Pacific Rims

Posted: August 26, 2012 in books
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I recently finished (re)reading Rafe Bartholomew’s “Pacific Rims” in time for the August 2012 book discussion of Flips Flipping Pages. Before I get into details about that, let me explain a few things:

1. I actually started reading the book in one of those “I have a couple of hours to kill” lulls, and being the dork that I am, I spent them inside Fully Booked.

2. I loved basketball way, way, way before football. My dad was an ardent LA Lakers fan (Magic Johnson was one of my childhood heroes). I secretly rooted for Alaska in the 90s (because Tim Cone lived in the same village as I did). I live in constant hope and despair with the UP Maroons.

3. I should participate more and regularly in Flips Flipping Pages, but: a) I don’t have enough time to read; or b) I cannot be usually bothered to grab a book that’s not in my general reading range.

That said, I breezed through “Pacific Rims” and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I know some readers (non-basketball fans) had their eyes glazed over some parts of the book, particularly the parts on the inner workings of the sport itself. As for me, it felt like being transported back to my childhood, when the TV just shuffled between NBA and PBA games. I was reading familiar names, ones that I remember watching all those years and ones that I read about as part of annals of history.

The book, essentially, is a recounting of Bartholomew’s year with the Alaska Aces, offering glimpses of the team’s trials and victories, capped by a PBA championship. Bartholomew explores the challenges faced by imports, team dynamics, and the relationship between a team and its fans, among many other sub-topics (including an interesting take on the sport with, uh, unusual players).

However, beyond being “just a basketball book”, what I find most interesting about “Pacific Rims” was that basketball was used as a lens to illustrate Philippine culture. It explored how a country that did not have competitive advantage in the sport embraced it as its own, adding its own flourishes to the sport, creating its own unique brand of play.

Bartholomew is a skilled storyteller, showing the Philippines and its people through the eyes of a foreigner that has somehow assimilated within the three years of his stay in the country. I suppose it also helps that his humor is pretty much in synch with Pinoy humor—and good grief, that “Bakekang” stint!

The biggest treat for fans during the book discussion? The author himself was present via Skype. My only lamentation—the one-hour discussion was not sufficient!

When you have a book entitled, “How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization,” the expectations arising from the title are quite high. A nerd like me will most probably expect a theoretical framework of the game and how it is applied as a lens in which certain cultures and phenomena are analyzed, ultimately unearthing several factors that point to a world that is more integrated as a result of a common love for the game.

Instead, all I found were 10 highly interesting vignettes, which included: supporters of a Serbian football club doubling as paramilitary in support of hyper-nationalism; a look into pre-war Jewish football players; English hooliganism; Scottish football and its roots in the divide among Catholics and Protestants; ownership structures and politics in Brazilian football; the dynamics between Italy’s ruling powers and their football clubs; racism against black players in Ukraine; U.S. soccer and it’s role in perpetuating an American counter-culture; and (ugh) FC Barcelona and the romanticism of football, among others.

Perhaps a more appropriate title would be: “How the World Explains Soccer”.

Don’t get me wrong, Franklin Foer is an incredibly talented writer with a strong voice and a gift for brevity. Each vignette masterfully mixed information with human interest, if not sheer entertainment.

Perhaps that’s where my slight dissatisfaction with the book lies. Each vignette does not transcend to anything more than its story—which is essentially a look at the nuances of certain cultures and the politics behind (and on top of) their football. There is no unifying thread or insight to make the world’s most popular sport a “theory of globalization”.

Perhaps this is merely my nerdy self talking, but I honestly think that the title held a grandiose premise that was most likely not even going to be adequately addressed. If you’re looking to be entertained, have a go at this one. If you’re looking for academic discourse on football, this might be a bit of a downer.

For the bibliophile wanderlust.

Posted: February 2, 2012 in literary news

Flavorwire’s 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world.

And some of these sure are magnificent architectural wonders.

The last two books I’ve read had something to do with football as the religion of two men, supporting two different clubs and undergoing through two different journeys: Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch: A Fan’s Life” and Brian Reade’s “44 Years with the Same Bird: A Liverpudlian Love Affair”.

