Korean reading challenge

Last year, I participated in a reading challenge on Twitter and read one novel in Korean per month! This year, however, I had no plans for Korean at all, and half of the year went by with almost nothing done to improve my reading level… So at the end of June, I decided to start a short stories reading challenge in Korean 🎉! The idea was to read one short story per week, but later on, I upgraded it to two short stories in Korean per week.

I’ve always had trouble finding good genre fiction (particularly mystery fiction) in Korean bookstores. While translations from English and Japanese are very popular, it was more difficult to find Korean authors of detective novels and mystery novels in general. Recently, though, I feel like there are more and more publications of Korean genre fiction, and so I bought a few too many books these last months 😅.

Picture of 12 books in Korean standing and aligned so that the edge faces the camera.

These books are all collections of short stories by different authors (except for one book). Since June, I’ve been choosing one story (and then two stories) from these collections to complete my challenge. It’s really cool to have several books to choose from each week, a bit like having a mini bookshop at home! I’ve loved almost all the short stories I have read so far, so I thought I’ll talk a little more about each of these collections.

I have three books from Bookocean publisher. They have an extensive catalogue in the genre fiction category.

Cover of 위층집. Cover illustration: a drawing of an apartment complex with a building on the left, a car parked on the right and trees in the background.
Cover of 고문관. Cover illustration: drawing of a man wearing a gas mask and a hood. There is a weapon on his back.
Cover of 혼숨. Cover illustration: drawing of a woman covering her face with her hands. Coming from the edges of the book, several hands are reaching towards her.

These three books are all collections of short stories centred around a theme:

위층집 (박성신, 윤자영, 양수련, 김재희) is a collection of mystery/horror stories about noisy neighbours. It’s the only book that I have finished, and it was excellent. The topic of noisy neighbours for murder or scary stories is actually perfect.

고문관 (윤자영, 박해로, 문화류씨, 정명섭) is centred around the military service. I have only read one story and found it very difficult to read in Korean, so I put this book aside.

혼숨 (전건우, 홍정기, 양수련, 조동신) . I still haven’t started this one, but it looks like the leading thread of this collection is childhood.

Another thing worth noting with books from Bookocean is that several short stories have an audiobook version on Welaaa (https://www.welaaa.com). To me this is really great as I can read and listen at the same time. Having the audio really helps the comprehension as the tone of the voice actors gives a lot of indications about what is going on. I actually saw these short stories on the Welaaa catalogue first and looked for the books afterwards.

Next are two books from the K-mystery (케이미스터리) collection from Mongsil Books publisher (몽실북스).

Cover of 깨진 유리창. Cover illustration: drawing of a building that looks like a school building.
Cover of 프리랜서에게 자비는 없다. Cover illustration: A man is working on a computer in a dark room. There are silhouettes of persons holding weapons standing in the open door of his room.

The books I chose are collections of short stories by different authors around one common theme:

깨진 유리창 (강지영, 윤자영, 정명섭, 정해연, 조동신, 최동완). I only read one short story from this collection, but I believe that they will all be related to school.

프리랜서에게 자비는 없다 (강지영, 윤자영, 전건우, 정명섭, 조영주). The short stories feature freelancers from all sorts of areas.

I plan on exploring more this K-mystery collection, but I have so many books to read right now that it might take a while before I get to it.

Cover of 여름 기담. The cover illustration looks exactly like the packaging of a curry sauce with a picture of a dish of rice with curry on it. The background of this book is green and it is labelled “mild”.
Cover of 여름 기담. The cover illustration looks exactly like the packaging of a curry sauce with a picture of a dish of rice with curry on it. The background of this book is red and it is labelled “extra hot”.

여름 기담 – 순한맛 (이주혜, 정선임, 범유진, 전예진) and 여름 기담 – 매운맛 (백민석, 한은형, 성혜령, 성해나).

I bought these two books because the covers were so catchy! 기담 means “strange, weird story”, so I had to give it a try! I have just finished the first book, the one labelled “mild” (순한맛) and apparently, the stories from the second volume (매운맛) are going to be more scary. For now, I find the stories I read to be more on the side of literary fiction than genre fiction, and as a consequence are overall more difficult to read than the other ones, but they are really good.

Next is one of the best concepts I’ve seen in books.

Cover of 허실시 일상신비 사건집. Cover illustration: Simple drawing of a city, with a three-storey building on the left, a wall with posters of a missing person on the right. The city is shown by day and the background of the cover is white.
Cover of 허실시 기담괴설 사건집. Cover illustration: Simple drawing of a city, with a three-storey building on the left, a wall with posters of a missing person on the right. The city is shown by night and the background of the cover is dark grey.

허실시 일상신비 사건집 (범유진, 그린레보, 김영민, 박하구, 정마리) and 허실시 기담괴설 사건집 (범유진, 박하루, 정마리, 김영민, 그린레보).

Even though they are written by different authors, all the stories in these collections take place in the fictional city Heoshil (허실시), and from what I have read so far, the authors really did a great job of creating a coherent city with references to places created by other authors or events happening in the other stories. I like collections of short stories that share a common theme, but having stories that all take place in the same fictional place is a really cool concept.

Similarly to 여름 기담, it looks like the stories of the first book are just mysteries encountered in daily life 일상 신비, and the second book dives more into the strange and the bizarre 기담괴설. Each author has written a story for the first and second book.

Cover of 괴이, 학원. The cover illustration shows the drawing of a building with 5 storey. Each storey is separated from the others as if the building were sliced into several pieces.
Cover of 기기괴괴공모전 수상작품집. The cover has a light purple background with an illustration in the middle. The illustration shows a bath tube and a bottle of perfume.
Cover of 사설 탐정사의 밤. The cover shows a man in suit holding a pistol, and the picture of a giant eye shading a red tear in the background.

괴이, 학원 (배명은, 김선민, 은상, 정명섭, 김하늬) has a similar concept, with all the stories taking place in the same fictional city. There is even a map of the city in the inner jacket of the book. The central them is 학원 or private institutes that are very popular in Korea. I really love the cover and how each story is associated to a different floor of the same building.

기기괴괴공모전 수상작품집 (백해인, 백승빈, 신도윤, 이승훈, 정현수) is a collection of stories that won a literary contest. 기기괴괴 mean “strange, weird”. I still have one short story to read in this collection, but overall, this is one of my favourite books so far.

사설 탐정사의 밤 (곽재식) is the only collection by a single author. They all feature the same nameless private detective and take place in 1949. I chose this book for the historical background, but it also makes the book a bit difficult to read.

I don’t know if it is the heat, but I have really suffered from a Korean book haul fever this Summer! I have also bought several novels not listed here.

I have been doing this reading challenge for three months now, and it has helped a lot. I can’t say whether my Korean level has improved or not because some short stories remain very hard to read and it feels discouraging at times, but reading in Korean is now part of my daily routine. Starting a reading challenge did not make things easy all of a sudden, but it forced me to read in Korean even if I didn’t feel like it, and after some weeks, reading in Korean felt like a natural thing to do every day.

Finding short stories written by so many different authors has also helped a lot. Even though I do prefer novels over short stories, I find it motivating to start something new every week. I’m updating my progress on Mastodon each week.