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Davis, California

Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The Avid Reader showcases community talent at local author night

From environmentalist memoirs to action-packed fiction, local authors share their stories 


By ANA BACH — arts@theaggie.org


On March 9, The Avid Reader hosted a local author night, where many members of the community gathered to hear from published authors from the area. The event started at 6 p.m. amidst pouring rain in downtown Davis. 

The employees congregated at the back of the bookstore to present the authors; Elizabeth Nguyen, Bruce Rettig, Nan Turner and Tom Lin. Each author had roughly 10-to-15 minutes to talk about their work. 

Nguyen discussed her book, “Aloha Vietnam,” which follows 17-year-old Anh Nguyen, who uses watercolor painting to cope with her first manic episode and is later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her Vietnamese-American family is then introduced to the complex struggles of mental illness, whilst also coping with the hardships that come with leaving Vietnam and moving to Hawaii. Anh finds comfort in her love for the ocean and art, using the creative outlet as a tool in navigating a new place and finding belonging. 

Nguyen briefly addressed the nonfiction elements of the storyline, reflecting on her own experience as a Vietnamese-American woman. She explained the connotation of the title, and how the word “Aloha” has several meanings; “hello,” “goodbye” and “love.” The phrase encapsulates the experience Anh is going through and the multiple identities she struggles to reconcile. 

Nguyen ended by talking about the role that watercolor plays “in expressing the world through color as someone who is bipolar.” Even though the world seems to have a split black-and-white narrative with clear divides sometimes, there is still potential to see the color or liveliness in the elements that create this cohesiveness within society. 

Rettig came to the floor next to talk about his time in the Arctic, which is documented in “Refraction.” His memoir recounts his experience working in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, which is home to the largest oilfield in North America, and getting to know the Kaktovik villagers during his stay. The title refers to the mirage that is created when viewing the natural forms that make up the Arctic. 

“Seeing and perceiving something is often different from reality,” Rettig said. 

He emphasized that while this is a memoir, the main purpose of his book is to also shed light on the demise of our planet and the physical severity that the industrial environment places upon the Earth. 

“Refraction” has won several writing awards, including first place for narrative nonfiction in the International Chanticleer Book Awards as well as first place for narrative nonfiction in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s Literary Contest. Rettig currently does web design work in Davis and has a podcast that discusses the Alaska Story Project. His main emphasis is on the shared home all humans inhabit — Earth —  and working to take care of it before it is too late. 

Turner shared her intrigue for fashion, specifically for civilian clothing during World War II. “Clothing Goes To Wargoes into great depth about the clothing choices made due to the scarcity during the war, and Turner explained to the audience how the production of clothing shifted towards prioritizing the needs of the military at the ti,e. With these adjustments in place, civilians were left with almost nothing and were encouraged to save their articles of clothing until they were scraps. 

While working on her master’s degree in textiles, Turner interviewed locals on their experience living through the war. Many discussed the repurposing of men’s clothing and how the clothing shortages had the biggest impact on women because they faced intense societal pressure to look presentable. Some women went to great lengths to achieve this presentable look by using leftover gravy on their legs to resemble the color of nylon stockings. Turner offers an in-depth look into the creativity and ingenuity that jump started this fashion intervention amidst all the conflict imposed by World War II. 

Lastly, Lin called attention to the action-filled story of a Chinese-American assassin in “A Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu.” Ming Tsu is on a quest to rescue his kidnapped wife and exact revenge on her abductors. The story takes place during the late 1860s, during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad. 

Lin discussed the impact that his grandparents had on the book through their persistent efforts to migrate from China to the U.S. The story relates to the journey and driving forces that motivate us to go after what we want. New York Times book review editors called it, “a new old narrative: part revenge fantasy, part classic bloody tale of the Old West.”  

The quaint setting of The Avid Reader brings both readers and writers together, even on the gloomiest of winter days. The Avid Reader frequently hosts community events like their local author night, which can be found on their website.


Written by: Ana Bach — arts@theaggie.org