I’m back to tell you about another book and this time, it might be my favourite book I’ve came across this year so far!
Ocean Vuong’s ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ (amazing title btw) is a collection of short letter from the author to his mother (primarily), detailing his memories of both her and her mother/his grandma as well as other extended family members and people he meets in life. The letters reveal a complicated parent-child relationship. They also tell a story of migration from Vietnam to US. The idea that patriarchal men/white race/heterosexuality/English language are the status quo of the new home (both as separate identities and intersections of all 3) permeate the book and act as a background against which the main characters stand out.
The story is also very grounded, located in both in a wider physical world and a physical body. Bodily functions (like relieving oneself or going grey with age) are treated as normal rather than something to hide away from.
The writer of the book is originally a poet and you can feel his poetical sensibilities: the metaphors and parallels between different locations within a scene a just beautiful. In general, the whole writing is so emotional and vivid. The letters itself are printed out with line breaks instead of a continuous prose so that also changes the reading experience (I personally listened to the audiobook, so that was a different experience altogether- something akin to being in a poetry reading.
The writer’s ideas about sexuality and existence in a queer body were especially interesting. The parts about not being accepted in either of the places – old home and new home – were heartbreaking but revealing.
The open discussion of mental health as lived experience was also amazing.
I also loved how the author summed up life as a brief yet beautiful endeavour (like the title suggests). It was also interesting to see how he connected the idea of ‘being alive’ as confirmed by ‘being seen’ and yet how sight not only meant one’s existence but danger and vulnerability. To be seen is to be alive but to be seen also means to be in danger of being hurt by those who see you.
And welcome to another, quite random book review. Today, I’m looking at ‘Marilyn and Me’ by Ji-min Lee or Lee Jimin/이지민, as she should really be known, being a South Korean writer.
TW// war, mental illness, suicide.
First, I’d like to discuss the book’s title in its different forms and the implications of these differences. The book’s original Korean title is ‘나와 마릴린’, which would directly translate to ‘I and Marilyn’. (나=I, 와=with/and particle, 마릴린=Ma-ril-lin/Marylin). Not surprisingly, the book’s original title is the most fitting. It rightfully places the yet nameless I – the main character and the narrator of the book-at the beginning of the title, showcasing that she is, indeed, at the centre of the novel; this is HER story.
The UK title of the translated novel flips the two people around and ends up with ‘Marilyn and Me’ (this was the title on the cover of the book I picked up). I’ sure that there are plethora of rules in the English language which would explain, why the name has to come first, before the pronoun or why and object pronoun (me) was chosen instead of the subject one (I). I am not qualified to comment on them but what I do know that, by placing Marilyn first in the title, the cover promises that she will be a much bigger part of the book, while in reality she is a secondary supporting character at best (and not one with the development that would exceed her stereotype). At first, I even thought that she was a fictional addition but that’s not the case. Monroe did actually perform in Korea in the post-war years, showcasing her status as truly a global, if very troubled, icon.
The US publisher titled the book ‘The Starlet and The Spy’, which is an absolutely awful title because it spoils a major reveal in the book. Only in the second half do the spy character(s) are revealed. The change in the title might have occurred because there already was a piece of entertainment titled ‘Marilyn and Me’ – a TV movie (directed by John Patterson) from 1991.
Genre-wise, the book is a bit of a melting pot. It’s part historical drama, about the trauma that a woman experienced in Korea (not yet divided and then divided too) pre, during and post Korean War. It’s also part a romantic drama with a love triangle between people of varied and shifting identities and allegiances. It’s also a spy thriller and adventure novel with some twists, secrets, and reveals. I think the book might be the strongest when doing relationship drama – the feelings expressed in the book feel real and hurt.
As a historical drama novel, detailing the traumas of war, it is really good at presenting a singular view of war and a particularly female one. While it is great at providing the viewer with a subjective and very human experience (which I loved as an anthropologist), i wish it provided more context for those readers that might not be that in the know in terms of Asian and specifically Korean history (and, let’s be honest, looking at the current events, that’s a lot of people).
