Kansas City Noir by Steve Paul, editor

If you’re a fan of shadowy crime fiction, local authors, and well-written literature, then Kansas City Noir is a book you’ll definitely want to add to your library reading list.

Just published in October as part of a noir series by Akashic Books and edited by Steve Paul, senior writer and arts editor for the Kansas City Star newspaper, Kansas City Noir is an anthology of 14 new stories by some of this area’s fiction masters.

Contributors include Daniel Woodrell, the seasoned author of Winter’s Bone and several other novels; Mitch Brian, a screenwriting and film studies professor at UMKC; and Nadia Pflaum, a former reporter for The Pitch newspaper who now works as an investigator for the Midwest Innocence Project.

With such an eclectic group of talent, the variety of stories and writing styles showcased in Kansas City Noir is exceptional.  Even better, the collection does not have the regurgitated feel of  "typical" noir.  Instead, each piece, with its specific setting and distinctly twisted characters, leaves its own unique gritty impression on the reader.

Some stories, such as Grace Suh’s "Mission Hills Confidential," have a very suburban vibe, while other selections, like Nadia Pflaum’s "Charlie Price’s Last Supper," have a more urban feel.

  Each selection offers an edgy cast of characters, ranging from children of serial killers to police officers in turmoil, and as for subject matter, everything from missing persons to arson is explored.

Picking any standouts from Kansas City Noir would be hard because every tale is so deliciously disturbing and cynical

  Nancy Pickard’s "Lightbulb" does a great job of examining remorse and retaliation.  Linda Rodriguez and Catherine Browder add strong character conflict to the mix, and Andrés Rodríguez blows a smoky cloud of Kansas City history our way in "Milton’s Tap Room."

Although Kansas City Noir barely tops 200 pages and is conveniently organized into three distinct sections (Heartland, Crazy Little Women and Smoke and Mirrors), it is not necessarily a fast read.  Additionally, if you are the type of person who prefers light mysteries and tidy endings, don’t expect that in this compilation.

Kansas City Noir is more of a book that makes you ponder.  After finishing a selection, you find yourself wondering,  What would I do in that situation? or  Would I ever take things that far? 

In fact, Kansas City Noir’s hook is that it intriguingly gets you to spend as much time thinking about stories as you do reading them.

If you’re interested in discovering some talented area authors, exploring the murky noir genre, and want to enjoy some well-crafted fiction, Kansas City Noir is an anthology worth checking out.

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a librarian technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, and spending time with her family.

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Christmas Books Pinterest Contest Winner Announced!

The Library’s latest Pinterest Contest, Christmas Books: Past, Present, and Future, is over. But before we settle down for a long winter’s read, we’d like to congratulate Kristi Bond, the winner in the drawing for the grand prize.

Congrats, Kristi! We hope that Santa brings you lots of ebooks to load onto your brand-new Kindle Paperwhite when it arrives later this month. (But if St. Nick doesn’t come through, remember we have lots of ebooks you can check out for free.)

But even though Kristi was the only one who won the drawing, we hope all our pin-testants feel like winners. Together, our 43 entrants pinned 572 books. Wow. And with our Pinterest librarians Alicia and Kaite pinning and repining 112 more books to the Contest Reads board, that’s a lot of holiday-themed book discussion!

And that’s exactly how we wanted it.

We wanted to encourage you not just to share your favorite reads of Christmases Past, Present, and Future with us for the chance to win a Kindle. We also wanted you to get ideas for what to read yourself.

As contestant Sarah told us via email:

I may not have won the Kindle, but do you know what? I won something even better — I found 5 more books to put in my reading queue to request from the library! #ReadingIsPrettyMuchTheBestThingEver  #ILovePaper

#Agreed, Sarah.

Thanks to all who participated in the contest. As you gear up for the holidays, be sure to follow us on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter for a steady stream of good reads throughout the entire year.

Happy Christmas to all – and to all a good book!

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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Sweet Invention by Michael Krondl

Most people enjoy eating sweets, especially around this time of year. Michael Krondl in Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert shows how sweets have been a part of our diet since ancient times.

Krondl portrays six countries or regions in this narrative. They include India, the Middle East, Italy, France, Austria/Vienna and the United States. Desserts first started out as a treat for the wealthy but have evolved for the masses. A sweet can be a concoction of sugar, eggs, and milk; a fruit pie; a layered cake; or any other confection that completes a meal.

