Are you ready to S-P-E-L-L?

Spelling Bee season is ramping up, and this is your chance to be a part of it! Children in eighth grade and below may participate in the spelling bee if their school or homeschool group registered online. Click here to find out if your school is registered.

Last year’s Jackson County Spelling Bee gained international attention as fifth grader Sophia Hoffman and seventh grader Kush Sharma competed for four hours until officials ran out of words. The spellers reconvened two weeks later. After a total of 99 rounds, Kush became the 2014 Jackson County Spelling Bee winner.

This year, the bee is expanding! Now, students in registered schools and homeschool groups in Jackson or Clay County, MO, are also eligible to compete. The winner from the Jackson-Clay County Championship Spelling Bee will represent our area in May at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

Kansas City Public Library, Mid-Continent Public Library, The Local Investment Commission (LINC), and The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) proudly bring you this year’s Jackson-Clay County Spelling Bee.

If your school or homeschool group has not registered please encourage your teachers, principals, and leaders to enroll today! They can do so at Register your school before October 15th to secure the Early Bird enrollment fee.

Anna Francesca Garcia
2015 Jackson-Clay County Spelling Bee

I read an excerpt from Alan Light's The Holy or the Broken online recently and decided to pick up the book from the Library on impulse. Like most people of my generation who know it through Jeff Buckley, I love the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah."

And then it sat in my "To Read" pile for some weeks while I decided whether or not I really wanted to bother reading it. Honestly, how much is there to say about one song? How compelling can a whole book about it be?

As it turns out: Quite a lot, and very compelling.

The secret to this book is that it isn't just about a song. It's a meditation on pop culture over the past few decades. Because "Hallelujah" traced arguably the most unusual and unique path of any pop song during that period, it offers us a singular perspective through which to view recent history and the changes wrought in our culture.

Because the song has endured through so many changes and found its place in so many different circumstances for so many different reasons, it says a great deal about who we are and what's important to us.

Because it resonates with us in ways that are so unexpected, it serves as a very different sort of mirror onto ourselves.

This song is difficult, it refuses to yield easy or obvious answers about its meaning or intent. This song is endlessly layered and adaptable, but it's built on a core of stark simplicity. Exploring how this song has been used, by whom and for what, is fascinating.

I sometimes feel that modern culture does everything in its power to avoid confronting the mysterious, dangerous, complex and unknowable aspects of our existence. We value comfort and convenience too much to allow true mystery into our lives.

Ancient cultures, by contrast, had no choice but to confront such mystery head-on.

Existence is still mysterious, dangerous, complex, and unknowable, whether we're comfortable acknowledging that or not. By drawing on ancient tales from the Old Testament as his inspiration for "Hallelujah," Cohen threw open a window that shows us this unadulterated truth — he brought an ancient awareness of it into the modern era, and made it human and fragile, eternal and enduring.

That ancient awareness still speaks to us, still moves us, as powerfully as ever.

Alison Bechdel

Held annually in September, Banned Books Week allows libraries across the country to celebrate the freedom to read and discuss the books that have been subjected to bans or had their presence in schools, bookstores, and library collections challenged.

In Article III of the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights states that “Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.” It’s a directive we take seriously here at the Kansas City Public Library.

In 2014, Banned Books Week focuses on comic books and graphic novels. As a medium, comics have faced increased scrutiny due to their visuals and the erroneous assumption that they are only for kids.

This is nothing new. Fredric Wertham, in his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, asserted (through long-discredited research) that comics were encouraging juvenile delinquency and criminal behavior.

Join us as we wrap up
Banned Books Week with Celebrating the Freedom
to Read

Saturday, Sept. 27, 4pm
at the Plaza Branch

Special guests include the Collins family, who recently drew international attention to their efforts to keep a Little Free Library in their Leawood, Kansas, front yard.

This led to Senate hearings and the institution of a self-regulatory “Comics Code” to avoid government regulation. The Code wasn’t fully abandoned by publishers until 2011.

Challenges to comics continue to this day. Jeff Smith’s award-winning series Bone was the 10th-most challenged title, according to the American Library Association in 2013. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis has also faced recent bans. Last year, Chicago Public School administrators ordered that copies of the book be removed from some school libraries and classrooms, though officials quickly backpedaled after facing protests.

