Synecdoche, New York screens free on the Rooftop Terrace, Friday, September 16, at 8:45 p.m.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a synecdoche as a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part...

Keep that in mind while watching Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York (2008).

One of my favorite quotes is: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That statement from Faulkner’s 1951 novel, Requiem for a Nun, could be said of all of Faulkner’s writing, and for Absalom, Absalom! (1936) especially.

Nowadays it’s OK for movie stars to embrace the names their parents gave them. But back in Hollywood’s heyday actors were given a full makeover by the studio publicity departments, a process that often entailed replacing their unpronounceable or funny-sounding (or just boring) names with snazzy new movie-star monikers.

Oh, Tom Sawyer! Rascal, liar, ladies-boy, wicked heathen … be still my heart. I can still remember my very first encounter with Tom – from my much loved collection of Great Illustrated Classics (my first personal library, maybe?).

I can still picture the cover – Tom strolling regally down the road, barefooted, fishing pole in hand, behind the gingham-clad, blushing Becky Thatcher, steamboat in the background.

Nothing may have influenced my childhood more than the time spent poring over Tom’s adventures. It may even be the first chapter book I put my mind to. Well, that, or The Baby-sitters Club.

Still. Tom and Becky, Injun Joe, Amy Lawrence, Huck, Aunt Polly – from childhood, my conception of classic Americana owes a great debt to these characters. Every woman in a high collar and bun could be a Polly; every straw-hatted little boy becomes Tom. They inform my perception of everything from the idea of running away from home to roadside attractions (for who but a Tom-like character could conceive of charging $13.50 a carload to see giant cement busts of presidents?).

Goodbye Solo movie poster

In this era of anti-immigration rhetoric, it’s sometimes useful to consider what a newcomer to the U.S. brings to the table — namely a sense of enthusiasm and hope.

Dear Fellow Library Enthusiast,
It’s that time again. Fall is upon us, which means your Library is about to embark on another season of presenting, if I may be so bold, an extensive schedule of simply extraordinary public programs.

All of our programs are admission free, thanks to a generous grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, plus additional support from like-minded donors and our increasing ability to obtain competitively-awarded grants.

If you’re one of our growing band of regulars, we look forward to seeing you, well, regularly. If you’re not, well, what are you waiting for? Your Library has become one of Kansas City’s leading venues for engaging presentations by leading authors as well as a forum for civic engagement and public dialogue. It’s the place to be, this fall more than ever.

Hanna movie poster

Among the higher profile DVD arrivals on the Library’s shelves this month is Hanna, the fourth movie by British director Joe Wright.

Wright, of course, wowed us with the Keira Knightley version of Pride & Prejudice, followed it up with the multiple Oscar-nominated Atonement and then moved on to homelessness in LA with the criminally underappreciated The Soloist (how can a film with both Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx be so under everybody’s radar?).

Having lived in the midwest for more than 10 years, I haven’t given much thought to our country’s borders or the people who reside near them. DiAnn Mills’ new suspense fiction, Sworn to Protect, gives an interesting look into the southernmost areas of the U.S. and the profession that works to keep the borders safe.

Set in McAllen, Texas, this page-turner opens with a dangerous operation that takes place near the Rio Grande, a river that serves as the Mexico-United States border. While on duty preventing illegal human and drug trafficking, U.S. Border Patrol agent Danika Morales recalls a dreadful event that happened two years ago: her husband, Toby, was murdered, and his body was left beside an obscure road. The crime went unresolved.

The unseen offender is now stalking her, aiming to end her life and destroy her family. As a single mother, Danika is concerned about her deaf little girl, Tiana, and Tiana’s nanny and family’s housekeeper, Sandra Rodriguez.

In his new book, Genius of Place, biographer Justin Martin says that Frederick Law Olmsted “may well be the most important American historical figure that the average person knows least about.”

If the average person, indeed, knows him at all, it’s most likely for Olmsted’s famous design of New York’s Central Park or possibly the U.S. Capitol Grounds. But as Martin, a former Kansas Citian, shows, there was a lot more to Olmsted than his green grounds.

