Book Reviews

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When January rolls around, I’m often tired already of winter. And, by then, it has dawned on me that there’s a long hard time ahead before spring. Wanting something to read that fit that spirit of desperation (with a determination to see it through), I decided it was the right time to read a Russian novel. Nothing says "heroic determination in difficult circumstances" like a long Russian novel.

I have an unusual relationship with the Liberty Bell. It almost got me arrested. I was in Philadelphia on business, and a group of us were walking around the city late at night when we passed Independence Hall. I wanted to take a picture of the patriotic relic and stepped up to the fence surrounding the enclosure.

I couldn’t get close enough, so I climbed the fence, swung a leg over to keep my balance, and perched to get a better angle.

And that’s when I heard shouts and heavy footsteps moving quickly in our direction and felt my buddy Andrew grab me and pull me off the fence.

Apparently, it’s a federal crime to get too close to national treasures. Or so the federal guards told me.

Every year, more than 2 million visitors line up to view this flawed mass of metal that is over 250 years old. This silent icon of American history captivates Americans and international fans, and Gary B. Nash's The Liberty Bell is an accessible and intriguing biography of a bell to satisfy any history buff.

Many of us have a time of year, a place, or a memory, which makes us feel quiet and introspective, no matter how busy our lives or our minds are spinning. Deborah Digges’ latest volume of poetry, The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart, is a book which captures a piece of that feeling in a way that is warm, passionate, and calm at the same time.

Through these poems, we are reminded that we have room to look at ourselves slowly, while the world around us may grow wildly and too fast.

The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart is a thin volume; the poems are lightly written in free-verse. But something familiar finds a connection here: birth as the process of a seed, a person, being given life too early, or perhaps too late; the perpetual mystery of losing someone who has become precious to you; different and beautiful ways of discovering peace.

Most people know little about the fates of survivors and refugees of the gruesome events of World War II. But in Day After Night, Anita Diamant’s 2008 novel, little known historical events are brought to vivid life. The Barista’s Book Club at the Plaza Branch read Day After Night in November, and found it brought out a lively discussion.

Best known for retelling the stories of biblical women in her 2007 book The Red Tent, Diamant again tells the story of a group of women – this time basing her story on the actual historical events surrounding the mass breakout of a detention center for Jewish refugees who were attempting to enter Israel as that country was being established in late 1945.

Dark, twisted and strange, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary is the newest offering by humorist and author David Sedaris. A collection of short stories in which all the characters are animals that personify human failings, it reads like Aesop meets Quentin Tarantino.

Some readers may love this book, but be warned, if you are a Sedaris fan, this is not your typical Sedaris book (if there is such a thing). While his other writings, like Naked and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, often focus on his funny, off-beat personal and family situations, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is vulgar, violent, bizarre, and at times even stomach-turning.

This small compilation of 16 stories begins with “The Cat and the Baboon,” which centers on a gossiping baboon beautician and her cat client who needs a good grooming. What is the point of this opening piece? In Sedaris’s own words (albeit, toned-down for this blog), it’s to determine the “fine line between licking” – ahem, one’s posterior – “and simply kissing it.”

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