by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
I listened to Jen Sookfong Lee's Superfan: How Pop Culture Broke My Heart: A Memoir (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm) thanks to Libro.fm's ALC program. I'm so happy that I experienced this one via audio since the author reads it herself, communicating the tenderness, humor, and outrage she feels with great resonance.
The book is a series of essays, meditations that weave together a particular pop-culture focus with the author's thoughts on different parts of her life.
There's a gorgeous tribute to Anne of Green Gables as she considers the impact of her father's death when she was a child and of her subsequent feelings of abandonment by her mother.
There's a brilliant consideration of the Princess Diana that the world saw (in contrast with the "real Diana") and the way that connects with Sookfong Lee's own, conflicted feelings about being a "good girl" (with all of the complexity that comes with that label) vs. being herself.
There's a thread that runs through multiple essays in which the author considers her own desirability and the way she measures that in others, in the way her feelings about her Asian-American ethnicity have been shaped by the way that pop culture largely overlooks people who look like her.
One of my favorite essays deals with her initial hatred of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, her discovery of "the real" Amy Tan, and then what happens when she watches the film again.
After the long illness and death of her father, an event at the center of the book and of her life, Sookfong Lee's relationship with her mother became only more complex, more confrontational. As the youngest, the author was the last one left at home as her older sisters each married and left the house (or, in a decision that scandalized and horrified their mother, when the next-youngest sister moves out without getting married). Through it all, Sookfong Lee uses pop culture as a way to escape, as a way to understand herself in the moment, and as a tool for reflection. It's a refuge, but an incomplete one since it's quite difficult for her to contend with the absence of representation.
Superfan is a powerful book for those who love pop culture in general or art or literature or music. It's an intensely personal memoir, a more universal discussion of the role of art in all of our lives, and a book that asks tough questions about what we should expect of the pop culture (and just the culture!) that we consume.
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