And recent MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Alison Bechdel often has faced attempted censorship of her work. Her graphic memoir Fun Home — winner of the Eisner Award, Lambda Literary Award, GLAAD Media Award, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award — was cited as one of the titles that led the South Carolina legislature to temporarily cut funding to two state colleges that had included the book in their required reading for freshman students.

So join us this week in celebrating these books, and increasing awareness of attempts to ban and remove these works of literature from bookshelves everywhere.

Banned Books Week Resources:

Books Banned or Challenged in Kansas and Missouri (KC Library Pinterest Board)
American Library Association: Banned & Challenged Books
Office for Intellectual Freedom
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund: Banned Books Week

About the Author

Liesl Christman

Liesl Christman is the digital content specialist for The Kansas City Public Library, managing content for the Library's blogs and social media accounts. She is an unabashed enthusiast of comic books, roller derby, and all things food.

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One hundred years later, the "great war" leads to a great discussion.

(This article first appeared in The Kansas City Star on August 29, 2014.)

After a special tour of the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, FYI Book Club readers gathered recently to discuss The Guns of August, the classic nonfiction work by Barbara W. Tuchman.

The group was equally divided between participants who had previously read the book and those who read it for the first time. All agreed that Tuchman's special gift was in bringing the history to life in a dynamic way.

"I really liked that she included photos, maps and other enhancements," said James Warner of Olathe. "It helped me understand the trajectory of the war."

Some readers wished that Tuchman had included a more detailed discussion of the events that led to the start of the war.

But Nancy Cramer of Raymore, a Liberty Memorial docent, said Tuchman makes it clear from the beginning that isn't the purpose of the book. Cramer suggested Tuchman's "The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914" for readers who want an in-depth analysis of those events.

For a book that covered only one month of the "war to end all wars," readers especially enjoyed the way Tuchman presented the era's historical figures.

Linda Rives of Kansas City said the way Tuchman used personal documents helped craft a more "accurate, human portrait of the people involved in the strategic planning of the war. Just because it's war doesn't mean everyone's on the same page."

David Klose of Kansas City was especially struck by "the interactions and relationships between the generals and the hard-heartedness of their strategy," he said. "There were so many inflexible reactions. I have a newfound respect for plucky Belgium."

Kathy Lindsey of Overland Park, a first-time reader of the book, said she was "surprised to learn about all the strategy and planning that went into the war and how misguided so much of it was."

Linda Marcusen of Prairie Village agreed, noting the many conflicts that drove Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.

"He was erratic, certainly blew hot and cold on the many war-related issues," she said.

"When you look up 'loose cannon,'" said Phil Royer of Kansas City, "there's a picture of Kaiser Wilhelm."

Readers were fascinated with the many maneuvers that didn't go as planned.

"The widespread incompetence was fascinating," said Steve Hargrave of Prairie Village. "Even the British looked incompetent."

Leigh Blackman of Prairie Village summed up the book this way: "Tuchman showed how decades of plans for war didn't pan out. This one specific month, August of 1914, explains the entire war to come for readers. I changed my mind about the contributions made by every nation involved in this sad, sad war."

Jenny Weber of Kansas City told book club members about her trip last year to European battlefields.

"It's devastating what happened to these villages," she said. "There's nothing there. Tuchman makes the reader understand the regular people caught up in these extraordinary circumstances.

"What do you do when war shows up in your front yard? At your front door? It's incredible what's been left behind after 100 years, and it still affects us today."

The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library present a "book of the moment" selection every six to eight weeks and invite the community to read along. If you would like to participate in a book discussion led by the library’s Kaite Stover, email

About the Author

Kaite Stover

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Readers Services Manager at the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.

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John Creasey

Just as Hilary Waugh and Ed McBain aimed at writing police procedurals that reflected police work in the United States as it really was (as opposed to the police/classic amalgam that had been in effect prior to their work), John Creasey in England was trying to do the same thing.

His first foray into police procedurals involved Inspector Roger West of Scotland Yard (beginning with Inspector West Takes Charge [1942]), a series that ran through the 1970s in over two dozen titles. Creasey wrote several other series, involving detectives both professional and amateur.

