Dooku: Lost Jedi by Cavan Scott

Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis The Wise? I thought not. It’s not a story the Jedi would tell you.

That’s okay. The amount of Star Wars media is as expansive as the universe in which the story takes place. It is hard to keep track of everything. While most people are familiar with the movies, there are books, TV shows- both live action and animated- comic books, and video games for all ages. These stories take place over thousands of years and tell the epic story of Jedi and Sith, times of peace, and times of war.

Disney recently announced that the universe would expand even more with a new era of books and comics coming out in August. A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one. The High Republic will take place approximately 200 years before Episode I: The Phantom Menace and introduce a lot of new characters and planets. I’ll just say it, I hope they do a better job at this era than the more recent trilogy.

When Disney acquired the rights for Star Wars in 2012, they took a lot of novels of the Expanded Universe considered canon, and rebranded it as “legends”’, and a new continuity would be established. It’s as if a million voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. A google search for “Star Wars Del Rey timeline” will lead to a website dedicated to the releases of stories considered canon in chronological order. Right now there are over 30 books on the list, as well as two TV shows, and the 9 movies in the franchise. My goal is to slowly go through this timeline, starting with the first book on the list: Dooku: Lost Jedi.

Dooku: Lost Jedi, written by Cavan Scott, provides some background for one of the more mysterious characters of the prequels (episodes 1-3): Count Dooku. His time in the movies is unfortunately limited, so it is nice to learn more about this complex character. Before he was a Sith Lord, and the leader of the Separatist, Count Dooku, or Darth Tyranus, was once a Jedi. Taken by the Jedi Order as a child, he showed promise and quickly became a driven student powerful in the Force. So powerful that he takes on a padawan of his own, Qui-Gon Jinn. But as time goes on, Dooku begins to question the ethics of the Jedi and becomes fascinated with Sith relics and the Jedi who studies them. This leads him to a dark path as he struggles to stay on the light side of the Force. It doesn’t help that he finds out his parents didn’t want him and forbid him from speaking to his sister, Jenza.

Though it centers around Dooku, the narrator of this story is Ventress, an assassin being trained in the dark side of the Force. She is tasked with finding Dooku’s lost sister. With an array of hologram recordings at her disposal to help her search, Ventress learns more about her troubled master and his reasons for leaving the Order. Like the prequel movies, we see how the Jedi can be flawed with their sometimes close-minded way of thinking. This book also does a great job at turning the fearsome Dooku into someone you can sympathize with. Ventress herself is a fairly complex character. She is constantly haunted by the ghost of her old master, whom she murdered. He stays with her and attempts to steer her in the right direction. As things progress, she struggles to take control of her own destiny or become completely consumed by Dooku and his unrelenting force.

The intended way to enjoy this is by listening to the audio book version, which features a full cast. With a length of about 6 and a half hours, it answers a lot of questions, but seems like there could have been more. Production-wise, it is extremely immersive. Between the full cast performance and wide range of sound effects and musical components, it is reminiscent of the radio dramatization NPR put out in the 1980s . If you want to listen to Dooku: Lost Jedi, you can check it out on Overdrive. For those that are not a fan of listening to books, there is also a screenplay adapted directly from the audio version. This would definitely be a fun book to get with a group of friends and read it out loud together.

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Who Says You’re Dead? Medical and Ethical Dilemmas for the Curious & Concerned by Jacob M. Appel, MD

The trolley problem is a hypothetical thought exercise meant to test where you stand on an ethical dilemma. If you have not heard of the trolley problem, this is the description via Wikipedia:

There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options:

  1. Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

What is the right thing to do in this situation? Is there even a right answer?

This situation is not particularly relevant to most of us, but Who Says You’re Dead?: Medical & Ethical Dilemmas for the Curious & Concerned brings perhaps more realistic scenarios to the table and asks, what would you do?