Trauma as a topic permeates the novel and there is an attempt to explore an individual’s journey of dealing with it. The journey is presented as rocky and uneven, which is very accurate. However, the connections between a few ‘events’ (suicide attempts) should have been elaborated on more, because the chapter ‘A Letter’ which begins with the plans for a second attempt comes at the reader a bit surprisingly.
When it comes to being an adventure thriller type of novel, the book is good, however, its reveals are not always understood due to the narrative being structured around the narrator’s emotions – so past events are presented as she remembers them instead of occurring linearly. This means that the reveals are not always fully truthfully and the story keeps shifting. it keeps the reader on their toes but might also confuse them.
When it comes to being a book about Marilyn, this novel is not that. The character of the mid-20th century icon is used to draw out the parallels between her and the man character. These parallels suggest that female experiences might share something that is underneath both of them, some kind of structure, some-kind of the roots. And yet, i wish the book also looked more at the differences between these two women: while they are superficially pointed out, the racism from both sides goes unsaid. And it’s not necessarily an outwards attack type of racism but rather the internalised aversion and uneasiness towards the unfamiliar.
If you are interested in reading more about Marilyn, I really both ‘The Prince, The Showgirl and Me’ and ‘My Week with Marilyn’ by Colin Clark (there is also a 2011 movie adaptation ‘My Week with Marilyn’, directed by Simon Curtis and starring Michelle Williams as Monroe). If you are interested in more South Korean literature, I really enjoyed both ‘Kim Ji-young, Born 1982’ (by Cho Nam-ju/조남주) and ‘If I Had Your Face’ by Frances Cha for their portrayals of the female experience. Han Kang’s (한강)’Human Acts’ is stellar at conveying the horrors of history. Haven’t had experience with much romantic Korean fiction but I’m sure there are many websites listing great romantic Korean TV dramas.
Thanks for reading! You can find more of my ‘book reviews’ on Instagram: @sharingshelves.
The reason why I picked up this book is none other than Harry Styles: he recommend the book in one of his interviews and that’s how it found its way onto my TBR list. However, the book was not my introduction to Rob Sheffield, its writer. In fact, in 2018, I cited Sheffield’s review of Harry’s concert in my undergraduate dissertation. All these connections might have been destiny’s signal that I will end up loving the book.
‘Love is a Mixtape’ is a memoir that includes both musings about life and music as well as a deeply personal love story. The takes on both music and life include the discussions on female fans power over music, music’s worship as modelled on religion, kindness (another very Styles concept) and grief after a loss.
The love story is heartbreaking and is accompanied by mixtapes. In turn, these mixtapes (or I guess Spotify playlists nowadays) are never just about the music but also all about the stories behind them.
I could deeply relate to the book because like for many other I’m sure, music has been there all my life, even thought i have never been trained in singing or playing an instrument. I was always just a listener but a passionate one. Being in the music fandom as a pre-teen and teen laid the groundworks for the reaserach path I would choose as an emerging academic (fan culture). Music – in the shape of 7 Korean men nowadays – would be my lifeline when times got tough mentally. Crushes – from childhood to now – would get a song associated with/assigned to them. Friendships would be built upon a shared interest in an artist. Important moments in life would be commenorated with concerts, including: bartering with my dad that if I finished the year 10/sophmore year with straight As, he would take me to see Lady Gaga that summer; celebrating the submission of my undergraduate dissertation with a Troye Sivan gig; making the final decision to apply to grad school at a Shawn Mendes gig; or unknowingly celebrating the last moments of normalcy before corona took over at a Halsey gig at the begining of March 2020.
The only tiny minus but not really of the book is that a lot of pop culture and music references in it are very much West or even more exactly America based (thus, somewhat inaccessible to someone who grew up in Eastern Europe) and also products of their time 70s-80s-90s (decades I have only known second hand as a late 90s baby). However, one is always just a Google search away from knowing the references. I personally didn’t felt the need to do that to still enjoy the book.
And we have made it to #17 even though we are behind schedule! Not all is lost yet, I think I will be able to catch up with the original plan throughout this week because I am done with university for 5 weeks (not counting the fact that I have to submit a portfolio about my dissertation after new years). Anyways, at # 17, we have Chief Keef feat. Lil Reese, ‘I Don’t Like’.
