Judging books by their Covers

by Anna Blanch on March 18, 2011

I get my reading lists and inspiration in the strangest of places. But a combination of the two has never before come from the side of a building – until now.

The 25 foot high representation of 22 books which are set between two glass enclosed stairwells (made to look like bookends) are known in Kansas City, Missouri as the Community Bookshelf. The large facade does not in fact line the wall of the library but one of the parking structures for the library in downtown Kansas City.  From the Library’s website:

The Community Bookshelf is a striking feature of Kansas City’s downtown. It runs along the south wall of the Central Library’s parking garage on 10th Street between Wyandotte Street and Baltimore Avenue. The book spines, which measure approximately 25 feet by 9 feet, are made of signboard Mylar. The shelf showcases 22 titles reflecting a wide variety of reading interests as suggested by Kansas City readers and then selected by The Kansas City Public Library Board of Trustees.

I think the 22 books that line the facade, which are as follows, would make a great reading list:

Kansas City Stories – Volume 1 and 2

  • Kansas City, Missouri; Its History and Its People 1808-1908 by Carrie Westlake Whitney
  • Tom’s Town: Kansas City and the Pendergast Legend by William M. Reddig
  • Goin’ to Kansas City by Nathan W. Pearson
  • Farm: A Year in the Life of an American Farmer by Richard Rhodes
  • Mr. Anonymous: The Story of William Volker by Herbert C. Cornuelle
  • Kansas City, Missouri: An Architectural History by George Ehrlich
  • Journeys Through Time: A Young Traveler’s Guide to Kansas City’s History by Monroe Dodd
  • Virgil Thomson, A Reader: Selected Writings, 1924-1984 by Virgil Thomson
  • Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell
  • I Was Right On Time by Buck O’Neil
  • The O’Donnells by Peggy Sullivan
  • Independence Avenue by Eileen Bluestone
  • Stella Louella’s Runaway Book by Lisa Campbell Ernst
  • PrairyErth (A Deep Map) by William Least Heat-Moon
  • Messages from My Father by Calvin Trillin

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
This telling satire of military bureaucracy is one of the 20th century’s most darkly comic works of American literature.

Children’s Stories

  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
  • Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
  • Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess
  • What a Wonderful World by George Weiss and Bob Thiele
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  • M.C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
First published in 1962, Silent Spring alerted a large audience to the environmental and human dangers of indiscriminate use of pesticides, spurring revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water.

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
A classic novel of the Nebraska prairie, O Pioneers! is the story of Alexandra Bergson, the daughter of Swedish immigrant farmers, whose devotion to the land sustains her against the hardships and suffering of prairie life.

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A dense jungle of magic and literary gusto pulls readers in and engulfs them with its richness and beauty. The 1982 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature follows the history of several generations in the village of Macondo, and the passions, thoughts, and myths of a labyrinth of people, related and not.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Hurston’s beloved classic–one of the most important American novels of the 20th century–follows the fortunes of Janie Crawford, a woman who was married three times and had been tried for the murder of one of her husbands in the black town of Eaton, Florida.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
First published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 is a classic novel set in a future when books forbidden by a totalitarian regime are burned. The hero, a book burner, suddenly discovers that books are flesh and blood; that they are ideas that cry out when put to the torch.

The Republic by Plato
A Classic work of political thought.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
This true American classic, in addition to entertaining readers for generations, has defined the first-person novel in America, and continues to demand study, inspire reverence, and stir controversy.

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
Written during the golden age of Chinese philosophy, and composed partly in prose and partly in verse, the Tao Te Ching is surely the most terse and economical of the world’s great religious texts. In a series of short, profound chapters it elucidates the idea of the Tao, or the Way — an idea that in its ethical, practical, and spiritual dimensions has become essential to the life of China’s civilization.

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
Spanning five decades and comprising 868 poems, this magnificent volume is the definitive sampling of a writer who has been called the poet laureate of African America.

Black Elk Speaks by Black Elk, as told to John Neihardt
Black Elk Speaks is the powerful and inspirational story of the Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk and his people during the momentous twilight years of the 19th century, as told to distinguished poet, writer, and critic Neihardt in 1930.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man is a milestone in American literature, a book that has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952. A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century. The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood,” and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Lawyer Atticus Finch defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic, Puliter Prize-winning novel–a black man charged with the rape of a white woman. Through the eyes of Atticus’s children, Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with rich humor and unanswering honesty the irrationality of adult attitudes toward race and class in the Deep South of the 1930’s.

Journals of the Expedition by Lewis and Clark
President Thomas Jefferson conceived the Corps of Discovery to travel up the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains and westward along possible river routes to the Pacific Ocean. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the expedition of 1804-6. Along the way they filled hundreds of notebook pages with observations of the geography, Indian tribes, and natural history of the trans-Mississippi West.

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose
Ambrose tells the extraordinary story of one of the most courageous expeditions in U.S. history–the trek of Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark across the uncharted territory of the American west.

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Tolkien’s epic adventure, which arguably spawned an entire genre of fantasy adventure secondary world literature.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Dickens’s classic tale of the French Revolution brings to life a time of terror and treason, and chronicles a starving people who rise in frenzy and hate to overthrow a corrupt and decadent regime.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
One of the classics of children’s literature, this widely read tale takes place on a farm in Maine and concerns a pig named Wilbur and his devoted friend Charlotte, the spider who manages to save his life by writing words in her web.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet was the first drama in English to confer full tragic dignity on the agonies of youthful love. The lyricism that enshrines their death-marked devotion has made the lovers legendary in every language that possesses a literature.

Truman by David G. McCullough
This Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of an extraordinary president, Harry Truman, depicts the man who brought the country solidly into the 20th century. Drawing from archival materials and extensive interviews, McCullough chronicles Truman’s life, but it is Truman’s emergence as a decisive and confident president that forms the heart of this book.

Image Credit: Mike Sinclair via Kansas City Library
The information about the books in the facade is also from the Kansas City Library.

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