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Korean Literature Braves Economic Woes

2009/05/01 Source

By Chung Ah-young
Staff Reporter

Korean literature is booming more than ever despite the economic downturn that has dealt a serious blow to the local publishing industry.

According to the Kyobo Bookstore, sales of Korean literature publications including poems, essays and novels dramatically increased by 35.7 percent in the first quarter over the same period last year. The number of Korean literature books sold in the same period rose 36.2 percent.

"There was an exceptionally sharp rise in the sales of Korean literature publications in the first quarter compared to the same

period in previous years. Sales had seen an average increase of around 20 percent, but this year's sales have greatly surpassed that", Jin Young-kyun, a manager at the bookstore, said.

Yes 24, the online bookstore, has also seen first quarter of sales soar by 37.4 percent, a drastic growth rate from 14 percent in 2007 and last year's 3 percent.

At the center of the popularity, "Take Care of My Mom" written by celebrated author Shin Kyung-sook is attributed as a catalyst.

Since it was first published in November, about 700,000 copies have been sold, a mega hit given that it is hard for a novel to sell 100,000 copies in the sagging publishing industry.

Most readers of "Take Care of My Mom" are women in their 20s and 30s who have strong buying power. According to Yes 24, female readers in their 20s represent 25.2 percent, while women in their 30s make up 28.3 percent adding up to more than 50 percent of the total.

"Take Care of My Mom", the best seller of the first quarter, was followed by "Shouting to the World", a self-help book by Big Bang, the pop idol group with 350,000 copies sold.

After these, most of the hot sellers were novels and essays such as "I Will Support You Whatever Kind of Life You Live" and "Light as a Feather" both written by Gong Ji-young, "Gaebapbaragibyeol" by Hwang Seok-young and "All Guilt for Those Who Don't Love Now" by veteran author Noh Hee-kyeong.

Gong's book, "Light as a Feather", was compiled from her essay series posted last year in the Hankyoreh, a local daily. It sheds light on her daily life, revolving on trivial happenings among her friends, family and fans. She shows the insight to take note of the little things that make up everyday life.

"Gaebapbaragibyeol", which means "Venus" in
Korean, was posted on the nation's major portal Naver before being published as a hard copy.

The enormous popularity of Korean literature took over from foreign literature in the same period. During the first quarter, sales of foreign publications decreased 0.9 percent from last year, according to the Kyobo Bookstore.

Why is Korean literature so popular these days? Readers suffering from the economic downturn find comfort and relief in it, an outlet to avoid harsh reality, the bookstore says.

But why should it be Korean literature? According to critics, there are an increasing number of new and
diverse sub-genres within the field. New formats and patterns in Korean literature are attracting readers, especially younger women, who are the main buyers of literature books.

"In the past, most publications dealt with serious and heavy themes such as ideology and history but now Korean authors are touching on various light-hearted and easy subjects", a critic said.

As new styles and patterns in recent novels are emerging, authors are also changing their writing styles to appeal to younger readers, the critic said. Also compared to foreign authors, there is more for them to share with Korean authors.

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