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Friday, July 25, 2014

Oz Continues to Inspire

Written by Jon Williams

It all began in 1900. That year saw the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a novel intended as a fairy tale for children. Little did he know then that it would in fact capture the imaginations of adults and children alike, keeping the Land of Oz and its inhabitants and visitors alive and growing well over a century later.

Baum himself was able to capitalize on the success of the novel. Although he did not originally intend for a series, he wrote the first sequel in 1904. He hoped The Marvelous Land of Oz would quell the clamor; it did not. When he wrote The Emerald City of Oz in 1911 (the fifth sequel), he tried to cry off by claiming that he had lost his ties to Oz and therefore could no longer learn the stories from there. That didn’t work either. He followed it with The Patchwork Girl of Oz in 1913, and continued to publish a new Oz story each year after that.

Baum passed away in 1919, but as we all know, the story didn’t end there. The movie adaptation produced in 1939 has come to be even more famous than the novel that spawned it. Its bold use of new Technicolor technology brought to stunning life Baum’s fantastic world of Yellow Brick Roads and an Emerald City; paired with Judy Garland’s singing and performance as Dorothy, it remains a wonder to behold. The film was so beloved that it inspired adaptations of its own, such as 1978’s The Wiz, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, and 2005’s whimsical version starring the Muppets. And in 1985, there was a sequel called Return to Oz that mined some of Baum’s further adventures, and has since become a cult hit.

Even now, Oz maintains its grip on the imaginations of a new generation of writers and filmmakers who continue to tell stories of the magical realm. Witness the popularity of Gregory Maguire’s 2005 novel Wicked, which explored the origins and motivations of the Wicked Witch of the West, the antagonist of Baum’s novel. That itself spun off into three sequel novels and a wildly popular Broadway show.

The high level of interest in all things Wicked is one factor in the recent Oz revival that has continued to expand the story of the land and characters created by L. Frank Baum at the dawn of the 20th century. Last year’s box-office hit Oz the Great and Powerful tells the tale of how the Wizard himself, played by James Franco, came to the Land of Oz. This year, the animated film Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return brought the tale forward from Dorothy’s original visit to the Wizard, bringing her back to face a new threat to the Emerald City. And a recent novel from Danielle Paige, Dorothy Must Die, plays with a similar theme: that Dorothy has become a malevolent ruler over Oz, and must herself be defeated.

Needless to say, Oz devotees will find no shortage of titles to hold their attention. Search on our website to find more, and help transport your patrons over the rainbow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Weird Al Owns the Internet

Written by Jon Williams

In case you’ve missed it—and I’m not sure that’s possible—musical comedian Weird Al Yankovic has been absolutely killing it over the past week since the release of his latest album, Mandatory Fun. To promote it, he released eight music videos in eight days via various pop-culture-centric websites, beginning with last Monday’s “Tacky” (a parody of the Pharrell hit “Happy”) and finishing off with today’s corporate-buzzword-skewering “Mission Statement” (not a straight parody, but heavily influenced by Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”).

In between those videos were the grammar lovers’ dream “Word Crimes” (from Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”), the twisted ode to aluminum “Foil” (from Lorde’s “Royals”), the contractor’s commercial “Handy” (from Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”), the honest college fight song “Sports Song,” a lamentation of “First World Problems,” and a name-dropping “Lame Claim to Fame.” All eight songs, plus four others (including the staple polka medley), can be found on the new album. (You can view all these videos at if you missed any of them.)

Yankovic’s career start came courtesy of the Dr. Demento radio show, which played his Knack parody “My Balogna” and then had Al on as a guest to record “Another One Rides the Bus” in 1980. Both songs appeared on his self-titled debut album, released in 1983. His real break came with his second album, Weird Al Yankovic in 3D, which featured “Eat It,” a parody of the skyrocketing Michael Jackson. Pairing his sharp-witted lyrical stylings with clever music videos gave him a leg up in MTV’s ‘80s heyday, as did support from Jackson, whom Weird Al parodied again with 1988’s “Fat” (on the album Even Worse, both a play on MJ’s Bad).

In a career that now spans more than thirty years, Yankovic has had to evolve, as he did with 1992’s Off the Deep End, with both the lead single (“Smells Like Nirvana”) and the album cover playing on Nirvana and the breakout of grunge music. He gave the songs on that album more of a satirical edge, which has carried through to his music today. Mandatory Fun is Al’s fourteenth album…and probably his last, although he’s not retiring. With the prominence of video sharing sites like YouTube and the rise of digital music, he plans to do future distribution via those means, so as to be more even timelier with his work.

And that’s not all from the world of Weird Al. Yesterday also marked the 25th anniversary of his film UHF, in which his character takes over a defunct TV station and creates zany programming that makes it wildly popular. Although neither the film nor its soundtrack is currently available, Al said in a recent Newsweek interview that there are commemoration plans he’s “not at liberty to talk about right now” for later in the year. Will it be a Blu-ray release? Maybe a sequel announcement? We’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, Weird Al’s popularity has risen to all-time heights—there’s a good chance Mandatory Fun will top Billboard’s chart this week, which would be a first in Al’s career, his previous best being 2011’s Alpocalypse, which made it to #9. So make sure you have the new album on your shelf, and SmartBrowse ‘Weird Al Yankovic’ on our website for even more by this hilarious (and Grammy-winning!) artist.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hot This Week: July 21

Lone Survivor hangs onto the top DVD spot this week, as most of the popular titles stick around. In music, the Frozen soundtrack makes a run back toward the top of the chart, but is thwarted by newcomer Sia. Three new titles top this week's fiction list (and four overall), including the Stephen Colbert-endorsed California. In non-fiction, Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken jumps back to the top following the passing of Louis Zamperini, whose fascinating story is chronicled in the book.

