Blog Posts by bpardue

Posted by bpardue on 09/13/19
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Emmy-winning documentarian John Chester and his wife Molly (a chef with a dedication to traditional foods) are evicted from their apartment because their dog, Todd, barks too much when they're not around. They sense he needs more space. What do they do? Start a farm, of course! To increase the challenge, they choose a decrepit, run-down farm with poor soil, and they want to bring it back to life using organic, sustainable methods. Needing copious advice, they team up with biodiversity guru Alan York, who suggests that, if done right, the soil can be revitalized and the various agricultural elements they introduce can help regulate weeds and pests naturally, ultimately making the farm almost self-sustaining. Of course, there are enormous challenges they face--it will be several years before the farm can be productive, and there are pests and predators to deal with. Every success seems to have an accompanying setback--fruit is damaged, animals are attacked. There are some scenes that are sad, painful, even gruesome, but they all feel essential to the story. Even so, there are wondrous, joyful and humorous moments that reinforce hope--and the animals simply steal the show. Can the Chesters succeed without compromising their ideals? Chester depicts the highs and lows of their adventure unflinchingly, and ultimately gives us an uplifting saga.
Posted by bpardue on 08/22/19
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Perhaps you've enjoyed some shaved truffles atop some exotic dish at an upscale restaurant, but have you considered the process that guided that truffle from the forest to the kitchen? Ryan Jacobs takes a look at the dark side of the truffle trade, with its shady off-book deals, episodes of violence (including dognappings and poisonings) and fraudulent products. The Truffle Underground is a multinational tale of intrigue, full of flamboyant characters and dirty dealings. Consider it a worthy read after our One Book, One Village choice, The Feather Thief.
Posted by bpardue on 06/11/19
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The progressive/psychadelic band Gong has a long discography, going back to the late 1960s, and a massive family tree of members, ex-members, solo/spinoff projects, and beyond. Before his passing in 2015, leader/founding member Daevid Allen instructed the current lineup to keep the band going and make the music their own. "The Universe Also Collapses" is the band's second post-Allen album (after 2016's "Rejoice, I'm Dead," which might be seen as a bit of an Allen tribute), and they really hit their stride here. There are trademark Gong sounds, such as the ghostly "glissando guitar" parts, along with searing guitar & saxophone solos and tight ensemble playing. The lyrics all revolve roughly around the themes of quantum physics, rebirth, the here & now, etc. However, much of "The Universe..." also has a harder edge than Gong's earlier work, giving it all a more modern feel. Album closer "The Elemental" feels like some sort of lost, longer Robyn Hitchcock song, and gives the band a roadmap to a sound that's compatible with their past, but definitely forward-looking. A great addition to an already expansive catalog.
Posted by bpardue on 02/12/19
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Into the early 1990s, it was hard to believe that England was the land where soccer (football!) was invented. The top English teams were run by old-boy owners at a loss, games were played in decrepit stadiums in squalid conditions, and you couldn't even watch a game live on TV. All that changed in 1992, when a handful of owners got the bright idea that soccer could actually be a profitable game, and that a top-flight league could provide attractive, family-friendly and TV-ready entertainment--as with America's NFL. Soon, a new "Premier League" was hastily assembled, based on a handful of bylaws, and the ball was set rolling for a bright new future. Then a new TV contract was worked out, and the cash really started flowing. Of course, once the league started making money, new investors took interest, especially from abroad--wealthy Americans, Russian oil barons and an Abu Dhabi royal family member, among others. With hyper-wealthy owners and no spending cap, player salaries skyrocketed, and soon Premier League teams were plucking the finest players and coaches from around the world. "The Club" is slight on soccer details and tactics, but provides a fascinating inside look at the Premier League's growth from a neglected property to one of the world's most powerful and disruptive sports/entertainment juggernauts. A quick read with plenty of colorful characters, the book will appeal to even non-soccer fans.
Posted by bpardue on 12/06/18
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Can is considered one of the core "krautrock" bands emerging from Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their contemporary influence can't be overstated--namechecking Can gives musicians instant hipster chic. One band, The Mooney Suzuki, went so far as to name itself after two of the group's legendary singers. All Gates Open is really two books in one. In the first, Rob Young pens a highly-detailed standard history of the group, tracing the four core members' origins in the classical, jazz and avant-garde music scenes of the 1960s, through the legendary periods with singers Malcom Mooney and Damo Suzuki brought into the fold, on to their expanded lineup of the late 1970s with ex-members of Traffic. Each album and tour is dissected and analyzed, all against the backdrop of the band members' personal relationships and business dealings. It's a dense read, but one that fans will enjoy. The "second book" is really an extensive set of interviews and essays, mostly centering around keyboardist/composer Irmin Schmidt, the group's one surviving founding member. I found this a bit less essential, but will still be valuable to in-depth fans.
