Books about Kansas City? (!)

I just got an email from a reader in Toronto who is going to Kansas City, Missouri next week and asked me if I knew of any good books that take place there.

I don’t know of any books set in Kansas City. However, I have a few ideas about some truly great books–masterpieces, in fact–that at least put you in the general geographic area. The good news is that these are all books that I LOVED.

I have only been to Kansas City once in my life for a brief business trip so I am by no means an expert. The odd thing about Kansas City, MO is that the state of Missouri, although considered part of the Midwest is also kind of the western most edge of the South. But the state of Missouri, and Kansas City itself of course, border on the state of Kansas which is really the start of the Great Plains which stretch north and west and make up the physical and perhaps mythically figurative heartland of America. (I’ve just looked at a few maps of the “the Great Plains” and while they are broad and span many states and provinces, the border is more narrowly drawn in reality than it is in my head. So what, my mental map is going to stand.)

A book that is set in the state of Missouri is Stoner by John Williams. Follows a dirt poor farm kid who goes off to college in Columbia, MO and ends up eventually becoming an English professor there. The contrast between his life on the farm and academia I think presents a theme not uncommon to kids in the rural Plains states.

A book set in the state of Kansas is the bone chilling, compelling, controversial, best selling, and wonderfully written In Cold Blood. Truman Capote’s masterpiece fictionalized volume of non-fiction about a family murdered in their home.

And finally, there are two books that take place in the neighboring Plains state of Nebraska that are true classics in every sense of the word and have a universality that tugged at my heartstrings having grown up in Minnesota which is kind of the northern edge of the Plains before they turn into the north woods. They are of course, My Antonia and O, Pioneers by Willa Cather.

No doubt my readers, maybe Molly from My Cozy Book Nook in particular who lives in the that part of the world, will have some suggestions?

18 thoughts on “Books about Kansas City? (!)

  1. Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog May 29, 2010 / 2:50 pm

    I grew up in Kansas City, and I can't think of any books set there, but Willa Cather was going to be my first recommendation. I lived in the 'burbs, but her writing about the prairie reminded me of roadtrips through western Kansas. Great recommendation!


  2. Mlle Paradis May 29, 2010 / 3:10 pm

    Ah-ha! (being the offspring of an English teacher helps one here): I didn't read it, or recall reading it, but Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis is apparently based in Kansas City, on several preachers there.

    There is always “What's the Matter With Kansas” a non-fiction book!

    And there must be some William Burroughs books about Kansas City because he was born and brought up in that part of the world and his books were semi-autobiographical.

    Thomas it's been fun having a wander around HNL with you. I really don't know how I got to A&B from Castle&Cooke (all those sugar barons are the same) but that building just popped into my head. Probably because it was in the same neighborhood as the first ones you mentioned. And it's GORGEOUS! Yes I love that church kitty-corner from Punahou too. Haven't tracked down the Congregational Church though. Are you talking about the one near the Mission Houses? There is something on Nuuanu too. Have you seen my post about the Kamaaina houses? I would like to do a series of temples too. OK Ahui hou!


  3. Molly May 29, 2010 / 5:07 pm

    Well, I greatly appreciate the shout out, but I am not terribly knowledgeable of this subject matter (hangs her head in shame…)

    A cold-case murder in our little suburban town was just recently the subject of a book, A Cold-Blooded Murder by Marek Fuchs (it only received mediocre reviews though).

    I'll keep thinking (and looking in the local interest section of book stores)

    Someone else who might provide some great ideas is Margot from Joyfully Retired.


  4. Danielle May 29, 2010 / 9:55 pm

    I can't think off hand of any Kansas writers, but Jane Smiley set a novel there–The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton. Bess Streeter Adrich is another Nebraska writer, so if you're including the Great Plains, she might work as well! As a total off topic comment I had no idea you lived in DC. I thought you were Canadian for some reason. My sister lived in DC for a long time (now lives in Virginia) and I used to go there every summer–what a fun city–I love it there. There used to be a great little bookstore called Kramer Books?


  5. Thomas at My Porch May 30, 2010 / 2:12 am

    Rebecca: Cather was great at capturing that part of America.

    Mlle: I love Elmer Gantry. I didn't remember that it was set in Kansas. And thanks for all the great photos of HNL, I have really enjoyed living vicariously.

    Molly: Don't feel bad, gives you something to discover.

    Danielle: Kramerbooks is indeed still there. In fact it is open 24 hours a day thanks to the attached cafe.


  6. Beth May 30, 2010 / 8:51 am

    How amazing…thank you all. I've had Willa Cather on my 'must read list' for a bit. I'm off to the bookstore today with my list.


  7. Thomas at My Porch May 31, 2010 / 10:04 am

    Beth: Glad you found something to help you with your reading list. Have fun in Kansas City

    Simon: I am going to have to check out that song.


  8. savidgereads May 31, 2010 / 2:00 pm

    I would have said In Cold Blood and the only other one I can think of is the Wizard of Oz, how could I not!


  9. kimbofo June 1, 2010 / 4:51 pm

    The Wizard of Oz, one of my favourite books/films from childhood.


  10. Vintage Reading June 1, 2010 / 5:27 pm

    The Wizard of Oz contains excellent descriptions of the Kansas landscape. I read it to my daughters when they were younger and I was struck by how good it was.


  11. kevinfromcanada June 1, 2010 / 9:17 pm

    Thomas: John Williams' Butcher's Crossing starts and ends in Kansas. It is one of my votes for “great overlooked American novels” and should be added to your list — maybe not as good as Stoner, but still a great American novel.


  12. kevinfromcanada June 1, 2010 / 9:19 pm

    And while I am here, could I launch a personal protest on how difficult it is that blogpost makes for people to make a comment. Like most bloggers, I appreciate comments — and I am sure you do. I will admit with this service provider, when I look at all the hoops I have to jump through (still a verification and signature before I can post this), many times I decide “oh, he doesn't need that.”


  13. Nan June 2, 2010 / 3:35 pm

    I learned quite a bit about this part of the world from David McCullough's biography, Truman – a fantastic book.


  14. Kathleen June 5, 2010 / 1:16 am

    Well it's a bit of a cheat but I have to say Wizard of Oz. After all the book begins and ends in Kansas.


  15. Beth June 5, 2010 / 10:36 pm

    Thanks for all the suggestions everyone. While the Wizard of Oz does sound like an obvious choice, I believe it is set in the state of Kansas, not Kansas City, MO, but could be wrong.


  16. Thomas at My Porch June 11, 2010 / 9:02 am

    Simon: In Cold Blood is good and so were the two biopics that came out rather close together about Capote. They were quite different in style and script but both really good.

    Kimbofo: I only liked the good parts of the movie as a kid. The flying monkeys were way too scarey.

    Vintage: I have never read the book, isn't it an allegory about the US going off the gold standard?

    Kevin: I look forward to reading more John Williams. And even though blogger may make it tough, I always want your comments. I know I have similar trouble with at least one other platform but I don't recall which one.

    Rob: Thanks for the link.

    Nan: I typically stay away from non-fiction, but I do like David McCullough.

    Kathleen: I don't think it is a cheat, but it is probably the most obvious one, and I seemed to have overlooked it. Maybe because I hadn't read it.

    Beth: So tell us about the Cather you read…


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