You are not alone. Libraries are a resource, and it is in our mission to help. In fact, the American Library Association’s Division for Teens, YALSA, includes in its mission statement that our primary goal should be “alleviating the challenges teens face, and (in) putting all teens ‒ especially those with the greatest needs ‒ on the path to successful and fulfilling lives.”
To that end, we have a list of resources for the LBGTQIA community. With what the Washington Post calls ”the deadliest mass shooting on American soil” happening on June 12th at an LGBTQIA nightclub in Orlando, FL, this community is especially in need right now. As a Teen Vogue tweet pointed out “Pulse is an LGBTQ nightclub, and this terror attack took place during Pride Month.”
We can’t do everything, but we can point you in the right direction. Also, we can provide accurate information. When someone searches the Kansas City Public Library’s Explora for Middle and High School Students database with the search term “LGBT,” limiting only for items published since 2014, 4,439 articles come up, including 81 videos. These have all been vetted which means that they aren’t just what somebody (anybody) decided to throw up online. Experts trust them.
So, your business is your business. If you want to share your struggles, we will listen. We will help, even if that only means connecting you with someone who can. However, if you want to keep your challenges private, you can do that, too. Please, do so safely. Use the resources that we have included here.
The Haters by Jesse Andrews
publication date: 2016
This book, written by the author of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, followed bandmates Wes, Corey, and Ash as they drove around the eastern US begging anyone to let them play.
Wes, a circumspect young man; Corey, Wes’s wildcard best friend; and Ash, their lonely and enigmatic bankroller, were not prepared – emotionally or musically – to drive, live, and play as a group. But they decided to ditch their parents and attempt a tour together.
Much of the depiction of these teens’ ill-fated tour was hilarious. The author permeated every scene and character description with humor. This is how Wes, a bassist, described how he felt when someone requested a bass solo:
As for me, I hate soloing. It just never feels like something the bass is designed to do. Basically every bass solo that I have ever taken is the soundtrack to an overweight cartoon bear putting on women’s clothing and then trying to dance.
And here’s a description of another teenager attempting to hit on Ash, the guitarist:
“Ash. My goodness gracious. That’s quite a name.”
“No. It’s dumb. It’s just less dumb than ‘Ashley.’” [she said.]
“Ash, it honors me to share with you this humble chair,” he said, giving off the vibe of a forty-year-old man who has been divorced at least three times.
In fact, the writing was so whimsical and funny that it was hard to take seriously at times, even when the situation called for it. Therefore, the plot was not very compelling and it seemed like the main purpose of the book was to be amusing. The story could have been engaging because weighty themes and stories were in the book: things like lousy parents and excessive drinking. But the stakes just never seemed that high because the tone was usually light-hearted.
Additionally, the book was very “music-y.” There were entire passages where the characters were describing musicians or genres, usually jokingly. For example:
Bon Iver: Way too emotionally high stakes for casual listening in the sense that it makes every single part of your life feel like the part of a TV show where you are in a hospital saying goodbye for the very last time
If music isn’t your thing or you don’t like the exclusionary nature of the jokes, you will probably be annoyed by large swathes of the book.
That said, this book was generally hilarious. Andrews’s stylized writing was sharp and witty. I laughed a lot, even if the book felt a bit hollow after reading.
4/6: worth reading
Hundreds of visitors daily are making their way to the fifth floor of the Central Library to view a rare and valuable copy of Shakespeare's First Folio on display in the Missouri Valley Room.
Scholar Eric Rasmussen set the stage for the special, 23-day exhibit on Tuesday, June 7.
In an event marking the exhibit's opening a day earlier, the University of Nevada at Reno professor gave a delightful presentation that included a brief history of the First Folio and some of his personal experiences in working closely with more than 200 surviving copies of the 393-year-old book. As someone who has taken on the task of meticulously cataloging each copy, there is no one more qualified to speak about the Folio's impact.
He began by talking his audience through a range of subjects, speaking a bit about the print shop in which the First Folio likely was produced and describing the uniqueness of the text in the Folios as compared with earlier publications of his plays in smaller, quarto format. More notably, Rasmussen pointed out the differences among individual Folios. Each one contained 36 plays at the time that it was sold, but the evidence of what happened to the book from that point on is what makes the individual copies so special.
On the pages of many of these priceless books—alongside Shakespeare's words—are doodles made by children, the scribbles of mathematics, and even the paw prints of cats. Numerous Folios have signs of heavy use, with annotations jotted in the margins of every page. There are food stains on some and marks on others that call special attention to certain plays.
Given these details, it is hard not to be struck by the history that each book holds. From the moment each copy left the print shop, it began its own journey through the world, collecting evidence of owners and the others who interacted with it—people who evidently read Shakespeare in much the same way as we do today. In the marks and stains, we see what their favorite plays were, how they read them, and how they interpreted them. The texts, themselves, are incredibly important, and the First Folio has been essential to the preservation of Shakespeare's works. But these little bits of personality contribute to the book's value, providing an invaluable glance at society over time.
Rasmussen's choice to highlight these aspects of the First Folio lends emphasis to the book's importance and to how fortunate we are to have one in Kansas City. The Folio currently housed at the Library is one of 235 known to remain in existence, but it is as unique as you and I. You will not find, in any other copy, the same cover bound to the pages or the same notes on the pages of Hamlet. Each has its own story.
