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Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith

The Geek's Guide to DatingPremise: Dating is hard enough these days with social media and mobile devices actually reducing our ability to have real in-person relationships. Geeks are stereotyped to be even less adept at social interactions. In The Geek’s Guide to Dating, Eric Smith has laid out tips and strategies for geeks to meet and interact with the opposite gender regardless of the end goal. But let’s be honest, the end goal is for Mario to find the Princess and live happily ever after.

Themes: Meeting people is a common challenge for people who spend much of their time watching movies, playing video games, and reading comic books. The Geek’s Guide to Dating takes this into account when trying to meet people either by using this as a strength or by suggesting new social settings to add to the arsenal when trying to meet someone of the opposite gender. You don’t have to give up being a geek in order to connect with people.

Navigating the phases of a romantic relationship can be tricky for anybody, but doing so in a field of geeky obsessions has the potential to be crippling for a relationship. In this guide there are suggestions to overcome obstacles and to emphasize the redeeming qualities that make a geek unique.

Pros: I was surprised how Eric Smith took my initial assumptions that this book was some sort of parody and almost immediately flipped them so I read this as an actual guide for people to foster real relationships. The Geek’s Guide to Dating is full of useful tips, from what clothes to get to enhance the wardrobe to how to navigate breakups. I like that in each section there are positive character traits to focus on as well as warnings that can damage a relationship now or in the future. Everything is very clearly laid out in chapters, sections, and sometimes even color-coded or assigned a key. The Geek’s Guide gives a clear walkthrough of different stages of relationships, from friendship to attraction, the sting of rejection, or into the dungeons of breakups. And everything is under an array of geek language and metaphors, most of which I understood but with a few splashes of things at a higher geek level than I have reached.

Cons: There are some instances where females might not be able to apply the given advice, but those are fairly few. I fear this might be a hangup for some women who assume it is only for men. It isn’t the case, but females might just need to stretch the analogies a little further to find the imparted wisdom for making a love connection. Geeks might also find instances where Smith encourages them to shed a little of their geekiness as potential obstacles for the opposite gender in order for them to get to know the real person. Some geeks might make the assumption that Smith is asking them not to be themselves.

Recommendations: The Geek’s Guide to Dating is a treasure trove of useful knowledge for enhancing most types of relationships, at least at a beginning level. After reading only one or two chapters of The Geek’s Guide to Dating, it dawned on me that this is actually a serious guide of dating advice for forming dating relationships disguised as humor. Eric Smith combines common sense with some practical tips to give much-needed advice not only to geeks but to everyone attempting to form a relationship with the opposite gender. Geeks will better understand the analogies, but everyone should be able to collect some wisdom from this fun gem of a dating guide, even those of us who are married but are always seeking to improve the connection with our significant other. However, consider this only the beginning and that deeper relationships require much more work than playing a video game.

Eric Smith’s website
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in Nonfiction

 

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A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition by Charles M. Schulz

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a TraditionPremise: A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition is a biographical tribute to the animated television classic. With stories about how the Christmas special came together, readers will learn about producer Lee Mendelson, animator Bill Melendez, musician Vince Guaraldi, and creator Charles Schulz.

The book includes the script of A Charlie Brown Christmas, Guaraldi’s original score and publication notes for songs “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Linus and Lucy,” and original animation art from the special. Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez give their perspective of their relationships with each of the contributors and with the Peanuts characters, along with how the special came to fruition.

Themes: Charles Schultz’s comics tell grown-up problems from the perspective of children. With deep theological and cultural insight, the Peanuts kids share wisdom about life through the simplicity of their story.

A Charlie Brown Christmas shares the true meaning of the holiday in a very literal sense. In sharing in the nostalgia of this Christmas classic, the topics of life, faith, friendship, and love are brought forth through the classic Peanuts comics.

Pros: A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition told me so much about the people behind the cartoons that I didn’t know, but it also revealed to me more about the Peanuts creator. I like how they share how the cartoon eventually came to be, seemingly slapped together and lacking in content, but beloved to this day for its simplicity. I love that the book includes the full script and the original score of “Christmas Time is Here” and “Linus and Lucy.” The way the book is put together, sharing the different perspectives of the cartoon’s creators along with the artwork makes the book more than a keepsake. It really does feel more like a biography.

Cons: Knowing this was only about the Christmas special, I would have liked a more in depth look into Charles Schulz’s beliefs. I think it would have added to the meaning Schulz wanted to create through his work. And though there is a lot of original art, I would also have liked the A Charlie Brown Christmas to include more animation cells and storyboard sketches.

