The Moaning of Life: Book Review
Autobiography/Biography , Comedy , Travel / October 12, 2016

The Moaning of Life is the latest book by everyone’s favorite Idiot Abroad, Karl Pilkington.  First, I have to point out that the title continues to make me laugh no matter how many times I see it.  Combined with the excellent picture of Karl’s expression, the book’s cover is pure genius. Karl Pilkington is a friend of the British comedian Ricky Gervais’ who became famous in his own right after Gervais’ dragged Karl, I suspect unwillingly, into to some of his projects.  Karl’s pessimistic travel show, An Idiot Abroad, is probably his most well known work.  The show, and much of The Moaning of Life, features a reluctant Pilkington as he travels the world and manages to find fault with everything that he discovers along the way. The Moaning of Life is structured into different chapters based around some of life’s most important events and concepts including marriage, happiness, and death.  Karl, with his characteristically dry and at least partially serious style, manages to convey his musinga on these topics as he simultaneously recounts many of his travel stories.  The chapters feature conversations between Karl and the natives of exotic lands, as well as semi-applicable and interesting facts that Karl learned during the course of writing the book….

North Korea Confidential: Book Review
History , Sociology , Travel / October 12, 2016

North Korea Confidential: Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors, written by Daniel Tudor & James Pearson, is a recently released, informative peek into the modern day Hermit Kingdom. This is the most unique book that I remember reading about North Korea because it focuses on the reality of life in modern North Korea instead of the state sponsored narrative of which most people are familiar. North Korea Confidential: Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors, as the short and sweet title makes quite clear, focuses on a wide range of activities and situations in the lives of North Korean citizens.  The authors attempt to dispel the myth that all North Korean people are simply puppets who blindly believe all of the lies that the Kim government propagates.  Some of the most fascinating sections shed light on the illegal (yet tolerated out of necessity) capitalist markets run by North Korean women and the inevitable infiltration of outside influences into the country via USB drives.  The traditional notions of a male run society and the Kim family’s claim that North Korea is a paradise compared to the rest of the world have been shattered by these changes. The authors indicate that the famine in…

The Zombie Survival Guide: Book Review
Comedy , Horror / October 12, 2016

The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks is exactly what the title suggests. There have been many copycat survival guides since the release of The Zombie Survival Guide, but none of them are better than the original. Max Brooks provides chapters relating to about every aspect of zombie apocalypse survival imaginable.  Since I am originally from the Pittsburgh area (George Romero, anyone?) these are topics of potentially vital importance to my well-being.  Some of the sections cover combat, defense, travel, and general survival tips, although there are many more topics that are covered in the various sections.  There are even “true” tales of zombie attacks throughout history, dating from 60,000 BC to modern times. I postulate that the zombie report from 60,000 BC might be mistaking zombies for Neanderthals, but that is only a personal theory with little (no) data to back it up. Brook’s writing style is one of the most important elements in determining if a reader will enjoy The Zombie Survival Guide or be bored to tears by it.  There is no overt comedy in this guide.  In other words, Brooks writes the guide as seriously as if these events might really occur (because they might!) and does not crack jokes to lampoon…

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War: Book Review
History , Sociology / October 12, 2016

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard is a nonfiction book that exposes the suffering endured by the victims of the atomic bomb. Nagasaki is a hard-hitting book that delivers the facts about the atomic bombing regardless of how uncomfortable the truth may be. Susan Southard follows several Japanese victims of the atomic bomb (known as hibakusha) in order to personalize the story of Nagasaki’s destruction. While it is heart-breaking to read about the mangled bodies, third-degree burns, and doomed “survivors” of the initial bombing, Nagasaki hits the hardest when Southard details the suffering of the most prominently featured hibakusha and their families.  It is an odd phenomena of human nature that reading about the horrific deaths of one hibakusha’s brother and sister is more emotionally disturbing than any list of casualty numbers ever could be. In addition to the stories of individual hibakusha, Nagasaki is also full of cold facts and meticulously researched historical information relating to both Japan and America’s response to the atomic bombings. Southard suggests that the Nagasaki bombing was unnecessary even in regard to ending the war because the Japanese government was still considering surrender after the first bombing at Hiroshima.  It makes the Nagasaki bombing all the more tragic in that Hiroshima alone might have brought about a surrender.  The treatment…

The Impossible State: Book Review
History , Sociology / October 12, 2016

The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future is Victor Cha’s analysis of the most mysterious country in the world today.  The book contains insights into the history, culture, and politics of North Korea and is primarily focused on the time since the Kim family took control of the country. It is really difficult to imagine that North Korea even exists in modern times. Thanks to the Lil’ Kim family, the country is so backwards that it makes the first world look like something out of Star Trek.  I knew a bit about North Korea’s situation when I started reading, but Victor Cha does an excellent job of providing an in-depth look into the causes behind North Korea’s abysmal economy, human rights, and freedoms.  His assertions are always well supported and thoroughly explained in a language that should be accessible to thoughtful adult readers. Indeed, Cha’s writing style is generally very fluid.  Some sections of the book, especially those relating to more detailed economic and political analysis can be a bit dry, but that is to be expected.  Some sections may be a bit more difficult to get through, but the whole picture is important in understanding the Hermit Kingdom.  Some of the most…

