Book Review: Brockovich delves into national water crisis

Book Review: Brockovich delves into national water crisis

Life on planet Earth is not sustainable without uncontaminated drinking water. While this is not a new revelation, what some people might not realize is that the world’s fresh water supply is facing threats on multiple levels.

In her latest book “Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It” (Pantheon Books, 2020) Erin Brockovich takes the reader on a journey to various parts of the world, mostly in the United States, that are having or have had issues with potable drinking water.

It was alarming to learn how much contamination exists at U.S. military bases, and that the Department of Defense is not doing all it can to help the men and women who still work there or providing the help to military personnel who have moved on, but still suffered consequences because of contaminants in the water.

One of the most egregious things going on is that water systems only test for known chemicals. The polluters of our waterways and aquifers—the source for drinking water—don’t tell the water providers what they are doing. It’s not until what comes out of the tap is discolored or smells funny, or people start dying or coming down with unexplained diseases, or animals are deformed or sick that the truth starts to come to light.

Even then so often government and industry get in the way of fixing the problem or even taking responsibility. Much of the book is about how grassroots efforts are needed to right the wrongs of the world. At the end of most chapters Brockovich gives tips on how people can get involved. Plus, she gives multiple examples about how so many “average” people were able to make a difference in their communities when it came to drinking water.

Brockovich more than once expressed how clean drinking water is not a partisan issue, pointing out how the Clean Water Act was signed by a Republican president and the Environmental Protection Agency was created by a different Republican president. But she has harsh words for the Trump administration with its stance toward coal as she explains how that industry is bad for the environment, and how this administration has decimated the EPA.

“We need more information about all the chemicals found in the marketplace today, and we need more scientists and experts to take a bolder stand,” Brockovich wrote. “Many contaminants found in our drinking water, including pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals, are not regulated.”

While the subject matter is incredibly serious, the book is not overly technical. Brockovich conveys her message in an easy to read manner. With plenty of real life examples, the book exposes how clean drinking water is something we all need to be paying attention to. She has solutions; it’s not just about pointing fingers and placing blame. However, Brockovich underlines that without our involvement, the government and industry won’t solve this problem. They need our prodding.

Book review: ‘The Fourth Hand’ a great distraction from reality

Book review: ‘The Fourth Hand’ a great distraction from reality

Patrick Wallingford is such an unlikable character that for much of the novel “The Fourth Hand” (Garp Enterprises, 2001) I was rooting against him. But as is true with so much of John Irving’s prose, he is able to turn an unlikable character into one you sympathize with and where you want his world to turn out for the good.

Irving is an incredible storyteller. Some of his writings are more outlandish than others. The way he weaves together plots, though, is exceptional. This book is no different.

“The Fourth Hand” is the tale of a TV newsman who loses his hand to a lion while on assignment. Wallingford is a player and will easily be disliked by female readers. He seems to have few redeeming qualities other than his looks and performance in bed.

Another tragedy allows Wallingford to have a chance at having a left hand. But when the donor’s wife wants visiting rights his life becomes more complicated.

It isn’t until the end of the book that the title has meaning—so keep reading. It won’t be what you expect.

The other characters in the book are also intriguing and off the scale of normalcy. This is what makes Irving such a great writer—the characters he develops, his imagination, creating with just enough plausibility that maybe some of these people could be real as well as the things that happen in their lives.

If nothing else, this is a great read to take you away from all of the chaos in the world.

Book Review: ‘Out in the Garden’ a story about more than flowers

Book Review: ‘Out in the Garden’ a story about more than flowers

Gardening is something I have dabbled in—flowers and vegetables. But it’s not a passion. I don’t have a garden now. When I was in Mexico my sister paid a gardener; though on occasion I pitched in where needed. I drove by my old house in Tahoe where I had paid for new front landscaping a few years before I sold the property. Two things I loved most about it were the spiral herb garden and the flowers that were planted to attract butterflies and humming birds. All of that landscaping had been dug up. I was heartbroken to see bare dirt.

Reading “Out in the Garden: Growing a Beautiful Life” (HarperCollins, 2002) by Dean Riddle helped get me out of the funk I had about my former front garden.

This is the story of Riddle’s evolution in the gardening business. The focus is his own garden, the humble beginnings, experiments with plants and pots, and how this garden is an extension of him.

For those who garden, there is a ton of advice. But this can’t be described as a how-to book, even though Riddle tells you how to do plenty of things. For the non-gardener, this is a story of life with a garden as a focal point.

Riddle is a storyteller, which makes the book poignant and worth picking up day after day. It’s a story of how his family and friends connected to his garden, thus creating an even more complex, emotional attachment to that living oasis outside his home.

This book was a perfect read while we were all supposed to be sheltering in place. It was a reminder of the work involved in tending to a garden, the satisfaction that comes from toiling in the soil, and the reminder a garden can be a place to meditate alone or share with others.

Book Review: ‘How to be an Antiracist’ worth reading

Book Review: ‘How to be an Antiracist’ worth reading

No one said life is easy. But it should be fair—at least most of the time. Being born any color other than white makes life so much more difficult and less fair from Day 1.