Recommendations: If you’re looking for biography and nostalgia, A Charlie Brown Christmas has plenty of both. I learned things not only about the Christmas special but about the people behind creating it. With a realistic view of how television shows are (or at least used to be) made, this book romanticizes how things came together to develop this classic cartoon loved by many. Great to pick up in bites or to read all the way through, lovers of the Peanuts gang and of the Charlie Brown Christmas special would do themselves well to pick up a copy of A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition to understand how it all came together.

Charles M. Schulz museum
A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2013 in Nonfiction

 

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Imperfect Harmony by Stacy Horn

Imperfect Harmony: Singing Through Life's Sharps and FlatsPremise: Through life’s trials and disappointments, Stacy Horn found joy in in one aspect of her life: singing in a community choir. In this autobiographical account of her time spent in the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York she accounts for the constant encouragement and bliss found through singing with other people. In her constant search for companionship and happiness, Stacy’s one part of her life that regularly brings her joy is the community choir in her neighborhood. She walks to the same building every week during choral season to practice with other people in the community.

With a great amount of historical and scientific research, Stacy makes the convincing argument that singing with others in groups can not only make you feel better emotionally and spiritually, but physically as well. She also recounts her experiences, for better or worse, including insight into the music the choirs have sung and the people she has encountered because of her time at Grace Church.

Themes: Singing with others will make you feel happier and healthier. It is proven to lower blood pressure and positively affect the limbic system. Singing has been shown to cause euphoric and uplifting feelings, especially when it is done with other people. The quality of the singing doesn’t even matter. In fact, better singers have been shown to be more focused on hitting the right notes, lessening the overall positive effects than those of lower quality singers.

Singing in community can also bring you closer to those you are singing with, building friendships and relationships that would otherwise not have been there had it not been for the common interest and the action of singing in a choir or group.

Pros: Stacy Horn makes a great case for singing with other people. Stacy’s straightforward and humorous account of her years with the choir sound quite genuine, giving credence to her historical research. She backs up the historical and scientific statements with a good deal of evidence from multiple resources. Stacy lays her heart out there for everyone to examine, which makes Imperfect Harmony a very human and personal story. I can appreciate some of her favorite songs, as I have sung many of them. I can also relate to many of Horn’s experiences, especially the euphoria mixed with adrenaline when performing a heavily-practiced piece of emotional music. It is one of the greatest feelings in the world.

Cons: Stacy is very up front with not being religious, but sharing her derision for religion in this book is mostly unnecessary, especially considering it is the inspiration for much of the music she and her choir perform. Some of the songs she mentions about God’s wrath during Easter make me think their choir just needs to sing different songs. Even worse were the political infusions that really have nothing to do with the autobiographical story of music and community. The part where she talks about Barack Obama’s inauguration night is especially unnecessary, speaking about the joy of that occasion in such a way that it sounds almost like believers worshiping a deity. It really didn’t add anything to the story or even help make the point she was trying to make.

Recommendations: In spite of political and religious differences, Imperfect Harmony shares a visceral yet thoroughly-researched study of how singing with others can have a positive impact on a person’s life physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I only wish Stacy could personally experience the even greater joy of actually believing the words being sung when singing about God. In my experience singing in choirs and various a cappella singing groups I have found everything Horn says about the happiness found through singing in a community to be true. Accepting Horn’s words to be her honest perspective, singers and non-singers alike should take this book to heart and follow through; find people to sing with. Not only will reading Imperfect Harmony make you feel better, but it encourages you to sing, and that will make you feel better and happier regardless of how good a singer you think you are.

Stacy Horn’s website
Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2013 in Nonfiction

 

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Quotes Every Man Should Know by Nick Mamatas (editor)

Quotes Every Man Should KnowPremise: Have you ever been at a party with nothing to add to the conversation? Or perhaps you have been engaged in debate and at a loss for a witty retort. Quotes Every Man Should Know is a collection of quotes that allows you to insert a bit of wisdom or humor into just about any setting. Just don’t be that guy who obviously memorized a book of quotes to randomly throw them into every conversation to make himself appear smarter than he actually is.

Themes: Quotes Every Man Should Know covers topics ranging from politics, religion, philosophy, humor, and even quotes about quotes. With the intent to provide quips for an array of situations, the content can be geared for many occasions.

Pros: There is certainly a good assortment of quotes in this collection. The topics are separated out into chapters and delineated clearly into these groups for easy access. Nick Mamatas even takes the time to point out quotes inaccurately attributed to people on the internet and clarify their true or probable origins. The dueling quotes at the end show us that wisdom can seemingly be found to support any argument, especially on controversial topics. Mamatas does a good job summarizing and providing some commentary in each section.

