The films Dark City and The Cell have a few things in common: 1) they are both among Roger Ebert’s favorite films (more on that below); and 2) each one is part of a rare film type where its characters – as well as its audience – are thrust into a strange world beyond their immediate comprehension.

Gail Lozoff

With its sleek décor and warm, bustling atmosphere, SPIN! Neapolitan Pizza is the model blend of modern fast casual and classic family dining. Not suprisignly, the KC restaurant chain’s owner, Gail Lozoff, is herself a study in progressive entrepreneurialism informed by deeply rooted family tradition.

Lozoff was all of five years old when she got her first job – an appointment as bakery-box folder at the Cake Box in Brookside, for which she earned a penny per folded box. Taking the Dickensian edge off the job was the fact that the shop was founded by her grandfather, a Russian immigrant who had sold sugar to bootleggers during Prohibition. Lozoff’s grandfather and father grew the Cake Box into a massive local chain, with over a dozen storefronts around the KC metro, plus products on the shelves at more than 50 grocery stores.

Family business was an overriding theme last night at Central, where Lozoff joined Library Director Crosby Kemper III for a public conversation about the triumphs and trials of life as an entrepreneur.

We all know Barbara Walters as the poised interviewer who asks the tough questions. She’s broken ground for women in the broadcasting industry; first on NBC’s Today Show, and later on ABC’s 20/20 and The View.

She's the woman who can get the scoop on everyone else … but what’s her story? Did she always have ambitions to become the household name she is today? Would she have done anything differently? You might be surprised at the path that Walters has taken, which she describes in her 2008 memoir, Audition.

Walters takes us back to the beginning: how her parents met, what life was like as the child of a risk-taking show producer, and how she felt as a young woman with little direction. We see a glimpse of a young Walters before the television specials and the interviews. Like anyone else, Walters was struggling with the demands of home and family life while her career was blossoming at NBC.

What we didn’t see on TV were her professional struggles with co-workers that almost drove her out of the business before ever finding her foothold with the network. If Walters had stood back and allowed others to stop her from moving forward with her career, we might never have known the talent she is today.

Abandon by Meg Cabot

Through every city he shall hunt her down,
until he shall have driven her back to hell.
There from whence envy first did set her loose.

Greek Mythology is never anyone's favorite thing to listen to but Meg Cabot weaves a dark romance story from the Classic tale of the godesss Persephone who was kidnapped by the God of the Underworld Hades.

17 year old Pierce knows exactly what it's like to die after she has a Near Death Experience in her family's backyard pool and drowns trying to rescue an injured bird. More than an hour passes before she's finally revived by the paramedics. Even after 2 years Pierce is haunted by her memories of the underworld but more haunted by the mysterious death diety who tried to keep her there.

Every phychaiatrist she's been to, has always tried to convince her that the underworld she tells them about is lucid dreaming. But Pierce, she's still smarter than that because she wears the proof on a gold chain around her neck. Proof that the underworld was real. And also...that he was real. Who ironically is always showing up even though her heart is beating...

For many men, the fantasy of escaping the drudgery of their daily lives includes strapping on a sabre, affecting an accent, a-swashin’ and a-bucklin’ through the rigging, clutching a buxom wench, a pint o’ ale and a parrot spewing colorful invective.

If that seems like too many objects to juggle, it’s his fantasy. He can handle it.

Women already know how to juggle (bring home bacon, fry in pan, it’s all part of a day’s work). All we need to escape is a couple of candles, a jar of aromatic bath salts, a good book, and a lock on the bathroom door. Historical fiction can be the highest form of escapist literature as it thoroughly transports the reader to a time and place completely different from current circumstances.

And a good historical novel can be the equivalent of a capful of the most decadent soap bubbles, removing the reader from a life slightly ordinary to one wholly (though temporarily) remarkable.

Go ahead, ladies. Choose your own adventure.

Storyville, Lois Battle

Readers are Leaders

Promoting reading to kids in local schools is one of the most fundamental services of a children’s librarian. And in her more than three decades at the Kansas City Public Library, Sandra Jones has gotten plenty of kids to read. But she’s never met a group quite like the one she recently faced – and tamed – at Banneker Elementary.

