Paperbacks

The Orchard on Fire by Shena Mackay (Minerva, pounds 5.99) Mackay evokes the smell of discarded Woodbines and old-fashioned lipstick with an elegiac sensuality usually reserved for nightingales and autumn mists. But this is no run of the mill celebration of Fifties tat. Her portrait of a Kent village, and the growing friendship of two eight-year-old girls as they discover secret orchards, Lover's Lanes and dirty old men is laced with beady humour.

Alan Bennett: in a manner of speaking by Daphne Turner (Faber, pounds 9.99) You can see why Bennett wasn't keen on being the subject of a full-scale lit crit study. "We hear a great deal about lavatories in the plays," comments Turner, before embarking on a po-faced analysis of the comic masterpiece, Forty Years On. Her perceptions are keen-eyed and intelligent - "his plays are constantly interested in people who are trapped and caged" - but the ironic humour which is central to Bennett's oeuvre evaporates when placed under the critical microscope.

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding (Picador, pounds 5.99) Fans of Bridget Jones's weekly diary in The Independent will be glad to find that one of the happier years in her life is now heading the paperback bestseller chart in novel form. Not that Bridget's metamorphosis from Home Alone singleton into the kind of woman men like to take on weekend mini-breaks happens overnight. Before she drives into the sunset with a nerd in a diamond-patterned sweater she has to get over her crush on Daniel Cleaver, the rogue male in the publishing house where she works. And lose half a stone before Christmas. And give up smoking.

Honey From a Weed by Patience Gray (Prospect, pounds 12.99) Part memoir, part cook-book, this quirky classic is the fruit of a 30-year stint accompanying a sculptor around Italian and Greek marble quarries. No book plumbs deeper into the Mediterranean culinary tradition. Gray is wonderfully evocative about ingredients and techniques - though it is doubtful how many readers will try Gummarieddi (young lamb's pluck cooked on the spit). In the section on lentils, the author finds room for a disquisition on farting in EngLit.

Jim Thompson: Omnibus 2 (Picador, pounds 8.99) It would be hard to imagine a more pathetic bunch of low-lifes than the inhabitants of Jim Thompson's Fifties paperbacks. His door-to-door salesmen, hotel bell-boys and punch- drunk boxers are looking for any action they can get, but don't know what to do when the great-looking "babe" finally arrives. While the first Omnibus contained Thompson's best-known novels, this volume makes available five more, including Savage Night and A Hell of a Woman. Noir at its darkest ... and daftest.

Graceland: going home with Elvis by Karal Ann Marling (Harvard, pounds 9.95) In this brilliant, if highly personal, guide to both the man and his home, Marling explains how the Presley shrine differs from other places of tourist pilgrimage: "The house is full of things that we all have or used to have, or used to want, or hate." Though it is easy to scoff at Graceland's decor ("a violent Christmastime-lipstick-cherry-coke-fire-engine-hellfire red") and the Polynesian-themed Jungle Den, Marling insists that Elvis was "the last great Dixie regionalist", on a par with William Faulkner.

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