Passarello manages to chronicle humanity's cavalier exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals without getting preachy in the...



An essayist populates a bestiary of an ark with famous animals from history, all celebrated by humans even as we harnessed and exploited them.

Passarello (English/Oregon State Univ.; Let Me Clear My Throat: Essays, 2012) welds eccentric stylistics, which can feel rather too fanciful or ethereal, to more grounded and less “poetic” deliberations on varied well-known species while revealing that we do not know as much about them as we thought. The former do not read as essays so much as peculiar little anthropomorphic meditations, some of which presuppose areas of knowledge on the reader's part while providing meager enlightenment of their own. They tend toward the allegorical, peppered with all manner of similes and labored metaphors, which work only occasionally. What are we to make of such lines as, “the stews downriver had less fornication,” or the curious amalgam of elephant and electricity in “Jumbo II”? Doubtless these installments are matters of taste, though some readers may wonder at the point of it all. Thankfully, the majority of the book is more concrete, definitely more engaging, and decidedly more edifying. Despite Passarello’s tendency to ramble, there is an agile intelligence at work in the best pieces, as she makes connections among disparate elements and wields keen perceptions on the creatures she encounters. There are some real dazzlers. Particularly impressive are “Vogel Staar,” a meld of Mozart and starling, “Four Horsemen,” an anatomical evaluation of our equine friends and the partnership we share, and “Celia,” an elegy for the disturbing pace of extinctions, past and present. Another fine piece, “Lancelot,” uses autobiographical elements to prime a salvo on the commercialization of animals and the hollowness of zoos. Even Beatrix Potter takes her lumps.

Passarello manages to chronicle humanity's cavalier exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals without getting preachy in the process—no mean feat. If only the entirety of the book reflected the gifts the author demonstrates at her best.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941411-39-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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