The First Folio remains on display at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St., until June 28. More information on Rasmussen and his work with Shakespeare, check out his book The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folios.
By Rebecca Adams, Library intern
Have you ever testified to a restless night by saying, "I have not slept one wink?" Or claimed, "All’s well that ends well?"
When is the last time you found yourself befuddled and commented, "It’s all Greek to me?" Do certain tasks leave you believing they will take "forever and a day?"
These phrases and many others in our common vernacular are credited to William Shakespeare and would arguably be lost to our phraseology if not for the First Folio, the first printed collection of his plays. A rare copy is on display at the Library through June 28.
A sampling of other phrases credited to Shakespeare, all preserved within the Folio:
- "In a pickle." From The Tempest.
- "Be-all and the end-all." From Macbeth
- "A dish fit for the gods." From Julius Caesar
- "Break the ice." From The Taming of the Shrew
- "For goodness sake." From Henry VIII.
- "My mind’s eye." From Hamlet.
- "With bated breath." From The Merchant of Venice.
- "The laughing stock." From The Merry Wives of Windsor
The First Folio contains 36 plays written by Shakespeare. Half of them, including The Tempest, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, The Taming of the Shrew, and Henry VIII, had not been previously published. So without the Folio, many expressions coined by Shakespeare would arguably be lost and our language would lack numerous popular and pithy phrases.
Prior to the printing of the Folio in 1623, the acting company in which Shakespeare was a shareholder withheld the printing rights of numerous plays, hoping to prevent competing theater companies from producing them and stealing patrons. Seven years after he died, with a number of his plays having fallen out of theatrical circulation, fellow actors John Heminge and Henry Condell set out to catalog his works.
Without that, mixed martial arts champion Ronda Rousey would not have had the words to reflect upon the first loss of her professional career in January. After months out of the public spotlight, she posted a quote from A Twelfth Night on her Instagram.
Beyoncé, in her performance at the Billboard Music Awards show in 2011, also looked to Shakespeare for inspiration. Drawing from As You Like It, she introduced her song "Run the World," an anthem of female empowerment, with the line, "I am women, I must speak."
Supermodel Cindy Crawford received a birthday wish via Twitter from Piers Morgan, British journalist and television personality, that might lack poetic charm if not for Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. The opening line of the February tweet quotes from the play—and adorns many birthday cards today.
And so, may all of us—including Beyoncé—salute Heminge, Condell and of course the Bard the next time we "play fast and lose," lament "too much of a good thing," or "kill with kindness." We owe it to Shakespeare (and those respective phrases to King John, As You Like It, and The Taming of the Shrew).
We owe it to the First Folio.
By Danica Otten, Library intern
This is, of course, for people who "get" it. Since the gap between when he wrote the plays and now is over four-hundered years, it makes sense that there are going to be some differences. No one in Shakespeare's time had ever seen a motor vehicle, a cell phone, or Takis. They didn't bat an eye at the idea of Juliet's betrothal and marriage, even though she would be like an eighth grader today. They all "follow'd" his train of thought. We would buy him a vowel.
Luckily, somebody recognized how cinematic Shakespeare's stories are. There are several life-or-death situations, literally. The Kansas City Public Library carries eight of these books that Richard
Appignane has made. These cartoons make Shakespeare's characters accessible to people who aren't geeking out over "All Things Shakespeare." You don't have to be Bard-crazy to want to read these.
The books in the Manga Shakespeare series by Richard Appignane create an illustrated storytelling landscape. Even without seeing a play on stage, readers can use visual cues in these cartoonized books to understand them. Just like it can be easier to comprehend writing in a foreign language if there are pictures, the same goes for tricky Shakespearan language, which is definitely different from what we use in modern conversations.
So, order one of these books today! You won't regret it, forsooth.
People build collections of items every day. Some become absorbed and go to great lengths to acquire a particular object. In the early twentieth century, Henry Clay Folger is one of those collectors who had a love for all things Shakespeare.
Andrea Mays in The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio examines Folger and his mania. William Shakespeare celebrated today for his plays and poetry throughout the world, died in relative obscurity in 1616. While his plays had been performed on the London stage, some had never been published.
Several years after Shakespeare's death, two friends, John Heminges and Henry Condell decided to publish a complete set of his plays. They wanted to remember their friend and fellow actor and to keep his words alive. Shakespeare following the custom of his day would not and could not publish his work. No original copies of his plays exist. No one is sure how or what sources Heminges and Condell used to compile what became the First Folio with thirty-six plays published in one volume. Some of the plays had never appeared in print. 750 copies of the Fist Folio were published in 1623 with the first recorded sales in December of that year. With the publication of the First Folio, Shakespeare's reputation as a playwright began and has only intensified in the centuries since.
Henry Folger became an executive with Standard Oil. He also had a lifelong interest in Shakespeare which he shared with his wife Emily, even keeping a copy of his plays with him to read as he had time. One day, he went into an auction house and bought a copy of the inferior Fourth Folio of Shakespeare's plays. His obsession had begun.
Folger continued to build his business career and began to collect rare books. He also purchased his initial First Folio one with many flaws. Over the centuries, many copies of Shakespeare's First Folio have disappeared and others have missing pages. Folger then began the quest to buy other copies of the First Folio for his own enjoyment and to fill some inner need. He also bought other items related to Shakespeare storing everything in warehouses throughout New York City never in his own home.
