The summer of 2022 peaked early, in June, with a trip to South Korea for the Seoul International Book Fair. Founded in 1954, the SIBF Gallery was held entirely in person again for the first time since the pandemic discouraged large literary gatherings, or moved them mostly online, in 2020. I wandered through the halls disguised, travel-late, and functionally illiterate. A of COEX (the equivalent of the Javits Center) – nearly two hundred book-related institutions, including publishers from China, Canada, France and Germany – was surprised to welcome the name. It was not that my fame had preceded me; I was simply one of the very few non-Asian people in the room. I was also identified at my publisher’s booth, Maumsanchaek, by Hanbi Na, a dyed gray-haired young woman, who turned out to be a liberator. The kiosk displayed copies of the Korean translation of my book on copy editing in New Yorker. Eustace Tilly on the cover.
Before traveling to Korea (an eighteen-hour direct flight from New York), I received an email from Yumi Hwangbo, director of Sojeonseolim, a private bookstore in Seoul, telling me she had obtained a set of collected volumes from New Yorker He invites me to visit. Aside from eating out in Koreatown and trying to learn the Korean alphabet on Duolingo, I wasn’t overly prepared for Seoul, which is a huge city. Knowing that the familiar thick black sizes of New Yorker, which I had consulted in bookstores and in private magazine offices, was in the holdings of a library in Seoul that gave me an announcer there. At the book fair, a Korean gentleman gave an interview about the work of the magazine, through an interpreter, in front of a modest crowd who managed to include a man sleeping deeply in the front row in the aisle. At one point, the interviewer said he meant to ask me why so many new magazines have short life spans, however, because I just mentioned it in 2025 New Yorker Turning 100, he decided to change his line of questioning. My Korean translator, Young Joon Kim, was in the audience, but I was not able to meet him. The moment the event ended, a young artist by the name of Blan (Soyeon Na) rushed over with a gift: her copy of New Yorker Cover of a fake magazine called Seoler.
The next day, I met Yumi on a short trip to Sojeonseolim, in the Gangnam District. Yumi explained that Sogonsulim means “a forest of books made of white bricks.” Originally designed as an art gallery, the building is a stark modern building with a white brick facade and giant squares of glass. It stands out on what otherwise would be a jigsaw puzzle of storefronts and vertical signage. My day led me along a corridor lined with white shelves, bare except for some ivy cascading from flower boxes, and up the stairs. The reading room features a selection of books—Korean literature, translated world literature, and lavish art catalogs—and in the middle, an ostrich-sized wooden statue of the goose that laid the golden egg, which also serves as a reading platform. There are corners along the walls for state-of-the-art reading chairs. They have adjustable backs and footrests, like seats in a movie room or dentist’s office, as well as high-tech lamps. One chair is specifically designed to view the screen from a comfortable distance.
An exhibition was held dedicated to Cervantes: rare editions of Don Quixote were open on a table, each baffling volume accompanied by a pair of gloves so that the visitor could turn the pages without leaving a stain. A new gallery opens in the fall to celebrate the centenary of Joyce’s “Ulysses.” The White Brick Forest of Books was a cross between the Morgan Library in Manhattan, and the center of the imagination in Brooklyn, combining a collection of priceless rare books with a hipster sensibility.
In the courtyard there were two sets of swings. “So something for the kids!” I said. “No,” correct me daily. “This is for we. It turns out that swinging has been popular in Korea for centuries, as a form of light exercise, especially for women. Then Yumi opened the door to an indoor room intended for pure adult pleasure, so popular in Korea: a cool little bar, with upscale whiskey, brandy, and drinks The alcoholic is arranged on the shelves behind her.
Yumi said that when the library opened, in February of 2020, it received some criticism as a big expense for something that only serves a privileged few. (The limited membership package is one hundred thousand won, or about seventy dollars. The half-day pass, for the spa, is thirty thousand won, or about twenty dollars.) The library was funded by a humanities foundation started by O’Neill Kim, the inventor of the device that improved virtual golf. His company, Golfzon, was a hit in Seoul, where a real golf course is hard to come by, and screen golf took off around the world, like karaoke, making Kim a millionaire.
While the library is the direct beneficiary of virtual golf, it can also be seen as a late flowering of cultural heritage: Koreans have historically considered reading as a luxury. Before leaving Seoul, I visited the Secret Garden at Changdeokgung Palace, where I admired the king’s reading room: a beautifully preserved centuries-old pavilion, overlooking juniper trees and a lily pond. I’m sure I can make good progress on my Duolingo there.
I was wondering where New Yorker The archive was contained in Sojeonseolim, and finally Yumi led me to the periodicals section. This was the platonic ideal of the magazine rack, an entire wall displaying glossy publications from around the world: vogue from Italy and Singapore, Granta from the UK, Monkey from Japan, and yes, New Yorker—A recent edition bore the sign-up sign for an address in Springfield Gardens, Queens. While my day made me a bundle of souvenirs—postcards, pencils, bookmarks with Sojeonseolim’s imprint on them—I asked, ‘Where are the folders? New Yorker? “
Yumi seemed surprised. “They are in the stores,” she said. ♦