Not surprisingly, desserts have developed along with the cultivation and use of sugar around the world. Ancient civilizations offered confections to their gods seeking favor. These most likely were of bread-like consistency made with honey and dates.

Other religious traditions continue to incorporate sweets into their observances. Hindus offer them to their gods. Muslims make them part of Ramadan feasting. For Christians, no Christmas or Easter would be complete without sweets. Weddings and other special occasions also require something sweet.

Some desserts become associated with a particular region. Baklava is claimed by Turkey, although other countries make it as well. Austria is known for its tortes.

European aristocracy has long been known for lavish meals and sumptuous desserts. Louis XIV and Catherine de Medici are among those who set elaborate tables.

The United States expanded on the popularity of puddings in England and evolved them into custard pies. One American invention is the pecan pie, which uses the nuts that were readily available to early settlers.

With the advent of the Industrial age, people had less time for prolonged meals.

Pastry chefs had to study and work with pastries for years before they could work on their own. Pastry chefs became entrepreneurs by opening their own shops that sold confections. Pastry shops then began to cater to women at tea time when drink and a sweet kept hunger at bay between meals. These shops evolved into restaurants.

Another evolutionary process: Chocolate. Though common in the confections of today, it started out as a hot drink. Milton Hershey and Walter Baker are among those who figured out ways to turn chocolate into a variety of edible treats.

Cookbooks in the United States were published with recipes to entice people to bake desserts. The United States into the 20th century made desserts easy with cake mixes and kitchen gadgets. Some companies fostered demand for their products by supplying recipes for them using oatmeal or peanut butter.

Industrialization also saw the rise of commercially baked products saving consumers time and effort in the baking of desserts. Twenty-first century trends in dessert include a growing demand for cupcakes and macaroons.

As technology and tastes change, new flavors will shape the sweets of tomorrow. One thing is certain: the desire for something sweet and tasty will not lessen with the child in everyone demanding them.

I enjoyed reading about the history of desserts. Of course, I spent my reading time wishing for a piece of chocolate cake or something containing whipped cream! For a interesting and sweet read, this is a good book to get those taste buds flowing!

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.
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Carter's Big Break by Brent Crawford

No one ever said high school was easy, and Will Carter found that out the hard way in 2009's Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford. But did Carter really learn anything? We find out in the sequel, Carter's Big Break.

Will Carter returns with his hilarious observations and disastrous ideas as he tries to sustain his success, his relationship with Abby, and become a big star all at the same time.

When we first met Carter in Finally Gets It, he was trying to survive his freshman year of high school and win over the previously “chubby” Abby. In Big Break, Carter has somehow managed to navigate his way to the end of the year, and we join him as he starts the summer off. Carter is hanging out with his friends, trying to avoid helping his dad build a deck, and hoping not to scare off Abby.

Once again, we find Carter stumbling through life. At one point, he lands on his feet with a surprise role in a movie being filmed in his town. Another time however, he crashes his bike while trying to look cool in front of his friends and gets a face full of concrete.

Brent Crawford writes Carter’s story with the same fast pace that we sometimes experience in life – events tend to blend together, and before you know it the summer is over.

The dialogue of Big Break seems to be more mature than Crawford’s previous novel. Carter and his friends are typical teenage boys: they make fun of each other, shout rude things at strangers, and make dirty jokes at the least opportune moment. Carter and his buds are vulgar and disgusting – and also hilarious.

What strikes me about Carter and his experiences in life is that through it all, he seems extremely honest. We are often presented with characters whose viewpoint may not only be unreliable, but could possibly be completely imagined. I think Carter is truthfully relating his story the best way he knows how – with humor and color commentary.

Carter often thinks or says aloud the things we all tend to think – although not very eloquently. At one point in the novel, when Carter is introduced to a new workout technique, he says, “And just so you know, if someone asks you if you want to do some Pilates, tell them NO!” Thanks for the advice, Carter.

What can we take away from Carter and his big break? Is this the secret world of teenage boys we have been waiting for? Maybe it’s not such a secret after all. Can we really see inside the mind of those we can’t understand? Carter may have a lot of excuses for his behavior, but his thought process is interesting and entertaining. This may not be a “how-to” guide for understanding the teenage male mind, but it’s definitely fun to read.

