Hot Best Seller

Pop Song: Adventures in Art & Intimacy

Availability: Ready to download

Endlessly inventive, intimate, and provocative, this memoir-in-essays is a celebration of the strange and exquisite state of falling in love, whether with a painting or a person, that interweaves incisive commentary on modern life, feminism, art and sex with the author's own experiences of obsession, heartbreak, and past trauma. Like a song that feels written just for you, Endlessly inventive, intimate, and provocative, this memoir-in-essays is a celebration of the strange and exquisite state of falling in love, whether with a painting or a person, that interweaves incisive commentary on modern life, feminism, art and sex with the author's own experiences of obsession, heartbreak, and past trauma. Like a song that feels written just for you, Larissa Pham's debut work of nonfiction captures the imagination and refuses to let go. Pop Song is a book about love and about falling in love—with a place, or a painting, or a person—and the joy and terror inherent in the experience of that love. Plumbing the well of culture for clues and patterns about love and loss—from Agnes Martin's abstract paintings to James Turrell's transcendent light works, and Anne Carson's Eros the Bittersweet to Frank Ocean's Blonde—Pham writes of her youthful attempts to find meaning in travel, sex, drugs, and art, before sensing that she might need to turn her gaze upon herself. Pop Song is also a book about distances, near and far. As she travels from Taos, New Mexico, to Shanghai, China and beyond, Pham meditates on the miles we are willing to cover to get away from ourselves, or those who hurt us, and the impossible gaps that can exist between two people sharing a bed. Pop Song is a book about all the routes by which we might escape our own needs before finally finding a way home. There is heartache in these pages, but Pham's electric ways of seeing create a perfectly fractured portrait of modern intimacy that is triumphant in both its vulnerability and restlessness.


Compare

Endlessly inventive, intimate, and provocative, this memoir-in-essays is a celebration of the strange and exquisite state of falling in love, whether with a painting or a person, that interweaves incisive commentary on modern life, feminism, art and sex with the author's own experiences of obsession, heartbreak, and past trauma. Like a song that feels written just for you, Endlessly inventive, intimate, and provocative, this memoir-in-essays is a celebration of the strange and exquisite state of falling in love, whether with a painting or a person, that interweaves incisive commentary on modern life, feminism, art and sex with the author's own experiences of obsession, heartbreak, and past trauma. Like a song that feels written just for you, Larissa Pham's debut work of nonfiction captures the imagination and refuses to let go. Pop Song is a book about love and about falling in love—with a place, or a painting, or a person—and the joy and terror inherent in the experience of that love. Plumbing the well of culture for clues and patterns about love and loss—from Agnes Martin's abstract paintings to James Turrell's transcendent light works, and Anne Carson's Eros the Bittersweet to Frank Ocean's Blonde—Pham writes of her youthful attempts to find meaning in travel, sex, drugs, and art, before sensing that she might need to turn her gaze upon herself. Pop Song is also a book about distances, near and far. As she travels from Taos, New Mexico, to Shanghai, China and beyond, Pham meditates on the miles we are willing to cover to get away from ourselves, or those who hurt us, and the impossible gaps that can exist between two people sharing a bed. Pop Song is a book about all the routes by which we might escape our own needs before finally finding a way home. There is heartache in these pages, but Pham's electric ways of seeing create a perfectly fractured portrait of modern intimacy that is triumphant in both its vulnerability and restlessness.

30 review for Pop Song: Adventures in Art & Intimacy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Meike

    Pham's memoir in essays tells the story of a love affair, how the author's alter ego arrived at the point of meeting the person, what happened during their relationship and how it ultimately ended. Throughout the text, this lover is directly addressed as "you", and as the title suggest, Pham - a writer and visual artist who holds a degree in painting and art history from Yale - intersperses her reflections on sex and human relations with various vignettes on different female artists, their works Pham's memoir in essays tells the story of a love affair, how the author's alter ego arrived at the point of meeting the person, what happened during their relationship and how it ultimately ended. Throughout the text, this lover is directly addressed as "you", and as the title suggest, Pham - a writer and visual artist who holds a degree in painting and art history from Yale - intersperses her reflections on sex and human relations with various vignettes on different female artists, their works and goals: For example, Nan Goldin's "Heart-Shaped Bruise" serves as a starting point to discuss physical experiences and BDSM, trauma and personal history are connected to Louise Bourgeois' "Spider", and proximity vs. distance as well as the abstract vs. the concrete are pondered over the work of Agnes Martin. While it seems a little labored how the characters always conveniently visit exhibitions of the artists whose works fit the core topic of the respective essays, Pham's insights are neatly intertwined with the art she outlines. There is also a raw and honest quality about her writing on personal experiences which contrasts nicely with her more sober explanations of art history. Pham questions herself about her attitude towards sex and how she uses it to avoid or establish intimacy. She also tries to come to terms with questions of emotional intimacy, and it's mostly very captivating to read. Sometimes though, the text is strictly written in the terms of critical theory and the language of wokeness, and the effect is weirdly strange - it's not that you wouldn't believe the author's feelings, but the way they are expressed reads peak millennial: "this crossroads of my own displacement intersecting with the violent history of the country I'd been birthed in, my own complicity in its structures not always clear to me" - you get my point. But then again, Pham is keenly aware of the marketplace she operates in, that she as a female PoC was "selling out some minor trauma for a byline", because that was marketable. Of course, a talented writer like her wants and deserves to be more than that, but it's hard to find a place if you have to create it yourself. An interesting read by a gifted new voice - while the text sometimes get caught in the loops of current discourse, it becomes clear that Pham's work also offers a distinctly original quality.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alwynne

