I laughed so hard while recording with Miranda that my daughter actually came into my office to check on me. Miranda officially coined my new favorite book genre: Bumpy Covers. You already know exactly what that means, don’t you? There are certain books you turn to when you can’t deal with the world, and those books frequently have bumpy covers. Miranda cherishes books, and I so enjoyed talking to her about how she lives with them, how she shows them love, how she marks them up, and why “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden is the Best Book Ever.
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Guest: Miranda Mackie
Books discussed in this episode:
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Mark Lefebvre appeared on the Best Book Ever Episode 008
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Memoirs of a Geisha movie
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way by Jesse Thistle
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo
Rude Awakenings from Sleeping Rough by Peter C. Mitchell
(Note: If you shop using my affiliate links, a portion of your purchase will go to me, at no extra expense to you. Thank you for supporting indie bookstores and for helping to keep the Best Book Ever Podcast in business!)
EPISODE 034 TRANSCRIPT
MIRANDA MACKIE ON “MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA” BY ARTHUR GOLDEN
Hello, Bookworms, welcome to the Best Book Ever, the podcast where we talk about your favorite books. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and today I’m so pleased to talk to Miranda Mackey. Miranda was born and raised in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, (which is also the hometown of Alex Trebek, For you trivia nerds out there.) Sudbury is where she still lives with her husband and two beautiful daughters. As a family, they love exploring the outdoors, camping and snuggling their beloved golden doodle, Bailey. Despite all that outdoorsy activity, Miranda calls herself an obsessive, introverted bookworm. She’s worked for a nonprofit organization that supports children, youth and families with exceptionalities and early learning intervention for over 21 years. As you can tell, Miranda is a fascinating person, and I love talking to her about why “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden is the Best Book Ever.
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Julie Strauss Hi, Miranda, how are you today?
Miranda Mackie: I’m great, thanks. How are you doing?
JS: I’m doing great. I’m so thrilled to finally meet you. I love book setups. And you and I were set up by a very dear, bookish, mutual friend of ours, Mark Lefebvre. And I trust anyone that Mark tells me to trust. So I already feel like we’re friends.
MM: Yes. It’s putting a little bit of pressure on me, though, to live up to expectations.
JS: I want to start by asking you about your reading life, because in your bio, you describe yourself as an obsessive, introverted book reader. Tell me what that means.
MM: Yes. I probably should add just a few more adjectives to that statement. Well, as far as I can remember, when I was a young girl to now, I’ve been very obsessed with reading. One, I think, because I can read quickly. I usually finish a book in about a day, if it’s a really good book and it pulls me in, I’ll just obsess all day, going to and from the book throughout the rest of my routine at home. Obsessed comes from true, true meaning and behavior that I have when I pick up a really good read. And I think the introverted part is that I tend to – people that know me quite well know that when I pick up a book that I’m kind of really enthralled with, I tend to forget everything else that’s going on around me. And I have no real desire to partake in the social interaction until the book is done.
JS: So is your reading really diverse like this? Are you always reading all over the place?
MM: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think I read based on the context of what’s currently happening in my life, you know, so as a new mom, I probably read nothing that had to do with self-help at all because my brain was in a complete funk and they probably didn’t shower for the first nine months of my two daughters’ lives. So things like bumpy covers, that’s what I call those romance, Fábio kind of books, something that you could just kind of read, not think about and just dive deep into it and then forget about it and move on to the next one. I think it really is dependent on what’s going on in my life. I am a huge Brené Brown fan. You know, if I can meet her in person, my life would be complete. However, if I would have picked her up as a young teen, maybe I wouldn’t have connected as much to her, things like that. It’s really contextual for me and it really depends on my level of stress. During Covid, I’m just hungry to read books that are not really too heavy. Books that take me away somewhere for an afternoon or a weekend that’s not related to politics or Covid and the pandemic. Like a good mystery that you just get kind of wrapped into.
JS: Have you found that your reading pace has slowed down or sped up during the Covid times?
MM: I think it’s sped up because it just fills the gap of boredom. Or, you know, I really do need to disconnect a lot after my workday. And the last thing I want to do to kind of escape is, is watch TV or like a new movie or something like that. So reading helps to relax me and kind of pace me and prepare me for the next day.
JS: How did you find this book that we’re talking about today? Memoirs of a Geisha?
