Some people look at big cities and see dirty streets, crowded subway cars, and muggers lurking around every falafel truck. But Harvard economist and author Edward Glaeser sees the American metropolis as more innovative, greener, and healthier than the leafy suburb.

Glaeser’s new book, Triumph of the City : How our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier shatters many myths about American cities.

For one thing, the human density of big cities drives innovation and competition – the more people, the more possibility for change and growth, Glaeser argues.

“Cities play to mankind’s greatest asset, which is being able to learn from each other face to face,” Glaeser recently said on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Glaeser finds that far from being plagued by crime and filth, people in big cities are healthier and wealthier than other Americans, and they use 40 percent less energy than their suburban counterparts.

Roger Ebert is an indisputable expert on film. But cult film expert? Rather than offering a comprehensive index of Ebert cult film reviews, there is a more compelling piece of evidence to support his cult film bona fides: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

This question (“cult film expert?”) follows the announcement of the theme and line-up for the Kansas City Public Library’s 2011 Off-the-Wall Film Series, which is operating under the banner Ebert Presents Cult Films from the Balcony. This series is curated by Ebert (exclusively for the Kansas City Public Library) and kicks off with a screening of The Cell (2000) on Friday, May 20, at sundown (no earlier than 8:45 p.m.) on the Rooftop Terrace of the Central Library.  

The notion of what makes a cult film can be somewhat nebulous and easily debatable, but whatever your standards, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (BTVD) meets them. Ebert developed the story and the screenplay with producer/director Russ Meyer – and his role as a principal author of this film should be enough to convince any skeptic of Ebert’s cult credentials.

Volunteer Renee VanErp shares the Joy of Reading with 10-year-old Parijat Mondal in the Plaza Kids' Corner.

Construction snarled traffic across midtown on a recent, steamy May afternoon in KC. But inside the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, a moment of quiet was being shared over a book.

Joy of Reading tutor Renee VanErp and her student, Parijat Mondal, bent over a science book spread out on a table in the Kids' Corner. Though his voice was soft, Parijat blazed through paragraphs on astronomy and physics, stopping only when he found an unfamiliar word.

The pauses were rare, considering that English is the boy's third language.

"Parijat speaks Bengali and Hindi, and he's learning Spanish at Carver Elementary," VanErp says. "I was fortunate to be matched with a young man who loves learning."

VanErp approached the Library two and a half years ago about volunteering. Like many in the Library's fleet of volunteers, VanErp came in looking to help, and she was put to work.

Coming from all walks of life and bringing a bevy of reasons for wanting to pitch in, volunteers are a welcome aid in helping staff run the Library system.

"Volunteers are here to make the librarians' lives easier," says Katie Taylor, volunteer coordinator for the Library.

By taking on a wide variety of responsibilities, volunteers make it easier for librarians to do what they do best: provide professional, personalized service to Library patrons.

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

When Nora Grey gets a new biology partner, her life completely changes; she thinks someone is stalking her and her guess is Patch, her biology partner. She thinks she’s seeing things, hearing things, and when the police get there everything is back to normal, then she starts questioning herself; did she really hit the guy in the ski mask with a car??

She’s still drawn to Patch but scared too since her friend, Vee, (and mother and her new psychologist, Ms. Green)warns her about him .
She finds out little about Patch when he knew almost everything about her (even knows what she's thinking and TO her mind). Nora swears she heard Patch’s voice inside her head, speaking to her!

She also meets this new guy who has a bit of a history, not that Patch doesn’t have any but not any she could find on the internet.
The guy is Elliot Saunders and he “allegedly” killed his girlfriend from his old school, maybe the reason he transferred.

So who’s the stalker/killer? Patch? Elliot? Or is it just Nora’s imagination?

Find out more in Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush!

Being a runaway is hard enough as it is – leaving behind friends, family, and the life you’ve always known just to get away. Survival is always a concern, and it gets even trickier as a runaway in Unwind. In Neal Shusterman’s dystopian young-adult novel, they’re not just after you. They’re after your body parts.

In the future, in order to satisfy both sides of the pro-choice and pro-life war, the American Government has approved the Bill of Life.  The Bill of Life states that parents may choose to retroactively abort a pregnancy when their child is between the ages of 13 and 18.  In doing so, the child is technically kept alive by the dismemberment and “recycled,” with 100% of the child’s body material getting repurposed. The child’s life is never taken, just...“redistributed.” This process is known as “unwinding,” and the unfortunate children and teens fated for this are known as “Unwinds.”

