What We're Reading November 2015: Recommended Reads from PVN Staff


Greg recently attended a conference at Brown University about the "digital humanities" and innovations in walking tours. Inspired by the experience, he has been exploring websites and mobile application (apps) that enable new forms of interactive walking tours and place-based storytelling. Viewed on smart-phones or as websites, these mobile and interactive documentaries and tours are being designed by collaborative teams of historians, preservationists, and makers of documentary radio and film. Examples include a walking tour of New Deal-era murals in San Francisco, an interactive documentary about coal mining and population decline in rural West Virginia, and a mobile documentary about the worst natural disaster in Montana history. Greg hopes to teach a class in spring 2016 that explores the potential for interactive media and design to enhance our interpretation and experience of historic sites in the Twin Cities.


Historic Homes of Minnesota by Roger G. Kennedy (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2006). 

Great Houses of Minnesota is the engaging story of the evolution of architectural styles in Minnesota from 1830 to 1914—from the influence of the early French traders along the Mississippi and St. Croix to the emergence of the school of Frank Lloyd Wright. Through photographs and colorfully informative text, internationally known historian Roger Kennedy helps readers understand the unique styles of Minnesota’s first homes. 

On a broad plane these architectural eras reflected social customs, politics, commerce, religion, and literature. On a personal level they often revealed the national origin and character of the families that made the house a home. In short, this is in large measure a history of the people. Kennedy has considered their heritage and traditions as carefully as he has examined the architecture they created, and he offers a fresh, wholistic approach to the study of our state’s great houses. 


The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook: Good Real Food by Tracy Singleton, Marshall Paulsen, and Beth Dooley (University of Minnesota Press, 2015). 

Creating a better world starts at home—in the kitchen—and for twenty years the Birchwood Cafe has guided diners to live and eat sustainably and joyfully. Now you can sample Birchwood’s recipes—adapted for home cooks—and fill your own table with some of the irresistible fare that has made the cafe one of the region’s best-loved restaurants. 

In these pages, find Birchwood’s light-hearted, innovative menu: hearty hand pies and multigrain salads, decadent pastries, and award-winning desserts. Organized by eight seasons, these dishes are inspired by the way weather affects our appetites and determines what comes from our land. 

Owner Tracy Singleton and Chef Marshall share Birchwood stories and memories, plus practical tips and insights. The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook shows you what it takes to make a sustainable kitchen and a joyful table, to prepare “good real food” that really does more than a little good. 


Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb (W.W. Norton & Co., 2011). 

This is the Paris you never knew. From the Revolution to the present, Graham Robb has distilled a series of astonishing true narratives, all stranger than fiction, of the lives of the great, the near-great, and the forgotten.

Napoleon Bonaparte, Marie-Antoinette, Baudelaire, the photographer Marville, Baron Haussmann, the real-life Mimi of La Boheme, Proust, Adolf Hitler touring the occupied capital in the company of his generals, Charles de Gaulle (who is suspected of having faked an assassination attempt in Notre Dame)—these and many more are Robb’s cast of characters, and the settings range from the quarries and catacombs beneath the streets to the grand monuments to the appalling suburbs ringing the city today. The result is a resonant, intimate history with the power of a great novel. 


The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber (Penguin Books, 2015). 

“Not since Michael Pollan has such a powerful storyteller emerged to reform American food.” —The Washington Post

Today’s optimistic farm-to-table food culture has a dark secret: the local food movement has failed to change how we eat. It has also offered a false promise for the future of food. In his visionary New York Times–bestselling book, chef Dan Barber offers a radical new way of thinking about food that will heal the land and taste good, too. Looking to the detrimental cooking of our past, and the misguided dining of our present, Barber points to a future “third plate”: a new form of American eating where good farming and good food intersect. Barber’s The Third Plate charts a bright path forward for eaters and chefs alike, daring everyone to imagine a future for our national cuisine that is as sustainable as it is delicious.


Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (Crown Business, 2010). 

Rework shows you a better, faster, easier way to succeed in business. Read it and you'll know why plans are actually harmful, why you don't need outside investors, and why you're better off ignoring the competition. The truth is, you need less than you think. You don't need to be a workaholic. You don't need to staff up. You don't need to waste time on paperwork or meetings. You don't even need an office. Those are all just excuses. 

With its straightforward language and easy-is-better approach, Rework is the perfect playbook for anyone who’s ever dreamed of doing it on their own. Hardcore entrepreneurs, small-business owners, people stuck in day jobs they hate, victims of "downsizing," and artists who don’t want to starve anymore will all find valuable guidance in these pages.

What We're ReadingPVN Staff