End of Summer Weekend Reading Material

The summer is starting to wind down.  With only three weekends left, many are running off to get that one last vacation in before the fall arrives.  For me, June, July and August are my months for vacation, which means taking a bit of a break from writing and the blogs.  September is when I’m back in the saddle again.  From film festivals to NY Fashion Week, to movie premieres, to NHL training camps, to the start of the Metropolitan Opera season…my working season begins.  That means the content on this site will increase.

There will be more interviews from authors, publishers, celebrities, and artists.  There will be more reviews, talks about books, films and the arts, a special fashion edition, and a new project unveiling that I’ve been working on over these last couple of months.

If you think content isn’t going up fast enough, as my artist friend Borbay describes the site…the word “Perfectionist” is in the title.  That means that the content here is meant to be far superior so it takes a little longer to create it.  People will just have to wait.

For now, let’s talk about what reading material is on the radar.

1.  Kim Thúy, Mãn and Ru: A Novel.

I had the pleasure of meeting Kim Thúy back in May when she was signing copies of her latest book Mãn.  I had never read her works before.  I just saw the book in the Book Expo newsletter from Random House Canada and knew I wanted to get my hands on it.  She signed it “To Michelle, Thank you so much for coming back to me again.”  You’ll find out soon on the site why that little inscription is a bit serendipitous {TEASER}.

What I was not expecting from Mãn was how beautifully written the book would be.  It’s a quick read, but also the type of book you have to reflect upon as you go from chapter to chapter.  Each chapter is only a paragraph or two long.  In that one simple paragraph, she can tell an entire story, but she does it so beautifully that you go back and re-read the sentence, stumbling over each word slowly in order for it to sink in.  

What makes Kim’s works in both Mãn and  Ru: A Novel so unique is that she has perfected the art of storytelling by using very few words to tell an entire story.  Each word she has chosen sinks deep into your soul and you are left pondering the words over, letting your tongue roll over each phrase she has chosen in each tale.  

Both books are a compilation of stories of Vietnamese immigrants.  She weaves each of their stories from one to another, using a choice word in each chapter to connect to the next story.  For instance, she uses the word ‘red’ to end a story in one chapter and then uses it again in the following chapter to tell the tale of another immigrant.  That one word can create a strong connection from one person to the next.  In a way, it’s the same as how people read and connect to her books, no matter where they are from.  The term “communism” can create a bond with a person in Eastern Europe because they can understand the struggle the Vietnamese went through, even though their experiences were totally different.  That one word means something powerful to them.  That one word is a lifetime of stories and struggles, of hunger, fear, anger and upset.  Just one word can invoke so much passion in a person…just like a simple word like ‘red.’  That’s what makes Kim Thúy’s books so thought-provoking…one simple word can create a flood of feelings that enables the reader to connect to the book itself.  

Her ability to weave these stories together using choice words is also a way of understanding how everyone in the book is essentially linked to each other.  They may have in common that they are all Vietnamese immigrants, but there’s more to it.  It links their life experiences from how we show love through food to what it means to let go of the person you love.  From coming from well to do families to all of a sudden finding themselves as refugees in a foreign land, living as janitors, seamstresses, farm hands, etc.  Then there are those who come from poor families who marry up and move to North America through marriage.  She opens our eyes to the life of the immigrant in North America.  They may have been from rich families or were doctors or professors in Vietnam.  They sacrificed who they were to start over again in another country.  Some were stripped of everything, others found opportunity.  How do they evolve under those circumstances?

The stories are all very humbling.  The writing style is unique and beautiful.  I will forewarn you that you will be very hungry after you read her books.  I have been eating Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai food every single day since I read Mãn.   As you’ll discover in the book, the connection with food is about love…the love a mother shows to her child.  The love a wife shows to her husband.  It’s what bonds a family and friends together.  

I highly recommend reading both of her books.  You will not regret it.  Your soul will thank you for the fresh drink of beauty.