    Taking a form somewhere between essay and memoir Larissa Pham’s words accumulate to tell the story of encounters that have shaped her perceptions, the art and artists that inform her own work, alter her ways of seeing or just offer up the possibility of something intimate that’s always just out of reach. The artists are almost overwhelmingly female, there’s Francesca Woodman whose mysterious, mythic photographs Pham collected online in her art school days, their representation of gender and trau Taking a form somewhere between essay and memoir Larissa Pham’s words accumulate to tell the story of encounters that have shaped her perceptions, the art and artists that inform her own work, alter her ways of seeing or just offer up the possibility of something intimate that’s always just out of reach. The artists are almost overwhelmingly female, there’s Francesca Woodman whose mysterious, mythic photographs Pham collected online in her art school days, their representation of gender and trauma couched in a language she can all-too-easily interpret. Then there’s Nan Goldin’s early work, the bruised images that speak to Pham’s own explorations of the boundaries between sex and violence. And above all Agnes Martin’s contemplative, enigmatic grid paintings recollected during a trip to Taos where Martin once worked. Embedded in Pham’s chronicle is a wider narrative of what it is to see and be seen, to build an identity while rejecting the ones endlessly imposed from the outside, including dealing as an Asian American woman with acquiring the status of fetish object in the minds of many of the men she meets, something invisible in much of the white, feminist theory she reads in college. And from this mesh of memories, visual associations and events another thread emerges, an account of an all-consuming, failed relationship and all the revelations and confusions that came with it. I found Pham’s book’s thoughtful, sometimes intense, often unflinching, on rare occasions perhaps a little predictably precious. But I really liked her voice, how she structured her material, and, although I preferred the more concrete aspects of her discussion - the section spinning off from Nan Goldin was particularly powerful - there was so much that resonated here that I was completely absorbed throughout.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    A wonderful reading experience for the most part. I found it clever and stimulating (I kept googling all the art and artists she refers to), but sometimes rather sentimental. I enjoyed her musings on art more than I enjoyed her post-mortem of her unsuccessful relationship with the unnamed "you" she kept refering to. A wonderful reading experience for the most part. I found it clever and stimulating (I kept googling all the art and artists she refers to), but sometimes rather sentimental. I enjoyed her musings on art more than I enjoyed her post-mortem of her unsuccessful relationship with the unnamed "you" she kept refering to.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Paris (parisperusing)

    "Here's one promise of a bruise: it heals. A bruise is a way of witnessing: one has endured a blow and survived. It disappears once flesh has been knit back together. In some ways, a bruise is the inverse of photography, or any kind of art making. Art preserves; bruises fade. Once I could get past saying, I hurt, I realized I had so much more to say." I admire the sway and tenderness with which Larissa Pham renders her experiences as an Asian American woman against the milieu of the world and all "Here's one promise of a bruise: it heals. A bruise is a way of witnessing: one has endured a blow and survived. It disappears once flesh has been knit back together. In some ways, a bruise is the inverse of photography, or any kind of art making. Art preserves; bruises fade. Once I could get past saying, I hurt, I realized I had so much more to say." I admire the sway and tenderness with which Larissa Pham renders her experiences as an Asian American woman against the milieu of the world and all its dull conventions in her debut, Pop Song. Like Pham, I, too, sensed something deeper in the frozen fury rumbling in archives of Nan Goldin’s photography and was equally struck by the vibrant violence of Jenny Saville’s paintings. This book exposed so much of me in relation to the existence I’ve strived to live versus the life that feels pre-constructed for me. This book is crushing, cathartic, and utterly enchanting. It's one of those books that finds us unexpectedly at our deepest end, as if in waiting. Pham possesses a gravity that is entirely her own, pulling you into her orbit and into the arms of someone who knows what it's like to be sundered by this world. Pop Song harnesses Pham's most furious, soul-searching reflections — on paint and pain, lust, and loneliness — that unleashes a gossamer of hope and purpose. This book marks the advent of a merciful, miraculous writer. Thank you, Catapult friends, for gifting me the easiest (and my first!) five-star read of 2021.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Geoff

    There is a lot to like in Pop Song. Pham is both intimate and scholarly, disclosing and discursive, open and hurt, angry and hopeful. A collection of personal essays tinged with scholarly discussions of art, the book turns out to describe the arc of a relationship, moving back through her life all through to the aftermath. She addresses her (former) love directly in the second person throughout the book, and while I've found "you" to be off-putting or precious in other places, here it works beca There is a lot to like in Pop Song. Pham is both intimate and scholarly, disclosing and discursive, open and hurt, angry and hopeful. A collection of personal essays tinged with scholarly discussions of art, the book turns out to describe the arc of a relationship, moving back through her life all through to the aftermath. She addresses her (former) love directly in the second person throughout the book, and while I've found "you" to be off-putting or precious in other places, here it works because Pham is almost always talking about how "you" made her feel or how she reacted to "you" or what she wanted and needed. There are some heavy subjects in here around bondage, racial fetishes, commercialization of art, and social media commodification of "authentic" lives among others. there are also some great descriptions of art and artists and how and why they matter both in general and to her. Really enjoyed this brave work.

