Review — The 10 Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Bad by Sam Jordison

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sam Jordison has packed his non-fiction book The 10 Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Bad with mindboggling facts related to our past and present, which he displays in countdown lists from ten to one, with the worst offenders left to last. The author must have carried out a tremendous amount of research both in compiling lists from scratch and in sourcing existing ones.

I love it when a book teaches me loads of new stuff in an entertaining way. The author’s subjective comments are often hilarious, maybe some of them tongue-in-cheek, but who knows? He enjoys making passing jibes about Brexit and Trump, although for him he’s showing amazing restraint on the political front! I didn’t always agree with his choice of worst things. For instance, I happen to be a great fan of Game of Thrones (no. 9 in his list of worst TV programmes of all times) and adored the movie Dances with Wolves (no. 5 in the list of worst winners of the best picture Oscar).   

He has divided the book into ten main sections that, in turn, he divides into sub-sections. You may not find each one of equal interest but there’s something for everybody. I read the whole book from cover to cover, but struggled a bit with lists appertaining to sport. Also, I think there’s one too many lists dedicated to The Beatles, where just one would suffice. On the other hand, I’m quite tempted to check out “The Worst Duets in Pop History” on YouTube, especially as his footnote warns you against doing so. His list “The Ten Most Brutal Shakespearean Insults” has filled me with the desire to re-visit the bard’s works, following their past slaying by the school curriculum.    

For me, the two most fascinating main sections of the book were “Bad Nature”, which includes the deadliest insects and plants, scariest human parasites, and most venomous snakes; and “The Olden Days”, which includes punishments in ancient mythology, the craziest Roman Emperors, worst Popes, absurd popular scientific theories, and worst medical procedures.       

Ultimately, this book demonstrated what a miracle it is that the human race has survived for so long, despite… well, I’ll leave you to fill in the ellipsis by reading the book in its entirety. And when you reach the final sub-section “The Ten Most Likely Ways the Earth is Going to End”, you’ll be delighted to discover that humans could prevent five out of ten of them.

A highly recommended read.                 

Sam Jordison is a journalist for The Guardian and writes regular articles about books and publishing on their website . He’s the author of several bestselling books, including the Crap Towns series, Literary London (co-written by Eloise Millar) and Enemies of the People. He’s also the co-director of the award-winning publisher Galley Beggar Press.

The 10 Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Bad is available from all good bookshops in the UK, as well as from HiveWaterstones, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

Review: Thanks to Matt Haig, Two Books that Could Save Your Life

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Fourteen years ago or so, before he was a published and well-loved author of fiction, Matt Haig stood at the edge of a clifftop in an idyllic location on a beautiful sunny day, and almost jumped to his death. But he didn’t and this non-fiction book tells you why, with an honesty and humour I found most touching. Also he tells you how he overcame the worst of his anxiety and depression and decided living was the better option. Nowadays, if he sees the signs of an attack coming on, he knows how to recognise and counter it before it turns into a full-blown attack, and without the help or hindrance of any type of medication. He tried valium right at the beginning and it didn’t work, its failure only adding to his anxiety.

Having worked in psychiatry in the past, I would agree with with Rev. Richard Coles when he suggested in a review that Reasons to Stay Alive should be on prescription. On a personal level, it helped me identify the triggers to some negative thought patterns and anxiety of my own that had began to interfere with my enjoyment and engagement with life.

Whether you suffer from anxiety or depression yourself, or if you live with someone who does do so, I would highly recommend reading this hugely accessible and life-changing book.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Notes on a Nervous Planet is Matt Haigh’s follow-up book to his bestseller Reasons to Stay Alive, both of which I read back-to-back and have found tremendously transformative in my life. Sometimes people stumble across a book or, in my case, two books at exacly the right time. I’d only just finished reading two of his novels, when I heard him being interviewed on a BBC Radio programme one evening to coincide with his release of Notes on a Nervous Planet and I thought, Wow! I can so identify with what he’s saying here and I already love his fiction, so why not try his non-fiction, too?

The book starts out by recapping some of Reasons to Stay Alive, which is all about how and why he didn’t commit suicide and learned survival strategies to beat his depression and anxiety. Then it goes on to explore in depth the impact of various aspects of modern life upon our nerves such as obsessing about The News, over-engagement with smart phones, obsessing with and measuring our worth over how many “likes” we’ve achieved or not achieved on social networks or our blogs etc. He’s never preachy about any of this but only sharing with you things that he has experienced as anxiety triggers. I’m not usually into lists but some of his lists, at the very least, gave me some real ah-hah moments and, at the most, made me laugh out loud.

