|photo: Nikki Austin-Garlington
Rax King is a James Beard Award-nominated writer and host of the podcast Low Culture Boil. Her writing can be found in Glamour, MEL magazine, Catapult and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with her hedgehog and toothless Pekingese. Her book Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer (Vintage, November 2, 2021) is a collection of essays on the joys of low pop culture and bad taste, exploring coming of age in the 2000s in the age of Hot Topic, Cree and frosted lip gloss.
On your nightstand now:
I just finished Margaret Visser's Much Depends on Dinner, and am about to start Jackie Ess's Darryl, which I'm stoked about. In the interests of full disclosure, I also have between five and 10 unread books that should be in line ahead of Darryl, but the brain wants what it wants, no?
Favorite book when you were a child:
Oh, man, I lived for Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. The movie came out a couple years after I read the book, so I spent my adolescence in thrall to the entire franchise. To this day, I don't think I've read a more poignant depiction of a young girl's unrequited love. I also read, and loved, and totally missed the point of, Lolita as an impressionable preteen.
Your top five authors:
Flannery O'Connor, Toni Morrison, Eve Babitz, James Baldwin and maybe Shirley Jackson. (In reality, those are just five favorites who came to mind, and the list goes on and on. Like, you wouldn't ask me to pick five favorite family members!)
Book you've faked reading:
I'm not one for faking reading! I'm a terrible liar and I'd be too scared of being found out. The closest thing I can think of is when I'm on a first date that I'm not invested in, and the conversation turns into one of those one-sided "have you heard of this book, have you heard of that book" cross-examinations. I've been on that first date many times, and I always end up zoning out while I assure the other person that I've heard of all the books they've heard of, regardless of what those books are.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Hanif Abdurraqib's They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Not that Hanif needs any evangelism from little ole me, but I always teach at least one essay from it in my classes, and I always strenuously recommend that people buy it, which is the definition of an evangelist, so.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I found this bright yellow, aggressively 1970s edition of Marx's 18th Brumaire in a secondhand bookstore for $4, one of my proudest finds. I'd already read the text itself but didn't have it on my own bookshelf, so I figured I might as well go for the most garish version possible. I'd also totally buy my own book for the cover if I saw it in a store and hadn't, you know, written it myself.
Book you hid from your parents:
Gossip Girl. In fact, I don't even think I ever actually bought the books--too loath to talk to my parents about them. I'd lean against the Barnes & Noble young adult display for hours, speed-reading them.
Book that changed your life:
Lisa Carver's Drugs Are Nice. All her books are full of breathtakingly original writing, but this one's the life-changer. Lisa Carver's writing made me an extrovert--she's so exuberant that she makes you want to be exuberant, too!
Favorite line from a book:
"There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one's head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people's pain." --from James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room
Five books you'll never part with:
A bad question for me--I part with books all the time, I adore parting with books. They're heavy, and circumstances have always forced me to move a lot, well over a dozen times since I turned 18. I do have a 1969 edition of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex that I'd rather die than give away, but that's because badly outdated sex advice is really funny, not because the book is good. (It's not.)
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Maybe one of the Sally Rooney books? I don't care for the intensity of the discourse surrounding her as a figure, but her books have always been able to suck me in, even when I've felt disillusioned with reading (hell, with everything). The same goes for Elena Ferrante's books. Thinking about any book I want to read again for the first time, I guess I want to reverse engineer the sense of wonder that the book was originally able to engender in me. So a reread's just as good.