Shaun David Hutchinson

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

publication date: 2016
pages: 451
ISBN: 978-1-4814-4963-2

If you were given the chance to either destroy the world, or to save it, what would you do? For some of us, there might be an effortless answer to that question. In We Are the Ants, that wasn’t the case for unhappy high school student Henry Denton. For him, the world was full of bullies and miserable people. So, when he was offered the chance to press the button that stopped the end of the world, he needed to think about it. In his words (and the first words of the book): Life is bullshit.

The quirk in the book, and what made it different from other books about a teen with an angsty life was that, for Henry, the end of the world wasn’t just some hypothetical event. Instead, as we discover very early on in the book, Henry was literally given the choice to save the world by the aliens who had been periodically abducting him:

I was thirteen the first time the sluggers abducted me. My older brother, Charlie, was snoring his face off in the next room while I lay in bed, translating my parents’ fight. You might believe all doors sound the same when slammed, but you’d be wrong. . . .

The sluggers abducted me before I learned what my parents were arguing about. Police found me two days later, wandering around the dirt roads west of Calypso, wearing a grocery bag for underwear and covered in hickies I couldn’t explain. My father left three weeks after that, slamming the door behind him one final time. No translation necessary.

Hutchinson used this plot to explore what it’s like to be sad and different in a world that doesn’t really like either. For Henry:

High school is like those fishing trips with my dad: I want to be there, I want to enjoy myself like everyone else, but I always end up huddled on the floor, praying for the end.

Although the book was a little melodramatic, it did a great job of presenting multifaceted characters who were made up of a little bit of good, a little bit of bad, and a lot of selfishness. Each character, in their own way, showcased the true answer to the question about saving the world. Sometimes, all you want to do is make everything go away, no matter the cost and, other times, you can’t imagine not living, not pushing forward.

Although We Are the Ants was generally good, it did have some flaws. The most noticeable was the inconsistencies sprinkled throughout. Here is a small example, when Henry first kissed a character whose name I’m going to change so I don’t spoil anything:

The first time I’d kissed [Matthew] was the first time I’d kissed anyone, and it had felt like remembering the name of a song I’d forgotten but had been humming for days. [Mark] was the second boy I kissed, and it was best described as frustrated mouth wrestling. When [Luke] kissed me, I forgot about every kiss that came before.

So Henry’s first thoughts when he kissed Luke were to think about other boys’ kisses and then to remember that he forgot about other boys’ kisses when he kissed Luke? What? And the whole book was peppered with these weird inconsistencies. Overall, though, the book was compelling.

We Are the Ants was kind of like Ender’s Game, if Ender’s Game was set in modern high school America and if Ender never wanted to save the world in the first place.

4/6: worth reading

Portions of this blog post originally appeared in an article for Booklist
by Kansas City Public Library staff member Kaite Stover.

Podcast fans talk about their favorite radio shows with the same enthusiasm readers talk about their favorite books. The Kansas City Public Library and KCUR 89.3 FM recently smashed the two formats together into one event, reBOUND, an annual book exchange and podcast party hosted by the Young Friends of the Kansas City Public Library and KCUR Generation Listen KC.

This second edition of reBOUND, held at The Buffalo Room at Westport Flea Market on February 24 in the aftermath of Valentine’s Day, was a celebration of literary love. Attendees brought copies of their crushworthy books (or books they were ready to break up with) to swap with other guests. Many people attached notes about why their book was loved or unloved, and new reads were chosen from the communal pile of books attendees brought.

This year’s event also had an additional focus on podcasts. During the book exchange guests were invited to write down what programs they were currently listening to and comment on why they enjoyed them, then posted their notes on a shared board so others could see. Check out the recommendations submitted by guests over at

After mingling and chatting up books and podcasts, the group gathered ’round the sound machine for KCUR’s latest Podcast Party to listen to an episode of Mortified, a show that features adults sharing their most embarrassing childhood artifacts (journals, letters, poems, lyrics, plays, home movies, art) in order to reveal stories about their lives.

The final portion of the evening was a live stage program version of Mortified in which local presenters shared stories about childhood crushes, unrequited love, and romantic rejection by reading excerpts from their diaries and journals. Selected audio from the presentation is available here.

The Library’s party favor was a list of books that pair well with some of the best and most popular podcasts of 2015. Check it out below and catch a new read and a new listen at the same time.

8 Great Books to Pair with Your Favorite Podcasts

Looking for books that are similar to your listening tastes? The Kansas City Public Library has put together a list of reads for all you radiophiles and podcast lovers.

The Real Thing: A Guide to Separating the Genuine from the Ersatz, the Man from the Boys, and the Wheat from the Chaff by Kurt Andersen

An essay collection of pithy pronouncements and healthy skepticism on world culture including, but not limited to, Candy, Charlie Chan, Cholesterol, Self-Help Quizzes, and sexy pieces of military hardware (not in that order). For fans of Studio 360.

Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton

In the style of an auction catalog, readers are witnesses to the blooming, and eventual desiccation, of the relationship of Lenore and Harold. For fans of Mortified.

The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone

Media is big. Media is dark. It’s hard to find a place to park. Which is why we’re lucky to have Brooke Gladstone explain it all for us. Even luckier to get these explanations in graphic novel format. For fans of On the Media.

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

If you’re new to the snarky little podcast, then let this snarky little book introduce you properly. Things are creepy, quirky, and darkly humorous in this sleepy desert town where the residents of Night Vale are unfazed by women without faces, the PTA, and shape-shifting teenagers. For fans of the eponymous podcast.

100 Million Years of Food: What Our Ancestors Ate and Why It Matters Today by Stephen Le

Food, cooking, and tastes evolve as the author demonstrates with journeys to Vietnam, Canada, India, and Los Angeles. You might rethink your diet after reading. Or just order a cheeseburger. For fans of Gastropod.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

A debut collection of essays that are funny, smart, thought-provoking, witty, and the perfect hybrid of awkward and cool. For fans of Another Round.

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann

Who killed William Desmond Taylor, the popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association? Was it one of three ruthlessly ambitious and beautiful actresses? A demanding stage mother? A devoted valet? A gang of two-bit thugs? Did we forget to tell you this is a true story? For fans of You Must Remember This.

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton

The city is full of a million stories and in the summer of 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton tried to capture them all with his camera. A stunning and moving collection of portraits and anecdotes. For fans of Strangers.

Harper Lee

News broke Friday that author Harper Lee had died peacefully in her sleep at age 89. The author of To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the greats of American literature.

Nelle Harper Lee was born April 28, 1926, in the small town of Monroeville, Alabama. The youngest of four children, she was intensely private and had few words for interviewers when asked about her upbringing, though she was lifelong friends with her neighbor and fellow author Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany's, In Cold Blood). Lee studied at the University of Alabama and moved to New York City in 1949 to work as an airline reservation clerk.

She wrote in her spare time, and secured a literary agent in 1956. Her initial manuscript for what would become To Kill a Mockingbird found its way in 1957 to the J. B. Lippincott Company publishing house, where editor Tay Hohoff spent 2½ years working with Lee to develop the final novel.