Each chapter deals with a certain topic (such as body parts, the mind of a doctor, and end of life issues) and presents a brief dilemma related to it. According to the author, some of these are from news headlines, some are completely made up, and some are from his own personal encounters from working at various clinical institutions, just disguised well to remain confidential to the parties involved.

Going on a first date? Maybe the best way to get to know them is to ask where they stand on a person’s choice of having a fiberglass horn implanted in their skull to resemble a dinosaur. In a serious relationship and thinking about kids? Maybe discuss whether you would want to try an experimental heart transplant that involves a chimp being euthanized to save your 5-year old, which might not even work. You might learn a thing or two about your spouse. Okay, maybe don’t do quite that, but you get the point. These are sensitive topics and require more than just a quick on-the-spot answer. Luckily, after each question, there is a brief reflection that looks at the topic from a medical/ethical standpoint. The purpose is more about discussion, rather than to try and sway the reader one way or the other. Supreme Court cases are referenced, as well as research done by the CDC and other medical entities.

While reading this book, the first thing that came to mind was a recent grisly, yet fascinating, news story. A man donated his mother’s body to the Biological Resource Center (BRC) for alzheimer’s research, and later found out that she was sold to the military and used in an IED blast test. Clearly the parties involved needed a lesson in ethics, because they received some 5,000 bodies donated to them for scientific purposes and instead harvested their organs to sell them. A lawsuit was filed by the man and 19 others who experienced similar situations. In court BRC’s attorney claimed that the plaintiffs signed consent agreements that said bodies could be dis articulated. The Biological Resource Center was ordered to pay $58 million to donors’ families and they are now permanently closed. What led BRC to believe that their actions were justified?  The topic of ethics is complex and there are plenty of factors that go into decision making. Hopefully this book can help add to your arsenal of thinking practically and with empathy.

I would recommend you take your time with this book. All in all, there are 79 dilemmas, and each deserves their fair share of introspection. Do some research before coming to a conclusion, as should be done with other topics. In the back of the book there is a “sources and further reading” section that may help if you get stuck and cannot make a decision either way. It is not a bad thing to be hesitant in these situations. It is a good exercise and you may learn a thing or two about yourself.

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The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

Rhett and Link met in the first grade at Buies Creek Elementary School in 1984. The story goes that they were both held back from recess for writing profanity on their desks. While everyone else was outside playing, they spent their recess coloring mythical creatures. They have been best friends ever since, and even made a blood oath to commit to always work together and create big things. That promise has been kept. Some of their earliest projects include a screenplay Gutless Wonders (never finished), and a punk rock band.

Fast forward to today, they run one of the most successful Youtube channels, Good Mythical Morning (GMM), with over 15 million subscribers, and over 5 million views daily. Their catalog also includes music videos, the web television series Buddy System,  their award winning podcast EarBiscuits, comedy/musical tours, and the New York Times’ Bestseller Book of Mythicality. 

Why am I mentioning all of this? Because the parallels between real life and fiction are evident in Rhett and Link’s second book, and first novel The Lost Causes of Bleak Creak. The book follows the friendship of Rex and Leif in the town of, you guessed it, Bleak Creak, North Carolina. Bleak Creek is a typical, small southern town. One that holds religion, family values, and tradition close to heart. It is a seemingly cheerful place, but every town, no matter how big or small, has its secrets.

The first chapter starts with Rex, Leif, and their friend Alicia filming a scene for their film, Polterdog (similar to the screenplay Gutless Wonders mentioned above). Something goes wrong during the filming of a scene which lands the three friends in trouble, one of the terms of punishment being that they are no longer allowed to film their movie. Alicia who already has a bad reputation due to previous circumstances, gets the worst punishment of the self-appointed Triumvirate. But having put so much time and energy into their movie, the group decides to meet up and film one last scene. As Rex and Leif make it to Alicia’s house, they soon find out she is in trouble. They find out she is being sent, against her will, to Wayne Whitewood’s reform school. Shrouded in mystery, no one really knows what happens inside the ominous building surrounded by a chain-linked fence, but it has a reputation of its own. Some people never return, those who do come back aren’t quite the same, almost zombie-like, without the appetite for brains. Either way, Rex and Leif have no choice but to try and save their friend from certain demise.

