Books: Paperback roundup

The Actual by Saul Bellow, Penguin pounds 5.99. "Write as short as you can," Saul Bellow once advised, and in this tightly constructed novella that is exactly what he did. Harry Trellman, a Jewish-American shady dealer in Asian objets, doesn't fit in. He's a loner, a drifter and has a queer "Chinese look" to him. This may be a result of some dodgy antique-dealing in the Far East, but he brings it back to his home town of Chicago, where he can be even more of an outsider, and wallow in memories of his high- school sweetheart, Amy. Except now she's a weathered matron. Magnanimous Harry loves her despite the swinging gait of her spreading hips and badly applied lipstick. But love never runs smoothly in Bellow's book. As usual, his hero is catatonically passive. Harry can only open up inwardly: even "a personal history amounts to - exile". It takes trillionaire, first- generation immigrant, Mr Adletsky (a taut, witty cameo), to act as matchmaker, and open Harry's emotional, sexual and spiritual floodgates. This should be relished, not just for its pithy Socratic quest, but for the familiar Bellow territory of lowlife crooks, multinational fat cats, and unlikely declarations of love.

The Commerce of Everyday Life: Selections from the Tatler and the Spectator ed Erin Mackie, Macmillan pounds 8.50. The historical emergence and development of Jurgen Habermas's "bourgeois public sphere" can be traced from the graceful, stately essays in this expertly edited anthology. At least, that's what its editor, Erin Mackie, tells us. But if you'd rather brush up on18th-century etiquette (duelling, paying visits, and courting are among the topics explored), her anthology presents Addison, Steele, John Gay and Defoe at their profound and sparkling best. When Addison writes on true and false wit, he is an exemplar of the former. He graciously dedicates his essay "for the Benefit of our modern Smatterers in Poetry", and, in particular, singles out "a young Poetical Lover" of his acquaintance who has threatened to "present his Mistress with a Copy of Verses made in the Shape of her Fan". Alas, the misguided young man had already finished the first three sticks of it before Addison's essay went to press. But no doubt he took his lesson to heart. Mackie arranges the essays thematically - commerce, standards of taste and conduct, and male/female relations - in order to highlight their social context and wide-reaching effects on a rapidly changing time.

The Picador Book of Contemporary Scottish Fiction ed Peter Kravitz, Picador pounds 8.99. If you haven't already overdosed on Glasgow tenements and Edinburghian drug dives, here is a bumper collection of stories intelligently put together to help push you over the edge. Inevitably, it includes Irvine Welsh (yet another extract from Trainspotting), but also less well-known Hibernian jinks from his contemporaries, James Kelman and Alisdair Gray. As different from each other - one anarchic, the other surreal - as it is possible to be, they display an exhilarating inventiveness and verve. Iain Banks suddenly lays claim to his Scottishness, as do Candia McWilliam, Allan Massie and Andrew O'Hagan, but the anthology profits from their maturer voices imparting a sense of eulogy as well as revolt. And the variety of style, subject and pace makes for an exhilarating read.

The Icon Critical Dictionary of Postmodern Thought ed Stuart Sim, Icon pounds 14.99. According to Stuart Sim, "postmodern" is one of the most used, and abused, words in the language. Hence the need for a critical dictionary. But if there are no more metanarratives, or universalising theories, then how can we build a definition of a resistant and amorphous trend of thought? Sim tackles this by farming out the various bits and bobs of postmodernism (critical theory, aesthetics, popular culture) to contributors, thus ensuring a democratic, and dissenting, if necessary, discourse. A N Wilson's enthusiastic endorsement on the cover ("I recommend every household to buy two copies of this exemplary compendium") is, methinks, ironic. Certainly, without the framework of postmodernism, the dictionary is a bog-standard collection of essays on the major players in the second half of 20th-century thought. They tend to have one thing in common, as summed up by American author Donald Barthelme: "As soon as I hear a proposition I immediately consider its opposite. A double-minded man - makes for mixtures."

All Grown Up by Sophie Parkin, Headline pounds 6.99. Coco (she would be called Coco) is the daughter of hard-drinking, swinging Ricki Johnson, a wildly unconventional Sixties actress. Funnily enough, Sophie Parkin is the daughter of hard-drinking, swinging Molly Parkin - a "flamboyant media personality" as her publishers put it. As a picaresque stroll down memory lane, in this case, Chelsea's King Road, it is everything it should be. Parkin writes with gay abandon of her giddy adolescence. Her descriptions of the alcoholic mother ("Only we're not to call it drunk," slurs Coco, but rather, "merry") are amazingly free of rancour, and full of fun and charm. This girl about town takes overdoses, no food in the house and divorce in her stride, until one divorce too many lands her, bedraggled and bemused, in India. It takes motherhood (after all, she's been caring for her own mother all her life) to bring her round, and give her the means of survival.

In the Psychiatrist's Chair III by Anthony Clare, Chatto pounds 12.99. Since 1982 Anthony Clare has been riding the airwaves as Radio 4's resident analyst. He's had Yehudi Menuhin, Ann Widdicombe, Stephen Fry and the violinist formerly known as Nigel Kennedy in the back of his metaphorical cab, and here, amongst the other celebs he's picked over, he transcribes their interviews. Widdicombe is a fascinating personality, prickly, defensive, yet claiming to be open. When Clare dares to mention sex, sparks fly (and it isn't sexual chemistry). His prefatory essays offer insights into his patient's attitudes and defensive ploys, but also offer his own psyche up for inspection.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent