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The Independent Culture
Demonic Males by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson (Bloomsbury, pounds 7.99) This enthralling investigation into the "vicious, lethal aggression" endemic in human males begins with a devastating comparison of Rwandan genocide with butchery in chimpanzee communities. The parallels are described as "unsettling", particularly in light of the discovery that chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than to gorillas. The authors convincingly argue against determinism but appear optimistic in their insistence that the acquisition of wisdom can "draw us away from the five-million year stain of our ape past".

Inventing the Abbotts by Sue Miller (Indigo, pounds 5.99) Best known for her novel The Good Mother, Sue Miller continues to explore the perils of single- mommiedom in her short stories - sex with a new partner while the baby snoozes being one of her favoured themes. In one story a 37-year-old mother inadvisably gets out erotic snapshots of her younger, more nubile self to show to a new lover, while in "Expensive Gifts", a woman who begins the night in bed with an unfamiliar man ends it snuggled up to her two- year-old son. In this titillating, readable collection, only the book's title story, about two brothers' obsession with a family of sisters, fails to pack a punch.

Racing Pigs and Giant Marrows by Harry Pearson (Abacus, pounds 5.99) Like the naughty boy in every class, Pearson can't stop cracking jokes. This account of 25 North Country shows, ranging from the Appleby Horse Fair to the Egton Gooseberry Fair, is packed with gags. Fortunately, they're very good ones, such as the way that a crab sandwich, left in Tupperware for an hour, produces "the nauseating stench of a Russian factory ship becalmed in the Indian ocean with a faulty refrigeration system". This book is a joy and a treasure.

In the Garden of Desire by Wendy Maltz and Susie Boss (Bantam, pounds 9.99) In this survey of the sexual fantasies of more than 100 American women, one of the participants remarks: "Fantasies don't fart, suffer exhaustion or leave balled-up socks on the floor." Unlike their male counterparts, female fantasies tend to be complex narratives: "I imagine I'm a meditation student using a secluded ashram in the woods ..." Six common fantasy roles include Victim, Dominatrix and Voyeur. As the authors note, "We don't have to like fantasy for it to provide a positive function."

Portofino by Frank Schaeffer (Black Swan, pounds 6.99) Eyes fixed on his three slices of tuna, three slices of salami, four olives and round of mortadella, young Calvin Becker prays that the rest of the pensione won't notice his mother saying grace. Just one of the countless embarrassing moments recalled in Schaeffer's semi-autobiographical novel remembering Sixties holidays on the Italian Riviera with his American missionary parents. A novel that glows with sentiment and cheap red wine.

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