  6. 5 out of 5

    M. (Inside My Library Mind)

    More reviews up on my blog Inside My Library Mind “It was the first time I learned to perform my sadness. It is a skill I have retained” A while back I read a short story collection, Kink, and one of my favorite stories in it was by Larissa Pham, an author I have not heard of before. So when I spied her upcoming memoir in essays on Edelweiss, I had to check it out. It was a must. And I am so glad I did because I really loved this. Pop Song is a hybrid between a memoir in essays and art cr More reviews up on my blog Inside My Library Mind “It was the first time I learned to perform my sadness. It is a skill I have retained” A while back I read a short story collection, Kink, and one of my favorite stories in it was by Larissa Pham, an author I have not heard of before. So when I spied her upcoming memoir in essays on Edelweiss, I had to check it out. It was a must. And I am so glad I did because I really loved this. Pop Song is a hybrid between a memoir in essays and art criticism, which is something I am seeing crop up more and more, and it’s something that conceptually works really well for me. Larissa Pham writes in short, poignant paragraphs, often resorting to lists and fragmented storytelling, and that’s a writing style I am finding works well on me. This is a deeply intimate look at not only the author’s life, but also at her understanding of art and how she uses art to come to terms with something that’s going on in her life. There’s a particularly searing part in my favorite essay “Body of Work” where Pham tells us how she broke up with her high school boyfriend, but after pondering a series of paintings she loves, she questions her own memory, and finds that she misremembered that event. She then uses that to explore this idea of us making our memories sadder in order to make that sadness more visible, or to perform our sadness as she claims at one point. It was so smart and powerful and that’s the exact point I fell in love with this collection. “Pain resonates. Pain is an unlocked room with the door shut: it paid too much to stay away from the source of it, so I kept walking in.” I also really appreciated how Pham wrote about her trauma and how she writes about love and intimacy. Sometimes you just read something and it speaks to you, which is what happened to me with Pop Song. The thread that seems to bind her essays together is her relationship with her boyfriend, who is always referred to only as “you” and Pham explores her relationship from the initial stages to the breakup all along using distance as a way to contextualize her feelings and their relationship. That’s one thing I think she is brilliant at – she manages to really contextualize her feelings and thoughts through paintings and music in a way that feels really honest and authentic. She talks about her Tumblr blog at one point, and everything she discusses in that part is perfectly contextualized through the Tumblr culture. It was really remarkable. “That there was too much inside me that made me ugly, and unlovable, and impossible to care for. I have been so many people in my life, and on my worst days, all my selves seemed stacked up inside me, too full to allow anything else in, like trash shoved in a compactor. I thought of myself as haunted.” Another thing I loved about this collection is that it was so rewarding to explore the art that the author was exploring alongside her. I have not heard of most of the art she references here, because she mostly focuses on American artists, but I loved finding the paintings she referenced online and then reading her thoughts with them in the background. There’s a part where she talks about a demo of Wild Heart that Stevie Nicks sang backstage at a shoot for the Rolling Stone, and it’s absolutely brilliant, and I am so glad I discovered that through this book. “This is my weakness: I rely on the language of the body too often, when I think no other language will serve.” There are definitely some less strong essays in here, and some of them go too deep into art criticism for me personally, so for me, some of them read at times like a textbook, but overall, the collection as a whole was brilliant and I will for sure read anything Pham puts out. Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Pinterest

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    "Today I have sensitive tattooed in script above my right elbow, an impulsive decision I made with you. Sometimes I skim my fingertips across it, feeling where the skin is still raised. All the bruises I've gotten over the years have sunk back into my skin, the capillaries absorbed, the flesh healed. The photos remain, and I do love them, but their beauty isn't solely in the suffering. What I needed most from my bruises, after all was not to know that I had acquired them but to know that I had e "Today I have sensitive tattooed in script above my right elbow, an impulsive decision I made with you. Sometimes I skim my fingertips across it, feeling where the skin is still raised. All the bruises I've gotten over the years have sunk back into my skin, the capillaries absorbed, the flesh healed. The photos remain, and I do love them, but their beauty isn't solely in the suffering. What I needed most from my bruises, after all was not to know that I had acquired them but to know that I had endured. "~pg.76 • 🌿 Thoughts ~ A truly creative and vulnerable memoir in essays. One of my most anticipated reads of the year and once I started it I couldn't stop! It was everything I'd hoped it would be and more! Pham's essays are soothing and filled with thought provoking beauty on life, art, sex, love, pain, and heartache. Masterfully and tenderly written, she searches for the deepest meanings as she candidly weaves herself into works of art and photography, sharing her experiences of being an Asian American woman in our unjust, cruel society, and examining the agony we will put ourselves through to find our worth. A therapeutic reading experience, I definitely recommend checking this book out! I'm obsessed! Thank You @catapult for sending me this book opinions are my own. • For more of my book content check out instagram.com/bookalong

  8. 4 out of 5

    Matilda

    It’s possible it’s because i read this at the tender time of ~going through a breakup~ but every part of this book struck me. It made me feel and think deeply about what it means to be an artist and what it means to be in love, and how those things are inseparable.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Somewhere between 3-3.5 rounded down A refreshing take on the memoir (in essays), with Pham melding an exploration of her personal and intimate life - specifically a love affair which consumes her - with that of art which moves her, including references to artists such as Agnes Martin, Nan Goldin (who incidentally I learnt about as she is referred to a lot in Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty) and Louise Bourgeois. Some great insights, some sections which feel quite Myspac Somewhere between 3-3.5 rounded down A refreshing take on the memoir (in essays), with Pham melding an exploration of her personal and intimate life - specifically a love affair which consumes her - with that of art which moves her, including references to artists such as Agnes Martin, Nan Goldin (who incidentally I learnt about as she is referred to a lot in Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty) and Louise Bourgeois. Some great insights, some sections which feel quite Myspace/tumblr left me feeling this was a bit of a mixed bag, but the writing is promising and I was engaged throughout. Thank you Netgalley and Serpent's Tail for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    donnalyn ♡

