“I used pop culture…as a kind of glue to hold me together when I was hurtling through disaster…jamming a piece of pop culture into an absence in my life, no matter how poorly matched, seemed fine. It seemed like the only, no, the best thing to do,” (Sookfong Lee 4).
Author Jen Sookfong Lee has always been obsessed with pop culture. From religiously reading the Anne of Green Gables series to watching Bob Ross with her sister, finding a celebrity nemesis with Gwyneth Paltrow and motivational lessons from Rihanna, pop culture is an integral part of Sookfong Lee’s identity. Pop culture has helped her find comfort and consolation after the death of her father as well as helping her cope with her mother’s mental health struggles, it’s allowed Sookfong Lee to recognize how the media portrays Asian women versus who she actually is. Through her love, analysis, and criticism of pop culture, Jen Sookfong Lee finds out who she is and is proud to show it to the world.
Superfan is an excellent memoir and book of essays. I’ve had my own traumas in life and have greatly depended on pop culture to provide comfort and escapism through difficult times and I love that Sookfong Lee acknowledges how pop culture can be used in this way. Too often the conversation around pop culture revolves around capitalism, and while it’s a valid and important conversation to have I think it’s just as important to talk about how pop culture can act as a coping mechanism to people in their lives. Sookfong Lee’s analysis of the comfort Anne of Green Gables gave her after her father died hit so close to home for me, as well as watching Bob Ross with her sister, I love that this part of pop culture was emphasized, that there is some good from obsessing over these things. But I also Sookfong Lee’s criticisms on pop culture as well, like the harmful stereotypes of Asian women in films like The Karate Kid 2, and I loved reading her rage over how those stereotypes have affected her life and how society views her and expects her to behave as an Asian woman. I also liked how she mentioned certain Asian celebrities who are changing that idea, like Awkwafina and Ali Wong.
Sookfong Lee also did a wonderful job with the memoir aspect of this book, perfectly blending critiques and analysis of pop culture with her own life in a way that was seamless. I loved reading about Sookfong Lee’s life growing up in Vancouver, learning what her life was like after her father died and living with her mother who wasn’t very good at showing affection outwardly. I loved learning about her dedication as a writer and need to read more of her books, I can’t believe this is the only thing I’ve read by her!
I am curious about what Sookfong Lee’s thoughts on Hailey Bieber are now after the whole Selena Gomez drama. I thought her analysis of Beiber in comparison to Tolstoy and Nabokov’s wives was interesting, though I was obviously biased and jaded since all the above drama had happened before I read this book.
Superfan is an excellent blend of memoir and pop culture critique. Sookfong Lee is a fantastic Canadian voice and I’m eager to read more of her work!
Publication: January 17 2023
Publisher: McClelland and Stewart
Pages: 272 pages (Hardcover)
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Biography, Essays, Canadian, Asian
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤
For most of Jen Sookfong Lee’s life, pop culture was an escape from family tragedy and a means of fitting in with the larger culture around her. Anne of Green Gables promised her that, despite losing her father at the age of twelve, one day she might still have the loving family of her dreams, and Princess Diana was proof that maybe there was more to being a good girl after all. And yet as Jen grew up, she began to recognize the ways in which pop culture was not made for someone like her–the child of Chinese immigrant parents who looked for safety in the invisibility afforded by embracing model minority myths.
Ranging from the unattainable perfection of Gwyneth Paltrow and the father-figure familiarity of Bob Ross, to the long shadow cast by The Joy Luck Club and the life lessons she has learned from Rihanna, Jen weaves together key moments in pop culture with stories of her own failings, longings, and struggles as she navigates the minefields that come with carving her own path as an Asian woman, single mother, and writer. And with great wit, bracing honesty, and a deep appreciation for the ways culture shapes us, she draws direct lines between the spectacle of the popular, the intimacy of our personal bonds, and the social foundations of our collective obsessions.