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The Independent Culture
What I Lived For by Joyce Carol Oates (Picador, 8.99)

New York real estate developer ''Corky'' Corcoran, has an Irish kid's face and a ''foxy-shrewd'' brain. Sometimes he's so good-looking, women stare at him in the street, but at other times he looks as battered as an old football. Oates charts the pulse of the American male with virtuosity; as densely written as all her books - many of her sentences take almost as long to climax as Corky - it's her most compelling since Black Water.

Henrietta by Henrietta Moraes (Penguin, pounds 6.99)

The most impressive thing about Henrietta Moraes's autobiography is how good she looks in her photographs. It requires a hearty constitution to survive typhoid, crabs, sex in Lucian Freud's sink, and caravanning through Wales - not to mention a life-long dependency on drugs and alcohol - and still come up looking as fresh as a daisy. Fascinating confessions of a hard-boiled bohemian.

Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai (Vintage, 5.99)

A ''girlie-boy'' from the start, Arjie shunned afternoon cricket matches in favour of endless games of ''bride-bride'' with his female cousins. Bedecked in a white sari, flowers and lipstick, he experienced a joy matched only by access to his aunty's stash of American cosmetics. A sweet evocation of a Sri Lankan childhood spent in the company of Nancy Drew mysteries, love comics and romantic aunties.

Lifting the Veil by John Simpson and Tira Shubart (Coronet, pounds 6.99)

On the same flight which brought Khomeini back from French exile, Simpson was in at the birth of Islamic Iran. Written with his American partner, this is an absorbing tour d'horizon of a diverse country. Iran's duality is summed up in Shubert's description of girls swimming in the sea, still wearing chadors which spread like an inky stain around them.

Curzon by David Gilmour (Papermac, pounds 13.00)

Curzon's five years as Viceroy of India marked the apogee of Empire. Yet he made an implacable enemy of Kitchener, who secretly engineered his downfall, and despite subsequent success as Foreign Secretary, was pipped by Baldwin for the top job. Complex but guileless, passionate but starchy, he makes a superb subject for this biography in the grand style.

An Alphabet of Villains by Brian Sewell (Bloomsbury, pounds 8.99)

You'd expect him to view Warhol as ''intellectually numb'' and Schnabel as ''empty bombast'', but Sewell's talent to abuse knows no bounds. He slams Bellany's ''braw braggartry'', Auerbach's ''muddled bog of paint'' and Hodgkin's ''indecisive dribbling''. Repeated in 80 reviews, it becomes a wearisome drone. Since Sewell clearly detests modern art, why bother?