(Well, the Pacific. But the alliteration is nice, isn't it?)
Hidden underground in the finance district of Seoul is the largest mall in Korea- and a bookstore so vast I teared up when I first laid eyes on it. "This," I thought, "is worth the twenty something subway stops next to the suit who had too much soju with lunch."
Finding books in English is one of the great challenges of living abroad, and Bandi and Luni's Bookstore has a fabulous selection of foreign lit. I know from talking with my students that Western fiction has its place on the bestseller lists with Korean youth; I've had more than one class derail at the mention of Harry Potter. Wandering the aisles today, I thought it might be fun to compare what's hot from the East and West in Korean YA.
I started in the English section and discovered one long shelf dedicated to "junior fiction." Among these were the usual suspects, as well as some surprises.
I've got to say, I was excited to see something as recent as The Hunger Games. There was actually a nice mix of popular books from the past few years- Artemis Fowl, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, books by Meg Cabot and Neil Gaiman- and older stuff that took me back- Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, even Where the Red Fern Grows.
And, of course, others that shall not be named.
In comparison with my memory of the teen section of Barnes and Nobles back in the U.S., I see a heavy focus in Korea on literary, fantasy, and sci-fi YA. What's missing is the lighter, more vacant chick-lit reads (ala Gossip Girl).
Heading over to the Korean children's section, I did my best to track down the teen books with my very limited knowledge of Hangul. Do I even need to tell you what dominated?
Korea is heavily influenced by Japan, and comics and manga are everywhere. I learned within my first few weeks of teaching here that when a student says "I read a book today!", nine times out of ten they mean a comic book.
It was also easy to find popular U.S. lit translated into Hangul.
What I couldn't find was a good selection of authentic Korean non-comic YA novels. That doesn't mean they don't exist, of course. YA is still an emerging genre in the West, only recently gaining respect, and I think the concept is still new to Korea.
Here's what I found in the children's section that I don't see enough of in the U.S.: Series after series of fun, colorful, helpful resources for school. The selection of history books aimed at kids rivaled the size of the manga section, I kid you not.
Here's an example of a series that took up half a shelf. Each book, illustrated and with a slightly larger than normal font, highlighted the lives of historical figures like Lincoln and Ghandi. The figures included those important to Korean history and many others. Flipping through the book, I noticed it was all narrative, and not list after list of boring facts that seems to be requisite with most history books. And I'm not joking when I say there was a ton of material like this. I really think kids in the U.S. could benefit from having such a great selection of history books that don't leave them dozing in their bowl of Cheerios.
Check out the inside (and the illustration of Lincoln meeting his untimely demise):
What I love about Korea: Despite the sometimes insane gaming culture here, kids and adults still read. A lot. I've been to this bookstore twice, both times on a weekday in the afternoon, and this was the scene on both occasions:
Need I say more? As common as it is to see all kinds of crazy mp3 players, cell phones, and video devices on the subway, it's just as typical to see people of all ages immersed in a book in their free time.
Or, in the case of the gentlemen next to me on my way here, a bottle of booze.