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Skeleton Flower: Things That Have Been Released and Set Free

I know, I’ve gone back on my word when it comes to sticking to schedule, but there’s a reason I’ve delayed this week’s rec by a few days. I wanted to recommend this next body of work today because it’s an incredibly special day, and I wish to celebrate it by writing my thoughts and feelings out. Hopefully they’ll inspire you to give this work a try.

Today I’m recommending Kim Jonghyun’s best-selling novel, Skeleton Flower: Things That Have Been Released and Set Free, a rec I’ve been eagerly awaiting to write for the better part of the year but decided to save for Jonghyun’s birthday. Today more than any other day is meant to celebrate his life, the joy he brings to the world, and the art he’s created throughout the years, so I wanted to do my part in spreading his imagination to willing eyes and ears.

Skeleton Flower isn’t an ordinary book, and it’s obvious from the moment you lay eyes on it. Its hard, simple-styled cover makes it look more like a music album (very fitting, considering Jonghyun is first and foremost an incredible singer and one fifth of SHINee). Perusing it, you’re met with a multitude of beautifully-crafted pages infused with words, thoughts, emotions, but also visuals Jonghyun picked to enrich the story. Photographs he’s taken on his travels and throughout his life give the book a very creative note of realness beyond the subject of the story itself, and are a beautiful addition to an already emotionally-packed piece of writing.

The story itself is simple. It deals with love, a relationship between a She and a He, and the development of it until the eventual separation. Incredibly relatable, it’s a story of growth, of comfort, of pain but also healing. It’s a real, human tale most of us can project over our own experiences. What makes Skeleton Flower stand out is how the story came to be and how the evolution of She and He’s relationship is explored.

In between chapters, Jonghyun’s lyrical creations are written over beautiful pieces of imagery. Selected songs picked from the span of Jonghyun’s career, be it solo, with SHINee, or written for other artists, give the story its… well, skeleton. It’s base. Jonghyun says it better than I ever could in his author note, where he describes what his thought process was when creating Skeleton Flower:

When I want to make good music, I’m ambitious, always fantasizing about the before and after as I write it. And by the time this turned into a habit, I wondered if it couldn’t be even more interesting to connect all these fantasies into one world. If there was a single story that expanded through the ambiguous starts and ends of my songs, it could create more complex feelings; if I gave them context and characters, we could draw a clearer picture of it. I thought this could be another way of appreciating music. I wrote this book with this ambition.” (Translation by sigani_jina)

Reading this book not only made me feel closer to Jonghyun and allowed me to see a little bit inside his mind and heart, but offered an experience I seldom had before. Having the songs I was all too familiar with accompanying my reading journey gave my trip into Skeleton Flower’s world a completely new dimension and allowed for a deeper emotional connection to the content. Not to mention a whole new sentimental meaning to some of my favorite songs.

Although bittersweet, Skeleton Flower is ultimately healing, offering solace and light to lonely and broken hearts. Now more than ever, we’re dealing with hard, stressful times which can seem hopeless and dark, but perhaps taking Jonghyun’s advice, we can find some simple ways to make things a bit more bearable. When discussing his daily routine with She in the book, Jonghyun mentions things he does to relax at the end of his day, like playing with his dog, Roo, lighting aromatic candles, and listening to music on his gramophone. This paragraph has stayed with me since I read it the first time, and ever since I’ve been thinking about it whenever I found myself having a hard time. Perhaps it might help you as well:

“On some days you feel lonely, on some days you’re exhausted, and in others you feel stupid, pathetic even. Of course, there are many happy days too. The important thing is, while the remaining days of our lives seem to stretch out to no end, you need something that can always soothe your emotions. Whether my days are happy or sad, I don’t single them out. As my mixed-up emotions slowly settle down, it’s like the overall image of my feelings that day even out. I might enjoy these dramatic things, but I’d prefer if the beginning and the ending are balanced, you know. Anything could work for you too, journalist-nim. It does not have to be as complicated as me. In whatever way, if you arrange to end your every day similarly, it will ease your mind.”

I wholeheartedly recommend you purchase this book to experience it properly even if you don’t know Korean. English translations like sigani_jina’s are available online, but they should only serve as an aid when reading the actual, physical book. And of course, listen to the songs as you go through the story. There’s a handy playlist on youtube which has them all in order for your ease.

Jonghyun is a complete artist in every sense of the word, and Skeleton Flower, in its brilliant combination of mediums, captures only a sliver of the man’s genius and sensibility. Combining photography with music and song lyrics, and creating a beautiful story around these two basic senses – visual and auditory – created an incredible artistic experience that not many can pull off in this way, especially as every single part of this project was created by him.

Apart from this wonderful novel, Jonghyun’s touched people’s hearts and established himself as an exemplary artist and person with years of hard work, beautiful friendships with his 4 brothers (Taemin, Kibum, Minho, Jinki), Blingers and Shawols, incredible pieces of music other artists continue to cherish and give voice to, and his irreplaceable, loving, funny, charismatic personality. He remains one of the most beloved artists of our times, shining brightly in our hearts forever.

Happy Birthday, Jonghyun!