Both books provide much depth and insight in the thoughts and lives of men who began as young supporters of their respective clubs—how such support formed a boy’s identity, how it has shaped and deepened relationships, how each man related to football in view of hooliganism and disasters such as Heysel and Hillborough, and how every victory and defeat were remembered in painstaking detail, serving as a signpost for key events in each man’s life.

Nick Hornby detailed the triumphs and tribulations of being an Arsenal fan through a series of essays that marked the club’s matches. Brian Reade gave an intimate look on what it meant to be a lifelong Liverpool supporter (including forging a relationship with his son) in a series of chapters that marked key developments in the club’s history. Interestingly, both men gave accounts on opposite ends of the spectrum over a few commonalities, such as the 1971 FA Cup Final contested by Arsenal and Liverpool (Arsenal won 2-1).

I do consider myself a fan of Nick Hornby, after reading “High Fidelity”, wherein he details a passion for music, as reflected by the protagonist. That said, “Fever Pitch” has the same pained, passionate tone, this time for Arsenal. I suppose there’s something inherently tortured in Hornby’s writing, and one can feel the intensity of his tribulations as an Arsenal supporter.

On the other hand, I do feel greater empathy for Brian Reade, largely because of two things: 1) he isn’t tortured/pained/masochistic; and 2) it is Liverpool, after all. What I love about Reade’s book is there is such joy in supporting Liverpool, despite defeats and tragedies such as Heysel and Hillsborough. He shares a lesser known angle about Heysel, and there is much rawness when he wrote about Hillsborough, which easily felt as though the tragic events on April 15, 1989 could have been relived through the eyes of someone that was actually there.

Yet, I go back to the joy of supporting Liverpool. If there was anything missing in “Red Men”, which details the history of the club, it was the heart of what it meant to be a supporter of Liverpool—to live through the glorious nights in Rome and Istanbul, to stand at the Kop End, to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and truly understand what the words mean.

One of the things that I find interesting, which is a common thread in both books, is the degree of emotional investments that a boyhood supporter puts into his football club. It is quite a journey that is inextricably bound to the club’s history and performance. It could serve as a warning, but there’s greater merit in reading these books from cover to cover to understand what a supporter means.

 

Cross-posted to Communique.

An underwhelming bookish update.

Posted: September 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

It’s been a while since I posted here, and yes, I have been reading. I finished Superfreakonomics a couple of weeks back, and I haven’t really bothered writing about it, largely because I was underwhelmed. I did find a few chapters particularly interesting—especially those bits about drunk walking, spotting a terrorist, and global warming. I’m currently reading a couple of titles on my bedside and on my Kindle, and a proper update should be in the works soon enough.

I also dropped by the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) today. I was also underwhelmed by the selections on sale at the National Bookstore booth, largely because there were no travel books up for grabs. I did manage to get a few titles though, which are:

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I’m glad to have seen that copy of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, as I’ve been berating myself for not getting it in Monterey several years ago, which was already a bargain at $12. At least this one’s only P150. The Houdini Solution and The World According to Twitter, I thought, may be beneficial for work, and I just got them each at P30. What the World is Reading is a complimentary copy.

Time to get cracking.

I was intrigued by Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” because of a review posted on the website of a leading daily in the U.S., wherein there was much outrage in the tone of the reviewer, pegging Chua as a self-righteous, holier-than-thou Chinese mother.

Perhaps the book was taken out of context in the review or that the writer of the said piece missed the entire point of the book. “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, first and foremost, was not an instructional, this-is-how-you-should-go-about-parenting manual. It’s a memoir—and a decidedly compelling and relatable one at that.

I would be quick to admit that I enjoyed reading through the vignettes—maybe because I see a bit of myself in Amy Chua (hello, Type A personality) and maybe because I understand that there’s something that’s distinctly Asian in how she chose to raise her kids.

My mother was never a Tiger Mother. In fact, she was one of the more liberal types—the kind that would let us do whatever we want, the kind who would encourage us to (literally) go out into the world, the kind who would respect our choices.

Here’s the deal, though. When my brother and I were much younger, we only lived with our parents during weekends. Our first (tiny) house was a few streets from where my grandparents lived, and I spent most of my weekdays throughout grade school and most of high school living with my grandparents and unmarried aunts.