    I was introduced to Larissa Pham’s writing by my friend Shu-Ling, who linked me to one of her art essays on oranges; an essay that I love and reread often. Shu-Ling is another author who I admire, and there’s a special pile of books on my shelf/in my heart by young Asian women writers who inspire me to write and live as myself. In Shu-Ling’s own collection of essays, Echoes, she writes, “Why is it so bad to appear earnest? Why is wanting to be liked a flaw?” I thought of this a lot while reading I was introduced to Larissa Pham’s writing by my friend Shu-Ling, who linked me to one of her art essays on oranges; an essay that I love and reread often. Shu-Ling is another author who I admire, and there’s a special pile of books on my shelf/in my heart by young Asian women writers who inspire me to write and live as myself. In Shu-Ling’s own collection of essays, Echoes, she writes, “Why is it so bad to appear earnest? Why is wanting to be liked a flaw?” I thought of this a lot while reading Pop Song, a book that is unapologetically earnest. There is a difference between being honest and being earnest, and Pham notes that, in writing about the aestheticisation of pain, we stumble over the line between performance and a desire to be believed in. These essays are deeply personal and critical, and Pham draws two styles of writing into conversation with each other repeatedly, sometimes when you expect it, and sometimes when you don't. I've heard that some people find her mix of personal memoir and art criticism disjointed at times, but I feel like this friction makes me appreciate it more. Larissa and I have had similar training, (we are both art students and “failed painters” turned personal essayists) and this retreat to discipline, like a muscle she can’t help but flex (!), is strangely comforting. I think often we expect art to enter our lives in a way that is ordinary and simple, but sometimes it really does feel like you are reaching towards something that requires a different language. Like many others, I found that the weakest parts were her scattered use of second person throughout the book as an address to her lover, but even this is a weakness that I love. It really purposefully echoes Sylvia Plath and her dedicated teenage followers on Tumblr circa 2010 (incl ME), so lovingly described by Pham as "our way of showing up to church". It reminds me also of her contemporary, Jenny Zhang, and that particular style of personal memoir that I am always drawn to—unbearably vulnerable, almost embarrassing. There are moments that didn’t have to be included, parts that felt too garishly intimate like staring into a bright white light—but it’s a messiness that feels deliberate and shockingly beautiful. I had a lot of huge feelings about this book and I still think I will file them away until I can articulate them the way that I want to. My favourite essays were “Body of Work”, “Crush” (which you can read online here!), and “Blue”, which I read in its original form in the Paris Review.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Peter Dyer

