Data, A Love Story by Amy Webb

I honestly don't know what to think about Data, A Love Story by Amy Webb. I'm a geek; I love math and data and statistics. The idea of tackling online dating using statistical analysis and profile optimization is intriguing.

I saw Webb's TED talk on this subject before I read her book. Her presentation is all about the numbers, the data crunching, and what she learned about how to game online dating systems. In her talk, she comes across as warm, funny, and approachable.

The book is less about data and math, and more a memoir of her romantic life. She also doesn't come across as quite so likable in her book and that occasionally put me off. She seems, by turns, neurotic, judgmental, and distant. Some of her dating horror stories are quite amusing, but I must confess: I don't care that much about her love life. I wanted more "data" and less "love story."

Want to make up your own mind about Data, A Love Story?

Read it and share your thoughts at our FYI Book Group meeting on February 24, 2015.

And don't forget to count your reading for our Adult Winter Reading Program: Love on the Rocks for which this is a suggested book!

Read any five books by March 20, 2015, and earn your limited edition tumbler glass and be entered in a drawing for a NOOK GlowLight eReader.

I admire Webb's commitment to finding a solution to her dating woes, her dedication to "out-think the problem." She's clearly very self-aware and willing to own up to her mistakes and shortcomings. For example, at the beginning of one chapter, she's insultingly judgmental toward other women on JDate, but by the end of it she's perfectly willing to admit that she's being unfair to them. I admire her honest self-criticism. But I can't bring myself to go all the way on this journey with her. As successful as her endeavor was for her, I'm not sure how well her approach will work for other people.

It makes sense for Webb to seek solutions to the failures of online dating by using data and math, as online dating sites are data-driven, algorithmically-determined services. Workable solutions can only be found in manipulable data.

I can't agree with one of the fundamental premises of her experiment, however. Everything starts with her "Mary Poppins" list, the 72 data points she creates to define her perfect husband. This list is what she uses to establish her methodology. The ultimate success of her experiment depends on the accuracy of that list and the relative values she assigns to each point.

Webb's fundamental premise is a belief that she can reliably define exactly who her perfect match should be. In the "Appendix" of the book, where she lays out specific guidelines for users of dating sites to follow, she starts by emphasizing the need for each user to define exactly what sort of person they're looking for. This is a necessary first step before anyone can begin to customize their profile appropriately. Without a "Mary Poppins" list, her strategy doesn't apply.

Webb evinces no awareness of the fact that people don't always know what they want. Too often, we convince ourselves that we want things when we really don't.

People frequently don't know what will make them happy. Sometimes, the things we're certain will make us happy end up disappointing. Sometimes, we find happiness in things we never anticipated. Moreover, what we want in our lives isn't always what we need. If many of us don't always know what we want, we know what we need even less.

Throughout the book, Webb makes no bones about the fact that she's a very unique woman—she knows that she's not typical. Somehow, though, it never seems to occur to her that her ability to create a "Mary Poppins" list in the first place might be something that other people can't do. I don't assume that any of us are objective enough to know with absolute certainty who our perfect partner should be before we meet them.

To her credit, this approach worked for her. She's sufficiently self-aware and capable of being brutally honest with herself. She has an ability to be objective about her emotions in a way that many people can't. I don't believe that her approach to online dating would work for me. I don't know how many people it would work for.

About the Author

John Keogh

John Keogh is the Digital User Specialist for the Digital Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. He grew up in Fargo, ND, (too small) and lived in Chicago for several years (too big) before he moved to Kansas City. He calls KC his "Goldilocks town" because it's just right.

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Book Review: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

In the years following World War I, much of the literature on both sides of the Atlantic was strongly anti-war in sentiment. The enthusiasm and idealism that people felt when war was declared and when they signed up and rallied for war soon soured in the trenches, with both sides crying out “never again.” Of course, that universal desire to avoid conflict died with the rise of the Nazis in Germany, having lasted less than 20 years. But in 1928, when All Quiet on the Western Front was published in Germany, the anti-war sentiment was still strong.

The war the German leaders promised (and expected) a war that was supposed to last only months. The expectation of all the generals and the rulers was that the war would be over by the end of 1914 – Germany’s clearest road to victory was a defeat of France within six weeks, followed by a war on the Eastern Front against a weak opponent, Russia. German war efforts, to be successful, required a short 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

When the German efforts were stopped at the Marne in September 1914 and the paralysis of trench warfare set in, the destruction of a generation of young men was the result. Brutal peace terms were exacted on Germany at the war’s conclusion, as Germany was seen as the chief aggressor in the conflict and the party most responsible for the war.

The bitter disappointment that followed the high hopes resulted in a great bitterness and cynicism towards the rhetoric of war together with a call that war as a solution to a country’s differences with another country come to an end. Erich Maria Remarque’s novel follows Paul Bremer, a young man in the German infantry on the Western Front. The novel, told in first person, opens at a point where Paul has been at the front for a little more than a year, having joined in those first few months.