About the Author

Megan Garrett

Megan Garrett is the librarian at the Sugar Creek Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. She also writes book reviews for the Independence Examiner newspaper.

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Pinterest Contest: Share Your Christmas Books for the Chance to Win a Kindle!

From Dec. 3 - 10, 2012, the Kansas City Public Library invites patrons to use Pinterest to share their Christmas Books: Past, Present, and Future for a chance to win a Kindle Paperwhite.

Do you like giving books as Christmas presents? How about receiving them? What books remind you of holidays past?

These are the questions we want you to keep in mind as you join us on Pinterest for a celebration of giving (and receiving) the gift of reading over the holidays.

If you’ve ever read or seen A Christmas Carol, you probably noticed how we’ve adapted the book’s Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future as our guiding motif. That’s no accident as we’ve been remembering Dickens this fall through our What the Dickens? series of book discussions, performances, and events.

Now, as Christmas approaches (whether you celebrate the actual holiday it or not), we want you to have fun and get practical by using Pinterest to plan your book reading, gifting, and receiving this holiday season – all for the chance to win a pretty sweet prize.

That’s right, we’re giving away a brand-new Kindle Paperwhite to one lucky pinner. The newest in Amazon’s line of e-readers, the Paperwhite is receiving rave advance reviews for its innovative, ultra-readable screen.

(Note: The first Paperwhites are scheduled to ship Dec. 21, so if you win, you’ll have to be a little patient.)

To qualify for the drawing, you must pin seven books between Dec. 3 and Dec. 10, 2012. And while we encourage anyone in the world to enter, you must be a Kansas City Public Library cardholder to win. (Fill out an online application, or, better yet, drop by any location to get your card today!)

Here’s how to enter the KC Library’s Christmas Books Pinterest Contest:

  • Follow the Library on Pinterest at pinterest.com/kclibrary.
  • Create a board titled “Christmas Books: Past, Present, Future”
  • Give it the description: “Books I’m remembering, gifting, and wishing for this year for @KCLibrary’s Christmas Books Pinterest Contest.”
  • Repin the original contest pin as your first pin to your Christmas Books board.
  • Email your board link to jasonharper@kclibrary.org.
  • Get equal parts creative and practical as you pin any combination of books that fall under these themes:
    • Books you have read, given, and/or gotten at Christmases Past.
    • Books you plan to give as Presents this year.
    • Books you hope Santa brings you in the Future (e.g. this year).
  • Pin at least seven (or more) books in any of the above categories by midnight on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012.

A winner will be drawn randomly on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, at 9 a.m.

Be sure to follow the Library’s own Christmas Books Contest board, where we’ll be recommending books – and repinning your selections – all week long.

And now, the pun you’ve all been waiting for: Ladies and Gentlemen, start your pin-gines!

If you pin this blog post, use the image below:
Pinterest Christmas Books Contest

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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Blue Monday by Nicci French

Since becoming a mom, I find it difficult to read novels where crimes are committed against children. Blue Monday by Nicci French is a story so compelling and well-written that it made me break out of my mold.

Blue Monday is set in present-day London, a boisterous and modern city. At the heart of the novel is not just one lost child, but two, the first one having been taken over 20 years ago. The book opens with a close-in flashback of the abduction of a girl named Rosie. She was never found and her family eventually settles into the loss of a complete person being stolen from their lives.

Then the book begins and we shift to meet Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist in solo practice. She is no one terribly remarkable, although gifted at her chosen profession, and she treats people who are neither villains or saints, but individuals simply seeking to make sense of their lives and to feel whole.

She begins to treat Alan, a man tortured by dreams of a child he doesn’t have being taken from him. As she and Alan meet and discuss his feelings of despondency, Frieda begins to realize that Alan’s visions — his dreams — are eerily like the abduction of the young boy in the news, of small Matthew Farraday.

Unsettled by her revelation, Frieda approaches the lead detective in the Farraday case and through a tumultuous pairing they begin to work through the connections between Alan, young Matthew, and little Rosie.

Nicci French is the husband/wife writing duo of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. The style of the book is a character-driven thriller. Always, the plot carries us along, moving the reader toward the inexorable conclusions that lie in wait. But along the way we are allowed to dally with rich portraits of the many flawed characters who overlay each others' lives.

This technique, of pulling in characters that are tertiary to the central plot, creates a wonderful ambiguity for the path of the novel. So frequently with thrillers and procedural novels, I find myself about half of the way through knowing where we are going.