Published July 11, 1960, under the name Harper Lee—dropping the Nelle to avoid people mistaking her name for Nellie—To Kill a Mockingbird drew critical acclaim and immediate success.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of To Kill a Mockingbird. From a commercial standpoint, it has remained a best-seller since its initial publication and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 1962. From a cultural standpoint, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961 and is regarded as a modern classic. It is a tale of morality and racial inequality that is still relevant today and taught in schools across the country.

After the success of Mockingbird, Lee continued to follow her own path in life. She assisted Capote in his research for In Cold Blood in the 1960s, but spent much of her time pursing her passion for reading. Reluctant to give personal interviews, Lee became an enigmatic and elusive figure of American literature.

Her decision in subsequent decades to publish no further novels helped to bolster To Kill a Mockingbird’s reputation, but also left Lee’s legacy open to the occasional salacious rumor. Was she solely responsible for Mockingbird or was the novel—as some conspiracy theorists claimed—written secretly by Capote? Lee handled these stories stoically, with her trademark self-deprecation. She continued to avoid the limelight, spending most of her time living in Monroeville with her sister Alice and only rarely appearing or speaking publicly, such as when she accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.

Her last few years were marked by lawsuits over her copyright to Mockingbird and merchandising of the novel and by the surprising release of a second novel, Go Set a Watchman, in 2015. Like many aspects of her life, this release inspired many stories in the media. Had Lee (who suffered a stroke in 2007) really approved its release? Was Watchman truly intended to be a separate novel or was it only an inferior early draft of Mockingbird? While many conflicting accounts were reported, it was ultimately left up to readers to decide the nature of Go Set a Watchman.

The greatest way to honor the memory of Harper Lee is to read and understand her work.

As dramatic pieces, the works of Shakespeare are best experienced in live performance. There is nothing wrong with reading Shakespeare — and it does make for great reading; do yourself a favor and read it aloud — but the experience of reading Shakespeare alone pales against seeing a well-done performance with an audience. So, be sure to catch the Heart of America Shakespeare production this summer in Southmoreland Park. But, as we don't live in an area where there's always a Shakespeare play in production, we are fortunate in that there are good films of Shakespeare plays.

Given the length of space I have here, I will limit my comments to some film versions of Hamlet. Though Hamlet is not my favorite Shakespeare play—that honor would go to Henry IV, Part 1—it is the play I have seen the most. I have seen every film version I've been able to get a hold of, and I never miss a chance to see a production of this play—I fondly recall a stage production at Union Station about a year ago with Jake Walker as the melancholy Dane, and have most recently seen a simulcast production from London, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. Keep an eye out for that Cumberbatch production, as simulcast productions are sometimes later released on DVD or streaming.


Directed by Laurence Olivier, with Olivier (Hamlet), Basil Sydney (Claudius), Eileen Herlie (Gertrude), Felix Aylmer (Polonius), Jean Simmons (Ophelia)—music by William Walton

This was a major production, directed by and starring one of the leading Shakespearean actors of his day, Laurence Olivier. It won an Academy Award for Best Picture, the only time Shakespeare has been accorded that honor. The sets are stark, and the black and white cinematography by Desmond Dickinson is impressive. The music by Sir William Walton, one of the great 20th c. English composers, adds a lot to the film.

Olivier's Hamlet is best when he moves—when he chases the ghost of his father to speak with it, and in the duel scene at the play's end. Olivier did his own stunts. Felix Aylmer plays a rather dithering Polonius, and he is very endearing. This production is somewhat stagey in its delivery of lines, but all speak their lines "trippingly on the tongue."

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Directed by John Gielgud, with John Gielgud (Hamlet), Andrew Cruickshank (Claudius), Marian Spencer (Gertrude), Baliol Holloway (Polonius), Celia Johnson (Ophelia)

If Olivier was one of the greatest of Shakespearean actors of his generation, surely Gielgud was as good. His 1948 stage production was famous, and someone managed to get the cast together to do a studio recording. The sound, at times, is a bit uneven, but on the upside, you have Gielgud emoting as Hamlet—makes me swoon just thinking about it. The others in the principal roles are also outstanding. This is only available in audio, but well worth it. You can find the audio on hoopla digital, and check it out using your library card.

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Directed by Franz Peter Wirth, with Maximilian Schell (Hamlet)

Actually, this production of Hamlet is terrible. It was so terrible, that the producers of Mystery Science Theater 3000 decided to do a send-up of it in their 10th season. If you want to see how bad a production of Hamlet can be, check this out, but do yourself a favor—get the Mystery Science Theater version. This production was done in German, then dubbed into English, using the actual Shakespearean lines, but read with a German accent (Schell renders his own lines).

Paul Verhoeven (best known for directing Das Boot and most reviled for directing Showgirls) is one of the gravediggers. Best line in this rendition is Mike Nelson's comment following "To be or not to be," which he characterizes as the verbal equivalent of DUM, DUM, DUM, DAHH! from Beethoven's 5th. This can also be seen in its entirety on YouTube.

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Directed by Grigori Kozintsev, with Innokenty Smoktunovsky (Hamlet)—music by Dmitri Shostakovich, text by Boris Pasternak.

There is a problem with watching Shakespeare in languages other than English. It is Shakespeare's command of the English language that makes his plays worth seeing, reading, or hearing, and that is lost in translation. Pasternak's translation is excellent, but unless you know Russian, you won't know that. Kozintsev, though, is a masterful director, and the black and white cinematography by Jonas Gritsius is wonderfully bleak. Best of all, the score is by Dmitri Shostakovich, the greatest composer of the Soviet Union, and arguably, the greatest composer of the 20th century.

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Directed by John Gielgud, with Richard Burton (Hamlet), Alfred Drake (Claudius), Eileen Herlie (Gertrude), Hume Cronyn (Polonius), Linda Marsh (Ophelia)

When Gielgud's production of Hamlet opened at the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre on Broadway, it was somewhat controversial—dubbed the "dress rehearsal Hamlet," the play was done with minimal set, with the actors dressed as they might dress themselves when the play was in rehearsal. The finished product, though, is quite polished, despite the rough set. This film is a filmed record of an actual stage performance (the audience applauds at the conclusion of each scene, and on Burton's first entrance). As such, it has certain limitations—some actors are not heard as clearly as others (Burton, though, is always loud and clear), and we get very few close-ups. Burton's rendering of the lines is a bit overpowering at times, something that would be less jarring seeing it done live. Hume Cronyn plays perhaps the craftiest Polonius on film—the old man as a career politician, rather than as the foolish windbag others portray. The ghost of Hamlet, Sr. is rendered as a reflection on the wall, with Gielgud doing the voice.

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Directed by Rodney Bennett, with Derek Jacobi (Hamlet), Patrick Stewart (Claudius), Claire Bloom (Gertrude), Lalla Ward (Ophelia), Eric Porter (Polonius)

This is one of the BBC productions of all of Shakespeare. The scene between Hamlet and his mom in her chamber was quite shocking in its day. Not only is Jacobi one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of our day, but Patrick Stewart's cool, calm, and collected Claudius is very impressive. For some reason, Bennett put a curly wig on Stewart's head, which undercuts the actor's gravitas.