His most famous police procedural series involved Inspector George Gideon of Scotland Yard, beginning with Gideon’s Day (1955), written under the pseudonym J.J. Marric. That first novel covered a single day in the life of Inspector Gideon as he marshalled the forces under his wing to bring to a close several open cases. The next two novels in the series, Gideon’s Week and Gideon’s Month, likewise make use of a fixed timeframe to organize the narrative. Gideon’s Fire, the 7th in the series, won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel of 1962.

In this outing, Commander George Gideon of Scotland Yard has to deal successively with news of a mass murderer, a depraved maniac, and the deaths of a family in an arson attack on an old building south of the river, and a person likely guilty of embezzlement. All this leaves little time for Gideon to pay attention to any troubles developing at home.

Creasey presents Gideon as a master of the machinery of law enforcement. To a much greater degree than the McBain novels, where we are put in the squad room with the detectives investigating the case, here we see the workings of the mechanism of law enforcement through the eyes of a manager. When we first meet Gideon in this novel, he is running late for work. It seems that he and his wife very much enjoyed their evening together (no details are provided – typical British reticence, you know), and he overslept, and, consequently, is in a rush. A similar rush to get to work occurs in Gideon’s Day. In both cases, this departure from Gideon’s usual efficiency is presented as unusual and amusing, for it seems that the ever-efficient Scotland Yard man is quite unskilled and easily flustered when it comes to driving.

A flustered Gideon is something his fellows at the Yard rarely see. Joe Bell, who works with Gideon, is witness to Gideon’s working method on a daily basis (and has been for 20 years), and it is always a wonder to him to see Gideon under deadline. On the first morning of this novel, Gideon has little over an hour to get a dozen or so investigations moving forward. As Creasey tells us, “Gideon in a hurry was an experience in itself.” He successfully moves all the work along, and Creasey tells us “with each of these [problems] Gideon dealt unhurriedly, and yet in the minimum of time,” getting everything done ten minutes ahead of schedule.

Gideon handles the management of the cases in this novel with dispatch. Some cases are whodunits – the case of the sexual assault and murder of a girl, and the case of arson, for instance, while others are howcatchems (we know the identity of the businessman guilty of embezzlement, and the likely killer of several young women). In the case of the businessman, and of the arsonist, we also get a view into their hearts and souls, something not always present in procedurals, which generally focus the investigation from the police’s side only, at least until the criminal is caught and interrogated. Each of the cases in this book has its own detective in charge, and we mainly see the investigation through the investigating detective’s eyes. But over it all, we see Gideon deploying resources coolly and efficiently.

In his Gideon novels, we are shown some of Gideon’s home life, and how his strenuous work at the Yard sometimes comes at a cost to his family life (in this book, Gideon misses the signs that his son—about to take exams for Oxford—may be in trouble, noticing it only after his wife makes it clear to him, whereas his hectic day is likely to cause him to miss his eldest daughter’s violin recital in Gideon’s Day).

The Gideon novels are unlike Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct stories. Where McBain gives us a sense of the squad, and a sense of the city (Isola, modeled on New York), Creasey focuses mainly on the orderly machinery of the Yard. Though the crimes in this novel are terrible, we do not get the sense of menace that we find in McBain’s stories; rather we are struck by Gideon’s sure leadership at the Yard, and of the professionalism of his men. In some ways, the Gideon novels, though set in London, are rather like Waugh’s Last Seen Wearing than like police procedurals set in urban America. And one gets a sense that the home life of Gideon, though well-described, runs counter to how Creasey wants the book to go. They are obligatory glances at the personal world of the detective; it is at work that Gideon and the books really come alive.

If you get a chance, check out John Ford’s 1958 film Gideon of Scotland Yard (based on Gideon’s Day) starring the redoubtable Jack Hawkins as the Scotland Yard inspector. Currently this is only available as part of a boxed set in the United States, and no local libraries currently carry a copy. It is possible to find the item for download as a rental or purchase on Barnes and Noble or as a purchase on Amazon.

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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Emily Carroll (Illustrator)

Already well-known as a webcomic creator, Canadian author Emily Carroll makes her print debut with Through the Woods – a collection of five short illustrated stories of horror.

