Bae Yong-joon; Hollym: 432 pp., 22,000 won
Korean actor Bae Yong-joon fueled hallyu, or Korean wave, through his dramas, and now he is hoping to step closer to his foreign fans with something more personal. The 38-year-old actor released his book ``A Journey in Search of Korea’s Beauty’’ last year and the photo book is now in English.
The book explores 13 subjects that represent Korea and its culture folded under six categories. It took a year for Bae to travel around Korea for the book; meeting both famous and unknown cultural figures, taking photos himself and ultimately learning more about his own culture. Readers will not only get to learn about Korean culture in depth, but also learn more about the actor who seldom shows himself in public or on entertainment shows on television.
The book brings well known subjects including ``hanji’’ (Korean traditional paper), bibimbap and ``Hangeul,’’ (Korean alphabet), along with other unique features such as the National Museum of Korea and home cooking.
Whether the reader is a fan of Bae or not, the book will be a great endeavor in search of Korea’s beauty, and also a chance to peek into the life of one of Asia’s best known actors.
― Han Sang-hee
Noh Sang-jin; Focus: 344 pp., 14,000 won
Physiognomy, assessing a person’s temperament or even destiny based on physical appearance, may seem like the stuff of quack fortune tellers. But the practice was well-accepted in ancient Greece and is still widely practiced today in Korea. In any culture, the way you look often affects how others perceive and treat you.
``A person’s face maps out his or her future,’’ argues ``gwansang’’ (physiognomy) specialist Noh Sang-jin, and a person’s body is like a universe in itself: the forehead is like the sky; the eyebrows are like the stars and galaxies; the eyes are equivalent to the shining sun and moon; the nose stands tall like mountains; the philtrum runs deep like a valley; the mouth spreads wide like the ocean; and the chin is like the earth.
Noh gives examples of celebrities with distinct gwansang _ figure skater Kim Yu-na’s pleasant, soft facial features that bring luck; footballer Park Ji-sung’s sharp eyes that make him a great athlete; and even Michael Jackson’s nose job, which surprisingly, Noh argues, didn’t alter his destiny much.
Whether or not one believes in physiognomy, the book provides an interesting look into an age-old tradition in a modern context, and readers may find themselves peeking into the mirror with the book in hand.
― Lee Hyo-won
King’s Dining Table
Ham Kyu-jin; 21th Century Books: 320pp., 14,000 won
Take a sneak peek at the meal of the kings of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) through the book "King's Dining Table,” written by Ham Kyu-jin, a historian who specializes in the period. The word “king’s meal” might sound glamorous, but the book shows their table was more political.
The book explains how the king’s meal was made ― from producing ingredients to cooking and presenting it to the ruler ― and analyzes the tasteㄴ of 27 crowned heads, linking the characteristics to their administrative style.
For instance, King Taejo, the founder of Joseon, gave up meat when his sons killed each other. King Sejong, the fourth king and inventor of Hangeul, is known for reading books even at the table, while the 26th King Gojong had coffee with Westerners and ordered naengmyeon, or Korean cold noodles, to the palace.
The author said the kings’ dining was an official ceremony and they observed situations of the people based on ingredients offered from each region of the country.
If the country was suffering from flood or drought, the king should reduce the number of side dishes to share the agony with his people.
― Kwon Mee-yoo
Notes to Myself
Hugh Prather; Translated by Kong Kyong-hui; Minumin: 252 pp., 12,500 won
Less than two months since author Hugh Prather’s death, his debut (and most popular) novel has been translated into Korean, 40 years after its publication in 1970. The work (full title ``Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person’’) became a national bestseller three years after it was released, but has since been translated into more than 10 foreign languages.
After deciding to write a book while his wife, a teacher, supported them, Prather eventually gave up on manuscripts, instead compiling a series of his diary excerpts. Written in a simple, direct format, the writer’s musings on life and how to approach it spoke to the masses in a motivational, inspirational way.
Prather drew threads from the bleak and the hopeful in his life, coming to terms with everything from ambition to faith (he later went on to found a church with his wife). His following publications took off in the same vein, but it is the humane, the real ``Notes’’ that have lasted.
― Ines Min