MM: I think probably early 2000s. I think I just saw it on one of those Goodreads book lists or Top 10 that you should read or take time to read. And I normally don’t reread books. But for you, Julie, I did re-read. I reread this book and I thought, you know, this might be a great pick for the chat.
JS: I’m so fascinated by people who don’t reread. That is mystifying to me. Why don’t you reread books?
JS: I think because once I read it and taken the journey, been a part of the story, I just like to to shelve it and pass it on to people. I have a dear friend that we pass on books to each other and she passes it on to her mother and so on and so forth. So, they do end up coming back to me, which is great. But I think it might have to be with the fact that I really have a lot of energy. And so I think if I already know what’s going to happen, I get bored. I just prefer not to kind of ruin a book by rereading it. Been there, done that. Know the detail. I know where I who I can recommend it to.
JS: So the books that you keep then, the ones that you have on your shelf, you keep them just for the sole purpose of loaning?
MM: Yes. Or just to, like, stare at.
JS: I’m sure there’s probably a Japanese word for this, but that is such a distinct feeling. There’s something so soothing about just having them near you.
MM: Yes. Yes. Or seeing and remembering when you read it like, you know, it might be you haven’t seen that, like the spine or the cover of the book for a little while. But when you walk past it, you’re like, oh yeah, I remember I read that one. It probably still has sand from the beach. I’m a big highlighter and I tab things, you know. Post-it notes love me. And so you see the ones that are most worn because you’ve had it maybe a little bit longer than others or that the pages have been turned. That’s why I’ve never transitioned to an E reader or like an electronic version, I really like to feel that the book in my hands.
JS: So what was it like to reread this book?
MM: It was it was great. I had forgotten how beautifully poetic it was, particularly now during the pandemic. I loved the imagery that this book produces. You could really position yourself in Kyoto or just sitting under a cherry blossom tree and kind of picture yourself in the locations of all the players in the book. And I found it very soothing. I almost feel like, you know, the author is kind of reading to me in this soft, calm voice. I don’t think I got that the first time I read it. You know, I got that more the second time. I could feel myself breathe a little bit quieter when I was reading, or just be a little bit softer while reading it, which was kind of a cool experience.
JS: Can you describe the plot for our listeners who – I know it’s a blockbuster of a novel, but for anyone who maybe hasn’t read it?
MM: It follows this young girl’s life as she grows up in this small fishing town. And unfortunately, some things happened early on in her life that require that she move with her sister and be sold basically to a new family who raises her in a geisha house. Basically, the plot is her life of kind of becoming more of herself and becoming a geisha. All the interactions, the love story that’s woven into it, as well as for me, the plot is really about a lot about interactions amongst multiple women with different personalities. So she has what she calls sisters who are very, very different characters, who influence the women that she becomes. And in the end, there’s a wonderful, you know, happy ending, I guess you can say, without giving out too much as she reflects back on her life.
JS: What was it that drew you back to this book, of all the books that you don’t like to re-read? I really am curious. And it’s so interesting that what you thought about it this time was how soothing it was, which is definitely, you know, indicative of our Covid times, when you looked over your shelf of your books that you’ve loved and don’t reread again. What made you want to read this one?
MM: Yeah, I feel like I got to find something really pivotal to answer that question.
JS: You do not! Honestly, I read books just for the cover all the time.
MM: There you go. Awesome. Thank you for acknowledging that. I think there was two books on my mind. This one and Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible. Have you ever read that?
JS: Oh, I love that book.
MM: Yes. Those were the two that had the most lasting impact that when we talked about, what’s an influential book for you, or a book that you want to share with others? Those were the two that came to mind instantly. So I said, OK, it’s going to be one of the two. And Barbara’s book is a little bit deep for this period of time. And I felt like I just needed something a little bit more descriptive and poetic. Even just when they’re describing the preparations, I don’t know, I found it so – Golden really takes the time to describe it in a way that suits me. And I can picture the slow movement, like the intentional slowness that Japanese culture has and everything that they do. You know, they’re not in a rush and they’re not part of that rat race of life. Right? When he describes her going out to the ceremonies or to parties, he does it in such a way that you can put yourself in that position. This makes you take a breath and just kind of slow down and really enjoy what he’s talking about, even just how she’s applying the makeup to her lips. And a little bit of context, learning about the Japanese culture, the importance of, the white the white makeup and what it represents for their skin and so on and so forth. I found that really fascinating because we’re moving through life so quick.
