Books: Paperbacks

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The Independent Culture
The 20th-Century Art Book

Phaidon, pounds 6.95,


GIVING A page each to works by 499 artists ranging from Odilon Redon (born 1840) to Damien Hirst (born 1965), this bestselling picture book is now reissued in a chunky, condensed format. The contraction is less than fair to Francis Bacon, whose triptych is reduced to postage stamps, but does little damage to the image of an empty gallery which illustrates a forgotten conceptualist called Acconici (he is masturbating beneath the floorboards). Though one may quibble at the choice of inclusions - a weak drawing by Artaud but nothing by Saul Steinberg - the book is a marvel at the price.

The Travelling Hornplayer

by Barbara Trapido,

Penguin, pounds 6.99,


A SEQUEL to a sequel, but don't let that put you off trying Barbara Trapido. In a plot as enchanting (and outlandish) as any dreamt up by Iris Murdoch, Trapido's cast of Oxford dons, adulterous writers and profane monks all have one moment in common, the death of a young student in a road accident in London. In addition to laugh-out-loud jokes about the interior design notions of British women, rude sex, and the joys of Allinson's wholemeal bread, this delightfully mature tragi-comedy also delivers on life's more taxing emotions, in particular bereavement and loss.

Phantoms in the Brain

by V S Ramachandran,

Fourth Estate, pounds 8.99,


THIS FIRST popular work from a leading explorer of the mind's congeries is notable for lucidity, readability and humour. Ramachandran expresses amazement bordering on delight at the way the mind can react to loss through injury or stroke. One patient applies make-up to just the left side of her face. Others, such as Thurber, experience hallucinations prompted by loss of sight. As Freud proposed, we are all in thrall to the unconscious. But the author is unconvinced about multiple personality disorder: "If I ever locate a patient with two personalities, I'll send two bills."

The Everlasting Story of Nory

by Nicholson Baker,

Vintage, pounds 6.99,


YOU DON'T expect grand themes from navel-gazer Nicholson Baker, but here he does swap continents, setting the action in a chilly English cathedral town - or, more accurately, in the head of a visiting nine-year- old girl. Related entirely by Nory, Baker's compelling narrative describes what's on a young Californian's mind while sitting under medieval rafters or queuing up for school dinners - usually something as arcane as the commercial possibilities of portion-controlled toothpaste. Inspired by the author's (and his daughter's) experiences during a sabbatical year in Ely.


by Robert Rhodes James,

Pimlico, pounds 12.50,


NOT MANY military classics begin with a haunting: "Three times I was conscious of footfalls behind me, [but] there was no one there." Used as a textbook in the Falklands, this is an exemplary account of the fruitless 1915 conflict which cost over 250,000 lives. Following a bloody landing, the Allied campaign petered out after eight months of trench warfare directed by a general straight out of Blackadder: "rubicundly gruff, self-important and vain." Thanks to lessons learned at Gallipoli, the UK D-Day force was spared the Private Ryan debacle of the US at Omaha Beach.

Time Out Book of Paris Short Stories

edited by Nicholas Royle,

Penguin, pounds 6.99,


IF PARIS in springtime isn't on the cards, novelist and critic Nicholas Royle's selection of Paris tales by contemporary writers is the next best thing. Stories by natives are far outnumbered by the collection's tourist contingency, especially transplanted Americans - Maureen Freely, Erica Wagner and Edward Fox - who, much like the character in Michele Roberts's story "Fluency", roam the city in search of moments of heightened awareness: afternoons smelling of "hot dust, lime blossom and vanilla"; and the perfect cafe in which to linger over an expresso or glass of wine.