Cons: Quotes Every Man Should know is in no way a comprehensive selection of quotes, nor is every quote in the book necessarily useful. I point specifically the somewhat sparse and random selection of quotes from the Bible picked from Proverbs, but also include the useless quotes from people such as U.S. presidential candidate Vermin Supreme and comedian Sarah Silverman. There were some places where I felt Mamatas’ commentary was unnecessary, or in the case of some of the competing quotes added his personal bias toward one of the two.

Recommendations: As a gift for a birthday, bar mitzvah, or recent graduation, Quotes Every Man Should know is a fun way to encourage a boy growing into a man to seek wisdom by providing tidbits from others to guide him. Don’t attempt to use it to find wisdom for every situation, but merely as a way in add spice into conversations. As Mamatas points out, the internet is a source of endless inaccurately attributed quotations, so make sure your sources are correct when doing so to avoid putting words into Abraham Lincoln’s mouth.

Nick Mamatas’ LiveJournal
Quotes Every Man Should Know on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2013 in Nonfiction, Philosophy

 

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The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare & Vanessa Woods

The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter than You ThinkPremise: Brian Hare, founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center, is an evolutionary anthropologist and dog researcher. Along with his wife, research scientist, journalist, and author Vanessa Woods, they have uncovered new findings in the cognitive abilities of dogs through their research as they compare canine intelligence to that of other animals, such as chimpanzees, bonobos, rats, cats, coyotes, foxes, and their closest relatives: wolves.

Hare and Woods put our presuppositions to the test as they walk us through vigorous tests with these animals, revealing interesting data that might change our thinking when it comes to understanding and living with dogs. Hare’s research is revolutionary compared to that of previous scientists in how it takes a cognitive approach to how we train and interact with man’s best friend.

Themes: Past research and training for dogs has been behavioral at its core. Behavior correction was the formula to understanding the intelligence of dogs. Hare’s studies challenge this approach as inherently flawed since behavioral training considers evolutionary changes and cognitive understanding as irrelevant for all animals. According to Hare, a cognitive approach takes into consideration the evolution of different animals and breeds, physiological factors, and how they interact socially and within changing environments.

Hare’s research also puts our understanding of different dog breeds to the test. The research pits different breeds against each other as certain cognitive skills are studied through specific tests. The ideas we have that certain breeds are smarter or more aggressive than others might change when we consider the data that is gathered through these tests.

Pros: The Genius of Dogs lays out a comprehensive research approach that challenges the work of previous scientists. The Genius of Dogs doesn’t talk down to the scientific layperson but the data is simplified and it is pretty easy to understand how it was gathered as we are walked through the various experiments. Hare is pretty upfront with conflicting data between different studies and even cites them through extensive notes at the back of the book, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions in these instances.

Cons: There is a lot of evolutionary information up front that might be difficult for some to wade through. I also felt that in the last two or three chapters Hare and Woods started to repeat themselves. By over-explaining and repeating their research approach in these final chapters, they either needed to better explain the research they were challenging or they should have left some of this out. By my understanding, their arguments were weakened through this repetition.

Recommendations: For a new approach to how we think about the intelligence of dogs, and by default the intelligence of other animals, The Genius of Dogs does a great job in laying the foundation of dog evolution, the findings of past research, and an understanding of how they think to bring us to a better understanding of them. If you know nothing about dogs or dog training, this is a perfect place to start. If you are a dog trainer or owner, from my limited knowledge, this will only broaden your understanding of these beloved pets and family members and strengthen your ability to train and live with them. Extreme dog lovers should read this book.

Dognition
The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter than You Think on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Nonfiction

 

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Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures Continued by Jessica Abel & Matt Madden

Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures ContinuedPremise: Many artists have the desire to create comics but might not know where to begin when it comes to layout, style, or the techniques necessary for creating print and digital art. Mastering Comics is a textbook covering topics including character and reader perspective, storytelling, artistic techniques, conversion to screen, penciling, inking, lettering, and much more.

Themes: One of the main things covered in Mastering Comics is creating thumbnails as a sketch of what an artist is going to eventually make into a more detailed drawing through penciling, inking, and shading or coloring. The thumbnails are there as a guide as you go about telling the story without having to worry about spending too much time adding detail before the story or artistic details have been thought out.