With Blue Monday, I didn’t know who the criminal was until the authors were ready to let me know. And even after the guilty one is revealed to the reader, in the midst of this web of people, the story remains irresistible.

Blue Monday is the start of a new series that will be centered on the character Frieda Klein. Since Nicci French publishes in the United Kingdom, the next book, Tuesday’s Gone is already out there. It won’t be released by Penguin USA until April 2013, but the reviews from the British media glow over the second book and speak to a serious contender for the thriller serial genre.

If you love thrillers, you need to go ahead and read Blue Monday because you’re going to want to be caught up when Tuesday’s Gone comes to the States in the Spring.

About the Author

Melissa Carle is a Support Specialist with the KC-LSP and thinks life is too short to read a book that doesn't excite you in the first 40 pages. She likes cooking, herb gardening, and, of course, reading and thinks all good books, fiction and non-fiction alike, share one thing in common: they're just a good yarn.

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Video: Michael Scheibach on America’s Atomic Obsession

In the decade spanning the 1950s, the U.S. government churned out roughly 400 million pieces of Civil Defense propaganda. If that fact alone is not enough to make you want to “duck and cover,” consider the actual threat of nuclear annihilation Americans lived under during the Atomic Age.

Historian Michael Scheibach is an expert in what could be called the social history of the a-bomb. His exhibit Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow: Living with the Atomic Bomb 1945-65, on display through January 6, 2013, at the Central Library, is by turns harrowing and hilarious.

Through a rich collection of images and artifacts, the exhibit explores America’s reaction to the threat of nuclear war, which many believed could literally destroy the planet.

Alert Today combines the playful (toy ray guns, board games, an “atomic kite”) with the scary (a pamphlet titled “The Atomic Bomb and the End of the World”) to present a picture of an American people responding to imminent extinction with an attitude that was equal portions scared-out-of-their-pants and devil-may-care.

Scheibach will discuss the atomic era’s impact on generations of Americans when he speaks in the Central Library on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, at 6:30 p.m. Please RSVP to attend.

Get a preview of the exhibit and Scheibach’s talk in the video below:

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

The sinking of the Titanic has captured people’s imaginations for the last hundred years. In the 19th century another ship disaster became a legend in the United States and even left a mark on American literature.

In In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, Nathaniel Philbrick relates the story of this ship and what happened in the Pacific Ocean in 1820. In the 19th  century, men set out on long voyages to hunt whales for their oil. Nantucket, Rhode Island became a center for the whaling industry. Many of those who sailed on the Essex came from there.

Twenty men set out on the ill-fated trip. It almost did not happen as a bad storm damaged the vessel several days after leaving port. The crew made the necessary repairs and the trip continued.  The crew did not have much luck finding whales and went deeper into the Pacific. On November 20, the Essex faced an attack by a large sperm whale destroying the ship. The men retrieved what supplies and belongings they could before the Essex sank to the deep and set out in three smaller boats. They looked to reach the coast of South America several thousand miles away.

For some weeks, the boats remained together. To ensure their food would last, everyone received a small daily portion of bread and water. With this strict diet and the constant exposure to the elements, the men suffered from hunger. A stop at a South Pacific island allowed the men to refill water containers and gather food. They continued their course toward safety knowing their time and resources would not last forever. The three boats became separated and their hopes of help faded. Starvation began to claim men and some died. Before they were rescued cannibalism kept the remaining men alive. In the end eight out of the twenty sailors survived. They all returned to Nantucket and even went back to sea in other vessels.

Those who live on the island have long been reluctant to discuss the Essex accident. It remains a painful part of its history. However, an American writer named Herman Melville learned the details of the incident and wrote Moby Dick based on it. The survivors moved on with their lives with varying degrees of success. The memory of their suffering and the loss of their friends haunted them. The author briefly discusses other similar incidents with whaleships but none of them had the drama of the Essex. With better communications and knowledge of the oceans such an accident seems unlikely today. However the brave men of the Essex will continue to have their place in history.

I liked this gripping account of the Essex. I have not read Melville’s novel, but do not feel the need with reading this nonfiction book!  I have a greater appreciation of whales and the possibility of their destructive nature. Some parts of the account are hard to read, but overall the effort is worth it as the reader suffers with and cheers on the men of the Essex until they reach safety.