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Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, with Mel Gibson (Hamlet), Alan Bates (Claudius), Glenn Close (Gertrude), Ian Holm (Polonius), Helena Bonham Carter (Ophelia)

When this production came out, people shook their heads—Gibson as Hamlet, are you kidding? But, it works. What Gibson brings to the role, especially in the final scene, is Hamlet's anger—in any production, Hamlet is angry, but Gibson's take on anger has the suggestion of an explosion about to happen. Bates is very impressive as a rather oily Claudius, and Ian Holm does a very good job of a crafty Polonius (in the Hume Cronyn mold). Helena Bonham Carter's Ophelia, especially once she has gone mad, is very impressive. The music for the film was by Ennio Morricone, one of the giants of movie music, best known for his scores of spaghetti westerns.

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Directed by Kenneth Branagh, with Branagh (Hamlet), Derek Jacobi (Claudius), Julie Christie (Gertrude), Richard Briers (Polonius), Kate Winslet (Ophelia)

Branagh's production of the play is known as the only cinematic realization of the entire play. This makes for a very long (4 hours) film, and a very uneven production. Jacobi is marvelous as Claudius, and Kate Winslet's Ophelia is outstanding as well. For the great actor he is, Branagh lets the stage actor in him get in the way, and his performance is a bit stagy for a film production. Jack Lemmon's appearance as Marcellus was sadly memorable as a very poor final performance by a great American actor. The score by Patrick Doyle is great, as are all of Doyle's efforts.

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Directed by Michael Almereyda, with Ethan Hawke (Hamlet), Kyle MacLachlan (Claudius), Diane Venora (Gertrude), Bill Murray (Polonius), Julia Stiles (Ophelia)

Like Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet, this production of Hamlet is an update, set in late 20th c. New York, where something is rotten in the state of Denmark Corporation. This is the only production I know of where I get a real sense of Hamlet as a student—Hawke portrays the young Hamlet as a brooding film student. Julia Stiles' Ophelia is, unlike most productions, a girl, rather than a woman playing a girl. The choice of Bill Murray as Polonius is interesting - he plays him as part fool, part conniver, part snide observer of events. My favorite scene of this film is the "play within the play" scene, here presented as one of Hamlet's experimental films—I found this an exciting redo of a scene that is sometimes tough to take—for those who bemoan the loss of language in this segment, I would remind them that the language in the "play within a play" scene is pretty hackneyed and cliché.

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Directed by Gregory Doran, with David Tennant (Hamlet), Patrick Stewart (Claudius), Penny Downie (Gertrude), Oliver Ford Davies (Polonius), Mariah Gale (Ophelia)

Another staged production shot for TV, this production is most memorable for Tennant's portrayal of the young Dane—Tennant really plays up the crazy side of Hamlet. Stewart's understated portrayal (even more controlled than his earlier portrayal from 1980) of Claudius captures the menace as well as it's been done.

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I know this is a lot to digest; in brief, if you've never seen a film version of Hamlet, I'd recommend Olivier's treatment; if you've seen a few, I'd recommend the Soviet film version as a nice change of pace; if you'd like to see an interesting twist on the play, making it more of a visual than auditory experience, try the Almereyda.

Nnedi Okorafor

Historians agree that jazz was born when African musical sensibilities met European instrumentation. For Western listeners, it offered familiar sounds voicing unfamiliar phrases. For African listeners, it gave them familiar rhythms and musical ideas echoing through strange sounds.

For anyone who cared to listen, jazz was a music that expanded perceptions and broadened minds. It was a music that blended different heritages into something new and vibrant.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor is the kind of novel you get when non-Western storytelling traditions and sensibilities use the quintessentially Western cultural tools and structures of Science Fiction. Like jazz, the experience is revelatory.

Set in a far future region of Africa, the novel follows the life of a young woman, Onyesonwu, a social outcast, a shape-shifter and sorcerer, as she seeks to fulfill her destiny to change the world. It offers a deeply believable environment of harsh natural conditions, entrenched social and gender inequality, and a mix of magic, superstitions, and cultural traditions which bring it all to vibrant life.

The story is as much a product of the mythology and fables of the Igbo people of Africa as it is a product of Science Fiction.

One of the things I worry about when I read stories that come from traditions that are foreign to me is that I'll miss too many of the references, that too much of the symbolism and significance will go right over my head. Either I'll glide over the surface of the tale with no awareness of its depths, or the story will be nonsensical and confusing to me.

Neither is the case with Who Fears Death. It's compellingly accessible, even as it surprises me with an unfamiliar mythos.

One of the great joys of reading stories that are profoundly informed by non-Western storytelling traditions is how the fundamental elements of plot pacing and character development are handled differently than what I'm used to. The pace proceeds according to a different sense of time, the characters speak and act according to a different set of dramatic requirements.

Normally, I would assess these things but I possess little familiarity with the standards and history of Igbo storytelling traditions. Therefore, I feel I lack the authority or expertise to evaluate this novel fairly on those counts.

What I can say is this: I found Who Fears Death a powerful experience.

It compelled me—when I wasn't reading it, I wanted to get back to it. I cared deeply about all of the characters. I treasured the time it gave me to immerse myself in the mythology and culture of this world.

I haven't yet fully come to terms with the ending and I don't know what I'm supposed to make of it. But I think that's the point—I like that it leaves me pondering, wrestling with its significance.

In all sorts of ways, big and little, Who Fears Death doesn't work quite the way I expect an Sci-Fi novel to work. But it works. According to its own rules, according the rhythms and drama of its own tradition—it's a powerful piece of storytelling.

Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner has never been a quiet presence at the Kansas City Public Library—happily so.

The Library's deputy director of strategic initiatives favors colorful garb and jewelry and tends to punctuate offices, hallways, and meeting rooms with bursts of full-throated laughter. She's every bit as bold in taking up causes in which she firmly believes, such as helping Kansas City's poorer, underserved residents gain greater access to computers and the Internet. The Library has assumed a central role in addressing digital inclusion, in no small part because its deputy director of strategic initiatives deems it a priority.

Kositany-Buckner is taking that passion and vibrant personality to the American Jazz Museum.

The museum—in Kansas City's historic 18th & Vine District—announced Thursday, January 21, that she will take over as its executive director March 2. Kositany-Buckner will wrap up her quarter-century tenure at the Library some two weeks earlier, on February 19.

"Cheptoo has done so much for the Library and been such an important part of our team that I can't deny this is our loss," Library Director Crosby Kemper III said in announcing the move to his staff. "But it is great for the city, the Jazz Museum, and of course for Cheptoo. Hooray for Cheptoo and KC Jazz!!!"

Said Trey Runnion, chairman of the Jazz Museum's board of directors, "While the competition was impressive, there was no question in the minds of the search committee and board that Cheptoo has the broad perspective, experience, and community knowledge to be able to help us hit the ground running and accelerate our progress."