    In Pop Song: Adventures in Art & Intimacy, Larissa Pham attempts to revitalize the personal essay by way of piecing together essays from her life to tell a story of her romantic experiences, and the way those intersect with various artists and musicians that she appreciates. Pop Song is billed as a memoir-in-essays, written in the first person but often addressing a mysterious "you" who we then find out is Pham's ex-boyfriend, and as the essays continue we begin to follow the glorious rise and u In Pop Song: Adventures in Art & Intimacy, Larissa Pham attempts to revitalize the personal essay by way of piecing together essays from her life to tell a story of her romantic experiences, and the way those intersect with various artists and musicians that she appreciates. Pop Song is billed as a memoir-in-essays, written in the first person but often addressing a mysterious "you" who we then find out is Pham's ex-boyfriend, and as the essays continue we begin to follow the glorious rise and unfortunate demise of their relationship. Pham writes in a likable, relatable tone. None of the essays, though many fall under the same overarching theme, seem to cover the same ground. Even though they are disparate, they are lovingly placed in a way that moves Pham's stories along. It's easy to tell that some of these essays were written before Pham even decided to write a book, but they aren't plopped in without thought. Each of the essays and their placement makes sense. The book, in this way and many others, feels intentional. The book kicks off with "On Running", which features Pham writing about going on late-night runs in college in an effort to feel something. The next essay, entitled "Blue", is about Pham going to New Mexico to live under the blue sky and find inspiration for her writing, and her art. I enjoyed this essay, however it featured something that Pham did a lot throughout this collection, something that unfortunately bothered me. Pham's writing is certainly poetic, but at times it felt like she was trying to reach a certain word count, adding additional sentences that didn't need to be there. An example of this comes from the first page of "Blue", when she speaks about the true color of the sky, "There is even a commercially produced shade, I discovered, called cerulean. Its name derives from the Latin word for the heavens." This line, and many others, often messed up the flow of the reading. At times, it felt like Pham would just tag on a needless fact that didn't need to be there, in an effort to make the fragments that she wrote in seem longer. For someone that wrote an article lamenting viral book reviews, commenting on how mean they can be, Pop Song is, expectedly, a very sweet and harmless book. Pham writes in a kind tone, like that of a famous Tumblr blogger who regularly interacts with her followers. It's apt because, as Pham writes, she was big on Tumblr for a period of time (2009-2014, according to the acknowledgments). This is most present in the essay "Crush" which is about, you guessed it, having a crush. One of the longer essays in the bunch, this one features some of the most poignant passages in the entire book. In this essay, Pham, who absolutely must be a Cancer (need to confirm this), writes about crushing on someone from afar. Near the end of the essay, she writes, "The crush exists at a point of distance. The less I know of you, the better, because then I can safely project my affections on you. I can begin to write a story, a catalogue of intimacies, a script that we will inevitably fail." I found much of Pham's fragments on crushes in this section to be quite beautiful, and many of them deeply resonated with me. Things get tricky when Pham attempts to throw in art criticism or art history into the essays. At times, it works, such as in a brief section near the end on Louise Bourgeois. During this section, Pham is actually at a Louise Bourgeois exhibit, describing her surroundings as well as facts about Bourgeois's early life and career. Aside from that, I sometimes found that the art criticism didn't mix quite well with her personal essays, made them feel more convoluted and less meaningful. Pham attempts to do what Olivia Laing didn't do in The Lonely City (a book that Pop Song will inevitably be compared to) which is balance the art criticism and memoir elements out meaningfully. In Laing's book, pages of art history overpowered the text and Laing's messages on being alone. In Pop Song, however, the elements are too close together, with one sometimes drowning out the other. I think the only solution to this would be shorter essays. Pham went so many places in a single essay that splitting them up might have been easier to follow and read. One of my biggest bugbears as a reader is when authors will drop a strange attempt at humor, humor that feels misplaced, into an otherwise beautiful paragraph. Patricia Lockwood did this in No One Is Talking About This, Rachel Khong did this in Goodbye, Vitamin, and Larissa Pham is guilty of this a few times in Pop Song. During a trip to Mexico City, Pham writes in fragments about her and her friends wandering around. It's an immersive description of her trip, because Pham often writes gorgeous sentences, until she drops this one in there: "[We ate]...Street tacos from a cart that gave us watery shits that lasted for two days[.]" and then later on, in a section titled "Bougainvilleas", she writes, "I made paintings from photos on my camera roll, of meals and my friends and flowers and, once, a painting of the splatter of your come on me." I wish I could paste, into this review, the drawing I did of an "annoyed" expression next to the latter quote in the book. For writers like Pham, Lockwood, and Khong, writers who are able to create a basic descriptive sentence and know how to employ the use of imagery into their writing, it's important to not throw in jarring words or phrases that throw the reader out of what was otherwise a perfectly nice essay. The eye roll-inducing parts of this book were few and far between, but they were there, and always distracting when they would arise. One thing that is indisputable about Pop Song is that it's a remarkably genuine book. Pham feels a lot, and I could definitely tell that after finishing the book. While not as messy and joyfully unfiltered as a diary (The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits set the bar high for that), Pop Song was a compelling depiction of a relationship, and the art that Larissa Pham accessed to make sense of her feelings. I'll conclude with a quote from one of my favorite essays in the book, entitled "On Being Alone", in which she talks about chasing after big feelings, "I had tried it even in different ways, trying to chase a feeling through late night runs and pop songs and looking for it in museums. But what had finally led to any shift in me was the pure fact that I had tried anything." That last line is a beautiful takeaway from this book: sometimes, there's power in simply putting yourself out there and being vulnerable about your interests. By the end of this book, Pham learns that about herself, and it's cathartic to watch her come to that conclusion.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kaitlin

    Pop Song is generous, ambitious, and captivating. Pham skillfully explores her journey as an artist with tender explorations of desire, sex, and encounters with art. Her criticism is clear-eyed and sensitive, avoiding the trope of inaccessible artspeak with more human and truthful revelations on how art reveals the cracks and interstices of our humanity. She writes so movingly about her feelings, which is no mean feat given how uncontainable emotions can be: feelings of restlessness and wanting Pop Song is generous, ambitious, and captivating. Pham skillfully explores her journey as an artist with tender explorations of desire, sex, and encounters with art. Her criticism is clear-eyed and sensitive, avoiding the trope of inaccessible artspeak with more human and truthful revelations on how art reveals the cracks and interstices of our humanity. She writes so movingly about her feelings, which is no mean feat given how uncontainable emotions can be: feelings of restlessness and wanting to transcend her body, feelings of longing and yearning, feelings of living and writing in racialized capitalism, within an industry that often commodifies women's traumatic experiences without regard for how such confessional work warps one's sense of self. Pham is a singularly talented voice blending memoir and criticism and I recommend this book to anyone interested in porous constructions of the self.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    “It felt incredible to see that deep interiority I thought I’d been alone and frightened in, reflected in the words of someone else...I saw in [Louise] Bourgeois’ text another kind of home. I felt witnessed by her poetics... ” There were many stretches of paragraphs and sentences I highlighted throughout the course of reading Pop Song, but I chose to open my review with this, because it describes, in Larissa Pham’s own words, my reading encounter with her tender writing. Something about how witne “It felt incredible to see that deep interiority I thought I’d been alone and frightened in, reflected in the words of someone else...I saw in [Louise] Bourgeois’ text another kind of home. I felt witnessed by her poetics... ” There were many stretches of paragraphs and sentences I highlighted throughout the course of reading Pop Song, but I chose to open my review with this, because it describes, in Larissa Pham’s own words, my reading encounter with her tender writing. Something about how witnessed Pham felt in the encounter with Bourgeois made me felt witnessed too. This book felt close, inspiring, and so saturated with feeling - in defense of feeling your feelings, or maybe not a defense but an understanding that our sensitivity and attachments are our enduring compasses in this project of navigating life and love. Art has always been a way for me to witness and recognise modes of relation and intimacy, to remotely feel, to love something even when they don’t reveal themselves entirely to you, to be moved by a gesture, line, the fraying of an object - the kind of close looking that art invites is also a kind of witnessing. Reading Pop Song makes me reflect on the ways that people holds us and art holds us too and sometimes when art holds us, it’s also us holding ourselves. Halfway through reading it, an image of my reading experience of Pop Song started surfacing in my mind - I was imagining a kind of small fire, think of a fireplace in the cold room and the comfort of the warmth, being held and seen in that light. I felt the silvers of joy at reading about the blooming of love and then the lovelorn in me withered alongside the narrator when that love too succumbed to its fissures and cracks. The narrator’s most significant breakup makes me want to cry from the sharp identification. The need to ensure posterity, the obsession with time capsuling the unexpected intimacy and joy of the present, the dependence on such a joy and then the anxious attempts to ward off such a dependence. In the moment of a good thing, sometimes we can’t let the moment go. We tell ourselves, it’s too good to be true. We need evidence that it’s true, we need to save this good thing so it can endure bit by bit and Pop Song gave voice to this archiving impulse, this anxious self, this lifelong process of trying to not focus on scarcity and to reorient attention towards recognising the abundance of our feelings and attachments. Keep feeling. Open that door. I’m finishing this book to usher in a birthday. It’s been such a great gift.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lulufrances