Sometimes Folger encountered controversy when buying a First Folio. He would go the extra mile to secure a particular copy even if he was told it could not be purchased. English critics complained that wealthy American collectors were taking away the English cultural heritage. One copy of the First Folio that Folger pursued slipped through his fingers when the Bodleian Library at Oxford University managed to re-acquire the copy that had sold years before. The English press helped to outbid Folger for that copy—something he never forgot or forgave. In all, Folger collected eighty-two copies of the First Folio.
Towards the end of his life, Folger decided what to do with his vast collection. He decided to build a library for scholars to have access to the material. After looking at several sites, he selected land in Washington, D.C. on Capitol Hill near the Library of Congress. After buying up the property, he oversaw the design of the building. While the outside of the library has a marble facade in keeping with other Washington structure, areas inside transport the visitor to Elizabethan England. Folger died before construction finished, but his widow carried on his plans. The Folger Shakespeare Library opened in 1932 honoring the man who persisted in mania for Shakespeare and still serves scholars today. The 82 copies of the First Folio remain safe within the library walls and it is unlikely that so many copies will ever be collected together again. With the recent discovery of an unknown First Folio in Scotland, I imagine Folger would like to try to add it to his collection as one can never have too many copies of the First Folio.
To see all of the books, audiobooks, DVDs, and e-resources that the library has for teens about time travel click here
There was the vampire craze post Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. On its heels, came the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Its popularity gave rise to dystopian proliferation. Then, people revisited more realistic and slice-of-life books, thanks in no small part to The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
So, now what? The next big thing hasn’t really shown itself to us just yet. There are some ideas, though. Lisa Parkin, a blogger and YA book enthusiast wrote “5 Exciting YA Book Trends to Look for in 2016.” The first one that she sited is time-travel. I don’t know if she’s right, but it seems worth a try.
If you could visit any other time, when would you choose and why? If you would go to the past, would you just observe or try to change history? If you are undecided or want to see how someone else interprets a time shift, enjoy one or more of our books. You don’t need a portal for your imagination to shift the space-time continuum.
Front Lines by Michael Grant
publication date: 2016
In this alternate history, Michael Grant asked: how different would World War II have been if women were allowed, and even drafted, on the front lines? The answer, at least according to Grant, was not very different at all.
Front Lines followed Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman as they joined the fight against the Axis powers in 1943. Grant crafted these three characters to show the different experiences those serving in the armed forces would have encountered.
Rio was a young woman from an idyllic small town in California who signed up in response to the death of her sister. She underwent basic training and was sent to the front lines because of her proficiency in shooting.
Frangie was a young black woman from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who joined the Army because of her family’s dire poverty. After a segregated basic training, she became a medic and soon discovered that even injured people might refuse her help because of her color.
The third main character was Rainy, a Jewish woman from New York City, who used her smarts to move up the ranks in Army Intelligence. She wanted to take down any Nazis she could.
The book accompanied these three young women as they fought with their parents to sign up, fought with their commanders and peers to be respected as women and soldiers, and fought with the enemy. Grant focused his plot on one epic and historically-accurate battle in Tunisia.
Grant obviously spent a lot of time researching this book, from how young people spoke in the 1940s to how to load a bazooka. Grant’s research led to thoroughly detailed and compelling passages about war and the Army.
Beyond Grant’s obvious research, the tone of the book wasn’t necessarily consistent. Sometimes his language was affected and melodramatic (he twice used “literally” in a sentence, as in “Rio literally twirls in the front door”). However, he often crafted bleak and effective passages about the realities of war. For example, this inner monologue of a soldier who just saw someone die:
What else should I tell them? The way his last breath made a sound like a straw at the bottom of a milk shake? The way he emptied his bowels so that he stank? The slickness of his blood? The way it looked like chocolate syrup in the dark?
Grant used this concept to present a nuanced and complete picture of war for those who fight it, even if the book was a bit uneven.
5/6: seek this book out
This is an edited version of a story by Library writer and editor Steve Wieberg that appeared in The Kansas City Star.
Kansas City is all too familiar with "the plague"—the preponderance of murders of black men and boys by other black men and boys—that Jill Leovy details in her book Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America.
The pace of homicides in the city thus far in 2016 is running slightly ahead of the rate a year ago, when Kansas City's final count spiked to a seven-year high of 110. In nearly two-thirds of those cases, last year's and this year's, the victims were male and black, police records show. More than 60% of the suspects identified and tied to homicides in that time have been black males.
And yet, black males make up just 13% of the city's overall population.
"It's sort of what we find around the country," says Leovy, a longtime reporter and editor for The Los Angeles Times. "You're part of the fabric of this problem."
Ghettoside presents Los Angeles as a microcosm, portraying the personal suffering and societal cost of a numbing roll of black-on-black murders in the city's South Central neighborhoods. The problem is compounded by the multitude of homicides that go unsolved—Leovy and a Times colleague calculated a staggering average of more than 40 per square mile between the late 1980s and early 2000s—suggesting to prospective killers and the wider community that blacks are expendable.