If you loved reading Alvin Schwartz’ Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark when you were a kid, this is your book. Carroll's comics are just disturbing enough to keep you reading but with an expressive style of illustration that is both simple and beautiful.

Among the subjects of Through the Woods:

 · A group of rural sisters, left alone by their father, who disappear one by one at night.
 · Two young friends who conduct sham séances until one is haunted by a very real apparition that only the other can see.
 · A young girl who meets her brother's bubbly and energetic new fiancée for the first time and discovers his paramour is far more sinister than she appears.


Each story in this collection reads like a fairy tale, set in a historic time and place that you just can't quite put your finger on. "His Face All Red," the only previously released story in the collection, earned Carroll the 2011 Joe Shuster Award for outstanding webcomic creator.

Of the five stories, "A Lady's Hands are Cold" strikes me as the weakest if only because it shows its inspiration too easily: Mix together the folktales of "Bluebeard" and "The Juniper Tree" and add a dash of "The Tell-Tale Heart." But even with that flaw, the story is a gorgeous piece of visual storytelling.
With the exception of the fairy-tale flavor, I think Carroll's writing style reminds me most of horror manga author Junji Ito – featuring open-ended story conclusions and consistently creepy undertones, though Carroll's illustrations are less visually disturbing than Ito's work. (I truly mean that as a compliment; Ito’s drawings left me with a few too many nightmares in my younger days.)

Simon and Schuster has marketed Through the Woods as a teen book. But in the vein of much of the young adult literature published nowadays, Carroll's stories are easily accessible to people of all ages and will be a quick and unsettling read for adults and teens alike.

You can read more of Emily Carroll's comics on her website,

Join Mozilla Hive KC for the official launch of the Kansas City Hive Learning Network.

Learning takes place anywhere and anytime. Not just in school. Therefore, Hive KC aims to connect diverse learning experiences to give kids more ways to engage, learn, share, and explore. Hive KC brings together schools, educators, cultural institutions and youth-serving organizations throughout the metro area to do just that.

On September 9th get more information about membership, innovation funding, participation strategies, and events.

Membership is open and free and geared toward leaders in K-12 Education, out-of-school programs, youth STEAM initiatives, and community and neighborhood relations. Join us to start a collaborative movement that builds a strong Hive in Kansas City.

Mozilla Hive KC Reception & Launch
September 9th 5:30 to 7pm
Central Library, 14 West 10th Street, 2nd Floor

The youth have a hold on some of the most lively and energetic imaginations, so it's only right that children's books should reflect that same enthusiasm. No matter the subject at hand, children's books not only seek to teach, but value change, wonder, and dreams. Below are a few hand picked selections of titles that just might insight, explore, and inspire imagination.

Rules of Summer
By Shaun Tan

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan, is a simple, yet amazingly grand and eloquent story about two brothers and a summer they’ll never forget. First, to enjoy summer you have to follow the rules. Fortunately big brother knows all of the rules: Don’t leave a red sock on the clothes line, don’t eat the last black olive, never forget the password. But if your older brother is making all of the rules, no matter how absurd,when will you finally get to enjoy summer? A relationship will be tested and the story is told beautifully through its layout and approach. The clean, repetitive phrasing mixes with fantastical, darkly themed illustrations more breath taking than the last. This story makes for some truly inspiring imagination.

The Nowhere Box
By Sam Zuppardi

George’s younger brothers cannot stop being nuisances. Everywhere George goes, his brothers need to follow and cause chaos! But when a giant cardboard box from the new washing machine is left around, George decides it’s time for him to go to a place where he can be alone. With the addition of some drawn buttons and levers, George is whisked off to a land of emptiness. George then pours out of his Nowhere Box a slew of fun and exciting things - roller coasters, pirate ships, George has it all! But what fun is your Nowhere Box if you don’t have any pirate enemies or someone to ride the coaster with? George realizes that he knows just where to find great pirate enemies, and possibly good dragons too! George sets a course for home to show his brothers that nowhere can be fun too! The Nowhere Box by Max Zuppardi is not only a great book about developing a strong imagination, but also about playing nice with your siblings.

