Books: Paperbacks

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The Independent Culture
! Gone Fishin' by Walter Mosley, Serpent's Tail pounds 5.99. Easy Rawlins is one of the best-drawn private eyes in contemporary fiction, and Gone Fishin' is the book in which he makes his first appearance. Sex, voodoo and violence provide the narrative thrills, but the real achievement is in the evocation of the mysterious, deadly backwaters of Thirties Texas, and the portrayal of 19- year-old Easy and his friend, the murderous Mouse, whose "eyes are colder than all winter long". Endemic racism pushes them into the murky, fetid world of the bayou, populated by a voodoo witch and her humpbacked son, and where hardship paves the way to murder. Mosley's assured handling of the swinging cadences of southern black dialect and his intimate knowledge of this harsh landscape make this a classic example of truly illuminating crime fiction.

! The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology, ed Donald Preziosi, Oxford pounds 15.99. Preziosi is Professor of Art History at California, and his latest authoritative tome is a "cabinet of provocative" writings on art from the past 200 years, with essays by Kant, Panofsky, Gombrich and Derrida. It works like this: in the 18th-century corner, Johann Winckelmann reflects on the imitation of Greek works in art and sculpture, and in the 20th- century corner, Michael Baxandall's comments find fault in his predecessor's argument. If you can get past the uninspired and arid terminology, you will find a beautifully illustrated compendium of seminal texts, each one coming from a contrasting historical and ideological viewpoint.

! Silk by Alessandro Baricco, Harvill pounds 3.99. Last year, musicologist and novelist Alessandro Baricco struck gold with this elegant and haunting fable on the duplicitous nature of desire. A best seller in his native Italy, Silk has been translated into 13 languages, including Japanese. Baricco's delicate, minimalistic prose style, full of wistful refrains and subtle rondos, is closer to a haiku than anything in the European literary tradition. His hero is a 19th-century Frenchman who travels overland to Japan once a year in search of silkworms. The silk he trades in is so diaphanous, it is "like grasping nothing". This tragic love story also has absence at its core, because it is about a man who crosses continents and notices nothing, and who becomes obsessed with an unattainable Japanese concubine with whom he never speaks. His loving, compliant wife teaches him, too late, that erotic fulfilment and mundane companionship are not incompatible.

! The Penguin Book of the City, ed Robert Drewe, Penguin pounds 7.99. This compilation delivers 29 of the "greatest names in contemporary fiction" ruminating on urban life. Most of the stories (and one article by Joan Didion) have been published before, and therefore will be familiar to fans of Irvine Welsh, John Updike, Banana Yoshimoto, Gabriel Garca Mrquez and the other contributors. Tokyo, London, Paris and New York get their fair share of exposure, with the theme of alienation and its flipside - the potential for artistic and personal freedom - well aired. Welsh's story, "Disnae Matter", comes from the Acid House peak of his career, and leaves you dazzled by his transformation of a formidable, rough idiom into a penetrating, first-person narrative that reveals more about its protagonist and his milieu than he could ever know. Donald Barthelme's "The King of Jazz" is characteristically mocking and surreal, and full of insight into the revered world of jazz, with its deliberately obfuscating slang. All the stories are of the highest order, but packaged together, they do not gel. And, surprisingly, there is no room for Iain Sinclair, possibly because he is too difficult to excerpt. Drewe's selection suffers for his absence.

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