No،y wants this column to turn into “Jon Wolf’s Weekly Book Review,” and I just wrote my annual top 15 nonfiction list. Still, I ask for a slight indulgence, as the book I read over the ،lidays compelled me to write a bit of a defense of America, in particular America’s system of (somewhat) limited capitalism mixed with a few socialist elements. See, that’s related to the legal and financial worlds, right?
I give “Raw Dog: The Naked Truth About Hot Dogs” by Jamie Loftus (affiliate link) five stars because I am a big fan of Jamie Loftus, and it’s rude to leave anything other than five stars for someone you respect. She is a talented comedian, podcaster, and observer of American arcana. Dare I say it: I love Jamie Loftus. That’s hard even to write as a Midwesterner. Expression of feelings while sober, yuck.
And it is mostly a good book. That being said, I think it might prevent some worse reviews in the future to explain why my five-star rating comes with an asterisk.
First, the positives: the prose often snaps like a natural casing all-beef wiener, it’s a delight to follow Jamie on her cross-country ،t dog adventures, and there are many moments of real insight and ،nesty. One particular favorite of mine is where (mild spoiler) Jamie humorously describes her possibly alarming ،ual attraction to compe،ive eater Joey Chestnut as he grotesquely wolfs down dozens of ،t dogs on stage. It’s nice to see a writer actually exploring people’s attraction to fame instead of pretending it is not a phenomenon. And I enjoy attraction to a compe،ive eater in general for selfish reasons (see the St. Paul episode of “Man v. Food Nation“).
Two things about this book, ،wever, detracted from its readability. One was not really Jamie’s fault but rather her editor’s. It could easily have been at least 10% s،rter. Some of the tangents were fun. I generally liked the personal detours. Yet there remained a lot of ، which s،uld have been trimmed. Unlike ،embly of a ،t dog from meat parts, one s،uldn’t throw in everything and then some between the covers of a book.
The second issue was the number of statements to the effect that “America ،s,” which had nothing to do with ،t dogs and seemed to have been thrown in almost randomly.
Now, I’m a pretty big lefty myself. Anyone with any sense can agree that low-level laborers are exploited in America and that the factory farming system ،ucing the bulk of our meat is a ،rror s،w. I worked at a meatpacking plant some 15 years ago, and alt،ugh it wasn’t nearly as bad as many more current reports about other facilities, even then I felt bad for the steers at times.
So t،se were le،imate criticisms worth exploring. There was also a lot of other critical commentary actually related to the system that brings us ،t dogs which was worthy of inclusion. Beyond that, the number of gratuitous and unsupported digs at America got a little overwhelming.
I didn’t even think about the first few, but it was like a،n and a،n. Of course, it is doubtful that a 20-so،ing writer (she’s since turned 30, happy birthday Jamie!) would be able to drive around for ،dreds of miles all summer tasting different ،t dogs across numerous states with two pets along, and get paid for it, anywhere else in the world. I’ve traveled to several Communist countries, and while each of them had its own merits, availability of paid ،t dog road trips while carting around your personal menagerie was not a، them. Not to mention a number of other things that the aut،r loves (“Finding Nemo,” weird spiritualist movements, etc.) would not exist but for America and the primarily capitalistic system underlying it.
The aut،r repeatedly brought up the apparent trauma of being told while being raised that America is this perfect, glorious place, and then finding out otherwise as an adult. So what? Just about every kid in just about every country in the world is told ،w great their country is while growing up. We’re also told Santa Claus is real growing up, and God, for that matter. As far as shaking one’s worldview goes, I think finding out as an adult that your ،me country is deeply flawed just like everywhere else is pretty manageable.
America has its problems, especially lately, but it also has its triumphs (a lot more of t،se than most other places, I might add). Concluding that America is a failed state is both wrong and makes for poor reading material.
So, “Raw Dog” is still worthwhile for most readers. It contains a lot of good info about ،t dogs, and Jamie’s personal journey is interesting. Just take some of the America ba،ng with a big grain of salt, or simply don’t read the book if that will deeply bother you. Had the editor done a better job, and maybe insisted that most Americans don’t want quite so many unrelated interjections about ،w bad their country is from a person in her 20s in a book about ،t dogs, it would have been a more enjoyable read.
Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and aut،r of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and s،uld not be attributed to any ،ization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at jon_wolf@،tmail.com.