  1. Lone Survivor 
  2. Non-Stop
  3. Robocop
  4. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
  5. 3 Days to Kill
  6. Ride Along
  7. The Monuments Men
  8. Endless Love 
  9. Son of God
  10. Her
  1. Sia, 1000 Forms of Fear
  2. Frozen Soundtrack
  3. Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour
  4. Trey Songz, Trigga
  5. Ed Sheeran, X
  6. Judas Priest, Redeemer of Souls
  7. NOW That's What I Call Music 50
  8. Dirty Heads, Sound of Change
  9. Miranda Lambert, Platinum
  10. Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence
  1. Act of War, Brad Thor
  2. Power Play, Catherine Coulter
  3. California, Edan Lepucki
  4. Invisible, James Patterson and David Ellis
  5. The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith
  6. Top Secret Twenty-One, Janet Evanovich
  7. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
  8. Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King
  9. Written in My Own Heart's Blood, Diana Gabaldon
  10. Landline, Rainbow Rowell
  1. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
  2. America, Dinesh D'Souza
  3. Blood Feud, Edward Klein
  4. Hard Choices, Hillary Rodham Clinton
  5. One Nation, Ben and Candy Carson
  6. Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty
  7. David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell
  8. Think Like a Freak, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  9. I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
  10. Flash Boys, Michael Lewis

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Garth Brooks Sets His Return

Written by Jon Williams

Last week, country music superstar Garth Brooks held a press conference in Nashville to announce his return to the music scene following thirteen years of semi-retirement. Although he was vague on details at the time, news came down yesterday that his upcoming world tour will kick off in Chicago on September 4. And that’s not all—there is new music in the offing as well. A new single from the hitmaker is expected within the next two months, with a full album of new material coming in November. Given the amount of material compiled during his time off, Brooks says it may turn out to be a double album.

His road to becoming a music legend began when he burst onto the scene with his self-titled debut album in 1989. Garth Brooks contained the hits “Much Too Young” and “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” which became his first #1 single. The album closed with a little ballad called “The Dance,” one of his best-loved songs and Brooks’s personal favorite from his own catalog—although he promises a track on the upcoming album that rivals it for that distinction.

He continued his breakthrough by following his debut up quickly with No Fences (currently unavailable) in 1990. With smashes like “The Thunder Rolls” and “Friends in Low Places,” it is his bestselling album to date. Honors for second best go to 1991’s Ropin’ the Wind, which made history by debuting atop the pop charts, the first time a country album had achieved this feat. The album’s pop credentials were boosted by a cover of Billy Joel’s “Shameless.”

By this point, Brooks was bona fide country sensation, and the rest of the ‘90s was spent consolidating his position with hit singles and strong albums. The anthemic “We Shall Be Free” propelled The Chase in 1992, while “Standing Outside the Fire” and “The Red Strokes did the same for 1993’s In Pieces. He followed that with Fresh Horses (containing “The Beaches of Cheyenne”) in 1995 and his seventh album, Sevens, in 1997.

In 1999, Brooks, who despite being firmly rooted in country music was influenced in his youth by a number of rock acts, attempted an ill-fated side trip into the mainstream pop world. For a movie project in which he would play a rock star, he released the album In the Life of Chris Gaines (unavailable). Because it came out before the movie, there was some confusion as to exactly what Brooks was doing; although the album went multiplatinum and placed a single (“Lost in You”) at #5 on the pop charts, it was deemed a failure, and the project was shelved, with the movie never being filmed.

Following this “fiasco,” Brooks announced his retirement from recording and touring in 2000. One final album, Scarecrow, was released in 2001. And that has been it…until now. With the news that Garth is getting back in the saddle, though, his music is sure to be in demand. Be sure you have all these classic albums on your shelves, and rest assured that we’ll bring you the information on his forthcoming release as soon as it becomes available.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Hot This Week: July 14

The action is heating up along with the weather, as the top four flicks on this week's movie list all belong to the action genre, including two newcomers. Trey Songz nudges Ed Sheeran from music's top spot in a week that sees five debuts. It was a rare static week for fiction, with the latest from Dean Koontz the only new title making it. It's a similar story in non-fiction, which sees a number of great titles reappear from past week, but no first-time appearances.

  1. Lone Survivor
  2. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
  3. Robocop
  4. 3 Days to Kill
  5. Ride Along
  6. The Monuments Men
  7. Joe
  8. Endless Love
  9. Non-Stop
  10. Her
  1. Trey Songz, Trigga
  2. Ed Sheeran, X
  3. Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour
  4. Seether, Isolate and Medicate
  5. Frozen Soundtrack
  6. Magic!, Don't Kill the Magic
  7. Miranda Lambert, Platinum
  8. Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence
  9. Robin Thicke, Paula
  10. Colt Ford, Thanks for Listening
  1. Invisible, James Patterson and David Ellis
  2. The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith
  3. Top Secret Twenty-One, Janet Evanovich
  4. Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King
  5. The City, Dean Koontz
  6. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
  7. Written in My Own Heart's Blood, Diana Gabaldon
  8. All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner
  9. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
  10. The Vacationers, Emma Straub 
  1. Blood Feud, Edward Klein
  2. Hard Choices, Hillary Rodham Clinton
  3. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
  4. One Nation, Ben and Candy Carson
  5. Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty
  6. Think Like a Freak, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  7. I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
  8. Flash Boys, Michael Lewis
  9. David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell
  10. Lean In, Shery Sandberg and Nell Scovell