29 March 2010

Chris, a former student and my chaperone extraordinaire in Boston, tells me that “Beantown” is a non-locals term, sort of like “The Big Apple.”  So I guess we can retire that word before even getting cozy with it.

Some wonderful photos that Chris took during our day about town.  The first series is from Grub Street, where I taught a quick brown-bag lunch seminar to a wonderful group of writers (and had a chance to meet Chris, Sonya, and Chip, Grub’s huber-staff);  the second series is from a reading at Brookline Booksmith.  How ’bout that gorgeous book-lined wall as the perfect backdrop for a reading.

Thanks to Grub and to Katie at the Booksmith, warm and intelligent hosts all.  And thanks to old friends whom I hadn’t seen in a very long time, along with a student (from an online class) I’d never met (and, of course, Janey, my faithful reading attender, who came all the way from NYC), for coming out to the reading!  Was also privileged to meet the ladies of the New England Mobile Bookfair, (which is neither mobile, nor a “fair” really, but a Boston book-buyers must), and bookseller (and DFW enthusiast) Ben at yet another indispensable independent bookstore, Newtonville Books.

Perhaps the most unexpectedly fun part of the trip was meeting fellow travelers at the Coolidge Corner B&B.  First there was the handsome young German couple, who were traveling on holiday through New York, Boston, Vermont, and on up to Montreal and Toronto, with smiley 6-month-old baby girl in tow.  I applauded them for their intrepid parenting; their adventurousness even brought them to my Booksmith reading! Husband Tovi (sp?), who is in the music business, had traveled throughout the U.S. last year as part of a massive KISS concert tour.  Yes, folks, that’s right, KISS is still touring, doing the same show they’ve been doing for 25 years-plus, and the shows are all sold out!

Also joining us for bagels and coffee was a lovely gentleman named Al Silverman, who, as we got to talking, it turned out is writing a book about MFA creative writing programs (doing research at Boston University).  He gave me his business card, and a quick google reveals that Mr. Silverman was for many years a sports writer; then the President/CEO of the Book-of-the-Month Club; then served as President/Editor-in-Chief of the Viking Press, where he edited Saul Bellow, William Kennedy, and TC Boyle; and recently wrote a book (that I am very interested to read) about the “golden age” of book publishing, called The Time of Their Lives.  This, friends, is why I like staying at B&Bs.

26 March 2010

“…lyrical and insightful debut novel… Chung carefully describes the longing and loss felt by each of the characters she has flawlessly created.”

-The Boston Globe


“…Chung reveals just enough information to intrigue, as though she knows the precise moment to take away her pen and move on… is equally adept at evoking the environments her characters enter…. excels in the specificity with which [the character] Jane talks about art… If you enjoyed Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake… you will also appreciate the sophisticated and nuanced examination of the lives of the Han family in Long for This World.”

-Audrey Magazine


“Complex, many layered, and sensitive writing makes reading this small novel a delight. And delving into the characters’ family relationships will make readers examine their own.”


24 March 2010

Does everyone know that Boston = Beantown?  News to me (who sometimes has been accused of living under a rock).

Anyhoo, here I am — soon to get back on el Megabus and head back to NYC.  Thanks, Boston/Brookline — I hardly knew ye.  A more detailed report on the visit, with pics, forthcoming.

In the meantime, I’m late in linking to my recent post at The Millions — a consideration of the film UP IN THE AIR.  Warning: spoiler alert, and expletive alert.  If that doesn’t scare you off, check it out.

21 March 2010

First of all — happy spring to all.  It’s about time, no?

From friend Chris, news (w/pics) that the audio book of Long for This World is now officially available — narrated by Hillary Huber (from Tantor).  I’ve not heard it yet, but Chris is singing Ms. Huber’s (an Audie award-winner, I believe) praises.  If you give it a listen, let me know what you think.

19 March 2010

And now for something completely different…

It’s always more fun to talk about Pax the pup than about book promotions (though thanks to lit blogger extraordinaire Marshal Zeringue for finding a way to combine the two).  At Coffee and a Canine, a little shout-out to my best bud.