At a few minutes after 10, the boys filed into the school library. They were clad in school uniforms and chanting “Hello, Ms. Jones,” in near-unison, sing-song voices. Soon, they were wiggling and bouncing in their seats, shooting up their hands to answer Jones’ questions almost as quickly as she could fire them off, heeding occasional calls from the school librarian to settle down.

The Readers Are Leaders Brown Bag Lunch Club was in session.

This was a special group, unlike any other Jones has worked with. For one thing, the group was boys only, a first for the veteran Southeast Branch children’s librarian. On top of that, they were among the least well-behaved boys in the entire second grade.

“I wanted to gather reluctant readers, get them together, have lunch, and get them interested in reading,” Jones says.

To pick the readers for her group, Jones asked for the help of Banneker’s Library Media Specialist, Diedre Stratton.

It wasn’t enough for Ernest Hemingway to be one of the largest literary lions of the 20th century. His written works brought him celebrity and his many marriages, dalliances, and adventures were fodder for tabloids.

There was no experience too much for Hemingway to take on. From his wartime experiences on the Italian front in World War I, covering the Spanish Civil War, and his observations of D-Day and the liberation of Paris. He traded lofty ideas with Gertrude Stein’s set in Paris, rode out the Labor Day hurricane in the Florida Keys, nearly died while on safari in the Serengeti, and awarded Fidel Castro a trophy in the Hemingway marlin fishing contest.

Hemingway lived as large as he wrote. Other writers have noticed this trait, and instead of writing biographies, they have chosen to cast Hemingway as a character in their own fiction. While Papa never takes center stage in these books, he often proves the most colorful and lively of supporting characters, and his fictional escapades fit nicely with his real ones. A reader could almost believe Hemingway really did help solve a crime, visit a boy’s school, or was the object of tumultuous affection between two female friends in Paris.

Toros and Torsos, Craig McDonald

Dorothy West

What is more appropriate for June than a wedding, or The Wedding by Dorothy West?  Published in 1995, it, together with the story collection, The Richer the Poorer, constitutes the final output from the Harlem Renaissance generation of writers.

West (1907-1998) was one of the last surviving members of that literary and artistic movement, which had its peak in the 1920s and 1930s. West had her entry into that world with a story, “The Typewriter,” which won second place in a literary contest in the 1920s.  She tied for second with Zora Neale Hurston, another of the women writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance. 

West was less influential as a writer than as an editor and publisher.  She got the magazine Challenge off the ground in 1934, and its successor, New Challenge, later in the decade. These magazines provided an outlet for many of the young writers of the Renaissance. Richard Wright got his start writing stories for these magazines. 

In addition to the two works listed above, West produced the novel The Living is Easy in 1948, and these three works are the entirety of West’s literary output.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht reads like a piece of allegorical art. It is a literary creation to be savored, debated, enjoyed, and interpreted differently by each person who experiences its mysterious creativity.

Set entirely in the war-torn Balkans, this newly-published novel begins with the voice of four-year-old Natalia as she describes her weekly trip to the zoo with her physician grandfather to visit the captivating tigers. While spending time together, her grandfather reads his beloved copy of The Jungle Book to her and tells her incredible stories filled with Slavic folklore and superstition. 

Eventually Natalia grows up and becomes a doctor herself. While she is away on a mercy mission to inoculate children at a distant orphanage, her grandfather dies alone under odd circumstances in a strange town. Natalia is puzzled by his actions and feels compelled to seek truth and understanding about his death. Slowly and with determination, she begins piecing together the details of her grandfather’s last days, but in doing so, she also puts together the pieces of his life and discovers a new understanding of who her grandfather really was as a man.

Bruce Roach

For a while there, it looked as if Birnam Wood would not come to Southmoreland Park, toil and trouble would not bubble in view of the Nelson-Atkins’ shuttlecocks, and cries of “Out, damned spot!” would not sound across midtown Kansas City.

But thanks to a tempest of support from the community, the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival was able to raise needed funds, and this year’s production of Macbeth will run from June 14 through July 3. It was just over a month ago that the Festival’s organizers announced they would need to raise $100,000 to keep the 19th season afloat. Luckily, the ducats came rolling in, and the show will go on.

