Paperbacks

Love is Where it Falls by Simon Callow | A J Ayer: a life by Ben Rogers | The Mighty Walzer by Howard Jacobson | East of the Mountains by David Guterson | The Photo Book Phaidon

Love is Where it Falls by Simon Callow (Penguin, £7.99, 214pp) This gem of a theatrical memoir starts wonderfully. "Tell me," Peggy Ramsey asks Callow, "do you think Ayckbourn will ever write a really GOOD play?" These were the first words addressed to the actor by the legendary agent when he called at her St Martin's Lane eyrie in 1980 to collect a script.

This meeting sparked an 11-year relationship that was passionate in every respect except the physical. Not that Ramsey intended their affair to be platonic. For a seductive souper sur l'herbe at her Earl's Court flat, the, 70-year-old "transformed herself into a young woman, hair newly coiffed, silk housecoat fluttering about her. Underneath was very little indeed."

Despite being entranced by her "beauty, fire, passion, sex, brilliance, elegance, charm...", Callow had just fallen head over heels for an Egyptian film-maker called Aziz. When Aziz reciprocated only partially, Ramsey did what she could to help: "If you knew how I wish I were a slim, dark young man you fancied!" Her generosity was not limited to affairs of the heart. "Would you like me to give you a flat?" she inquired. When Callow demurred, she exploded: "Don't be so bourgeois, dear." Later, the mood of the book darkens. The brilliant but unstable Aziz kills himself. Even Ramsey cannot maintain her glorious persona. Calling at her flat by accident, Callow finds her "unimaginably old".

Non-theatrical readers may find an excess of detail about obscure productions in the early Eighties, but this defect is more than outweighed by Callow's vivid account of his profound and complex friendship with Ramsey. She emerges as batty but also an irresistible force of nature, unshakably honest and surprisingly wise. CH

A J Ayer: a life by Ben Rogers (Vintage, £8.99,402pp) A sparkling evaluation of Ayer's life and thought by the Independent's former restaurant critic which is far more readable than his subject's turgid prose. Rogers clarifies Ayer's opacities, but his explanation that "common sense leads to the development of scientific theories which in turn account for common sense" is misconceived. Much modern science is the reverse of common sense. But his rehabilitation of this philosophical celeb manages to rebutt Sartre's view: "Ayer est un con."

The Mighty Walzer by Howard Jacobson (Vintage, £6.99, 388pp) As a boy, Joel Walzer senior stunned the judges of the 1933 World Yo-Yo championships, when he unveiled a yo-yo the size of a bicycle wheel. A generation later his son, Oliver, does something similar with a ping-pong bat. Jacobson's gleeful portrait of Jewish boyhood in Manchester shows how Oliver comes to terms with the demands of puberty and sporting genius, and the exquisite attentions of his mother, grandmother and assorted aunties. A master of confessional humour, Jacobson has written his best novel yet.

East of the Mountains by David Guterson (Bloomsbury, £6.99, 277pp) Like his 1994 bestseller Snow Falling on Cedars, Guterson's latest novel is set in Washington State. Ben Givens is a retired heart surgeon who learns he has cancer. Deciding to top himself - better a lonely canyon than a hospital bed - he embarks on a journey that proves as life-affirming as a Hollywood movie. Rooted in the author's love of his native landscape, this seductive read recalls Ben's childhood, first love and war service in Italy, though the lyricism is tempered by some grim thoughts on haemorrhoids and death-bed rattles.

The Photo Book Phaidon, £6.95, 520pp Though some pictures, such as Ansel Adams's epic panorama of New Mexico, do not suit this mini-edition, Weegee's shot of society dames eyed by a bag-lady still amuses, and Dian Arbus's grenade-grasping youngster remains terrifying. Annie Leibovitz's portrait of Keith Haring reproduces wonderfully, though a Helmut Newton study of statuesque nudes loses something since it is half of a diptych (they are clothed in the other half). Sadly, the newly appreciated work of Will

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