For a comedic duo, Rhett and Link wrote a thrilling page-turner. There is plenty of 90s nostalgia, and nods to good-ole southern traditions such as pig pickins’. They took elements from their personal lives and transformed into something magical. Hopefully this can turn a few people into a Mythical Beast, or fans of the GMM channel, because the friendship of Rhett and Link is so wholesome and inspiring. Their most recent episodes have been shot documentary-style, while they take you through Buies Creek to revisit their childhood homes, church, and the creek itself. It adds another layer to the novel. Even though  Halloween is over, there is always room for a little suspense and psychological terror (especially with the holiday season approaching fast), and this book delivers.


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Short Attention Span? Try These Short Stories, Films

I’m sure most people have been in a situation where someone asks them what types of books they like to read, and they meet their eyes with a blank stare, forgetting every book ever published. I have been experiencing that a lot lately.

Nothing can grab my attention for very long, so I don’t have an answer when I’m asked that question. It’s sad when that happens, but it is not always the book at fault. Everything has a time and place, but unfortunately, we don’t always have enough time to get to it all.

With my short attention span, sometimes the only thing that can keep my focus are short stories and short films. So I am going to recommend a few short stories and short films to shamelessly plug an event taking place at the Joplin Public Library.

Ray Bradbury wrote about 600 short stories and was writing pretty much up until his death in 2012, leaving behind a legacy with which few could compete. He once said: “The best hygiene for beginning writers or intermediate writers is to write a hell of a lot of short stories. If you can write one short story a week — it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing. And at the end of the year you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Can’t be done.”

It’s that kind of mentality that made him such a prolific writer, implementing themes of sci-fi, horror, psychological thriller and even fantasy into his works. The library has several of his collections, including “The Illustrated Man,” “October Country” and “The Stories of Ray Bradbury.” Specifically, I am recommending the stories: “R is for Rocket,” “The Veldt,” “All Summer in a Day,” “The Pedestrian” and “The Small Assassin.” Now that fall is upon us, his stories are a great accompaniment to the weather change.

If you aren’t in the mood for reading, maybe try to watch a short film or two instead. Buster Keaton could be considered one of the best in the business, starring in 19 short films between 1920 and 1923. He was an actor, director, screenwriter, producer and stunt man.

If you have a chance, search the internet for some insight into how he performed some of his stunts.

Try out the “Buster Keaton Short Films collection, 1920-1923” DVD and watch some timeless cinema. The library also has a DVD collection of films from the Manhattan Short, a global film festival that the library is excited to be a part of this year.

The “Manhattan Short Film Festival” began in 1998 when Nicholas Mason screened 16 short films to a crowd of about 300 in New York City. Now, it takes place across six continents, in more than 350 cities. Each year, 10 short films are selected, and audience members are asked to vote for their favorite.

The library kicked off the festival on Sept. 26 with a reception and initial screening. If you missed that, you can still come in and watch the films for our repeat screenings happening on Tuesday Wednesday and Saturday. Come in, watch some films, vote on your favorite, and be a part of something global.

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Anthony Bourdain Remembered

Anthony Bourdain was important to a lot of people. There is no denying that his books and TV shows have influenced people to view life and the world in a different way. Each one of his works set out to paint an honest picture of the world, the people who live there and the food they consume. As famous as he was with talking about issues people faced in their particular countries, he also listened to what others had to say. When he died, it shook the world that he traveled.

“ANTHONY BOURDAIN REMEMBERED” was released by CNN as a way to honor his life and pay tribute to a special human being. It features pictures of his travels, as well as small paragraphs written by former colleagues, friends and the people he met during his adventures.

