—usually a history that explains how their family practically saved Korea. This is called bon-gwan. While the Korean War drove many South Korean families from their bon-gwan, many were still able to maintain a sense of kinship and managed to rebuild afterwards. But for North Koreans, Kim eventually realizes, the regime has completely obliterated the kinship system. North Koreans move where they are told to move, work where they are told to work. They no longer have ancestral ties to the land or strong family networks. She realizes that this is not only a division between two Koreas, but another method of control.

Just as Kim contrasts Koreas North and South, she contrasts her isolation with the relentless communal spirit surrounding her. Kim is essentially isolated and the reader can see how hard it wears on her, especially by the end of her stay. She has to work to represent herself as someone else to her colleagues and she has to appear to go along with North Korean rules. Her conversations and correspondence are monitored, so she draws deeper into herself. By the end of her second teaching term, Kim seems extremely depressed.

On the other hand, Kim’s students are a study in cohesion. In North Korea, it seems that no one goes anywhere alone. Her classes stick together, and are buddied up within the class groups. No one is ever alone. But, to Kim, their camaraderie reads as at least a little false. After the students class groups are reshuffled for the fall semester, everyone is suddenly best friends with their new classmates, the old apparently forgotten. As Kim puts it, “It was odd that I should have felt so in need of a human connection in this communal space.”

Perhaps “camaraderie” really is the right word for her students’ friendliness. Her class groups have a class monitor—and the Korean word they use for the monitor translates to “platoon leader.” The students march in formation, sing militaristic songs, and take shifts standing guard over their local shrine to their Glorious Leader. Everything the students do has a militaristic cast.

Of course the weirdest aspect of the book (and best, by voyeuristic standards) was reading about the weird gaps and limitations in North Korean education. Kim’s students were those of Pyongyang’s elite and attended what was, ostensibly, a school for studying science and technology. Yet, none had heard of the internet. The students ask Kim remarkably naïve questions like whether everyone in the world spoke Korean. Kim recounts, “[The student] had heard the Korean language was so superior that they spoke it in England, China, and America.” The students were also strangely fixated on North Korea being the best at everything. As Kim says, “They were always comparing themselves to the outside world, which none of them had ever seen, declaring themselves the best. This insistence on ‘best’ was strangely childlike, and the words best and greatest were used to frequently that they gradually lost their meaning.”

One of the things that occurred to me as I read this book was that here in the United States we do tend to use North Korea as the butt of a lot of jokes (look no further than The Colbert Report, or anywhere on the internet), but in reality, the people there are suffering. North Korea is a dictatorship that is a non-stop human rights catastrophe. It sounds insane, but to be candid, this is real shit.

kimjongun-cake

There is a lot more I could say about Without You There Is No Us because there are a lot of issues that Kim struggles with, especially in regards to her students. She constantly tries to push the boundaries of getting them to think without breaking the rules. I also appreciated her take on some of her Christian colleagues and their opinions on their “mission” in North Korea, but I think I will leave those ideas for someone else to review.

Without You There Is No Us is definitely worth reading for a glimpse into the lives of people in North Korea.

What to read next:

  • The Interpreter is Suki Kim’s novel. I can’t say I know a lot about it, but I liked Kim’s memoir and am interested in reading more of her work.
  • After this, of course, I wanted to read some more about Korean history and why there is such a divide between North and South Korea. One that looks good is The Korean War: An International History by Wada Haruki.
  • Unrelated to anything Korea, my last recommendation is God’s War by Kameron Hurley. I just finished it and I really liked it. It’s a future space planet with two cultures inhabiting Islam-inspired spaces. It has great characters and an interesting world.