Update, September 2011: Since this blog entry was posted, more e-readers and devices have become available for use with Library e-books, including the Amazon Kindle. Visit our e-reader tutorial page for the latest information.

With an estimated 10 percent of adults planning to give e-readers as gifts over the holidays, the season of the e-book is truly upon us. As you prepare to wrap – or unwrap – that shiny new Nook or Kindle, check out this guide to checking out e-books from the Kansas City Public Library.

Just as with printed books, when it comes to affordable e-reading, libraries are a bountiful resource. The Library has a growing collection of more than a thousand e-books that you can download and transfer to your e-reader. We also have many more that can be read online through NetLibrary. This blog post will focus on downloadable e-books, which are provided to the Library through a service called OverDrive.

It takes a little time and a teensy bit of effort to check out e-books, but once you’re familiar with the process, it’s a breeze.

Most people know little about the fates of survivors and refugees of the gruesome events of World War II. But in Day After Night, Anita Diamant’s 2008 novel, little known historical events are brought to vivid life. The Barista’s Book Club at the Plaza Branch read Day After Night in November, and found it brought out a lively discussion.

Best known for retelling the stories of biblical women in her 2007 book The Red Tent, Diamant again tells the story of a group of women – this time basing her story on the actual historical events surrounding the mass breakout of a detention center for Jewish refugees who were attempting to enter Israel as that country was being established in late 1945.

The Trailblazers book group has called the Trails West Branch of the Kansas City Public Library home for almost ten years. They started gathering to discuss reading in April of 2001 at the behest of then-branch-staffer Jackie Brown. Brown has since joined the Facilities team at the Central Library, but she left behind a loyal group of readers who have welcomed their new facilitator, Nancy Oelke.

The eclectic band of readers are open to almost any kind of books (except for horror, they freely admit) and have definite favorites from the past years. Stand-out titles include The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry (“Jackie brought cucumber sandwiches and fresh-squeezed lemonade!” one clubber remembers), Portrait in Sepia by Isabelle Allende (flan!), and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

Dark, twisted and strange, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary is the newest offering by humorist and author David Sedaris. A collection of short stories in which all the characters are animals that personify human failings, it reads like Aesop meets Quentin Tarantino.

Some readers may love this book, but be warned, if you are a Sedaris fan, this is not your typical Sedaris book (if there is such a thing). While his other writings, like Naked and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, often focus on his funny, off-beat personal and family situations, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is vulgar, violent, bizarre, and at times even stomach-turning.

This small compilation of 16 stories begins with “The Cat and the Baboon,” which centers on a gossiping baboon beautician and her cat client who needs a good grooming. What is the point of this opening piece? In Sedaris’s own words (albeit, toned-down for this blog), it’s to determine the “fine line between licking” – ahem, one’s posterior – “and simply kissing it.”

When the Kansas City Public Library’s annual Adult Winter Reading Program returns in January 2011, it will be sporting its new Altered States theme – which has already inspired several readers amongst Kansas City Public Library staff members.

Before getting to staff picks and recommendations for Winter Reading, a definition of the Altered States is needed:

The timeline of human history presents innumerable crossroads, junctions where individual actions proved decisive – perhaps even more so if these actions were altered even slightly. This premise has proved irresistible for authors of such stature as Mark Twain, Margaret Atwood, and Ray Bradbury. Novelists habitually manipulate time and transform our world, twisting its shape and cultures and characters to conform to their own imaginations and authorial ambitions. The resulting conflicts are insightful and rewarding – and the best examples ring true.

The Altered States theme has already inspired several readers amongst Kansas City Public Library staff members.

When we’re coming up to the Christmas season, my wife and I spend a lot of our TV time watching Christmas-themed movies – I bet we have about dozen such films we watch every Christmastime. For this month’s Classics Reviewed blog, then, I wanted to pick something that was seasonally appropriate – but not too obvious.

Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol, was out; most people are already quite familiar with it. Racking my brain, I came up with this epyllion (mini-epic) of the 14th c.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight comes to us from a single manuscript (Cotton Nero A x [contact me for more information on the name]), owned by the same man who owned our only copy of Beowulf (a.k.a. Cotton Vitellius A xv), Sir Robert Cotton. In addition to this poem, the manuscript also contains some short poems, “Pearl,” “Purity,” and “Patience.” The unknown author of Gawain is sometimes called the Gawain poet, and sometimes the Pearl poet. 

Riddle us this: How many librarians does it take to change a light bulb? At the Kansas City Public Library, it takes exactly zero. That’s because we’ve got folks like Operations Manager Jerry Houchins to keep the lights on, the buildings warm, and all the facilities clean and running smoothly.

Whether it’s trimming the trees at North-East, replacing the book drop at Sugar Creek, checking the sprinklers at the Plaza Branch, or making sure the Missouri Valley Special Collections are protected in case of a disaster, no job is too big – or too small – for Houchins and his team.

