Ian Frazier

Ian Frazier is a writer of diverse obsessions. (My favorite: building a contraption to remove empty plastic bags from tree limbs.) Each unlikely new interest seems to have nothing to do with the last. He typically introduces new topics in The New Yorker, then publishes them in long form. So it is with Travels in Siberia (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30), in which he examines the forgotten plains and penal colonies of the Stalin era, a region still rich in resources but ever more emptied of people. Even as modern Russians flock to the cities, eager to forget their unhappy past, Frazier becomes a self-tutored and meandering student of the Cold War. His truck breaks down; the maps are wrong; and his Russian guides share none of his enthusiasm about history. (Nor can Frazier feign much enthusiasm for their vodka binge drinking.) But he’s forever the good-natured humanist on his Siberian detours, relishing the small stories of a very big continent. BRIAN MILLER

Sun., Oct. 31, 2 p.m., 2010

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