The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum (Oxford World's Classics, pounds 4.99). The early works of Lyman Frank Baum, a small-time hustler of America's Gilded Age, didn't suggest very much promise. They included a guide to raising chickens and The Art of Decorating Dry-Goods Windows. Then, in 1900, he published Oz, which became a hit Broadway musical two years later. The rest is - not history, but one of the few enduring modern myths, as the Yellow Brick Road led to immortality. Susan Wolstenholme's introduction goes beyond the usual psychological readings to point out parallels between Baum's former trade as a peddler of new consumer dreams and the fraudulent Wizard himself, who gleefully proclaims himself "a humbug". An intriguing New Year treat for all Cowardly Lions, Tin Men and friends of Dorothy.
Slowness by Milan Kundera (Faber, pounds 5.99). At 132 pages, this novel offers a miniature version of the familiar Kundera mix of sex and existential analysis. The narrative concerns two parallel seductions which take place in a French chateau, 200 years apart. In an 18th-century pavilion, the indolent Madame de T savours each moment as she manipulates the desires of her young chevalier; meanwhile, in the 1990s, a secretary is fumblingly seduced at a conference. What really matters are Kundera's reflections on the relationships between past and present, public and private, power and exhibitionism, which range in tone from the sublime to the slapstick.
Motel Nirvana: dreaming of the New Age in the American desert by Melanie McGrath (Flamingo, pounds 6.99) McGrath's account of her travels around the American south-west opens a mite too self-consciously, with the author gazing at her reflection in a TV screen. Fortunately, her attitude towards the business of self-discovery becomes more sceptical as she encounters local weirdos. Her analysis of "the consumer culture's answer to spirituality" - with its auras, technoshamans and alien abductees - is sharp and funny as it reveals the extent of such credulity.
Wicked Women by Fay Weldon (Flamingo, pounds 6.99) It isn't just the women who are wicked in these stories - the men and childen can get just as nasty. Adultery and divorce feature strongly, with an unsentimental approach that gets straight to the point. The most ghastly characters - including self-satified therapists and horribly competitive men - hover just the right side of caricature. There is an overall sense of control in the writing which goes to show that Weldon is far better at stories than at full-length novels.Reuse content