In his book “How to be an Antiracist” (Random House, 2019) Ibram X. Kendi takes readers on a journey from his childhood to the time the book was published. His path included the realization that he was being prejudice against other Black people. But we all know the real racism is whites toward others; in his case Blacks.

“The United States is a racist nation because its policymakers and polices have been racist from the beginning,” Kendi writes. He further states, “Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy.”

Instances where this statement are proven true are strewn throughout the book. While there is plenty of personal aspects to the book, Kendi weaves in a multitude of scenarios and facts to prove his beliefs.

Kendi is the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, as well as professor of history and international relations, author, and columnist for The Atlantic.

All but one of the 18 chapters is one word. They are: Definitions, Dueling Consciousness, Power, Biology, Ethnicity, Body, Culture, Behavior, Color, White, Black, Class, Space, Gender, Sexuality, Failure, Success, and Survival. I mention them because Kendi dissects each topic in a captivating, probing manner that got me to think. I appreciated his perspective on the entire topic and each chapter.

This book was read by my Wine, Women and Wisdom book club. Our discussions are often thought-provoking, bringing out the larger subject matter as opposed to worrying about whether the book has literary merit or you would recommend the book. (Those were criteria in my last book club.)

Some of our comments:

  • We are either a multicultural nation or not; it needs to be reflected in school curriculum.
  • Black and brown people are not able to socially distance because of their jobs.
  • Boston declared racism a public health crisis.
  • When talking about racism ask a person to define racism.
  • So many people don’t know their ideas are racist.
  • Advocating for change isn’t supposed to be easy.
  • Are you really an ally if it’s only convenient for you?

Not profound per se, but a simple statement that led to further discussion by the group that helped us probe deeper, and understand ourselves and the world a little more.

Book Review: ‘Bushwhacked’ a blistering tale about George W. Bush

Book Review: ‘Bushwhacked’ a blistering tale about George W. Bush

Even though “Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America” (Vintage Books, 2003) came out during his presidency, it is relevant today because of the history lesson it provides.

The late Molly Ivins wrote this bestseller with Lou Dubose. She uses her clever way with words to capture some of the more underhanded tactics of Bush when he was governor of Texas as well as president of the United States. Ivins, as a journalist with roots in Texas, had a front row seat to much of Bush’s political career. She was a well-respected writer with the New York Times, a syndicated columnist, and was twice nominated for a Pulitzer.

These days people talk about how it would be nice to have someone like Bush back in the White House instead of the current occupant. Reading this book will jolt sense back into people to remember how life wasn’t so good then either.

The corruption is mind blowing. The ineptness despicable. The cavalier attitude toward those less fortunate criminal. The lack of regard for the environment shameful. I could keep going.

What is great about “Bushwhacked” is that Ivins weaves such serious topics in an entertaining, captivating manner. Her writing is superb. By telling the story of real people she shows how policies impact people. She shows how greed corrupts.

For some this will be a refresher about the Bush years, for others it will be a history lesson. Topics include Enron, food processing legislation, education policy, Saddam Hussein and Iraq, cronyism, consequences of tax cuts, superfund sites, and the politicization of the judicial system. This should be a must a read before the November election.

Tahoe hiking book featured in El Dorado County magazine

Tahoe hiking book featured in El Dorado County magazine

The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes is highlighted in a multi-page spread in Serrano Magazine.

Jolaine and Rob Collins hiked with author Kathryn Reed last fall to Twin Lakes, which happens to be the cover photo on the guidebook. Read the story and look at the great pictures here.

The book, which was first published in 2019, was updated in 2020. Also published this year were Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Treks, and Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks. The latter is a combination of the first two books. The hiking book is $15, snowshoe is $10, and combo is $20. They maybe ordered through your local bookstore, other retail outlets (click on the book title for locations), Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. For signed copies, email

All books are written in narrative form, making each excursion a story. All hikes/snowshoes are rated on scenic quality and difficulty.

Book Review: Compilation of travel essays a journey worth taking

Book Review: Compilation of travel essays a journey worth taking

Travel is such a wonderful way to escape, to learn, to test one-self. Sometimes, though, it is necessary to live vicariously through others. That’s what I did by reading “Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul: Stories of Adventure, Inspiration and Insight to Celebrate the Spirit of Travel” (Health Communications, 2002).

This is a compilation of stories by a slew of writers. It was the perfect thing to read in April while I was mostly staying at home because of the coronavirus. It seemed like my attention span wasn’t great then; all the more reason this was good reading. Normally, a book of short stories or essays is not my preferred reading. This time it worked.

Some of the writers are household names like Maya Angelou and Charles Kuralt, while most are not. Details about the contributors are included in the back of the book.

What made the book interesting is these missives were non-traditional travel stories. That captured my attention even more. Some were sad—like the child killed in a random shooting. But the story is so touching in how his organs were donated. The family was traveling in Italy when this occurred. Another was about a woman traveling to Nicaragua. She took a picture of a woman and brought it to her after it was the developed. The woman wasn’t sure who she was in the picture. She’d never seen herself before—no previous photographs, no mirrors in her world.

In many ways these are slice of life stories. The writers often shared what we might take for granted as actually being a huge deal in someone else’s life. It’s about pausing to appreciate the nuances of life, of travel, and most of all the personal interactions with others.

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