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By Blake de Pastino, Jessica English, Julie Birnbaum and Angie Drobnic

Junior College
by Gary Soto (Chronicle, paper, $12.95)

Of all the Chicano poets, Gary Soto is probably the most accessible and the least political. The kind of Chicano poet that Joyce Carol Oates would like. And for those who do like him, Soto's latest collection, Junior College, won't disappoint. It's full of his typical wry realism and self-inflicted wit--this time, centered around his awkward days in two-year school. Here, Soto shows that he remains a true master of imagery, enacting some of the most vivid scenes that can be found in recent verse. It's just a shame that we have to see the same images so often (onions, Popes, panties) and get so little out of them. If you enjoy cute and colorless verse, Junior College may be all you need. But those who are seeking more than fleeting imagery may want to look elsewhere. (BdeP)

Going Postal
by Stephan Jaramillo (Berkley, paper, $12)

I'm a little disappointed that I liked this book; I was convinced it would be idiotic because it's called Going Postal. Truth is, though, I loved it. Stephan Jaramillo's debut novel is about Steve Reeves--not the "Hercules" star--the son of a mailman, a pitiful twentysomething who spends his days and nights fantasizing how he's going to off his enemies or how Christy Turlington falls in love with him. He is a pathetic loser. He's got a college degree, but no job now that he lost his high-profile position as a bagel boiler. He's lost his girlfriend. His car sucks. His life is shit. The only thing he's got is a Colt .45, a vivid imagination and postal psychosis by birthright. I have never laughed so hysterically, and so much, at any novel before. You've got to read it. (JE)

Religion in Modern New Mexico
Ferenc Szasz and Richard Etulain, eds. (UNM Press, paper, $19.95)

New Mexico has an unparalleled religious diversity, from Catholic and Native American traditions to New Age versions of Asian beliefs. Kiva ceremonies, tent revivals, bar mitzvahs, Islamic conferences and Zen retreats each find a place here. This collection of eight well-researched essays examines these disparate spiritualities, providing history, analysis and overview. The readability and style of the essays are as diverse as the subject matter. Some essays, such as "Protestantism in Modern New Mexico" are snoozers: dense and academic, complete with charts, stuff you'd probably never read unless writing a research paper. Others are more accessible and likely to interest a wider audience, such as "Competition for the Native American Soul," which covers colonist missionaries to the petroglyphs, and "Boomer Dharma," a look at alternative spiritual communities. The collection ends by creating a larger picture of New Mexico as a reflection of national trends and future religious change. (JB)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
by Jean-Dominique Bauby (Knopf, cloth, $20)

Language used sparingly but effectively often achieves an aesthetic beauty that far surpasses more verbose writing. Such is the case of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The economy of words that Bauby employs is the result of his uniquely laborious form of writing: Bauby was stricken by a massive stroke and his body paralyzed with the exception of his left eye. By blinking when the correct letter was read by his assistant, Bauby dictated this memoir of what his life became after his illness. By turns mournful, humorous, nostalgic, bitter and imaginative, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is an utterly compelling, brilliantly written story about the human mind that endures even in the face of grave physical loss. (AD)

--Blake de Pastino, Jessica English, Julie Birnbaum and Angie Drobnic

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