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Review: ‘Esther The Wonder Pig’ by Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter

Esther The Wonder PigI’ve followed Esther the Wonder Pig on social media for a while now. It’s amazing how quickly my partner Owen and I became invested in her life, and by extension, the lives of Steve and Derek, the men who adopted her.

Reading about their journey raising Esther was an absolute joy. I also think it was an important book because due to Esther’s popularity I think a lot of people have started to fantasize about the idea of owning their own pigs. Esther The Wonder Pig doesn’t glorify pig ownership. In fact, Steve as the narrator gives all the disgusting, grimy cringing little details of raising Esther mixed in with the stories of love and friendship. It was a great mix that I really felt captured Esther’s unique personality and extreme intelligence, while also outlining the hard (but rewarding) work that owning a 400 pound pig truly is.

My only criticism of Esther the Wonder Pig is that sometimes the prose felt a little forced. The voice of the narrative just didn’t feel believable or convincing, and some of the humour was a little too on the nose. The bits that were truly funny and delightful were the straight up anecdotes about Esther, but when Steve and Derek’s private lives entered in to it, the humour wasn’t quite as natural. It didn’t make the book bad, it just made it seem a little less polished than I would ordinarily have liked it to be. But the anecdotes managed to completely override that small criticism to ensure that this was still absolutely delightful to read.

It was fantastic to read about how Esther, Steve and Derek got to where they are along with their extended menagerie of furry friends. I loved that they spoke about how Esther changed their lives completely for the better, as she’s done for so many of us. I also really loved their refreshing approach to talking about the ethical reasons for Veganism without it being preachy and aggressive. I wish more people could talk about it that way.

In this book Esther feels like a person, and it’s hard not to relate to and fall in love with her delightful antics. Steve and Derek have done a wonderful thing with their farm sanctuary, and the more people who read this book and find sympathy for our fellow living creatures the better. It was an easy read, and one that I would recommend to absolutely everyone.

Peace. Love. Esther.

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Review: ‘How to Ruin a Queen’ by Jonathan Beckman

9781848549975The event that is the ‘Diamond Necklace Affair’ is perhaps one of the most exciting and enigmatic cons in history. Its effects were more far reaching than the players could ever have envisaged, and it played a huge part to toppling the French monarchy. How to Ruin a Queen is the first book I have read on the subject, and it certainly served as a great introduction to the character of Jeanne de la Motte Valois, but unfortunately did very little to discuss the subject of its title ‘How to Ruin a Queen’.

From the historical documents that remain, Beckman does a wonderful job of extrapolating the fact from the fiction. He paints a vivid picture of Jeanne, her childhood and her upbringing, and places her firmly in her milieu to show just how the affair could have arisen. She is characterised with as much depth as in any novel, and the Diamond necklace affair itself given a blow by blow narration which was truly outstanding.

Where Beckman’s ‘How To Ruin A Queen’ falls short however was in its failure to attempt anything more than a passing analysis on the effect the affair had on the royal family and public opinion. Close to the end there was a poignant moment where Beckman very succinctly pointed out that essentially what the outcome of the trial amounted to for Marie Antoinette was that by exonerating the Cardinal de Rohan the courts essentially admitted that it was acceptable and understandable that a commoner and a prostitute could have been mistaken for the Queen. A deeper analysis of this would have been wonderful. Rather than being a tale of how the Queen was ruined and the political effect the scandal had, it was instead a narrative of Jeanne and the affair itself.

‘How To Ruin A Queen’ was an exciting read about a fascinating period and event in history. It brings the affair in to stark focus, but lacked any deeper thought in to how it related to the bigger picture of the French Revolution. A deeper analysis of this would have turned a good book in to a great one.

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Review: ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ by Jon Krakauer

Under the Banner of HeavenUnder the Banner of Heaven was a wonderful look at fundamental belief that really got me thinking. I grew up LDS, so a lot of what this book covered resonated with me. Krakauer goes in to a lot of detail about the history of the Mormon faith, so it was interesting to see the differences in the way people react to that history. In my case, it led me to Atheism; how could something that started with so much lying and dissembling possibly be true? In the case of the Lafferty’s, who’s heinous crimes are the subject of this book, it drove them to fundamentalism, as they saw the church’s history as truth and mainline Mormonism as a departure, therefore an abomination. The current, mainstream LDS reaction to church history is usually to claim that most accurate history of the founding of the Mormon religion is ‘anti-Mormon’ literature and discouraging its members to delve too deeply in to any historical research, however recently, with the publishing of official essays on Church history they have made an attempt to address these historical issues in a world where information is increasingly right at our fingertips.

What really struck me about Jon Krakauer’s ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ was his complete lack of judgement. When writing about a double murder, child abuse, spousal abuse and religious fundamentalism it is easy to become emotional and angry in your writing style. Krakauer however remains an impartial writer, presenting the facts as they appear, whether it be from the mouth of the victims, or from the perpetrators. Even Mormon history he presents as matter of fact, rather than lending any kind of emotional indignation to the founding of the LDS church. The early Mormons do not come across as blameless in some of the atrocities they perpetrated in the founding of their church, but then neither do the early Americans, who committed equally horrendous crimes against the Mormons. I found it quite refreshing. These topics can be quite emotionally charged.

What really struck me, was how Krakauer just understood what was relevant, and conveyed it in a way that can appeal to every reader. He understands what it is to be driven by faith and does not judge it. He also understands the pain and emotional trauma that comes with leaving one’s faith. But where this book really shines is in it’s study of the rationality of faith. To outsiders the Lafferty murders seem to be the product of madness. Two men truly believe, without regret, that they were instructed by God to kill a woman and her baby. When it comes to prosecuting however, it raises all kinds of question about madness vs. belief. Just because faith turns violent, does that make it a product of insanity? And if you apply insanity to it does it then, by extension, mean that all religious faith is a product of insanity? When is faith mad, and when is it rational? Neither I, nor this book profess to have those answers. “How can a society actively promote religious faith on one hand and condemn a man for zealously adhering to his faith on the other?”

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It was deep, truthful, thoughtful and for me at least, highly personal. I will leave you with the parting words of a fundamentalist apostate. Like so many of us who leave our faiths, we go through a period of questioning, confusion, and indeed unhappiness while we find ourselves in a world that essentially has a far different reality to the one we grew up in. “But some things are more important than being happy. Like being free to think for yourself.” To all of you struggling with your faiths out there, I promise, the unhappiness of uncertainty will pass. The ability to think for yourself is well worth the uncertainty you will face.

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