Zoe's Jungle
By Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Zoe is an explorer like no other! At least, that's what she imagines when she is playing at the neighborhood playground with her sister. Zoe is on the hunt for the mysterious and wild Addiebeast (named respectfully and imaginatively after her younger sister)! Zoe and Addie's mom tells them it's time to leave, but Zoe has one last quest up her adventurous sleeve! Through the jungle the relentless explorer climbs trees and sneaks through dense underbrush hoping to locate her career-defining discovery! Will Zoe ever catch her Addiebeast? You'll have to read to find out! Zoe's Jungle represents the epitome of youth playtime, by using limited and realistic resources to make an embarking discovery and to have a good time adventure. A great book for learning to look at surroundings in a different way and learning to incorporate elements for positive play and interaction.

Help! We Need a Title
By Herve Tullet

Help! We Need a Title, by Herve Tullet is a story about a ragtag group of illustrations trying to come up with a story for its very interested reader, which just happens to be you! Starring a Magical Fairy, Dog, Pig, Snake Cyclops, and Stick Drawing, this group is dedicated to finding the right story for you. The characters break the fourth wall to speak directly to you, the audience! Each character helps to try and add the elements of a great story into play, but writing a story is a lot harder than it seems for our group. They even enlist the help of the author himself for some quick pointers on top-notch storytelling! Hopefully it pans out well for our characters in the end! Help! We Need a Title, is a great story book for your young abstract reader. The introduction of certain elements like fourth wall breaking, recognizable but unrelated characters, and the overall aesthetic and drawing technique will surely make this book one of the more unique options on your shelf, as well as introduce different ideas about books, reading, and writing to your youth.

About the Author

Shaun Teamer

Shaun Teamer is a creator and storyteller. He enjoys using his imagination to create cool stories and drawings. Shaun can be found at the Kansas City Central Library, imagining fun, new blogs to write about.

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Madeline Miller

I was astounded by this book. Madeline Miller's achievement with The Song of Achilles cannot be overstated. Here's a novel that's absorbingly readable for a modern audience, but that still has the poetry of Homeric sagas. What's most impressive to me is the balance she finds between exploring the universality of human nature throughout the ages and maintaining the innate alien-ness that I experience every time I read The Iliad - the culture of archaic Greece was so very different from this world we live in today. She lets the truth of that age live and breathe without trying to tame or update it.

And yet, I recognize myself in this story.

Far more than any of that, though - of all the authors I've read who've attempted to tackle The Iliad, Ms. Miller is the only one who almost managed to make Achilles a likeable character in my eyes.

I know this sounds like qualified praise, but for me this is an astounding achievement. The Iliad is my favorite work of literature. I continually come back to it, to revisit its Bronze Age world of war and violent heroism.

That being said, I've never felt anything but contempt for Achilles. He may be the "Best of the Greeks" - but at the end of the day, he's petulant, whiny, self-absorbed, and childish.

Yes, I understand that honor was a Really Big Deal in the Bronze Age and that Achilles was truly insulted by Agamemnon; and yes, Agamemnon is imperious and overbearing - but Achilles is selfish and petty in equal measure. I can't find within me any respect for a man who cares more about a perceived insult to his person than about saving the lives of thousands of people.

That's a part of the alien-ness of ancient Greece, I suppose. Given the depth and strength of my antipathy for Achilles, it's amazing to me that, for most of The Song of Achilles, I genuinely like the guy. I have real sympathy for him. There are moments when I feel like I finally understand why he acted as he did at Troy (his Homeric hissy fit). There are moments of true revelation, when I feel like I can begin to see how he might have been justified.

Of course, ultimately, he has to do what he does in The Iliad, which means he must take it too far. The story can't happen without it. Which means that, ultimately, he loses my sympathy again. But I've never been so close to finding my way past my dislike of this character. I'm thankful for this journey.

Checkout a copy of The Song of Achilles from the Library or download it as an eBook using your KC Library card.
Dennis Lehane

Looking for an interesting new book to add to your fall reading list? Then consider The Drop by Dennis Lehane.

Set to be released on September 2, 2014, The Drop is part love story, part crime novel, part mystery, and part faith-based fiction. Add in a lonely bartender, the Chechen mafia, an abused puppy, a vengeful ex-con, a rogue cop, a sketchy bar owner, and a mentally unbalanced woman and your picture of The Drop begins to form.

