Tuesday, July 1, 2008

From My Bookshelf, June/July 2008

By Lisa Guidarini

I’d like to say I’m in the process of cleaning out my bookshelves, that that’s the reason I’m pulling out random books to read, before I release them into the world. That’s not strictly so.

For six months I’ve had four bags of books in my car I’ve been meaning to donate to the library, books I’ve either read and don’t intend to re-read or those that aren’t appealing to me anymore because I’ve lost interest in the subject. It was my intention to donate these sorts of books to the library, to find new owners who’ll read them.

Instead, I keep transferring them from the trunk to the seats in the car. My children have become used to tossing them into the back seat to make room for them to sit in the car, which I understand is its primary function. It’s gotten so bad my youngest refers to it as the “mobile library.” He recently said, “Pretty soon we’ll have to keep quiet so our “patrons” will be able to read without diversion.”

Every time I turn a corner a book flies off a seat. When a door opens at least one book falls out. I nearly left a parking lot with a 100 year old book by Balzac sitting on the pavement, falling underneath the car unnoticed. I screeched to a halt and grabbed it, unable to leave it behind where who knows what may have happened to it.

I do sometimes donate books, but sometimes I occasionally buy a few back from the library sales. That way the library is making money from the book, plus I get to keep “the preciousssss….”

All that to introduce this, my new ER column, “From My Bookshelf.” Each month I’ll profile a different book, reviewing it in a brief way, letting you know if there’s an interesting back story behind how I obtained it.

This month’s book is by Korean author Young-Ha Kim, titled I Have the Right to Destroy Myself. As the title suggests, it’s loads of fun. The theme is suicide, one man’s belief that those who are miserable, or who have lost faith in life (especially in art), have every right to commit suicide. He’s willing to be there for the person, staying by their side, providing moral support while their lives slip away. Sometimes, he tells us, he has sex with the person before they end their lives, though usually not.

The book’s not all grim. In a way it’s a parody of books with suicidal themes. Mostly it’s a treatise on the importance of art, how it transcends any one life, and the question of how important enduring art is compared to the lives of the creators.

Kim necessarily chooses artistic types as his characters. All of them are involved in the artistic process. C and K, brothers who are never named both fall in love with a woman named Judith. Her art involves covering her naked body in paint, slinging her hair on the canvas and rolling around on it. It’s performance art, meant to be seen by an audience, and she’s well known for it, having developed a following.

C wants desperately to videotape Judith in action as she creates. After some argument she relents. When the resulting videotape is presented at an art gallery Judith becomes inconsolable that her art has been devalued by capturing it on film. She feels it’s stolen a part of her soul; her reaction is dramatic and immediate.

To tell the rest would ruin the tale. It’s grim, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Asian writing specifically for its dark quality. I’m not one who believes life is easy or particularly fun, nor do I generally enjoy reading cozy works that don’t force you to think outside the façade we call “normal life.” Kim’s book forces deep thinking. It investigates moral issues as well as the meaning of art and how it affects the artist. It’s a short though very deep work, one that demands to be read slowly. Though it has qualities of surrealism, it’s not as much so as the work of another Asian writer I admire very much, Haruki Murakami. It’s a complex little book at 119 pages.

I bought this book from Barnes & Noble, mostly based on the intriguing title, but also because it was a staff favorite. Not a particularly interesting backstory, but then again I buy a lot of my books based on book lust.

Would I recommend the book? Wholeheartedly, though be somewhat cautious if you’re feeling particularly down. It’s somewhat redemptive, somewhat tongue-in-cheek but not all depressives may agree with me. What’s ironic is I read it immediately after a book with the opposite theme, one recommended to me by my therapist, Paulo Coelho’s Veronika Decides to Die. Weird how karma works sometimes..

I’m pleased to be a part of the ER team. I’ll be back next month with another column based on another book pulled off my shelf. Stay well, and keep reading.

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