I guess I should have predicted that for every 3 songs that I know well or moderately, I would get 1 song that I have absolutely nothing about. And if you read, the lyrics, you will realize why – it is really not for me to get.
And yet, I do appreciate the fact that it was included on the Billboard list. In general, Billboard seemed to have done a good job representing various different communities that consume music. And even I admit that it is a clever idea to sing about stuff you don’t like, subverting the trend. And the beat is catchy too.
I don’t think there is a person alive on this planet that hasn’t heard this song. For at least a year, it seemed to be everywhere. Some called it ‘the catchiest song ever’ and I can definitely see why.
The song was also a great example of the accidental celebrity marketing – the Justin Bieber and friends video – that really took off during this decade. No longer were celebrities needed to be paid millions of dollars to appear in ads. It was enough for celebrities themselves to like something enough to post about and boom, instant awareness is achieved.
A lot of people created their own parodies of the song. And yet, those parodies remained fun and innocent. And by innocent I mean that the Internet didn’t ruin the song with its crude meme-culture. At least not that I’m aware.
While Jepsen and her song seemed to be everywhere at one point, no one really paid attention to her music outside of ‘Call Me Maybe’. The singer then fell off the public’s radar for a few years completely but has now come back with quite a stable and successful pop-career.
To finish off day 5, at #15 we have – Cardi B’s ‘Bodak Yellow’. Another song kinda overshadowed by the social media antics of the artist behind it. And it’s a shame because even for a person that is not particularly into Cardi B’s type of rap, I could see myself bopping to this song in a club or smth (I mean if I ever set my foot in one). It sounds confident and is catchy.
While Cardi B’s explicit and outrageous statements were what brought a lot of people to her, their less than politically correct statements are also what is making her bleed fans. While preaching female empowerment, she also seems to have a lack of solidarity with other women. Her female empowerment also seems to come at the cost of diminishing the opposite gender and I’m really not about that at all.
Not an instant hit upon release but a song with staying power, ‘Havana’ presents a trend already covered at #8 – Latin American influenced music’s impact on the global music scene. It also presents a feature not new and exclusive to the decade but one that gets a lot of people talking online – and that is group members disbanding to follow solo projects. Most famously, One Direction was the group that couldn’t even last the whole decade but we will cover them in a few days time. Cabello is also a former member of a group – Fifth Harmony. If all those youtube compilations are to be believed, Fifth Harmony was never really that harmonious, so their disbandment might not have been that big of a shock. And even though all the members have started their solo careers, Cabello is definitely the most successful one out of them. It may be because she embraced her Latin roots in her music. Or it may be that she is constantly in the news for her baffling relationship with Shawn Mendes.
And welcome to the entry (project info here) I was looking forward to writing the most! At #13, we have BTS’ – ’I Need U’.
2015’s ‘I Need U’ is not one of BTS’ most successful title tracks – there are plenty of others with more awards, sales, and chart records. And yet, even though the song isn’t even one of my personal favourites, I am quite glad that it’s the song to represent BTS on this list. While the K-pop group has come to dominate the global stage towards the end of the decade, their path to this domination was littered with nothing but obstacles. And ‘I Need U’ was the watershed moment when the obstacles began to be surmountable. They didn’t get smaller or weaker – but BTS got bigger and stronger. And I don’t doubt that they will continue to grow.
Turning the groups’ sonic direction to more electronic sound and expressing the confusing emotions of the youth, ‘I Need U’ came out around the time when I first heard of the band. It was their follow-up ‘Dope’ that temporarily caught my attention – and I let it slip away, purposefully. I was already so entrenched in the western pop-culture that I felt like I didn’t have time to look east too or I was surely gonna fail at ‘getting a life’. Well, if 2015 me would have known that 2019 me will be working towards making this into her life, she surely would not have made the same mistake. And by ‘making this into her life’ I mean two things – first, that I have realized that my interests are my life and second, that I’m currently doing a master’s media degree and my primary research (ever since undergrad days in anthropology) is in fan culture.
On a side note, I really thought about turning this post into some-kind of justificatory plea on why I like BTS so much. However, I have also come to realise that I shouldn’t feel the need to justify my interests to anyone. I love them a lot and that is the only reason that counts. I refuse to feel internalised shame about the things that make me feel like life is worth living. And I am not exaggerating by saying that – to be frank, music, and lately specifically BTS’ music, is the thing that drowns out the spiralling thoughts that threaten to engulf me and drag me into the dark and deep pits of doubt, self-hate, and overpowering negativity.