    I was secretly hoping for another kind of Chew-Bose, which I know, I know, is wrong. A bit too sentimental and overwrought in some instances and all in all I found this difficult to read smoothly; my brain kept wandering and I had to reread so many passages to really grasp them. (Might be my current mindset though, so take that with a pinch of salt.) I loved reading about all the various artists that I myself really like, for instance Mark Rothko and his chapel in Houston (guess who wrote a whole I was secretly hoping for another kind of Chew-Bose, which I know, I know, is wrong. A bit too sentimental and overwrought in some instances and all in all I found this difficult to read smoothly; my brain kept wandering and I had to reread so many passages to really grasp them. (Might be my current mindset though, so take that with a pinch of salt.) I loved reading about all the various artists that I myself really like, for instance Mark Rothko and his chapel in Houston (guess who wrote a whole 15 page essay on it last year for an abstract expressionism module), Louise Bourgeois (guess who wrote her art finals in school on her), or Flavin and so on – the art part was done really refreshingly. So, a mixed one for me, but I think I will give Pham's future work a chance nonetheless.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Isa

    Reading this while anticipating a breakup-esque emotion in my own life feels like a sign somehow.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    5 stars because this book is so very good at being itself. Even when Pham beckons us into depths of yearning and achingness that make me feel almost embarassed to be witnessing, I couldn't imagine it any other way. Thanks Larissa Pham for showing us the beauty in keeping our hearts open, wanting, and overflowing, how to interact with visual art and music and relationships from a place of deep and honest sentiment. <3 "My eye wasn’t possessive of people; it was only the closeness between us I cra 5 stars because this book is so very good at being itself. Even when Pham beckons us into depths of yearning and achingness that make me feel almost embarassed to be witnessing, I couldn't imagine it any other way. Thanks Larissa Pham for showing us the beauty in keeping our hearts open, wanting, and overflowing, how to interact with visual art and music and relationships from a place of deep and honest sentiment. <3 "My eye wasn’t possessive of people; it was only the closeness between us I craved. I knew I would lose it one day, and I wanted to make it visible, as though I could turn the way you touched me into a substance to hold." "This is my weakness: I rely on the language of the body too often, when I think no other language will serve."  "Some silences are surprising to me. They evolve. I like when a silence starts out uncomfortable and then opens up into something peaceful, without movement or effort."

