Paperbacks

Reviewed by Emma Hagestadt and Christopher Hirst
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The Independent Culture
Aztecs: An Interpretation by Inga Clendinnen (Canto, pounds 7.95)

Spanish invaders were astonished by the size and cleanliness of Aztec cities. They were created by a technically advanced, artistically gifted society, regulated by cliques of warriors and priests. But, as everyone knows, human sacrifice, in inventively varied forms, was central to Aztec ceremonies. Up to 20,000 victims, appropriated in stylised wars, were dispatched at a major event. This scrupulously researched study is an absorbing journey through a disturbing and alien culture.

Looking for Trouble by General Sir Peter De La Billiere (HarperCollins pounds 6.99)

Excluded from the merchant navy by colour-blindness, the author's ambitions turned to a little-known army outfit. The sea's loss was the SAS's gain. Following hair-raising capers in Malaya, Aden and Borneo, he regretfully turned brass-hat. His spell as SAS director included the assault on the Iranian embassy (unaware it was live on TV, he knew less than the rest of us). Finally there came fame as a Gulf commander. An outstanding army autobiography, free of starch, full of incident.

Quentin Tarantino by Jami Bernard (HarperCollins, pounds 6.99)

After just two directoral outings, the Tinseltown Wunderkind receives the accolade of biography. More of a skim really, as befits one whose life is wall-to-wall celluloid. His absorption once led to 10 days in jail for ignoring traffic fines. It emerges that the enigmatic title "Reservoir Dogs" resulted from his mangling of "Au Revoir les Enfants" when working in a video store. His lightning rise to Hollywood hotshot was too much for one ex-colleague, who, knowing he would never catch up, killed himself.

The Western Canon by Harold Bloom (Papermac, pounds 10)

Slammed here last week by Germaine Greer, this tome may appear to carry a whiff of Reader's Digest: 'YALE PROF PICKS 40 KEY WRITERS YOU NEED TO KNOW'. But skip the stuffy intro and you'll be swept up by Bloom's passion. His breadth of reading is awesome, his judgements persuasive. For Bloom, Shakespeare is central to world literature: earlier writers prepared his way, later ones bobbed in his wake. Few single volumes will tell you more more about great writing.

Bunuel by John Baxter (Fourth Estate, pounds 8.99)

Surrealist, foot-fetishist and militant atheist, Bunuel turned iconoclasm into an art-form. The short films he made with Dali in the 1920s can still deliver a jolt, as does the cool eroticism of Belle de Jour from 1967. The intervening years produced a mix of rumba musicals and art movies, scandalous then but now rarely seen. The discipline of Bunuel's film-making contrasted with a rackety, alcohol-fuelled life off the set. Baxter's account of this extreme personality is entertainment of a high order.

Are You Watching, Liverpool? by Jim White (Mandarin, pounds 5.99)

Non-footer fans should be aware this is not a book about Liverpool. The kipper-tied gent on the cover is Man Utd boss Alex Ferguson and the gaudy samovars he's hoisting are the FA and League cups, both scooped by the team in 1994. The Independent's Jim White provides an epic account of this annus mirabilis with beady-eyed portraits of players and fans. Heartfelt and funny, it's as close as an Englishman can come to writing a love story. But that won't help sales in Scouse-land. The Informers by Bret

Easton Ellis (Picador, pounds 5.99)

Picking up another "pseudo-hot-looking Valley bitch" is all in a night's entertainment for Jamie, but then consider the alternatives: doing coke on Michael Landon's yacht, or crashing off a desert road while lighting up a joint. Ellis's Los Angelinos guzzle Tab, throw up in bathrooms, hang out with vampires, feel nothing but know deep inside that "being rich is cool", and are as vapid as the breezes lifting the palms along Santa Monica Boulevard.

The Evening of Adam by Alice Thomas Ellis (Penguin, pounds 5.99)

Alice Thomas Ellis is one of those accomplished writers who makes you feel immediately at home. In her latest collection, red-faced babies scream under greengage trees, and red-faced husbands demand their socks. Her wives, meanwhile, inhabit worlds so lonely that they're forced to converse with the ants under the sink and the lamb they're preparing for supper. She makes you laugh out loud.

An Unequal Marriage, Pride and Prejudice Continued by Emma Tennant (Sceptre, pounds 5.99)

"Elizabeth and Darcy, after 19 years of marriage, still were considered the most fortunate couple in Derbyshire - and beyond." Try as you might, it's virtually impossible to surrender yourself to any Part II of a classic novel, however impressively it follows in the footsteps of the first. Deep down you know it isn't really Mr Darcy, though it's pleasant to meet his ghost.

The Politics of Cruelty by Kate Millet (Penguin, pounds 8.99)

"In over eleven and a half years I didn't see the sun for more than eight hours altogether. I forgot colours - there were no colours." The Uruguyan playwright Raul Sendic was kept at the bottom of a dry well for over a decade, but compared to some of the things described in this book, his ordeal is almost bearable. Kate Millet's intellectualized anatomy of torture reminds us that the least we can do is remember.

Meeting Lily by Sarah

Woodhouse (Penguin, pounds 5.99)

It's the era of Fellini, but the guests at Nan Mortimer's hill-top pensione are still wearing postwar sun-dresses and conversing like Barbara Pym. There's the potty Molly Bagshot (lover of long walks), sane Aunt Dot (lover of wise words), and poor Nan herself (lover of Dr Fortuno), all awaiting the arrival of the morning train from Perugia. Sarah Woodhouse, an award- winning romantic novelist, knows Italians do it better.

The Romantic Movement by Alain de Botton (Picador, pounds 5.99)

Drifting through another aimless month in her mid-20s, Alice is convinced that love is the only answer. That is until she meets Eric, a banker dealing in commodities and futures. Like a character in a Rohmer film, de Botton's lovers discourse energetically on Plato, Schopenhauer and sex over meals in Hammersmith and the West End. A stylish novel that will entertain as much as comfort love lorn twenty-somethings.

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