Our three main characters are all on the run for different reasons. Connor is a troubled boy whose parents decided to unwind him after multiple fights in school. Risa is a ward of the state who feels she was never really given a chance to shine. And Lev is along for the ride with Connor and Risa after being kidnapped on his way to his own tithing – he is his family’s religious contribution to the unwinding system.

¿Puede usted ayudarme? A Hispanic customer surprised me with this question one day. My eyes popped out of my head. True, I recently took Spanish That Works, an eight-week course designed to help librarians learn basic Spanish. But could I put to use what I studied in class to assist this lady right away?

Nervously, I introduced myself to her in Spanish. Then, the No hablo mucho español I barely remembered from Mr. Orozco came in handy.

After that eye-opening day, I made up my mind that I need más Spanish to better communicate with Hispanic patrons. Fortunately, the Kansas City Public Library provides a wide variety of Spanish-learning resources in book, CD, DVD, and electronic formats. On this Cinco de Mayo, why not take your first steps toward learning Spanish – or if you’ve already studied it, brushing up?

My criteria for choosing language-learning materials are: conversational focus, practicality, and audio quality. These beginning-level books offer vocabulary, phrases, and sentences that will get you started conversing in Spanish in no time.

Sometimes in our lives, we set our own limitations. We are too afraid to follow our dreams. We tell ourselves that we don’t have enough skills, talents, or physical abilities to do a certain task. These fears prevent us from utilizing the full potential that we have.

By changing the way Americans eat out, Fred Harvey changed the way we eat, period. As founder of America’s first interstate restaurant chain, the English-born entrepreneur filled bellies all along the westward-expanding Atchinson, Topeka & Sante Fe railroad at the turn of the 20th century.

Not only were Harvey House meals of consistent quality and value, they were served up by the refined, morally upright, and danged cute Harvey Girls  –  quite possibly the Platonic ideal of what it means to be a waitress. They even inspired a “gay and lusty” 1946 Judy Garland musical. (Watch the trailer.)

Harvey also had a major impact on Kansas City. In 1914, Union Station opened and became a nerve center for the American railroad. With the Fred Harvey company headquarters located in the building, alongside a 525-seater Harvey House, Harvey's enterprise was feeding the growth of Kansas City and the West. (Harvey died in 1901, but his name lived on through the company and its owner, his son Ford Harvey, who helped shape KC in his own right.)

Is your makeup trying to kill you? Some days it may seem like it. The blusher quits working, the foundation is flat, the lipstick has turned into Clown Red but the label says “Blushing Bride Pink.”

Perry Romanowski and the collective of cosmetic scientists behind The Beauty Brains understand the science and tech behind the beauty biz and know how to explain it in simple terms. Think of them as the Dear Abby of the cosmetic counter. They’ll answer any question, no matter how absurd.

And they have some silly ones in their book Can You Get Hooked on Lip Balm?* While the questions may seem silly, the answers are serious. The Beauty Brains speak openly about name-brand hair care products and such products’ claims to body-enhancing magic. Newsflash: The cosmetics industry is in it to make a buck, but they can’t lie about what their products do. Read between the lines of the fine print. But there’s some solid advice and science in this book, too.

For starters, the BBs talk about the biological components of hair and how to keep it healthy and shiny. The upshot? Don’t put stuff on it: chemicals, heat, pressure. This means go easy on the coloring, flat irons, and hair extensions. But if you can’t, they offer practical guidance for keeping hair as healthy as possible under these adverse conditions.

Textile and needlecrafts are among the oldest crafts in human history. Along with the ability to craft rudimentary tools came the use of those tools to fashion draped skins and other natural fibers for protection from the elements. Humans are the only animal on Earth to wear clothing.

It might be argued that to both clothe oneself and one’s loved ones, as well as creatively and culturally express oneself through fashion choices, is a time-honored endeavor that reaches into the very roots of what it means to be human.

I suspect that it is no accident that as mass-produced clothing now overflows on department store racks across much of the industrialized world, a renaissance has taken place with a renewed enthusiasm for handcrafting in the textile and needlecraft arts. In addition, shows like Project Runway have spurred interest in the creative art of fashion design.

