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The Perfect Sound: A Memoir in Stereo (Pantheon)
A poet’s audio obsession, from collecting his earliest vinyl to his quest for the ideal vacuum tubes. A captivating book that “ingeniously mixes personal memoir with cultural history and offers us an indispensable guide for the search of acoustic truth” (Yunte Huang, author of Charlie Chan).
Garrett Hongo’s passion for audio dates back to the Empire 398 turntable his father paired with a Dynakit tube amplifier in their modest tract home in Los Angeles in the early 1960s. But his adult quest begins in the CD-changer era, as he seeks out speakers and amps both powerful and refined enough to honor the top notes of the greatest opera sopranos. In recounting this search, he describes a journey of identity where meaning, fulfillment, and even liberation were often most available to him through music and its astonishingly varied delivery systems.
Hongo writes about the sound of surf being his first music as a kid in Hawaiʻi, about doo-wop and soul reaching out to him while growing up among Black and Asian classmates in L.A., about Rilke and Joni Mitchell as the twin poets of his adolescence, and about feeling the pulse of John Coltrane’s jazz and the rhythmic chords of Billy Joel’s piano from his car radio while driving the freeways as a young man trying to become a poet.
Journeying further, he visits devoted collectors of decades-old audio gear as well as designers of the latest tube equipment, listens to sublime arias performed at La Scala, hears a ghostly lute at the grave of English Romantic poet John Keats in Rome, drinks in wisdom from blues musicians and a diversity of poetic elders while turning his ear toward the memory-rich strains of the music that has shaped him: Hawaiian steel guitar and canefield songs; Bach and the Band; Mingus, Puccini, and Duke Ellington. And in the decades-long process of perfecting his stereo setup, Hongo also discovers his own now-celebrated poetic voice.
Garrett Hongo was born in Volcano, Hawaiʻi, and grew up on the North Shore of Oʻahu and in Los Angeles. His most recent books are The Mirror Diary: Selected Essays and Coral Road: Poems. A regular contributor to SoundStage! Ultra, he lives in Eugene, Oregon and is Distinguished Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oregon.
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His most recent publication is the sequel to The Sympathizer, The Committed. His other books are The Refugees; Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War; and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. He has also published Chicken of the Sea, a children’s book written in collaboration with his son, Ellison. He is a University Professor, the Aerol Arnold Chair of English, and a Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity, and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. He is also a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur F
Praise for The Perfect Sound: A Memoir in Stereo -
“Soulful . . . Hongo delivers a memorable memoir on reflection and artistry, as rendered through his audiophile tendencies . . . As he describes in lyrical, fervent passages, his penchant for spinning vinyl on cheap turntables would eventually become a love for elaborate equipment, amplifiers, speakers, and vacuum tubes . . . [A] paean to the power of music.” —Publishers Weekly
“Music throbs in the background throughout this spirited memoir . . . Along the way, the author offers a history of the invention of the vacuum tube, amplifiers, and the various permutations of the phonograph. A memoir of self-discovery via homage to the richness of sound.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Contrary to Marcel Duchamp’s quip that one can look at seeing but cannot hear hearing, in The Perfect Sound we hear the proverbial juice flowing, or blood rushing, in the soul of a poet acutely attuned to a world of sounds. From his first soundscape of ocean surf in Oahu to Rabelais’s fantastical sea of frozen words, from cicada to Aeolian harp, from La Bohème at La Scala to the Heart Sutra at a Kyoto temple, Garrett Hongo ingeniously mixes personal memoir with cultural history and offers us an indispensable guide for the search of acoustic truth.” —Yunte Huang, author of Charlie Chan
“Garrett Hongo is among writers who believe you can save everything, everyone—if only their music put into written words. Obsessively building and rebuilding audio machines, he recovers his Hawaiian childhood, his gone family, and the ancestors. The Perfect Sound is an enlightening read. —Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Woman Warrior
“Garrett Hongo is a master, but be advised: this memoir will have you spending hundreds of dollars on audio devices, and hours of delight and even awe as you read. It is not all about stereos—it is an aria of living, hearing, feeling, writing. Masterful.” —Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels
“Journeying with this gifted memorist into the heart of the ‘perfect sound’ is to engage with special harmonies of ecstasy and heartache. Erudite, sensual, frank and delightful, Garrett Hongo has always been for his devoted readers a singular kumu mele, our spirit guide to lovely song.” —Chang-rae Lee, author of My Year Abroad
“‘Exuberance is beauty,’ says William Blake, and this is a truly exuberant book: exuberant about music, about language, about life. Read and drink in its spirit!” —Mark Edmundson, author of The Fine Wisdom and Perfect Teachings of the Kings of Rock and Roll
"A quest organizes the telling of a life. In his memoir, The Perfect Sound, Garret Hongo’s deeply informed and passionate quest to bring recorded music to life ingeniously parallels his development as a poet seeking a voice that will become his recorded identity." —Stuart Dybek, author of Childhood and Other Neighborhoods
“Picking up where he left off in Volcano, Hongo shifts the focus in this new memoir from Hawaii to the wide-ranging soundtrack of his long life, well lived on three continents. His clean, poetic prose and dry sense of humor about his quest for the hypermaximal gear to hear it all anew are two of this book’s many pleasures.” —James McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street