About the Author

Judy Klamm

is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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How to Cook Everything: The Basics by Mark Bittman

Whether you are a beginning cook or just looking for a collection of simple, delicious, everyday recipes, How To Cook Everything: The Basics by Mark Bittman is a staple for any kitchen.

Published in March, this newest offering from New York Times food writer Mark Bittman, is a pared down version of his 1998 classic, How to Cook Everything. A condensed and updated version of the massive original blockbuster, it contains 185 easy-to-follow recipes that are straight forward and, for the most part, a snap to put together.

The ingredients are inexpensive, easy to find, and combine for tasty dishes that you might find yourself serving to family and friends over and over again.

For the person who has absolutely no experience in the kitchen, this book is a food bible. It breaks down the process of cooking step-by-step, complete with photos, so that the kitchen no longer feels like an intimidating place to be.

HTCE: The Basics starts at the beginning of “Cooking 101” and patiently demonstrates the process of becoming a self-assured, competent cook. Bittman tackles kitchen equipment and tools, stocking a pantry, kitchen vocabulary, food preparation skills, creating a menu, and everything else you need to know to be successful in the kitchen.

What also makes this book a culinary page-turner and a must-have are the 1,000 pictures crammed into the book, including multiple photos of most recipes while they are being made. Even experienced cooks can brush up on kitchen skills and learn something new in this fact-filled culinary guide.

At least, that's what I found when I whipped up a batch of Spicy Cheddar Shortbread.

Spicy Cheddar Shortbread

Bittman was first inspired to create HTCE as a way to help people realize that cooking does not have to be hard or complicated. He also points out that cooking comes with many satisfying rewards like saving money, producing more nutritious food choices and getting your loved ones together for a delicious family meal and great conversation.

Though it's not as comprehensive as the original HTCE by any means, the dishes presented in The Basics do have variety. Some of them are as simple and basic as scrambled eggs or tossed green salad, but other offerings like Thai-style noodles with shrimp or garlicky white bean soup will add a slight twist for your taste buds.

Each entree also contains helpful tips to ensure success along with several possible variations for the more advanced cook.

Food categories included in the book are breakfast, appetizers and snacks, salads, soups and stews, pasta and grains, vegetables and beans, meat, poultry, seafood, breads and desserts. Some of the best sections, however, don’t involve recipes, but valuable “kitchen lessons” encompassing anything from how to use seasonings to how to trim meat properly for cooking.

Overall, this cookbook gives you the confidence to tie on that apron, whip out a spatula and get to work making dishes that your family and friends are sure to love.

Best of all, like its successor, this is one of those cookbooks that can stand the test of time. It’s not a “flash in the pan” offering promoting the latest culinary trend or a popular celebrity. Instead, it’s a practical, down-to-earth resource guide that you will find yourself turning to again and again.

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a librarian technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, and spending time with her family.

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Video: Royals Star Frank White Shares His Library Love

It’s official: Frank White has been inducted into the Library Hall of Fame. What did the Royals’ former star second baseman do to receive this singular honor? Simple. He got on camera and testified to the power of reading and libraries.

The baseball superstar dropped by the Plaza Branch on Oct. 23 to launch his brand-new memoir, One Man’s Dream: My Town, My Team, My Time. Co-author Bill Althaus interviewed White before a capacity crowd in Truman Forum auditorium, many of whom had come to hear the celebrated ballplayer talk about his recent split with his former team. (Meanwhile upstairs, costume-clad children gathered in Kids’ Corner for a Halloween party.)

Before the night’s opening pitch, we cornered the jovial and gracious hometown celeb and got him to speak about how books and libraries have impacted his life – and how reading aloud is mandatory in the White household.

Family Read Aloud Month is going on all November long at the Library, and it’s easy to join in on the rewarding experience. Find out how to sign up, and check out our Tumblr gallery of KC families reading.

Further viewing: John Lithgow on the Power of Reading to Kids

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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Classic Review: Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

When people hear the name Mark Twain, they likely think about The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But Twain had written a lot before either of those works came out. 

For many years he had been a newspaper correspondent and commentator, often writing humorous pieces, or “slice of life” stories with a humorous twist (think of someone like Dave Barry).  In 1867, Twain set off on a pleasure cruise to Europe and the Holy Land aboard the Quaker City with the intentions of sending back dispatches about his travel to the Daily Alta California of San Francisco; he also sent dispatches to the New York Tribune and the New York Herald.  