Because I am not famous enough to be featured in this book, I figured this review could be my way of saying thanks. In high school, I did not really know what I wanted to do with life. But when I started watching his shows, I felt an immediate connection. An episode of “No Reservations” left you feeling like you were along for the trip. For many of us, there is no chance of going where he went. I think he recognized that and sought to create a well-rounded show an hour at a time.

He taught me to not fall for tourist traps and figure out where the locals go. Because of Anthony Bourdain, I also started eating differently, trying new things — even made an effort to expand my palate.

I thought this book would be a quick read, but I soon realized that you should take your time with it. Each person who contributed expressed deep gratitude for him and his work. You can find contributions made by Darren Aronofsky, Jacques Pepin, Iggy Pop, Barack Obama and many more. The photographs show a moment in time of a man who just wanted to move from place to place and experience the world as others do.

Most of the pictures show him beside food of some sort. He understood the significance of food and those you eat it with. By eating a country’s native dishes you get a sense of the history and culture behind it. Anthony Bourdain said: “Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food.”

If you are interested in reading some of Anthony Bourdain’s other books, the library has several of them in print and ebook format, including “Kitchen Confidential,” “Medium Raw,” “A Cook’s Tour” and “The Nasty Bits.” In the near future, I will purchase one of his “No Reservations” DVD collections to donate it to the library. The mark he left on the world should never be forgotten. With “Anthony Bourdain Remembered,” CNN did an incredible job at providing a snapshot of his life and making sure that his legacy will be remembered.

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Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 by James Donovan

Joplin Public Library started its Summer Reading Program on May 28, 2019 and it will run until July 26, 2019. During this time, we want to encourage people of all ages to read and attend library programs based on a central theme. For this year, the theme is “A Universe of Stories”, so our programs center around space and science-related themes. Our website has more information with a link to the calendar of events. There are also game boards/event calendars available at the library with more details. You do not need a library card to participate. For adults, events will include an opportunity to go on a virtual tour through a space museum, learn about the weather, compete in a trivia contest, and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20, 2019.

Speaking of the anniversary of the moon landing, I recently started reading Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11. This book goes through the entire history of the space program, from Project Mercury to Project Gemini to the Apollo missions that put man on the moon. For each mission, it seems like the astronauts get all of the fame, but author James Donovan does a good job at telling the stories of the lesser-known people who helped get man into space and onto the moon. While there is a lot of information in this book, it is presented in an accessible way. There are plenty of pictures that help put faces to the names and add a layer to the story.

So while I can recommend this book, what I really recommend is celebrating the universe and how far we have come to understand it, although we still have a long way to go. The future of space exploration is exciting and necessary. There are all sorts of new developments that deserve recognition. Back in April, the first image of a black hole was captured. NASA has recently announced its goal for another moon landing by 2024. This mission will pave the way for humans to set foot on Mars. Curiosity is still on Mars sampling the environment. SpaceX continues its rocket launches with the ultimate goal to have humans live on other planets.

At the library we want to promote a sense of wonder. Here are some activities you can do to achieve this: Try to find some planets in the night sky. Watch the International Space Station fly overhead. Visit the Post Art Library and see an exhibit dedicated to the Hubble Telescope. Watch footage of the moon landing. Check out a book on space, whether it be fiction or nonfiction. Be curious this summer, and do some exploring with Joplin Public Library.


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Just Peachy: Comics about Depression, Anxiety, Love, and finding the humor in Being Sad by Holly Chisholm

I have not officially been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, but I know all too well what is involved with getting stuck in its void. The restless nights thinking about how I screwed things up or will inevitably screw things up. An emptiness or numbness that leaves me wondering how normal people function daily. Cancelling plans and drifting farther away from friends. I could be having the time of my life then, all of a sudden, an existential dread kicks in. It can seem like an endless loop. Conversations about these topics are difficult to have with people. You don’t want to be a burden to anyone, as being yourself is enough of a burden. Just Peachy by Holly Chisholm takes a look at living with depression and anxiety, and overcoming it — mostly by being creative and laughing in its face.

