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Hagwon Horror Stories: Kevin M. Maher’s English-Teaching Expat Novel “No Couches in Korea”

By Colin Marshall

Korea has inspired several volumes of English-language travel writing, even narratives of extended sojourn in or repeat visits to the country over long periods of time, but a full-fledged, high-profile memoir or novel of the expatriate-in-Korea experience has yet to materialize. Kevin M. Maher’s No Couches in Korea, which recounts the experiences of a young man who leaves his native America, his girlfriend, and their cat behind to teach English in the coastal city of Busan, falls somewhere between memoir and novel. Though formally neither here nor there, it nevertheless opens a window onto the sort of lives lived within a quasi-professional subculture that, for better or worse, has colored and continues to color the expat community in Korea to a deeper extent than most anywhere else in Asia. Continue reading

Victor Bjorkund, Classroom

Teaching in a Time of Trump

By Robert Zaretsky

“Should this book one day be published…” So began a dedication that, seventy-five years ago in Nazi-occupied France, the renowned French historian Marc Bloch inscribed in a small book he was then writing. As it turned out, the book — The Historian’s Craft — was published, but posthumously, and unfinished. Shortly after he wrote the dedication, Bloch joined the resistance. Captured in 1944, he was tortured and executed by the Nazis scarcely a week after the Allies landed at Normandy. Continue reading


What the Diaspora Can Know: Reconsidering Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing

By Nick Admussen

Imagine the world from the perspective of people who speak Chinese: a Sinosphere, centered by the huge population of the People’s Republic of China but spanning across the globe from Taiwan to Singapore, Vancouver to Los Angeles, Panang to Perth. Now imagine the Anglosphere, a similar map of people who speak English. Increasingly, as English is taught in Chinese countries and Chinese immigrants spread far and wide, these maps are melting into one another. Chinese intellectual life is full of translations, imitations, and excoriations of Anglophone books and ideas, and yet somehow English-language intellectual life lags behind, still scratching at the surface of Chinese experience. Continue reading

Photo by Vincent Lammin

Char Miller Unearths the Past in Not So Golden State

By Sean McCoy

He who hopes for spring with upturned eye never sees so small a thing as Draba. He who despairs of spring with downcast eye steps on it, unknowing. He who searches for spring with his knees in the mud finds it, in abundance.
Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac

On October 6th, at Hennessey + Ingalls bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles, a group of curious Angelenos arranged plastic folding chairs into a circle and sat beneath an array of art and architecture books. We had come to hear Char Miller, an environmental historian and professor at Pomona College, discuss his new book, Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. The California Dream. Wiry and bespectacled, with white hair crowning his tanned face, Miller spoke synoptically and read excerpts before ceding the floor to his audience for questions. Not So Golden State, Miller explained, surveys the history of environmental issues plaguing California and the West, with specific attention given to the Los Angeles area. Told through a series of essays — what Miller prefers to call “stories” — the book delves into the tensions that arise when humans choose to “make these disparate landscapes our home.”

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Trigger Warnings: Not Punching Down

By Annie Julia Wyman

In 2013, I taught my first university course: it was to be just me, then a fourth-year graduate student, and five college juniors in the Harvard English honors program. Some weeks before, a student who’d been assigned to my tutorial approached me at a department reception. “I’m so excited for the class,” she said, “I love comedy.” She told me she was a comedian and an actor. We talked about what we were going to read and watch — Chaplin, Joyce, Nabokov, Rogen, Rock, Glazer and Jacobson, and Kondabolu were all on various drafts of my relatively improvisatory syllabus — and how we were both thrilled to have the chance to combine theory and practice. We’d be reading about laughter and trying to make each other laugh. “It’ll be awkward,” I said, “but eh!”

Surprisingly — to me, at least — my half-joke didn’t hit. Taylor looked at her feet, and then she looked at me. “I wanted to tell you something, which is actually why I came over,” she said. “I can’t laugh.” Continue reading


Inside the Rhode Island School of Design’s New York Fashion Week Show

Article and photos by Edith Young

Phelan, Mansur Gavriel, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Nicole Miller, Eckhaus Latta: Glancing at the New York Fashion Week calendar, it’s not immediately apparent that so many designers on the roster spent years toiling away in studios at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) before launching their eponymous labels. One might speculate that there will be more famous names in fashion to emerge from RISD; its history speaks for itself. On the second to last day of this season’s New York Fashion Week, ten newly-minted RISD apparel graduates presented the school’s first ever Fashion Week show. They convened backstage at Skylight Clarkson, one of the premiere event spaces for shows like Vera Wang, Cynthia Rowley, Hood by Air, and Band of Outsiders. Helping models shimmy into garments, strap into Tevas, and lace up cleats, the recent alums prepared to reveal a year’s worth of work to a new audience. While the designers had already debuted their Apparel Design theses in May on a makeshift runway in RISD’s Fleet Library, September 14th’s New York presentation felt like a coming out ball.

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Photo by Matúš Benian

Berlin Scenes

By Alex Cocotas

Berlin is a waiting room. Last week we went to a dinner party. There were Syrians, Israelis, Somalis, Germans, a Croat, a Greek, and, myself, an American. At times it was a Danse Macabre of sorts. Syrians and Israelis commiserated about overcoming preconceptions. A Somali interjected that five years of war was nothing — see what fifteen years of war does to your reputation. Two Somalis argued about the security situation of their country. One insisted it was getting better; there is a boom in the Mogadishu real estate market. The other said she was just there. She spent three nights sleeping under her bed, the sound of gunshots ringing out in the distance. There’s a government now, he countered. Who elected them? She retorted. Are there hospitals, public schools? The Greek exclaimed: That’s the key! Continue reading


Working the Spaces Between: an Interview with Korea Lit founder Hannah E. Carson

By Charles Montgomery

In the last dozen years or so, Korea has made a concerted effort to increase its cultural presence in the “foreign” world. Noting the successes of the “Korean Wave” (also known as hallyu) and hip-hop dance teams, the Korean government has begun to see that what is Korean can also be international, and that Korean soft power can spread around the globe. But this process has been fitful, the country’s governmental agencies sometimes being their own worst enemies. (A blog post about that topic might get my next entry into Korea denied.) Continue reading

Caravaggio: Narcissus, 1594

A Book of the Bible Even an Atheist Can Love: Secular Inspiration in Ecclesiastes

By Jeffrey Tayler

“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity,” announces Ecclesiastes, a book of the Old Testament that I, an atheist with an ardent distaste for religion, find consoling, calming, and wise. As the years pass and cares mount, as pleasures fade with repetition, and as the senescence and deaths of family members bear down relentlessly, I find myself turning to Ecclesiastes for comfort, inspiration, and, despite its melancholy tidings, cheer. Continue reading