I am far further into Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim than I typically find myself in a book when pausing to write a “currently reading.” This is the final of the three memoirs that I had planned to read, and after the indulgences of My Salinger Year and Not That Kind of Girl, I was eager to read a book offering heavier things. Kim is originally from Seoul and living in New York when she pursues a teaching position at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in North Korea, a school strangely funded by donations from evangelical churches worldwide. PUST is a school attended only by the sons of North Korea’s most privileged and elite. Kim spends six months not only teaching English at PUST, but also secretly taking notes for what will become this memoir. “Without You, There Is No Us” is in reference to one of North Korea’s many military-style songs, with “you” referring to Kim Jong-il.
A basic communication theory that I too-often recite is that self-disclosure breeds intimacy. We enter relationships and begin this choreography in which the more we reveal, the closer we become. Not That Kind of Girl is the perfect case study for this, as Lena Dunham welcomes readers into a deeply personal realm, and soon every story carries the charm of an effusive best friend.
One of the most common criticisms that Dunham’s work receives is that it is far too self-absorbed. Her creative life is centered on her personal life, and what exactly that contributes to our cultural canon is practically a topic of obsession. Perhaps there is resistance to her work because its impact is counterintuitive; often, universal experiences are expressed and felt most strongly within the details of a single individual’s life. This is proven time and time again in how we respond to books, music, the news, and more. Not That Kind of Girl embraces a willingness to share that feels far from self-absorbed; it comes off bold and even a little brave. Difficult or awkward moments are tempered by a strong sense of humor, often self-deprecating, which along with sarcasm happens to be my favorite brand of humor. Continue Reading →
I spent the first weekend of November in South Lake Tahoe. On the drive in, the first streak of forest was covered in snow, but after a few miles there were more trees hanging onto their leaves than not, and the stark white was replaced by shades of yellow, orange, and red. The beaches were tolerably cold and empty. I took out my sturdy black wellingtons for the first time this season, repeatedly wearing them into the freezing cold water because it’s fun to feel like I can’t feel a thing. The clocks turned back to standard time that Sunday, so I came home to find that the sky turns pitch-black at 5:00 pm, but I like that the morning gets its sun back. I’ve begun drinking a cup of strong black coffee every morning, a very new habit, and sipping away in that extra bit of light makes for a new routine that may outlive fall.
I am in Urban Outfitters and I really do not like that copies of Not That Kind of Girl are found in tall, neat stacks next to every cash register. I feel a healthy degree of guilt and distress whenever I embrace a trend that has long been adopted en masse.
I am in the library and there is a boy sitting across from me who is studying some version of math, though the text that is not numbers or brackets or Greek letters is in Chinese, so it is difficult to say. I feel alarmed that I understand nothing of what he is reading. Then again, he may feel the same way about my reading Not That Kind of Girl.
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff truly reads like a memoir, most strikingly because the people in her story feel far too real to be of pure fiction. They don’t even seem fictionalized for the purposes of creating a smooth narrative. Even the minor characters – Olivia, Jenny, the college boyfriend – leave an impression, as if you had briefly met them in person.
When Rakoff begins working at the Agency, the real-life Harold Ober Associates, she enters a small world casually populated with massive literary icons. Just like Rakoff, I feel nervous and unabashedly curious in the presence of Judy Blume, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, and of course, Salinger. The peeks into even the most basic interactions between Rakoff and Salinger are somehow revealing. Here, Salinger calls the Agency and references an earlier phone conversation with Rakoff, in which she tells him that she writes poetry: Continue Reading →