Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer (Paperback)
On Our Shelves Now
An irreverent and charming collection of deeply personal essays about the joys of low pop culture and bad taste, exploring coming of age in the 2000s in the age of Hot Topic, Creed, and frosted lip gloss—from the James Beard Award-nominated writer of the Catapult column "Store-Bought Is Fine”
Tacky is about the power of pop culture—like any art—to imprint itself on our lives and shape our experiences, no matter one's commitment to "good" taste. These fourteen essays are a nostalgia-soaked antidote to the millennial generation's obsession with irony, putting the aesthetics we hate to love—snakeskin pants, Sex and the City, Cheesecake Factory's gargantuan menu—into kinder and sharper perspective.
Each essay revolves around a different maligned (and yet, Rax would argue, vital) cultural artifact, providing thoughtful, even romantic meditations on desire, love, and the power of nostalgia. An essay about the gym-tan-laundry exuberance of Jersey Shore morphs into an excavation of grief over the death of her father; in "You Wanna Be On Top," Rax writes about friendship and early aughts girlhood; in another, Guy Fieri helps her heal from an abusive relationship.
The result is a collection that captures the personal and generational experience of finding joy in caring just a little too much with clarity, heartfelt honesty, and Rax King's trademark humor.
A VINTAGE ORIGINAL
About the Author
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, NY with her hedgehog and toothless Pekingese.
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: NPR, Bloomberg, KIRKUS
“Ebullient . . . What [feels] new is the glitter and squalor and joy and exactness in King’s writing . . . It reads like sequential shots of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky. King has unfettered access to her mind at 14 or 15. Her ‘Ode to Warm Vanilla Sugar’ is in league, as coming-of-age essays go, with Nora Ephron’s ‘A Few Words About Breasts’ . . . Like Katie Roiphe, King arrives in praise of messy lives. Like Toni Morrison in Song of Solomon, she advises: ‘You got a life? Live it!’ . . . So winsome is the writing in Tacky that, most of the time, there’s no other word for it but classy.”
—New York Times
"Tacky is a Trojan horse of a book—it’ll charge into your life with acute, laugh-out-loud observations, then leave you crying about the Cheesecake Factory. Prepare accordingly.”
—Esquire’s “The Best Books of Fall 2021”
“These sharp, deeply insightful and laugh-out-loud meditations on modern Americana, from the Cheesecake Factory to Jersey Shore, add up to pop-culture anthropology.”
“Reading Rax King’s writing feels like eating fettuccine alfredo at The Cheesecake Factory. Guzzling down the cream-coated ’00s mall nostalgia, you can’t help but smile between bites . . . King treats pop culture relics as an archaeologist would, at once reverential and eager to understand.”
“Tacky is a very funny book. Not just funny, I mean, SERIOUSLY FUNNY. King has the power to trick you into thinking you've got the joke all figured out, then suddenly reveals that you're going to experience a wealth of tender, thought-provoking emotions and guess what? You're gonna like it! On the sentence level, King's a wizard; she's able to wring the last drops of cool and sweet and sexy out of every moment. This isn't a book you read. It wants to be devoured. Rax King is a supremely gifted writer and Tacky is a masterly ode to unfettered, unrestrained, and unrepentant joy.”
—Kristen Arnett, author of Mostly Dead Things
“I am thankful for Tacky for how it broadens my own considerations of popular culture, of shame, and of celebration. The meditations in the book are equal parts comical, heartbreaking, and revelatory. A monument to uplifting the parts of popular culture that might otherwise be shrugged off and/or dismissed by those who don't have the imagination to celebrate what they might consider mundane. This book made me feel more at home with my obsessions, both small and large.”
—Hanif Abdurraqib, author of A Little Devil in America
“Goddamn, Rax really tore this shit up. THIS BOOK IS GOOD AS HELL.”
—Sam Irby, author of Wow, No Thank You.
"Tacky proves something to me that I’ve thought for a while: liking stuff that is bad actually means I’m smart. And it not only means I’m smart but it also means I’m a complicated individual with a vast interior life who is capable of deep, lasting love. Rax King turns cultural artifacts like Degrassi, ANTM, or Jersey Shore into timeless poetry served on a hilarious, horny dish that you’ll ugly-cry while eating because you'll be thinking of the people in your life who have left, whether for a new person or the next world. Each essay burns brighter than Guy Fieri’s hair. This bitch has me crying to Creed."
—Melissa Lozada-Oliva, author of Dreaming of You
“King is uniquely gifted at sorting out our simultaneous revulsion and fascination with American institutions, from the Cheesecake Factory to Hot Topic . . . King doesn’t shy away from pure emotion in her writing . . . Still, there’s no shortage of fun to be had in this essay collection, which dares to treat the things that so many people have always loved—from leopard-print clothing to Creed—as though they (gasp!) actually mattered.”
