Besides art galleries and recording studios, Kim Namjoon (RM) is most likely to be spotted at a library or bookstore. In fact, the rapper, songwriter, and leader of K-pop group BTS is seldom without a title (or two) — the genres ranging from philosophy to psychology. We’re reading our way through a few of his more popular recommendations.
With an IQ of 148 — it’s no surprise that the leader of K-pop group BTS dubbed one of the most cerebral idols in the music industry. His lyrics are emotionally intelligent and his creative process, meticulous and sharp — with experts noting that the artist has quite the way with words. His speech at the UN General Assembly was poignant and well-researched and he often champions South Korean art and history. Frequent livestreams and interviews spotlight his songwriting process and approach to life, allowing fans a peek into the inner workings of his mind.A common denominator? Books. Besides sharing his views on recent reads through social media, Namjoon is often captured in behind-the-scenes videos, reality shows, and paparazzi shots with his nose buried in a literary work. The artist has credited popular writers for inspiring his own craft and shaping his perception of the world.
In doing this, he’s often helped increase sales. One such example is that of the novel Early Death (written in Hangul) by Cho Yonghoon which had gone out of print until the rapper was spotted with it. Korea Times quotes Hyohyung Publishing representative Song Hyun-geun as stating, “At first, we were not sure whether to print the book again. But we opted to accept the request of BTS fans.” He further shared, “It seems that we made the right decision because the book became a bestseller not only in Kyobo, but also in all other online bookstores. It’s just amazing because I have never seen a case like this before.” Whether you’re on the hunt for a best-selling title or are keen on getting to know your favourite idol better — here’s a look at popular options available in English that are recommended by BTS’ biggest bibliophile.
Books recommended by BTS’ Kim Namjoon (RM)
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First published in 1919, this semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age novel follows a young man’s journey to self discovery — tracing his life from a school student to a soldier in World War I. It explores themes of light and dark, good and evil — seeing him navigate crime, spirituality, friendships, and everything in between. Namjoon was spotted reading this book multiple times in 2015, including backstage at the KBS Music Bank. In 2016, it was noted that the title inspired BTS’ album WINGS.
This best-seller follows Kim Ji-young — an average woman who’s had to face the brunt of a misogynistic world. Born to a family that wanted a son, she’s preyed upon by male teachers at school, blamed for being harassed at night, and overlooked for promotions, and has to give up her career and autonomy after marriage. This leads to a breaking point. “It feels like Kim Ji-young is alive somewhere in this real world,” the author writes in a letter to readers in the book. The title generated controversies and conversations in South Korea — with experts dubbing it one of the most impactful books in the country. In a livestream, Namjoon revealed, “The book’s implications were unlike any other, and I was impressed. It’s a thought-provoking book.”
Set in 1980 during the Gwangju Uprising — a pro-democracy movement that sprung from military dictatorship and the implementation of martial law in South Korea — this book consists of seven chapters. Each explores subjects like violence, censorship, and humanity, amongst others — leading up to the present day scenario. In the same livestream as the Cho Nam-Joo recommendation, Namjoon noted that he’d delved into this particular book as well.
One of the most celebrated titles by a renowned author, The Metamorphosis follows a man named Gregor Samsa who hustles to support his family. However, one day he finds himself transformed into an insect, doomed to spend the rest of his days in the state. As he watches his world change and his purpose dissolve, he dives into the disconnect between mind and body and the absurdity of life as he’s ever known it. Korea Times notes that Namjoon has been spotted with the book on multiple occasions. He’s also mentioned the title in several interviews and eagle-eyed fans have spotted it in his bookshelf.
Dubbed one of the best absurdist titles in literary history, this book follows an Algerian man who commits a murder after his mother’s death. One section spotlights his perspective leading up to the act and the other offers a look at his state of mind after. Along the way, the pages deal with human values and morality, the absurdity of life, and everything in between. In a livestream with fans, Namjoon shared that as a trainee, he sat down to talk to a good friend who told him his life felt grey. This, the idol noted, reminded him of the opening lines of this particular book by Camus. He then went on to talk about the ambiguity that comes with the sentiment. That aside, RM has been spotted with various Camus works at different points.
This classic philosophical work looks at Tomas, a surgeon and serial adulterer who shuns labels and societal ideals to embrace ‘lightness.’ His wife, meanwhile, is politically opinionated and deeply committed to him — body and soul — strongly embracing a certain ‘heaviness.’ In the background, the Prague Spring of 1968 in Czechoslovakia changes the world around them. In a 2017 KBS interview, Namjoon called the novel a favourite.
This wildly-popular dystopian novel looks at Winston Smith, a low-ranking worker at The Ministry Of Truth who harbours rebellious dreams. He, along with his wife, get involved with a resistance group called The Brotherhood, only to be found out by a spy and captured and tortured. Subjects of surveillance, totalitarianism, and other political details are touched upon along the way. Terms like ‘Orwellian’ and ‘Big Brother’ owe their birth to this work. In the same KBS interview as above, RM noted that he enjoyed re-reading the title.
In two tales, this book looks at interpersonal relationships and the trials that come along the way to self discovery. Both spotlight mothers and discuss subjects like transexuality, death isolation, forgiveness, grief and everything in between to look at how individuals approach love and loss. It marked the author’s debut work and was later made into a film. In an interview by Yonhap News Agency, RM noted that he was reading the book. He was later spotted with it on multiple occasions.
We’d be remiss not to include a Haruki Murakami book in the list of RM’s favourite reads. The idol, on multiple occasions, has noted his appreciation of the author’s works, revealing that they’d inspired him to write songs as well. One such title is 1Q84, which — as was revealed in a press conference — led to the creation of Sea in the album Love Yourself: Her. The story goes that the lives of two people, Tengo and Aomame, are intricately interconnected. The former is the latter’s childhood love and with him, she makes sense of the strange changes around her, delves into dangerous waters, and discovers what’s real.
All images: Courtesy Amazon/BTS Namjoon