If you are a fan of BTS music, you will know that the group likes to refer back to the literature they engage with, in the music they produce. The sensibility formed out of personal endeavor finds its way into their professional work and we see a glimpse of it when we collectively deconstruct the messages. Over the past seven years, the septet has introduced us to literary works from across the globe and has helped initiate a stimulating conversation around writing and reading amongst fans.
When I listen to music, the activity is always juxtaposed to my reading habit and I often think of the narratives and discourses I have come across. So, today, I want to share a list of literary works I think you will be interested in if you have a liking for BTS. This list overlaps with some of the books they have referred to, but others are my recommendations:
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
If you love Black Swan as much as we do, you will be interested to read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Black Swan deals with the question of the artist’s passion and what happens when it is no longer the driving force behind their creations. The only novel published by Plath who is often studied in literature classes as a poetess, ‘The Bell Jar’ narrates the life of Esther Greenwood and her struggle with a lack of passion for work, people, and life. This simple generalization of the novel doesn’t do justice to the plot but too much information can take one’s interest away.
The novel also details out the mental hardships faced by the protagonist. Therefore, reader’s discretion is advisable. You can check the detailed review for the novel here.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
BTS in their songs have repeatedly emphasized the power of effort. If one makes efforts, they can change the course of their destiny. Coming out of a small agency themselves, BTS serves a brilliant example of their lesson. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami deals with this resolution of the protagonist who wants to escape the Oedipal curse of his father. His world collides with the world of an old man named Nakata, who serves as a cat finder in his community.
The novel stands true to Murakami’s reputation. It’s graphic in its details, creates a blur between the real and unreal and manages to retain the reader’s attention right through the last page. The novel is not a coming of age work in its literal sense but it does deal with the mental journey of the protagonist, trying to find a purpose in his life.
Death of the Author by Roland Barthes
This essay by Roland Barthes explores the question of ‘who writes the book’. Death of the Author emphasizes the importance of interpretation and tries to position the reader at the center of the reading activity, making them the only significant element in the whole writing-reading-interpreting process.
When it comes to music, it has been observed that RM gives an entry point into the songs he has worked on, sharing what he wanted to convey through the lyrics while Suga only likes to delve on the process without revealing any information whatsoever about the story. Hobi on the other hand gives an expansive view into his musical vision right within the lyrics.
We recommend reading this essay if you are interested in literary theory or just want to delve deeper into BTS’ Universe storyline. Death of the Author has a very interesting connection to Aspen Magazine which you might want to explore further.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
This novella does not have any direct linkage to BTS’ music. But I am forever reminded of how conservatively is our society constructed. The compartmentalization of individuals who are seen abnormal the moment they deviate never fails to baffle me. Big Hit Universe tells the story of seven outcasts, trying to make way into the world that never had a place for them. It was BU that immediately brought this novella to mind.
If you are interested in exploring the questions of society’s attitude to illness, mental health, a woman’s perceived role as a caregiver, and female sexuality, The Vegetarian can be a good entry point. It’s not easy-to-read but worth the effort.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Animal Farm by George Orwell shows how an authoritarian system works through a battle between farm animals and human owners. But once freed, the farm animals had to resort to the same system under a different leader. The question then is not just posed on the individuals but also the system that enables exploitation.
The novella looks easy-to-read but might require the reader to understand a bit about the construction of social structures to understand the points presented by the writer. Or, it can become a good starting point for the activity and enable the readers to deconstruct the structures and study them in-depth.
BTS since their debut, have questioned social structures with education being the most talked-about system in their work. NO, No More Dream, Paradise, and Tomorrow are some of the examples from their discography.
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Whenever I hear RM and Suga’s conversation in Respect, I am always reminded of the stuttering in Samuel Beckett’s play, especially the scene when Vladimir and Estragon mock critics. Waiting for Godot deals with a range of themes but one of the things that it brilliantly does is the visualization of existential crisis and how we rely on an external figure to provide us purpose. In the play, that figure is Godot who is also synonymously used as God.
But Godot is a mere caricature who validates Vladimir and Estragon’s existence, helping them to prolong death. Beyond this relationship of validation, Godot is neither respected nor looked up to.
The song ‘Respect’ talks about figures we look up to in our lives and asks how can one be deemed worthy of our respect? Does the word mean looking up to someone or to look back and introspect our own choices to help ourselves become better in the future? If someone does become our role model, how much space do we give them or making mistakes?
Some interesting questions we can think about!
In Custody by Anita Desai
A novel by Anita Desai, In Custody, is an Indian fiction work written in English. This category has its canon in Indian Literature due to the influence of English during and post the colonial period. What brought this novel in my mind while exploring BTS music was the protagonist’s struggle to find his identity through the battle between Hindi and Urdu language.
Deven is a Hindi teacher but he has always been an admirer of Urdu language and literature. He gets an opportunity to interview his favorite Urdu poet Nur but by witnessing the poet’s decay, he also witnesses the death of the language.
One of the things that BTS did for me was to look back at my own language Hindi and my relationship with English as a post-colonial being. Their determination to make music in their language (Korean) helped me explore my history and made me appreciate the beauty of my language more.
So, did you find our list interesting? Which book will make it to your TBR? Share it via tweet @Fuzzable.