Kositany-Buckner speaking at the Kansas City Digital Inclusion Summit in 2014

A native of Kenya, Kositany-Buckner arrived at the Library in September 1990 as a network administrator and later became its information technology director. She has been a deputy director of the Library for the past 10 years and assumed oversight of strategic initiatives in early 2015, reflecting the growing importance of digital programs and partnerships.

Beyond spearheading the Library's involvement in the community-wide effort to bridge the digital divide in Kansas City, she has supervised the design and renovation of several facilities—including the L.H. Bluford Branch and Truman Forum Auditorium at the Plaza Branch—and overseen the development and launch of the award-winning Civil War on the Western Border website. Kositany-Buckner also has been instrumental in the revitalization of the Black Archives of Mid-America, overseeing the first permanent exhibit in the Kansas City area on the history of African Americans in the city and currently serving as vice chair of the organization's board of directors.

Kositany-Buckner with Library Director Crosby Kemper III (left) and historian Michael Searles (right) during the Library's Big Read celebration of the western novel True Grit in 2013

She is active in numerous other local, statewide, and nationwide agencies and organizations, and was named by the Kansas City branch of the NAACP last November as the 2015 recipient of its Lucile H. Bluford Special Achievement Award.

Born and raised in a family of 11 children in the ranch town of Eldoret in western Kenya, Kositany-Buckner completed high school there and followed two brothers to the United States and Central Missouri State University (now the University of Central Missouri) in 1983. She speaks multiple languages including her native Nandi, Swahili, and English.

Claire McEachern (Editor, Introduction by); William Shakespeare; A. R. Braunmuller (Contribution by); Stephen Orgel (Contribution by)
Claire McEachern (Editor, Introduction by); William Shakespeare; A. R. Braunmuller (Contribution by); Stephen Orgel (Contribution by)
William Shakespeare; David Bevington (Editor); David Scott Kastan (Editor); James Hammersmith (Editor); Robert Kean Turner (Editor); Joseph Papp (Foreword by)
Claire McEachern (Editor, Introduction by); William Shakespeare; Frances E. Dolan (Editor); A. R. Braunmuller (Contribution by); Stephen Orgel (Contribution by)

This year, the Kansas City Public Library's Winter Reading Program is focused on the works of William Shakespeare, works about the Bard, and works based on Shakespeare. To that end, I'll spend the first three months of 2016 looking at his plays.

I'll begin with the Shakespeare titles that, more than any others, keep me coming back: Henry IV, Parts I and II, and the two plays which bookend those plays, Richard II and Henry V.

As a tetralogy, often called the Henriad, the four plays deal with the rise of Henry Bolingbroke (Richard II), his rocky reign as king (Henry IV, both parts), and the better fortune of his son, Henry V. Just as the first three plays deal with the rise and fall of Henry IV, the last three plays deal with the rise (no fall depicted) of Henry V.

I imagine that, for many readers, the idea of history plays (especially plays about the struggles of British kings of the late Middle Ages) might seem to be tedious stuff. And I have to admit, when the discussion turns on legal matters (e.g. the long discussion of matters of French Salique Law to justify English claims on French lands in the First Act of Henry V), my eyes tend to glaze over as well.

When Laurence Olivier did his beautiful color film of Henry V during World War II, he handled this long discussion of the niceties of law as farce, with one actor using his prop papers as cribs (his lines written out on them). This works fine until he trips and drops papers everywhere, and he has no idea of his lines. That stage solution works, as it turns a tedious bit of exposition into pretty funny farce. Of course, if you're reading the text, you have to slog through.

The fine points of law do not make up a lot of any of these plays, nor do the facts of history get in the way of Shakespeare telling a good story. One doesn't read history plays to learn history, any more than one watches a movie like Pearl Harbor with Ben Affleck, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Kate Beckinsale to learn what really happened at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

In his history plays, Shakespeare compresses time (turning months or years into a matter of weeks or even days), compresses a couple of characters into one composite character, and plays with the age of his characters. In Henry IV, Part I, Shakespeare makes Prince Hal, whom all think an irresponsible teen, the same age as Harry Percy (AKA Hotspur), the very martial son of Northumberland, leader of the rebels. In reality, Hal was 16 to 17 at the time of the events of the play, while Hotspur was 38-39.

The most memorable character of Henry IV, Parts I and II is that of Sir John Falstaff, a very fat knight, full of sack (wine) and corruption, whom the king fears is leading Prince Hal astray. In reality, there was no Falstaff. The character is loosely based on an actual person, Sir John Oldcastle, but even had Shakespeare kept the name of Oldcastle, the fat reprobate of a knight in the play would still be more fiction than fact.

The plays as a group are a reflection on kingship, and of the relations of fathers and sons. Of the three kings depicted in the four plays, Richard II has the best legal claim to be king, born to it in proper line of succession, but he is the least kingly. Incapable of ruling himself or his kingdom, he needlessly wounds and alienates Sir John of Gaunt and his son, Henry Bolingbroke.

Deposed, he is killed while in prison, and the formerly exiled Bolingbroke rises to rule as Henry IV. Though more capable of discharging the duties of a monarch, Henry's ascension to the throne is plagued by the method of his rise, and the fact that others have as good or even better legal right to the position. Consequently, from the very beginning, Henry finds himself beset by those rebelling against his authority. Desiring more than anything to take up the cross and go on crusade as a means of expiation, Henry must spend his talents putting down rebellion. And his son, who had lived wildly as a youth, proves himself a most able king in his twenties, uniting England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland in common purpose against a common enemy, the French.

Even that story has a sad ending, for though the play ends on a high note, the chorus reminds us that the next king, Henry VI, would lose all, something Shakespeare's audience had already seen in Henry VI, Parts I, II and III.

These plays, written in the mid to late 1590s, show Shakespeare at his most poetic, as the following lines of John of Gaunt, in praise of England, and condemnation of Richard's rule, from Richard II, show:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home
For Christian service and true chivalry
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry
Of the world's ransom, blessèd Mary's son.
This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out—I die pronouncing it—
Like to a tenement or pelting farm.
England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds.
That England that was wont to conquer others
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.

If you haven't read any of these plays, I'd recommend trying at least one. If you're concerned about the difficulty of the language, watch the BBC productions, or check out the earlier BBC production, An Age of Kings, or the later production, The Hollow Crown. They are all excellent.

As the year comes to a close, our librarians wanted to share their favorite books, movies, television series, and music that either came out in the past year, or that we just discovered in 2015.

All of these titles are available for checkout from the Kansas City Public Library collection, so why not start off 2016 with an awesome new read from this list?

Fiction & Nonfiction
Young Adult Titles
Juvenile Fiction & Picture Books
Movies & Television


A God In Ruins
by Kate Atkinson

Using the slipperiness of time and narrative, Kate Atkinson plays with her reader, and story, like a kitten with a ball of literary yarn. In this novel from the award-winning author of Life After Life, the second half of the 20th century plays out in the rewarding, yet crumbling, lives of Teddy Todd and his beloved family.

