Books: Pick Of The Week

literature: a word of unknown provenance, generally attributed to `litter' or waste.

biographer: from bio-graphy, the reading of a life by means of lines. A fortune-teller or palmist.

fibre optic: a coarse material woven out of eyes, worn by the high priests of the mechanical age in order to instil terror among the populace.

Just a few entries from the glossary that Plato - leading light of Peter Ackroyd's new novel, The Plato Papers - creates. His aim? To help the people of The Present (c. AD 3700) comprehend the last-but-one era. Ours. The Age of Mouldwarp (c. AD 1500 - c. AD 2300). A dark era, lit only by Charles Dickens's great novel The Origin of Species and the slapstick comedy of Sigmund Freud (pronounced Fraud) and his straight-man sidekick, Oedipus.

Spiked with Ackroyd's trademark concerns: the many-layeredness of London; a caballistic mysticism; the mutable nature of time and place; this novel is simultaneously laugh-out-loud-on-the-Underground hilarious and deeply, provocatively serious. It raises the kind of Big Philosophical Questions the title leads you to expect. How much of what we call history is misinformed conjecture? Biography: fact or fiction? How do we know what we think we know? Fact (in fact): fact or fiction? Pop along to Waterstone's in Chelsea for Peter Ackroyd's Q & A session and find out from the man himself. The book's out on 1 April.

If you're reading this (as you should be) first thing Saturday morning, you've still got time to hotfoot it to the Institute of Contemporary Arts to catch the inimitable Ivor Cutler doing his chat and verse thing, at 2.30pm this afternoon as part of the all-day Apocalypse Culture event. Inspired by EMI Records `Songbook' series of CDs, compiled by writers and artists, this extravaganza also features Ralph Steadman making his own wall-sized art, and off-centre graphic geniuses Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Savage Pencil Rock & Roll Zoo doing almost unmentionable things with a variety of musical instruments.

Peter Ackroyd; Waterstone's 150 - 152 Kings Road, London SW3 (0171-251 2053), Thursday, 7pm.

Apocalypse Culture; Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London SW1Y (0171-930 3647), today, noon to midnight.

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