BOOK REVIEW / Paperbacks

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The Independent Culture
John Cheever: The Journals, Vintage pounds 7.99. Throughout his life, Cheever kept diaries that recorded the tribulations of his marriage, his alcoholism ('Dear Lord, keep me away from the bottles in the pantry. Guide me past the gin and the bourbon'), his secret homosexuality, his delight in landscape, his children, simple pleasures. He used them as workbooks, but his son Benjamin persuaded him to publish them after his death - a decision triumphantly justified by one of the most compelling and intimate books you'll ever read.

The War Against Women by Marilyn French, Penguin pounds 5.99. If you are a woman and you feel reasonably OK about your life, do not read this angry book: you will quickly stop feeling all right. Its All-Men-Are-Dogs message feels very old-fashioned, but the book nonetheless puts with remarkable conviction and economy its evidence of systematic discrimination against women in institutional, cultural, sexual and personal areas. Which doesn't leave much. This uncompromising backlash against the backlash shows that post-feminism is a term only usable by those who are as thick as one.

Prairyerth by William Least Heat-Moon, Picador pounds 6.99. Exhaustingly described as history, travel, anthology, geography, journalism, memoir, natural history and autobiography, not to mention 'everything you needed to know about Kansas' (the odd title refers to the soil of America's grasslands), this huge, garrulous, obsessive, good-natured meander across Chase County measures its scope in inches, not miles, through a microscope not a telescope.

Eve's Tattoo by Emily Prager, Vintage pounds 4.99. A mixed-up New Yorker comes across the photograph of an Auschwitz prisoner, and - to keep her memory alive - has her identification number tattooed on her arm. The Holocaust comes to Manhattan as Eve's sacrilege and obsession revive knowledge of a dim European past. The bad-taste jokes and other risky stuff probably won't offend you; the cosy ending might.

After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation by George Steiner, OUP pounds 9.99. Steiner has always been contentious, and this second edition of his original and controversial 1975 study of linguistics contains a new preface in which the author expresses his sense of isolation within the academic community. But the book has strong claims to the status of modern classic: a sometimes spiky, sometimes mercilessly dense text, it struck bold new ground in a country almost impervious to foreign languages by making a systematic investigation of how translation works, what a language is (a territorial secret, a peg for our identity), the 'Babel problem' and the theory and culture of language.

The Llama Parlour by Kathy Lette, Picador pounds 5.99. Kat from Oz and her friend Tash racket and scam and screw their way through Hollywood's hard underside. The comic pace and the sour-sassy tone can get relentless, but the observations are smart and Lette can be forgiven most things for her one-liners: bondage? - 'an inventive way of keeping your partner from going home'; a reliable man? - 'always there when he needs you'.

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