You can see the itinerary with dispatches sent to the newspapers, or check out a copy of the travel prospectus and passenger list. Upon his return to the United States, he commenced on a lecture tour about the trip called “The American Vandal Abroad” (note: there is no definitive version of any of Twain’s speeches – he would often improvise before an audience, and a speech delivered before one audience might vary greatly from a speech delivered elsewhere).  

In 1869, Innocents Abroad: or the New Pilgrims’ Progress, was published to great critical and popular acclaim.  The book was Twain’s most popular work during his lifetime. 

The book is ostensibly a travelogue, a genre that remains popular (cf. Michael Palin’s books of recent years, such as Sahara) and which goes back at least as far as the 2nd c. CE (Pausanias’ Guide to Greece which has served as an indispensable help in reconstructing ancient buildings now lost).  Of course, Twain’s travelogue is only part travelogue. A lot of it allows Twain to make humorous and sometimes biting observations of his fellow passengers, and on the locals they meet along the way. 

Twain was a master of irony. In this book,  this often takes the form of gently ironic observations of people and their idiosyncrasies, as when he observes on the boat over that everyone starts out their voyage eager to keep a travel journal (just as he is doing with his dispatches), but soon, the initial enthusiasm wears off, and such noble intentions fall by the wayside. And he himself makes quick work of the voyage home, stating that his own diary entries for the journey home were sparse and perfunctory. 

Twain is quick to point out the differences between our expectations and realities – he notes that the pilgrims all have come to expect a land of wild romance in the Middle East, full of menacing Bedouins, who have to be kept at bay by sharpshooting, eagle-eyed tourists.  They got these notions from reading travel guides high on romantic exaggeration and low in relation to reality. 

As it turned out, the locals were people simply trying to make a living from the tourists, and the weapons the locals carried in the Middle East were so old and rusty they posed no risk to the travelers.  Twain suggests he had more to fear from his gun-totin’ fellow travelers than from the supposedly dangerous locals.

Twain also has an eye for the unusual as evidenced by his chapter on the visit to a Capuchin convent in which the former monks skeletal remains are left about and arranged in neat piles or into artistic representations.  The abbot who gives Twain and company the tour seems to know each and every bone lying around – this here is Brother Anselmo, and that’s Brother Thomas and so on. 

Twain has a gruesome fascination with this whole scene and goes into a vivid two-page description of the crypt, described as something one might have seen in the Renaissance, had Michelangelo and others used skeletons as their preferred medium. 

Twain gets an ironic jab at his guide when he notes that the abbot himself speaks wistfully of his brothers’ remains, adding “I thought he even looked as if he were thinking, with complacent vanity, that his own skull would look well on top of the heap and his own ribs add a charm to the frescoes which possibly they lacked at present.”

As they travel through Europe and on to the Holy Land, Twain also reflects a bitter disappointment between the ideals of Christianity and its practice.  As someone raised in the Protestant tradition, and not a very fervent Christian himself, he views Catholicism with a bemused and somewhat critical eye, but more than once he notes the discrepancy between the professed Chrisitianity of some of his fellow pilgrims and their intolerance of others who differ from them in belief.  On the other hand, he is very impressed with some of the monasteries in the desert of the Holy Land.  The monks there welcome rich and poor alike and all are treated to radical hospitality which impresses Twain as fitting the spirit of Christianity.

The work has an added fascination in depicting the Americo-centric view of Twain and his travelers.  In their travels, Twain and his company refer to all tour guides as “Ferguson” as that is easy to remember and pronounce than the guides’ real names (which Twain never tells us).  And while Twain is very sensitive to and observant of the discrepancy between reality and our perceptions thereof, he never fully escapes the prejudices of his own age – unless, here too, he is pulling our leg.

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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Books to Celebrate Veterans Day

World War I may have been regarded as the “war to end all wars,” but we here in the twenty-first century know better, much to our dismay.

In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson charged Americans with remembering “those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.” We have more wars and veterans to remember now. More than we ought. The following authors offer these novels, short stories, and memoirs as small tokens of remembrance and thanks for sacrifices made and freedom secured.

