Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me and Other Stories by Cyril Wong

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Chiefly character-driven, Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me and Other Stories by Cyril Wong takes us to the highs and lows of life in Singapore. We feel a spectrum of emotions throughout the collection as a child deals with a loss of a family member; a movie ticket clerk dines with a wealthy woman he just met; a philanthropist reminisces his journeys in charity work; and a single mother pilfers a pair of pants for his son, among others.

In “Susan’s Certainty,” a story where a woman ventures into introspection brought about by experiencing different forms of art, Wong writes: “All of these things connected with her, releasing a surge of emotional fulfillment […] leaving her dazed and relieved that someone had articulated her private miseries through art.” This seemingly cements Wong’s goal with this collection; he paints the foil of Singapore’s hustle and bustle—a city where individuals dwell with uncertainty, crises, and loneliness.

Wong wrote most of the stories as fictional while some are saliently autobiographical. But, there is noticeable poetry in his fiction in the way it carefully magnifies beautiful, strange, moving, and poignant imagery in the lives of his characters.

[Cover art from Epigram Books.]

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

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Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh | 2013, Touchstone (book cover from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1757164-hyperbole-and-a-half)

(A shorter version of this review is on my Goodreads page.)

I love this book! The stories about the dogs still get me (I’ve read them all before when it was still a blog), and the illustrations are hilariously on point. The prose itself is funny enough to stand by itself, but the inclusion of illustrations (that sometimes tell the story more than the written text) makes the humor more solid. Some illustrations, in fact, can also stand by themselves, as if to form a comic strip. Though I loved it, I rated it 4 out of 5 stars because there were some parts where I found the illustrations more interesting than the prose.

Brosh not only makes good use of hyperbole/exaggeration but is also able to control it and it doesn’t scream at you to force you to laugh. I think it’s what makes the book great.

The inclusion of screen caps of the goose video was so funny that I laughed out really ugly laughs. It didn’t help that I was in a clinic when I was reading it.

If you’re looking for a quick and funny read, this is it, this is the book that you need. It also makes for a great gift for someone who’s into David Sedaris. I find their senses of humor almost on the same plane.

Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl

Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl | 1990, Random House Vintage Books (book cover from http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/394689.Tales_of_the_Unexpected)

This afternoon’s thunderstorm caused intermittent brownouts in my office today, and soon enough it became a full-fledged brownout that lasted for an hour.  I was left with nothing to do while waiting for my brother to pick me up from work, so I finished reading Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. Roald Dahl is one of my favorite authors–he’s one of the many people whose work motivated me to write.

Tales of the Unexpected is the first ebook I’ve finished reading in my new smartphone. I used the app Aldiko, which is a pretty nice reading app. The only drawback is the limitation of features–there were so many passages I wanted to highlight but I couldn’t because I have to upgrade to the premium version of the app for that certain feature. iBooks is still the best reading app for me.

I immediately noted down my critique after swiping to the last page of the ebook through my phone’s Quick Notes app. I didn’t bother rewriting them here into a nice, coherent review anymore because I’m a colossal bag of lazy bones.

  1. The stories in this collection reminds me a lot of O. Henry’s.
  2. There’s no doubt about Dahl’s writing prowess.
  3. But it gets tiring to read too. Until now, I’ve never bothered to finish reading my collection of O. Henry stories because I know that I will be surprised in every story.
  4. First, a disclaimer: I haven’t read other reviews for this book. But it didn’t quite exceed my expectations. When an author decides to switch flavors–in this case, when a known children’s literature writer ventures into writing books for an older audience, it’s not always well-received. It reminds me of how people reacted to The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling.
  5. But it’s weird that I immensely enjoyed The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, another short story collection by Dahl that is also for older readers. I first read it in grade school and if my memory serves me right, I borrowed it twice from my school’s library.
  6. The women in these stories are so kawawa (pitiful). The wives, especially. Take for example Louisa from “Edward the Conqueror,” the last story in the collection. She was trying to convince his husband, Edward, that getting this certain cat is the most exciting thing that has happened to her recently. And how did Edward react? By telling her to go make her dinner. Good grief.
  7. Some subjects and topics in the book are too… foreign for my taste. There was a story about an auction–see, I can’t recall the title! And it really, really, really bored me.
  8. My favorites from this bunch of stories are “Galloping Foxley,””Royal Jelly,” and “Nunc Dimittis.”

