All posts by LARB Blog

Looking Back at LA Arirang, the 1990s Korean Sitcom about Life in Los Angeles

By Colin Marshall

Not long after I started studying Korean, I signed up for a Japanese class, Japanese being the closest language I could find classes for in Santa Barbara at that time, in hopes of meeting a Korean international student with whom to practice the one I really wanted to learn. I soon did, and he invited me to a meal at his favorite Korean restaurant in town (or rather, one of Santa Barbara’s few Chinese restaurants, but one that happened to serve Korean dishes on the side). It turned out he had something more on his mind than introducing me to the food of his homeland. “I have a question to ask you,” he said after ordering, and nothing I could have considered in that moment would have prepared me for what came out next: “What is the American dream?” Continue reading

Leave Rupi Alone

By Zoë Hu

To talk about Rupi Kaur is to talk about numbers. Known for her unorthodox rise through social media, Kaur combines the intimacies of personal confession with the scrolling feeds of spectacle, yet her dominance on the literary scene is of the decidedly quantitative kind. There is the much-cited 1.7 million followers on Instagram. Add a million to that and you get, roughly, the total copies Kaur has sold of her debut, Milk and Honey. The collection has been translated into 25 languages, which is coincidentally Kaur’s age; whatever threat the “instapoet” poses to the literary establishment, it’s a threat with room to grow. Continue reading

This Isn’t a Problem that Can Be Blamed on Somebody Else: Talking to James Forman, Jr.

By Andy Fitch 

This conversation, conducted this summer, and transcribed by Phoebe Kaufman, focuses on James Forman, Jr.’s Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. After graduating from Yale Law School and clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Forman joined the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C., representing juveniles and adults in felony and misdemeanor cases. Forman loved his work as a public defender, but quickly became frustrated with the lack of education and job-training opportunities for his clients. In 1997, along with David Domenici, Forman started the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, for students who had dropped out of preceding schools and/or been arrested. Since 2011, Forman has taught at Yale Law School, offering, for instance, a seminar titled “Inside-Out Prison Exchange: Issues in Criminal Justice,” which brought together, in the same classroom, 10 Yale Law students and 10 men incarcerated in a Connecticut prison. Locking Up Our Own, Forman’s first book, has been longlisted for the National Book Award and the American Librarian Association’s Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence, and shortlisted for the Stephen Russo Book Prize for Social Justice. You can connect with Forman via Twitter (@JFormanJr) and through his website, which includes a list of upcoming speaking events. Continue reading

Jane Austen, Mirror Neurons, and Bonobos

By Wendy Jones

Jane Austen has recently replaced Darwin on the 10-pound note in England, largely because of the uproar over the scarcity of women represented on currency. It is fitting that the argument about what is known as “cultural capital,” the extent to which people, things, and ideas are valued within a society, should revolve around portraits that appear on money. The exclusion of women from currency sends the message that they are not treasured in the treasury, or elsewhere in English society. And the triumph of activism that got Austen her place tells of the continual fight for recognition of women’s contributions. But Darwin’s replacement also tells a different story about value, or more accurately values. Darwin and Austen each tell a distinctive story about what we think is noteworthy about being human. Continue reading

Confucius is Dead

By Fae Myenne Ng

Walking through Sproul Plaza in the summer is like traversing Tiananmen Square diagonally — less square footage, but packed with students from the PRC (People’s Republic of China). The men lurch and lunge, two variant strides of the golden son. The women saunter, elbows cozily linked like fawn heading toward Strawberry Creek for a dip.

The University of California, Berkeley makes a mint off international enrollments: $520 per credit, $380 in registration fees, another $300 for international processing, and $55 for document fees. Their coffers balloon; my paycheck shrinks. The tuition of three foreign students equals my salary. Continue reading

The Monster in my Garage

By Jillian Lauren

A few weeks ago, on an ordinary Wednesday night, I finished drying the dinner dishes in the husband-out-of-town-kids-in-bed blissful quiet, and poured myself a glass of pinot grigio. As I leaned back against a counter and took a sip, for no discernable reason I thought of Nick — an unexpected emotional freight train barreling down a long-deserted track.

I crawled into my bed, fully clothed, next to my sleeping boys, ages five and nine, and pulled my laptop off the nightstand. Closing my eyes for a moment, I listened to the comforting, sweet sound of the their breath. Even on their best days, my boys are an extreme iteration of what my mother’s generation would have called wild. What the parenting books call challenging, or high needs. What the school district calls special needs. What I call, simply, my family. What my friends seem to often call “boys.” As in, boys will be boys. Continue reading

Inside: What Zadie Smith, Roland Barthes, and Vladimir Nabokov Tell Us About Video Games

By Rennie McDougall

Inside, a video game from 2016 by Arnt Jensen and Playdead studios, is entirely free of speech or text. The player controls a young boy, dressed in a red t-shirt, as he runs one long dash from the left side of the screen to the right. A dreary proposition for a story, you might think. A story suggests telling. The earliest movies, however, told their stories through gesture and sound, light and shadow. So do classical story ballets, and certain symphonies. Sometimes a story is less told, more conveyed. Continue reading

Under the Umbrella

By Joe Milan Jr.

In 2007, I started my job as an English teacher in South Korea and spent my nights climbing the steep stairs to foreigner bars where teachers and US army soldiers drank and wrote their names in chalk on black painted walls. When you asked a soldier about a new Korean war, they’d snort. Then they’d see that you were new and straighten up on the stool or hold their pool cue beside them like a pitchfork and tell you that Seoul and its suburbs would be pummeled within hours. Not by a blooming mushroom cloud, but by artillery shells diving down from the sky like swarming locusts. These shells could also carry chemical and biological agents from one of the largest caches in the world. Fortified and shielded within the granite mountains on their side of the DMZ, thousands of North Korean artillery pieces would create an artillery “umbrella” that could hurl destruction nearly a hundred miles deep into South Korea, including most of the 25 million people living in and around Seoul. The umbrella would extend to the entirety of Korea and much of Japan when you include North Korea’s various kinds of ballistic missiles. Expert estimates of how many would die in the opening hours of war vary anywhere from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands. What is certain is a multitude would die well before smart bombs, missiles, or counter artillery could grace social media with blasting patriotic light on the granite hills. Even then it could take weeks to gut the artillery. Continue reading