Matthew Eck served in Somalia and Haiti before earning writing degrees and turning his own experiences into The Farther Shore. Separated from their command in a desert country involved in a nameless war, Josh and his small band of brothers try desperately to survive. As they work their way out of a war-torn city, the soldiers encounter one surreal situation after another, getting help from the most unlikely people, and thwarted by their own comrades. Marked with elegant writing, breath-holding suspense, and the painful truths about young men during wartime, this short, sharp novel is the first from Eck, a Kansas City native.

No one would have picked Johnny Rico for a soldier, least of all Johnny. Rico joined the Army right after 9/11 and his unit was assigned to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. Except they fought boredom and ludicrous orders from superiors most of the time. Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green is an uncensored look at what the boys in green are doing when they’re not shooting at the enemy, whoever that is, the boys aren’t sure themselves. It’s a bawdy, poignant, outrageous, and repulsive story of life in a combat zone.

Fobbit is a fictional account set during the Iraq War and is as close to a military comedy of terrors as a reader will get. A ‘fobbit’ is an Army employee stationed at a Forward Operating Base who work in clean, protected cubicles and shower every day. To quote Abrams, Fobbits are “in the war, not of the war.” Chance Gooding, Jr. is the public relations officer charged with turning Significant Actions (military actions resulting in deaths of soldiers) into palatable press releases for CNN and The New York Times. However, by the time Gooding get a press release approved, it’s old news. Fobbit is getting critical comparison to Catch-22. It’s a lightning-paced, contemporary war story.

The wars overseas are fought on the homefront, too. In Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a Thanksgiving Day football game halftime salute to returned soldiers has Billy Lynn reluctantly reliving the firefight that took the life of a close friend. He also realizes that life after wartime isn’t going to be any easier than life overseas and in some cases, more frightening.

An army of women fight a different war on the homefront—one of loneliness, stress, and the eerie quiet and solitude of the Army base. You Know When the Men Are Gone is a collection of short stories set on Fort Hood. The wives cope with the children and insecurities left behind. One wife leads a mysteriously glamorous late-night life while another is the unknowing subject of a secret surveillance mission. These modern-day Penelopes cope in their own ways while they wait, and hope, patiently for their soldiers to return.

About the Author

Kaite Stover

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Readers Services Manager at the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.

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Why I Love My Library Contest Concludes at the Plaza Branch

 Why do Kansas City kids love their library? For some, it’s the books, movies, and stories that inspire and excite. For others, it’s having a safe place to let their imaginations run wild.

One thing’s clear. Kids do use – and love – their local libraries.

A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that 60 percent of Americans under 30 used a library in the past year for activities such as research (46%), borrowing books (38%), and reading newspapers and magazines (23%).

“The statistics are nice, but what really means something to us is the anecdotal evidence,” says Outreach Education Librarian Anna Francesca Garcia. “We wanted to collect as many stories as we could to get a sense of the impact the Library has on people.”

Over the past several weeks, our Youth Services librarians have been inviting Kansas City Public Schools students to write us telling why they love the Library. The best submissions are being honored at an awards ceremony on Thursday, November 8, 2012, at 6 p.m. at the Plaza Branch (4801 Main St). The winners will be awarded books as their prizes

"I love my library because it gives me a variety of books to choose from," offered one high school student with a fondness for spooky stories, "and I can always find a book that keeps me up for nights after I read the last page."

 One perceptive student declared that "I love my library because the library helps my imagination run wild. Because of today's media you don't get to use your imagination often. That's why I love my library."

From the entries received it's apparent that the Kansas City Public Library serves many purposes for its young patrons. It's a place to meet and hang out with friends, and in addition to books the library offers internet access and movies and TV shows on DVD.

Of course there's the library staff: "I love my library because the librarian is sweet and she helps you with anything you need."

And for some youngsters the library is a refuge: "I love my library because I feel safe just being in that environment."

Join us in celebrating the winners this Thursday. And help us spread the Library love all year round!

-- Your Public Affairs Team

We’ve Got Kindles for You to Check Out

How would you like to get your hands on a brand-new Kindle that has 47 hot ebooks by the likes of Cormac McCarthy, Terry McMilan, Jodi Picoult, and many other fabulous authors already loaded on it –  completely for free?

Or how about a whodunit e-cornucopia containing the entire Millennium Trilogy alongside pulse-pounding thrillers by Lee Child, Harlan Coban, C.J. Box and dozens of others?

Or a biography smorgasbord with 57 titles from Anthony Bourdain to Edmund White?