Borders Bookstore: Retrospective
Retrospective / October 12, 2016

I still miss Borders bookstore, and I am willing to bet that you do too, dear reader.  Even though the last Borders stores closed on that fateful September day in 2011, the wound is still fresh.  I realize how melodramatic this probably sounds, but I honestly still feel a wave of disappointment whenever I drive past an abandoned Borders storefront.  Yes, Borders was just a bookstore like all of the others, but to me there was more to it than that. True, Borders did legitimately have better deals than other stores such as the epic 33% off coupon that always made my heart jump for joy when it graced my inbox. However, the real reason I miss Borders has less to do with its business practices and everything to do with my memories of my favorite bookstore. As with all nostalgia, the roots of my devotion to Borders grow from my childhood.  I can still remember when they constructed the store in Monroeville, PA.  I must have been around seven or eight years old and constantly nagged my mother (she was not as big of a reader but always supported my bookwormy-ways) to go there almost every weekend. I can still remember rushing to the…

Witches of East End: Book Review
Fantasy , Romance / October 12, 2016

Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz is the first book in a fantasy series that features witchcraft and a healthy dose of romance.  Although not a perfect book, Witches of East End is a solid foundation for the series. As the story begins, The Beauchamp women are hiding a magical secret from the residents of the sleepy Long Island town known as New Haven.  Joanna Beauchamp, along with her daughters Freya and Ingrid, stopped practicing magic after the Salem Witch Trials due to a “ban.”  Despite the long centuries of passing for mortals, the Beauchamp women soon find individual and highly personal reasons to dabble in their long abandoned arts. Much of Witches of East End focuses on the development of the three Beauchamp women.   Some of my favorite scenes simply involved Ingrid gushing over her love of history and literature while struggling to keep her beloved library from closing.  Freya is more of a wild-child whereas her mother Joanna is the wise and cautious matriarch.  The male characters, including the wealthy, heart-throb brothers Killian and Bran Gardener, are never point of view characters and generally serve as love interests for the first three-fourths of the book.   However, a major twist involving unexpected elements of Norse mythology is…

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know: Book Review
Autobiography/Biography , Dogs , Science / October 12, 2016

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know,  by Alexandra Horowitz, is a nonfiction book that investigates our most loyal companions from a unique perspective: the dog’s. Alexandra Horowitz constantly reminds the reader that we must look at the world through the dog’s eyes rather than our own if we are to truly understand them.  Her refocusing of our perspective leads to many surprising and fascinating discoveries about dogs that often run counter to conventional “wisdom.” Despite our natural disadvantage of being human, there is a lot that can be learned about canis familiaris when we avoid anthropomorphism (treating the dogs like they are little humans) when determining what a dog’s life is truly like. Horowitz really hits the nail on the head when she acknowledges that people tend to study dogs through human eyes rather than through dog eyes.  We ascribe their actions to human motives. When we throw out these preconceived notions biology, scientific observations, and even psychology become our guides in understanding the dog.  Horowitz makes use of her own research, as well others, to study the dog from many angles. Inside of a Dog thoroughly investigates how the sensory organs of the dog work: the eyes, ears,tongue, paw pads and whiskers, and especially…

Wishbone: Retrospective
Dogs , Retrospective / October 12, 2016

What’s the story, Wishbone? I cannot believe it, but I just realized that this year marks the 20th anniversary of Wishbone‘s initial run starting in 1995 (This article was originally published in 2015).  Just typing the year 1995 sends waves of nostalgia coursing through my veins (or wherever nostalgia courses).  I also realized that I could not call myself a “proud nerd” any longer if I did not take time to reflect on the most influential pooch in the history of literature.  I honestly do not think that I would be the reader I am today if it were not for the television and book series that all revolved around the Jack Russell Terriers (all five of them) who brought classic literature to my living room every afternoon. If you do not know about Wishbone I will take a moment to grieve for the state of the half-life that you have been living.  Wishbone featured a Jack Russell Terrier in the titular role, although there were actually five different dogs who portrayed Wishbone at various points, and his interactions with his family and friends.  Joe Talbot (Wishbone’s owner) and his two best friends Sam and David always got into some kind of crazy adventure that would parallel a major theme…

One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair: Book Review
Comedy , History , Sociology / October 12, 2016

One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair by Allan Peterkin is a historical/sociological/psychological study of facial hair throughout the ages.  As a man who proudly sports a full beard and mustache combo, I feel a certain camaraderie with my bearded brothers.  I think that in recent years, beards are becoming more socially acceptable but it still feels like I am part of a club with other facial hair connoisseurs. Whether you are bearded, mustachioed, or a full out, Victorian mutton-chops kind of guy, One Thousand Beards is a must read. Roughly the first third of the book is dedicated to the history of facial hair and even the history of shaving.  After this point, the next third of the book examines different types of beards such as “The Medical Beard,” “The Feminine Beard,” and “The Gay Beard.”  One Thousand Beards finishes up with a return to a more historical and sociological approach that focuses on the twentieth century and the evolution of facial hair in recent times. The book was published in 2001 so there is no information about beards since that time.  The book would benefit from an updated edition with an extra chapter to bring One Thousand Beards up to the present day.  Regardless,…