No longer the idealistic high schooler, who enlisted together with his entire class in a burst of patriotism at his teacher’s insistence, Paul, in his time in the ranks, has learned to see through the slogans of war. As a student, he puffed up with pride and patriotism at his teacher’s referring to his generation as “the Iron Youth;” now, as a soldier, he is much tougher and worthy of that appellation, but his toughness is aimed at staying alive and keeping his sanity, all the while feeling disdain for the slogans of war and the people who utter them in ignorance.

A coworker of mine told me that the English translation by A. W. Wheen, though adequately translating the German, does not capture the tone of the original. Paul is a teenager, a gymnasium (equivalent in the US would be college prep) student, who entered the war at the age of 17, and by the book’s conclusion, is just shy of 20. According to my colleague, Remarque has Paul deliver the narrative in the first person in language and tone appropriate for a youngster. And so, the more standard English of the translation misses the slangy teen language of young Bremer, though capturing the literal meaning of the words. The translation does better, though, in those places when Paul gets more intellectual or philosophical or even poetic (as young people are wont to do).

If you have not read this book already, you should. All Quiet on the Western Front was one of the key books of its generation. In the late 20s and early 30s there were very few in the US or Europe who hadn’t read the book, or seen the justly famous film version, directed by Lewis Milestone, which starred Lew Ayres as Paul. If you’ve not seen the Milestone film, put that on your must-watch list.

The book and film were both very influential in their time, though ironically, the idealism of the book and film (that such war should never happen again, and now that the clarion call against war rang out, would never recur) which countered the jingoistic idealism that got Europe into the great war, proved just as illusory and helped to blind Europe to the possibility of a second great war. Britain and France were quite willing to believe that Hitler would not risk war. That blindness led to the very martial horror the idealists and pragmatists hoped to avoid.

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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Tax Help at the Library

We could all use a little help preparing our income taxes, and there are two organizations coming to the Library to assist you for free.

AARP Tax-Aid provides free tax preparation and assistance services to low- and middle-income taxpayers, with special attention given to those ages 60 and older. And VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) provides assistance to those with an income of $53,000 or less.

Representatives from both organizations will be on hand to assist patrons with your federal and state (Missouri and Kansas) income tax returns at many of our locations. No appointment is necessary.

Please bring all necessary documents with you, such as your W-2s, 1099s, and previous year’s return. A full list of recommended documents is located here.

The days and times volunteers from VITA and AARP will be available are listed below. Please call the individual Library locations you plan to visit if you have any questions.


Central Library
14 W. 10th St. - 816.701.3433

Mondays and Tuesdays: 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
In the Multipurpose Room on the Vault Level
Saturdays: 10 a.m. - 4:30 p .m.
In Meeting Room 312 on the 3rd Floor

North-East Branch
6000 Wilson Rd. - 816.701.3485

Mondays, Tuesdays,
and Wednesdays: 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Thursdays: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Saturdays: 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Plaza Branch
4801 Main St. - 816.701.3481

Mondays, Tuesdays,
and Wednesdays: 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Saturdays: 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Trails West Branch
11401 E. 23rd St. - 816.701.3483

Saturdays, February 7, 14, 21,
and April 4: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.


Waldo Branch
201 E. 75th St. - 816.701.3486

Mondays & Thursdays: 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Assistance is provided on a first come, first served basis. There are 25 slots available per day.

Southeast Branch
6242 Swope Pkwy - 816.701.3484

Wednesdays through April 1: 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Assistance is provided on a first come, first served basis. There are 20 slots available per day.

At the Library we also provide access to state and federal income tax forms, links to free online filing services, 2015 Tax Guides that are available for check out, and more. Take a look!

Book Review: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

As some of you may remember, The Guns of August was part of the Great War | Great Read celebration held this past summer and fall, in time for the 100th anniversary of the events described in Barbara Tuchman’s award-winning book.

There are still celebrations and events going on at the Kansas City Public Library, the National World War I Museum, and elsewhere in Kansas City throughout the 100 year anniversary of the Great War. And so, over the course of this year I’ll be looking at 12 books (well, 11 books and a graphic novel collection) of items either written during World War I, or about that terrible war.

The war itself was a terrible revelation. It was unlike any war that had preceded it, in that advances in technology allowed for much greater damage and tremendous casualties, while at the same time improved medical technology and practice allowed many who, in previous wars, would have died from their injuries or infections, to continue living as a bitter indictment of that terrible conflict.

Unlike previous wars, WWI was an unraveling of the social contract and the expectations of civilized behavior, an erosion of the ideas of what combatants may do in war. At the outbreak of the war, Europe had been at peace, at least within its boundaries, for more than 40 years, and the thought of a European War seemed incredible.

The end of the 19th and start of the 20th c. was a time of increased prosperity and comfort and culture. The bourgeois world of material well-being and manners was everywhere in evidence throughout Europe. In addition, many of the noble families in Europe were related through marriage to one another. So the idea of civilized man going to war against civilized man was doubly negated by the idea of cousin going to war against cousin. Economic considerations made the idea of any continued war unfeasible because a long war would be too costly; besides, most thought that the balance of power in place would keep everyone secure and desirous of maintaining that balance. All of those illusions were crushed by the realities of the Great War.