“Tacky approaches all our gaudiest, clumsiest, most embarrassing cultural artifacts—and, at the same time, all our gaudiest, clumsiest, most embarrassing human emotions—with the insight they're rarely given, and the compassion they deserve. A piercing, sparkling rhinestone of a book.”
—Jess Zimmerman, author of Women and Other Monsters
"No one writes a sentence like Rax King, who stacks words atop one another like a mad Subway employee building the Tower of Babel out of deli meats and greasy lettuce. King writes about her obsessions, abjections and triumphs with a singular deftness and a deranged glee . . . Tacky is the friend who gets you wasted and then holds your hair while you puke, the slumber party host with whom you stay up talking too late to get any sleep at all, the stranger outside the venue who lets you bum a cigarette and asks if you want to get out of here and go have some real fun. In short, it’s a fucking blast. Thank god for Rax King, who proves time and again in this collection that the personal essay is alive and well and has some regrettable tattoos to show for it. My toe rings are off to her.
—Calvin Kasulke, author of Several People are Typing
“After reading Rax King's boisterous, big-hearted Tacky, I'll never look at Guy Fieri the same way again—but beyond that, King shifted the way I think about so many pop cultural phenomena of the past two decades. Her book is like a delicious funnel cake—dusted with frosty wit, soft and chewy in the middle, and I could not stop devouring it.”
“Tacky is overflowing with Cheesecake Factory portions of humor, insight and tenderness. And you’ll read the whole thing faster than the Cheesecake Factory menu.”
—Josh Gondelman, author of Nice Try
"Rax King is one of the sharpest and funniest essayists you'll ever read, and her debut is a bounteous feast of hilarity, tenderness, and nostalgia that will make you feel less alone in all of your own tacky joys and obsessions. Get it, read it, savor it like Guy Fieri savors the most beautiful burger you've ever seen. You deserve it."
—Nicole Chung, author of All You Can Ever Know
"Tacky as a collection is not just a tribute to her skill as an essayist but a profound tribute to all things our culture has deemed low-brow . . . It’s King at her best: honest, funny and smart pop culture commentary with engrossing storytelling."
"Reading her essays is like finding the perfect lens for an honest and open look at the culture we often keep to ourselves for being too trivial . . . A cocktail of pop culture critique blended with memoir intonations that are always candid and just as often hilarious."
"Dishy . . . A manifesto of anti-snobbery . . . For bad girls with soft spots"
“Vibrant . . . In her keen debut, King taps into her lifelong love affair with low culture in this joyful tribute to the tacky . . . Fearless . . . King deploys a reliably consistent blend of humor, emotion, and insight . . . An engaging, hilarious, unabashed look at what we love in culture and why we should value it for what it is.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Charming . . . The emotion that runs throughout [Tacky] makes for a powerful antidote to jaded nonchalance . . . King’s witty, conversational dip into nostalgia is a delight.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred)
“King’s prose is murderously fizzy, like movie-theater soda pop that dances a little bit in your nostrils right after you’ve taken a sip. At her best, she’s kind of like the Eve Babitz of the Y2K-era shopping mall . . . King is so fun on the page that you almost don’t realize how sharp and emotionally observant she can be, too . . . [A] deeply felt, vividly conjured memoir.”
“In Tacky, King flips the script and instead shows readers that just because something is tacky doesn't mean that it doesn't have value. Instead, the things that we are so quick to judge are the very things that can help us heal from traumatic breakups or bring joy to our lives if we're only willing to look past our own shallowness. Rax King has done it. Most importantly, she has done it well.”
"King explores growing up in the 2000s and leaning in to parts of culture that are often disparaged. This is a memoir soaked in the dying mall culture of the early aughts, smelling of burnt hairspray and self-tanner. Basted in Cinnabon icing and coated in glittery lip gloss, King’s book explores the joy of low culture. It would be a great addition for libraries looking to expand their memoir collections and appeal to millennial audiences."
—Library Journal (starred)
"Most writers are boring people. King, though, seems different: Bettie Page meets Carrie Bradshaw, if Bradshaw supported Bernie Sanders for president and sometimes wore an Old Bay-patterned bikini . . . It’s in her writing about sex and sexuality where King’s voice really shines. I have yet to encounter another writer who has so neatly captured what it was like to be a girl during that reactionary cultural period in which I grew up . . . King writes acutely, and sometimes heartbreakingly, about her developing sexuality, the cues she took from pop culture about how to make herself more desirable for consumption . . . There’s much to admire — and, for a kind of pop-culture-loving millennial, it will hit all the right notes."
—Wall Street Journal