Where The Bodies Were Buried
by T.J. English

The fascinating true-life account of the trial and history of notorious Boston crime figure Whitey Bulger. While the reports of Bulger’s violence and illegal activities were terrifying, what was even more shocking were the revelations about the relationship between certain gangland leaders and federal law enforcement during the FBI’s fight against organized crime, particularly in 1970s and 1980s. Author T.J. English had incredible access to some of the figures (both underworld and aboveworld, as it were) whose lives intertwined with this decades-long case.

The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge
by Michael Punke

The Revenant is based on the real-life case of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper and explorer who achieved sort of a folk-hero mythos due to a series of incredible life events. During an 1823 fur trapping excursion, Glass was savagely attacked by a bear. Severely mauled, he was subsequently left for dead by his team, particularly the two men entrusted with tending to his wounds who stole his goods and gear, including his prized rifle. Against all odds he survived the attack and set out on a quest for revenge against these men, battling the harsh arrival of winter, hostile tribes, other trappers, and starvation.

Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People
by Elizabeth A. Fenn

Our understanding of the history and experiences of the indigenous peoples of North America during the era of European colonization is undergoing significant and exciting expansion and reinterpretation. A stellar example of this is Encounters at the Heart of the World, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for History. It's a work that reveals the voices of North American natives that have been missing from standard histories for far too long.

It Can't Happen Here
by Sinclair Lewis, Audiobook Narrated by Chris Hunt

Known more for Main Street and Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis wrote the less remembered novel It Can’t Happen Here in 1935, when the threat of fascism loomed across the globe. The story — in which an aw-shucks, dissembling demagogue skillfully pulls off the 1936 presidential nomination of the Republican Party and then wins the general election — swiftly descends to a tale of the formation of an American totalitarian state. Lewis’s novel, as superbly read in this 2008 audiobook, might not have been so frightening if we weren’t going through a vaguely similar presidential cycle right now.

Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America
by T. J. Stiles

What more can be said about the lucky boy general of the Civil War and the loser of the Battle at the Little Bighorn? When you’re Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer T. J. Stiles apparently a lot, and the result is Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America. Stiles focuses on Custer as a product of his Gilded Age times, devotes the bulk of his narrative before the fateful year of 1876, and pushes the story of the epic defeat to the epilogue. Having written excellent bios of Jesse James and Cornelius Vanderbilt, Stiles has completed his great trilogy of three nineteenth century icons.

The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?

by Dale Russakoff

A New York Times Bestseller, The Prize is very well written account of the difficult, sometimes misguided, fight to reform our one city's failing urban school district. Russakoff, who spent several years as a journalist with the Washington Post brings her in-depth and objective reporting skills to this hot-button issue.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
by Erik Larson

From the author of The Devil in the White City and In The Garden of Beasts, this might be the best Erik Larson narrative non-fiction yet. Dead Wake well researched detailed narrative of the sinking of the luxury liner that finally led to the United States' entry into the First World War.

The Lake House
by Kate Morton

Morton’s books fascinate and satisfy. Impeccably plotted with fascinating characters, in The Lake House readers meet Alice as a teen just before Midsummer’s Eve when her baby brother disappears. Years later, we're reintroduced to Alice as a soul-weary police detective attempting to solve that cold case.

The Water Knife
by Paolo Bacigalupi

National Book Award Finalist Paolo Bacigalupi (Ship Breaker) presents a thrilling, prescient novel about the struggle for survival via water rights in a dystopian, drought-stricken United States.

Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee

While this "second" novel from the acclaimed author of the American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, probably won’t make many "best of" lists, it is certainly the book that generated the most conversation about books and reading this year. For that alone, it deserves mention.


Extraordinary Means
by Robyn Schneider

One of our staff's favorite Young Adult novels this year was Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider. The premise of an untreatable form of tuberculosis emerging is plausible. And while the YA trope of terminally-ill teen protagonists might seem overdone, Extraordinary Means makes the reader look at the characters and the greater issues of medical ethics in a whole new light. The conversations this story will start make it a terrific pick for any book group.

Carry On
by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On is another entrant in the “Chosen One” genre of fiction, à la Harry Potter. Rowell’s characters are superb and may be the best thing about this very good book. Overall, Rowell has created an affectionate parody that perfectly satirizes this beloved genre, while still creating characters and a story that will probably be a beloved part of the genre canon.

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the
Vietnam War

by Steve Sheinkin

More focused and accessible than Sheinkin's previous works Bomb and The Notorious Benedict Arnold, it tells the story of Daniel Ellsburg, a Harvard graduate, Marine Corp volunteer, and Cold War defender who gradually begins to view the Vietnam War as unwinnable. He leaks the Pentagon Papers: a top secret document that reveals a history of deception by the Executive Branch, a deception designed to save face and win elections.

All American Boys
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Sure to be a discussion starter, the two authors of All American Boys tell the story of two teens, one black and one white, who find themselves at the center of exploding racial tensions, all because one wanted to buy a bag of chips.

Finding Audrey
by Sophie Kinsella

Because sometimes all it takes is one person to make a real difference in someone’s life, Finding Audrey demonstrates that better than any book we've read lately. A very uplifting and inspiring tale.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future
by A. S. King

The titular character of A. S. King's new novel is struggling with some real life issues, including that she has no plan after graduating high school. Then she begins to have visions of a horrible future, one that she has power to divert.


The Marvels
by Brian Selznick

Following up The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, this new book by Brian Selznick is even more amazing. This time the first 400 pages of the book are a wordless visual narrative, followed by 250 pages of text. The two seemingly-unrelated halves of the book create an intricate story of family and theater and secrets, appropriate for middle grades (or all ages, really.)

Rufus the Writer
by Elizabeth Bram, Illustrated by Chuck Groenink

In this picture book by Elizabeth Bram, illustrated by Chuck Groenink, the creativity and imagination Rufus uses to write stories for his friends is inspiring.

Imaginary Fred
by Eoin Colfer, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

In this story by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers, the imaginary friend doesn’t have to go away after his friend doesn’t need him anymore. He gets a life!

Red: A Crayon's Story
by Michael Hall

Red is a picture book that embraces being oneself, instead of trying to be something else, without being heavy-handed or didactic. It's a charming tale that kids and grown-ups will enjoy reading together. The message of empowerment is an added bonus.

Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt de la Peña, Illustrations by Christian Robinson

In this vibrant illustrated finalist for the E.B. White Read-aloud Book Award, CJ’s grandmother gives perfect answers to CJ’s questions as they ride across town on the bus.

The Thing about Jellyfish
by Ali Benjamin

This is a achingly beautiful book about Suzy Swanson, a 7th grader who falls somewhere on the autism scale. She responds to the accidental drowning of a friend through silence and the study of the Irukandji Jellyfish - a creature whose venom is among the most dangerous in the world and has caused numerous drowning deaths. Informational text and the difficulties of middle school are brilliantly balanced in this novel.


Mad Max: Fury Road

The latest entry into George Miller's post-apocalyptic francise, Mad Max: Fury Road is a taut ballet of non-stop action, insane physical stunt work, and gonzo visual storytelling. Charlize Theron's Furiosa completely steals the spotlight from Tom Hardy's Max. It's not just a kick-ass road violence story with strong heroines; it’s somehow a story of respect and caring.