Let me tell you something about my grandmother and unmarried aunts—they were pretty regimented. There is a routine schedule that governs the day: wake up, have breakfast, take a bath, go to school, get back from school, do homework, and it’s lights out by 9 p.m. The television may not be switched on prior to 11 a.m., and the radio could not be switched on to the FM band (and I only had my own radio/tape deck on weekends). Looking back, I never really thought that the routine was stifling. I guess it helped me develop a great sense of self-discipline, being able to tune out from distractions and having a sense of order in an environment without rules (which pretty much describes college).

I guess it’s partly because of this upbringing that I really appreciated “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” (yeah, I’m like Chua’s first-born Sophia that way). A strict upbringing can have its benefits. Of course, such traditional, authoritarian parenting style is not suitable for every child, and it’s the battle that Chua engaged with her second daughter Lulu that perhaps makes the most compelling parts of the book. Maybe some people will gasp in horror at the extremes that Chua resorted to get her way, but hey, is it any worse than making the television and remote control babysit one’s kids?

Most importantly, as a memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is a coming-of-age story of a mother. I suppose this is when it has to be said that growth will never stop once we reach adulthood. Self-deprecating, sharp, ridiculous, and insightful, the book presents a peek into the life of Chua and her family and a mother’s journey through parenthood.

As for me, let’s just say I’ll be imposing a culture of excellence to my future kids.

(P.S. Fangirl alert—Amy Chua retweeted my tweet to her!)

Cross-posted on Communique.

I picked up a copy of Fernando Torres’ “El Niño: My Story” at Kinokuniya in Suria KLCC a couple of weeks ago. Quite a fortunate sighting, as only two copies were left.

As I clutched a copy of the book as if it was an expensive thing that I had to guard with my life (even if I think it should have been marked at least 50% off—c’mon, Kinokuniya, Torres is no longer a Red!), Rick walks up next to me. “Don’t judge me,” I say, assuming he was eyeing the book I was holding. “That’s OK,” he says. “Torres has done a lot of good when he was with us.” (Although he probably was rolling his eyes in his head at the sight of another Torres fangirl, haha.)

To say that this book is an easy read is an understatement. It’s an easy read, as the translation of Torres’ thoughts appear as if it was just in casual conversation with a friend—despite being disjointed at times. In some chapters, he does paint an intimate picture of his life in Atletico Madrid and Liverpool. It is a treat for any fan who adores Torres, especially with all the photographs that make up about half (or more than?) of the book. And at the time of its publishing (2009), this was pretty much an autobiography that was approved by Liverpool FC’s media (don’t go looking for much of the club history and such though—there are a whole slew of books for that, including a Bill Shankly book of quotes).

One thing I realized is that while Torres writes about how he seemed destined to go to Liverpool from Atletico Madrid (remember the captain’s armband falling from his arm, exposing the words: “We’ll never walk alone”?), I get the feeling that the book was a premonition of his move to Chelsea. Of course, it may just be me, but apart from those two other clubs, he seems to have mentioned Chelsea more than any other club.

This brings me to the point that I do feel a sense of regret reading the book. Speaking as a fan of Liverpool, I do feel as though Torres could have been a legend in a club whose supporters showered him with much affection. Looking back at the events in January 2011, there was a strong sense of antagonism toward him partly because he was so well-loved—and then to exchange the affection with a transfer request? What betrayal. (Of course, he was also beaten by the club in the PR/spin game.)

Yet, if you must understand why he left Atletico Madrid, you would also gain insight as to why he eventually left Liverpool as well. El Niño had a hungry heart—one that wanted to win championships—despite the seemingly quiet demeanor. Yes, he was hungry—and impatient. While he succeeded for country (ah, that unforgettable Euro 2008 goal), he had not found much luck at the club level and was always present in a team that was undergoing a period of transition.

(As for my fangirl self, I consider Fernando Torres an ex-boyfriend. Harharhar. Seriously though, I wish him well in Chelsea, but I don’t wish for Chelsea to win anything. I’ll openly root for Torres when he’s donning the Spain NT shirt.)

Give this book to any Torres fangirl, and you’re guaranteed to get a squeal of delight in return.

P.S. The best line of the book: “Bloody hell, where is Steven Gerrard?”

 

Cross-posted on Communique.