Paperbacks

Sir John Soane Architect by Dorothy Stroud (de la Mare, pounds 18.99) Handsomely illustrated and scrupulously researched, this classic work reveals the energy and versatility of our finest architect after Wren. At its heart lies a tantalising sequence of interiors from Soane's masterpiece, the Bank of England, all but destroyed by bureaucratic vandalism in the Twenties. His unique style, seen here in designs ranging from a brewery to the interior of No 10 Downing Street, borrowed from both the classical and gothic traditions.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience by Jerry Hopkins (Plexus, pounds 9.99) Though Hopkins does a fair job on the facts of Hendrix's early life - we learn how the hero of the underground beat a car-stealing rap by joining the paratroopers - he comes unstuck with the music: "a single noise from the cosmos...football- field-sized sheets of steel falling from the tops of cliffs." Understandably, the audience at the first Jimi Hendrix Experience gig in Croydon were "numbed". How a backing guitarist on the chitterling circuit was suddenly transformed into rock's most innovative performer is unexplained - but we are amply enlightened about sex and drugs and post-mortem litigation.

Dear Dodie: the life of Dodie Smith by Valerie Grove (Pimlico, pounds 10) Brought out just in time to coincide with the recent film, this lively biography of the woman who created 101 Dalmatians reveals her as a delightfully English eccentric, even if it doesn't manage to establish her as anything more than a minor talent. Her happy Lancashire childhood was followed by a miserable youth as an unsuccessful actress, during which she developed her tastes both for married men and exotic costumes. She worked as a shop assistant in Heals before turning to writing. In her prime, it was as a playwright that she was most famous, though one gets the impression that her plays would seem rather fey and sentimental today. (Ps.You're not meant to judge a book by its cover, but the spotty jacket is such a triumph of graphic design that it deserves a mention.)

Making the Cat Laugh: one woman's journal of single life on the margins by Lynn Truss (Penguin, pounds 6.99) In past ages, a lone female with a cat was in danger of being prosecuted for witchcraft. These days, she's more likely to become a columnist, judging from this collection of pieces written for the Times, the Listener and Woman's Journal. Lynn Truss's doting attitude towards her feline friends is, in fact, the least funny thing in the book. It's her knack for lateral thinking - for pointing out the obvious in such a way that it becomes hilariously surreal - that provides the laugh- out-loud moments.

Strange Landscape by Christopher Frayling (Penguin/BBC, pounds 6.99) Stemming from Frayling's televisual "journey through the Middle Ages", the text is as patchy as the series - wonderful about the great medieval cathedrals, long-winded on Abelard and Heloise. The introduction, which underlines the significance of the Middle Ages today, is stuffed with embarrassing lists of heavy metal bands and suchlike. Frayling provides an exciting entree to an alien era, but it is unforgivable that this edition has been ransacked of all illustrators.

Journals Mid-Fifties: 1954-1958 by Allen Ginsberg (Penguin, pounds 12.50) A pyrotechnical display of poetry, pornography and pronunciamentos from the poet as he straddles his 30th year. Modesty is not his strong suit - "Plato, Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Ginsberg all loved boys." Younger readers mystified by the appeal of a soggy old mystic only have to read a single page of this litany for a powerful reminder why Ginsberg exerted such influence in the Sixties. One highlight is a sleazy European tour with fellow Beats: "Peter needs a shave. I need a bath. Gregory needs a new personality."

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