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The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit [Hardcover]

JJ Lee
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 27 2011

FINALIST - Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction (2012)
FINALIST - Governor General's Literary Award - Non-Fiction (2012)
FINALIST - BC Book Prize's Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize (2012)
A son’s decision to alter his father’s last surviving suit for himself is the launching point for this powerful book – part personal memoir, part social history of the man’s suit – about fathers and sons, love and forgiveness, and learning what it means to be a man.
For years, journalist and amateur tailor JJ Lee tried to ignore the suit hanging at the back of his closet. It was his father’s suit. But when JJ decides to make the suit his own, little does he know he is about to embark on a journey to understand his own past.
As JJ cuts into the jacket, he begins to piece together the story of his relationship with his father, a charismatic but troubled Montreal restauranteur whose demons brought tumult upon his family. JJ also recounts his own ups and downs during the year he spent as an apprentice at Modernize Tailors – the last of the great Chinatown suitmakers in Vancouver – where, under the tutelage of his octogenarian master tailor, he learns invaluable lessons about life. Woven throughout JJ’s tale are stories of the suit’s own evolution, illuminating how this humble garment has, for centuries, been the surprising battleground for the war between generations.
Written with great wit, bracing honesty, and narrative verve, and featuring line drawings throughout by the author, The Measure of a Man is an unforgettable story of love, forgiveness, and discovering what it means to be your own man.

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A Globe and Mail Best Book

“A personal yet universal story about a son’s quest to understand his father. This beautiful, cleverly executed story gets to the very heart of the most basic masculine bond, and how even through disappointment, abandonment, anger, confusion and pain, a son can love, honour and protect his father.”
—Globe and Mail
“Beautifully crafted, Lee’s memoir is a heartbreaking page-turner about a family, an abusive father, and men’s fashion. Who could have thought these themes could work together? In his first book, Lee has shown us how.”
Jury citation, Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
“Lee seamlessly weaves together elements of painful personal experience, fashion history, and his modern-day quest to learn the art of tailoring and find a place for himself in the world. . . . An intimate and thoughtful rumination on what it means to be a son, a father, and a man.”
—Schema Magazine
“An exquisite book.”
“Touching and inquisitive . . . [A] striking and accomplished blend of humour, information and pathos. . . . [A] thoughtful and intermittently provocative memoir.”
—National Post
“A deftly crafted memoir. . . .”
—Montreal Gazette
“At times incredibly witty and wry, and at other times endearing and touching . . . The Measure of a Man is a great read.”
Tenth to the Fraser
“[An] often heartbreaking yet humorous and compelling memoir. . . .” 
—Calgary Herald
“Takes us into the nearly vanished world of exquisite, made-to-measure suit tailoring, and on his personal journey to understand his late father’s life and the sometimes-tormented relationship the two shared. . . . His tender, sometimes funny and often achingly sad story revolves around a suit left behind after his father’s death, and his desire to remake it into something that would fit him. I loved this book for its honest tone as well as for the spicy tidbits of suit-making history with which he seasons his story. . . .”
Chronicle Herald (Halifax)
“Lee’s book skillfully weaves a personal struggle to understand his estranged father after his death through the process of repurposing his dad’s suit to fit his smaller frame. . . . Truly inspires.”
—Gear Patrol

“A graceful, compelling memoir. . . . A thoughtful, loving and honest narrative, elegant in its clarity and observation.”
—Minneapolis-Saint Paul Star Tribune

About the Author

JJ LEE is the menswear columnist for the Vancouver Sun and broadcasts a weekly fashion column for CBC Radio in Vancouver. He spent a year as an apprentice at Modernize Tailors and was featured in the award-winning film about
the shop, Tailor Made: The Last Tailor Shop in Chinatown. In 2007, he wrote and presented an hour-length radio documentary on the social history of suits, entitled The Measure of Man, for CBC Radio's Ideas. Lee lives in New Westminster, where he works as a creative consultant for a design firm.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Raised in Quebec, Lee enters into a discussion of men's fashion through his memories of his complex father, also named John, once a charismatic, dapper and sometimes volatile businessman in the restaurant industry. Much of Lee's fascination with men's attire seems to originate with his interest in, and memories of, his father's attire and with the construction of masculinity and masculine style. Lee approaches writing about clothing in a sensual way - the fabric, the buttons, the lapels of a suit, the knotting of a tie, a pleat, a vent - the descriptions reach a level of sensuality that might not appeal to all readers but it certainly appealed to me.

