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The Independent Culture
Hollywood Blue by Harris Gaffin (Batsford, pounds 14.99) A breezy exploration of the lucrative sub-stratum of Tinseltown which specialises in such gems as For Your Thighs Only, and The Best Chest in the West. Declaring that "the porno people are my noble savages", the author is scarcely a fly- on-the-wall reporter. Like Rupert Bear, he appears in almost every illustration in his book. Throughout this assiduous study, which takes him from the FOXE Awards (Friends of X Entertainment) to the set of Conquest, a porn pirate epic, Gaffin maintains an unwilting interest.

Junk Food Monkeys by Robert M Sapolsky (Headline, pounds 9.99) A biologist specialising in baboon behaviour, Sapolsky is the most readable of science writers on the human condition. His essay titles are great: "Why you feel crummy when you're sick" explains how normal life shuts down when the body concentrates on repairing itself, and "The night you ruined your pyjamas" probes the increasingly early onset of puberty. The title essay reveals that baboons on a natural diet have enviably low cholesterol, while those dining on human food in rubbish dumps are prone to diabetes.

Servant of the Bones by Anne Rice (Arrow, pounds 5.99) The queen of soft porn and apocalyptical imaginings, Rice describes an America even more frightening than the one inhabited by David Koresh and the Unabomber. When a young girl is hacked to pieces in a well-known Fifth Avenue department store, her death is witnessed not only live on television, but also by an avenging angel: an ancient Babylonian with luxuriant black hair and eyelashes to match.

I Lost My Heart to the Belles by Pete Davies (Mandarin, pounds 7.99) Entranced by the Doncaster Belles football team, the author moved his family to Yorkshire. The resulting paean is a winner, packed with drama and deadpan humour. Asked if she's been training, one stalwart replies: "Yeah, I ran down the shop for me fags." Davies finds a sportsmanship long gone from the male game: "It was a stupendous game calling up all the big adjectives - titanic, heroic, epic. Also honest and free of malice." You don't need to be a sports fan to enjoy it, though some may wish there were less about ligaments.

A Pure Clear Light by Madeleine St John (Fourth Estate, pounds 5.99) Simon and Flora live with their three clever children, Volvo estate and Heal's furniture in a nice street in Hammersmith. But come July, Simon decides to skip the annual holiday in Perigord and write a screenplay. Instead he ends up in bed with an energetic accountant called Gillian. A crisply told tale of metropolitan anomie that might have been penned by Josephine Hart - only it's better.

The Mammoth Book of Ancient Wisdom by Cassandra Eason (Robinson, pounds 9.99) From Aboriginal Magic ("Becoming a mekigar, karadji or clever man involves complex initiation rites") to Water Magic (the whiteness of the Dover cliffs is attributed to the soap of a Viking chief), Ms Eason has trawled through 40 different types of "wisdom", gathering all manner of rites, beliefs and lore to amaze the credulous.

We learn that bread should never be sliced, that a row of empty tins can divine the future and that a "ship" shape in tea-leaves indicates "travel, possibly far away".

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