Leovy makes it very personal, weaving in the back stories of both victims and their families and the cops called in to investigate. And she offers an antidote to the scourge: careful, conscientious investigative work by police, embodied by a veteran Los Angeles homicide detective named John Skaggs.
A tall, blond surfer type, the son of a Long Beach homicide detective and nephew of an L.A. Police Department deputy chief, Skaggs isn't necessarily smarter than everybody else. He simply works very, very hard, knocking on doors, returning time and again to reluctant witnesses, intent on tying up every conceivable loose end. Lost lives matters to him.
He is handed the case at the center of Ghettoside, the fatal shooting in May 2007 of 18-year-old Bryant Tennelle. Tennelle was by all accounts a sweet kid with a promising future, the son of a respected LAPD detective who had refused to move his family from troubled South Los Angeles because he felt people deserved cops committed to living there. The motive for the murder is uncertain to this day.
Skaggs leads a no-stone-unturned investigation that results in the arrest of two young men, ages 25 and 16 and both black. Both eventually were convicted of first-degree murder and now are serving sentences of life in prison without parole.
The case is instructive, or should be, Leovy says. It's "impossible to imagine that the thousands of young men who died … during Skaggs' career would have done so had their killers anticipated a ‘John Skaggs Special' in every case," she writes.
By 2010, when Bryant Tennelle's killers went to trial, the homicide rate for black males age 20-24 had fallen dramatically in Los Angeles County, though it still was 20-30 times the national rate and blacks still were disproportionately victimized. Now, Leovy says, they're rising again—not just in L.A. but also in a number of other cities across the nation.
Among them is Kansas City. Its overall homicide count declined to a more than four-decade low in 2014, when the total was 81, and turned back upward in 2015. Black males bore the brunt of the increase, accounting for 70 of last year's 110 victims. Their murder rate—111 per 100,000 people, using the latest U.S. census estimates—was a daunting 11 times higher than the rate for everybody else in the city (just under 10 per 100,000).
As of the first week of April, 15 of the city's 23 homicide victims in 2016 were black males.
Kansas City police haven't broken down the number of such cases in which suspects also have been identified as male and black. But the department's chief spokesman, Capt. Tye Grant, says, "It's safe to say most of them fall into that category. A high percentage of them."
In Ghettoside—its title drawn from a gang member's nickname for his neighborhood in Watts—those kinds of statistics are telling but secondary. There is a very human toll that Leovy chronicles from accompanying police to crime scenes, talking to people on the street, and sitting in on court proceedings. She interviewed anguished family members. She attended funerals. For awhile, she attempted to cover every murder in Los Angeles County in a Times blog, The Homicide Report. She wanted to communicate the horror, she says.
"I'm very, very sad about certain things that I saw," Leovy says. "There are a lot of things that aren't in Ghettoside that are so much worse than what I put in and remain in my mind. I had a father tell me that it was his fault his son had died because he a poor man. He was down low or something, is how he put it, and hadn't been able to move out of the neighborhood. If he been more of a man, he told me, a better man, he thought maybe his son wouldn't have been shot. Stuff like that.
"It can be very depressing."
Kaite Mediatore Stover, the Library's director of reader's services, will lead a discussion of Ghettoside by Jill Leovy at 6:30 p.m. on May 5 at the Kansas City Police Department's East Patrol Division Station, 2640 Prospect. If you would like to attend, email Stover at email@example.com.
Reading Shakespeare can be difficult for people who have little background in reading early modern English verse. So it pays to turn to authorities. When I'm looking at authorities to help me through something difficult, I'm looking for two things:
- the authority truly is an authority;
- the authority is capable of producing a compelling and readable presentation for the general reader.
Mark van Doren's Shakespeare, a collection of short essays on Shakespeare's plays and his poetry first published in 1939, meets both criteria.
Van Doren was a professor of English at Columbia University in New York from 1920-1959, a recognized scholar in the field of Shakespeare and other English poets, and a published poet of some reputation himself. He was a much beloved teacher and was able to make his subject clear even to large audiences of students and non-students. It could be said of van Doren what Chaucer says of the young clerk, one of his Canterbury pilgrims: "gladly would he learn, and gladly teach."
The book is a collection of short essays on Shakespeare's poetry (a discussion of "The Rape of Lucrece," "Venus and Adonis," and the sonnets makes up the first chapter), and on the plays attributed to Shakespeare in van Doren's day, such as Edward III and The Two Noble Kinsmen are not addressed.
For any who might read this volume expecting nothing but gushing praise for the "Bard," let me make it clear that van Doren's praise, though high — this is Shakespeare we're talking about, after all — is not fawning. Van Doren was a poet himself and he trains his poetic eye on Shakespeare, noting flaws in the poems—he describes "Sonnet 71" as flawless, but admits that Shakespeare's verse is, at times, uneven, and that the form sometimes gets in the way of the message. The couplets of Venus are singled out for klutziness, but even in some sonnets, the closing couplet seems clumsy to van Doren. As he puts it, "The poems of Shakespeare are seldom perfect. The songs that shoot like stars across his plays are brightest at the beginning, and often burn out before the end."
