Monday, August 31, 2015

Just what is a Jackwagon, you may be asking yourself?  As comedian Tim Hawkins points out on the back cover of his book Diary of a Jackwagon, it's an old term referring to military vehicles that were repaired with spare parts and were therefore unreliable.  He uses the term to refer to himself, as someone who is lacking in achievement and who frequently messes up.

The book is a collection of "comedy journal" entries that Hawkins has kept over his 20 year career as an entertainer.  He offers his humorous observations on topics such as marriage, homeschooling (which he and his wife participate in), aging and society.  Each chapter ends with some "Tweet Thoughts" -- Twitter postings he plans to unleash at some point.

The observations are pretty funny and he seems like a down-to-earth and self-effacing kind of guy.  However, the material does seem to get slightly repetitive (his wife is great and he doesn't deserve her, things are different from how he grew up, he's kind of a doofus, etc.).  He also puts a Christian spin on many topics. There are tons and tons of appreciative quotes from a variety of people on the back of the book and covering the first 4 pages (overkill much?).  Still, it's an enjoyable enough read for those who like their comedy topics clean and kind!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Diary of a Jackwagon from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for this review

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mark Bittman started writing a food column for the New York Times in 2011 and the book A Bone to Pick is a collection of those columns.  He looks at the broken food-production system, both in the United States and in the rest of the world, which has resulted in over a billion people going hungry every year.  Not only that, but another billion are malnourished or undernourished, even in supposedly wealthy countries such as the United States.  Bittman looks at what he sees as problems which need to be addressed in order to improve food production, reduce waste, and improve nutrition.

There are plenty of stark facts that are presented early in the book:  that the vast majority of grain produced in the United States never makes it to the table (it's either used as animal feed, converted to bio diesel or wasted); that up to 98% of pesticides used end up other than where they were intended (leading to even more pesticide use); that government "farm subsidies" never lead to edible food.  These facts alone are enough to cause concern and outrage.  The author goes on to discuss how "inefficient" small farmers are actually producing nutritious, edible food, and should be subsidized instead of the large, environmentally destructive industrial farms.

Many ideas are presented which will help to solve problems (waste, environmental, dietary, etc.) related to food production and distribution.  Some of these include taxing junk foods (such as the tax Mexico implemented in 2014), crop rotations (to replenish the land and reduce the reliance on pesticides) and support for smaller farmers (to keep farmers on their land and increase local access to healthier foods).  Is there enough wide-spread determination to implement such ideas?

The articles in the book, while written over several years, are gathered into sections such as "Big Ag, Sustainability, and What's in Between, " "What's Wrong with Meat?," and "Legislation and Labeling."  While each individual article contains interesting information, the fact is that when they are grouped together like this, they tend to get a bit repetitive (all 10 articles in the "Sustainability" section, for instance, mention how most grain is turned into animal feed, and how 1/3 of the population is hungry while another 1/3 is obese/malnourished). 

Overall, the book brings up many distressing and unpleasant facts about where our food comes from, and how the entire process could be so easily changed to eliminate both hunger and diet-related diseases.  We can only hope that the pressing issues presented in this book will be addressed so that everyone will have access to the nutritious, bountiful foods that are produced every year (rather than the food being wasted or converted to non-food purposes).

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of A Bone to Pick from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

 We are constantly being bombarded with horrible events from around the world; crime, wars and senseless acts of violence have become a sadly predictable part of the evening news.  Unfortunately, these terrible events are so commonplace that we barely have time to reflect on one tragedy before we are presented with a new one.  But each of these awful occurrences results in shocked and grieving people who must somehow put their lives back together.  The book The Rising takes an in-depth look at one man who survived a horrific home invasion and how he was able to heal and continue on with his life.

In July 2007, Dr. Bill Petit was awakened in the middle of the night as he was being beaten over the head with a baseball bat.  Two intruders had broken in and immediately immobilized him and his family.  He was tied up in the basement, while his wife and two daughters were tied up in their rooms upstairs.  His wife was later taken to a bank and ordered to withdraw money.  She was able to alert bank employees to the situation and the police were notified.  Dr. Petit was able to escape and run to a neighbor's house to ask for help.  Unfortunately, while the police were deciding on how best to handle the situation, the intruders were able to kill Mrs. Petit and set the house on fire, which resulted in the deaths of the two daughters as well.  Since the police had been alerted, they were able to catch the criminals as they fled the crime scene.

Dr. Petit was left completely devastated.  He'd lost his family, his home, and due to lingering medical problems from his injuries, was no longer able to practice medicine.  The book chronicles his journey from those awful days after the murders, through the trials of the two perpetrators, and on to his life since both men were sentenced to death.

The book gives a lot of background on Dr. Petit's early life, including his close-knit family and how he met his wife, Jennifer.  Jennifer was a nurse and a very kind and generous woman.  Even after she was diagnosed with MS, she continued on with work and raising her family.  Daughter Hayley had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to a summer of hanging out with friends before heading off to Dartmouth in the fall. Younger daughter Michaela had just finished fifth grade.  They were a typical loving, close family who had no idea that evil was lurking outside their home.

Dr. Petit, as the lone survivor, naturally dealt with guilt at not being able to save his family.  He moved back in with his parents and tried to figure out how to live without his wife and kids.  This is when his assertion that "people are basically good" was reinforced.  Cards, letters and money poured in from around the world.  People had heard of his terrible story and wanted to offer their sympathy and do what they could to help.  Local friends and neighbors inundated the family with offers of help, free airplane transportation, clothing and whatever else they could do to help.  Sitting down and replying to each letter personally (with the help of his family) initially gave Dr. Petit something to focus on and helped him through the most awful time of his life.  So much money was donated that he started the Petit Family Foundation, dedicated to supporting the education of women in the sciences, helping those with chronic illnesses, and protecting victims of violence.  Working with the foundation also gave him something to focus on.

It took three years before the first defendant was tried, and Dr. Petit attended every day of the trial.  He had to hear the awful details of what his family went through.  After that trial was over, he had to do it all again for the second defendant.  At least there was some justice when both men were sentenced to death.

In the years since losing his family, Dr. Petit has found love again.  He married Christine, a photographer and marketing director and they had a son.  The most amazing thing about the story is how Dr. Petit hasn't lost his faith in the overall goodness of society and his belief that most people are good.  It's sad that his faith in this goodness had to be tested in such a cruel and terrible way.  It was fascinating to read about how he was able to get through such an unimaginable and horrific event and to continue to live a life which honors and pays tribute to his lost loved ones.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Rising from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

About Me

My photo
I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

I'm waiting! My library holds

Header by:


My LibraryThing Library

The Gherkin Scale

5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

0gherkins3Don't be givin' me evils!

Blog Archive

Popular Posts