Monday, February 22, 2010


No, it's not a book.  But it develops with the beauty and subtle awe of a great novel, which is why I feel compelled to discuss it here.   

Departures is a Japanese film which won an academy award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Oscars.  It's the story of a young male cellist, Diago, who finds himself out of work when the orchestra he performs with dissolves.  As a result, he moves back to his hometown with his wife to the house his mother left him.  There, he begins looking for work when he finds an ad for someone to assist with "departures".  Diago is uncertain what the job entails, but assumes it must relate to travel.  While interviewing, he discovers, however, that "departures" is in reference to death: the job requires Diago to assist in preparing bodies in front of mourners before placing them in a coffin.  Not without hesitation, Diago accepts the position, primarily because of the pay. 

From that point, we see Diago and his wife struggle with his new role, and we meet endearing members of the community.  We also glimpse into Diago's childhood and grow to understand the significance of his being a cellist.  What's most fascinating, though, is observing and coming to understand the ceremony of death in Japanese culture. In the film, we repeatedly see Diago clean, dress and make-up the deceased with the grace of playing cello.  In turn, we see how the elaborate and intimate process enables family and friends to come to terms with the death of a loved one. 

There's much more to this film that my oversimplified summary.  The snapshots, sounds, symbols, characters and narrative all work together to create a beautiful work of art.  And while Westerners may at first cringe to see the unusual death ceremony played out in film, they will likely grow to appreciate it by the movie's end.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kitchen Favs

One of my favorite places to hang out is my kitchen.  I love experimenting with new dishes and desserts to the sounds of Diana Krall, Cesaria Evora, Michael Buble or whatever else I might be in the mood for.  And because I love to cook, I also love reading and collecting cooking magazines and books.

My favorite day-to-day magazine is Everyday Food--which is also available in TV format on PBS stations.  When I have more time, or I'm looking for tips on kitchen tools or the best brand of (say) olive oil, I like Cooks, Illustrated by the authors of America's Test Kitchen (also viewable on PBS).

In terms of books, I've some standards which I rely on:  Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, The Taste of Home Cookbook, or Nancy Baggett's The All-American Cookie Book.  But recently, the publishing world has released some great new cooking and baking books that not only include great recipes, they include engaging stories, and useful kitchen tips.  Here are my top 5 new-ish recommendations (in no particular order):

1)  The Amish Cook's Baking Book, by Lovina Eicher (2009)
2)  The Farm Chicks In the Kitchen, by Teri Edwards & Serena Thompson (2009)
3)  Healthy Bread In Five Minutes A Day, by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoe Francois (2009)
4)  America's Test Kitchen: The Complete TV Show Cookbook (2009)
5)  Love Soup:  160 All-New Vegetarian Recipes from the Author of The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas (2009)

To search for or place a hold on one of these items, check out our PrairieCat link (left sidebar).  Then, simply type in the book or magazine title, or artist/author and click search.  If we don't have the item you're interested in, select select "All Locations" under the Select Locations heading on the right sidebar.  To place a hold, select the "Place Hold" icon.  You'll need your library card on hand to enter your barcode and pin (usually the last 4 digits of your library card).  After you place a hold, the library will call you whenever the item comes in.

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

For Political Junkies

I’m not one for gossip.  But there was something that drew me to read the gossipy new history of the last Presidential election, Game Change:  Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, written by veteran political reporters John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.  Perhaps it was the political hype or the unprecedented dynamics of our last election that snagged me .  But like the election and all its coverage, I was sunk by the first paragraph, and couldn’t put the thing down thereafter. 

If you’ve been doing any reading or television viewing of late, you’re probably familiar with some of the book’s claims of the presidential would-bes.  Heilemann and Halperin offer readers an unusually candid and behind-closed-doors look at the candidates and their camps from before the election began, to its notable finish.  If you haven’t yet heard some of the claims, you’ve certainly seen the fallout:  Senator Reid’s apology for his use of racially insensitive words to describe President Obama; or, Edwards’ acknowledgement of his child with Rielle Hunter.  But what’s most fascinating is the otherwise general silence from the book’s subjects.  To date, very few of the major players have offered information refuting Heilemann and Halperin’s claims. 

The biggest complaint made by politicians and journalists, alike, is the authors’ lack of sources.  Despite their solid reputations, the authors’ choice to withhold their sources of information has been nothing short of taboo for journalists of their caliber.

For more particulars, read the NY Times Review or listen to NPR’s Talk of the Nation.