I read—a lot. Both for work and for pleasure. But because I cannot cover every single book within the outlets I write for, I am going to dedicate a post every so often to spotlight the books that I am otherwise unable to cover, books that flew under the radar, and books that aren’t new—because they deserve our love and attention, too. Now read on for some bomb-ass book recs.
If it could, Google would translate that to: I felt beyond seen and understood reading this book. Like the title suggests, every other sentence takes on the form of an infectious melody, filling your brain until they're reverberating beyond a sonic level. For me, Pham pushes the boundaries of vulnerability—and then pole-vaults over them. The way she writes about love—and all of its facets—is something I can’t even achieve in my journal, and I’m not writing that from a place of jealousy, but gratitude—for this author’s ability to validate a stranger’s insecurity over their unmitigated sensitivity when it comes to matters of the heart.
Beyond turbulent young love, Pop Song also explores art, loss, trauma, distance, threading the entire collection with a tenderness that rivals my brand-new Casper mattress. She tries to find meaning—from Agnes Martin’s abstract paintings to Frank Ocean’s Blonde—by piecing together all of these elements in search of totality, only to discover that the distances traveled—from Taos, New Mexico to Shanghai—are ones whose destinations remain the same: herself.
Every person whose opinions relating to literature I deeply respect has recommended this book to me. It’s a novel structured through letters, by a young trans woman in New Mexico named Gala to written to B——, the lead singer of a popular 1960s California band called the Get Happies. She wants to know why the band stopped making music, and, more importantly, why did they never release their bruited album, Summer Fun? What results is a parallel unfurling of identity—both finite (the book ends) and infinite (we don’t stop changing because we’re never meant to). Through this one-way correspondence, we learn about the mechanics of a band-on-the-rise as much as we learn about Gala through music, fandom, culture, all garnished with humor so sharp you could peel the wax off a wheel of Gouda with it. Chef’s kiss!
Many know Zauner as the helm of the indie band Japanese Breakfast. You may also recognize her from the viral essay bearing that same name which appeared in The New Yorker in 2018. But what a gift it is to meet the debut author whose book serves as an extension to the aforementioned essay, an acutely lyrical memoir that blooms with the beauty found in complexity. Zauner navigates growing up Korean American, pendulating between the two, struggling to find a sense of equilibrium and staking her rightful claim to both; the loss of her mother; and creating a space for herself in the overlap of family and identity —all filamented by food. The love permeating from a dish prepared specifically for a loved one, which is how Zauner’s mother expressed her love. Food as communication when language barriers interrupt. Food as comfort, as memory. This book is ultimately a testament to what bonds us to one another, and to embrace the value in the most ordinary of them.
I stayed up late reading this collection in one sitting. I’m not going to lie: I bought this book because of its cover. Here’s the thing: WE DO, IN FACT, JUDGE BOOKS BY THEIR COVERS. Whether it is conscious or not, we all do—even you! Sorry, but it's time you heard the truth!!!!!! I was lured by the siren call from this book—flash “DADDY” anywhere in my line of vision and I will appear like an apparition from a dense proliferation of fog—and was not disappointed by its content. Also, I have made it my personal goal to read more short story collections, and I hope you’ll join me because there is much gold to be panned from this genre.
Anyway, back to Cline and Daddy.
Father figures remain the obvious focal point of this collection, but each story examines that role in a slew of different ways: an aspiring actress sells her underwear to strange men; an absent father is forced to meet with the dean of his son’s school following an act of violence; a former Hollywood powerhouse contends with his dwindling career and his relationship with his son who is on the cusp of making his directorial debut. Every story exposes the underlay of ordinary life, glittering with its own charm, sharpness, and humor.
By the time I finished reading this book, I felt like the bear that’s on the box of Sleepytime tea—nightgown and a wool nightcap hat, pom poms and all. It is a soothing break from the cacophony of real life, both external and internal. Of course, this book includes Sun’s one-of-a-kind illustrations, which usher in topics of joy, loneliness, mental health, and—my personal favorite—plants, which the author (like many of us) finds solace in taking care of. Each essay, story, poem, even one-liner, exudes tenderness and hilarity. And, like the menu at Cheesecake Factory, there’s something for everyone in this book.