I never cared about Karen Carpenter, not really. Sure, I've driven through the Missouri Ozarks with my older sister, both of us singing along to “Top of the World” and dreaming of life in California (though neither of us would ever move to California). But I was born too late; in 1984, the Carpenters were no longer “cool,” and pop music itself had undergone a grittier transformation under the tutelage of Prince, Madonna, and Janet Jackson. In fact, Karen Carpenter was already dead, of heart failure related to her anorexia nervosa, a year before my birth. If we heard the Carpenters, it was because one of our parents had left “Close to You,” “A Song for You,” or “Now & Then” in the tape deck of the station wagon my sister borrowed to pick me up from preschool.

But part of the magic of Karen Tongson's new book, Why Karen...

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