Tuchman herself witnessed a part of the war, the escape of the German battleship Goeben into Turkish territorial waters (which action helped to bring Turkey into the war). She was a toddler at the time, and her maternal grandfather, Henry Morgenthau, was Woodrow Wilson’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. This brush with the great conflict, which no doubt became a family story told and retold through the years, inspired Tuchman to set her sights on World War I. She had already written a couple of books about WWI – Bible and Sword, a book about British involvement in the Middle East, and the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and The Zimmerman Telegram, about the German telegram to Mexico, aimed at starting a war between Mexico and the United States, one of the justifications for US entry into WWI.

After Guns, she would write The Proud Tower that looked at Europe in the decade prior to WWI. She chose, for this work, to focus sharply on the conditions that allowed the war to break out, and perhaps even forced its outbreak. Her account begins at the funeral of King Edward VII of Great Britain on 20 May 1910, a funeral attended by those who later would be involved in the Great War. She ends with the decision by the French, British and German forces to fight at the Marne in September of 1914. That great battle brought to a halt Germany’s juggernaut, which had barreled through Belgium and into France and came very close to taking Paris. In choosing to engage the French and British forces at the Marne, in order to wipe out any real opposition to its advance, the Germans made a fatal error. In sidestepping Paris, the Germans gave the French forces and their British allies a brief respite, and a chance to flank the German forces. Neither side really won the Battle of the Marne, but in stopping German forces there, the French and British ensured that Germany would not win a quick victory (a key part of Germany’s Schlieffen plan), but be forced into a war of attrition, which did not favor. The German forces advanced no further into France, but their advances in the first weeks of the war gave Germany access to sufficient material resources to continue the fight for some time.

Tuchman does not address the Turkish campaign, in which the Allied forces would suffer a tremendous defeat at Gallipoli, or the war in the Middle East, where T.E. Lawrence would win fame as Lawrence of Arabia. Nor does she address the United States’ entry into the war, still a few years away, nor the campaigns that took place among the colonial holdings in Africa.

Her goal is to look at the start of the war, at the conditions that made that war largely inevitable (the concern of the centrally located Germany about its being encircled, a concern furthered by the unlikely alliance between democratic France and autocratic Russia, and the tight system of alliances which had been aimed at maintaining a balance of power in Europe in order to prevent war, but which turned out, instead, to be a house of cards built on a powder keg, so that the political assassination of one leader led to a rush to war by much of Europe).

Tuchman spends quite a bit of time on Germany’s plan of action in the event of war – the Schlieffen plan, developed by Count Alfred von Schlieffen in 1905. This plan, assuming a war on two fronts called for an immediate and all-out attack on France, seen as the greater and more immediate threat, with only six weeks allotted to defeat France, Germany’s most immediate and biggest threat.

Following France’s expected defeat, Germany could turn her attention to Russia, a weaker but larger power needing much more time to mobilize. To make the Schlieffen plan feasible, Germany had to attack France through the north, which involved going through neutral Belgium. Belgian refusal to allow the German army safe passage to France’s border prompted Germany to invade and to employ harsh measures to force Belgian compliance. The brutal march through Belgium, with incredibly harsh reprisals against any resistance, and a willingness to destroy the city of Louvain, renowned for its University, resulted in a general condemnation of German brutality. It was the attack on “poor little Belgium” by the Hun that spurred Britain into the fight, and made it more likely that the Schlieffen plan timetable would not be met.

As Tuchman tells the story, though, poor relations between the British commander and his French allies served to help German advances, but impromptu military decisions by the French leaders in the field, and political pressure in Britain and a change in British military leadership in France made it possible to halt the German advance at the Marne. Without a quick end to the war, Germany’s hopes for victory would fade over time, though they had the equipment and personnel to keep the fight going.

Tuchman is a masterful storyteller, and a fine prose stylist. The work is scholarly, but accessible for a general audience. I must say that some of her snarky remarks about the Germans (e.g. the German “need” to comply and follow the leader) bothered me. Such comments perhaps reveal more of Tuchman’s prejudice than she intended to show. There is also a documentary film called The Guns of August which has great archival footage, but which lacks Tuchman’s intelligent presentation and analysis of the data.

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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Our Favorites from 2014

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 2014.

Every one of these items is available in the Kansas City Public Library collection.

Take a look; maybe you'll find a new favorite that's outside of your comfort zone!


Smoke gets in your Eyes
by Caitlin Doughty

Multiple staff members recommended Doughty’s memoir, about her time working in a crematorium and subsequent life’s work to take the fear and stigma out of end of life discussions. It’s a really fascinating, and not at all morbid, read.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
by Cary Elwes

If you loved the movie The Princess Bride, (And who didn’t) you’ll love this whimsical memoir of the making of this film. A book filled with true love, dangerous sword fights, giants and rodents of unusual size (not to mention Billy Crystal) this book will make you want to watch the film again and view it in a whole new light.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage
by Ann Patchett

The author uses essays and articles from the early stages of her writing career to understand her current stage. If you can, check out the audiobook. Patchett’s own narration of her words adds sincerity and warmth to the works.

