The Alt’s Bookshelf: Volume 8

Posted: by The Editor

The Alt’s Bookshelf is a series where our staff highlights some of their favorite books and zines related to music. For our eighth volume, Bineet shares her thoughts on Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, The Haters by Jesse Andrews, and Cometbus #55: Pen Pals.

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Few other books have impacted me as immensely as this one. Michelle Zauner, who fronts Japanese Breakfast, wrote a book about her tense relationships with both her mother and her Korean identity. Her mother is Korean and her father is white, so when her mother passed away from cancer, she felt distanced from that culture and thus, began cooking Korean dishes to bring herself closer to it. 

Zauner recalled a time from her middle school years in which a classmate interrogated her about her ethnicity, which made her feel uncomfortable. She wrote, “Until then, I’d always been proud of being half Korean, but suddenly I feared it’d become my defining feature and so I began to efface it.”

Since finishing this book, I’ve thought more about my own cultural identity, as my parents are from India. I’ve decided that culture is something that deserves to be embraced. I recently ordered a custom-made necklace with my first name written in Gurmukhi, which is the written form of Punjabi. I’m sure many people will be confused when they see me wear it, but hopefully I get asked about it.

Zauner was often at odds with her mother in her teenage years, then felt distraught after her death, which made me think more about how sometimes, joy can feel elusive. However, it’s important to do whatever it is that makes you content because frankly, life is unpredictable. This belief is much of why I’m pursuing becoming an English teacher. Through substitute teaching, I realized I love working with students. So, I should – and will – continue doing so.

The Haters by Jesse Andrews

The only reason I read this book is because I saw on Reddit that it mentions Loveless, the super rad, super iconic shoegaze album by My Bloody Valentine. According to this book, the album “can only be correctly enjoyed while lying semiconscious on a filthy mattress in an abandoned apartment.” This is the sort of humor the book is filled with.

This book follows three jazz camp drop-outs on their journey as they form a band, realize they’re not that great at making music, then embark on a tour anyway. The ridiculous, erratic energy of this book might have caused me to lose a few brain cells, but that’s okay because I enjoyed it regardless. The Haters doesn’t necessarily idealize being a touring musician, as band members Wes, Corey and Ash regularly face small crowds as well as the unpredictability and discomfort of frequent travel, but it does make it seem adventurous. I read this book in merely two days because it was entertaining, but also easy to get through.

Cometbus #55: Pen Pals

Miranda Reinert, who is a co-host of the podcast Endless Scroll with fellow editor for The Alternative Eric Bennett, sent me a copy of this zine because she accidentally ordered a duplicate. The Cometbus zines are written by Aaron Cometbus – member of the now-defunct band Crimpshrine – and often touch on punk culture. 

This issue was published in 2013 and focuses on Yula, a blunt, bold woman he befriended, as well as Iskra, a publication local to Berkeley, California that, similarly, was honest and forthright. The value of being genuine is a common theme throughout the zine. As you guessed from the title, there’s also content about the virtue of mailing letters. Cometbus wrote, “Talking in-person was different. Appearances were what you noticed; inflections were what you heard instead of words.”

From the physical copies of Iskra to the act of writing letters to the very fact that the zine was printed onto paper, reading Pen Pals reminded me of how much I like physical media. I still appreciate technology – in fact, you’re literally reading these words through a screen – but being able to hold it makes it feel more legitimate somehow.

Check out past volumes of this column here


Bineet Kaur | @hellobineet

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