2.  Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman: A Novel.

If you’ve read the reviews of Harper Lee’s latest Go Set a Watchman: A Novel, people are really mad.  It’s not even a story.  It’s just a rant.

SPOILER: Atticus Finch is a racist.

That’s what really has everyone up in arms.  But that’s because most of us had no clue when we read To Kill a Mockingbird that Atticus was anything but fair and colorblind.  To find out he was a racist?!?!

This is where I want to remind everyone that Go Set a Watchman: A Novel was the first novel written by Harper Lee.  It was also rejected by the publishers.  They liked the characters, but it needed a stronger story.  Go Set a Watchman: A Novel laid the foundation to the setting and the characters, but it needed a story.  That’s when Lee came back and gave the publishers a new book entitled To Kill a Mockingbird.  That was the book they published and it became a Pulitzer Prize winner.

What makes Go Set a Watchman: A Novel so difficult to digest is that it takes place 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird.  We know the story.  We loved Atticus Finch, Scout, Jem, Dill and Calpurnia.  How could we all of a sudden be shocked that Atticus was a racist and that Calpurnia didn’t really care for her or Jem?

You have to keep in mind that Go Set a Watchman: A Novel was the first book, not the second book.  It was also the book that was originally rejected.  When she came back to the publishers with To Kill a Mockingbird, maybe she decided to make Atticus fair and not a racist.  Maybe Calpurnia really did care about the kids and didn’t care about the fact there was a black and white barrier.  Maybe Harper Lee fixed what was really wrong with Go Set a Watchman: A Novel and made the characters into ones that would be cherished for all eternity when she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.

Those are the things you need to keep in mind when you read Go Set a Watchman: A Novel.

Would I recommend it on its own?  No.  It’s a rant, not a story.  BUT, if you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, you need to read Go Set a Watchman: A Novel to truly understand the entire context of the times, racism, and Alabama.  For those who are writers, it’s actually an interesting look into how you can be rejected from one story, but you can go back and rewrite it based on the same characters and create a masterpiece.  Sometimes a complete do over is the key.  She learned from her mistakes and came out with one of the best novels of the 20th century.  That is a life lesson within itself.

Currently reading: Nina George, The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel.

I decided to take a little break from reviewing the tall stack of books I received from publishers so that I can read something without the pressure of it feeling like ‘work.’  I was ordering a couple of books for the Book Club when Amazon recommended this book.  It looked like such an interesting story that I decided to order it as my ‘fun’ book (i.e. a book I chose, rather than was chosen for me by someone else).

I always love stories that take place in Paris, but I really love stories that involve books as a means for adventure.  Any book lover understands that love of the book itself and what the adventure means.  They understand that little happy place.  So take a bookshop apothecary that is located on a barge, a bookseller that finally opens up that letter the love of his life left for him when she left him 20 years ago, a bestselling author that is being hounded by crazed fans and you have an adventure of how a bookseller is trying to make amends with the love of his life by setting sail on his bookshop barge to make right where he went wrong.

In all honesty, I kind of want my own Bookshop Apothecary…a bookshop that prescribes the right books to people, rather than selling whatever books people want to buy.  Sometimes the latest novel just isn’t the right book for that person during that time in their life.  Trust me when I say, I’d like to take back all that time I spent with Gillian Flynn’s “Dark Places.”  I put up with it because it was a Book Club book, but damn if I’ll ever read another one of her books willingly.  She’s too dark for me.  An Apothecary would have stopped me from even purchasing that book, explaining that the book just doesn’t go with my personality.

I will say that I am enjoying this book.  I’m now at the part where he embarks on his adventure.  It’s really exciting.  The author has already used the love of books to charm me into loving the lead character.  Can’t wait to find out what happens!


September is a big month for publishing houses.  The majority of new releases come out at that time.  Stay tuned for our list of what to read in September.