Posted by bpardue on 07/13/17
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Progressive rock is probably the most-maligned sub-genre of popular music (although disco gives it a run for its money). However, when played by truly adventurous musicians, prog rock could be pretty, magnificent, experimental or terrifying, often within the same 23-minute suite. Here, David Weigel tries to tell prog's story--from the heady joining of psychedelia and classical music in Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale" to 70s classics by King Crimson, Genesis, Yes, ELP, Rush, etc., through to the corporate-prog of Asia, and finally on to the artists who kept prog alive from the 90s to the present (Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson, The Mars Volta, etc.). If there's any central figure to all this, it's King Crimson's Robert Fripp, who kept breaking up his band just as it seemed on the verge of popular success, never compromising his musical vision. As a fan, it's easy to complain that the narrative is a bit too Anglo-centric (although some French and Italian bands are mentioned), but it generally gets the story right, and enough names and albums are dropped to give curious readers good music to track down.
Posted by bpardue on 02/21/17
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Guitar great Larry Coryell passed away on February 19. Through his early solo work on albums like Spaces and with his band The Eleventh House, Coryell was one of the core innovators of the jazz fusion movement, which merged jazz proficiency with the power and volume of rock and the cross-cultural influences of world music. His later work would turn more straight-ahead, but still commanded tremendous respect from jazz fans. For more of his albums, also check out hoopla.
Posted by bpardue on 01/26/17
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A team of chefs from the US have just won the prestigious Bocuse d'Or competition for the first time ever. Andrew Friedman's Knives at Dawn (2009) recounts the 2008 effort to try and make the US team a serious contender in the annual event, despite never having finished better than sixth place. In her previous review of Knives at Dawn (print edition), mingh stated:
This is the story of what it took to compete with the tremendous dedication, creativity, and stress that comes with a competition of this stature. Andrew Friedman has access to all of the players involved and you read about the evolution of a dish from something plain to something magnificent.

A wonderfully engaging book about the haute couture of food competitions. If you like food challenge shows such as Top Chef, this may also pique your interest.
This edition is an eAudiobook, available immediately (no holds needed) through the library's subscription to hoopla digital.
Posted by bpardue on 08/15/16
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From the late 60s to mid-70s, a number German rock bands created a musical/social movement that has subsequently (and somewhat unfortunately) become known as "Krautrock." Stylistically diverse, it ranged from the "kosmische" jams of Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel to the industrial explorations of early Cluster, the wild pastiche of Faust and the ever-more-automated stylings of Kraftwerk. There have been various attempts to cover the Krautrock scene in book form, most notably Julian Cope's Krautrocksampler​, but most have been personal impressions, discographies or article compilations. At last, music journalist David Stubbs has written the first "Great Big Book" on the topic: Future Days: Krautrock and the Birth of a Revolutionary New Music. Stubbs' well-researched tome covers the emergence of protest & commune culture in post-war Germany and touches on all the big-name bands/movements within Krautrock: Can, Kraftwerk, Neu!, HarmoniaFaust, the "Berlin School," etc., and even follows the music's influence on David Bowie, Brian Eno and more recent musicians. An excellent (if dense) read for fans of this unique and influential musical phenomenon. Readers may also enjoy Krautrock: Cosmic Rock and its Legacy. Quite a bit of the music mentioned in the two books can found in our catalog, as well as Hoopla Digital.
Posted by bpardue on 06/30/16
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This engaging book frames the history of 20th century architecture as a tug-of-war between two giants of the era: Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson. Wright was the genius, the relentless champion of his own philosophy of "organic architecture," who rejected any relationship with the boxy modernism of the Bauhaus architects and their followers, even as they acknowledged their debt to Wright (although more as a predecessor than meaningful contemporary). At the same time, it's tempting to think of his masterpiece Fallingwater as a thinly-veiled attempt to outdo the modernists at their own game. Johnson, on the other hand, was a born-wealthy dilettante, who moved between architecture criticism and practice, as well as politics, journalism and music, looking for a field in which to make his mark. He was an early champion of all things modern--the rejection of hand-crafted materials for industrial steel and glass, and the complete removal of ornamentation from buildings. His own Glass House (inspired by plans for Mies' Farnsworth House in Plano, IL) is considered a classic of the style. Over time, Wright's and Johnson's paths would cross many times, their relationship (and opinions of each other) would move from respectful to contentious and back again. Clearly, there was gamesmanship and moments of self-promotion from each man, but there were also moments of actual affection. Author Hugh Howard gives us a well-researched, sweeping view, covering nearly 50 years of architectural history with many supplementary characters to help illuminate the long, complex relationship between these two architectural giants.
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