Bossypants by Tina Fey

If you are a liker of comedy, you’d be hard pressed to find reasons to justify why Tina Fey isn’t that big of a deal. She and Amy Poehler loomed large for an entire era of SNL, especially in Fey’s role as head writer for nine years. Their generation of improv performers cornered valuable TV and movie real estate that used to be reserved only for standup comedians. She also wrote the screenplay of the totemic film Mean Girls, basically informing the vocabulary of every human being in possession of a Tumblr account.

Her schtick as an often hapless, often harried nerd thrust into the spotlight is belied by the ferocious intellect, drive and savvy that Bossypants merely hints at. I’m slightly apprehensive that my post about her 2011 memoir will speak more of her place in culture than the actual content of the book. But Fey herself also deftly anticipates that readers coming into Bossypants are most likely aware of celebrity, and may already have their opinions of her hardened beyond modification. Continue reading

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The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum

I’ve always been fascinated by crime at the beginning of the 20th Century. It was a nebulous time when all the trappings of what we now consider standard police work barely existed. Cities were industrializing at a rapid pace even as local governments struggled to keep up. Jack the Ripper‘s reign of terror over London, for example, only occurred around ten years before the new century began, and investigators then had to pretty much spontaneously invent psychological profiling, crime scene investigation, forensic handwriting analysis, and other fields of criminology. (Warnings for graphic photos and descriptions of dead bodies in those links.)

Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York is a brisk tour of this rough historical period. It also serves as a chronicle of a peculiar arms race between killers looking for the most ingenious methods of offing someone and the forensic investigators determined to catch them. Representing the forces of law and order are two scientists, the medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler of the New York Police Department. Blum expertly paints the frustrating morass of bureaucracy, corruption, and ignorance that technicians like them had to endure in order to establish a more scientific and reliable protocol for catching poisoners. Continue reading

Trip to Quiapo by Ricky Lee

“Hindi ka tuturuan ng librong ito kung paano magsulat. Buhay ang gagawa n’on” – Ricky Lee

Sana maraming bumasa ng Trip to Quiapo, kahit walang balak maging scriptwriter o manunulat. Magkahalong manual ng screenwriting at collection ng iba’t ibang anekdota at materyales na konekatdo sa Philippine Cinema, bumuo si Ricky Lee ng isang sincere at kahanga-hangang larawan ng industriyang pinaglaanan niya ng buhay sa mahigit tatlumpung taon.

Importante ang librong ito hindi lamang para sa mga cinephile kundi para sa mga naghahangad ng isang oral history tungkol sa Pinoy Cinema. Marami akong nakuhang insight tungkol sa paggawa ng kwento, at malamang ay babalikan ko uli ang librong ito kung sakaling magbabalak akong magsulat uli ng fiction.

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Tongues on Fire by Conrado de Quiros

Conrado de Quiros is among the country’s most articulate and widely-read political voices. His weekly column called There’s the Rub consistently causes pundits and politicians to either lionize him or accuse him of persecution. To put his influence in perspective, he is one of the very first people who called for Noynoy Aquino to run for the presidency, writing “Noynoy for president” in August 2010, following the death and funeral of Former President Corazon Aquino. Noynoy was not even contemplating the bid at this point, but the phenomenal outpouring of grief during Cory’s funeral and the call of people such as de Quiros snowballed into a movement and eventually became the state of Philippine politics today.

Tongues on Fire do not contain materials from his columns but are either speeches or longer essays that are not necessarily political in nature. However, many of the pieces allude to different administrations–from Marcos to Macapagal-Arroyo–and the scandals and indignities to which they have subjected the country. De Quiros is a political animal and it shows, with even speeches about the Boy Scouts of the Philippines containing jibes about corruption. In one essay (“A real book”), he talks about well-meaning friends and usiseros telling him that his talents can be better showcased in other ways, since writing about Philippine politics is an ultimately doomed endeavor. He blithely tells them to get lost.

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Stiff by Mary Roach

In my quest to read more non-fiction this year, I went ahead and bought this book which I’ve been hearing about for a long time. As someone who gorges on police procedurals on a regular basis (let me tell you about my feelings for Idris Elba’s Luther one of these days), the subject matter is right up my alley.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is a series of long form essays by journalist Mary Roach that tackles the adventurous (after)lives of corpses that are used for scientific research. From the long-standing and ghoulish tradition of bodysnatching for medical schools to the relatively recent educational facility called the “body farm,” Roach examines not only the mechanics of corpse-related experimentation, but also the ethical and practical implications of doing such work.

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Fargo Rock City

Pity those with the compulsion to rationalize their obsessions; theirs is a battle with no end. Chuck Klosterman proves with his oral history of heavy metal, filtered through the eyes of a perpetually uncool kid from rural North Dakota. A freewheeling meditation on bands like Mötley Crüe, KISS, Poison, and Guns N’ Roses, Fargo Rock City is already significant as one of the first attempts to legitimize the cultural importance of the spandex-clad, hairsprayed army of badasses who saw their heyday in the late 80’s to early 90’s. But it is also a love letter to a childhood where love of music was tied to a sense of self and belonging. And the undying desire to rock.

Klosterman declares early on that he wants to confront two of the most egregious accusations hurled at heavy metal: that 1) it is frivolous and disposable (therefore “not art”), and 2) it is offensive and dangerous. He argues that these two sentiments can’t both be true at the same time. Being a danger presupposes a potency that contradicts frivolity. It may not be elevating art but heavy metal mattered, particularly to the crop of hormonal teenagers of post-Reagan Middle America.

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Moneyball: In Praise of Sabermetrics

I must admit that I like reading about baseball much more than watching it. I can lap up article after article about Ichiro Suzuki by Time Magazine, but sitting through a baseball game is something I can only afford to do when I’m already under the influence of Advil. Still, sportswriting remains an affecting genre for me. Despite being prone to romanticism, there is a lot of naked emotion inherent in it, chronicling the triumphs and follies of grown men risking life and limb to chase after a ball.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is a crusade under the banner of sabermetrics. Michael Lewis’s infamous book about an underfunded baseball team that manages to outsmart several richer teams hinges on a single point–that the old boy’s club of Major League Baseball inaccurately measures the merits and skills of their own players and that this shortsightedness can be exploited by a smarter, if poorer, team. The secret weapon? Statistical analysis.

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