Jernigan by David Gates, Picador pounds 5.99. A boozy binge of a comic novel chronicling the hectic disintegration of its hero in ghastly American suburbia. The narrative voice is as elaborate and ironical as Henry James, the dialogue is dense with the windy distensions of adults and the slouch of teenspeak; in between, a blur of wordless tenderness. Not quite the masterpiece some proclaimed it, but richly enjoyable.
Walt Whitman: From Noon to Starry Night by Philip Callow, Allison & Busby pounds 9.99. Journalist, printer, hack novelist, clerk, hospital orderly, political shaker and professional idler, Whitman was also the inventor of a gloriously robust and ramshackle kind of poetry. He died in obscurity, but his epic Leaves of Grass has been excitedly rediscovered by every generation since. This biography seeks to convey the poet's sensibility rather than the mere, if remarkable, facts of his outlaw life; if there are times when you get lost in the tidal flow of Callow's language, the experience is a lot like reading Whitman himself.
Zeph by A L Barker, Vintage pounds 5.99. Opinion about A L Barker is sharply divided: she is either a subtle ironist or a whimsical lightweight. Here, the eponymous orphaned heroine, an aspirant writer, turns the house inherited from her mother into a salon for passing oddballs - an opportunity for much reflection on the art of fiction. What's intended is sharp mockery of literary pretension, but, despite genuinely funny moments, the characterisations are too superficial to make for a satisfying read.
It Doesn't Take a Hero by H Norman Schwarzkopf, Bantam pounds 5.99. Autobiography of the second most bullish figure to emerge from the Gulf war. From lonely boyhood with distant father and alcoholic mother, through the filth and depression of Vietnam to the apotheosis of the Gulf, there's no doubting his courage - or his self-approbation and relish for power. He hurls abuse at fellow generals and portrays the Saudi commander as a buffoon, but he is not above pulling punches: the 'friendly fire' killing of nine British soldiers is dismissed as an 'upsetting development' and, more worryingly, there is little acknowledgement that Saddam Hussein is a figure the West actively helped to create.
Dali by Meredith Etherington-Smith, Sinclair-Stevenson pounds 12.99. Solid, mercilessly detailed but bland attempt to capture the man whose slippery skill made him the Surrealist par excellence. The facts of the life are here in plenty: the early burst of astonishing creativity, the estrangement from his adoring family, the 48-year marriage to a woman he painted as an airbrushed madonna but beat savagely, the rejection of serious critical friends (Lorca, Bunuel) in favour of rich hangers-on. Dali's descent into the lumber room of extreme kitsch makes painful reading, but the book reproduces enough of his majestic pictures to remind us what a technical and imaginative master he once was.
The Unnatural Nature of Science by Lewis Wolpert, Faber pounds 6.99. Intelligent and highly readable attempt to brush up the popular image of science and discover why 'arguably the defining feature of our age' should so alienate and mystify non-scientists. Wolpert moves with bracing confidence between Darwin and Levi- Strauss, Lord Peter Wimsey and the Human Genome Project.
Dancing with Dogma by Ian Gilmour, Pocket Books pounds 5.99. Relentless dissection of Eighties Britain by the wet with the crisp, dry style. 'Thatcherism is based on a simplistic view of human nature . . . too pessimistic, in that it assumes that everyone is driven by selfish motives . . . too optimistic, in that it asserts that everyone pursues his selfish interests in a rational manner.' There's no faulting Gilmour's cool polemic, but there's something pathetic about it, too: if he, like all the others now smugly asserting the same, always knew She was a disaster, why didn't he do something about it at the time?
Time and Western Man by Wyndham Lewis ed Paul Edwards, Black Sparrow pounds 16.99. Before the First World War, painter and writer Wyndham Lewis was a co-founder with Ezra Pound of the aggressively avant-garde Vorticist movement. By 1927, when he published this major work of criticism, he was disillusioned enough to stage savage attacks on the great moderists of the day, especially James Joyce and Pound himself. Coherence was never this writer's strong suit - parts of the book read like the random thoughts of a paranoid - but this re-issue is welcome for its reminders of the occasional acuity of Wyndham Lewis's vision.
What Kids Really Want to Know About Sex by Philip Hodson, Robson pounds 7.99. What do kids really want to know? Absolutely everything, and unfazeable agony uncle Hodson is the man to tell them. The letters collected here cover all the old anxieties - breast size, foreskin foibles, how to say no, how to 'do it' - plus a few surprising ones, all answered with non-judgemental frankness and sense. Eleven-year-old Gwynneth, who awoke to find her dog, Smartie, lying on top of her, is reassured that dogs cannot make humans pregnant; the pubescent girl in love with an 89- year-old man is gently advised that the 76-year age gap might 'stand in the way of your future'.
Bertrand Russell by Caroline Moorehead, Sinclair-Stevenson pounds 12.99. Passionate anti-war campaigner, journalist of genius, formidable philanderer and 'the acutest philosophical intelligence since Aristotle', Russell would be a handful for any biographer. Moorehead steers clear of the vertiginous cliffs of the man's thought in favour of a vivid picture of the personality and figures in a lush landscape - Bertie and the Apostles, Bertie and Ottoline, Bertie and the Pacifists. Given Russell's youthful priggishness and later lack of principle in private affairs, Moorehead is admirably even-handed, surveying her cast of high-grade egoists with more sympathy than they perhaps deserve.
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