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    ok really a 4.5 bc there were a few essays right at the beginning i didn’t like at all but then the rest some how made up for them??? this book is 4 my lyricism and lucidity baddies out there :) made me #feel :)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    This is an ekphrastic autobiographical book about love and art. Summarizing her personal journey, Pham writes, “ …I went looking for paintings and poems and photographs, which were all ways that things had already been said. It seemed to me that what I was looking for was art, whether it was called art or called something else. I wanted to badly to connect to something, to recognize myself where I didn’t have the words to express – but. I knew I’d throw every painting in the world away to have y This is an ekphrastic autobiographical book about love and art. Summarizing her personal journey, Pham writes, “ …I went looking for paintings and poems and photographs, which were all ways that things had already been said. It seemed to me that what I was looking for was art, whether it was called art or called something else. I wanted to badly to connect to something, to recognize myself where I didn’t have the words to express – but. I knew I’d throw every painting in the world away to have you here with me.” Pham mentions gaze aversion in over-stimulated babies. Sometimes I felt that while reading this book: the content was often uncomfortably TMI and far from pleasant. But at the same time, it was fascinating and powerful in its attempt at truthfulness. I will be thinking about this for a long time.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    A thoughtful, introspective, and entrancing memoir. I listened to the audiobook, and I feel I might have enjoyed it more if I had read it instead, felt more connected to the writer somehow.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I'm not shy to admit that I don't know a lot about art-- Pham, however, is deeply immersed in all of its forms, and her brilliance shows in every segment of Pop Song. Pham herself is an artist, a world traveler, a lover, and much, much more. In this memoir, she enchantingly describes a select few pieces that have captivated her, relating them to beautiful, painful, and ultimately vulnerable points of her life, whether that be past, present, or future. Whether it's a painting, an installation, or I'm not shy to admit that I don't know a lot about art-- Pham, however, is deeply immersed in all of its forms, and her brilliance shows in every segment of Pop Song. Pham herself is an artist, a world traveler, a lover, and much, much more. In this memoir, she enchantingly describes a select few pieces that have captivated her, relating them to beautiful, painful, and ultimately vulnerable points of her life, whether that be past, present, or future. Whether it's a painting, an installation, or even just an obscure interview, I found myself immediately looking up every artist and work, both to see with my own eyes and to understand her interpretations, completely enthralled in these beautiful works I would never know about otherwise. Larissa Pham herself has such a way with words and description that my copy is dog-eared and highlighted all throughout the book-- so many insights and emotion that I've always wished to put into words that I don't want to forget. Pop Song is somehow all of the following: vibrant, quiet, poignant, raw, and blooming. An absolutely stunning account of art and coming-of-age suited for the insightful reader.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    I went to art school, too... And I don’t see the need to bring Walter Benjamin into discussions of James Blake and Joni Mitchell. In trying to break down emotional walls, it feels like she is constantly putting up walls. I really couldn’t connect. There are some paragraphs where I am like YES finally something REAL and then it becomes all too obtuse again. The same stories repeated throughout the book without a hook and when we got to the actual story in the end it was again, unemotional and dis I went to art school, too... And I don’t see the need to bring Walter Benjamin into discussions of James Blake and Joni Mitchell. In trying to break down emotional walls, it feels like she is constantly putting up walls. I really couldn’t connect. There are some paragraphs where I am like YES finally something REAL and then it becomes all too obtuse again. The same stories repeated throughout the book without a hook and when we got to the actual story in the end it was again, unemotional and disconnected, trying to theorize emotions. It mentions it was written during the pandemic but none of it happens in the pandemic. She is constantly going away, to China, to Mexico, to the Southwest, and then shit talking the very thing that she is doing (calling people gentrifiers, when she herself is participating in that very culture). I've liked Larissa Pham, some sections of the book I really enjoyed, but overall I really did not connect or like the overarching narrative. Such a cool idea, and some really good artists and theorists brought up, but done from such a distance it didn't work.

  22. 4 out of 5

    betsy

    Gorgeously written essays about love, loss, and art. The subtitle "Adventures in Art & Intimacy" perfectly captures the journey that takes place throughout the essays; all of the pieces stand alone, but there's also an overarching narrative of a relationship that's woven throughout each chapter. Pham is a gifted writer, and her writing about art specifically is electric. At one point in the book she speaks about how she likes the idea of an ekphrasis—a literary device that employs written descri Gorgeously written essays about love, loss, and art. The subtitle "Adventures in Art & Intimacy" perfectly captures the journey that takes place throughout the essays; all of the pieces stand alone, but there's also an overarching narrative of a relationship that's woven throughout each chapter. Pham is a gifted writer, and her writing about art specifically is electric. At one point in the book she speaks about how she likes the idea of an ekphrasis—a literary device that employs written description of a piece of visual art—more than the actual form itself. "Wasn't the point of looking at a painting to feel something wordless? Why not let it remain in that realm?" she writes. Even though it's difficult to capture the aura of a piece of visual art in words, Pham does so to great success. I'm looking forward to reading more of Pham's work in the future!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Mason

    There is so much to love about Pop Song by Larissa Pham. This collection of essays is heart breaking and beautiful in the way that a really great breakup album is. It’s both vulnerable and analytical. Her writing style reminded me of some of my favorite authors, Rebecca Solnit and Maggie Nelson (both of whom she references throughout), particularly as she writes about intimacy and desire. Each sentence was like a love poem, and I wanted to highlight every other line in the book. In one essay, P There is so much to love about Pop Song by Larissa Pham. This collection of essays is heart breaking and beautiful in the way that a really great breakup album is. It’s both vulnerable and analytical. Her writing style reminded me of some of my favorite authors, Rebecca Solnit and Maggie Nelson (both of whom she references throughout), particularly as she writes about intimacy and desire. Each sentence was like a love poem, and I wanted to highlight every other line in the book. In one essay, Pham writes about getting a tattoo that reads, simply, ‘sensitive,’ which would have been a fitting alternate title.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Dai

    tldr this book was a lot looking back through my kindle highlights all of them are intense, so much that I struggle to read through all of them at once. the book is intense in an emotional sense, in that she shares more about her romantic life than I can imagine telling even to my closest friends/partner. it's also intense in a more nebulous sense, though: the writing itself is beautiful in a heavy way, where day-to-day thoughts and experiences become deeply potent, like somehow finely-crafted pr tldr this book was a lot looking back through my kindle highlights all of them are intense, so much that I struggle to read through all of them at once. the book is intense in an emotional sense, in that she shares more about her romantic life than I can imagine telling even to my closest friends/partner. it's also intense in a more nebulous sense, though: the writing itself is beautiful in a heavy way, where day-to-day thoughts and experiences become deeply potent, like somehow finely-crafted prose might make the quotidian profound. which, for the most part, it does. But in any text the self is performed, a persona crafted--she's also, of course, self-aware. last comment: as someone who knows little about the art world, I really enjoyed the more academic analysis/criticism portions: they were accessible without feeling dumbed-down, evocative while avoiding jargon/pedantry. the personal essay/ memoir sections are such an effective scaffolding for the analysis she does about art! I read the essay about finding it right after running around the met alone -- chefs kiss