The introduction tells a brief story about the author and how she was diagnosed with depression. What followed was prescription medication with symptoms and side effects that were detrimental rather than helpful. Things got better after she started going back to the gym, quit smoking, and reduced alcohol consumption. There was still a partial emptiness. Her therapist suggested keeping a journal. She decided to draw out her experiences instead. It became easier to work through her problems. Just Peachy started on Instagram, but now has its own website, merchandise, and, of course, this book. There are similar series such as Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half, and Sarah Andersen’s Sarah’s Scribbles, both of which I recommend. These authors looked at their own inner demons, then transformed them into something positive. Each contain well-crafted humor that is relatable, even to those who have not been diagnosed with depression or anxiety.

The chapter “Love and Relationships” goes over the ways to maintain healthy relationships with the people in our lives. Love and relationships are important. Who we surround ourselves with can influence us in either direction. Our day-to-day interactions can have a lasting effect. Being kind to someone can make their day. There are many ways to say “I love you”. Text a friend you have not spoken to in a while. Write a letter to someone you appreciate and tell them why. But do not be afraid to cut negative people from your life. They are not worth the time or effort. Be yourself, not who others want you to be. Even when it seems hard, love yourself.

“Growth” is the last chapter and probably my favorite. Without getting too cheesy with its message, this chapter gives a great pep-talk on how to overcome obstacles one might face. It is possible, but it takes a lot of courage and requires stepping out of your comfort zone. A quote that stood out to me was: “I’m scared of routine. I don’t want to be boring. But then I see a sunset, which comes every day but somehow always seems new and full of hope”. Find the things that make you happy and stick with them.

Just Peachy is a quick read, and the comics are beautifully drawn. There is nothing too profound within, but it is a nice shot of hope. Having some of the comic strips nearby can provide a boost when things start to go downhill. Books like Just Peachy make you realize you are not so alone after all. We are all in this together. Although it is a Teen Graphic Novel, the feelings, or lack thereof, expressed within its pages are familiar to adults and teens alike. Anyone can have depression or anxiety. It does not matter your race, age, sex, or social status. At the end of the book, there are resources including the suicide hotline, crisis text line, online therapy/ coaching, and books and podcasts that might lift your spirits. If you need help, reach out. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. There are people who do care.

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The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Goblins by Clint McElroy

Joplin Public Library started its 2018 Summer Reading Program on May 29th, which ran until July 28th. It is always a fun event, and we put on programs for children, teens, and adults, themed around the music-related slogan “Libraries Rock”. Summer Reading is an exciting time, but it can also be stressful, as the library saw a dramatic increase in traffic during this time. When Summer Reading ended, I had a couple of weeks to learn how to breathe again before I took on the challenge of going to school to get my degree. Between these two challenges, sitting down to read a book hasn’t been something I can commit to. Thankfully, podcasts and audiobooks exist.

When doing a search for essential podcasts to listen to, one that came up frequently was called “The Adventure Zone”. Three brothers, Justin, Travis, and Griffin, along with their father, Clint McElroy, play Dungeons and Dragons together. Equal parts enthralling, funny, and vulgar, the storytelling in “The Adventure Zone” will cause listeners to become deeply invested in the characters and magnificent world-building.

In July, a comic book was released based on their first campaign of The Balance Arc: “Here There Be Gerblins”. Our heroes include human warrior Magnus Burnsides, elf wizard Taako, and Merle Highchurch, a dwarf cleric. The story follows them on an epic quest to rescue Merle’s cousin Bogard and his bodyguard Billy Blue Jeans after they were attacked and abducted.

Along the way, our heroes come across many obstacles including gerblins, a Bugbear, and the mysterious Black Spider. The artwork done by Carey Pietsch (artist for Lumberjanes and Adventure Time) brings the characters to life and sets the tone for the story. There’s even a fan art gallery at the end of the book.

