Paperbacks

<i>This is Modern Art</i> by Matthew Collings; <i>The Bedroom of the Master's Wife</i> by Philip Hensher; <i>Stiffed: betrayal of the American male </i>by Susan Faludi
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The Independent Culture

This is Modern Art by Matthew Collings (Seven Dials, £12.99, 271pp) Pursuing half a dozen broad themes in this collage, Collings weaves together the stars of Britart, their contemporaries in other countries and significant precursors. His narrative is often provocative, occasionally plain daft, but always readable. Some of his artistic collisions are crass. An account of Jackson Pollock's death in a drunken car crash in 1956 is linked to Andy Warhol via the latter's gruesome screen print Ambulance Disaster (1963). This might have worked on the screen, but jars on the page. However, the comparison of Goya's painted nightmares with his cartoonic imitators Jake and Dinos Chapman is intriguing.

This is Modern Art by Matthew Collings (Seven Dials, £12.99, 271pp) Pursuing half a dozen broad themes in this collage, Collings weaves together the stars of Britart, their contemporaries in other countries and significant precursors. His narrative is often provocative, occasionally plain daft, but always readable. Some of his artistic collisions are crass. An account of Jackson Pollock's death in a drunken car crash in 1956 is linked to Andy Warhol via the latter's gruesome screen print Ambulance Disaster (1963). This might have worked on the screen, but jars on the page. However, the comparison of Goya's painted nightmares with his cartoonic imitators Jake and Dinos Chapman is intriguing.

Compared to the dizzy verbiage of most art critics, Collings's prose is enjoyably blunt ("Mark Rothko was always incredibly depressed") and his perceptions usually hit the mark: "Magritte's style is like the illustrations in Ladybird books." His doubts about Matisse are persuasive, but he has a soft spot for the artist as huckster, whether Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons, whose "Balloon Dog... is a very good dog, very big, the size of a house".

Collings sometimes get it wrong. He describes Warhol's jeans design for the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers LP sleeve as "unzippable" - but it certainly was zippable when first issued, with a real zip inserted in the cardboard. Because the paperback has not been updated, there is no mention of the row when Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary, complete with the artist's trademark elephant shit, was shown in New York last year. On the whole, though, this portrait of modern art is lively, wide-ranging and free of bullshit. The Bedroom of the Master's Wife by Philip Hensher (Vintage, £6.99, 200pp) In his first collection of stories novelist, columnist and ex-Commons clerk Philip Hensher shows a soft spot for people living on the edge - social outcasts on the verge of doing something nutty. In "To Feed the Night", a story about the London property market, a couple risk all for a house in the right postal code; while in "The Name on the Door" humiliation awaits a twentyish male who inadvertently reveals his ignorance of female anatomy at a dinner party. Inconclusive though they are, there's always a moment in these stories that will make you snigger.

Stiffed: betrayal of the American male by Susan Faludi (Vintage, £8.99, 676pp) Susan Faludi's 1991 best seller Backlash looked at the "free-floating anxiety" many males felt about women's drive for economic equality. In Stiffed she delves deeper into the psyche of the male. Compared to their fathers' generation, who fought wars and came home to coach Little League, Faludi argues that today's male feels betrayed by a society that no longer prizes team spirit or hard graft. Her case studies include interviews with the famous (Sylvester Stallone), and not so famous, the laid off workers of the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, and are as compelling as any novel.

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