As with his previous book, I want to give Matt Haigh a big virtual hug and send him a huge thank you for stopping me self-destructing with anxiety and permanently slipping into the slough of despond. I’m no longer spending as long online (sorry fellows, as much as I love you all) and I’m reconnecting with people in real life instead of being an utter recluse for much of the time, plus I’m being more self-disciplined about working on my own creative projects.

Both Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet are highly recommended and accessible reads for sanity’s sake.

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Just a little Post Script to this post, this is my first attempt to publish a post using the new Gutenberg editor on WordPress. It has been a most exhausting experience that has raised my anxiety levels. Some deep breaths required…

Does anyone know how to disable the featured image at the top of the post and stop it duplicating the image that you’ve used as a header to your first paragraph? This is a bug that needs fixing, pronto. I had to delete my paragraph header and leave the featured image be, which means it doesn’t line up with my next paragraph header image. Grrrr…  

Book Review: Enemies of the People by Sam Jordison

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a first for me, getting political online. There are some books that you wish you’d read earlier rather than later, and Enemies of the People is one such book. Not that it was available prior to the Brexit vote, or the electing of a reality TV star as President of the US. It seems we’re victims of lies and manipulation; this book tells us who the culprits are, plus a great deal more.

In Enemies of the People, Sam Jordison doesn’t pretend objectivity and, by his own admission, wrote it quickly and in anger.  On the front cover are the words “We’re all screwed and here’s who to blame”, and in his blurb he holds men responsible for the whole mess: mostly white men in a temper (not including himself, of course!).

Primarily, this is a history book written by somebody who can write “more than 140 characters at a time” and sees it as a “golden opportunity to snatch back the narrative and set the record straight”. The book does not go into great depth but is a series of snapshots of fifty people whom the author feels have had the greatest negative influence on our society. These include certain British prime ministers and US presidents, past and present; current members of parliament;  deranged dictators; people on the Rich List (some skilful, some moronic); founders of religions, from the relatively sane, through to extremist sects, down to the plain screwy; royalty, with William the Conqueror thrown in for good measure, and a closing chapter dedicated to a medical charlatan/founder of a commercial radio station, who almost became governor of Kansas in the 1930s and could be seen as a metaphor for our times.

Of the fifty people mentioned, not all of them are wholly bad or lacking in areas of brilliance, but I’m hazarding a guess that a fair percentage of them suffer from narcissistic personality disorders (or have suffered, because they’re now dead). A few have meant well, but power has corrupted them, filling them with greed, or they’ve just lost their way.

As the author points out, by the time this book went into print it was probably out of date in some respects. Certainly the chapter about Jeremy Corbyn needs updating, although, unlike the author, I had no issue with the Leader of the Opposition having “sloped off to his allotment association’s annual get together while most of his cabinet were busy resigning following the Brexit vote”. But then, as a keen allotmenteer myself, I can’t think of a better way to get away from it all and clear my head.

In summary, I enjoyed this book in a perverse way. It confirmed what I already suspected about those in charge of our society, with all the spin, lies, hypocrisy, greed, manipulation, and contradiction. This should have depressed me, but I felt oddly empowered by knowing my enemy better. Sam Jordison’s writing is pacey, entertaining, easy to read, and peppered with wry wit.  He comes over as very passionate about truth, justice, and the betterment of society.

I now challenge him to write a book titled “Friends of the People”…

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Sam Jordison is co-director of an Indy publisher Galley Beggar Press in Norwich (www.galleybeggar.co.uk) and editor of Crap Towns. He’s a journalist for The Guardian and writes regular articles about books and publishing on their website (www.theguardian.com/profile/samjordison). He also runs the online book club The Reading Group (www.guardian.co.uk/books/series/reading-group) and the annual Not The Booker Prize.

Enemies of the People is available from all good bookshops in the UK, as well as from HiveWaterstones, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

April’s Guest Storyteller, Cee Tee Jackson

Cee Tee Jackson

Cee Tee (Colin) Jackson is an ex-bank manager turned professional dog walker from Houston, Scotland.

He’s a bit of a short arse, with a short attention span. No surprise then, that his first book, ‘Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee’, at just one hundred and eleven pages, is also a little on the short side.

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Sarah says: I’m delighted to welcome Cee Tee as this month’s guest storyteller. Recently, I had the pleasure of reading the book mentioned above, which falls into the category of non-fiction that is at times stranger than fiction! Seriously, I really enjoyed this book, based on his true experiences as a pet professional, and awarded it five stars on Amazon and Goodreads.

Today, Cee Tee is going to regale us with a tale (tails) from his book.

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The Dangers (Extract from ‘Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee.’)

