Reading is usually a solitary activity.
But not when it's part of the Big Read, a community-wide effort to take one great book and get as many people as possible to start reading and talking about it.
This year focusing on Charles Portis' picaresque Western novel True Grit, The Big Read is a National Endowment for the Arts initiative designed to promote the role of literature in American culture. This is the fifth time in six years that the Library has received a grant to participate; previously the program centered on books such as Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.
In True Grit, 14-year-old Mattie Ross teams up with U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn and a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf to scour Indian Territory for her father's killer. The novel has been a perennial favorite since its publication in 1968, acclaimed for its witty writing, which is relished by adults, and for its spunky heroine, who appeals to young readers.
This year's Big Read officially kicks off with the 2013 American Royal Parade at 9:45 a.m. on Saturday, September 28, 2013. Library Director Crosby Kemper III will suit up as Rooster Cogburn (complete with eye patch) and ride a horse down Grand Boulevard in the company of other individuals dressed as characters from the novel.
The parade launches a six-week schedule of Big Read/True Grit activities that include free public events, book discussions, and an exhibit of Old West photographs.
Perhaps the most satisfying and simplest manifestation of the Big Read is a book discussion group. Friends (or even better, strangers) read True Grit and come together to talk about it. Additional copies of the novel in both English and Spanish have been added to the collections of the Library's 10 locations; that's also where readers can sign up for a discussion group or find help in creating their own groups.
What True Grit (Might Have) Looked Like: The Photographs of F.M. Steele, an exhibit of vintage cowboy photos, will be on display starting Friday, September 20, 2013, in the Guldner Gallery at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Created in collaboration with the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University and the E.S.U. Alumni Association, the exhibit features nearly 40 photographs taken in Kansas, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The photos also will be the subject of a talk by Jim Hoy, professor of English at Emporia State and author of nine books -- including Flint Hills Cowboys: Tales of the Tallgrass Prairie -- on Sunday, October 20, 2013, at 2 p.m. at the Central Library.
· In the spirit of True Grit's fictional heroine, author Ann Kirschner looks at a real-life Western heroine in a discussion of her new book Lady at the O.K. Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp on Tuesday, September 24, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.
· Washburn University's Tom Averill examines how True Grit presents the time period we now recognize as the classic Old West on Wednesday, September 25, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. Averill, the author of three novels -- rode (2011), Secrets of the Tsil Café (2001), and The Slow Air of Ewan MacPherson (2003) -- looks at the ways in which Westerns have embraced coming-of-age themes and addressed issues of diversity and racism, violence and genocide, and justice.
· Local musician Jeff Harshbarger performs original compositions inspired by the era in which the novel unfolds in The Sound of True Grit on Wednesday, October 2, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.
· Historian Michael Searles explores the frontier lives of real-life African-American women in True Grit and Black Women of the West on Friday, October 4, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. Searles will focus on legendary figures like "Stagecoach" Mary Fields who broke the mold for female behavior by carrying a pistol, smoking cigars, and even drinking with the boys at her local tavern.
· Western author Brett Cogburn discusses his great-grandfather and subject of his book Rooster: The Life and Times of the Real Rooster Cogburn, the Man Who Inspired True Grit, on Sunday, October 6, 2013, at 2 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. Never a lawman and possessor of two good eyes, the real Rooster Cogburn nevertheless led a colorful life, several aspects of which closely resemble those of Portis' fictional character.
· The popular Meet the Past series resumes on Thursday, October 10, 2013, at
at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.6:30 p.m.when Library Director Crosby Kemper III holds a conversation with the legendary African-American horseman Tom Bass, as portrayed by Walter Coppage. Born a slave, Bass was the original "horse whisperer" who in the 1890s operated a stable in Kansas City and became the first African American to ride in the American Royal Horse Show.
· Moderator Jane Wood leads an all-woman panel in the discussion Mattie Ross - A Portrait of Feminist Heroism or Traditional Masculinity? on Thursday, October 24, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St. They will delve into questions of the media portrayal of women (with special attention paid the Western genre), diversity in female depiction of heroism, and current activism in the Kansas City area to empower women and girls.
· Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Anthony Gasaway examines the professional duties and dangers dealt with regularly by the fictional Rooster Cogburn as well as today's marshals in U.S. Marshals: A Popular History of the Nation's Oldest Law Enforcement Agency on Wednesday, October 30, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. Among the duties shared by Rooster and contemporary marshals are courthouse security, apprehending fugitives, securing and transporting prisoners, and protecting witnesses.
· The True Life, True Grit series features speakers from varied backgrounds who have exhibited courage and perseverence. Kansas City resident Bambi Nancy Shen discusses her powerful life story as chronicled in her book The Uncrushable Rose: A Memoir from Concentration Camp to Becoming a Free Woman on Sunday, September 29, 2013, at 2 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.. Former U.S. Representative Ike Skelton talks about his upcoming book Achieve the Honorable: A Missouri Congressman's Journey from Warm Springs to Washingtonon Tuesday, October 8, 2013, at 6:30 p.m., at the Central Library.
Screenings of True Grit films:
The original 1969 version for which John Wayne won the Academy Award screens on Friday, October 4, 2013, at 2 p.m. at the Waldo Branch, 201 E. 75th St., on Sunday, October 6, 2013, at 2 p.m. at the L.H. Bluford Branch, 3050 Prospect, on Thursday, October 7, 2013, at the North-East Branch, 6000 Wilson Road, and on Saturday, October 19, 2013, at 5 p.m. at the Sugar Creek Branch, 102 S. Sterling.
The Coen brothers' 2010 remake starring Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon screens on Saturday, September 28, 2013, at 2 p.m. at the I.H. Ruiz Library, 2017 W. Pennway; on Tuesday, October 1, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.; on Monday, October 7, 2013, at 4:30 p.m. at the Southeast Branch, 6242 Swope Parkway; on Wednesday, October 16, 2013, at 7 p.m. at the Sugar Creek Branch, 102 S. Sterling, on Friday, October 25 at 1 p.m. at the Westport Branch, 118 Westport Rd., and on Saturday, October 26, 2013, at 2 p.m. at the Trails West Branch, 1141 E. 23rd St.
Women of the West film series:
Inspired by the stubborn spirit of Mattie Ross, this free series features titles in which female characters play a major role. Screenings are in the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault at the Central Library.
Films are screened Saturdays at 1:30 p.m.and include: Westward the Women (October 5), The Ballad of Little Jo (October 12), Cat Ballou (October 19), Heartland (October 26).
All Kansas City Big Read events are free. Free parking is available in the Library District Parking Garage at 10th & Baltimore. RSVP at kclibrary.org or call 816.701.3407.
For more information on the Big Read, visit kcbigread.org.