The Weight of Blood
by Laura McHugh

An Ozark noir story of a young woman searching for answers to her friend’s death and turning up clues to her own mother’s disappearance.

Dear Committee Members
by Julia Schumacher

A curmudgeonly professor laments the hilariously sorry state of academia in letters of recommendation to colleagues, administration, students, potential bosses, and his ex-wife.

The Serpent of Venice
by Christopher Moore

A bawdy Shakespearean parody delivered with all the panache of a Monty Python skit.

The $11 Billion Year
by Anne Thompson

The curtain rises on Hollywood’s misguided, greedy, and surprising notions of how to run show business.

The Cure for Dreaming
by Cat Winters

In Winters second Young Adult novel, she mixes historical fiction with just a touch of supernatural suspense, set in 1900s Oregon.

The Monogram Murders: the New Hercule Poirot Mystery
by Sophie Hannah

Revisit Agatha Christie's iconic Belgian detective, with this first-ever approved continuation of the Hercule Poirot series.

by Danielle Steel

If you are a Danielle Steel fan, her new book, Pegasus is a must read. It's a multigenerational tale of an aristocratic German family of secret Jewish descent, finding refuge in America during and after World War II.

The Skin Game
by Jim Butcher (Book 15 of The Dresden Files)

Harry Dresden is the only professional wizard in the Chicagoland phone book. In this book we join him after he has been ‘promoted’ to the Winter Knight champion for Mab, the Fairy Queen of Air and Darkness. Once more, Dresden heads into the breach, this time trying to balance the safety of his friends and his new “won” responsibilities to faerie. The book is a fantastic, superlative continuation of one man's determination to save all of the paranormal. Seriously good fun.


Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson

A beautifully story written in verse by National Book Award Winner Jacqueline Woodson, about her childhood in South Carolina and New York. Eloquent and moving, this book will touch readers of all ages.

by John Rocco

The wonderfully-illustrated tale of a boy named John, who embarks on a mini-adventure to help his family and neighbors during a blizzard.


Inside Lleweyn Davis
Rated R. 104 minutes.

The Coen brothers chronicle an irascible folk singer trying to make it in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and John Goodman.

Rated PG-13. 82 minutes.

In this Polish film, a young novice nun in the 1960s discovers a deep & dark family secret dating back to the Nazi occupation. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski and starring Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, and Dawid Ogrodnik.

Rated R. 126 minutes.

A train in perpetual motion in a frozen post-apocalyptic world is the setting for a story about class warfare and survival. Directed by Joon-ho Bong. Starring Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, and Tilda Swinton.

The Way, Way Back
Rated PG-13. 103 minutes.

Steve Carell and Toni Collette star in this brilliant, heartfelt coming of age story about a teenage boy and his mom, spending the summer with her abrasive boyfriend at his beach house. The boy matures as he finds friendship and a makeshift family (of sorts) while working at a local water park. Funny and heartbreaking with a surprisingly strong performance from Carell.


The First World War
Unrated. 10 episodes.

This BBC series is based on Hew Strachan’s enlightening and accessible history of The War to End All Wars. While not from 2014 (the series originally aired in 2003), it was especially meaningful as this year marked the centennial of the start of World War I.

TV-MA. 10 episodes.

The FX series starring Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolmon, and Colin Hanks managed to recreate much of the atmosphere and tone of the original Coen brothers film, while building a story uniquely its own. A cold-blooded killer comes to a frozen, snow-covered town to wreak havoc amongst its citizens while two earnest police officers try to solve a murder that may have been committed by the least likely suspect in town. Easily the best, most nail-biting TV viewing experience of the year. Billy Bob Thornton’s Devilish Hit man, Lorne Malvo, may be one of the greatest small-screen characters ever created for television.


St. Vincent
St. Vincent

Best Rock Album Grammy Nominee St. Vincent has created an unapologetically hard-rocking album from an unapologetically hard-rocking lady about living in the digital age.

The Voyager
Jenny Lewis

The third album by American singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis, The Voyager presents a nostalgic, wry, and nuanced take on indie rock.

A huge thank you to our library staff who helped contribute to this list, including Kaite in Readers' Services, Cindy at Trails West, Michael in our Missouri Valley Special Collections, Melissa in Library Systems, David in Interlibrary Loan, Denise at Plaza, Kate in Customer Service, and Kristan at Trails West.

eCard Now Available

We're making it easier than ever to tap into the Library's vast array of electronic resources, from eBooks and audiobooks to streaming movies and television shows, magazines, newspapers, and more.

The Library now offers electronic library cards, just in time for all of you who will receive e-readers, tablets, and other new devices during the holidays. Sign up from anywhere and get immediate access to digital materials!

The Kansas City Public Library eCards are available to residents of the bi-state metropolitan area who are 13 or older and not registered for standard library cards.

"You don't have to come into the Library or wait for a card to be mailed to you," says Joel Jones, the Library's deputy director of branch and library services. "You apply, get a card number, and get access."

