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Salon Staff
October 23, 2000 12:55PM (UTC)

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

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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

Recent books praised by Salon's critics

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Imbued with all the gravelly melancholy of a Tom Waits ballad, the new book by the author of "Legends of the Fall" presents a cast of prickly, coarse and utterly lovable antiheroes.
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Upside Down by Eduardo Galeano
The author of "Memory of Fire" delivers a scathing, mischievous indictment of North America's hypocrisy and consumer culture.
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The Bridegroom by Ha Jin
The National Book Award-winning author of "Waiting" is in fine form with new tales of ordinary Chinese angling for love, sex and Party favors.
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The Boxer's Heart by Kate Sekules
Bloodied, bruised and elated, one woman offers an account of her love affair with boxing.
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Cherry by Mary Karr
Though she didn't start the memoir craze, Karr feeds the frenzy with "Cherry," the luscious tale of her coming-of-age.
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In the rapturous, panoramic new novel by the author of "Wonder Boys," two midcentury comic book writers battle evil and celebrate escape in all its forms.
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The Golden Age by Gore Vidal
Vidal delivers the final volume of the American Chronicle series, his sweeping, score-settling fictional history of the United States.
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Into the Tangle of Friendship by Beth Kephart
A memoir that celebrates the most ubiquitous, least definable passion.
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Noodling for Flatheads by Burkhard Bilger
A tribute to moonshiners, squirrel-brain eaters, cockfighters and other Southern holdouts against a bland and uniform national culture.
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The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The novelist's latest masterwork blends mystery, futuristic fantasy and family saga.
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Pagan Babies by Elmore Leonard
In his latest black-comic thriller, the peerless crime novelist takes his wisecracking swindlers from post-massacre Rwanda to downtown Detroit.
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The bestselling historian serves up the stirring tale of the unsung men who built the transcontinental railroad.
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The story of an attempt to kayak around Australia that ended -- refreshingly -- not with triumph or disaster but with honest failure.
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NYPD: A City and Its Police by James Lardner and Thomas Repetto
Behind the "blue wall of silence" of America's biggest and oldest police force, two authors find equal parts heroism and corruption
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The Secret Parts of Fortune by Ron Rosenbaum
The author of "Explaining Hitler" shares his adventures and passions, from getting caught in a pissing match with Oliver Stone to tracking down the inventor of canned laughter.
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The Heartsong of Charging Elk by James Welch
In this moving, nourishing novel the Native American writer probes the culture shock of an Oglala Sioux abandoned in France by Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
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Writing on Drugs by Sadie Plant
The author embarks on a stimulating trip into literature's strangest, smokiest den.
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The Dragon Syndicates by Martin Booth
The blood-soaked history of the Chinese secret societies that started the heroin trade and invented the "death by myriad swords."
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A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You by Amy Bloom
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Herman Melville by Elizabeth Hardwick
A great critic takes on a great novelist, finding agony, homoeroticism and, ultimately, mystery.
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Assassination by Miles Hudson
A historian coolly assesses whether killing a leader is a useful political tactic.
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What to read: The best of July's fiction
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