Books

Top 10 Korean fiction

Welcome to LKL’s books and literature section. You can find all our book related articles – news, reviews, and listings of events relating to literature – here. As is always the case, most recent articles are listed first.

If you’re new to Korean literature in translation, check out our recommended reading list. Or you can browse our list of reviews of fiction and non-fiction books.

Our new K-Lit Hub, a database of Korean Literature in Translation, can be found here. Feeding off that database, you can find pages with lists of the following:

You might be interested in our coverage of the 2014 London Book Fair, at which Korea was the guest of honour. Ten Korean authors were flown over to London for the duration. You can find LKL’s reviews and coverage of these and other authors (and their translators) by clicking on the links in our Writers directory which can be found here.

Where to browse for books in London

The best way in to books on Korea is to browse through a well-curated selection in a good bookshop. UK readers are slightly at a disadvantage because many English-language books on Korea tend to be published in the US and are not normally available without a special order.

Browsing: London bookshops with books on Korea…

Daunt Books in Marylebone High Street. My favourite bookshop in the whole world. It only has about 2-3 feet of shelfspace devoted to Korea (downstairs, turn right, bottom shelf but one), but as ever with Daunt the books are well-selected and aimed at a general reader: a mixture of history, literature, travel and food. Particularly valuable is the way that Daunt are able to identify novels by Western authors with a Korean angle. Daunt is how I discovered most of the books in my Literature in English category. I constantly revisit this shelf for any new nuggets — sometimes they have a one-off surprise of an overseas publication of a Korean novel translated into English — but I’m increasingly finding I’ve more or less exhausted their supplies.

SOAS bookshop, in the foyer of the Brunei gallery. The Korean books used to be mixed up in the much larger Japanese section, but sometime during the early summer of 2006 Korea got given its own dedicated shelf space. As is to be expected, this is a more specialist collection than Daunt, with books which Amazon seems to struggle to obtain – but also some strange omissions. There’s about 18 inches of Korean shelf-space: disappointingly little. You don’t need to be a student there to shop there.

Foyles in Charing Cross Road has a reasonable section, focusing on the more academic / historical end of the market. No Korean-related literature, though when I visited they did have a volume of Korean poems in translation. About 3-4 feet of shelf space on the 3rd Floor, in between the Chinese and Japanese sections.

Arthur Probsthain, who also run the SOAS bookshop, is based at 41 Great Russell Street. Its main collection is new books, focused on the academic, but there’s also a decent selection of second-hand books. There’s 2-3 ft of shelf space devoted to Korea. A great place for browsing books on the orient.

Fine Books Oriental is at 38 Museum Street and specialises in second hand books. Very well worth a browse. You never know what out-of-print books you might come across. About 3-4 ft of Korean shelfspace, and if you ask the man behind the counter there may be one or two other books hidden elsewhere.

Grant & Cutler, a foreign language specialist, is at 55-57 Great Marlborough Street. Go there if you want dictionaries, phrasebooks and CD language tuition. There’s also one or two children’s books in Korean.

Book Village in New Malden has a range of Korean books for sale or rental.

The British Museum shop has a small collection of books on Korean art & archaeology, including Jane Portal’s books. They also sometimes have journals published by the British Association for Korean Studies.

Browsing: In New York…

Koryo Books, 35 W32nd St (between 5th and 6th Aves), has a large collection of books in Korean. Its books in English focus on culture and language — with limited stock of history or fiction. From recollection, about twelve feet of shelf space of books in English.

Kinokuniya is also a good source, on Avenue of the Americas between 40th and 41st.

Browsing: Online

Type “Korea” into the Amazon.co.uk search facility and you get nearly 5,000 results; and twice as many if you search the US site. There’s an unhealthy obsession with North Korea and the Korean War, but you’ll find something you want eventually. Buying things from Amazon or putting things on your wishlist will generate recommendations to follow up on.

The most useful resource I’ve come across online is Seoul Selection which has a big selection of books, DVDs and other stuff. It also publishes a magazine for foreigners living in Seoul. It’s based in Seoul, which means postage to the UK doesn’t come cheap, but it deserves your support.

Hollym is a publisher which specialises in books on Korea, and their website is worth a browse; M.E. Sharpe also have a reasonable number of books on Korea; the Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch, has an interesting selection of publications, including the classic Rutt edition of James Scarth Gale and his History of the Korean People. Homa & Sekey, based in New Jersey, has some translations of Korean literature. Finally Ashgate Publishing publishes academic books on Korea, and Global Oriental also has some, including Keith Howard’s collection on popular music.

I keep saying “finally”, but this reflects the lazy way I update this page when I come across new sources… but finally Saffron Books have a brave and welcome selection of academic and factual books translated into English from the original Korean.

For language books, UK-based Bay Foreign Language Books has a wide selection (filter on “Korea”). They ship worldwide, and postage is free to the UK.

Books on Korea is a useful collection of factual books on Korea. It should not however be used as a sole source of factual books (it has some startling omissions); and of course factual books are not the only way of exploring Korean culture. All bread and no jam.

Korea was guest of honour at the 2005 Frankfurt Book Fair. As part of that event, a catalogue was produced of Korean literature and books on Korea in western languages. Might be worth a look if you’re interested in a particular topic.

For books particularly on the DPRK, try North Korea Books, as a source for over 300 English language books published by the North Koreans themselves.

Finally (again), Brother Anthony has a very useful page of Korean literature in translation.

Where to buy

Apart from the resources above, don’t forget your local bookshop: provided you know what you want, you don’t have to order stuff from the big internet stores. A good local bookshop can usually get things to you quicker, you have a better picture of when the hard-to-order things are going to arrive, and you’re not stuffing your waste paper baskets with unwanted packaging. You might end up paying a little more for the easy to obtain items, but you’re helping preserve your high street and the environment. I guess the downside is that the guy in the shop will think you’re a nutcase for ordering all these weird books.

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