And yet, even though I have come to learn to not justify myself since I like waffling about things I love, let me tell you more specific reasons on why BTS are amazing. And if you don’t understand those reasons – well, I couldn’t care less.
First of all, their music: BTS’ range cannot be contained within the term k-pop, because this nation-specific pop, just like the general term ‘pop’ is completely is useless in describing actual music. BTS’ songs have a massive range, from hip-hop to EDM to slow ballads and so much more beyond and in-between that. Second, BTS’ music tells a story and that story has a deeper meaning that so many fans enjoy looking for and explaining to each other while also following in their personal lives. Some messages – like ‘Love Yourself’ – are not hard to find but are hard to follow. Thus, a constant reminder, which BTS put into everything they do, is welcomed and appreciated.
Not only is their music amazing for its range and message but they fully embody it as phenomenal performers. Their vocals, dance skills, and just general stage presence are unparallel. The team that works with them on their shows – choreographers, stylists, light designers, engineerings that arrange the music and its various remixes – are all also at the top of their game. All of that combined makes BTS’ stages into must-see events. I hope that I can experience such an event with my own eyes and ears soon.
While all the previous reasons, though personal, were somewhat objective, this one is a complete subjective preference: I like BTS as people. I am aware that I don’t know them fully (one can never know anyone, especially a celebrity, fully – also go stream ‘Persona’), I like what I am able to see – what they show their fans in live streams, reality TV programs, fan meetings, social media posts, etc. Some further reasons for liking them emerge from their personas – their work ethic and their friendship. The creativity and the dedication that the members put into their work is not something I have seen before and I have been a hardcore fan of an infinite number of artists throughout my life already. Plus, even though they are currently the biggest thing in the world, they have remained grounded and humble and that, in my mind, is a key feature of a geniuenly good person. Lastly, I love their friendship – I love seeing the familiar bond that the 7 member share and I strive to be a better friend to my friends in their image.
This nicely leads into my short throughts on ARMY – or the fandom with the best name (just don’t ask us what it stands for). While a lot has said about the bad things in the fandom (which are present in every fandom but tend to be blown out of proportion by the media for clicks), not a lot has been said about the positives and how BTS inspires the best in their fans, both in terms of striving for personal goals (like with the idea of loving oneself) as well as public aims (there have been countless official as well as fan-organized campaigns for charity).
Lastly, while BTS has broken a lot of boundaries globally, they have remained truthful to their home of South Korea and I am glad that through them I was able to be introduced to it as well as develop an interest in it. What is currently a small interest that is growing every day ranges from other forms of K-entertainment (dramas and variety shows) to the language, food, and traditions of the country. I do hope I can experience all of it one day too.
To finish off today with #12, we have a song that I have heard numerous times without really realizing and picking up on it – Brandi Carlile’s ‘The Joke’.
Representing those marginalized by society, who struggle with fitting in and being loved for who they are, ‘The Joke’ cuts you deep, both lyrically and vocally. It unapologetically demands empathy for all those who have been refused this basic human emotion and right. Potentially one of the lesser-known (by the mainstream audiences) songs on the list, it, nevertheless, deserves its spot. Especially since its a round-up list of the decade that saw societal marginalization being tackled head-on and to new lengths. The work is yet to be done, through and may ‘The Joke’ continue to inspire change.
And welcome to entry #11 (make a wish, hah). If #10 was one of my favourite songs, then #11 is completely new territory for me. And there is a very good reason for that (I am very very white). It was fun to read the story of this song though – Bobby Shmurda, ‘Hot N—a’.
I’m sure you can find better explanations of the story behind this song but it can be shortly summarized as New York + indie production (a rap over someone else’s freestyle) + Vine (R.I.P.) + prison instead of a music career. Few things of note here (in addition to the surprise ending) – during the 2010s, independent music began having the ability to way more people than it ever had before. And that was due to the Internet and its platforms like Vine, where music can be reproduced into a meme or a trend and reach unpredicted and immeasurable audiences.