Already have a Kansas City Public Library card? There's no need to apply for an eCard! If you have a traditional card and live in the Kansas City metro area, you already have access to our digital resources.

The Library's entire collection of electronic resources — one of the largest and fastest growing in Kansas City — is free and likewise available to holders of standard Library cards. Among its offerings:

OVERDRIVE  |  Access more than 25,000 eBooks, 10,000 audio books, 500 videos.

FREEGAL  |  Choose from more than 7 million songs. Download (and keep) up to five a week or enjoy ad-free streaming.

HOOPLA  |  Enjoy hundreds of thousands of movies, television shows, albums, and audio books. Stream content online or temporarily download for remote viewing.

ZINIO  |  Download digital versions of 140 magazines, including Cosmopolitan, ESPN, GQ, Rolling Stone, and Harper's Bazaar.

TUMBLEBOOKS  |  Choose from a collection of nearly 900 children's story books, chapter books, non-fiction books, and more.

COMICS PLUS  |  View more than 7,000 comic strips, graphic novels, and manga.

DATABASES  |  Browse thousands of journals, magazines, newspapers, and books. Get help with homework. Prepare for a standardized test. Even create a business plan.

Registration for an eCard requires only an Internet connection. Go to to get started.

Community Leaders Marilou Joyner, Kathryn Mallinson Join the Library Board

The Kansas City Public Library's board of trustees has returned to its full, nine-member complement with the recent appointment of two local business leaders, health care manager and longtime education executive Marilou Joyner and pharmacy owner and civic activist Kathryn Mallinson.

Joyner, named in November by Kansas City Mayor Sly James, took her seat with the board when it met Tuesday, December 16, at the Library's Trails West Branch. Mallinson was named in June to represent the Sugar Creek area.

Members are appointed to four-year terms by the mayors of their respective districts — the cities of Kansas City, Independence, and Sugar Creek — and oversee a Library system encompassing the downtown Central Library, Plaza Branch, and eight other neighborhood branches.

Joyner, who holds bachelor's, master's, and specialist's degrees in education from Northwest Missouri State University, an MBA from Bellevue (Nebraska) University, and a doctorate from the University of Kansas, is a former assistant commissioner in Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. She spent four subsequent years as executive director of the Kansas City Higher Education Partnership, advising school districts on accreditation, and three years as president of the Blackwell Education Support Team, a Kansas City consulting firm.

She also is a member and past president of the board of Literacy Kansas City and serves on the Northwest Missouri State University Foundation board.

Mallinson has shown a similar commitment to community service. A native of Independence and graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, with a bachelor's degree in psychology and sociology, she and her husband, Matthew, have owned and operated a family pharmacy in Independence since 1987. She also is active in the Independence Junior Service League, Independence Kiwanis Club, Inter-City Sugar Creek Optimist Club, and numerous other local charities and organizations.

Matthew Mallinson is the mayor of Sugar Creek, elected in April 2013.

The Mallinsons have hosted five foreign exchange students, and Kathryn helped develop the Host Homes Program for the Independence School District. Through her family businesses, she has donated hundreds books to school libraries throughout the district. And she designed and remodeled the Little Theater at Van Horn High School, where Mallinson is the alumni association's first life member.

The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

One of the best police procedural series, and the inspiration for many who’ve written police procedurals since the 1970s, is the amazing 10-book series written by Per Wahlöö, a Swedish journalist, and his partner, Maj Sjöwall. This series is often referred to as the Martin Beck series after the chief investigator for the Stockholm police. But like McBain’s 87th precinct, and even Creasey’s Gideon series, this is a series about the squad. The authors also intended to use the series to make a sociological statement about Sweden over the decade from 1965 to 1975.

Wahlöö and Sjöwall were both Marxists, who felt that the socialist experiment in Sweden was a failure. There was nationalization, but this didn’t lead to improved service, but rather to a mediocre sameness. The best policemen in the squad, Beck, and his friend Kohlberg, often find themselves stymied by the interference of politicians wanting to look good. The politicians and bureaucrats who interfere are almost all inept, so their interference has no good effect. And this situation gets worse through the 10 novels (each covering one year of a decade).

The police were nationalized (local control given over to centralized control in Stockholm) in 1965. The move was intended to make the police more efficient, but bureaucratic interference from those outside the professional police gummed everything up. This bothers Beck somewhat, but he continues to slog through. Kohlberg, who is a more passionate figure, and who seems to value excellence and who hates mediocrity, leaves the series in the ninth book, Cop Killer, because he cannot take it anymore. More than any other character in the books, Kohlberg seems to be the authors’ representative in the book, so when he leaves, it is clear that the series was coming to a close (as it does with the tenth novel, The Terrorists).

The squad has several interesting characters, such as Frederik Melander, the resident memory bank, who recalls old police records verbatim, the volatile ex-soldier Gunvald Larsson, and his good friend, the laid-back Einar Rönn, who comes from a rural area and is Larsson’s best (and only) friend on the force. Wahlöö’s favorite character in the series was the easy going Rönn, while Sjöwall had a fondness for the volatile and abrasive Larsson.

