Sunday, 12 August 2007

Fifty Pounds of Books

"People in town go inside because the sky weighs too much at noon. They wait for hot food with lots of pepper so the day will feel cooler by comparison. They drink sweet drinks and swallow bitter coffee to distract their insides from the heat and weight of the sky"

-Toni Morrison, Tar Baby-

Everywhere I go, I bring a small library with me. During the summer, especially, I make ambitious reading plans, filling my suitcase and carry-on bag with just enough books to be under the airline's weight limit. This can cause for some heavy bags since I also insist on bringing all seven journals I've filled during college everywhere I go(I trust no one not to read them).
In my most desperate act of book-bringing, I brought a small suitcase filled with fifty pounds of books as my carry-on item when I flew back to Yale for my sophomore year. But, if you take a look at my personal library at Yale--and the wonderfully spacious bookshelves Morse College teased me with--my tactics might seem a little more justifiable.
Now, I'm not as bad during the summer. But, leisure reading--along with family road trips, vapid pop songs, and sunburn--has always defined summer for me. So, I do usually bring a dozen-or-so books with me and buy three or four more over the course of the summer. True, I've never made it through even half of the books I lug out to wherever I end up, but that never puts a damper on the next year's ambitions.

This summer, I did better than last, plowing through:

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (Saidiya Hartman)
(Recommended by a couple past TAs)
Persuasion (Jane Austen)
Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood (Ann Brashares)
The Life and Hard Times of a Korean Shaman: Of Tales and the Telling of Tales(Laurel Kendall)
Passing (Nella Larsen)
Flight (Sherman Alexie)
(I got to see him speak in D.C.)
Fade: My Journeys in Multiracial America (Elliot Lewis)
(An impulse buy at Busboys and Poets, my favorite D.C. bookstore-restaurant)
Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
(This is the second novel of a Yale African Studies grad student. She was one of my classmates in a seminar last fall, but I didn't know she was a hugely successful author--mainly in the U.K., I think--until I saw this novel on bestseller displays in every bookstore in London)

There's also one book I bring wherever I go: June Jordan's collected essays, Some of Us Did Not Die. If you've never read Jordan, read her now and love her forever. I'll probably be writing my senior thesis(in History and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration) about this poet-professor-activist from U.C. Berkeley. With perfect timing, Harvard just made her personal papers available for research this summer.

Yesterday, on the bus ride out to Suwon to visit my harabu-gee (grandfather)'s mountainside grave, I began what will probably be my final summer read: Toni Morrison's Tar Baby. Along with reading a Jane Austen novel each summer(check), the other great literary quest of my young adulthood is to read all of Toni Morrison's novels in the order in which she wrote them. My relationship with Toni hasn't been as steady as Jane's. During December of my senior year of high school, I read The Bluest Eye and Sula and then Song of Soloman on a flight out to Honolulu the summer after my freshman year at Yale. But, once I've finished Tar Baby, I'll still have half of her oeuvre to get through: Beloved, Jazz, Paradise, and Love.
I started off with that passage from Tar Baby because it reminds me so much of Seoul in the summertime(even if Toni's writing about Christmas in the Caribbean) ; and I love those moments when a writer captures my right here, right now.
Here, too, the summer sky is heavy with rain. In Seoul's crowded streets, women are on constant guard, ready to run for shelter at the first sign of rain, desperate to protect their perfectly made-up faces, their straightened hair(shout out to Aashika). Men and women pack into restaurants to beat the hot, humid afternoons, ordering stamina-boosting dishes like sam gae tang(chicken broth with ginseng) or bo shin tang(dog stew), convinced that they'll sweat out the heat by slurping down these steaming hot stews. And if they can't eat the heat away, they'll head over to airconditioned cafes to sip overpriced coffees, nibble on cookies baked with love, and chat away for hours.

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