Reading the Philippine’s first crime novel

_20170416_111032.JPGIn February, I went to my friend S.J.’s wedding in the Philippine’s. I loved, loved, loved the Philippine’s – the people, the places, the food.

Like most vacations, it was hard coming back. I think it was even harder coming back because we had been surrounded by so much love and happiness from the wedding. I wasn’t looking forward to coming back to a cold, snowy, stark Toronto. In a moment of mourning the end of my vacation, I picked up Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan at the Manila airport.

Smaller and Smaller Circles is often described as the Philippine’s first crime novel. After all, whodunnit detective novels usually hail from cold, rainy Scandinavian countries. But this is actually much more than your classic crime novel. It’s clear that Batacan is using fiction to make a statement about corruption of authorities and how the country’s poor are forgotten.

Batacan’s novel traces the steps two Catholic priest forensic investigators take to find a serial killer is who kills poor slum children and skins off their faces. It’s a bit like the movie Spotlight except both the good guys and the bad guys are priests.

Smaller and Smaller starts off slow but it does eventually hook you. Religion changes the perspective of the investigators and that’s something you won’t find in a Scandinavian detective novel. Batacan also dives deep into the interwoven church and state bureaucracy which is, at times, tedious.

This is a good read and does provide insight into current events in the Philippines such as the rise of Duterte and the conflicted relationship between citizens and a very power church.

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Trevor Noah finds humour in tragedy

trevor-noah-born-a-crimeFor those of you who are fans of The Daily Show, you should get your paws on Trevor Noah’s autobiography, Born a Crime. Better yet, get the audiobook version (read by Noah) like I did after my friend, C., highly recommended it. (Thanks C.!)

Like The Daily Show, Noah tackles tough topics in Born a Crime, like being a mixed-raced child growing up in apartheid South Africa, where mixed-raced relationships were legally prohibited. But Noah finds the humour in his predicament because if you think about the implications, it’s ridiculous.

Noah shifts between tragedy and comedy without skipping a beat, breaking down barriers for the taboo. I remember my high school drama teacher telling us that comedy is just tragedy plus time and Noah illustrates this like a true comedian. Spoiler alert, the last chapter is most devastating but also made me laugh the hardest.

Noah reminds us that people can’t be reduced down to their ethnic, religious and socio-economic groups. History shows that attempts to draw lines where they don’t belong (between people, within a person, between places) results in tragedy.

We’re better off if we can love and laugh together.

Writing less to say more

51lvoalt-2l-_sx323_bo1204203200_A few months ago, I moved into my first home! It’s a 600 square-feet condo, which isn’t considered small for Toronto these days, but certainly, it cannot be called big. So I whittled down my book collection and swore that I’d only buy ebooks going forward.

Those who read Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up will recall that she says you should buy books and read them immediately. She tells her readers to throw out books they never got around to reading because they will likely never read them.

But that has been the case for me. In my cleaning, I found a copy of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. And I thought I’d hang onto it because he’s supposed to be a classic and I so rarely read classics.

But I regret not reading Hemingway sooner because his writing confirmed for me, that the best writing is simple. You don’t have spell things out with big words, fancy jargon and flowery descriptions. And when you’re as good a writer as Hemingway, you don’t need any of those things to convey exactly what you want the reader to feel.

fbf7be6f9c3dabeafe5bd13af1023e70I had always heard that Hemingway had a way of writing simple prose. He’s often said to have written the six-word story: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” As I learned from reading The Moveable Feast, six words from Hemingway can hit you like a bag of bricks. And in today’s 140-character world, brevity is important.

But enough crushing and gushing over Hemingway’s word count — The Moveable Feast is just a great read. I don’t love Paris but I love his Paris. Can there be a theme park where you get to play a broke writer who drinks with other tortured writers of the time?

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Judy Blume returns for adults

23899174It’s been a hard week watching the U.S. elections. As a Canadian, I wish our neighbours to the south best of luck and suggest that they hide themselves in a good book until they have a better idea of what Trump stands for — and proceed to fight for their rights.

I recently finished Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event and thought it was, meh. My mistake is in thinking it’d be anything close to Summer Sisters, Judy Blume’s epic first adult book.

The story centres on a teenage girl named Miri Ammerman growing up with a single mom in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the early 1950’s. In the span of two years, three airplanes out of Newark Airport crash in Elizabeth earning it the nickname, Plane Crash City.

In the Unlikely Event is still full of believable and relatable, adolescent characters who are traversing the trials of growing up. This, Judy Blume will always excel at. But I just didn’t feel enough for the characters and I really didn’t like the ending. The story came up short for me. I’ll just stick to Summer Sisters, thank you.

It probably didn’t help that I took a two week break from reading In the Unlikely Event. I had planned to take it as plane reading materials for a trip to Asia but then decided against it. Who wants to read about plane crashes on a plane?

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