That’s good news for the Kansas City Public Library, too. Not only are we fans of the Festival – which always brings veteran actors to top-notch productions of the Bard’s works – we’re also proud to host an annual Shakespeare lecture series that’s free and open to the community. In its 11th year, the series brings extra context and insight to the plays staged in the heart of our city.

The H&R Block Business and Career Center was designed, in part, to help people get their own businesses up and running. Now, one local entrepreneur has crossed to the other side of the help desk, where, as a Library volunteer, she works with customers not unlike herself.

Annie Sorensen is a seasoned self-starter. While working as a software designer at Cerner for seven years, she used her free time to carve a place for herself as an independent brand partner in the world of network marketing.

She became one of the top 30 earners in her company, and in January of last year, she was able to quit her day job.

“That was a business that I built up 100 percent around my full-time job – in evenings and on weekends, in the nooks and crannies of my life,” Sorensen says.

After leaving Cerner, she picked up a real estate license. Now, she and her husband own several investment properties.

Self-education – mainly through reading – has always been Sorensen’s driving force.

“I’ve always been entrepreneurially minded, but it kind of started in college,” says the University of Iowa graduate. “I really got into personal development books, which opened my mind to things like motivation, inspiration, and goal-setting.”

Three Cups of Tea may just be one of the most well-known works of non-fiction around today. It’s a tricky one to avoid hearing about. If you haven’t read it, someone you know has, or you’ve seen one of the thousands of interviews given by co-author Greg Mortenson.

And even if you’d managed to avoid all of that, the potential scandal unearthed by CBS’s 60 Minutes last month, alleging not just that portions of the book are fabricated, but that Mortenson mismanages the charity that allows him to build all these schools, has put the book and Mortenson directly into the public spotlight and headlines.

It was this hoopla, actually, that prompted me to pick up Three Cups of Tea. After hearing about it for so long, I wanted to decide for myself what to believe.

Andrei Codrescu has always been interested in the ways stories are told. As a poet, essayist, novelist, and founder of the avant-garde journal Exquisite Corpse – not to mention his hilarious NPR commentaries – Codrescu has made a name for himself as a master at both creating and exploding narrative forms.

On Thursday, June 2, 2011, Codrescu visits the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library to discuss his newest novel, a smart, dizzingly adventurous, and hysterical retelling of the Arabian Nights – Whatever Gets You Through the Night: A Story of Sheherezade and the Arabian Entertainments. (Please RSVP if you wish to attend this free event.)

The day after a devastating tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, destroying a quarter of the city and resulting in 123 deaths, the Joplin Public Library was open for business.

Located about 12 blocks north of the six-mile-long path the F4 tornado cut through the town Sunday night, the Public Library has become a place of stability for a community in upheaval.

Library Director Jacque Gage reports that as citizens have begun to regroup and restart their lives, they’ve been using the Library’s computers, solid Internet connection, and charging stations. “We’re near police, fire, and the main grid,” Gage tells us. “Our fiber network hasn’t gone down once.”

Though the Library was undamaged, eight staff members completely lost their homes in the storm, and two others’ homes received significant damage. Two employees suffered injuries, including a broken arm.

“Five of the eight who lost their homes are only employed part-time, including a single mom (with a now-broken arm and no medical insurance),” Gage said in an e-mail sent earlier today to Missouri library directors.

The current popularity of knitting as a craft comes from its versatility and creativity. As a teenager in 1960s Japan, Kyoko did not view knitting in such positive ways. For her, it was a symbol of repression.

Yarn: Remembering the Way Home is New York Times noted author Kyoko Mori’s memoir of her life in Japan, her decision to leave Japan the first chance she had, and how she developed a successful life in the United States.  

In her seventh grade home economics class, Kyoko was required to knit a perfect pair of mittens. With mismatched stitches and uneven knitting, Kyoko’s mittens earned only a D-. She had little use for knitting and for many other skills taught to teenage girls; skills she saw as symbols of repression thrust upon Japanese women. She had witnessed how the strong patriarchal society had destroyed her mother, leaving her with suicide as her only means of escaping an overbearing husband.

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