One amazing thing about the series is that Wahlöö and Sjöwall, after developing an outline for each novel, would then work on alternating chapters. And yet, the style remains consistent throughout, so that one cannot detect a difference between Wahlöö’s and Sjöwall’s work. I used to think this was because the translator had equalized the two into his own style. And that may be true to some extent, but I’ve heard that even in the Swedish original, the style remains even and consistent throughout, which is a pretty remarkable thing.

The Laughing Policeman, the fourth in the series, is perhaps the best, and certainly the best known, thanks to a 1973 film version relocated to San Francisco that starred Walter Matthau as Beck (Watch the original film trailer). The title of the novel comes from an English music hall number (you can hear Charles Penrose performing it here). In the book, Beck’s daughter gets him a recording of the song — it was very popular in Sweden — for Christmas, but Beck doesn’t find it funny. The set-up for the novel is that on a November night, someone boarded a Stockholm bus, and opened fire with a machine gun, killing eight, including a policeman. The Swedish media want to see in the sensational killing the act of a mass murderer, something all the Swedes associate with America. In doing research into mass murder, Larsson turns to the American authorities, as the only group that has hands-on experience in the area of mass murder.

The book gives us our best view of the machinery of Beck’s squad at work — everyone has jobs to do, and they set to making sense of what looks like the act of a madman. There are several snide comments made about the Swedish bureaucracy, and about the public press, which always seems to misquote the police, taking the police’s words and forcing them to fit into the news organization’s own narrative — some things never change. Beck’s squad, though, works well together without too much interference. That interference will only get worse in later novels, though novel six (Murder at the Savoy), set in Copenhagen, with Beck away from home and the bureaucratic headache of Stockholm, and novel eight (The Locked Room), which is more of a personal investigation of Beck’s into what seems to be a locked room mystery. Those two novels are less bureaucratically claustrophobic.

For an amazing mystery series that serves not only as a great example of police procedural writing, but also serves as a social commentary on Sweden in the 1960s and 70s, one cannot do better than this series. A German beer company, Beck’s, used to have an ad campaign with the tagline: “Becks ist Becks!” as if to say, they needed to say nothing more than its name — that alone was a guarantee of excellence. The same might be said of the Martin Beck series of novels.

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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New Rules in Effect for DVD Checkouts - No More $1 Fee

Think of it as an early holiday present.

We are working to make our DVD collection more accessible by removing the $1 fee for feature films and limiting all DVD checkouts to one week with no renewals. The changes take effect on Friday, December 5, 2014.

“With the Library now providing free video streaming through Hoopla, it didn't make sense for us to continue charging a $1 fee for DVD checkouts that provided access to much of the same content,” said Joel Jones, the Library's deputy director of branch and library services.

The $1 fee dates back to an era when VHS was the prevailing technology, and the cost of obtaining movies, documentaries and television shows was much higher.

If you have any questions about our new DVD policy, or about your Library account, please contact us at 816.701.3400 or through our live chat. (Available Mon. - Fri., 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.)

“That was also a time when libraries did not consider video to be a core service,” Jones said. “In recent years, the cost of acquiring DVDs has declined and patrons have come to expect libraries to include them in their collection.”

The decision to limit all DVD checkouts to one week with no renewals will make it easier for Library patrons to find something that interests them.

“This is a model we began using about a year ago with our New & Notable book collection,” Jones said. “We have found that a lot of people like to come to the Library to browse the shelves - for books or DVDs. By not allowing renewals, we can get materials back on the shelves where they can be discovered and checked out again and again.”

The Library has a collection of 39,000 DVDs. While the collection includes many mainstream films, the collections policy emphasizes the acquisition of award-winning and culturally significant titles that are difficult to find in today's retail DVD rental market. The collection also includes many popular children's and educational titles, instructional and documentary videos, and popular television shows.

Items on DVD checked out before December 5 will still be eligible for renewal. Overdue fines for DVDs will remain $1 per day and top out at $3 per item.

Hour of Code Events: December 8 - 14, 2014

Join us! Youth across the world are participating in the Hour of Code. More than 15 million students in 170 countries learned some computer coding during last year’s event. This year, the goal is to reach 100 million worldwide participants.

Several of our Library locations will host Hour of Code activities. Youth are invited to join in fun, challenging, hands-on computer science lessons and activities that introduce concepts of logic, analysis, and problem solving.

Participants are encouraged to bring their own WiFi-enabled devices, however there will be shared Library devices available as well as non-tech activities.

All sessions are free. More information, including a list of locations and times, is available at Sign up for your desired sessions on Eventbrite. Questions? Contact

Teen Review: Save the Enemy

Save the Enemy, by Arin Greenwood

Teen Reviewer: Abigail Borne

Zoey Trask’s life is a mess. A year ago her mother was killed and her father still isn’t out of mourning and gets more depressed with each day. Her brother has to be monitored constantly and the burden is left to her. She feels like it is impossible to put her life back together until a boy named Pete takes a sudden interest in her.

Excited to have made a new friend, life is finally starting to look up. When her father disappears without a trace, she is thrown into a world where she is faced with decisions that she should never have to make, and she learns a dark and startling secret about her family that she never could have guessed.