Mastering Comics takes time talking about layout, especially as it pertains to how people will see the pages individually, as you turn the page, and as the composition as a whole. It looks at the visually pleasing aspects as you look at the page, as well as the natural progression of reading through dialogue boxes and narration, color schemes, and artistic style.

Another topic covered is considering the digital realm of publication. Mastering Comics talks about how to draw for the screen, especially with what resolution to scan at, how to save your documents for adding ink, color, and shading, and also for thinking about how it will be viewed on the screen when compared to the printed page.

Pros: Not only does Mastering Comics cover a wide array of topics for artists, it manages to do so in an easy to understand way. The artistic examples in the book are fantastic. I like that they offer extended examples and content on their website, especially if you haven’t read the previous book or are simply looking to expand your artistic knowledge. Having not read the previous book, I still felt like there was plenty of help in the drawing aspect to help a beginning artist, such as with perspective and size and placement relationships between people and objects.

Cons: Mastering Comics makes some assumptions about your level of artistic ability and knowledge, though it is fairly forthcoming about those assumptions. The authors give references to the previous book for guidance on art and beginning drawing techniques, though they don’t always go into much detail with those references. Some of the step-by-step instructions on creating computer graphics are not as clear as they could be (or should be in some cases).

Recommendations: This “definitive course in comics narrative” lives up to its claim. If I were going to look for a definitive place to research cartooning as a career or as a serious hobby, Mastering Comics would be a perfect starting place. There is so much in this book to talk about, it can’t be covered in a review, but must be experienced from reading through the examples and working through the exercises. After reading this textbook it made me want to get into starting a comic. I enjoyed going through Mastering Comics so much that I forgot I was reading a textbook.

Drawing Words and Writing Pictures website
Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures Continued on Goodreads
Buy Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures Continued on Amazon
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2012 in Graphic Novel, Nonfiction

 

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Baby’s in Black by Arne Bellstorf

Baby's in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles in HamburgPremise: When Klaus Voormann wakes Astrid Kirchherr in the middle of the night, it is because he has just heard something incredible. The band that he hears that night pulls them back night after night to listen to them in spite of the grungy dive they play in. From the moment Astrid sees the bass player, Stuart Sutcliffe, she is intrigued, and the music of The Beatles changes their lives forever.

As The Beatles try to hit it big, Stu and Astrid draw closer together. They encourage each other to create art, Stu with his paintings and Astrid with her photographs. Astrid encourages Stu to pursue his passion to push the limits of his painting, even if it means leaving the band in order to take classes and sell his art instead.

In this true love story between Astrid Kirchherr and the “fifth Beatle”, Stuart Sutcliffe, we get a glimpse of the early career of The Beatles. But more than anything, we get to see two people fall in love, all the way to its tragic ending.

Themes: Baby’s in Black is a love story. The romance between Astrid and Stu takes center stage as The Beatles perform in bars and jazz clubs. From the very first moment they see each other the sparks are flying.

There is quite a bit of introspection in Baby’s in Black, and not just for Stuart as he chooses his life direction with the band or with his art, but also for Astrid, Klaus, and The Beatles. The Beatles make choices for breaking contracts, finding gigs, changing band members, and traveling the world. Klaus follows The Beatles fervently, but also discovers a penchant for playing the bass. Astrid has the most introspection of all in her relationship with Stu and the discovery of self that comes with the loss of love, and it is expressed most poignantly through brief dream sequences.

Pros: The understated looks between Astrid and Stu say so much more in a few panels than any dialogue could over several pages. There is a sense of hopefulness in the face of tragedy at the conclusion, with Astrid coming full circle in her dreams but being better off having known Stu. The Beatles are supporting characters, and yet they don’t overshadow the focus of the story.

Cons: A few of the characters are drawn very similarly, and it took some time to pick up the subtle distinctions between them. There is a definite lack of exciting action because of the minimalist style of the drawings and dialogue. More dialogue might have helped invite readers less inclined to read a story where The Beatles play only a supporting role.

Recommendations: Baby’s in Black is as bohemian as the main characters the story is about. The minimal dialogue and dream sequences highlight the subtleties of the expressive faces of every person, especially the looks between Astrid and Stuart. The black and white drawings bring to mind seeing footage of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, and this beautiful love story ending in tragedy will leave you hopeful about life, for the art that was created, and that which is to come. Baby’s in Black is lovely and artsy, and encourages the reader to enjoy every minute of life we are given. Though perhaps not entirely an engaging story for everyone, this is a must read for Beatles fans.

Arne Bellstorf’s website
Baby’s in Black on Goodreads
Buy Baby’s in Black from Amazon
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2012 in Graphic Novel, Nonfiction

 

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