In fact, it’s hard to think of areas that aren't affected by Operations in some way. Conducting renovations, ensuring fire and building safety, promoting energy efficiency, helping with events and exhibits, managing the janitorial staff – these are just a few of this department's charges.

“Anything that’s behind the scenes at the Library, that’s us. We touch more of everything than any other department,” Houchins says.

Houchins has worked backstage at the Kansas City Public Library for the better part of 10 years, a time that’s seen ups – and downs.

In July 2009, Houchins left his post as Plant Operations Manager for what he thought would prove greener pastures, working maintenance for a property management company. Houchins eventually found he’d made a bad move.

The recent release of Mark Twain’s uncensored autobiography has set the literary world ablaze. And that excitement was in the air a few weeks ago at the Central Library, when one of the editors of Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, Robert H. Hirst, came to give a presentation before a crowd of nearly 450 “Twainiacs.”

What’s fantasy, you ask? There’s no single, accepted definition, but the giveaway is usually magic. Whether it’s The Lord of the Rings or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if the world described in the book features some difference from Earth that is the result of magic or other unexplained phenomena, you’re probably holding a fantasy novel.

How Life Imitates Chess book jacket

For Garry Kasparov, life really does imitate chess. The top-ranked chess player in the world for nearly 22 years, Kasparov retired from international competition in 2005 and took on an even more challenging career. He entered Russian politics and became the leader of the opposition movement, playing democracy’s white against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s black.

Eric Petersen and Hank Shivers

For many people, job searching today is a full-time, well, job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 15 million Americans are out of work. Kansas City’s unemployment rate, while better than the national rate, is an unsettling 8.5 percent, and area job seekers face many challenges, from negotiating public transportation to navigating the online employment maze. The Central Library’s H&R Block Business & Career Center is here to help.

Business Librarian Eric Petersen is presenting Use the Library to Get That Job, a free class for anyone who’s in the market for work, on Tuesday, November 30, at 9:30 a.m. at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.  The class will offer practical tips on finding and landing a new job, such as using employment-listings sites effectively and crafting a strong résumé and cover letter.

“Librarians have assisted job seekers since the profession began,” Petersen says.

A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Second Annual Book Lovers and Book Clubs Conference. For this local event’s first year, founder and organizer Kim Riley held the gathering at a small community center and was overwhelmed with the positive response. This year, Kim looked to her local library for assistance, and the Kansas City Public Library was happy to oblige.

Held on Saturday, November 6, 2010, the conference brought in five popular and critically acclaimed African-American authors to meet loyal fans and readers in a casual setting. Victoria Christopher Murray, Trisha Thomas, Victor McGlothin, and Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant gave presentations on their books, current projects, relationships with their readers, and their own favorite reading. The authors continued to connect with fans during a book signing.

Drawing inspiration from sources such as 1984 and The Running Man, as well as the gladiatorial games in ancient Rome, Suzanne Collins raises the bar in the dystopia genre with her gripping trilogy about survival and mass media gone too far.

In the not-too distant future, society has collapsed. Risen from its ashes is Panem, a collection of city-states, “districts,” held together under iron-fisted totalitarian rule. Districts close to the capital benefit from that nearness by having a higher quality of living, faster services, and luxuries. But life in the outer, poorer districts is a grim scramble just to meet basic needs, to make it from one week to the next.

Here at the Kansas City Public Library, we like to think big. Brobdignagian books line our parking garage, baffling bloggers worldwide. Our collection is huge, numbering over a million titles. And as the 2010-11 Script-in-Hand season of free public plays shows, we like our drama big, too.

What’s big about Script-in-Hand? The abilities of the actors and directors from the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre – which has produced this program for all of its’ five-year existence – are tremendous. And the plays they deliver each year are towering works of literature.

But most of all, in this 2010-11 season, it’s the ideas that are biggest.

Don't go there. Seriously, don't go there. Wondering where to take your next road trip or how to squander those frequent flyer miles? Instead of suggestions for where you should visit, how about a list of places to avoid?

Catherine Price has cobbled together a host of hotspots (not) on the road less traveled, and best they stay that way. If you're one of those travelers who prefers to go off the beaten path you need 101 Places Not to See Before You Die.

Some of these locations will require a passport and some simply an overactive imagination. Price has listed some actual places in her travelogue of decidedly untropical locales, and some she’s made up or can’t prove exist. Such as “The Room Where Spam Subject Lines are Created” or “Hell.”

Price is fairly certain that there must be some staff lounge somewhere with too much Mountain Dew and three hyper guys thinking up intricate ways English can be manipulated to capture your attention while scanning your email. And she doesn’t know about you, but she has no plans to visit Hell or any of its circles any time soon.

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