Jonathan Lethem has long used his love of language and his acute sense of history to convey what’s best about the human aptitude for folly. Dissident Gardens (Doubleday, $27.95), his latest novel, spans three generations and their diverse cultural touchstones and political movements. From the Communism of the 1930s to the civil rights era to the post-idealism of the 1970s, this novel juggles shifts of hope and disillusionment, youthful idealism and jaded maturity. Lethem is particularly focused on the far left here, and we get the political scene through colorful family dynamics as the characters saw their way through time and each other’s lives.
“Soviet cooking” seems like an oxymoron, considering that during most of the USSR’s existence food was in short supply. Yet in Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking (Crown, $26), award-winning food writer Anya Von Bremzen gives us a fascinating and often surprising look at the history of the USSR and her own family through the lens of food (or the lack thereof). She is a talented memoirist, and the book is much more than just a list of recipes and favorite dishes. Von Bremzen and her mother recreate classic pre-Revolution fare, prepare Stalin’s Deathday Dinner, and devise their own version of Salat Olivier (which Von Bremzen calls a “salady Soviet icon”). This touching memoir is a must-read regardless of your familiarity with Soviet cuisine (and yes, a recipe for borscht is included in the back).
The power and grace of Vanity Fair is that it celebrates the iconic beauty and intelligence of the moment while priming us for the next cultural wave to look out for. From jazz-juiced America to a land mourning Camelot, from the first moments of hip hop to the social-media era, Vanity Fair has mapped every trend, personality, and moment of significance in the last century. Combining witty, well crafted narrative and the sweeping, gorgeous images the magazine is known for, editor Graydon Carter has given us a time capsule in book form with Vanity Fair 100 Years (Abrams, $65). Fans of the magazine will delight in the detail of the creative process behind the scenes, while more casual observers will marvel at the scope and depth of what Vanity Fair has captured. Here’s to another century of visual dynamism and fascinating stories.