Originally created as the short story "Animal Rescue," which appeared in the 2009 anthology, Boston Noir, Lehane turned the story into a screenplay before ultimately developing it into a novel.

The Drop begins a few days after Christmas. Bob Saginowski is a dead-end bartender at Cousin Marv’s, a mafia-owned drinking establishment in a gritty Boston neighborhood. Outside of going to mass every morning, where he mysteriously refuses to take communion, Bob has no social life, no friends, and no prospects for the future.

All that changes one night, however, when Bob discovers a severely beaten puppy in a trash can on his way home from work. He also meets Nadia, a mysterious woman who volunteers to help him care for the injured canine.

Things are going good for Bob until the puppy’s abuser, a crazy ex-con, hunts Bob down and demands the dog back. To make things worse, Cousin Marv’s Bar, which is used as a location for funneling gangster money known as “drops,” is robbed, and the local mafia boss shows up demanding to know what really happened to the cash.

From here, the book builds quickly in intensity to its climax on Super Bowl Sunday - when the bar is scheduled for the year’s biggest drop, and the lives of all the characters converge for a dangerous and surprising conclusion.

Overall, The Drop is an entertaining read. It is short, just over 200 pages, which doesn’t allow it to have quite the character or plot depth of other Lehane novels like Mystic River or Gone, Baby, Gone. It does, though, have just enough meat on its bones to satisfy most readers, probably because Lehane’s engaging writing style and ability to connect readers with his offbeat characters are still clearly recognizable in this suspenseful and occasionally darkly humorous story.

Lehane's screenplay for The Drop has also been turned into a major motion picture, due to be released in September. The movie stars Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini, which sadly was Gandolfini’s last film before his untimely death in 2013.

The Drop was recently recommended by the Library’s Director of Readers' Services Kaite Stover on Fox 4 KC’s morning news, along with several other great selections.

Check out the video:

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a senior library technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, playing the piano and spending time with her family. She also writes her own blog at

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The Long Goodbye (1953) is the sixth of seven mystery novels by Raymond Chandler featuring Los Angeles P.I. Philip Marlowe. Some see it as the pinnacle of Chandler’s career as a mystery author, while others see it as less powerful than The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely, two early novels.

Whatever its power, it may be the most personal of Chandler’s novels, or at least we get a more personally engaged Marlowe here. Much of the novel involves Marlowe trying to help out an unlikely friend, a wealthy drunk, Terry Lennox. Earlier Marlowe novels do not show Marlowe getting emotionally involved with clients or with anyone else. He has a friendship with a man in the DA’s office named Bernie Ohls, but that is more of an acquaintanceship than a friendship.

In a letter to his editor, Bernice Baumgarten, which accompanied a draft of the novel, Chandler expresses his growing dissatisfaction with the formulaic nature of detective fiction, a genre he had become weary of. A paragraph here is significant:

“It has been clear to me for some time that what is largely boring about mystery stories, at least on a literate plane, is that the characters get lost about a third of the way through. Often the opening, the mise en scene, the establishment of the background, is very good. Then the plot thickens and the people become mere names. Well, what can you do to avoid this? You can write constant action and that is fine if you really enjoy it. But alas, one grows up, one becomes complicated and unsure, one becomes interested in moral dilemmas, rather than who cracked who on the head. And at that point one should retire and leave the field to younger and more simple men.”

I cannot help but think that the final swipe was aimed at people like Mickey Spillane who had become quite popular in the 1950s, while the more cerebral Marlowe had lost some steam as Chandler’s own disenchantment in the genre, disgust with life in Hollywood, and continued dependence on alcohol took their toll.

As a mystery novel, The Long Goodbye is not as sharply written as his first novels, The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely. At times, you get the sense of Marlowe as some guy just hanging around waiting for something to happen. But we do have Marlowe’s attraction for Terry, a friend for whom he is willing to take risks. Marlowe’s fondness for Lennox is peculiar — there is nothing about Lennox that seems to justify such loyalty as he elicits from Marlowe and others. The book opens with Marlowe reminiscing over his first meeting with Lennox, the way a person in love would recall that first meeting. Marlowe also has a chance at romance with a Linda Loring, a woman tangentially involved in the investigation of Lennox’ past. So we have Marlowe getting close to two people, where no such closeness was evident in earlier adventures of this lone knight riding down the dark streets of LA, the city of fallen angels.

