It is now half past five, and I have been up since four in the morning, unable to rest; insomnia is the latest affliction to strike me among the slew of flus, coughs, headaches, chills, endlessly runny noses, gastroesophageal disorders, sore throats, aching eyes, exhaustions, and frustrations which I have been experiencing for the last five weeks, having gone from perfect health to perfect healthlessness. Several doctors have concluded that I am probably possessed.
Although almost everything else has cleared up, thanks to some hospital visits and a change in diet, I have still been unable to sleep for more than six hours for the last week—with the exception of one single joyous night of great length and the darkest, deepest splendor, which was the one that swept most of my illnesses away.
I’m writing a book about Korea, a sort of fantastic travel memoir. I wanted to write it in the month of November, for NaNoWriMo, but these divers illnesses prevented me from writing more than (on average) three pages a day, so it will probably be at least two more months before I can complete the first draft. The book was already written in my soul ages ago, so writing the thing is a simple matter of, like, sitting down and focusing for a few hours each day—mere transcription. But I am still beset with difficulties.
One is an attempt to make the book far better than this blog, and not to write a simple rehash. I’ve reached a new point in my life where each post I write here gets me at least fifty views, five times the average of every other year since high school, so I suppose I must be doing something right (although because this post is not really funny and not about the baby, I don’t expect it to be as popular as the others)…still, why would someone shell out a few dollars for an ebook when they can just read the blog?
Then there is the name. Anything with Korea in it is poison. No one will touch it. I actually got the idea to write this book when I browsed through a few pages of another “expat novel” called The Dog Farm (although it really should just be called Dog Soup or Dogs Are Very Delicious with this picture as its cover) and instantly realized that I could do far better and that there was no excuse for working for two years on an endless embarrassing science fiction epic that no one will ever touch when I could pump out a Korean potboiler and possibly sell a few hundred copies in a matter of months.
Anyway, as I was saying, what is the punchline of a joke that can use any word except Korea? The fact that no one in the English-speaking world will buy a book with the word Korea on its cover. Really. You’re shaking your head. You’re saying that’s not true. Come on. When have you ever even stopped to glance at a book about Korea? That’s right, never—and for good reason, too, because the only good books I know of are about North, and not South, Korea. (They are The Cleanest Race and The Aquariums of Pyongyang, both of which are impossible to put down).
Then this morning as I was rolling back and forth through my insomnia I recalled a sentence I had written in the new book, something about the ways of the world, and I thought, god damn, that’s it! The Way of The World! But a search on Amazon revealed another travel book by Nicolas Bouvier with the same title, translated from the French, and (re)reviewed in the New York Times several years ago, when I first heard of it. Perhaps it is not so famous in America, but it is called a classic.
Taking this into account, I want to ask the last three or four people who have read this far: do you think I should still name the book The Way of the World? Or maybe just throw in an S? The Ways of the World? Or should I find a new name? I Went To Korea For Two Years And All I Got Was This Lousy Kimchi. Ironic Seoul-Related Pun. This Sucks: A Subtitle That Does Not Explain The Title That Got Your Attention.
The other challenges pale in comparison. Be outrageous, and controversial, but don’t criticize the country too much, because sheer hatred is an obvious sign of inner rather than outer problems, and obsessive criticism is arbitrary, hypocritical, and even cowardly. Amusingly enough, when my parents came to Korea they expected a far darker, duller place than the one they found, because the only exposure they really got of this country came through my manic-depressive blog, as well as our skype conversations, which ran in a similar vein.
Don’t turn the book into a mediocre encyclopedia. Hold back on extensive opinions, avoid digressions—in effect, write with your right hand, and not your left. Stick to action, excitement, fun, character, story, laughter, beauty, ugliness, because everything else will hurt the book.
Still, the first hundred pages cover my first six months in this country, and that was a very sad and dark time indeed. I wonder if anyone has the patience to slog through it.