Books: Paperbacks

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The Independent Culture
The Pirelli Calendars Complete

Italo Zannier and Guido Vergani, Thames and Hudson pounds 29.95

The Pirelli Calendar, although ultimately destined for garage mechanics' walls, is an icon of our times. The calendar was launched in 1963 as a gift for customers, its concept was a spin-off of the pin-up popular with car manufacturers. But the subtlety of its images and the quality and creativity of its photographers made the limited-edition calendar a coveted collector's item. For this new edition, last year's photos by Bruce Weber have been included, images that for the first time feature male stars from cinema, music, art and sport (none of them topless, though). Looking back at the pages from 1964 through to the mid-1980s it is interesting to chart the increasing sophistication of soft porn - from cheesy, gurning girls to fetishised breasts and bottoms. Apart from that, it is a lovely sensual escape from reality that would sit happily on the coffee table.

The Bad Seed

William March

Prion pounds 5.99

On first publication in 1954, this million-selling novel went on to become a theatrical success on Broadway and then a Warner Bros film that garnered four Oscar nominations. William March (whom some American critics regard as a neglected genius) was born in 1893 in Alabama, the setting of this frighteningly Freudian potboiler. Just as psychoanalysis was taking off in the States, March was immersed in true-life case histories of mass- murderers, homicidal sociopaths, and "amoral" women and children. The eponymous bad seed is eight-year-old Rhoda Penmark. With her dimpled cheeks and braids in bows, she is the town's sweetheart a model pupil, and a possible serial killer. March was convinced that the propensity for violence and evil was passed through the female line, and so the mothers and wives portrayed here are of the smothering and castrating kind. Meanwhile the men are weak and lusty. The Nabakovian theme is loud and clear. Rhoda is teased by school janitor Leroy, whose sadism and lurid rape fantasies are expressions of the little girl's perceived sexual power. Leroy's "persecution of her, his nagging concern with everything she did, was part of a perverse and frightened courtship". With its warped erotic under currents, the tale of wicked little Rhoda is more than a delightfully un-PC murder-mystery thriller.

A Patchwork Planet

Anne Tyler

Vintage pounds 6.99

Both Roddy Doyle and Nick Hornby have acclaimed this American Pulitzer prizewinner as the "greatest living novelist writing in English". For fans of Doyle and Hornby, that should give some measure of Anne Tyler's worth. Her 14th novel is set in Baltimore, her home town, and concerns Barnaby Gaitlin, black sheep of his family and stalwart employee of Rent- a-Back, Inc. "Any load you can't lift, any chore you don't feel up to, why, just call on us." Tyler's gentle humour never lets up, and her delight in eccentricity ensures that each character that intrudes on Barnaby's life clamours for the reader's attention, as well as entangling the poor fellow in more family squabbles than he can safely handle. Eminently readable, wise and compassionate, devotees will not be disappointed, and newcomers to Tyler's brand of domestic drama will certainly be won over.

The Spiritual Tourist: A Personal Odyssey through the Outer Reaches of Belief

Mick Brown

Bloomsbury pounds 6.99

Mick Brown is primarily a travel writer, and an astute and broadminded one at that. In this journey around the spiritual oases of the world, he resists the cynical one-liners that are the usual journo's resort, and instead portrays the religious longings of the spiritually dispossessed with sympathy. Of course, there is humour, too, but that is largely confined to the chapter headings - a witty summation of the themes explored, which, in their concision, deflate the pretensions of Brown's subjects. In a spiritual guide that owes more to Cyril Connolly than Krishnamurti, Brown leaves us with an insight it has taken many miles for him to reach. On passing out of a Buddhist temple in Carlisle he is transfixed by the fine drizzle blowing on his face, and sheep grazing on a nearby field: "In the temple, the monks are praying for the world. I think: what is joy? ... Joy is to be found only in the moment. And in that moment I feel giddy with joy, knowing, even as I feel it, that this too will pass."

The Romantic Generation:

Liszt, Bellini, Schubert, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, Schumann, Berlioz

Charles Rosen

Fontana pounds 14.99

Charles Rosen is Professor Emeritus of Music and Social Thought at Chicago University, and has written many seminal works on the Romantic movement. This latest won the 1995 Yorkshire Post Music Award, and it is a remarkable feat of illuminating criticism. In it, he concentrates on those composers whose characteristic styles were defined in the late 1820s and early 1830s, but the breadth of his knowledge carries us deep into the cultural milieu of the period in all its intellectual and artistic output. His close analysis of scores is accessible to anyone who loves music; for example, he highlights certain motifs that chart the radical re-working of song cycles as undertaken by Schumann, and brings fresh resonance to a re-hearing of them. Similarly, he notes the transformation of Classical counterpoint at the hands of Chopin into the simultaneous playing of simple phrases out of phase with each other that creates the illusion of counterpoint and thus paves the way for a more fluid way of playing with melody. For a man who had the "idiosyncrasy of Chopin's ornamentation in the early B Major Nocturne" pointed out to him by Pierre Boulez, his ability to write for Everyman is something for which we should all be grateful.

Shut Eye

Adam Baron

Pan pounds 5.99

Urban Noir has arrived in London, and Adam Baron is one of its finest proponents. His moral guardian and crime-fighting hero is ex-copper Billy Rucker whose first case takes him into the badlands of Clerkenwell. Video cameras are everywhere, but queer-bashers are a slippery lot and Billy is armed only with a photograph. Homelessness and child prostitution get a look-in in this perceptive, atmospheric thriller.