The relationship with Lennox does not develop, and there is only a hint that the relationship with Loring may develop. Linda Loring reappears in Chandler’s next and last novel, a weak effort called Playback, and shares the bill with Marlowe, now her husband, in the unfinished Poodle Springs. It is intriguing to wonder how Chandler might have played with the idea of a lonely man in a committed relationship, had death not cut his efforts short. I think that Chandler was largely played out when he got to this novel, and that he envisioned The Long Goodbye (as the title suggests) as his own farewell to the genre. But Linda Loring seems to give the cynical Marlowe, vulnerable and wounded, hope for the future, and perhaps her relationship with Marlowe would have turned the tide for Chandler. We’ll never know, as Chandler died a few years after the publication of The Long Goodbye. It was only with the help of Robert B. Parker, the author of the Spenser novels, Chandler’s more romantic follower, that the married couple of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Marlowe come to life.

Even late Marlowe such as this retains some of the vinegary bite of the early stuff. Marlowe, in two separate passages takes aim at modern symphonic music and its aficionados. In a catalog of blondes, which begins, “There are blondes and blondes, and it is almost a joke word nowadays…”, Marlowe snidely dismisses the “brainy” blonde, who reads “The Waste Land or Dante in the original.” “She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.” And later, unable to sleep because he’s pondering a case, he notes: "At three A.M. I was walking the floor listening to Khachaturyan working in a tractor factory. He called it a violin concerto. I called it a loose fan belt and the hell with it."

Some say that The Long Goodbye is too loosely constructed, and too sentimental, and they may be right. But Chandler was never much for tight plotting, but could scarcely be beat in setting up a scene and for the crispness of his language, an ability he still demonstrates in the penultimate work of his career.

If you want to check out Marlowe on video, I’d recommend Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep with Bogart as Marlowe, Edward Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet with Dick Powell as Marlowe, Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye with Elliot Gould as Marlowe, and for a truly bizarre viewing experience — I watch it every Christmas as part of my Christmas ritual — Robert Montgomery’s The Lady in the Lake with Montgomery as Marlowe.

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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FYI Book Club dives into Laura McHugh"s "brilliant" first novel, The Weight of Blood

(This article first appeared in The Kansas City Star on July 11, 2014.)

A masterful first novel challenges readers.

Regional author Laura McHugh's debut, The Weight of Blood, has received much acclaim since publication last March, and FYI Book Club readers praised it as a "brilliant first novel."

And a challenging one: McHugh, who lives in Columbia, moors her story in the voices of two strong characters, a mother and daughter who never knew each other.

Lucy's mother, Lila, vanished when Lucy was still an infant; years later, as Lucy probes the disappearance of one of her classmates, she learns there may be ties to her own mother's disappearance.

"McHugh gives us the epiphany in the first chapter," said reader Catherine Morris of Kansas City at the recent meeting of the club, "and now the reader must go along to discover what it is."

Participants were eager to discuss the dual narration from Lila and Lucy, the author's interesting choice to start the story with Lila's contemporary voice and then move backward to Lucy's.

Carla Norcott-Mahany of Kansas City said she liked having both women's viewpoints written in the present tense.

"It seemed as if their experiences were happening concurrently, even though we knew they were years apart," she said. "This technique keeps the suspense high as we watch both women's stories play out."

Morris didn't quite agree.

"This may have been the author's intent, but it didn't quite work for me," Morris said. "McHugh could have solved this time shift by including dates along with the chapter headings."

Laura Patton of Overland Park felt the dual voices were "a good anchor for keeping track of the shifting of the time periods. What I did find confusing at first was when certain characters appeared in both Lucy and Lila's lives."

"There were people from the same family, sometimes the same people, but at different points in their own lives," Patton said.

"It was like solving a jigsaw puzzle to see how all the community members fit together and what was their significance in each young woman's life."

Readers enjoyed delving into the complexity of the supporting characters, particularly the two primary male characters, brothers Crete and Carl.