JS: What were you thinking reading it after all these conversations we’ve heard over the last several years about Own Voices authors? I really was pondering a lot about the role of a white Western man writing this novel. I am curious to know, did that change your read through this time?
MM: I don’t I don’t think so, because I found that, well, it’s a white Western man capturing the voice of women, a woman. I think he does such an amazing job capturing it in such an accurate reflection that I never really noticed it. Maybe I should have a more provocative response to that, but I didn’t. You know what, I noticed this time more than I did last time, maybe because I’m getting more mature, as we like to say, the interactions of the women. I was much more conscientious about Hatsumomo, how aggressive and how unkind she was to her sisters and how that really defeated their confidence, and who they were, and almost violent. She was violent, actually. And so I noticed that interaction and the kind of women’s hierarchy a lot more than I probably did. It really stuck out to me because that this year has all been about, you know, a great deal of movement for women to build each other up and to celebrate and cheer people on. And this book definitely does not have that right.
JS: But at the same time, it’s set in a time where they have to be pit against each other because they are literally fighting, using their bodies and their skills for a finite resource, which is the money of men. They can’t exactly go out and get well-paying jobs. So it’s certainly understandable.
MM: Yes. Yes.
JS: I don’t think you do need a more provocative response, as you said, because I think so many times we do go back and read books that we like maybe in our childhood and go, oh, my God, this this is the most racist nightmare I ever saw. So I was kind of thinking, oh, I’m not going to like this as much this time around. We’re different in 2020. I was really surprised that I didn’t have that feeling. It didn’t feel, I don’t know, paternalistic or something. I do want to read this written by a Japanese woman, I would love to see more perspective on that, but I didn’t mind this one at all.
MM: No, no. You know what was also, you know, at the end, the very end of the book, can I talk about without giving it away, like I don’t want your listeners to be like I want to read it and then I give parts away!
JS: OK, well, we’ll just give a warning. We’re going to talk about the end. It is a 23-year-old bestselling book. So I’m kind of thinking most people might know the end, but you’ve been warned us. Skip ahead five minutes if you haven’t read it.
MM: I guess what brought me back this time was the character Pumpkin, the interaction in the end when Sayuri asked her a man in and so she could be caught and kind of end a very tumultuous relationship that she was very fearful of ending herself. Pumpkin kind of backstabs her. In that situation. I was like, oh, I can remember that happening in high school, that part particularly brought me back to, you know, I’m a white woman and I grew up in a white, very white high school and that white culture. And we had a hierarchy in high school. There’s an inner group in the popular group. And that kind of really catty behavior of breaking someone apart. That part in particular brought me back to that. We were a lot like that in high school. And wonder what it’s like now for a young girl in high school. Is it the same? Is it different? Is it better now that we have these wonderful movements? I don’t know. And our parenting is different, too, right? I think if I reflect on my parenting, you know, I grew up in a household where my dad was the breadwinner. He’s a miner. Everybody that’s from where I live is a miner. And my mom stayed at home for a really long time. My mom still holds the perspective that when I say I’m traveling for work or I’m going away for work and she’s like, well, what are they going to do when you’re not home? I’m like, my husband is going to parent. And she still finds it very odd. And I’m like, Mom, it’s 2020. I would hope that the interactions between women begin to become stronger. And we’re a little bit braver in speaking up to women who are not so nice to each other.
JS: Did you know that Memoirs of a Geisha was a movie?
MM: I did, yes, I’ve watched the movie.
JS: Is it good?
MM: I liked it. I felt like it was a good match to the book and the chosen main actor – her eyes were just as enthralling in the movie as they were in the book. It was awesome. The parts that I don’t remember is being present is in her early childhood. I don’t know if it pulled you in, right at the beginning of this book. She talks about her tipsy house and her small little – almost to the point where you can visualize each of the unique settings that she talks about, like the fishing village and how long it was to get up to the tipsy house and how it’s on the edge of the ocean. There wasn’t a great deal of that in the movie. There’s like a little bit of a glimpse of it and then it moves right to when she was sent away. So that I kind of miss because I’d love to see what her like where her roots were.
JS: Well, I’m not surprised they had to cut some things out because it’s so texturally rich and detailed. But of course, they could get it all. It’d make a great miniseries, though.