17 March 2010

MORE Magazine featured Long for This World as a “Books We’re Buzzing About.”  Check it out.  I admit it’s nice to have one’s book associated with the word “buzz.”

At Open Letters Monthly/Like Fire, a lovely, crisply-written, and astute review of Long for This World.   It’s wonderful when you feel a reviewer (Lisa Peet) really “got” your book and is even able to articulate (better than you yourself) the subterranean emotions and themes that you care about most.  Here’s the intro to the review:

When a novel, particularly a debut novel, is referred to as “ambitious,” there’s usually an implicit “but” present. In Long for This World, Sonya Chung takes on the dynamics of family—what draws it together and what pulls it apart—through the eyes of a number of players, male and female, old and young, Korean and Korean-American. Both her subject matter and her approach are ambitious, to say the least. The only “but” in my reaction, however, is but she pulls it off—and admirably.

14 March 2010

I knew I was a lucky duck to have my author photograph taken by Robin Holland, but I’ve just been struck by just how lucky.

Check out Robin’s new Web site.  Her portraits of well-known authors, artists, musicians, cultural thinkers, filmmakers, actors — over a period of some (I think) two decades — are just stunning.  I’d mention a few “highlights” here, but honestly, every single photograph is amazing.  Peruse the portfolio, and wonder why that other fella with no last name is doing all the portrait photography at the New Yorker.

12 March 2010

First, some photos from “the road” — McNally Jackson reading on Wednesday (thanks Jane and Tommy for pics):

Thanks to all who came out, and thanks again to Angela and Dustin for inviting me / making it happen.  With any luck, we’ll have an mp3, and I can do some post-game analysis.

I’m processing all of this “being out there” — which really isn’t all that much exposure, just relatively so, for a homebody like me — but it’s all a little out-of-body, which is not how you want it to be, i.e. you want to be as present in the moment as you can.  I’m learning that the little things can make a difference, e.g. I’ve started making sure that there will be a mic, because something about having to raise my voice makes the experience feel very un-me.  I’ve also noticed that lighting matters — the dimmer the better, the easier for your audience to focus on the words and the story coming forth from your mouth into the space.

It’s a strange waiting period we’re in right now.  Hoping for some reviews, a national publication would be super.  We got bumped last Sunday from PARADE — a last minute switcheroo to Chang-rae Lee’s The Surrendered.  What can I say.  A deserving author and, from what I hear, a very deserving book.  Still, one feels the injustice (who knows, really; but the thought crosses my mind) of “only one Korean American author at a time,” even if the novels are as different as any other two novels might be.

It’s also, weirdly, a kind of shock to realize that people are actually reading the book.  “Your book arrived, am reading now!” many have written.  Uy.  Really?  Forgot about that part.   The most gratifying reactions have been from those I know to be highly critical readers, who approach reading as a deep, and sometimes difficult, pleasure. Long for This World is not, it would seem, an “easy read”: shifting points of view, lots of characters (with Korean names) to remember, multiple story-lines which diverge and reconverge at different points in the book.  But I’m happy to hear from readers who are not dismayed, but rather compelled, to journey with the characters to the other side, to convergence and resonance.

Rambling here… but thanks for reading, both here and LFTW.  Am working now on a longish short story that is coming along; it feels good to take a serious ax to a first draft and really work at making it deeper and more whole.  Note to self: do not write short stories on deadline anymore.  The process is so much like writing a novel for me, it needs time and space and air.

9 March 2010

I really appreciate this review from John Lehman at the Rosebud Review — for its thoughtfulness, and because the reviewer is both male and a poet.

Let me be upfront with you, this is a beautifully written story that takes concentration. It is layered both in subject matter and in emotion. It’s one where you dog-ear the “Main List of Characters” at the beginning of the book and return to it often. Sections of chapters not only change setting, but sometimes countries and time periods. At first I found this complexity a fault, wished the author had spared me her pointillist approach, but then about half-way through the parallel lines start to intersect and like a masterful poem it is not longer someone else’s story, it is our own.