The Martian

Different mediums require different methods to tell a story effectively, and adapting a book into a movie is a difficult art. The film version of The Martian is not only one of the best book-to-movie adaptation ever made, it’s one of the best science fiction movies of the past couple decades. It’s smart, funny, stunningly gorgeous, scientifically rigorous, and deeply human. It’s a fully worthy partner to the novel, and should be available for checkout sometime in January. Place a hold now to get an early spot in line.

Ex Machina

Multiple staff members put Ex Machina on their 2015 lists. The film is a hard science fiction thriller written and directed by Alex Garland, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac (both in Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) in powerhouse performances. The film, which plays out as if Stanley Kubrick was directing an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, relies heavy on ideas surrounding the implications of artificial intelligence. Ex Machina is perhaps, the smartest film of the year.

Wayward Pines

A little bit Twin Peaks mixed with a bit of LOST, Wayward Pines is based on a series of novels chronicling the strange situation of Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), who finds himself in a bucolic Idaho town following a mysterious car crash while investigating the disappearance of two other agents. It gets points for sheer audacity with how increasingly ludicrous certain plotlines get, but that’s half the fun.


A tantalizing mix of family, hip-hop, and intrigue, Empire, created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, is a cutthroat, prime-time drama with all the wonderfully addictive hallmarks of a soap opera. Actress Taraji P. Henson is a revelation in this series.


by Adele

Adele returns with one of the most anticipated albums of the decade. If we thought our ears were on fire when she was 19, what will happen when she turns 30? This album is also available digitally to Library users on Freegal Music.

Original Broadway Cast Recording

Hamilton, available digitally on hoopla, is a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton’s life. There is absolutely nothing like this Broadway show—it’s diverse, it’s fascinating, and it’s catchy. As one of our staffers said, it was the "best thing that happened to my ears in 2015."

by Taylor Swift

To quote our Media Relations Coordinator, "I might be slightly embarrassed to admit that the album 1989 made me a Taylor Swift fan. It’s the most perfect pop album I’ve heard in about 20 years. The fact that Ryan Adams covered 1989 and every song holds up and takes on a more somber, but wiser tone without actually being 'better' is a testament to how solid T. Swift’s songs are."

And many thanks to our library staff who helped contribute to this list and descriptions, including: Crystal, Rachel, Anna, Ron, and Clare in Youth & Family Engagement; Eli in Special Collections; Kaite in Readers' Services; Andy and Courtney in Public Affairs; Heather in Executive Services, John in the Digital Branch; Jill and Ryan in Customer Services; Joel in Branch Administration; and Susan at the Waldo Branch.

So you just found out that little Jimmy from down the road is staying the weekend and you have GOT to keep him busy. The only thing you know for sure is that he loves to read and wants to be either a ninja or a paleontologist when he grows up. Problem is, it’s 4:55 and the library closes in 5 minutes. What are you going to do???

Don’t start pulling out your hair! We’ve got you covered. Central Youth Services has a selection of thematic book bundles that can match any interest. We select 5 or 6 picture books and nonfiction titles under one subject and bundle them together for your convenience. Here are just a few examples of the book bundles that are available for checkout today.

BEDTIME BLUES – Stories of folks who can’t, won’t and may never sleep again!
Snoozefest by Samantha Berger
Time for Bed, Fred by Yasmeen Ismail
The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House by Eric Litwin
Chicken Bedtime is Really Early by Erica Pearl
No Sleep for the Sheep by Karen Beaumont
Max and the Won’t Go to Bed Show by Mark Sperring and Sarah Warburton

I WAS A POET BUT I DIDN’T KNOW IT - Rhyming books are a great tool in learning to read. They help kids recognize sounds, predict patterns and feel the rhythm of spoken and written language.

Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy
One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root
Nat the Cat Can Sleep Like That by Victoria Allenby
Rap a Tap Tap by Leo and Diane Dillon
Teacher: Sharing, Helping, Caring by Patricia Hubbell

THIS BOOK IS HILARIOUS! – Or maybe you are just looking to tickle your funny bone!

Weasels by Elys Dolan
Worst in Show by William Bee
Everybody Sleeps (but not Fred) by Josh Schneider
Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton
Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

In a hurry? Grab a bundle! Check it out!

Rachel Helm is an artist, reader, and home repair enthusiast. She has traveled extensively on Nevada State Route 375 "the Extraterrestrial Highway", but can currently be found hard at work in the Central Library Youth Services department.

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Islamic culture is central to the lives of many people in our community. Luckily, there are books that assist non-Muslims in understanding. They also remind Muslim children that they belong.

With rhyming text, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan with illustrations by Mehrdokht Amini gently introduces readers both to colors and to Islam. It is simple and informative without feeling stilted or preachy. Preschool and early elementary kids will really like it. In addition to definitions in context, parts of the main girl's religion and culture are explained clearly in an index at the back of the book.

Standing up for your beliefs and identity can be scary, especially when there are bullies. So, what will be the main character's response when he experiences that situation in My Name is Bilal by Asma Monin-Uddin and illustrated by Barbara Kiwak? It takes courage for Bilal, a Muslim-American boy, to affirm his identity. However, he comes to support his sister who is being teased because of her head-scarf. His teacher is also Muslim and guides Bilal to appreciate his heritage. For older elementary students who will benefit from seeing a role-model cope with what they face, this is a great book.

Another book for kids in older elementary grades is One Green Apple by Eve Bunting with pictures by Ted Lewin. It speaks to people who are new to the United States and may be closer than the other books in terms of the challenges that resettled refugees face. The main character, Farah, does not know English and, like all of the females in her previous home. wears a head scarf. Her classmates are kind and helpful. This story, told through her eyes, depicts a class trip to an apple orchard.

The title of this blog is the typical Muslim greeting that means Peace be upon you. I learned this from reading the extra material in the back of My Name is Bilial. Therefore, I will end this blog with something else I learned there. Wa alaykum as-salaam, the reply, And peace be upon you.

About the Author

Anna Francesca Garcia earned her Master of Library and Information Sciences Degree from the University of North Texas. She has worked in public libraries in Nevada and Missouri for eleven years. Currently, Anna Francesca is Kansas City Public Library’s Education Librarian.

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys stories selected by April Genevieve Tucholke

publication date: 2015
pages: 400
ISBN: 978-0803741737

This book contained horror and thriller stories. The characters in the stories included everything from serial killers, ghosts, the Bone Collector, a demented March Hare, and zombies. The inspiration for the stories varied, as well. Each author listed the inspiration for the story at its end, from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein to Nirvana’s 1993 song “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle.”