MM: Yeah, good idea. I did read that lots of people felt it was too descriptive. They were bored to the point of like boredom and reading this book.
MM: Mm hmm. I never got that, but some people, some of the reviews that I read in preparation for this said that he got too descriptive to the point where it’s like they just wanted him to get to the point. And then I was like, man, I wonder if they’re reading it during this period of time where everything is just go, go, go. And so they’re trying to rush to the end or if it’s just his style didn’t connect that particular reader. But there were quite a few reviews talking about this poetic writing was too much. I never found that.
JS: But, you know, I think I think he pulls it off so skillfully. Like you said, you can picture that tipsy house, and those descriptions of the kimono, anything that sends me straight to the Internet just to see more of it, I always think, oh, that was written well. I had this vision in my head and then I had to see precisely – he even talked about how important the undergarments were to make the blow holes in the right spot. And it was fascinating. But I guess I can see: if you really want a propulsive, sort of plot driven book, I suppose this isn’t it. It’s a very emotional and descriptive book.
JS: What about you? Do you have a favorite part?
MM: Well, the one that comes to mind is when she’s describing the moth. I flagged it, because I go back to it where she’s speaking like she’s comparing the dead moth to herself and how contrasting they are. I don’t know if I might have liked it anyhow. So she’s in the their home. And she’s been beaten and she’s defeated and she’s like, I’m not going back in here and my life is over. But she describes being in the middle of the home because in Japanese culture, the homes are built in a circular format. She’s sitting, it’s raining and she’s on the ground on these stones and she sees a dead moth. Out of the corner of her eyes, tearing up, and reflecting on how bad her life is, and she sees the dead moth and she begins to compare his state of how he looks and how beautiful he must have been and to herself and how they’re very different. And I remember liking it thinking that’s the descriptive, poetic nature of this book that I loved, because it really just brings you to visualize her in the center of that home and being just completely, utterly defeated and thinking she’s about to die. She’s lost her sister. Andthis is the end of who she is. And her history is completely lost and she just sees this loss.
JS: You said you’re a big highlighter and flagger. What tell me what else you noticed or highlighted in this book?
MM: I flagged comparisons of how similar Hatsumomo is to a tiger. He compares her to a tiger in very different ways, like he’ll just now speak about an event and then he’ll say, like a tiger in the long grass looking for her prey. I find that really brilliant because he does it in a way that doesn’t stick out. But he’ll speak. And yet again, he says, and yet again, the tiger strikes and then he’ll go into each of her behaviors to Sayuri. But that’s basically what I highlight. It’s like little things like that.
JS: Do you catch things like this on your first read through of books? Like the recurring theme of the tiger or the moth? Well, you must because you don’t reread.
MM: I think that’s why I don’t reread. I just I feel like I’m just going to treasure the first time I’ve gone through it and experienced it right. But yeah, I usually do anything I do even for work. Like when I was in school, if I pick up and hold all my textbooks, they’re very much color coded and underlined. And it’s like a deep when I read something that’s really deep for me, I just highlight it. I get so when someone asks me something, I can go back and say, Oh, I’ve got this quote for you. I love that feeling of knowing that books are living and being a part of that.
JS: Do you know how many books you read in a year.
MM: Well, I always set a goal. I do set a challenge. I’m a bit of an obsessive-compulsive person. I’m pretty organized person this way. But anyhow, I like to make challenges. Every summer I try to make a challenge of reading 40 books in the summer. I haven’t counted it, but I would say I’d like to achieve at least one hundred a year. And I love buying them. I want to support the author and I want to go and buy them. I love libraries, but I love buying them and having them and then being my own.
JS: Do you have a goal for 2021?
MM: It’s too early in the year to lead us to that goal.
JS: Fair enough.
MM: I’m still waking up from your presidency. Let’s just be honest. I was not reading anything while waiting for Trump to leave. Now we’ll begin the year. I started to relax when Biden took over.
JS: I know exactly what you mean. I read a hell of a lot of bumpy books over the last four years, I’ll tell you that. Please, God, take me back to Regency England just for the night.
MM: Exactly. But maybe I’ll track it in, like aim to do one hundred. I think this year I’d like to explore a new genre because I tend to pick up the same. Like nonfiction, and I’m not a huge, romantic romance book reader. Sometimes I will, but generally only in summer. But I might explore something new, you know, like autobiographies, because I generally don’t pick those up very often. I’ve always wanted to read a few a few more books on that. That might be something I’ll try.
