The descriptions of these two books put them on a list of presents for myself!
By Gary Shteyngart. Random House, $24.95.
Shteyngart's scruffy, exuberant second novel, equal parts Gogol and Borat, is immodest on every level - it's long, crude, manic and has cheap vodka on its breath. It also happens to be smart, funny and, in the end, extraordinarily rich and moving. "Absurdistan" introduces Misha Vainberg, the rap-music-obsessed, grossly overweight son of the 1,238th richest man in Russia. After attending college in the United States, he is now stuck in St. Petersburg, scrambling for an American visa that may never arrive. Caught between worlds, and mired in his own prejudices and thwarted desires, Vainberg just may be an antihero for our times.
THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA
A Natural History of Four Meals.
By Michael Pollan. The Penguin Press, $26.95.
"When you can eat just about anything nature has to offer, deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety," Pollan writes in this supple and probing book. He gracefully navigates within these anxieties as he traces the origins of four meals - from a fast-food dinner to a "hunter-gatherer" feast - and makes us see, with remarkable clarity, exactly how what we eat affects both our bodies and the planet. Pollan is the perfect tour guide: his prose is incisive and alive, and pointed without being tendentious. In an uncommonly good year for American food writing, this is a book that stands out.