My favorite story was “Verse Chorus Verse” by Leigh Bardugo, who is most famous for her YA book Shadow & Bone. “Verse Chorus Verse” was about Jaycee Adams, an up-and-coming star who was sent to rehab. When Jaycee got out of rehab, her mother noticed something different about her – a strangeness and a darkness. The story explored themes of guilt, innocence, karma, and ambition while being distinctively creepy. The author infused the story with suspense and dread, like when Jaycee called her mom Kara from the rehab center:

Her daughter had a beautiful voice – even just talking – sweet and husky, a star’s voice. But that night it had been panicked, trembling, barely a rasp. . . .
“Mama, please come get me. Please. Oh god --” The phone had clattered as if Jaycee had put it down in a rush. But the handset must not have settled in the cradle, because Kara could still hear Jaycee and now her daughter was sobbing.
“Please,” Jaycee begged, but she wasn’t talking to her mother anymore, Kara felt sure of it. Then Kara heard the whir of some kind of machine starting up. It sounded almost like a power tool, maybe a saw. Something about that metallic whine had raised the hairs on her arms.

Another passage I liked from the book came from the story “M” by Stefan Bachmann, told from the perspective of a blind girl:

And suddenly Misha wished everyone were blind, every single person at that long table with its clinking silver and hissing lamps. Because what good did seeing things do, really? For all their squinting, peering eyes, they did not know who was good and who was wicked, who was strong and who was cowardly, who was murdering in their house, and who was trying to save their lives. Eyes were tricks in bone boxes, but everyone believed them.

The stories presented varied examples of thrills and horror. But they were, at times, repetitive. Many stories used Frankenstein as their inspiration. And many more featured birds, bones, and water. Additionally, almost all the stories had a young woman as the narrator and many of those had a victimized young woman narrator. Several stories felt boring, instead of eerie or suspenseful, because an earlier story had already included that theme, mood, twist, etc.

If you’re interested in the macabre, I would certainly recommend this collection of short stories.

4/6: worth reading

About the Author

Jill Anderson

Jill Anderson has a business degree and JD from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. She's lived in Kansas City for several years and has worked at the library since 2014. She loves to read anything and everything and you can find YA reviews and more on her book blog at

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Robert Graves

Robert Graves was a fascinating man. A poet and novelist of some note, he was also a respected classical scholar and translator. Like many of his generation, he served in the British Army (Royal Welch Fusilliers, to be exact) during World War I. In that war, he was severely wounded and taken for dead. His war experiences exacerbated lung problems he had all his life; despite these problems Graves lived for ninety years.

Part of his breathing problems came from a battered nose, which he got while at Charterhouse, a British prep school by “playing rugger with soccer players.” Boxing in the army worsened the condition of his nose. When he returned to England to recuperate from the war, he was operated on by an army surgeon; he was glad to have the free service, but had no choice in the surgeon, and the one who operated on him botched the job somewhat, so that throughout the remainder of his life, he had trouble breathing through one nostril. As he put it, that experience left him with a nose that “no longer serve[d] as a vertical line of demarcation” between the two sides of his face.

To many readers, Graves is best known as the author of I, Claudius and Claudius the God, two historical novels written in the guise of newly unearthed memoirs of the 4th Roman Emperor, Claudius, and "translated" by Graves into English (Graves actually did pen several exemplary translations of Greek and Roman works for Penguin.) Those two novels are witty, well-written, and meticulously researched — Graves got his facts right.

In the 1920s, though, Graves was primarily a poet, one of many poets who served Britain during WWI, surviving like his compatriot, Siegfried Sassoon, to be a strong critic of the war, and of war itself; though the British didn’t invent the term FUBAR, ineptitude and poor communication led to all sorts of disasters in the war.

Read more of Bernard Norcott-Mahany's 2015 reviews of books about the First World War:

January 12, 2015
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

February 5, 2015
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

March 13, 2015
Tarzan the Untamed by Edgar Rice Burroughs

April 6, 2015
The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry

May 4, 2015
Soldiers’ Pay by William Faulkner

June 3, 2015
The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings

July 8, 2015
Tom Swift and His Aerial Warship by Victor Appleton

August 3, 2015
August 1914 by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

September 1, 2015
His Last Bow: Some Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

October 2, 2015
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo

November 11, 2015
Ashenden; or, the British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham

In 1929, he published Goodbye to All That, a memoir of that war and his part in it, but also a witness to the changes that war had wrought. Many young men entered the war full of patriotism tinged with a faith in God and the rightness of their cause, but left that war, shaken in their patriotism, many now atheists, and skeptical of any emotional call from any ideology. By the time this book came out, Graves himself had settled in Majorca, and the title of the book was suggestive of Graves’ desire to give up all of his past and start anew.

The book covers Graves’ life and the world in which he lived up until the mid 1920s. So he speaks of his early years, and of his years at Charterhouse, where he confesses to a romantic devotion to a fellow student. Despite his fond memories of his school crush, it does not keep Graves from turning an ironic eye on the foibles of British Public Schools just as he later does on the foibles of the British army.

The book was a success, and the profits from the sales of the book left Graves financially secure. Graves seems to admit that any autobiography, though based on the events of one’s own life, remains somewhat fictional. There are ways of going about telling one’s story. In the book’s opening paragraphs, he notes that he will follow the conventions and speak of the first memory he has – that of being hoisted on his father’s shoulders to see a parade going through Wimbledon (where Graves lived as a young boy) in honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Graves was two at the time. It is not that Graves has such an early memory that I find noteworthy, but that he feels compelled to set the scene within the frame of conventional tropes of the autobiography.

Graves is a master stylist, and a good storyteller, but his clear focus on the tropes of his medium does suggest some remove from his subject. And this may be the reason both for the book’s popularity — it reads like one of Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey novels but with greater pathos — but also why others in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, such as Siegfried Sassoon, another poet officer, and perhaps the greatest of the English poets who fought in, and survived the war, and J.C. Dunn, who had been medical officer with the Fusiliers, both of whom wrote their own accounts of their lives and war service, had issues with the book.

Graves and Sassoon had been friends, and came to know each other better during convalescence, but when Sassoon chose to publicly repudiate the war in 1917 and call for the government to work to some peace with Germany, an offense which was against the code of military conduct, and could result in a court martial, Graves along with a psychiatrist, W.H.R. Rivers, worked to have Sassoon declared “impaired due to shell shock” (in this effort, they were successful). Sassoon did not thank them. Graves presents the incident in such a way that he comes out the hero, saving Sassoon from being summarily dismissed from the army and sent to a military prison. What Graves does not report, though, is Sassoon was opposed to Graves’ intervention, nor does Graves report that he, too, suffered from shell shock. In writing of poetry written during the war, Graves indiscreetly used a poem of Sassoon’s not meant for publication, but shared privately with Graves, as an example of one of Sassoon’s lesser efforts. Sassoon saw such publication a betrayal.

Dunn too took Graves to task for his memoir. Dunn, though, was much more regular army than either Graves or Sassoon and may have been more upset by liberties he perceived that Graves took with the truth.

This autobiography may not be a model of veracity in the genre, but its eloquence and humor make it a worthy read and a fine farewell to our year of looking at World War I through literature.

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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History is full of revolts, conflicts, and wars. Juliet Barker in her book 1381: The Year of the Peasants’ Revolt examines the English clash that rocked the country through all levels of society.

In 1381, a boy king, Richard II, sat on the throne after his grandfather Edward III had died after a long reign. Many feared that his rich, powerful, and hated uncle John of Gaunt would attempt to seize the throne.

