Books: Paperbacks

Night Beat by Mikal Gilmore Picador pounds 6.99
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`More than ever, I find myself heartened by the way the best pop music of our time can allow us to draw close to unspeakable human darkness without demanding that we surrender to the cost of that darkness. That is both rock's relentless grace and its unyielding threat."

Mikal Gilmore is the award-winning author of Shot in the Dark, the story of his brother Gary's murderous spree and the history of their family. He is also one of America's leading rock critics. With Night Beat - a collection of essays and interviews with some of the great rock-and-roll innovators from the past 30 years - he presents a "shadow history" of pop that acts, in effect, as its epitaph.

For Gilmore, it was the Beatles who galvanised young people across the world into creating a specific "youth style". This momentum was put to music on the 1967 album, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which manifested the sense of independence and iconoclasm that had seized young people everywhere. His argument posits rock as an "argument with the established powers" that continued with the Sex Pistols.

But rebel chic has made rock part of the entertainment industry. Similarly, there is no collective sensibility driving pop music now, just tribes battling it out in the charts. No one will ever be bigger than the Beatles.

The other great force in this century's soundscape is Bob Dylan. Of all the great rock heroes, Dylan, in Gilmore's eyes, came closest to making music that challenged its limitations. His interpretation of The Basement Tapes, which was released in 1975, eight years after they were recorded, describes a man crawling back from an abyss of despair, and, once more, reinventing himself. It's inspirat-ional stuff.

On the whole, Gilmore comes to lyrical life when describing the demons that drive men such as Tupac Shakur and Kurt Cobain; misty-eyed when confronted with Sinead O'Connor's big blue ones, and fascinating when interviewing Mick Jagger on the fall-out of Satanic ditties like "Sympathy for the Devil". At the Altamont concert in 1968 when Hell's Angels slaughtered a young black man in front of the stage: "Jagger came face to face with the fatal outcome of his labors, and his music, manner, and singing were never the same again. Helping provide the context for murder can do that for you." If anyone should know, it's Gilmore.

Model Behaviour

by Jay McInerney

Bloomsbury pounds 6.99

For Connor McKnight, a 32-year-old celebrity profiler for Ciaobella, taking cocaine is "all very Eighties". Instead, he has an emailing stalker who posts rude pictures of herself on the Net, an anorexic sister obsessed with Bosnia, and a preposterously narcissistic girlfriend, who is, of course, a model. "I'm sick of all this pointless glamour," she laments. "I want a simple life." McInerney defined the Eighties zeitgeist with Bright Lights, Big City; his latest attempt at social satire is equally celebratory of Nineties detritus: "powder fairies" (make-up artists), "book assassins" (vengeful literary critics), self-important interior designers, charity galas for unspecified diseases and restaurant launches crawling with liggers. The narrative voice is wittily rancorous, the protagonists vacuous when they're not being neurotic; the plot reveals an unhealthy obsession with fame and glamour, and the result is pretty depressing.

A World of Women: Growing up in the Girls' School Story

by Rosemary Auchmuty

The Women's Press pounds 8.99

Rosemary Auchmuty, born in 1950, was school captain at Newcastle Girls' High School, and has been an avid reader of stories set in girls' boarding schools since she was nine years old. Her first study of the genre argued that it presented a convincing milieu in which independent young women lived together without the dominating influence of men. Now she sets herself the task of examining how these stories prepared girls for maturity. Using books like Dimsie Grows Up and Jo to the Rescue, she examines single women, marriage and motherhood, and also careers, which for the wealthy heroines of Forties literature had become de rigueur. Her main point is that the books, far from presenting traditional female role models for girls, offer a vision of a large female community "where we cannot forget our common womanhood" in any of its various guises.

The Eros Hunter

Russell Celyn Jones

Abacus pounds 6.99

Part psychological thriller, part metaphysical quest, Celyn Jones's dense and intricate novel (his fourth) presents London in all its social and sexual anarchy. George Harper, child psychiatrist and all-round good egg, is found strangled and mutilated. Bob Clyne, investigating officer and randy divorce, is on the case. This means unravelling a sinister paedophile ring and searching for suspects among Harper's client list of disturbed adolescents. The emphasis on police procedures helps the thriller reach its denouement. But the real mystery lies with main suspect Alice Harper, the victim's daughter and a militant squatter. Despite himself, Clyne is drawn into a dangerous intimacy with her, from which the novel's narrative draws its erotically charged and thrilling momentum.

The Illustrated Book of Stockings: An Illustrated History of Female Hosiery

edited by Christopher Gower

The Erotic Print Society pounds 9.95

"The putting on of stockings is ineffably more erotic than the taking off. The leg part is rolled carefully to avoid any snagging, and then the woman inserts both hands, fingers outstretched into the foot, and spreads it open. She pulls it over her foot until snug. Then comes the piece de resistance. The way that the stocking glides up the leg, expanding and contracting simultaneously, hugging the compound curves of the limb, strikes me as nothing less than miraculous." In such glowing terms Gower extols the joys of voyeurism. Of more interest, however, is his selection of daintily saucy prints. Beautifully reproduced with informative and witty captions, they date from the18th-century onwards (and, ooh la la, come mostly from France).


Gavin Kramer

Fourth Estate pounds 6.99

Geeky, gangly Alistair is making his banking fortune in Tokyo when he meets tiny, shopping-mad Sachiko, a schoolgirl who sells her knickers to old men. Together, they put the comedy and pathos into a cleverly observant first novel that takes on the East/West culture clash, generational conflict, and paints a stylish portrait of a (hopelessly inadequate) Englishman abroad. LP