Lee elaborates the history of the suit while trying to physically remake his father's own suit when he worked as an apprentice. As he literally tears apart and reassembles the suit, the memories start to flow, and the troubled past of the elder Lee is summoned up.

It's not pretty; in fact, it is often harrowing: the domestic violence, the drinking, his father's affairs, his on-going economic woes and the numerous, literal, car crashes. These episodes underlie, I think, what appears to be the author's emotional fragility and his conflicted feelings about masculinity. And, throughout, one sees that the elder Lee's sartorial style, its ascendancy or decline, often reflected his economic and psychological state. Not surprisingly, prosperity and well being = attention to fashion and one's person. Psychological chaos and economic disorder = more slovenly behavior and attire.

Lee also unravels for the novice intriguing bits of menswear history in minutia: the tie points down to specific part of the male anatomy (I never thought of it that way!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memory is Its Own Tailor Nov. 9 2011
"A suit is never just a suit," nor is a book ever just a book. JJ Lee's The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit is a book fashioned with wisdom and restraint. Like the violin in Thomas Hardy's "To My Father's Violin," JJ's father's suit functions as an object to hang emotions from. It provides depth and distance. JJ skilfully uses the history of suits, and his own attempts at tailoring, to show how we construct ourselves, how we fashion ourselves as men. Like James Baldwin or Raymond Carver, he is writing about a failed father, and emotional distance is necessary to guard against anger or destructive bitterness. Part of the pleasure of this book is that tailoring is for Lee as whaling was for Melville, and as the patremoir progresses Lee's suit becomes charged with almost as much symbolism as the white of the whale. Even if JJ shows the slow and painful disintegration of his father, the ravages of alcohol, the consequent damage inflicted on wife and children, there is no bleakness or self-pity in the telling. Even if JJ's eighty-nine year old mentor and father surrogate was forced into tailoring by racism, and even if the Chinamen's cemetery in Montreal was "the place to bury the people no one really wanted around," the focus of this book is not racism. This is a story about self-fashioning, about taking what you have been given, or have been left, and of making the best of it. In The Measure of a Man, J J Lee has made something very good indeed. This is a patremoir worthy of Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, Patrick Lane's There is a Season, Miriam Toew's Swing Low, or even Philip Roth's Patrimony.

Andre Gerard
Editor of Fathers: A Literary Anthology
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well tailored story March 20 2012
The Measure of a Man as part of the Vancouver Sun Book Club and was deeply impressed with JJ Lee's ability to weave his personal story with the history of menswear. In books where there are two parallel stories, I often find that they do run parallel and I favour one over the other, but here the two are interconnected in a way that moves both stories along nicely.

The Measure of a Man is great for women readers who are interested in a memoir about family relationships as well as curious about men's fashion. JJ offers lots of little insights into why certain buttons are buttoned or not buttoned and where women go wrong in "helping" men with their wardrobe. And it's great for men who might be drawn to the sartorial education provided in the pages but also curious about how the suit makes the man and how the anxieties of trying to measure up or measure yourself against your father are faced in this particular story.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting May 12 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An interesting story. I passed it along to a friend who is in the business. I had a different expectation of the book, but Lee's personal story was worth the read. A little tedious in spots, but then again, that's part of life as well.
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I do not typically write reviews for books like this... in fact, I rarely read books like this. But I had the good fortune to come across Measure of a Man. I quickly finished it. I was very pleased.

I normally read (and write) business books, so I'm not sure how to review this, but I will tell you that the book is very moving for me, as a man, and that JJ Lee's weaving of the story (no pun intended) alongside the story of the suit creates a great narrative that really flows well. The book kept me interested all the way to the end, despite it being about something very simple.

I think everyone can, to some degree, relate to the experiences JJ Lee describes here. That fact makes the whole thing all the more touching.

I highly recommend this book. You should read it. That is all.
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