November 25, 2022

Jen Sookfong Lee’s memoir Superfan examines a painful pop culture obsession – read an excerpt now

super fan is the latest book by Canadian author Jen Sookfong Lee.

Lee’s new work is a memoir in pieces that uses a woman’s love affair with pop culture as an eye-opening lens to explore family, identity, belonging, grief and the power of female rage.

As a child of Chinese immigrant parents, pop culture was an escape from tragedy and a way to integrate into the larger culture around him. And yet, growing up, Jen began to recognize the ways pop culture just wasn’t for someone like her – Lee weaves key pop culture moments with stories of her own challenges that come along with her own path. as an Asian woman. , single mother and writer.

Lee is a Vancouver-born novelist and television personality. In 2009, she defended the novel by Brian Francis Fruit on Canada reads. She is also a former The next chapter journalist. Lee, along with poet Dina Del Bucchia, hosts the can not lit podcast, a monthly audio series on all things CanLit.

She is the author of the novel The spousethe nonfiction book Shadow Gentleman and poetry collection The ghost list.

Lee told CBC Books that super fan is a love letter of sorts – reflecting an obsession with pop culture – but it’s also a memoir that examines life’s pivotal moments through the lens of North American television and film stardom.

“Many years ago, I remember having a fight with my then partner, which started when he started making fun of the reality shows and bubblegum pop music that I liked the most. , which, understandably, made me angry. Since then, I’ve accumulated the reasons why people are drawn to pop culture — both the mundane and sappy things, and the things that s fly away with depth and meaning – and I started thinking I could write a book about these parasocial ties,” Lee said.

“Growing up, I saw very few Asian women in North American media, and yet I never stopped loving the media itself. What did that mean? Why did I care? super fan was born.”

super fan will be released on January 17, 2023. You can read an excerpt below.


From 8 to 14 years old, my life is marked by a series of departures. First up is my sister Wendy. The same year my father was diagnosed, she got married, parked her car on the roof and drove across the country to Toronto. Next is my sister Jackie, who is delaying her wedding for six months while we plan her funeral. Finally, it’s my sister Daisy, who got married a year after Jackie and then moved to Hong Kong with her Singaporean husband.

As I watch my sisters plan their weddings, pack their bags and leave, I note the relief written on their faces, as visible to me as their blue eyes or feathery hair. They walk out the front door in new clothes and into shiny cars driven by their new husbands, smiling broadly and so glowing with contagious happiness that I find myself handing them back.

My father’s long illness, funerals, insurance and other details – all of these things had forced my sisters and me to remain in a close unit for six years, the five of us often traveling in packs across the country. hospital, choosing my father’s funeral. costume in a huddle at Moores, taking my mom out to dinner so neither of us have to deal with it alone.

From eight to fourteen years old, my life is marked by a series of departures.

But as my older sisters left, Penny and I stayed in the house, where grief was ever-present, where our mother hovered on the periphery of our vision. Better not to engage. Better to wait quietly so we can leave too.

When my father died, Penny was not quite 19 and just starting her second year of college. His bedroom had been the basement kitchen; the exposed duct from the missing range hood floated from the ceiling above her bed, and against the opposite wall was the old teal-painted cupboard that my mother still used as her pantry.

Our house had always been full, but after my father died, my mother, Daisy, Jackie, Penny, and I scattered to its furthest corners, each in our own rooms, no matter how they looked or smelled. of the room, no matter if it was filled with cans of mung beans and bags of jasmine rice.

Over the years, we have learned to cocoon in our own lives whenever possible. For Penny and me, both still at home and many years away from starting a career or getting married, that meant finding solitary pursuits; I drew angrily with pastels, each piece depicting a face that looked like a sad me, even though it was just a shadow shape in a lower corner.

The group Color Me Badd harmonized during a free concert in Saint-Louis in 1998. (Greenblatt/Gamma Liaison/Getty Images)

I could hear Penny singing in her room, often accompanying the Wretched distribution record or, sometimes, CMB by Color Me Badd. She was a great singer, a natural alto who could reach the range of sopranos, whose voice echoed down the hall and down the stairs, where I stood upstairs, so she couldn’t see and hear me. .

(1990 to 1995)

Every Saturday morning, I get up, eat peanut butter toast, and then rush off to finish my homework before lunchtime. My mother, as she often does, stays in her room.

Shortly after noon, Penny comes out of the basement, dressed in her favorite giant navy sweatshirt, and lies down on the loveseat. I walk out of my room and sit on the couch, my feet resting on the coffee table.

We turn on the local public station television and Bob Ross appears on the screen, swinging his paddle on his forearm. Today we are lucky: it is a joy of painting marathon (it’s a reliable draw, especially when the station does its periodic giving campaigns). I close my eyes as Bob lists the paint colors he will be using in this episode: cadmium yellow, phthalo blue, titanium white.

Penny and I don’t talk to each other. Only Bob’s voice drifts into the living room. “Maybe this tree needs a boyfriend,” he says halfway.

A calm male voice, one that only wants us to paint the best pictures possible, in that pocket of contentment. And if we never paint at all, that’s fine too. On Saturday afternoon, we are both fine.

Bob Ross is doing his happy little thing. Scene of the pleasure of painting. (Bob Ross, Inc.)

In a rare interview with the Orlando Sentinel in 1990, Bob Ross spoke of his time in the US Air Force: “I was the guy who made you scrub out the latrines, the guy who made you make your bed, the guy yelling at you for being late for work. The job requires you to be a mean, tough person. And I was sick of it. I promised myself that if I ever walked away from it, it wasn’t going to be like that again. that.

We turn on the local public station television and Bob Ross appears on the screen, swinging his paddle on his forearm.

He rehabilitated squirrels, phoned fans when he hadn’t heard from them in a while to make sure they were okay, and jokingly predicted that his paintings would never hang on the Smithsonian. (In 2019, several of his paintings were actually donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History by Bob Ross Inc., and the plan is to create a permanent exhibit about Bob, Julia Child, and Fred Rogers.) In that same interview, he said of his calling, “I don’t bully anyone. Instead, I try to get people to believe in themselves.

I tell people, ‘You can do it.’ And they respond and say, ‘You were right. I can do it. And now I believe I can do anything.'”


Extract of super fan by Jen Sookfong Lee. Copyright © 2023 Jen Sookfong Lee. Published by McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by agreement with the publisher. All rights reserved.