Leo Tolstoy

At about 1,400 pages (depending on the translation), War and Peace is quite a challenge. The weak of heart, or those who suffer easily from eye strain, need not apply themselves to this work. That said, Leo Tolstoy’s epic is well worth the effort.

This historical novel is set in the early 19th century, during Russia’s wars with Napoleon. Covering about a decade’s time (from about 1805 to 1815), the novel treats about a dozen main characters, exploring how they are affected by the wars and the peace that separates and follows the wars.

What distinguishes this novel from other historical novels dealing with the same period, such as Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey series or Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, is the depth of Tolstoy’s exploration of his characters’ lives and the way in which they are woven into the fabric of the history of those times. This is not simply an historical novel, but a meditation on history, using fiction to tell history.

Riverboat Illustration

A leader of the regionalist movement in 20th century American art, Thomas Hart Benton showed the same fascination for ordinary people and bucolic settings that his fellow Missourian Mark Twain popularized in his writings the century before. Benton was the natural choice to illustrate three of Twain's books reprinted in the 1930s and '40s.

It was nearly 30 years after Twain’s death in 1910 that the Limited Editions Club of New York (which had already paired Matisse with James Joyce’s Ulysses and Picasso with Lysistrata) asked Benton to illustrate reissued versions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Life on the Mississippi.

Joan Stack, art curator of the State Historical Society of Missouri, is presenting a lecture on Benton’s Limited Editions Club illustrations at the Central Library on Sunday, September 19 at 2 p.m. (Details here.) She says that Benton “embraced Twain as a kindred spirit, someone who was as inspired by the land and people of Missouri just as much as he was.”

What's next? It’s the book lover's eternal question. Your Facebook friends may have suggestions, but have they done the research? Amazon tells you what other people bought, but how relevant is that, really? When you're looking for that next great read, the book recommendation database NoveList finds fiction to match your tastes.

Developed by trained readers' advisory librarians, NoveList by EBSCOhost is a comprehensive fiction recommendation engine that you can use for free with your Kansas City Public Library card. To access it, go to our databases page and search by topic (Languages & Literature) or alphabetically (“N”). Or just click here. Log in by typing in the number on the back of your Library card and entering your PIN. (If you forgot your PIN, fill out this online form to have it immediately emailed to you.)

Kim Patton by Elise Del Vecchio

Kim Patton likes books with lots of angst. This is one reason why she’s perfectly suited for life as a teen librarian. When she talks about the sci-fi thriller Unwind by Neal Shusterman or the apocalyptic Gone by Michael Grant, she radiates enthusiasm. And as the newly crowned president of the influential Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), she knows what it takes to get teens reading.

An 18-year veteran of the Lawrence Public Library, Patton came to the Kansas City Public Library in December 2008 to give focus to the nascent teen services department.

“We’ve always worked with teenagers, but we didn’t have a clear plan that deliberately involved providing the services they want until we hired Kim,” says Crystal Faris, Director of Teen Services.

In Lawrence, Patton built the library’s teen center from the ground up – a pioneering move for any librarian at the time, as teen services is a fairly recent field.

Patton has always been a library lover. As a kid growing up in Topeka, she learned how to work the system to her advantage.

When thinking of the post-Ghostbusters Bill Murray, whose career is being featured this month in our Film Vault, one tends to assume that his acting career has taken a turn for the serious in recent years, a veritable Tom Hanksian transformation, if you will.

The Great Typo Hunt: Deck and Herson come to the Plaza Branch Wednesday, September 8.

Misspellings on marquees, apostrophe abuse in ads – Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson have seen it all. The Great Typo Hunt documents their road trip with friends ridding America of grammatical errors. In honor of their presentation at the Plaza Branch (click here for details), we conducted a typo hunt of our own around Kansas City.

Over the past week and a half, we at the Kansas City Public Library have been leading a campaign to scour the local landscape for typos. Unlike Deck and Herson’s Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL), whose 2008 journey led to the correction of hundreds of public transgressions against the English language nationwide, our humble mission sought only to capture local violations. And we enlisted your help doing it.