England was still struggling to recover from the population loss caused by the Black Death. The land belonged to large landholders — both private individuals and ecclesiastical entities — where much of the population worked as villeins or serfs with little or no freedom or opportunity to improve their lives. The landholders held firm to their domination of the villeins and did not want the system to change.

Others who lived in urban areas such as London were craftsmen or worked in service to large houses. Smaller towns survived as market towns for the surrounding rural area. England seemed to always be at war with either Scotland or France, so the biggest issue in these urban areas became the collection of taxes and other revenue to support the wars. By 1381, three separate taxes had been collected. All men and women over a certain age had to pay. Many felt these taxes to be unfair, or they clashed with unscrupulous tax collectors, and were ready to revolt. John of Gaunt received much of the blame for the poll tax collection as it paid for him to go to war.

This book is part of our Kauffman Collection, a selection of titles intended to enhance the Library’s collection with significant works in the humanities and other genres.

Wat Tyler has been considered to be a leader of the revolt which began in June of 1381. The rebels started by attacking property of royal and high level officials who had been charged with collecting the poll tax. Houses, records, and other property were destroyed throughout southern England. Many people lost their lives and the strife continued. The authorities could do little to stop the violence. The rebellion spread to London. Prisoners were set free. The rebels demanded to meet with the king to present their grievances to him. Richard II met with the insurgents and granted their demands of freedom from their landlords and pardons for their recent actions.

The meeting with the monarch failed to stop the violence, which continued to spread throughout the country. No person or institution was safe from the wrath of the rebels. The hated John of Gaunt lost much of his property during the revolt, including Savoy Palace, his London home.

The authorities were finally able to stop the rebellion, and some leaders lost their lives. The King rescinded his promises of freedom for the serfs and many went back to their former estates. The King tried during the course of his reign to bring freedom to the villeins, but Parliament disagreed. One permanent change brought by the Peasants’ Revolt was that no one tried to force another poll tax on the population.

In the end, nothing much changed for the daily life of the people of England. The aristocracy still forced peasants to work their land, but the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 shook England to its core. Once order had been restored and the leaders punished, it remained in popular history as a display of what ordinary citizens could attempt against established institutions. Their failure to achieve their goals did not matter as history cheered on what might have been.

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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The American Library Association has recognized April Roy’s role in building the Kansas City Public Library’s Bluford Branch into a community haven, honoring her with its coveted I Love My Librarian Award.

Roy, who has managed the Bluford Branch for a little more than three years, traveled to New York City to accept the award Thursday night, December 3, 2015. It celebrates the accomplishments of exceptional public, school, college, community college, and university librarians nationwide, drawing nominations from library users.

This year’s 10 recipients were selected from more than 1,300 nominees, according to the ALA. Roy receives a $5,000 cash prize, a plaque, and a $500 travel stipend to attend the awards reception, and a separate plaque is awarded to the Kansas City Public Library.

“I am a librarian because I love it. So to win an award with ‘love’ in the title is perfect for me,” says Roy, who recently marked her 10th year overall with the Library. “It gives validity to some of the ‘outside the box’ thinking that has made my work such a success and a joy.”

She was nominated by Kansas City children’s author and Bluford Branch patron Christine Taylor-Butler, who noted, “Once April transferred to Bluford (in August 2012), the library blossomed.

“Where I used to walk into a mostly unused space, the library now buzzes with activity,” Taylor-Butler wrote. “… For adults and children, Bluford has become the place for homework help, job search assistance, refuge, or to find a passion for reading. She knows many of the visitors by name, and they’ve responded by putting out the word that Bluford is a place where people can feel welcome.”

The Bluford Branch has seen circulation of books and other materials increase as Roy has increasingly tailored its collection to the Prospect Avenue corridor it serves. Beyond that, it has emerged as a hub for community activity, featuring a far-reaching health and fitness initiative that includes free evening exercise classes, health fairs, and chronic disease self-management workshops. The lineup complements a permanent Health and Wellness Center that the branch houses in partnership with Truman Medical Centers.

Taylor-Butler also pointed to the Bluford Branch’s distribution of some 800 children’s books each month through community events and festivals. And she cited Roy’s efforts in arranging a surprise appearance by novelist George R.R. Martin – author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, adapted by HBO into Game of Thrones – for a science fiction workshop.

“I would invite you to Kansas City to see what ‘gold’ April has spun from the limited resources she was given to work with when she first arrived,” Taylor-Butler wrote in nominating Roy for the I Love My Librarian Award. “She turned the Bluford library into an oasis for a community that has little else to claim as its own.”

Roy joined the Library as an assistant children’s librarian at the Plaza Branch when it opened in 2005, and later served as children’s services supervisor. A graduate of the University of Missouri graduate, she worked previously with the Mid-Continent Public Library.

The I Love My Librarian Award is administered by the Chicago-based American Library Association and co-sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the New York Public Library. The Carnegie Corporation hosts the awards reception.

“I just have to decide,” Roy says, “if it is in poor taste to mention the Royals while I give my acceptance speech in New York.”

As winter’s chill begins to sink in and I start complaining about how cold it is outside, I can’t help but think about Antarctica. Antarctica is the coldest, driest, windiest, most freezing-est land mass on planet Earth, but for some reason intrepid folks keep going down there. One of the worst attempted Antarctic trips took place over 100 years ago, led by an adventurous Brit named Sir Ernest Shackleton.

In 1915, Shackleton embarked on what would become one of the more disastrous exploratory expeditions in recorded history. His plan, to cross Antarctica from sea to sea by way of the southernmost point on planet Earth (the South Pole)…an 1,800 mile trek through a freezing wasteland. His ship the Endurance departed December 5, 1914, from a small island in the South Atlantic Ocean and almost immediately encountered ice that slowed the journey to a snail’s pace until eventually the ship became trapped, immovable, frozen in an ice floe. After nearly 9 months, stranded on an unmoving ship, the hull cracked and water began to enter the boat. Shackleton and his crew fled the boat and made camp on a large, flat ice floe, which they hoped would over time drift the 250 miles toward an island known to hold provisions. When, after several months, the floe hit against an impassable wall of ice, Shackleton took desperate measures and ordered his crew to board a series of small open air lifeboats that took them across 720 miles of treacherous ocean to eventual rescue. Shackleton’s crew of 28 men (all of whom survived, in case you were worried) spent nearly 2 years on this voyage, most of it spent freezing in makeshift camps, and in the end they never even made it to Antarctica!

So next time you start to feel a chill, check out one of these books from the library and find out more!

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed by Sally Walker
Byrd and Igloo: A Polar Adventure by Samantha Seiple
Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance by Jennifer Armstrong
Trial by Ice: A Photobiography of Sir Ernest Shackleton by K.M. Kostyal

Or, you can take a look at the South Pole for your self through the United States Antarctic Project webcams.

About the Author

Rachel Helm is an artist, reader, and home repair enthusiast. She has traveled extensively on Nevada State Route 375 "the Extraterrestrial Highway", but can currently be found hard at work in the Central Library Youth Services department.

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