Cover Stories: The Breadwinner, Book Token's survey , Chris Eubank's autobiography,

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The Independent Culture

Since 11 September, we've heard and read millions of words about living under the Taliban, yet it remains a distant horror. But a novel published this week brings everything to poignant life. The Breadwinner (Oxford, £4.99) by Deborah Ellis, a Canadian who worked in Afghan refugee camps, was bought in April at the Bologna Children's Book Fair and expected to sell a couple of thousand. Now OUP has rushed it out, selling 20,000 copies into bookshops. The publisher believes it will also find an adult market. The story tells of a little girl who cuts her hair and dresses as a boy in order to go out alone and put food on the table for her mother and sisters after her father has been imprisoned by the Taliban. It is based on a story Ellis heard first-hand in the camps – sadly, not an uncommon one.

A survey by Book Tokens reveals some interesting statistics: 20 per cent of all books bought for the coffee table are never read; 45 per cent of readers have a phobia about creasing spines; and 86 per cent judge a book by its cover. Finally, 25 per cent of women say they'd rather read Jackie or Jilly or Maeve than have sex.

This week, HarperCollins was due to publish Chris Eubank: the autobiography. At the eleventh hour, with books in the warehouse, the boxer decided that he didn't want it published, perhaps believing that the revelations about his rough-and-tumble childhood go a bit far. The publishers will say only they are in discussion with solicitors – presumably to recover the advance plus damages.

My colleague Pandora reported recently than former Faber boss Toby Faber is at work on a book about Stradivarius – in particular, five of his fiddles – which had been sold to Random House US. Now there's good news on the home front: Macmillan has bought the project, entitled The Master. Faber is a keen amateur musicologist and violinist.

A winter surprise for John Grisham fans. The master of the legal procedural has penned a short work of seasonal fiction, Skipping Christmas, about a family who decide to turn their back on the festivities and head for the Caribbean on a cruise ship. What follows is not the bliss they imagined... Century publishes next week, as a hardback and on tape.

Perhaps the most coveted job in children's publishing has lain open since the departure of MD Philippa Milne-Smith. Now Puffin has announced her successor: Francesca Dow, who began her career at Collins and then joined Orchard Books, later taking over from founder Judith Elliott. Her protégés include Lauren Child, Debi Gliori and Giles Andreae.

Congratulations to Serpent's Tail, the flamboyant independent. This week, Pete Ayrton's firm celebrated 15 years of bold international publishing, at a venue called the Horse Hospital, which sounds like a book from one of the outfit's more spaced-out US authors. The list's stars include Walter Mosley, George Pelecanos, Juan Goytisolo, Stella Duffy and Denis Cooper. Such avant-garde virtue is sometimes rewarded: the new, controversially erotic film The Piano Teacher, starring Isabelle Huppert, ought to shift a stack or two of Elfriede Jelinek's original novel (a Serpent's Tail title). After all, a former publicist reputedly said fetishism, sadism and masochism are to Serpent's Tail what huntin', shootin' and fishin' are to Country Life.

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