The only thing I found off-putting were the interruptions by the Dungeon Master (Griffin McElroy) who provides commentary and interacts with the comic book characters throughout their adventure. If you’re listening to the podcast, that’s essential to hear, as it adds depth to the story. But in book form, I feel that sticking with the story and letting it play out that way would have been a better approach for those who have never listened to the podcast series. Because of this, it almost seems like the book was made for people already familiar with the podcast and wasn’t attempting to gain any new fans by releasing a comic book.

The Joplin Public Library has a great selection of audiobooks, and there are many different formats that can accommodate your needs. First, as our collection increases, so do the number of MP3 format. These are great because rather than keep track of a huge number of discs, everything you need is on a single disc or two. If you have a Joplin Public Library card, you can check out four adult and four children’s audiobooks at a time. I highly recommend The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy read by Stephen Fry, and the Harry Potter Series read by Jim Dale.

Another way to access audiobooks is with Overdrive. Overdrive is an app that you lets you read ebooks and listen to audiobooks from your smartphone, tablet, or computers. Any patron with a Joplin Public Library card can use the service for free. While you can only have seven items checked out at at time, there is no limit to how many items you can check out in a month. The one disadvantage to Overdrive is that, while they have a good selection, you often have to place items on hold and wait for a while to get it.

Starting on September 4th, Joplin Public Library added a new digital service to its repertoire, called Hoopla. Hoopla is a little different from Overdrive. One, there are no holds on items, you simply browse for an item you’d like to check out, click “borrow”, and the item is instantly available to you. Another difference is that there is a limit to how many items you can check out per month, which is 6. Hoopla isn’t limited to just books and audiobooks; their catalogue includes a wide range of movies, TV shows, comics, and music.

Each service has its own advantages and limitations, but in the end, between the library’s physical collection, Overdrive, and Hoopla, you should be able to satisfy any and all of your audiobook needs.

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Art Matters by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman has been a long-time advocate for librarians and libraries. A quick Google search with “Neil Gaiman libraries” will bring up a variety of articles, lectures, and blogs dedicated to his thoughts on libraries and reading. Libraries are more than a place with books, but a bastion of freedom, knowledge, and resources. Art Matters does a wonderful job at putting the importance of libraries into words and pictures. Along with Neil Gaiman’s incredible prose, Chris Riddell provides illustrations that bring these ideas to life. I recommend taking a look at more artwork by Chris Riddell. He has also illustrated the children’s series “The Edge Chronicles”, which he also co-authored; The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; and J.K. Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard, among many others. He also has his own website, which features his illustrations throughout.

Do not let its small size fool you. Art Matters, a collection of four of Neil Gaiman’s essays, is filled with helpful tips on how to persevere in difficult times, be creative, and be true to yourself. The ability to use your imagination and be creative is a vital part of our existence. This book, while a quick read thanks to Gaiman’s amusing prose and the prolific illustrations, will make you think and stay with you for a long time.

The first essay, Credo, originally published in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, is about the power of ideas and the importance of free speech, which is as true today as it was then. The next essay, Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading, and Daydreaming, examines the role of the public library in giving access to ideas, how reading can expand one’s horizons and thoughts, and the importance of encouraging children to read. It states that imagination and daydreams are vital in creating change in the world. The third essay, Making a Chair, compares making a chair to the process of writing or creating art. The final piece, Making Good Art, was originally a speech given by Gaiman which was later published as a standalone book. This piece focuses on the importance of creativity and gives encouragement to artists, with Gaiman discussing how he started his career as a writer. Chris Riddell’s illustrations underscore the message on every page.

