The next time the jokers people in certain political circles start throwing around the terms “communism” and “socialism” when things aren’t going their way, I am going to think of the book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. Because after reading that book, I now think that moms in North Korea making soup for their starving children out of tree bark and grass while praising their dear leader for his generosity is maybe a better symbol for communism and government interference than, say, providing universal health care. Just maybe.

Nothing to Envy was the first non-fiction book I’ve read in a long time, and it blew my tiny little mind. All I knew about North Korea prior to this book was that everyone is short and loves their dear leader, no one has electricity, and they all like to play with nuclear weapons. And yes, I learned all of that from a South Park episode and it is totally true. It is easy to dismiss the population as brainwashed and backwards, and to forget that they are humans who struggle to stifle their true feelings and hopes and dreams on a daily basis. Hearing a talented reporter describe the lives of people from North Korea who eventually escaped was shocking – and not just because their lives are so different from ours, but because they’re also so similar. They have jobs, and neighbors, and families, and just want to enjoy their lives. Granted, their definition of “enjoy” seems to always involve an accordion and fermented cabbage, but other than that, it’s really not so different than other people.

I finished this book right before our own government shutdown and I felt like it gave me a new perspective. On the one hand, WTF John Boehner. I mean, really. If this doesn’t solidify him as the weakest Speaker in a long time, then perhaps his copious use of self-tanner should. On the other hand, everything will probably be OK in the long run, and although my government can be totally ridiculous and frustrating and inefficient, at least I can say that.

And at this very second I could opt in to government health care if I wanted to. So there.

I am recently obsessed with North Korea, so here is a link to the book on Amazon, and here is a link to a cool slideshow from a photographer who has worked in North Korea. And here is a link to Dennis Rodman’s fan site, because he loves North Korea way more than me. And no, I am not getting a kickback from this book, although I totally would if I knew how to do that. And please oh please let Dennis Rodman start following me now (online, not in person, because holy shit that would be weird).