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By Salon Staff

Published October 23, 2000 8:55AM (EDT)

The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature by Neal Pollack
The unusual way this book has been published (it's primarily available online and in a few independent bookstores, and publisher McSweeney's Books is giving the author 100 percent of all profits) and the unconventional way it's being promoted have distracted many from its actual contents -- which are some of the most hilarious satires of feature magazine journalism around. Every fatuous Esquire magazine writer who's even contemplating boarding a freighter, befriending a working-class black woman, dropping a celebrity name or subjecting us to his narcissistic maunderings about life, death, identity and Cuban hookers should shrivel into a little gray lump at the very sight of this book -- so will someone please Fed Ex a box over to West 57th Street posthaste? Although the book belabors its running conceit that Pollack is preposterously successful in every aspect of life ("I Have Slept With 500 Women," a triumphant encounter with a beast know as "El Caballo de Sangre," friendships with JFK and Edmund Wilson, the worshipful endorsement of every oppressed minority, etc.), the dismal truth is that most journalists' egomaniacal fantasies really are this cheesy.

--Laura Miller

The Best of Roald Dahl by Roald Dahl
Dahl is deliciously mordant, one of the great masters of the surprise ending, and he's never corny. He's the uncorniest writer of all time. There's a bit of John Collier, a real wickedness in his work. In the really nasty stories, you never know if evil will lose out in the end, and sometimes it doesn't; it triumphs. In one, a little baby is born and is clinging to life, very skinny and weak with these huge eyes. Winter winds are whirling around this small town in Austria, and the baby's mother is distraught and agonizing. You really come to empathize with this universal maternal struggle, and then she says, "You must live, my little Adolf!" Dahl also wrote some first-rate war stories, based on his own experience, and they're in this collection. There's brilliant writing about flying, about the fear of death and about being in heightened states of terror. They have a Hemingwayesque restraint in terms of the prose, but they're over the top in their romantic, deadly evocation of that time in his life. This is a delectable bittersweet lollipop to suck on before bed.

--Gary Kamiya

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