As a Westerner (who has been to Korea) there is a tendency to think of the East in a feng shui kind of way. As Sonya Chung says of Han Jung-joo… “One must focus on the tiny actions that make up the events of one’s life… If one tends to the small things, the larger things fall beautifully into place; order is created and maintained.” Except that it doesn’t happen like that, at least in the way we expect it will. Another surprise is that the author does an equally good job with understanding the males of the story as with the females, the young and the old (though the interchange between the American, Ah-jin, and the daughter of her mentor concerning  mothers and daughters occasioned by a photograph of a young Kenyan girl who’d undergone female genital mutilation is exquisite). Such dynamics are the heart and soul of this book which isn’t afraid to ask questions like, what is home, family, love, and gives us the courage to ask them of our own experiences.

And the conclusion we draw, probably not much different than Ah-jin during another interchange, this time with her brother who is an alcoholic drop-out, “Most of life is pretty damn boring, you know. The music doesn’t always crescendo when bad things happen. Shit goes down. People survive.”  But there is the sharing of it together that makes a difference.  As the female photographer does with her relatives, as this author does with us.

- John Lehman

6 March 2010

I love this little write-up that the folks at McNally Jackson have at their Web site, and at Bookforum — it’s a real person talking, as opposed to announcement-speak:

Sonya is a debut novelist, one I’ve been eager to get into our store for a while now. Her Long for This World is a powerful, political, story of a Korean-American family in turmoil. It’s the story of a return to the peninsula, and the struggle to place oneself. Reviewers are calling it graceful, assured and intricate, but you’ll forgive me for calling it, simply, good.

Fantastic bookstore, come for both the reading and the venue.  A couple of months ago, I brought a fiction class to the store so we could look at literary journals/possible places to submit work, and talk a bit about publishing and bookselling — a book biz field trip.  Friendly, passionate Dustin spent a half hour with us talking about bookselling, marketing, why an online retailer is simply no substitute for a neighborhood bookstore, and how independent bookstores support authors — in a human-to-human way — as Amazon never can.  (It was also enlightening for all of us to learn that the displays in chain bookstores are purchased by publishers — this is called “co-op” — whereas the displays in independent bookstores are, by and large, curated lovingly by the staff.  Same with the books which are positioned “face-out” on the shelves.)

Come out for the reading if you’re in town!  We’re in the groove now, the Q&As are getting meaty and memorable…

McNally Jackson Books
Wednesday, March 10 @ 7pm
52 Prince Street, between Lafayette and Mulberry

*Fun update — a photo (thanks, Tommy!) of the window display.  Sharing window space with my grad school mentor David Shields, who I interviewed at The Millions just a couple weeks ago!

5 March 2010

I knew The Corner Bookstore was a special place, but WOW.  Last night, Lenny and Ray, 32-year owners of TCB, and store manager Nick Chase, hosted the most memorable, beautiful, perfect launch reading for LONG FOR THIS WORLD I could have imagined.

Some people question whether author readings “matter” anymore.  An experience like last night’s reminds me what an absurd question that is.  The skepticism about author readings is rooted in the notion that books are consumer commodities primarily.  Visit The Corner Bookstore (Madison Ave at 93rd St) to understand why that notion is hogwash.

Coming together (in person) around literature and creative process is magic, my friends.  It really is.

And check out these photos of the stunning window display they created just for last night.  Did I say WOW?  (Thanks to Sweta for the photos)

2 March 2010

Today’s the day!  Long for This World is now available in stores and online.  Thanks to all of you for coming along on this journey with me over the past 13 months.

And never fear… I’ll continue blogging here through the book tour.

Many, many thanks to the talented and wonderful Connie Chung, for creating this book trailer.   (If you enjoy it, please tell her so!)

Music by the amazing and mesmerizing Joyce Kwon.


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