In the brilliant and gritty HBO series Rome, Cleopatra is a crafty and ambitious seductress who charms first Caesar and then Mark Antony for the sake of preserving Egypt (and her power over it) at a time when Rome was transitioning from republic to empire.
In this clip from the series (below), Cleopatra visits Mark Antony in Rome to ask his help in getting a public declaration of paternity for her son, Caesarion. (In the show, as in history, Cleopatra claimed that her son’s father was the murdered dictator Julius Caesar.)
Is this flirtatious, soap-operatic scene ripped from the pages of history? Of course not -- well, not really. Like so many other depictions of Cleopatra in historical fiction and pop culture, from Shakespeare to Elizabeth Taylor, HBO’s is based scantly on fact and vastly on imagination.
In Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, we get four stories: the histories of apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. You might not think the story of a plant would be very compelling, but as our Plaza Branch Barista’s Book Club learned, Pollan intrigues readers through careful management of historical facts, research, and personal anecdotes.
Pollan, a journalist, author, and food activist, follows the co-evolution of each plant with humans – how they interact, how they have affected one another, and how that affects the world – using the framework of four human desires: sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and food.
Ever had a friend who would blurt out all the wrong things at the all the wrong times and yet was always funny in a screwball sort of way? That describes the wacky vibe and self-deprecating tone of Jen Lancaster’s new memoir, My Fair Lazy.
In her amusing fifth book, titled My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover If Not Being A Dumb Ass Is the New Black, or, a Culture-Up Manifesto, Lancaster decides to put down the remote on reality TV and focus on “an emergency cultural makeover,” or as she alternately calls it, “a Jenaissance.”
This true story begins when Lancaster meets her idol and fellow writer, Candace Bushnell, of Sex and the City fame. In a conversation between the two, Lancaster realizes she embarrassingly doesn’t have much to discuss past the latest episode of The Bachelor.
As the pages turn and Lancaster’s fast-food, couch-potato, trash-TV lifestyle painfully blossoms into a cosmopolitan success, she discovers new restaurants, enjoys fine wines, goes to live theater, takes in various music forms and eclectic art styles, and even reads classic literature.
From sowing community gardens to starting grassroots organizations, Wick Thomas has fought for more causes than you can shake a picket sign at. When he's not planning a rally or hitting the political-science textbooks for school at UMKC, Thomas is championing libraries as beacons of free speech.
Lithe, bedecked with body piercings and sporting a different hair color every week, Thomas cuts a dashing, unconventional figure among the stacks in Central Youth Services, where he works as a Library associate.
When we spoke with the 23-year-old from Drexel, Missouri, his hair was sandy brown with blond highlights, teased on top and buzzed on the sides. His first gig at the Kansas City Public Library made use of his chameleonic appearance: wearing a costume and giving tours of the January 2008 exhibit Once Upon a Time: Exploring the World of Fairy Tales at the Central Library.
He worked the next two years as a technical assistant at the Ruiz Branch, where he found that his alternative appearance broke down barriers with youthful patrons.
"I think adults are intimidated by [my appearance], but kids respond to it and want to talk, and it's a good way to open them up to talking about the library," he says.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.