Our Critic’s Tip Sheet On Current Reading: Week of November 12th, 2007

MY PRAYERS ARE answered! I’d always wanted a 500-page paperback crammed with arguments against the existence of God—and now, thanks to Christopher Hitchens, that tireless proselytizing rationalist, here it is, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever (Da Capo, $17.50). Mr. Hitchens has rounded up the usual suspects (Marx, Freud, Dawkins) as well as innocent bystanders such as John Betjeman and John Updike, both of whom would be most surprised to find themselves in the company of the militantly godless. No matter! Imagine how handy it will be when some heavy-breathing God-squad type in clunky black brogues rings your doorbell and offers you a pamphlet and the kingdom of heaven.All you have to do is wave The Portable Atheist in his cheerful, earnest face—and thereby vanquish two millennia of evangelism.

IF THE SUBTITLE of The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father’s Nazi Boyhood (Viking, $26.95) doesn’t do the job of announcing that the author has an extraordinary story to tell, nothing will. But Mark Kurzen keeps on trying anyway, milking every drop of suspense from a narrative that shouldn’t require it. Do you need to tart up the story of child who survives the massacre of his family and then becomes a poster boy for the movement that organizes the massacres? Mr. Kurzen thinks so: “I have condensed the chronology of my research in order to enhance the narrative flow of the book,” he writes in an author’s note. “I beg my readers’ indulgence of these alterations, for they were made with their reading pleasure in mind.” And here I was thinking that Holocaust literature and “reading pleasure” were antithetical.

GETTING STEVE MARTIN to write text to go with Roz Chast’s drawings is surely a case of comic overkill, but excess is an essential component of The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z! (Flying Dolphin Press, $17.95). Mr. Martin, who contributes two lines of verse for each letter of the alphabet, takes wacky way out beyond left field (“Old Uncle U-Ball, never the sanest,/Uplifted himself to the planet Uranus’); Ms. Chast, whose delightfully ditzy illustrations only add to the oddity of the enterprise, piles on items keyed to the headlining letter: Infiltrating the drawing of the Uranus-bound Uncle U-Ball are a unicorn on a unicycle, an umpire, an usherette and a ukuleleist.