The Kansas City Public Library has a huge selection of books and videos to help you get started or expand your abilities in textiles and needlecrafts. So great is this selection, scattered throughout our Consortium system, (a Catalog search yielded more than one thousand titles on “quilting” alone), that I can only touch on some of the many materials available. But let’s survey some of the categories, along with some of the items available.

May never comes but I think of May Day (May 1) and the no-longer-vibrant Communist Party with its call, “Workers of the World, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.” What to read this month of May? 

Kapital seemed too long. The Communist Manifesto seemed too short. Quotations from Chairman Mao seemed just right. 

The book is an unusual one for a classic. It is a collection of quotations, much like Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, but with all quotations coming from one source: Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and its leader for another quarter century or so. There are a total of 427 quotations on 33 topics taken from speeches and writings by Mao from 1927 through 1964.

The book was first published in 1965, and published in translation in 1966. During the first decade of its existence, it was expected that every man and woman in China have a copy of the Quotations and that they consult and study it on a regular basis. Because of China’s large population, the book had one of the largest circulations of any book in its day. Take that, John Grisham!

Following Mao’s death in 1976, the book waned in popularity, though Quotations still has some hold on the generation that came of age in the 1950s and 1960s. 

On a bright spring day last week at the Central Library, 18 fifth graders from Trailwoods Elementary pressed their palms to the glass and peered out the fourth-floor windows. To the north, the Renaissance Revival brownstone towers of the 120-year-old New York Life Building loomed majestically.

It was the first installment of the Library's High Five History: Inside and Out tour series, and the little-known view of Kansas City's earliest skyscraper was only one of quite a few oooh-inducing sights.

Other wonders: the view overlooking 10th and Main from the Rooftop Terrace, the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault's 35-ton bank vault door, and the elegant Missouri Valley Room, where Special Collections Librarian Jeremy Drouin gave a talk on researching primary sources (a theme throughout the tour).

It was in Special Collections, too, that Library Director Crosby Kemper III treated the students to an impromptu visit with local author, professor, and former Kansas City Chiefs player Pellom McDaniels, who had brought his son to research a book project

In her latest collection of personal observations, truisms, and experiences, I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections, author Nora Ephron assembles more life lessons cloaked in pithy, relatable text.

Nora obviously had a few more things to get off her chest after her book I Feel Bad About My Neck. Being a big believer in a refreshing, recuperative rant every now and then, I gleefully listened for her latest editorials. Nora masterfully and lovingly rants about the things we would all rant about if we had the enormous platform or audience to listen.

While there ain’t no rant like an adorable Nora rant, the book’s title is what really drew me in. I have a morosely poor memory, and I was eager to hear what she had to say on the topic—so I could then promptly forget it.

Concerning her own fading memory, Nora concedes, “On some level, my life has been wasted on me. After all, if I can’t remember it, who can?”

(Preach it, sister!)

Nora produces a long list of celebrity encounters that she confesses she can’t recall anything about — like Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. She also admits that the sole thing she recalls about her trip to the White House the evening Richard Nixon resigned was her stolen wallet.

(Hey, I’m not here to judge.)

In today's 24/7 news cycle, it's impossible to imagine President Obama boarding a yacht to undergo major surgery, disappearing for two days, and spending weeks recovering on a fishing trip with no explanation beyond a case of rheumatism, a toothache, and a much-needed vacation.

But in the summer of 1893, that's exactly what Grover Cleveland did. And even then, he barely got away with it.

In his new book, The President Is a Sick Man, Matthew Algeo, author of Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure, recounts the story of how Cleveland pulled the wool over the public's eyes regarding his debilitating health problems – and then vilified the reporter who had the gall to tell the real story.

Algeo gives a free presentation about his new book – the first full account of this relatively forgotten but culturally revealing period in our nation's history – on Tuesday, May 3, 2011, at the Central Library, at 6:30 p.m. (RSVP to attend.)

Every reader loves discovering a first novel no one has read yet and passing it on to other readers who will share the delights of a brand new voice. Look what happened with Sara Gruen and Water for Elephants, Kathryn Stockett and The Help, or Garth Stein and The Art of Racing in the Rain. All became big word-of-mouth titles.

But how about those dusty gems languishing on the bookshelf that didn’t get the big publicity push? They are no less satisfying, delightful and thought-provoking. Readers interested in giving a second life to a first novel may find something worth passing on from these debuts that should have put their authors on the reading map.

Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine by Ann Hood

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