In a world where she doesn’t know who to trust, Zoey has to learn how to survive and to live with the truth that she uncovers about her family. In this stunning thriller where there are twists and turns that you never would have expected you better prepare for the ride.

Book Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss introduces The Slow Regard of Silent Things with a warning that it's not a proper story. It doesn't do the things a story is supposed to do.

And it's wonderful. It's unlike most anything else I've read and I treasured every word of it.

This isn't a story so much as it's a contemplation. Reading it isn't an act of reading so much as it's a meditation.

Even more so than in the novels of his Kingkiller Chronicle series, this novella displays Mr. Rothfuss' delight in language. He plays with words here in a way that's both elegant and giddy. The book is lyrical, bursting with alliteration, homophones, and rhyme, but it never comes off as contrived or self-conscious. Rather, his language is a search to find just the right words for each thing that needs to be said.

There are moments when The Slow Regard of Silent Things reads as a tone poem as much as a story. There are moments when the language acts almost as a chant, initiating something akin to a meditative state in the reader.

This is beautiful writing.

In the simplest terms, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is the story of six days in the life of Auri, the mysterious girl who lives in the Underthing—the tunnels underneath the University—who Kvothe befriends during his time as a student and who we meet in the pages of The Kingkiller Chronicle. We follow Auri as she goes about her daily business, preparing for a visit from the man who gave her her name.

To talk about the plot of The Slow Regard of Silent Things feels almost irrelevant. This isn't a traditional narrative, as Mr. Rothfuss takes great pains to make clear in his introduction and closing author note. The story isn't so much about what Auri does during this time but rather why she does it, how she interacts with her subterranean world. It's less about the geography of the Underthing and more about the geography of Auri's mind.

This is a character study, a linguistic excursion, spelunking through an utterly fascinating part of an utterly compelling world that Mr. Rothfuss has created. It’s about language and not story, it’s about place and feeling and not events.

When an author creates a world as vibrant as that of The Kingkiller Chronicle, they undertake all sorts of world-building exercises, envisioning the environment in as much detail as possible to properly inform their characters' actions and to make the world fully believable. Most of this world-building never makes its way into the finished work—it's necessary for the author to know but not for the reader to see.

From a lesser author, The Slow Regard of Silent Things would be such a world-building exercise. Sharing it with readers would serve no useful purpose beyond stroking the author's ego.

But Mr. Rothfuss isn't a lesser author. He's self-aware enough, exacting enough, to recognize a world-building exercise for what it is. This story called out to him as something more than that and he was wise enough to see that it was worth sharing.

Nate Taylor's spare illustrations are pitch-perfect. They show just enough of Auri's world, but not too much. They're composed of as much mystery as explication, shadows revealing the light. They interact with the text in a way that heightens the whole narrative—visual poetry to counterpoint the poetry of language.

This story is sweet, gentle, and comforting. For all that Mr. Rothfuss protests that it's not a proper story, it's quite proper true for what it is.

I'm very happy that I got to spend a couple of hours living in Auri's world. It's a special place.

About the Author

John Keogh

John Keogh is the Digital User Specialist for the Digital Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. He grew up in Fargo, ND, (too small) and lived in Chicago for several years (too big) before he moved to Kansas City. He calls KC his "Goldilocks town" because it's just right.

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Yes, the Holidays are Upon Us Again.

David Sedaris
Have the holiday decorations and holly jolly music already put you in a decidedly Scrooge-ish spirit, and it's not even Thanksgiving? Then we have some reading suggestions for you, all completely saccharine- and schmaltz-free.

Sit back with some nog, pick up one of these books, and rediscover the joys of the season.

And then maybe take a BB gun to your neighbor's inflatable winter wonderland in the front lawn...



The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
by Barbara Robinson

A family of hoodlums gets the Christmas spirit in the middle of hijacking the school Christmas pageant.


A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens

Scrooge is a mean jerk and he comes around in the end and Tiny Tim says that sappy thing about being blessed, but it’s NOT a sappy book.


The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror
by Christopher Moore

It’s sleigh bells for Santa in this holiday horror treat.


Holidays on Ice
by David Sedaris

A healthy dose of holiday snark to temper all that joy.


The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding  (A Hercule Poirot Mystery)
by Agatha Christie 

Because what's a holiday without a murder or two to investigate by a snotty Belgian and your nosy old aunt?


A Christmas Memory
by Truman Capote

No cold blood or warm sap here. Just warm and quirky holiday rituals shared by two quirky individuals.


Vengeance is Mine by Mickey Spillane

Mickey Spillaine

Those of you who have been reading my classic mystery blogs must be scratching your heads about now. Mickey SpillaneClassics — what gives? And no doubt there are those who would agree with some of the scholars of the mystery field, who charged that Spillane had debased what had become a much more literary form thanks to the efforts of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald.

I would argue, though, that one need only look at the early work of Dashiell Hammett, even up to his first novel, Red Harvest, to find work very similar to Spillane’s. Hammett, as you know, was the man credited with lifting hard-boiled fiction out of the pulps and into the academy.

