Holiday reading

Last month, I went on a beach vacation. I am a compulsively light packer. Before my daughter was born, I was known to take a single purse on a two-week getaway. When I went away to college, I arrived with a backpack and a suitcase, and was shocked to see overflowing station wagons. Last winter, we’d gone on vacation for five days, and I managed to roll and tuck everything into one small suitcase for the three of us. This was a herculean feat, since we had to pack at least three changes of clothes for the baby alone, as well as a giant inflatable yoga ball (in what was clearly, in retrospect, sleep deprivation-caused insanity) to bounce the baby for naps. This year, I vowed a repeat performance.

Unfortunately, we were going for 10 days this time. And somehow, my daughter’s “can’t-live-without” items multiplied. Now we had shoes and books and swim gear to contend with, in addition to diapers and feeding paraphernalia. Snacks were bursting out of our carry-on bags. I did manage to pack everything in one suitcase, but it wasn’t the dainty one from last year; it was gigantic and unwieldy. Thankfully, now that I read almost everything electronically, I didn’t have to spend days culling my to-read list. Horrified at the prospect of squeezing my Kindle into our bags, I decided to read everything on my iPhone, using my Kindle app.

I still prefer physical books. I like the heft of a book in my hands and being able to dog-ear a page. The cover design affects the way I think about and remember a book; often, I won’t remember a title, but I’ll know what the cover looks like and what color it is. The layout of the page sets the tone of the book; the font, the design, and even the empty spaces reinforce the story’s themes and mood. All of that, unfortunately, is lost on my Kindle.

On this trip, however, I promised to get over myself. I would read a book a day. I used to read constantly, sometimes finishing a book over a long, leisurely day curled up on the couch. I knew that reading on the beach wouldn’t be conducive to plowing through a dense, difficult book, so I stocked up on lighter fare that I’d been excited to read. Although I fell short of my goal, I did read six: five novels and a memoir. I actually started my vacation reading before I left; I was so excited to read “The Round House,’’ by Louise Erdrich, one of my favorite writers, that I stayed up too late the week before our trip to finish it.

While I read for pure pleasure 10 or 15 years ago, I now find myself reading to learn. I note how the masters handle different tenses, supernatural elements, and dialogue. One of the most difficult parts in a translation to render in an authentic but readable way is dialogue: often, the translation process makes it stilted or confusing, as there are unsaid but obvious meanings that are not conveyed. I was especially awed by Erdrich’s dialogue; it wasn’t specially demarcated as to who was speaking as she didn’t even use quotation marks, but it was still clear and powerful.

I also read “The Age of Miracles,’’ “Three Strong Women,’’ “Flight Behavior,’’ “Train Dreams,’’ and “Salvage the Bones.’’ As I read, I noted interesting phrases or descriptions, and paid particular attention to speech, especially of the young. One problem I’ve grappled with as a translator is the inconsistent voice of teenagers and children in many Korean novels; the writing often careens between innocent and all-knowing, and narrators will sometimes adopt an expansive view, suddenly able to decipher others’ innermost thoughts.

My sister-in-law told me that she was reading “Wild,’’ a memoir of the Cheryl Strayed’s trek of the Pacific Crest Trail after her life falls apart. I usually get bored with self-indulgent memoirs about “finding oneself.” I despised “Eat, Pray, Love.” I’d been mildly interested in reading this one, though, after I’d spotted a laudatory New York Times book review; in it, the reviewer stated that he’d been moved to tears several times over the course of the book. What memoir could make a seasoned reviewer bawl? It really did live up to all the hype; some sections when she revisits particularly harrowing incidents in her past were searing, and her pain and sorrow over the loss of her mother felt more immediate and intimate than any other memoir of loss I’d read.

Now that I’m back to my regular schedule, stealing a few pages here and getting in a chapter there, I miss being on vacation, those long days filled with nothing to do other than read. I’m already counting down the days to the next one. <The Korea Times/Chi-Young Kim>

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