Paperbacks: Boys and Girls Forever<br/>The Love Secrets of Don Juan<br/>Artemisia<br/>Drop City<br/>Ciao Asmara<br/>Letters of Introduction<br/>One No, Many Yeses

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The Independent Culture

Alison Lurie's series of essays on children's literature, first published in the New York Review of Books, is probably the next best thing to enrolling in one of her Cornell seminars.

Boys and Girls Forever by Alison Lurie (VINTAGE £7.99 (231pp))

Alison Lurie's series of essays on children's literature, first published in the New York Review of Books, is probably the next best thing to enrolling in one of her Cornell seminars. In this engaging taster to the joys of kidlit, Lurie delves into the biographies of authors from Walter de la Mare to JK Rowling. She shares her thoughts on "The Meaning of Fairy Tales" and "Enchanted Forests and Secret Gardens" without getting bogged down in textual analysis, Freudian or otherwise. Lurie is good at evoking the socio-historical milieu in which writers flourished: Hans Christian Andersen was chippy about his peasant roots, Louis May Alcott the product of free-thinking parents. There are also times when her scholarly persona slips and her novelist's voice breaks through. She discusses TH White's fairy tale "The Troll", in which the hero finds himself sharing a hotel with a professor who turns out to be a troll who has eaten his wife. Lurie dryly concludes that: "We know that some men, even some professors, are really trolls, and that some husbands do, psychologically at least, devour their wives (and wives their husbands." Other treats include a comparison of Lewis Carroll's Alice with L Frank Baum's Dorothy (mid-West Dorothy is less of a snob), and a witty deconstruction of Tove Jansson's Finnish menagerie, in which Moominpapa is outed as a depressed suburban dad. EH

The Love Secrets of Don Juan by Tim Lott (PENGUIN £6.99 (295pp))

Dan Savage, the middle-aged narrator of Lott's latest novel, lives alone in a bedsit in West Acton. His career in advertising has gone down the pan, he's in the middle of divorcing his wife, and spends more time in the company of child psychologists than with his six-year-old daughter. A man who hates women, but can't live without them, he decides to live instead by a set of rules designed to nip future chick problems in the bud. In this pacy and passionate rant, Lott picks angrily away at the emotional scabs of separation. Women will read in horrified fascination. EH

Artemisia by Anna Banti (SERPENT'S TAIL £7.99 (248pp))

The opening words of Anna Banti's 1947 novel are: "Non piangere" ("Don't cry"). The narrator is the author , describing how she comes to find herself weeping in her nightie in the Boboli Gardens. Banti (the pen name of Lucia Lopresti) had just completed a fictionalised account of the 17th-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi when her Florentine home, along with her manuscript, was destroyed by the departing German troops. Her novel took three years to rewrite. In a groundbreaking work (part fictionalised biography, part confessional), Banti's words are addressed as much to her artistic heroine as to herself. It's fresh and modern, both in style and sentiment. EH

Drop City by TC Boyle (BLOOMSBURY £6.99 (449pp))

The California-based TC Boyle has written before about experiments in communal living, and sets his latest novel among the "cats" and earth mothers of a 1970s hippie commune. It's clear from the start that "Drop City" isn't the Timothy Leary-style nirvana it's cracked up to be: "coils" of human waste litter the rocks, and free love turns out to be sex with a spotty dude. Told from the point of view of two newcomers to the community, Star (a middle-class girl from upstate New York) and Marco (a young draft-dodger), this fiendishly hyper novel moves from Sonoma to Alaska as the hippie bus takes to the road. EH

Ciao Asmara by Justin Hill (ABACUS £7.99 (217pp))

The capital boasts seaside boulevards, cool art deco architecture, and cafés where you can sip a cappuccino. This is not the Med, but the Horn of Africa: Asmara, in newly-independent, but once Italian-colonised Eritrea. Here, Justin Hill lost his heart to the stylish and historic local ways. Ciao Asmara begins as colourful travelogue-cum-war reportage, with Hill as a starry-eyed partisan, in the wake of the Eritreans' intrepid struggle against their Ethiopian overlords. Then the revolution turns sour, as revolutions often do, when a renewed border war brings repression, danger and despair. A book that begins almost as frothy as the coffee darkens into a lament for the travails of Africa. BT

Letters of Introduction by Kevin Jackson (CARCANET £9.95 (244pp))

Here we risk blowing our own trumpet. OK: so let it blow. Several of these witty and expert A-Z guides to cultural movements and pioneers first saw print in The Independent. With some extra topics added by the polymathic Kevin Jackson, they now make a beguiling little book. The themes of his "alphabets" run from Hildegard of Bingen to the Harlem Renaissance by way of Freud, Dante, Warhol, Blake and Duke Ellington. Instant, painless erudition from a master of the art. BT

One No, Many Yeses by Paul Kingsnorth (FREE PRESS £6.99 (355pp))

A pair of rebellions bookends this idealistic tour through anti-capitalist movements. The first erupted, under the pipe-puffing Subcomandante Marcos, in Chiapas, Mexico in 1995; the second, of English peasants, was quashed on Blackheath in 1381. Part travelogue, part polemic, Kingsnorth's book takes heart from the former - and offshoots, from Soweto to Seattle - while fearing the latter's fate. Even fans of globalisation should read his vivid reports, full of quirky detail. A banner at the World Social Forum reads: "Bad Capitalist! No Martini!" BT