While this title is housed in our adult collection, it would also be a wonderful book for young adults, who are starting to figure out who they are and find their voice. The messages in this book are not just limited to people who are conventionally “creative”, either. Even if someone doesn’t consider themselves to be creative because they don’t draw, or paint, or write fiction, there are many ways that someone can be creative, and this book is good for the creative soul in everyone. The back of the book states “Be Bold. Be Rebellious. Choose Art. It Matters”, which does an excellent job of summing up the book. The message “Art Matters” speaks to creative freedom, the importance of ideas, and thinking for oneself.

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Rice, Fish, Noodle: Deep Travels through Japan’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding

My passion for food and travel began with Anthony Bourdain.  After watching his show No Reservations, I knew I wanted to see the world, eat where the locals eat, and not fall for tourist traps. Anthony Bourdain invested in this book and was the driving force behind its publication. Any book that has his blessing is one I’m interested in.

Rice, Noodle, Fish is written by Matt Goulding, co-author of the Eat This, Not That! book series, which serve as a guide to help people select healthier options at the grocery store and restaurants. He is also a writer for Roads & Kingdoms, a website dedicated to informing people about travel, food, and politics.

This book takes readers on a journey through Japan. Each of the seven chapters focuses on a different region and what makes it unique. Combining travel guide, history, and storytelling, Rice, Noodle, Fish sets out to paint a picture of the complex world of Japanese culture and cuisine. The color photographs add another level of beauty to an already-captivating book.

Rice is the main staple in Japan, served with most meals. When people think of sushi, the first thing considered is fish, but what truly makes good sushi is the rice. In the first chapter, Tokyo, we meet Koji Sawada, a sushi master. There is a concept of shokunin, an artisan or master in one’s profession, that is deeply embedded into Japanese culture. Sawada is the epitome of shokunin. He wakes up early to pick out his fish, has spent years perfecting the ideal temperature to serve each fish, only serves six people for lunch and six at dinner, and ends the day by scrubbing the countertop of its accumulated fish oils. In all, working eighteen-hour days, six times a week. It takes practice, dedication, and kimochi (feeling) to become a sushi master.

Noodle varieties of Japan go far beyond the basic ramen that immediately comes to mind. There are udon, soba, and somen, to name a few. Udon are thick white noodles that can be enjoyed chilled or warm; soba noodles are made from buckwheat and wheat flour, served cold or in hot soup; somen noodles are made from wheat flour and usually served chilled. In Fukuoka, however, ramen is king. There, ramen isn’t just a cheap meal to be taken lightly — it’s an identity, and Fukuoka is home to over 2,000 ramen shops. The complex level of flavor that goes into ramen include tare (seasoning base), broth, noodles, and toppings. So, next time you make ramen, throw the little flavor packet away (the sodium content is atrocious anyway) and opt for more traditional ingredients. Use a homemade broth, and top it with green onions, a poached egg, soy sauce, sesame oil, or Sriracha — there are no rules or limitations.

Fish is important to Japan. Being an island nation, Japan takes advantage of the abundant sea life found nearby. Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture of Japan, has some of the best fish markets in the world. Though some of the seafood stays in Hokkaido, much is shipped to Tokyo, fetching top dollar because of the high quality of the fish. Other seafood enjoyed in Hokkaido include King Crab, Snow Crab, scallops, eel, and uni, or sea urchin. In addition to being known for seafood, Hokkaido has experienced a flourish in wine production as the terrain and weather provide perfect conditions. Featured winemaker Takahiko Soga doesn’t want to imitate California Reds or Italian whites, which don’t pair well with traditional Japanese foods. So much of the of Japanese palate relies on subtly and region, and Soga aims to produce wines which complement the traditional foods and flavors of Hokkaido.

While reading this book, it’s important to consider the political and cultural impacts of food, not just in Japan, but for the entire world. Factors that affect what a culture consumes include seasonality, climate, who settled the area, income levels, and what foods are native to the area. One of the best ways to learn about people and their culture is from the food they eat. Rice, Noodle, Fish does a wonderful job at providing insight into the different regions of Japan, the history of food there, and how traditions are carried on.

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