Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Up North

by Charles Jennings

(Abacus, pounds 6.99)

Sustained by a prodigious intake of curries, a London hack explores an alien land 200 miles up the motorway. Predictably dyspeptic, his report is also a comic tour de force. Blackpool, he notes, is ''the first place I've been to where the whole town has halitosis.'' Though generally keen- eyed, Jennings bizarrely insists that Yorkshiremen drink beer in quarter- pint glasses. So how come they get so big?

Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life by Jeremy Paxman (Penguin, pounds 8.99)

Wriggling politicians are not the only life-form Jeremy likes to hook. While mainly set on the riverbank, his anthology also trawls distant waters. In the section on 'Fish That Bit Back', we learn how Jaws-style attacks shocked the US in 1916. In 'Ones That Didn't Get Away', there is an 1839 account of the original Moby Dick. A rich haul, not only for anglers, with Twain and Orwell alongside Walton.

Brown's Requiem

by James Ellroy (Arrow, pounds 5.99)

Ellroy's first thriller from 1981 updates Chandler with a plotline that zigzags round the freeways and fairways of LA. Fritz Brown, a music-loving gumshoe with a booze problem, is hired by a slobbish caddy, Fat Dog, to probe his sister's love-life. A tangle of drugs, racism and arson ensues, with the near- psychopathic Brown contributing a hefty dollop of violence. Hard-hitting if derivative.

Lives of the Great Songs edited by Tim de Lisle (Penguin, pounds 6.99)

Telling the stories of 40 pop tunes from genesis to interpretation, this Independent On Sunday series is as addictive as a box of chocs. It's the soul numbers - "Take Me to the River'', "The Dark End of the Street'', - which thunder in your head. Not all the songs are so great. Billy J. Kramer is mocked for rejecting The Beatles's "Yesterday'', later to be recorded by 1,186 artists. The funny thing is, Billy J. was right.

The Hounding of John Thomas by Craig Brown (Arrow, pounds 5.99)

From Craig Brown's newspaper columns you wouldn't know he was bonkers, but he clearly is. His novel tells the story of John Thomas MP - only son of Lady Chatterley and her lusty gamekeeper (aka Willie Winkie) - from his humble beginnings in a New Heanor grocery shop to the Oxford Union debate where the ''disgusting'' truth of his dodgy parentage is startlingly revealed. It's the kind of humour that leaves 13-year girls laughing helplessly on the floor.

The End of Innocence by Simon Garfield (Faber, pounds 7.99)

Simon Garfield's investigation into Britain's first decade of living with Aids takes a sober look at how the medical and political establishment tried to ''de-gay'' the virus before it could cope. He relives the initial panic that gripped the nation (health warnings featuring tombstones, fear of unwashed cups in restaurants), but is at his best describing those first few doctors who weren't afraid to grapple with this horrific new disease before it even had a name.

Evelyn Waugh: A Biography

by Selina Hastings (Minerva, pounds 7.99)

''Poor Evelyn,'' one of Waugh's women-friends wrote of him late in his life, ''he is deeply unhappy - bored from morning till night, and has developed a personality which he hates but cannot escape from.'' The author of some of the greatest comic novels in the English language wasn't always much fun to be around, but to be fair, there's something rather humourless about the way Hastings has assembled all her dense data. Absorbing stuff, nonetheless.

Mrs Jordan's Profession

by Claire Tomalin (Penguin, pounds 8.99)

Mrs Jordan was the most popular actress of her day, but unlike her contemporary, Mrs Siddons, her memory was quickly erased from the public mind. A working actress all her life, she got by without great beauty, bore 13 illegitimate children (ten to the Duke of Clarence) and died alone in France, cut off from royal affections, Tomalin's biography brilliantly recaptures a more prodigious age and recounts what must be one of biography's saddest deaths.