Tim Westcott lectures on General Order No. 11

On a hot Saturday last month, 50 people gathered at the Westport Branch to learn about another August day 147 years ago, when soldiers ordered 20,000 Missouri civilians from their homes. It was a period in local history as regrettable as it is compelling. In the Union Army's reprisal for guerrilla raids against places like Lawrence, Kansas, lives were lost and houses burned.

General Order No. 11 and Westport's place in the center of the border skirmishes of summer 1863 are the epicenter of local Civil War history. And talking about these events just once a year isn't enough for DIY scholars like Doreen Mundy.

Mundy and 13 of her friends occupied the back row of the Westport Historical Society’s lecture on Order No. 11. Until two years ago, most of the people in Mundy’s group didn’t know each other. They’re members of the American History group Mundy set up on the social networking site Meetup.com, which helps people connect online around shared interests and then “meetup” in person. Seventy-five people belong to Mundy’s group, which typically meets twice a month. They’ve conducted 55 meetups since 2008.

Uncle Sam juggles with schoolkids at the Ruiz Branch. (Photos by Elise Del Vecchio)

It’s the first week of the 2010 school year in Kansas City, Missouri, a time of energy and excitement. And for many parents, it’s a time for cutting back – those no. 2 pencils and spiral notebooks add up. Thanks to the KC Public Library’s Ruiz Branch, nearly 200 Westside families got a break from the school-supply squeeze.

On Thursday, August 12, the Irene H. Ruiz Branch hosted the Ninth Annual Back to School Pep Rally. Described as “a Celebration of Learning,” the event was organized by the library in partnership with the Westside Community Action Network Center and the Tony Aguirre Community Center .

Three hundred backpacks full of supplies were given to 175 families with students in Westside schools. The supplies were donated by a large group of individuals and companies, including neighborhood people, local businesses, and federal agencies.

“It couldn’t be what it is without a lot of people,” says Ruiz Branch manager Julie Robinson, who has helped with the event for the past seven years.

The Feed by Mira Grant

This year I have the great honor of being a member of the American Library Association’s national committee to pick the best genre books of the year for the award called The Reading List. I am spending my year reading brand-new books in seven different genres and am, along with my committee members, trying to find the year’s best-of-the-best in Romance, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Women's Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery and Horror.  

I thought I would begin with Horror since, until I started on this committee, I was sure I didn’t like horror. Imagine my surprise when I found that Horror has grown and now includes many categories that I had never thought of before. In fact, I find that I am really enjoying many of the books I’ve been assigned to read, especially the post-apocalyptic stories.

Now, after reading these novels, my biggest question has become “Why are the only survivors of an apocalypse always under the age of 25?”Granted, I have taken Facebook quizzes that suggest I have the survival skills of a kumquat but really, is it so much to ask that I be allowed to survive the apocalypse so that I, too, can be eaten by horrific, genetically engineered bugs?

Without further ado -- and in alphabetical order -- here's my list of the year’s best Horror, along with links to the books in our catalog, when applicable.

The survivors of the Lawrence Massacre are featured in a new book.

Of William Quantrill, the Reverend H.D. Fisher wrote: “In him were represented courage and cowardice; successful leadership, intrigue, cunning, desperation, revenge and hate, all to a marked degree.” Fisher would have known, too – Quantrill nearly killed him.

Fisher was one of the survivors of the 1863 guerrilla raid on Lawrence, Kansas, that left 180 dead and much of the town burned to the ground. A new book by a local scholar examines how the survivors of the Lawrence Massacre rebuilt their town and their lives.

Lawrence historian Katie Armitage comes to the Central Library on Sunday, August 29, at 2 p.m. to discuss her new book, Lawrence Survivors of Quantrill’s Raid. The event is free and open to the public; RSVP here to reserve a seat.

Rosemary Herbert discusses her New Omnibus of Crime August 26 at the Plaza Branch.

From Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot to CSI’s Catherine Willows, crime writing has changed a lot in the past 75 years. A New Omnibus of Crime shows how crime fiction has developed from a genteel genre populated by old ladies solving crimes over tea to a scientific discipline full of cold-blooded killers.

A New Omnibus of Crime was compiled by Tony Hillerman and Rosemary Herbert as a followup to Dorothy Sayers’s 1929 Omnibus of Crime. Just as the original Omnibus sought to represent the developments in the genre, the New Omnibus contains stories that exemplify trends in crime writing that have arisen since its predecessor was published.

Portrait of Jesse James by A.L. Dillenbeck - Missouri Valley Special Collections

Have you met Jesse James? Charlie Parker? How about Amelia Earhart? Last year, these and other local legends barnstormed the Library for Meet the Past with Crosby Kemper. Now you can watch all of KCPT's televised episodes and relive more than a century of KC history without leaving your homestead.

From April through October of last year, a series of top-notch re-enactors conjured the personas of some of the most memorable people in American history, all with ties to the Kansas City area: Harry S. Truman, "Boss" Tom Pendergast, Walt Disney, Thomas Hart Benton and others.

Fielding questions from Library Director Crosby Kemper III, as well as the audience in attendance (usually 450 or more), these denizens of the past brought flesh, blood and a fresh outlook to the stories held in the tomes on the Library’s shelves.

Now you can revisit those conversations in our online media center. Visit our complete episode guide, get the info, and follow the links to the videos on BlipTV.

Page One of the Heilongjiang Daily, April 6, 1968 - Photograph © Li Zhensheng (Contact Press Images)

Imagine President Obama jumping into the Potomac for a swim, in the process signaling a violent youth movement that overturned state and local governments. Hard to believe? Something much like that happened in 1966 when Mao Zedong launched China's Cultural Revolution.

Now, we’re not comparing President Obama to Chairman Mao in terms of political agendas. But imagine, for a minute, watching the leader of the world’s most populous country take a dip in a river, don a white bathrobe and wave happily to the press. Meanwhile, he’s spawning a revolution that will shut down schools and slow industry to crawl as his Red Guard ransacks homes, schools and libraries, persecutes capitalists and religious leaders, and generally makes a mess of the whole country. Kind of an odd picture, isn’t it?

In a two-hour display of vigor, on July 16, 1966, the 72-year-old Mao Zedong swam the Yangtze River. He was reprising a swim he had made ten years earlier, which he’d immortalized in a poem. As the clip below shows, the 1966 swim not only set off a national swimming craze, it also heralded the beginning of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. For ten years – until Mao’s death in 1976 – the Cultural Revolution sent China into a tailspin.

Thin Blue Smoke by Doug Worgul

Kansas City is often referred to as the Barbecue Capital of the World – an assertion its citizens take very seriously. Doug Worgul’s new novel, Thin Blue Smoke, offers a fictionalized take on our town’s famous barbecue scene.

Worgul will present his novel at the Kansas City Public Library on Wednesday, August 11 at 6:30 p.m. Join us for some free burnt ends from Oklahoma Joe’s at the reception starting at 6 p.m., and then stay to hear about Worgul’s barbecue-based story of epic redemption.

Worgul’s novel features a variety of characters whose lives intersect at their local barbecue restaurant, called Smoke Meat by its regulars. Central to the plot are LaVerne Williams, owner of Smoke Meat and ex-ballplayer for the Kansas City Athletics (before the team moved to Oakland), and Ferguson Glen, an Episcopal priest and alcoholic who finds his own salvation through the glory of barbecue. A host of other characters round out the cast, including a local blues legend, a big-hearted developer, and a young man adopted into the Williams family through his work in the restaurant.

Moment of Psycho - Thomson

Voyeurism is an acceptable trait in a filmmaker. But sadism? In his new book, The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder, celebrated critic David Thomson shows how Alfred Hitchcock damaged his audiences even more than his actresses.

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