The two long narrative poems ("The Rape of Lucrece" and "Venus and Adonis"), he notes, have Shakespeare trying, but not always succeeding, in copying Ovid's fluid grace, or in van Doren's words: "To say, justly enough, that Shakespeare's narrative poems are Ovidian exercises is to say that at their worst they are coldly clever." And he faults the slavish adherence to the rhyme scheme Shakespeare uses in those poems. For my part, I found "Lucrece" a better poem than "Venus," but that may be because the subject matter of "Lucrece" is more serious and because I found Venus a trifle too precious with an overly eager love goddess and her unmoved swain.
Like any reader of Shakespeare, van Doren has his favorite plays—he is especially fond of the Henriad (the tetralogy consisting of Richard II, Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V), saying of Henry IV: "No play of Shakespeare's is better than "Henry IV." Certain subsequent ones may show him more settled in the maturity which he here attains almost at a single bound, but nothing he wrote is more crowded with life or happier in its imitation of human talk." He gives the great plays their due, but finds something worthwhile even in those plays which only the most committed Shakespearean ever tackles—e.g. King John and the three Henry VI plays among the histories, and Timon of Athens among the tragedies. Though admitting the faults in such plays, he takes pains to note elements where the poet soars. He notes of King John: "once more Shakespeare is greatly interested in the language he uses, and uses this time to the limit."
Van Doren's Shakespeare is not a scholarly tome on the Bard of Avon, though van Doren was a scholar. If you want great scholarship discussing the use of color in MacBeth or Freudian overtones in Hamlet, there are places where you can find such discussions (the best place to find scholarly or esoteric discussions of Shakespeare would be databases of scholarly journals, like Academic Search Elite that you can find on the KC Public Library site). But if you want to get something closer to detailed and loving reviews by a sensitive, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable reader of the poetry and plays of Shakespeare, take an hour or two, sit yourself down, and pick up kindly old Uncle Mark van Doren's Shakespeare.
We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
publication date: 2016
If you were given the chance to either destroy the world, or to save it, what would you do? For some of us, there might be an effortless answer to that question. In We Are the Ants, that wasn’t the case for unhappy high school student Henry Denton. For him, the world was full of bullies and miserable people. So, when he was offered the chance to press the button that stopped the end of the world, he needed to think about it. In his words (and the first words of the book): Life is bullshit.
The quirk in the book, and what made it different from other books about a teen with an angsty life was that, for Henry, the end of the world wasn’t just some hypothetical event. Instead, as we discover very early on in the book, Henry was literally given the choice to save the world by the aliens who had been periodically abducting him:
I was thirteen the first time the sluggers abducted me. My older brother, Charlie, was snoring his face off in the next room while I lay in bed, translating my parents’ fight. You might believe all doors sound the same when slammed, but you’d be wrong. . . .
The sluggers abducted me before I learned what my parents were arguing about. Police found me two days later, wandering around the dirt roads west of Calypso, wearing a grocery bag for underwear and covered in hickies I couldn’t explain. My father left three weeks after that, slamming the door behind him one final time. No translation necessary.
Hutchinson used this plot to explore what it’s like to be sad and different in a world that doesn’t really like either. For Henry:
High school is like those fishing trips with my dad: I want to be there, I want to enjoy myself like everyone else, but I always end up huddled on the floor, praying for the end.
Although the book was a little melodramatic, it did a great job of presenting multifaceted characters who were made up of a little bit of good, a little bit of bad, and a lot of selfishness. Each character, in their own way, showcased the true answer to the question about saving the world. Sometimes, all you want to do is make everything go away, no matter the cost and, other times, you can’t imagine not living, not pushing forward.
Although We Are the Ants was generally good, it did have some flaws. The most noticeable was the inconsistencies sprinkled throughout. Here is a small example, when Henry first kissed a character whose name I’m going to change so I don’t spoil anything:
The first time I’d kissed [Matthew] was the first time I’d kissed anyone, and it had felt like remembering the name of a song I’d forgotten but had been humming for days. [Mark] was the second boy I kissed, and it was best described as frustrated mouth wrestling. When [Luke] kissed me, I forgot about every kiss that came before.
So Henry’s first thoughts when he kissed Luke were to think about other boys’ kisses and then to remember that he forgot about other boys’ kisses when he kissed Luke? What? And the whole book was peppered with these weird inconsistencies. Overall, though, the book was compelling.
We Are the Ants was kind of like Ender’s Game, if Ender’s Game was set in modern high school America and if Ender never wanted to save the world in the first place.
4/6: worth reading
Portions of this blog post originally appeared in an article for Booklist
by Kansas City Public Library staff member Kaite Stover.
Podcast fans talk about their favorite radio shows with the same enthusiasm readers talk about their favorite books. The Kansas City Public Library and KCUR 89.3 FM recently smashed the two formats together into one event, reBOUND, an annual book exchange and podcast party hosted by the Young Friends of the Kansas City Public Library and KCUR Generation Listen KC.
This second edition of reBOUND, held at The Buffalo Room at Westport Flea Market on February 24 in the aftermath of Valentine’s Day, was a celebration of literary love. Attendees brought copies of their crushworthy books (or books they were ready to break up with) to swap with other guests. Many people attached notes about why their book was loved or unloved, and new reads were chosen from the communal pile of books attendees brought.
This year’s event also had an additional focus on podcasts. During the book exchange guests were invited to write down what programs they were currently listening to and comment on why they enjoyed them, then posted their notes on a shared board so others could see. Check out the recommendations submitted by guests over at kcur.org.