“Fred-Law” (as his family sometimes called him) was born in Hartford, Conn., in 1822 – a time when Missouri was the westernmost state and middle names were fairly uncommon. The first three decades of his life would take him through a series of wildly divergent and fascinating careers before he more or less fell into the role of America’s premier landscape architect.

This Wednesday, September 7, 2011, at the Central Library, Martin returns to Kansas City to discuss not only Olmsted’s impact on the urban American landscape (and, by extension, its psyche) but also Olmsted’s other lives – as sailor, farmer, journalist, abolitionist, Civil War medic in an early version of the Red Cross, environmentalist, and, above all, reformer. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. following a 6 p.m. reception. RSVP now.

Under the Same Moon movie poster

A hard-nosed critic can find plenty to pick apart in Patricia Riggen’s Under the Same Moon (2007).

That is, if he can suppress his desperate need to blubber like a girly-man.

If the storytelling is sometimes manipulative, the film's execution is exemplary. Director Riggen (a native of Guadalajara, Mexico) aims for the emotionally true moment, which helps offset the film’s periodic forays into shameless sentimentality.

But, then, how are you not gonna get sentimental when your subject is a 9-year-old Mexican boy who journeys solo to the U.S. to find the mother he hasn’t seen for half his lifetime?

Hoenig and Kemper

The grandson of Iowa farmers, Thomas Hoenig began working at the age of 9. Now, at 65, he is about to retire after 20 years as the president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, where he was the longest-serving leader in Fed history.

Bring on the blood oaths, the pirates' island, the foul play, mischief, buried treasure, Becky Thatcher, Huckleberry Finn, and Injun Joe. Bring on The Big Read!

Each week here on KC Unbound during this most festive of reading seasons, we'll be posting recaps of four(-ish) chapters of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, along with insight and commentary. And we want you to join in!

Before we get started, do you have the book? No? Hey, these aren't the CliffsNotes, pal. The Kansas City Public Library has 500 brand-new Penguin Classics editions of Mark Twain’s classic in circulation. Surely you can find one. Or, if you prefer to e-read, you can get a free digital edition through our website. Just follow these instructions.

As we all know, The Big Read is a community-wide reading celebration featuring a diverse range of free public programming aimed at connecting people together over a great book. Be sure to keep up with all the great special events, book discussions, reading podcasts, and get info about KC Ballet’s sure-to-be-amazing production of Tom Sawyer: A Ballet in Three Acts – it’s all at kcbigread.org.

America America movie poster

Most films about the immigrant experience begin with the protagonist’s arrival in a new land. America America, though, ends with a shot of the Statue of Liberty as its hero sails into New York Harbor. It’s the physical and emotional journey he takes to get there that interested filmmaker Elia Kazan.

Statue of Liberty - photo credit Pepijn Schmitz

Unless you're a full-blooded Native American, you're an immigrant or the descendant of immigrants.

You could even say that the journey to the New World is built into our DNA.

The experiences of our forefathers in coming to this country — and the struggles of today's immigrant — is the subject of The Golden Door film series playing in September at the Kansas City Public Library's Central Library.

It's presented in conjunction with the current exhibit Emma Lazarus: Voice of Liberty, Voice of Conscience. It was Lazarus who penned the words "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" emblazoned at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

The films — all free and playing at 1:30 Saturdays and 6:30 Mondays in the Durwood Film Vault — explore the many aspects of immigration, from the huge influx of new citizens from Europe at the turn of the last century to today's concern with illegal immigration from Latin America.

Robert Butler

Robert W. Butler is a movie critic’s movie critic. He knows his early Buñuels from his later Godards and can talk Hollywoodese with the layman. When you prick him, he bleeds Peckinpah. It’s no wonder why, when Butler’s four decades at the Kansas City Star came to an end this past May, Roger Ebert summed up his feelings on Twitter in a single word: “Damn.”

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