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Hardbacks

God's Politics by Jim Wallis (Harper SanFrancisco). Wallis, the editor of Sojourners magazine, says that both the right and the left are full of it when it comes to religion. Like many other believers, he is appalled at how rightwingers have co-opted the Christian label and use it to polarize. He argues that liberal values, such as easing social ills, peacemaking or concern for community, are essentially the same as those shared by traditional (not fundamentalist) Christians, although many liberals have grown uncomfortable with the whole idea of religion in politics (another reason King's assassination was a disaster). In the end, Wallis' point is that liberals need to reassert the values on which they base their positions, and if that takes quoting the Bible, well then, get off your rear and start quoting. (John Grooms)

Kiss Me Like A Stranger by Gene Wilder (St. Martin's Press). This is a disarmingly honest, even charming, autobiography from someone who is one of my favorite comic actors, so maybe I'm prejudiced. Wilder is introspective and forthright about his life and career, moving from his early theater days where he met Mel Brooks, who then became a friend and collaborator in The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. He relates his relationship and marriage to Gilda Radner who, yes, was pretty much as disturbed as you'd heard. There's a good supply of talkshow dish here, too, including stories about Richard Pryor, Wilder's supposed demonic possession, and more. All in all, this is a great read about and by, well, a nice guy. (Dana Renaldi)

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House). Sittenfeld's story of Lee Fiora, a middle-class girl from Indiana, and her struggles at a prestigious Boston boarding school, has divided critics, but I found it sharply written and filled with moments that speak to the former adolescent in all of us. The awful insecurities about identity, social position, and the opposite sex, as well as the sudden, surprising facility for spontaneous fun, are brought to life by Sittenfeld's deft prose style. Lee Fiora's peripheral role in the school and her lack of experience in the world of the rich girls she meets there can be heartbreaking, but the author stays unsentimental throughout, giving Lee's teen angst a dignity and respect it deserves. (Dana Renaldi)

St. Dale by Sharyn McCrumb (Kensington). McCrumb, who has proven many times she knows her way around the South, tells a rollicking tale, very loosely based on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, about a group of people embarking on a Dale Earnhardt Memorial Tour to leave a wreath at every track between Bristol and Daytona in memory of The Intimidator. This isn't a down and dirty racing story or an "in-the-pits-with-the-crew" book, but rather a story about personal relationships and how those friendships create everyday miracles we sometimes take for granted. And it's also about the cult of celebrity or, as McCrumb puts it, "the canonization of a secular figure." (Ann Wicker)

Paperbacks

In The Company of Soldiers by Rick Atkinson (Henry Holt). Pulitzer-winning historian Atkinson (An Army At Dawn) accompanied the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky., all the way to Baghdad. His account is far from the whitewash produced by many embedded correspondents, but is no less laudatory of the soldiers he got to know. Recurring themes in Atkinson's account have turned out to be grimly prescient: professional soldiers eager to do a good job who manage to overcome their superiors' inadequate planning, missing equipment and almost comically bad communication. Most unnerving, since the reader knows what has happened since, is the commanders' growing frustration with not being told what the men were expected to do after the fall of Baghdad. (John Grooms)

The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat (Knopf). The Haitian-born Danticat uses a series of narratives to tell the stories of various people whose lives were deeply affected by a young artist's father. He, a Haitian immigrant whom she had always thought was a prison escapee, reveals to her that his role had actually been that of a prison guard with a nasty skill for torturing people. Set largely in America among the immigrant community, The Dew Breaker's prose sparkles and grabs for attention. (Dana Renaldi)

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