I was with three dogs, all from the same household: Ozzie, a bouncy, athletic and energetic bearded collie cross; Gem, a lovely-natured little Staffordshire bull terrier; and Sam, a rather overweight, but ultra-sociable Cairn terrier whose short, stumpy legs struggle to keep his belly from trailing the ground.

In a country park, high in the hills that overlook Paisley and Glasgow, we were following our regular route. As normal, I checked each field for sheep and cattle before entering. Except, on this occasion the cattle were not apparent from the entrance and were actually ensconced in an obscured dip, around a bend.

The three dogs were off-lead and slightly ahead of me as they charged through the open ground. Well, Ozzie and Gem, at least – Sam was mooching his way around as usual, searching for scraps of discarded picnic food and leaving his scent-mark on just about every raised tuft of grass that he passed.

I knew something was wrong the instant all three stopped what they were doing and stood still. Gem threw me a look from over her shoulder which I loosely translated as:

“We’ve got a problem …”

Confronting us now, and quickly rising to their feet, were about twenty cows. Worse – they each had their young with them.

I returned Gem’s look, hoping she’d interpret it as:

“Keep calm, and walk slowly towards the woods.”

At least in there, I reckoned, the cattle would have no room to charge us, and if we were seen to be walking away from them, hopefully they’d realise we intended no harm to their calves.

The most vociferous of the herd was by now no more than four metres from me. She was snorting and stamping her front hooves on the ground. The others were becoming more animated and vocal as they circled us. I shot a look towards the wooded area, some fifty metres away.

The alarmed baying of the group in front of us had alerted a splinter-herd, who had been resting-up in the shade of the very same woods.

Gem slowly turned her head towards me, a quizzical look on her face. I think she was saying:

“What now, wise-guy?”

‘What now?’ indeed.

Well, Ozzie, being of nimble foot, had already made himself scarce and scarpered towards the bottom end of the field. Gem, ever so trusting, was still awaiting instruction.

Sam, completely unaware of any possible danger, decided he’d like to make friends with the cattle. This was not helping, at all.

A car stopped on the road that bisects the park, and the driver came to the fence around a hundred metres away. From his vantage point, down the slope from where we were cornered, he could see a gap forming in the herd. He shouted to me and pointed to where we should run.

And run we did – Gem close by my side.

It was, as I’d read in magazine articles, ‘every man and dog for themselves,’ as we, the faithful Gem and myself, raced through the break in formation. Sam, however was still dithering around with his new ‘pals.’

“Come on Sam” I hollered. “BISCUITS!”

That did the trick. His little legs were a blur as he tried to catch up, more afraid of missing out on a treat than the danger of being trampled and kicked to death by an irate cow or two.

We quickly reached the sanctuary of the road, where Ozzie was waiting:

“What kept you?” I could imagine him panting.

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Damp Dogs and Rabbit Wee is available to buy (Kindle and Paperback edition) from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com

Cee Tee’s links
Blog
Facebook
Twitter

 

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You can find the links to previous guest storyteller posts at 

 

Review: Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee

Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee
Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee by Cee Tee Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First selling point of this book is the author himself. Cee Tee Jackson is an ex-bank manager who runs a pet care/dog-walking business in the West of Scotland and sports a mohawk haircut.

Composed of a series of vignettes, the author shares true stories of his work with animals. The tales range from mildly amusing to hilarious, with the odd sadness thrown in. He has a personable and entertaining style of writing that would appeal to a wide age-range of readers.

Throughout the book, I was greatly impressed by the compassion and patience Cee Tee shows towards his charges, plus forgiveness towards animals with temperament issues. …I’m thinking he must have quite a lot of scars. For instance, he has a chapter titled “The Psychopaths” (a rabbit and a cat, to be precise).

My first job was as a kennel maid, which made this book of particular interest to me. I also used to keep rabbits that were all teeth and claws, and once tried offering a home to a rescue cat that was incurably homicidal (feeling great empathy with Cee Tee here).

Primarily, this is a book that dog owners will find incredibly entertaining. It’s clear that Cee Tee loves his work and hasn’t allowed redundancy (twice over) to tip him over into despondency. In fact I’m guessing, from some of his quips about the bank, that in hindsight he sees his new job as a liberation from an organisation he no longer respects.

However, it is obvious he respects animals and that he revels in his hours spent in the countryside rather than behind a desk in a stuffy office. He might end some days muddy, scratched, and smelling of damp dogs and rabbit wee but — what the hell? — the fellow is happy.

My only complaint about this book is that it is too short. Then again, the author does describe himself as “a bit of a short-arse, with a short attention span”.

View all my reviews

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This sharing of book reviews is a new thing for me, as I’ve only just stumbled upon this feature on Goodreads.

The author of Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee will be guest storytelling here in April. Meanwhile, you might like to visit Cee Tee’s blog