Perhaps you’ve dreamed of having massive stacks of ebooks compressed into a single ereader to peruse on the go, but you haven’t had the cash -- or the certainty -- to buy a Kindle or Nook for yourself.

Or maybe you’re considering making the e-leap this holiday season but you’re not sure if you’ll like the feel of digital reading.

Whatever the case, get down to the Waldo Branch of the Kansas City Public Library (201 E. 75th St.) this fall, where we’re testing a new program to check out Kindles to curious and voracious patrons like you.

Each of the Library Kindles is pre-loaded with ebooks from a different genre, such as fiction, mystery, romance, history, biography, science fiction, classics, and urban fiction. Eleven Kindles are currently in circulation, with more to be added according to demand.

And yes, we realize that these babies are loaded with way more ebooks than any normal human being can read during the 21-day checkout period, but the point is not only to let you play with an ereader but also sample a variety of great reads hand-picked by our librarians.

So hurry down to the Waldo Branch and check out the Kindle of your choice. And if you’d like a preview of what’s in stock, search the online catalog for “Kindle.”

Kindle Lending Program Details

  • 11 Kindles available during test phase
  • Checkout period: 21 days
  • No holds
  • No renewals when lending period has expired
  • $1/day late fee

And if you already have a Kindle and haven’t checked out our catalog of downloadable e-books, then we have something to show you.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez

In the age of hit MTV shows like 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, it may seem like teen pregnancy is at an epidemic high. What makes these stories so popular and yet controversial at the same time?  Is there an underlying reason why some girls follow a path of teen motherhood, while others do not?

In her senior year of high school, Gaby Rodriguez embarked on a social experiment to discover what it felt like to be pregnant as a teenager.  For her senior project, Gaby faked her own pregnancy – but did not let everyone in on the secret.  Her story made national headlines and inspired her to publish her memoir, The Pregnancy Project, with cowriter Jenna Glatzer.

Gaby wanted to make a difference – not just with her senior project at Toppenish High School in Washington, but in her community as well.  Before presenting her own story and the results of her project, Gaby gives us some background information about her mother and family.

Gaby’s mother had her first child as a teenager, and several of Gaby’s brothers and sisters had children in their teenage years as well. Gaby felt as though she was the last hope of her family – the one who would not get pregnant at an early age and also go on to be successful outside of her small town. 

Gaby’s story is not just about teen pregnancy, however. Gaby is thoughtful and reflective as she describes Toppenish, which sits on an Indian reservation in the state of Washington. She can see the bigger picture of the sad cycle that affects her community – children having children before they have plans for themselves, working low-paying jobs with no hope for careers, all in a small town that has little entertainment or opportunity.  There is a repeating pattern not only in her own family but in her community as well.

Gaby approached her administrators with an idea to fake a pregnancy for her senior project.  Her idea was to collect information about stereotypes, statistics, and gauge reactions from her friends and family. After some serious thought, her project was approved and she was given the go-ahead to “get pregnant.” 

As her project progresses throughout the book, we see Gaby experience a range of emotions – elation that her assignment was approved and that she might be able to pull off something great; fear as she begins to show her fake symptoms and worries that she might not be convincing; sadness and regret as she begins to understand what it feels like to really be a pregnant teenager; and finally, a sense of near-hopelessness toward the end of her senior year where she considers giving up the project in light of unexpected difficulties. 

Gaby walks a fine line of understanding the issue of teenage pregnancy.  Throughout the book there is a message of delicate sympathy.  Gaby has been on both sides of teen pregnancy – she has been angry at her sister for assuming that Gaby would babysit her small child while her sister goes out to party. We then see the other side as she pretends to be pregnant and feels scrutinized, humiliated, and betrayed by her own family as she struggles to continue her life normally. 

Gaby’s goal was not to glamourize teen pregnancy, or denounce it, or make fun of the girls in her school who were actually pregnant.  What Gaby tried to do was gain an understanding of something she sees every day, and hopefully start conversations about a subject that can often be taboo.  

I would have liked Gaby to go in to more detail about her different experiences during the actual project, and I felt there were times she became a little preachy.  Overall though, I found her story fascinating and I share her optimism – if her story can help just one teenage girl facing these issues, then I believe it was all worth it.

ABC News Report: "Teen's Fake Pregnancy Fools School"

About the Author

Megan Garrett

Megan Garrett is the librarian at the Sugar Creek Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. She also writes book reviews for the Independence Examiner newspaper.

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