 

Culturematic by Grant McCracken

Culturematic by Grant McCracken | 2012, Harvard Business Review Press (book cover from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13235910-culturematic)

I’m a huge fan of popular culture and I’m always hungry for texts that shed light on it. McCracken’s Culturematic fed that hunger–it’s about good ideas and how these good ideas are executed, and paints a picture of Western culture. It’s a must-read for those in the marketing and entertainment industry, as most of the examples are from said industries. But it shouldn’t be limited to them, as it provides a handful pieces of advice for creating breakthrough ideas, which should happen in every field. It teaches the reader through examples and the takeaway from those examples.

A few favorites of mine are included in the book as excellent examples of “Culturematics”, like Saturday Night Live’s Digital Shorts and Dan Harmon’s Channel 101. It’s pretty interesting to know the story behind these things. There’s so many insights in the book that can inspire anyone; for one, the book quotes Canva evangelist Guy Kawasaki, who says that “the nobodies are the new somebodies.” (p. 203)

Despite these, though, McCracken tends to be repetitive, to sound so excited all the time. While this is intended to drive a point, it gets tiring. There’s just so many things that describe a Culturematic that it’s hard to pin down what it really is. Moreover, it gets so concentrated on Western Culturematics; it would’ve been interesting to see some Culturematics, say, from Asia, to be featured in the book. The premise is interesting, nonetheless.

Travelbook: Poems by Shane Carreon

Travelbook: Poems by Shane Carreon | 2013, University of the Philippines Press (book cover from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20300762-travelbook)

I’ve first encountered Shane Carreon when I was following the updates of the 52nd UP National Writers Workshop, of which she was a fellow. An essay on her poetics was posted, but I never got to finish reading it. So when I saw her poetry book in Powerbooks Shangri-La, I knew I had to get a copy.

The book’s contents is split in two: the first half contains her poetry while the other is her essay on her poetics (which I’m not sure is the same as the one I read before). The book’s introduction is by Merlie Alunan, Carreon’s mentor.

There are a few poems in Travelbook that really stand out among the others. My favorites are “the mice,” “Pulang Bato,” “Visits to Your Father,” and “A New.” Upon reading, those that come after “the mice” seemed to be more appealing to me. Carreon’s poetry greatly captures the stillness of many things, and a gentle voice is heard in these poems. As for the essay, it seemed like a review of the lessons on lit that I took in college, but it is enlightening nonetheless as it gives us a view of Carreon’s writing process.

Travelbook is a valuable contribution to Philippine lesbian literature, which is still in short supply. It’s also nice to hear newer voices in Philippine lit.

Supremo by Xi Zuq, illustrated by Al Estrella

Supremo by Xi Zuq, illustrated by Al Estrella | 2014, Adarna House Inc. (book cover from http://adarna.com.ph/products-page/intermediate-readers/supremo/)

I’m really glad to say that Philippine children’s lit is thriving, and Supremo is a testament to this. The story is about a grade schooler’s journey in running for the highest position in his school’s student council (I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own experiences in running for the student council). Moreover, the book pays tribute to one of the country’s rather underestimated heroes, Andres Bonifacio. Currently, Bonifacio is gaining more attention, and I’d like to think that Zuq’s Supremo is helping in realizing proper recognition of Bonifacio.

The book is great for children because it teaches the values of confidence, courage, and friendship. The story is nary a problem, of course–the protagonist, Andro, has a very powerful opponent, is running independently (though he has his bespren Miyo as his campaign manager), and isn’t a popular as the other kids to begin with. Plus, Andro is not as healthy as the other children–he has a weak heart. Though weak, his heart is big. He is set on running for Supremo, the student council’s highest position, in order to help others. Miyo and Andro are quite endearing. The book is also illustrated by Al Estrella, and the illustrations are charming.

The last time I read books for children was around two years ago, when I took a class on children’s lit. Supremo is the first children’s book I’ve read in a while, and I’m really satisfied with it.

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