After mingling and chatting up books and podcasts, the group gathered ’round the sound machine for KCUR’s latest Podcast Party to listen to an episode of Mortified, a show that features adults sharing their most embarrassing childhood artifacts (journals, letters, poems, lyrics, plays, home movies, art) in order to reveal stories about their lives.
The final portion of the evening was a live stage program version of Mortified in which local presenters shared stories about childhood crushes, unrequited love, and romantic rejection by reading excerpts from their diaries and journals. Selected audio from the presentation is available here.
The Library’s party favor was a list of books that pair well with some of the best and most popular podcasts of 2015. Check it out below and catch a new read and a new listen at the same time.
8 Great Books to Pair with Your Favorite Podcasts
Looking for books that are similar to your listening tastes? The Kansas City Public Library has put together a list of reads for all you radiophiles and podcast lovers.
An essay collection of pithy pronouncements and healthy skepticism on world culture including, but not limited to, Candy, Charlie Chan, Cholesterol, Self-Help Quizzes, and sexy pieces of military hardware (not in that order). For fans of Studio 360.
In the style of an auction catalog, readers are witnesses to the blooming, and eventual desiccation, of the relationship of Lenore and Harold. For fans of Mortified.
The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone
Media is big. Media is dark. It’s hard to find a place to park. Which is why we’re lucky to have Brooke Gladstone explain it all for us. Even luckier to get these explanations in graphic novel format. For fans of On the Media.
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
If you’re new to the snarky little podcast, then let this snarky little book introduce you properly. Things are creepy, quirky, and darkly humorous in this sleepy desert town where the residents of Night Vale are unfazed by women without faces, the PTA, and shape-shifting teenagers. For fans of the eponymous podcast.
Food, cooking, and tastes evolve as the author demonstrates with journeys to Vietnam, Canada, India, and Los Angeles. You might rethink your diet after reading. Or just order a cheeseburger. For fans of Gastropod.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
A debut collection of essays that are funny, smart, thought-provoking, witty, and the perfect hybrid of awkward and cool. For fans of Another Round.
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann
Who killed William Desmond Taylor, the popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association? Was it one of three ruthlessly ambitious and beautiful actresses? A demanding stage mother? A devoted valet? A gang of two-bit thugs? Did we forget to tell you this is a true story? For fans of You Must Remember This.
News broke Friday that author Harper Lee had died peacefully in her sleep at age 89. The author of To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the greats of American literature.
Nelle Harper Lee was born April 28, 1926, in the small town of Monroeville, Alabama. The youngest of four children, she was intensely private and had few words for interviewers when asked about her upbringing, though she was lifelong friends with her neighbor and fellow author Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany's, In Cold Blood). Lee studied at the University of Alabama and moved to New York City in 1949 to work as an airline reservation clerk.
She wrote in her spare time, and secured a literary agent in 1956. Her initial manuscript for what would become To Kill a Mockingbird found its way in 1957 to the J. B. Lippincott Company publishing house, where editor Tay Hohoff spent 2½ years working with Lee to develop the final novel.
Published July 11, 1960, under the name Harper Lee—dropping the Nelle to avoid people mistaking her name for Nellie—To Kill a Mockingbird drew critical acclaim and immediate success.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of To Kill a Mockingbird. From a commercial standpoint, it has remained a best-seller since its initial publication and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 1962. From a cultural standpoint, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961 and is regarded as a modern classic. It is a tale of morality and racial inequality that is still relevant today and taught in schools across the country.
After the success of Mockingbird, Lee continued to follow her own path in life. She assisted Capote in his research for In Cold Blood in the 1960s, but spent much of her time pursing her passion for reading. Reluctant to give personal interviews, Lee became an enigmatic and elusive figure of American literature.
Her decision in subsequent decades to publish no further novels helped to bolster To Kill a Mockingbird’s reputation, but also left Lee’s legacy open to the occasional salacious rumor. Was she solely responsible for Mockingbird or was the novel—as some conspiracy theorists claimed—written secretly by Capote? Lee handled these stories stoically, with her trademark self-deprecation. She continued to avoid the limelight, spending most of her time living in Monroeville with her sister Alice and only rarely appearing or speaking publicly, such as when she accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
Her last few years were marked by lawsuits over her copyright to Mockingbird and merchandising of the novel and by the surprising release of a second novel, Go Set a Watchman, in 2015. Like many aspects of her life, this release inspired many stories in the media. Had Lee (who suffered a stroke in 2007) really approved its release? Was Watchman truly intended to be a separate novel or was it only an inferior early draft of Mockingbird? While many conflicting accounts were reported, it was ultimately left up to readers to decide the nature of Go Set a Watchman.
The greatest way to honor the memory of Harper Lee is to read and understand her work.
As dramatic pieces, the works of Shakespeare are best experienced in live performance. There is nothing wrong with reading Shakespeare — and it does make for great reading; do yourself a favor and read it aloud — but the experience of reading Shakespeare alone pales against seeing a well-done performance with an audience. So, be sure to catch the Heart of America Shakespeare production this summer in Southmoreland Park. But, as we don't live in an area where there's always a Shakespeare play in production, we are fortunate in that there are good films of Shakespeare plays.