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sof Sears

    ahhhhhh fuuuuck!!!! a tender, scathed bluebird's heart; a sudden green light washing the night in color and fervor; wine-soaked & loneliness-welded beauty & ferocity & unraveling feeling. at times i felt like a nosy viewer of an intimate painting—the pain so close, so reddened & sticky I couldn't distinguish pham's wounds from my own. this is a book that claws and scratches at itself, that breaks into its own form in such honest and evocative ways it's truly gorgeous. there's this structural lim ahhhhhh fuuuuck!!!! a tender, scathed bluebird's heart; a sudden green light washing the night in color and fervor; wine-soaked & loneliness-welded beauty & ferocity & unraveling feeling. at times i felt like a nosy viewer of an intimate painting—the pain so close, so reddened & sticky I couldn't distinguish pham's wounds from my own. this is a book that claws and scratches at itself, that breaks into its own form in such honest and evocative ways it's truly gorgeous. there's this structural liminality about this book, meta and smart, integrating the gaze of an artist with that of a writer, acknowledging and instigating narrative itself as its own weapon/form of desire! reminded me of the argonauts, of barthes, of many louise bourgeois pieces & many mitski songs. i wish it were edited down a bit more confidently during the last pieces—certain paragraphs felt overstuffed with a desire to be visually precise & this was somewhat distracting, and obscured the sheer pressure-cooker of beauty of pham's writing. but god, what a fucking writer!! i annotated the heck out of this bad boy.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Well now I just want to sit in a museum, stare at a painting, and cry.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nandika | Booktrovertgirl

    Memoir is one of my favorite genres, and Pop Song did not disappoint me even a bit. I rate books on the basis of how they make me feel. Pop Song made me feel like I should stay up all night looking out of my window and watch the sun rise. This memoir is divided into essays based on different topics of the author's life, but all the chapters have reference to an elusive 'you', a person the author loved/is still in love with. Whenever 'you' is referred, there is a certain melancholy that automatica Memoir is one of my favorite genres, and Pop Song did not disappoint me even a bit. I rate books on the basis of how they make me feel. Pop Song made me feel like I should stay up all night looking out of my window and watch the sun rise. This memoir is divided into essays based on different topics of the author's life, but all the chapters have reference to an elusive 'you', a person the author loved/is still in love with. Whenever 'you' is referred, there is a certain melancholy that automatically seeps into the pages. There is no discernible rhyme or reason to when 'you' is mentioned, but I looked forward to whenever it happened. I know nothing about art, but this book made me feel like I should visit the local art museums. There are references to a number of famous art installations, which I then immediately looked up. The thought process of the author after looking at art pieces is so different, making me realize how artists are on a completely different tangent. All the essays are spectacular in one way or another, but my favorite is Crush. It had the right amount of angst and longing, and conveyed so many feelings. This book is definitely recommended for you if you like intense essays and talks about feelings.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Riley Yaxley

    Absolutely intoxicating. I devoured this in one sitting. Perfectly blends the personal, the theoretical and the historical in a way that is so heart wrenching and intimate. It felt like a conversation with a friend.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Yvette

    this book felt like a big hug

  30. 4 out of 5

    Auderoy

    QUOTES: How often in my life have I wanted to crest on the edge of pure sensation, seeking out the shape of something so big it could obliterate me? For that’s been my perpetual problem, as it was then and as it remains: I’m always trying to get somewhere else. It doesn’t matter where I’m going, only that I’m going, and that, eventually, I hope to be gone—winked out of my troubles, my responsibilities, my everyday existence. After all, why paint the sky when the sky itself is a stand-in, when you c QUOTES: How often in my life have I wanted to crest on the edge of pure sensation, seeking out the shape of something so big it could obliterate me? For that’s been my perpetual problem, as it was then and as it remains: I’m always trying to get somewhere else. It doesn’t matter where I’m going, only that I’m going, and that, eventually, I hope to be gone—winked out of my troubles, my responsibilities, my everyday existence. After all, why paint the sky when the sky itself is a stand-in, when you can instead paint the feeling you get when you look at the world and realize there’s so much beauty in it that you haven’t yet seen? A funny thing happens when you’re always writing, when you begin to narrate your life as you live it. The crisp, fat braid of the story begins to overtake the impressions of memory—and it’s true that was partly why I kept a diary, to pull a sieve through the disorganized world. Not so different from any other writer, and it’s true that, like so many other writers, I wrote first for me. In the mid-2010s, the dominant mode by which a young, hungry writer could enter the conversation was by deciding which of her traumas she wished to monetize. Sometimes in my life I’ve thought I wanted to free fall, just to see how far I’d go, how deep I could descend before I hit rock bottom. There’s something so appealing about coming unhinged, about not stopping the process of falling to pieces. But I never let myself let go that freely—there was a little part of me always holding on to the lip, the edge of what was possible. It’s a crush because it’s not real. Not yet, not maybe ever. I’d be content to spend forever in this liminal, cresting place, the interval before we know each other. Something that still surprises me about analog photography: there are no pixels in it, not until the film is digitally scanned. It’s not like a cell phone camera, where the information preserved depends on the camera’s resolution, and anything smaller than a pixel disappears. On a roll of film, each note, each shade, each gradient comes from the homogenous material of the film itself—from the light it saw. I imagine that a strip of film must contain everything, every detail, eery last impression of memory, if only I could develop it just right.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...