UPDATE 2/19: Thanks for the great feedback. I’ve already added three books to my reading list. (That is, if I ever get through “Infinite Jest.” But I just hit 19% on my Kindle, and I’ve got a rainy weekend ahead of me.) It’s good to know there are so many enthusiastic readers out there. I’ll check back in on the Beehive every now and then to talk books.
ORIGINAL ENTRY 2/15: I’ve been a reading fiend the past couple of months. Part of it’s because of my new Kindle, which I fessed up to in the latest round of Beehive obsessions.
At the moment I’m tackling one of those big, ultra-hip, wunderkind novels that I resisted reading for years because it was so literary high fashion: David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” (Let’s just put it this way: the footnotes have footnotes. And there are a couple of hundred pages of them.) I’m only about 8% of the way through — one of the benefits of reading a Kindle is you get an exact calibration of how much you’ve read — and so far it’s kind of a slog. So if any “Infinite Jest” fans read this, send some encouragement my way.
In the meantime, what are you reading?
After the jump, my most recent read.
Here’s the last book I finished:
“NOTHING TO ENVY,” Barbara Demick
It’s hard to believe that North Korea exists in the world today. It’s tempting to call this hardcore totalitarian communist state an anomaly – a strange, freakish blip in an otherwise mostly rational world. But what if North Korea represents the darkest of human impulses – and one that could be more of a norm than we might admit? To think that a people would allow such brainwashing and brutal subjugation is sad, but also fascinating.
Demick, who worked as a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times based in Seoul, South Korea, addresses some of these overarching themes in “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea,” a compelling account of a handful North Korean defectors who talk about what it was like to live in one of the weirdest places on Earth.
For one thing, growing up in North Korea means immersion in a cult of personality. The country’s founding leader, Kim Il-sung, was treated almost as a god.
Demick writes of the country’s population: “Consider that their indoctrination began in infancy, during the fourteen-hour days spent in factory day-care centers; that for the subsequent fifty years, every song, film, newspaper article, and billboard was designed to deify Kim Il-sung; that the country was hermetically sealed to keep out anything that might cast persistent doubt on Kim Il-sung’s divinity. Who could possibly resist?”
One of the most intense moments comes when Jun-sang, an intense student who is one-half of the tragic romantic tale in this book, has an epiphany about the regime that he has been taught to revere his entire life. Jun-sang sees an emaciated 10-year-old boy singing the praises of Kim Jong-il, the son who succeeded Kim Il-sung. The boy is near death from starvation, and here is he is addressing him as “Our father, Kim Jong-il.”
Demick writes of the scene: “It was beyond reason that this small child should be singing a paean to the father who protected him when his circumstances so clearly belied the song.” Jun-sang would later say that he credited the boy with “pushing him over the edge.” That’s when he decided to defect.
I’ve always been fascinated with North Korea: its isolation, its deprivation, its stubbornness, I guess you could say. “Nothing to Envy” is an intriguing glimpse at a strange, but not brave, new world.