Given the length of space I have here, I will limit my comments to some film versions of Hamlet. Though Hamlet is not my favorite Shakespeare play—that honor would go to Henry IV, Part 1—it is the play I have seen the most. I have seen every film version I've been able to get a hold of, and I never miss a chance to see a production of this play—I fondly recall a stage production at Union Station about a year ago with Jake Walker as the melancholy Dane, and have most recently seen a simulcast production from London, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. Keep an eye out for that Cumberbatch production, as simulcast productions are sometimes later released on DVD or streaming.
Directed by Laurence Olivier, with Olivier (Hamlet), Basil Sydney (Claudius), Eileen Herlie (Gertrude), Felix Aylmer (Polonius), Jean Simmons (Ophelia)—music by William Walton
This was a major production, directed by and starring one of the leading Shakespearean actors of his day, Laurence Olivier. It won an Academy Award for Best Picture, the only time Shakespeare has been accorded that honor. The sets are stark, and the black and white cinematography by Desmond Dickinson is impressive. The music by Sir William Walton, one of the great 20th c. English composers, adds a lot to the film.
Olivier's Hamlet is best when he moves—when he chases the ghost of his father to speak with it, and in the duel scene at the play's end. Olivier did his own stunts. Felix Aylmer plays a rather dithering Polonius, and he is very endearing. This production is somewhat stagey in its delivery of lines, but all speak their lines "trippingly on the tongue."
Directed by John Gielgud, with John Gielgud (Hamlet), Andrew Cruickshank (Claudius), Marian Spencer (Gertrude), Baliol Holloway (Polonius), Celia Johnson (Ophelia)
If Olivier was one of the greatest of Shakespearean actors of his generation, surely Gielgud was as good. His 1948 stage production was famous, and someone managed to get the cast together to do a studio recording. The sound, at times, is a bit uneven, but on the upside, you have Gielgud emoting as Hamlet—makes me swoon just thinking about it. The others in the principal roles are also outstanding. This is only available in audio, but well worth it. You can find the audio on hoopla digital, and check it out using your library card.
Directed by Franz Peter Wirth, with Maximilian Schell (Hamlet)
Actually, this production of Hamlet is terrible. It was so terrible, that the producers of Mystery Science Theater 3000 decided to do a send-up of it in their 10th season. If you want to see how bad a production of Hamlet can be, check this out, but do yourself a favor—get the Mystery Science Theater version. This production was done in German, then dubbed into English, using the actual Shakespearean lines, but read with a German accent (Schell renders his own lines).
Paul Verhoeven (best known for directing Das Boot and most reviled for directing Showgirls) is one of the gravediggers. Best line in this rendition is Mike Nelson's comment following "To be or not to be," which he characterizes as the verbal equivalent of DUM, DUM, DUM, DAHH! from Beethoven's 5th. This can also be seen in its entirety on YouTube.
Directed by Grigori Kozintsev, with Innokenty Smoktunovsky (Hamlet)—music by Dmitri Shostakovich, text by Boris Pasternak.
There is a problem with watching Shakespeare in languages other than English. It is Shakespeare's command of the English language that makes his plays worth seeing, reading, or hearing, and that is lost in translation. Pasternak's translation is excellent, but unless you know Russian, you won't know that. Kozintsev, though, is a masterful director, and the black and white cinematography by Jonas Gritsius is wonderfully bleak. Best of all, the score is by Dmitri Shostakovich, the greatest composer of the Soviet Union, and arguably, the greatest composer of the 20th century.
Directed by John Gielgud, with Richard Burton (Hamlet), Alfred Drake (Claudius), Eileen Herlie (Gertrude), Hume Cronyn (Polonius), Linda Marsh (Ophelia)
When Gielgud's production of Hamlet opened at the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre on Broadway, it was somewhat controversial—dubbed the "dress rehearsal Hamlet," the play was done with minimal set, with the actors dressed as they might dress themselves when the play was in rehearsal. The finished product, though, is quite polished, despite the rough set. This film is a filmed record of an actual stage performance (the audience applauds at the conclusion of each scene, and on Burton's first entrance). As such, it has certain limitations—some actors are not heard as clearly as others (Burton, though, is always loud and clear), and we get very few close-ups. Burton's rendering of the lines is a bit overpowering at times, something that would be less jarring seeing it done live. Hume Cronyn plays perhaps the craftiest Polonius on film—the old man as a career politician, rather than as the foolish windbag others portray. The ghost of Hamlet, Sr. is rendered as a reflection on the wall, with Gielgud doing the voice.
Directed by Rodney Bennett, with Derek Jacobi (Hamlet), Patrick Stewart (Claudius), Claire Bloom (Gertrude), Lalla Ward (Ophelia), Eric Porter (Polonius)
This is one of the BBC productions of all of Shakespeare. The scene between Hamlet and his mom in her chamber was quite shocking in its day. Not only is Jacobi one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of our day, but Patrick Stewart's cool, calm, and collected Claudius is very impressive. For some reason, Bennett put a curly wig on Stewart's head, which undercuts the actor's gravitas.
Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, with Mel Gibson (Hamlet), Alan Bates (Claudius), Glenn Close (Gertrude), Ian Holm (Polonius), Helena Bonham Carter (Ophelia)
When this production came out, people shook their heads—Gibson as Hamlet, are you kidding? But, it works. What Gibson brings to the role, especially in the final scene, is Hamlet's anger—in any production, Hamlet is angry, but Gibson's take on anger has the suggestion of an explosion about to happen. Bates is very impressive as a rather oily Claudius, and Ian Holm does a very good job of a crafty Polonius (in the Hume Cronyn mold). Helena Bonham Carter's Ophelia, especially once she has gone mad, is very impressive. The music for the film was by Ennio Morricone, one of the giants of movie music, best known for his scores of spaghetti westerns.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, with Branagh (Hamlet), Derek Jacobi (Claudius), Julie Christie (Gertrude), Richard Briers (Polonius), Kate Winslet (Ophelia)
Branagh's production of the play is known as the only cinematic realization of the entire play. This makes for a very long (4 hours) film, and a very uneven production. Jacobi is marvelous as Claudius, and Kate Winslet's Ophelia is outstanding as well. For the great actor he is, Branagh lets the stage actor in him get in the way, and his performance is a bit stagy for a film production. Jack Lemmon's appearance as Marcellus was sadly memorable as a very poor final performance by a great American actor. The score by Patrick Doyle is great, as are all of Doyle's efforts.
Directed by Michael Almereyda, with Ethan Hawke (Hamlet), Kyle MacLachlan (Claudius), Diane Venora (Gertrude), Bill Murray (Polonius), Julia Stiles (Ophelia)
Like Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet, this production of Hamlet is an update, set in late 20th c. New York, where something is rotten in the state of Denmark Corporation. This is the only production I know of where I get a real sense of Hamlet as a student—Hawke portrays the young Hamlet as a brooding film student. Julia Stiles' Ophelia is, unlike most productions, a girl, rather than a woman playing a girl. The choice of Bill Murray as Polonius is interesting - he plays him as part fool, part conniver, part snide observer of events. My favorite scene of this film is the "play within the play" scene, here presented as one of Hamlet's experimental films—I found this an exciting redo of a scene that is sometimes tough to take—for those who bemoan the loss of language in this segment, I would remind them that the language in the "play within a play" scene is pretty hackneyed and cliché.
Directed by Gregory Doran, with David Tennant (Hamlet), Patrick Stewart (Claudius), Penny Downie (Gertrude), Oliver Ford Davies (Polonius), Mariah Gale (Ophelia)
Another staged production shot for TV, this production is most memorable for Tennant's portrayal of the young Dane—Tennant really plays up the crazy side of Hamlet. Stewart's understated portrayal (even more controlled than his earlier portrayal from 1980) of Claudius captures the menace as well as it's been done.
I know this is a lot to digest; in brief, if you've never seen a film version of Hamlet, I'd recommend Olivier's treatment; if you've seen a few, I'd recommend the Soviet film version as a nice change of pace; if you'd like to see an interesting twist on the play, making it more of a visual than auditory experience, try the Almereyda.
Historians agree that jazz was born when African musical sensibilities met European instrumentation. For Western listeners, it offered familiar sounds voicing unfamiliar phrases. For African listeners, it gave them familiar rhythms and musical ideas echoing through strange sounds.
For anyone who cared to listen, jazz was a music that expanded perceptions and broadened minds. It was a music that blended different heritages into something new and vibrant.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor is the kind of novel you get when non-Western storytelling traditions and sensibilities use the quintessentially Western cultural tools and structures of Science Fiction. Like jazz, the experience is revelatory.
Set in a far future region of Africa, the novel follows the life of a young woman, Onyesonwu, a social outcast, a shape-shifter and sorcerer, as she seeks to fulfill her destiny to change the world. It offers a deeply believable environment of harsh natural conditions, entrenched social and gender inequality, and a mix of magic, superstitions, and cultural traditions which bring it all to vibrant life.
The story is as much a product of the mythology and fables of the Igbo people of Africa as it is a product of Science Fiction.
One of the things I worry about when I read stories that come from traditions that are foreign to me is that I'll miss too many of the references, that too much of the symbolism and significance will go right over my head. Either I'll glide over the surface of the tale with no awareness of its depths, or the story will be nonsensical and confusing to me.
Neither is the case with Who Fears Death. It's compellingly accessible, even as it surprises me with an unfamiliar mythos.
One of the great joys of reading stories that are profoundly informed by non-Western storytelling traditions is how the fundamental elements of plot pacing and character development are handled differently than what I'm used to. The pace proceeds according to a different sense of time, the characters speak and act according to a different set of dramatic requirements.
Normally, I would assess these things but I possess little familiarity with the standards and history of Igbo storytelling traditions. Therefore, I feel I lack the authority or expertise to evaluate this novel fairly on those counts.
What I can say is this: I found Who Fears Death a powerful experience.
It compelled me—when I wasn't reading it, I wanted to get back to it. I cared deeply about all of the characters. I treasured the time it gave me to immerse myself in the mythology and culture of this world.
I haven't yet fully come to terms with the ending and I don't know what I'm supposed to make of it. But I think that's the point—I like that it leaves me pondering, wrestling with its significance.
In all sorts of ways, big and little, Who Fears Death doesn't work quite the way I expect an Sci-Fi novel to work. But it works. According to its own rules, according the rhythms and drama of its own tradition—it's a powerful piece of storytelling.