Some of you may only know Mickey Spillane from some Lite Beer commercials he did in the 1980s.

My own introduction to Spillane was this novel, the 3rd outing of Spillane’s hardest of hard-boiled detectives, Mike Hammer (the first two novels being I, the Jury and My Gun is Quick.) It was in my Shakespeare class (Fall of 76) that my professor, Edward Callahan, cited this book’s opening line as a great example of the Attic (or unadorned) style. That opening line is “The guy was dead as hell.” After Professor Callahan’s introduction of that line into a class on the Bard of Avon, I just knew I had to read the book, which I first did in August 1977 to celebrate my move to Chicago. (I know, Chicago may be tough, but it’s not NYC tough!)

The story goes that Spillane wrote the book on a bet. A friend had challenged him to write a mystery in which the final clue was withheld until the last page. Spillane reportedly replied that he would write a mystery in which the last and crucial piece of information was not given until the last sentence, the last word in fact. I could tell you what the word was, but that would be the ultimate spoiler, and so I shall refrain.

I will not defend Spillane’s misogyny, Spillane’s homophobia, or his John Birch-ish political views. I do not share those views, and do not approve that message. But as someone who honed the hard-boiled style so it packed quite a punch, I can think of few other authors to match Spillane other than Hammett. His is a vitriolic and intense poetry, but poetry nonetheless. Give it a look:

When Hammer visits a modeling agency, he describes the shoot as follows: “He was managing to get a whole lot of women dressed in very little nothing in place amid a bunch of props so the camera would pick up most of the nothing she was wearing and none of the most she was showing.” And later, while touring the Bowery, Hammer notes: “The Bowery, a street of people without faces. Pleading voices from the shadows and the shuffle of feet behind you. An occasional tug at your sleeve and more pleading that had professional despair in the tone…The bars were lined with the left-overs of humanity keeping warm over a drink or nursing a steaming bowl of soup.” And, when his license is suspended and his gun permit revoked, and it looks like his career as a PI are over, he notes that the newspapers, to whom he had given plenty of copy, were only too willing to drop him now. He adds ironically: “Only one bothered to be sentimental about it. He wrote me an epitaph. In rhyme.” Spillane’s form may be prose, but he displays a jazz poet’s touch.

The plot, to put it briefly, is as follows: Hammer meets a guy he knew in WWII, now a working stiff. They spend a night drinking and reminiscing, and when the book opens, the guy is dead in his hotel room, apparently shot by Hammer’s gun. The DA who doesn’t like Hammer revokes his PI license and his license to carry a gun. Though the verdict is suicide, Hammer is blamed for being careless with his weapon. But Hammer knows it’s murder, and as vengeance for a friend and his own reputation are at stake, this time, it’s personal.

Other Spillane books you might consider looking at include Kiss Me, Deadly, and One Lonely Night, in which Hammer goes up against the Communist Party. And for films, Kiss Me Deadly (yeah, they left out the comma) is the best film, though the director, Robert Aldrich used the book to criticize the entire Hammer milieu. And you can see Spillane himself as Hammer in The Girl Hunters.

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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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One
Ernest Cline

Ready Player One is a nostalgia trip like no other. It's an ode to the rise of gaming and geek culture, a recollection of the early history of geekdom, all crammed between the covers of a really good future dystopian Science Fiction novel.

Most of the time, nostalgia bores me. I find affectionate trips down our cultural memory lane insipid, overly rose tinted, and saccharine.

Ready Player One, though, grabbed me from the very first page and wouldn't let me go. It kept me up past my bedtime, it kept me off my computer and social media, because reading it was the only thing I wanted to do.

This novel is far more than just a geeky trip. It offers the reader a compelling and fully realized dystopian world. It presents characters who we care about, unique and believable people who we root for. It gives us an elemental conflict of good vs. evil.

Take out all the explicit gaming and geek references, and Ready Player One is still a really good story, set in a believable world. It's a fine Science Fiction novel by any standard.

Furthermore, the nostalgia in this book isn't just nostalgia for nostalgia's sake. It's essential to the fabric of the story: it defines the context and environment of the action; it's necessary to the motivations and passions of the characters; it informs the stakes of the conflict. This trip down memory lane isn't just window dressing.

The story pulls you along at an incredible pace. The momentum of the narrative, the steadily increasing stakes of the conflict—these elements combine to generate a sense of excitement just like the excitement we all felt when we first started playing video games, or when we sat down with friends to embark on a new D&D campaign, or when the lights dimmed in the theatre for a groundbreaking anime film.

In its own way, reading this book recreates the essential experience of these treasured moments in our geeky lives.

Ready Player One is far more than just a nostalgia trip. It speaks to our hearts and reminds us why we fell in love with games and movies and TV shows and comics in the first place.

About the Author

John Keogh

John Keogh is the Digital User Specialist for the Digital Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. He grew up in Fargo, ND, (too small) and lived in Chicago for several years (too big) before he moved to Kansas City. He calls KC his "Goldilocks town" because it's just right.

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