Books: Paperbacks

The Glenn Gould Reader

edited by Tim Page

Faber pounds 17.99

When Glenn Gould died in 1982, he left the world an extraordinary musical legacy. Now his writings - mostly printed on album sleeves and obscure journals - prove his brilliance as a critic and original thinker. These essays - from the comically eccentric "Glenn Gould Interviews Himself about Beethoven" to the rigorously analytical "The Search for Petula Clark" cover the provocatively diverse gamut of his intellectual concerns while displaying the singularity of his vision.

Honey-Dew

by Louise Doughty

Scribner pounds 6.99

Louise Doughty's third novel is so cleverly understated that the shock it delivers the unsuspecting reader is barely registered by the story's end. Ostensibly, she offers a gentle satire on the classic English murder mystery, and opens with a promising murder. But the mystery is resolved from the off: the emotionally overwrought, teenaged murderer has left a diary at the scene of the crime, helpfully providing details of motivation, method of execution and her entire family history. Chief reporter of Rutland Record Alison Akenside lives next door to the murder victims, and their tragedy promises to be her big break. But Doughty defies convention, and Alison is no detective. Through her, an entire community proves inadequate at acknowledging or uncovering the personal dramas that unfold under their noses (despite their busybody efforts). Thus, an entire community that prides itself on neighbourliness is indicted, and the comforts offered by England's prettiest Country County prove to be cold. On a personal level, the real secret at the heart of Alison's story is her own, and its unravelling provides the novel with its edge.

Birthday Letters

by Ted Hughes

Faber pounds 7.99

The publication of 88 chronological poems that tell the story of Ted Hughes's marriage to Sylvia Plath was the literary event of last year, especially as it immediately preceded his unexpected death from cancer. Their impact derives, in part, from the passionate empathy and grief the granite-faced poet laureate exposes, 35 controversially silent years after his first wife's suicide. Critics were divided as to how the collection should be read: as a biographical document or as a great artistic achievement? It soon becomes clear. Episodes from his relationship with Plath are given an immediacy that startles the reader into recognition of all lovers' fates. In "Daffodils", Hughes describes a young couple so poor they picked the daffodils from their garden "in the rain of that April - your last April" to sell to a grocer. Forces of nature act as commentary on their inescapable future: "Every March since they have lifted again / ... They return to forget you stooping there." Given that Hughes was a poet who assumed the ancient, primal role of a teller of tales and oracle of the natural world, these poems can be read both as a personal testament and as a meditation on love.

About a Boy

by Nick Hornby

Indigo pounds 6.99

With his third novel, the celebrated Arsenal fan and collector of CDs taps into further episodes from the life of a middle-class, single, white man. So effective is he at communicating the male psyche as it interfaces with society that Robert De Niro has bought the film rights (for pounds 1.8 million) to this story of a feckless man posing as a single parent in order to seduce single mothers, and an over-anxious little boy searching for a father. Hornby is as acute as ever, but this time he delivers a stern moral to his peers.

The Everlasting Story of Nory

by Nicholson Baker

Vintage pounds 6.99

Baker cleverly confounded critics bored by the pornographically detailed narratives of daily life in his preceding novels with this story told from a nine-year-old girl's perspective. As an exercise in guileless charm, it succeeds delightfully. As an image makeover, it is a work of masterful manipulation.

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