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Original Essays | September 30, 2014

Benjamin Parzybok: IMG A Brief History of Video Games Played by Mayors, Presidents, and Emperors

Brandon Bartlett, the fictional mayor of Portland in my novel Sherwood Nation, is addicted to playing video games. In a city he's all but lost... Continue »
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    Sherwood Nation

    Benjamin Parzybok 9781618730862

Original Essays | September 18, 2014

Lin Enger: IMG Knowing vs. Knowing

On a hot July evening years ago, my Toyota Tercel overheated on a flat stretch of highway north of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A steam geyser shot up from... Continue »


Powell's Q&A

Nami Mun

Describe your latest project.
Miles from Nowhere is about Joon, a young Korean girl who navigates homelessness, physical abuse, and drug addiction during her years as a runaway in 1980s New York. We follow her for five years (from age 13 to 18) as she tries to eke out a life for herself — a life that doesn't involve shelters, violence, prostitution, petty crimes, and addiction. This book isn't necessarily "pleasant" to read, I guess, but I can say that it's emotionally honest, and, I hope, unflinching. I wanted to try and depict life as it is really lived by runaways, throwaways, sex workers, and addicts, and in no way did I want to beautify anything for fear of offending. But, of course, life on the streets isn't all about brutality and pain. There are funny, loving moments, too, which hopefully my readers — whether they be booksellers, soccer moms, priests or prison guards — will connect with.

  1. Miles from Nowhere
    $4.50 Used Hardcover add to wishlist
    "A haunting debut by an author who made her own journey from runaway to writer." Library Journal

    "[T]hose who delight in the raw power of words have a new author to add to our libraries." Dallas Morning News

    "There is nothing simplistic or sensationalized here as Mun, a writer of gravitas, portrays the dispossessed and the cast-out, reminding us how quickly things can go disastrously wrong, how tough it is to live outside the margins." Booklist

What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
I could see myself dating a 60-40 combination of Frederic Henry (from A Farewell to Arms) and his friend, the high-spirited Rinaldi. I think that means I'm attracted to stoic, strong, reserved manly-men who also possess a certain joie de vivre and who reside in countries like Italy during times of war, violence, and high infant mortality rates.

I'd also like to have a fling with Rodolphe Boulanger from Madame Bovary, but only to teach him a lesson or two on how not to treat women.

If I were gay, I'd definitely date Midori from Murakami's Norwegian Wood.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I have had a lot of strange jobs in my life, and was grossly incompetent at every single one of them — I've sold jewelry out of a briefcase door-to-door; weighed cubic zirconium eight hours a day; worked as an activities coordinator for a nursing home; played classical piano for a wealthy, bitter man (one hour during dinner time) in exchange for room and board, etc. But the strangest job I've ever had has to be when I worked as a dance hostess. Contrary to popular belief, being a dance hostess has nothing to do with stripping, or even dancing, really, and a lot to do with empathy.

Now, the most interesting job I've ever had was when I worked as a criminal defense investigator.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"I prayed to rediscover my childhood, and it has come back, and I feel that it is just as difficult as it used to be, and that growing older has served no purpose at all."

—from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke

What is your favorite indulgence, either wicked or benign?
Spending an entire day reading whatever I want without distractions. If Korean food is somehow involved, all the better.

Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin?
Now that I know that Fahrenheit is actually K × 9⁄5 − 459.67, I'm going to think in Kelvin from now on.

Name the best television series of all time.
It used to be Homicide, a show about Baltimore detectives, created by David Simon. My boyfriend, Gus, had something like 40 VHS tapes of the show, which he would ration so I wouldn't watch them all at once. Once, when Gus was in the doghouse for something, he left on my doorstep a box of those Homicide tapes, fully knowing that the significance of this apology gift would not be lost on me.

Now it's The Wire, hands down. Because it's actually an episodic novel in script form. Because the writers for that show remained loyal to their characters. Because the show didn't spoonfeed information. Because it showed how society fails children without being preachy. Because of the actors. And because of Omar.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
Truthfully, I'm more inspired by the people around me than works of art. That said, when I look at Francis Bacon's terrifying portrait of the screaming Pope Innocent X, or George Tooker's frightened woman in The Subway, I do wonder if I've done everything in my powers to tap into my characters' fears.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
I couldn't decide between these two categories, so I'm offering them both.

Books of Poetry for Fiction Lovers
These poets tell the most beautiful stories.

Shadow Wars by D. Nurkse

Jimmy and Rita by Kim Addonizio

Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

The Vigil by C. K. Williams

Bad With Faces by Sean Norton

Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 by Seamus Heaney

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke

Surviving Childhood (But Just Barely)
Books for adults who believe we are always coming of age.

The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz

Childhood and other Neighborhoods by Stuart Dybek

The Wanderers by Richard Price

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

÷ ÷ ÷

Nami Mun was born in Seoul, South Korea, and grew up there and in the Bronx, New York. She has worked as a door-to-door Avon Lady, a dance hostess, a street vendor, a photojournalist, a bartender, and a criminal investigator. A graduate of University of California at Berkeley, she received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she garnered a Hopwood Award for fiction and the Farrar Prize. She has received a Pushcart Prize, as well as scholarships and residencies from the Corporation of Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. Her stories have been published in the 2007 Pushcart Prize anthology, The Iowa Review, Tin House, Evergreen Review, Witness, and other journals.


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