Book Reviews

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.”

When the Kansas City Public Library’s annual Adult Winter Reading Program returns in January 2011, it will be sporting its new Altered States theme – which has already inspired several readers amongst Kansas City Public Library staff members.

Before getting to staff picks and recommendations for Winter Reading, a definition of the Altered States is needed:

The timeline of human history presents innumerable crossroads, junctions where individual actions proved decisive – perhaps even more so if these actions were altered even slightly. This premise has proved irresistible for authors of such stature as Mark Twain, Margaret Atwood, and Ray Bradbury. Novelists habitually manipulate time and transform our world, twisting its shape and cultures and characters to conform to their own imaginations and authorial ambitions. The resulting conflicts are insightful and rewarding – and the best examples ring true.

The Altered States theme has already inspired several readers amongst Kansas City Public Library staff members.

When we’re coming up to the Christmas season, my wife and I spend a lot of our TV time watching Christmas-themed movies – I bet we have about dozen such films we watch every Christmastime. For this month’s Classics Reviewed blog, then, I wanted to pick something that was seasonally appropriate – but not too obvious.

Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol, was out; most people are already quite familiar with it. Racking my brain, I came up with this epyllion (mini-epic) of the 14th c.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight comes to us from a single manuscript (Cotton Nero A x [contact me for more information on the name]), owned by the same man who owned our only copy of Beowulf (a.k.a. Cotton Vitellius A xv), Sir Robert Cotton. In addition to this poem, the manuscript also contains some short poems, “Pearl,” “Purity,” and “Patience.” The unknown author of Gawain is sometimes called the Gawain poet, and sometimes the Pearl poet. 

What’s fantasy, you ask? There’s no single, accepted definition, but the giveaway is usually magic. Whether it’s The Lord of the Rings or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if the world described in the book features some difference from Earth that is the result of magic or other unexplained phenomena, you’re probably holding a fantasy novel.

Drawing inspiration from sources such as 1984 and The Running Man, as well as the gladiatorial games in ancient Rome, Suzanne Collins raises the bar in the dystopia genre with her gripping trilogy about survival and mass media gone too far.

In the not-too distant future, society has collapsed. Risen from its ashes is Panem, a collection of city-states, “districts,” held together under iron-fisted totalitarian rule. Districts close to the capital benefit from that nearness by having a higher quality of living, faster services, and luxuries. But life in the outer, poorer districts is a grim scramble just to meet basic needs, to make it from one week to the next.