This book surprised me.
I didn't expect to like it. I picked it up because I gravitate towards immigrant stories, being an immigrant myself. There's something about the dual-identities that draw me in, and then a deeper realisation, that immigrants are not Chinese and Canadian, or, in my case, Australian Canadian, but Chinese Canadian, as its own separate entity that I adore and come to terms with on a daily basis.
And then I started reading it, and it completely blew me away. JJ's passion for menswear is infectious. He would pick an article of men's clothing, such as the pocket square, or the tie, or the lapel and I would be passionate about it. He weaved intricate tales about how the frock coat came into being, how Oscar Wilde defied all of England's fashion conventions, how knights in armour defiantly raised their skirts so they could move better in battle. He told stories of James Dean, of Sean Connery, of Frank Sinatra, all from their pant hems, from their upturned brims of their hats, from their tie pins.
JJ Lee is a sentimental, romantic, admirable little nerd and I adored all of his Star Trek, Star Wars and comic books references.
He challenges masculinity as much as he welcomes it. Through these stories, he tells the story of the fraught relationship he had with his father, how he aspired to be him, his father's alcoholism and his resolve never to be like him. He becomes a tailor for a short time, and in a moment of inspiration, decides to alter his father's suit.
Though the sections about his father's alcoholism were hard to read, the author used micro-histories about clothing between each emotional chapter. As a mechanic of writing, it helped me to keep reading and not get swamped with miserable detail. Lee does what I think is difficult to do when recounting a story of someone who suffers from substance abuse, and that is that he wrote about the good times as well as the bad.
This book is layered without being difficult. It is emotional without being draining. If Lee could be sure of one thing, it is that he can write. Not only that, but that he can write and make the reader care.
When I saw JJ Lee's readings and talking about other people’s books at a writer's festival, he completely sold me on his book The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit.
It’s a story about becoming an apprentice tailor, and about Lee’s childhood, and about his troubled relationship with his father, and about how important the clothes that we wear are, how they are ways we express our identity and the selves we want to be. Reading this book I learned how the lapels are the sexiest part of a suit, and how ticked off old Chinese tailors still are about jeans.
But Lee writes compellingly about his family too. At the festival his performances were incredibly crowd-pleasing and funny, and then he’d read a bit about sinking into the closet filled with the smell of his now-gone father and you’d want to cry. It’s an impressive impressive piece of work about intimacy among men. And now I kind of want to dress a little better.
An honest exploration of the imperfect yet irreplaceable bonds of family with quirky doses of fashion advice for men. Not sure if I agree that the lower button of suits always looks better unbuttoned but I liked this book.
This is a memoir of sorts, a story that is nominally about Lee's attempts to tailor one of his father's old suits to fit him, and in the process, mend his damaged memories of his mercurial father.
It's a fascinating melange of personal and professional, and I really enjoyed it. It's elegaic, sad, often funny, and full of much more information than you'd guess from its size. Well worth reading!
A wonderful book--it's about the author's search to understand his father and himself. This is explored through the alteration of a suit jacket that the father once owned. The process of learning how and then actually doing provides a lens through which the author re-examines his relationship with his father.
Lee shares some very personal childhood memories of his parents' divorce, but he also charms the reader with delightful facts about the history of textiles, going all the way back to medieval Europe. After reading the book, I feel smarter and more elegant somehow. I think I might look at a well dressed man with a keener eye from now on
It is amazing that this book, so average looking in size, can encompass to much. The relationship of a son to his father, the evolution of men's fashion, the coming of age of the author, and the art of tailoring are all presented in this mashup in a most engaging way. I have listened to JJ Lee on CBC Radio and thoroughly enjoyed his take on the fashion world and was primed to like his book. I loved it. The flow carried me along through the different subjects easily and without jarring transitions. I was caught up in his effort to alter his father's suit and at the same time to come to some understanding of the why of his father's approach to life and his family, and how he could avoid the same mistakes. I especially enjoyed the hints of humour that sneaked into the narrative.
In this memoir, JJ Lee is haunted by his father. An immigrant to Canada, Lee’s father created a new life for himself at a very young age. Throughout his life, the clothes he wore told the story of both his initial success and his ultimate failure. Abusive to his children and his wife, Lee’s father also eventually lost his business and succumbed to alcoholism. At the end of his father’s life, all JJ Lee has been left is his father’s suit. An aspiring tailor, JJ interweaves a history of men’s clothing with his own tale of taking apart his father’s suit in order to reshape it to fit his own body. Through this exercise, JJ Lee must also decide what of his father’s legacy he should keep and what he should leave behind.
"In The Measure of a Man, Vancouver fashion writer, broadcaster and erstwhile tailor’s apprentice JJ Lee chronicles the evolution of the men’s suit, with fascinating tidbits on some of its innovators, such as Beau Brummell, Oscar Wilde and King Edward VIII.
But this is not your average history lesson. Lee, who recently made the non-fiction short list for a Governor-General’s award, also tells a very personal and yet universal story about a son’s quest to understand his father’s life, and their relationship....
This beautiful, cleverly executed story gets to the very heart of the complexity of the first and most basic masculine bond, and how even through disappointment, abandonment, anger, confusion and pain, a son can still love, honour and protect his father."
Globe and Mail
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