Books: Paperbacks

The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats edited by Holly George-Warren Bloomsbury, pounds 16.99, 452pp
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AS HOLLY George-Warren points out, the Beats spawned both the Summer of Love and the Blank Generation. Though their outpourings took disparate forms, the cool, angry stylishness still exercises a powerful appeal. This collection ranges from a 12-page graphic novel about Kerouac's early days in New York to Johnny Depp's account of how On The Road changed his life. It has some excellent photographs, including crop-headed cadets at Virginia Military Institute earnestly poring over copies of Howl in 1991.

The patchy introduction contains a rare female insight ("Most, though not all, of the guys wanted us there for sex") and an entertaining account of Hollywood's fondness for beatnik movies. The three lengthy sections on Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg tend to be uncritical celebrations, though the paean to the tedious Kerouac includes Truman Capote's killing observation: "I always thought there was a difference between typing and writing." Nine pages are given to an encounter between Burroughs and Bowie (DB: "Are you basically interested in energy forces?" WB: "Expansion of awareness, eventually leading to mutations.") The book springs to life with the protean figure of Allen Ginsberg, who saw Yeats ("a tough old guy who put a skin on everything he said") rather than Whitman as his greatest influence. In Rolling Stone's 1997 obituary, Bono astutely noted, "His drunk language still survives". Marianne Faithfull added: "He was a great cook and a terrible nag." More minor lights are wrapped up in a page or two apiece ("petty thief, parasitic leech and lifelong junkie" Herbert Hunke was "THE original Beat". Yet the book does not find space for more than a few references to Lawrence Ferlinghetti or The Fugs, the only true Beat combo. CH

For Kings and Planets

by Ethan Canin

Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99, 335pp

ETHAN CANIN's two short story collections and first novel Blue River were carefully wrought slices of Americana - preludes to this story of a friendship between two Freshmen, Orno Tarcher, a stolid Mid-Westerner, and Marshall Emerson, a New York sophisticate. Nothing new about that, but Canin makes being young seductive again. The novel follows the boys through college and beyond, as they emerge from a fug of clove cigarette smoke to take up careers in dentistry and film. Faulkner revisited.

Our Lady of the Sewers

by Paul Richardson

Abacus, pounds 6.99, 242pp

IN REACTION to his own "sad, spiritually deep-frozen" culture, Paul Richardson probes unchanged aspects of deep Spain. The result is funny, revealing and gamey as morcilla (black pudding). He plunges into a mantanza (pig-killing and sausage-making). In Galicia, he visits a wizard who operates from a factory. In Bilbao, he sees a weird aquatic rugby involving dead geese. He attends a riotous festival-cum-pilgrimage dedicated to the titular Madonna. A book like the very best sort of adventure holiday.

Martha Jane and Me

by Mavis Nicholson

Vintage, pounds 6.99, 248pp

BROADCASTER MAVIS Nicholson's memoirs of her thirties girlhood in South Wales is a social historian's treasure trove. Her memory is photographic, and she is able to recall in exact detail not only every stick of her parents' furniture, but the wear and tear of rugs she stepped on as a four-year-old. A familiar and evocative narrative (tangerines at Christmas, outdoor lavs, Whitsun parades), Nicholson has no particular axe to grind - apart from the fact that at the age of five she had to share her granny's bed.

The Murderer

by Roy Heath

Picador, pounds 6.99, 233pp

SET IN Guyana, Roy Heath's classic 1978 novel tells the story of Galton Flood, a man whose life is a study in self-hatred and despair. Growing up in the shadow of his domineering mother and successful older brother, he moves away from Georgetown to a small harbour town. Here he meets, and eventually marries, Gemma, a bright woman who taps into her husband's ever-increasing paranoia. An absorbing and haunting read with an anti-hero who would not be out place in a Dostoyevsky novel.