Kathie Newell of Kansas City, Kan., asked participants if they felt Carl was a strong or weak character.

"He succumbs to so many of his brother Crete's demands, too many in fact," Newell said. "Carl needed to rebel in some way to show Crete he couldn't exert this much control over Carl's life forever."

Kristen Zane of Overland Park admitted that she didn't find many redeeming qualities in the secondary characters.

"I had no sympathy for Crete," Zane said. "He was too creepy, and this pervaded the novel's tone."

But Norcott-Mahany said she liked seeing characters who she felt weren't completely good or evil but flawed and realistic.

"Even Crete wasn't completely slimy," she said. "He loved Lucy, and while he appeared threatening, he never hurt her. And Carl is a master at juggling his emotions regarding Crete. Even Jamie, the town druggie, isn't totally bad. He's a bit of a hero at the end of the book."

Readers mentioned the supporting female characters of Ransome and Birdie.

Zane felt that Birdie was a bit too eccentric and cliched as a rural character. Marilyn James of Kansas City felt Ransome was the most conflicted of all the women.

"She was indebted to Crete, and she knew he was doing something wrong," James said, "but she wouldn't be any help to anyone if she didn't keep herself alive. She tried to make amends when she gave Lucy the baby quilt she made from Lila's clothes."

Patton summed up the discussion praising the beauty of McHugh's writing: "She did a lovely job of getting inside the psychology of ordinary people — their brains, their hearts and the remorse they feel when they are the survivors."

The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library present a “book of the moment” selection every six to eight weeks and invite the community to read along. If you would like to participate in a book discussion led by the library’s Kaite Stover, email Watch for the next selection, The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, to be introduced in FYI.

About the Author

Kaite Stover

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Readers Services Manager at the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.

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Reading Landline by Rainbow Rowell made me long for the old-fashioned landline phone – for the days when a phone fit your hand perfectly and your ear with the warmth of the voice at the other end, for the excitement a phone ringing and not knowing who was calling.

Landline is a unique story about a marriage and a landline telephone with a time travel element. One person has been in the marriage for fourteen years, while the other hasn't yet proposed. It's about the wonderful and complicated moments of falling in love, being in love, and the complexities of marriage, work, and children. While it may sound a bit like The Time Traveler's Wife, it couldn't be more different.

Georgie McCool — yes, that's her real name — is a successful TV sitcom writer. She and her writing partner have landed the perfect opportunity and have about a week to pull together four episodes for a meeting with the executive at their dream network. The week falls during the Christmas holiday and Georgie decides she needs to stay home to work instead of heading to Omaha with her husband Neal and two daughters. Once again Georgie's career takes priority.

Her mother insists she come over for dinner the first night Neal is gone. Has Neal become fed up and left for good? She can't stand the thought of going home to her house alone and stays at her mother's house. She finds an antique yellow rotary phone in her childhood bedroom closet, and plugs the phone in to give Neal a call. He sounds different and over a few phone calls Georgie begins to realize that landline-Neal is in 1998. She realizes this may be her chance to save her marriage. Humor and flashbacks to their early relationship help Georgie with the struggle of talking to Neal without ruining their future together. Landline-Neal doesn't know how she's screwed up.

While I was reading Landline both times, I couldn't help but recall the days of lying in bed or on the couch talking late into the night with a boyfriend. Those late nights when all that mattered was that time on the phone, and it was worth losing sleep and waking up groggy the next morning. The warmth and closeness of someone's voice on a landline is lost with cell phones. Now there is the delay or tunnel sound to deal with and the nights of long conversations have moved into short conversations or conversations over text. I wonder how teens and twenty-somethings fall in love now without those long heart-to-heart conversations over the phone?

Rowell's fans of Eleanor & Park and her earlier book Attachments will fall in love with Georgie and cheer for her and Neal. I've determined that Rowell's books are dangerous to my sleep, because each of her four books have kept me up way past my bedtime reading.

About the Author

Erica Voell

Erica Voell is the Youth Collection Development Librarian at the Kansas City Public Library. She enjoys gardening, sewing, knitting, seeking out gluten-free vegetarian cuisine around the city - and yes, being a good librarian, she is owned by a cat.

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