JS: Nice! What are you reading right now?
MM: Well, I’m part of a book club that just finished Untamed, which is absolutely awesome. And then From the Ashes, I think his name is Jesse Thistle. It’s a book on indigenous culture and his nonfiction story of himself. And then a few just like bumpy covers that I’ll flip through. And our friend Mark recommended White Fragility, I haven’t gotten to it yet because it’s a little heavy for me. I’m just going to wait for the right moment. And I just finished Peter’s book that he published, “Rude Awakenings from Sleeping Rough,” that Mark published. I bawled through the whole book. I think that’s why I put this on the side, because it’s like, well, that was a heavy book. I need to, like, sit in a place on reflection of what my role is around homelessness.
JS: I also read pretty fast, and I do sometimes have to force myself to stop and say, you need to just think for a bit before you dive into the next heavy topic, because I can easily just read, you know, something like White Fragility and then the next night pick up, you know, the next thing without really – I’m not sure I’m absorbing it. I’m not sure I’m really doing the work that I’m supposed to be doing.
JS: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Because I think it sounds like we both put a little bit of pressure on ourselves to take some reflection or learning from those types of books that are deemed to be self-help or knowledge inspiring reads And I think the last year for me has been about reading books that expand our awareness and, you know, make us a little bit of a better human. You know, I should show more compassion to our vulnerable populations and what can we do? And that’s heavy work. You can’t can’t fly through it like Memoirs of a Geisha or some other bumpy cover book that you’re reading right now. So I think you have to temper that type of stuff so that you really give it honest reflection on how it’s going to influence your day to day life. Right. And I think that’s important. It honors the people that write them. For authors and people in creative work is it’s one of the most valuable things that they can do to share their stories with other people and to be open to judgment and criticism for something that they’re producing from their very core. Right? So I try to honor each of the books that I read for that reason, because that’s hard work, writing a book and asking the masses to talk about it, as you know.
JS: Yeah. And what a nice way to respect the author, just to spend time with your thoughts of it afterwards. I need to get better about that. And I don’t keep a reading journal. I think that’s why I lose my memory of books so quickly. That might be a nice way for me to honor the book a little more. Write down some thoughts of it afterward.
MM: Yes. I’m being educated to write reviews. Right. I know how meaningful that is for the author and for the publisher is to take the time to share your experience, good or bad, with the writing and what it brought to you when you read when you read the book. I’m definitely trying to do that. Maybe that’s a goal rather than a number of books is to be, you know, more reflective. Reading it instead of going through the count is what did it bring for me? What is it in terms of awareness or just maybe just joy, like something fun? You’re tapping into your inner child with a good book at some time. So that’s maybe the goal for 2021 is be a little bit more reflective and honor the creativity that’s being shared with you from someone you because the authors that we have.
JS: You’re really circling back to what you said at the beginning about your appreciation for Japanese culture in the mindfulness of it.
MM: Yes. 2020 for sure is to slow down and to just enjoy and to have a little bit more fun. I can be a pretty work-driven, serious person I try to surround myself with really fun and goofy people because they bring that up for me. But definitely, you know, having breakfast as a family, sitting down and not having to rush because I’m working in my Lululemons. That kind of stuff is just slowing down and being mindful. And I find my reading is getting that way. I even enjoy research articles. I love reading. It’s much more thoughtful and like, OK, how does this apply or does it even apply to where I am when I want to do with the rest of my life?
JS: Well, thank you, Covid for that one silver lining. One tiny silver lining. Miranda, I want to thank you so much for joining me today. Mark was absolutely right that I would absolutely adore you. I’m so grateful. I’m going to have to send him flowers or something.
MM: Oh, you are too, too kind. I’m so glad we were able to do this. And maybe one day in person I’ll be able to meet you.
JS: Oh, won’t that be fun? When this ends we’ll have a coffee and book date.
MM: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s do it.
Thanks for listening, Bookworms. For more information on this episode and links to all the books we discussed, please go to our website BestBookEverPodcast.com, or follow the podcast on Instagram @BestBookEverPodcast. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and you can find me everywhere @JulieWroteABook. Remember when you’re doing your book shopping, please help support indie bookstores and this podcast by using my affiliate link at Bookshop.com/Bestbookever.
Thank you for joining me today and I will see you at the library.