Books: Paperbacks

Pagan and her Parents by Michael Arditti (Minerva, pounds 6.99) Leo and Candida first meet as Cambridge undergrads in a candlelit sacristy in Venice. It's the start of a beautiful, though sexless, friendship. They end up sharing a home in W11 and, eventually, a child. But Candida's sudden death lands Leo in the middle of a child custody battle. The perils of gay fatherhood tackled with good-humoured warmth.

Bright Paradise by Peter Raby (Pimlico, pounds 10) Simultaneously racy and profound, this is an irresistible account of the Victorian scientific explorers who transformed the way we look at the world. They range from botanist Richard Spruce, who suffered from starvation, disease and bad nursing ("Die, English dog!") while collecting 30,000 specimens in South America, to genteel ethnologist Mary Kingsley, who saw off a leopard by hurling a calabash: "A noble shot", she recalled. This gallery of doughty eccentrics is dominated by Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of evolution.

The Oxford Book of Travel Stories edited by Patricia Craig (pounds 7.99) Like the best journeys, most of the yarns in this excellent collection have the merit of unexpectedness; Evelyn Waugh adopts the persona of a giddy girl in the Thirties; Anthony Trollope tells a strange tale of transvestism in the Palestine desert; Rebecca West gives an original twist to the classic theme of danger on a train. Other gems include a decade of deluxe globetrotting by Scott and Zelda compressed into a dozen pages, and Kerouac slouching round Europe ("But Brueghel, wow!"). This is the ultimate package tour.

The Wrestling by Simon Garfield (Faber, pounds 6.99) Served up in bite-sized chunks, Garfield's paean to the heroes of Saturday afternoon grappling is knock-out entertainment. We learn the Queen was a big fan ("My sister watches you on TV", Princess Margaret told Big Daddy.) Though Jackie Pallo irked fellow pros by his revelations in You Grunt, I'll Groan, no less an authority on wrestling than Roland Barthes noted: "the public wants the image of passion, not passion itself." Judging by the knackered state of the survivors, a bit more pretence might have been a good idea.

Omens of Millennium by Harold Bloom (Fourth Estate, pounds 8.99) America's greatest literary critic turns his formidable powers on various numinous phenomena associated with "new age" beliefs. Not that he has much time for such claptrap, declaring himself "defeated by its inspired vacuity". Similarly, his own "near-death experience" caused by a bleeding ulcer was "annoying rather than comforting". However, Bloom finds himself drawn to the heretical beliefs of the Gnostics - that God resides in us all. A deeply stimulating, heartfelt and surprisingly enjoyable investigation.

Basket Case by Douglas Chirnside (Sceptre, pounds 6.99) Channel 4 producer Douglas Chirnside's roman a clef of media folk bristles with mobile phones, Dolce Gabbana ties and naughty insinuations. In 1970, The Most Difficult Woman in Television (who sounds suspiciously like Janet Street-Porter), is caught shagging in the company library. Showing her usual presence of mind she shoves a wastepaper basket over her lover's head and fires the hapless intruder. Sixteen years on, the product of this union. along with half the Groucho Club, are in search of of Basket Case's true identity.

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