Paperbacks: Rough Copy<br></br>Spike Milligan: the biography<br></br>Where You're at<br></br>The Future of Freedom<br></br>The Taxi Driver's Daughter<br></br>The Girl Who Played Go<br></br>My Sister's a Barista

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The Independent Culture

Rough Copy by Frederic Raphael (CARCANET £14.95 (213pp))

Frederic Raphael's notebooks (this second selection covers 1970-73) reveal the "chip of ice" that, according to Graham Greene, lurks in the heart of a writer. Driving to see his father in hospital, close to death after a car accident, Raphael notes how he was "excited by the purpose with which I drove; purposeful but not pleased: in a thriller". Later in the book, Raphael scrutinises himself even while reading: "The legs shuffle and regroup like children in a museum. The tongue goes marching between the teeth." The people Raphael encounters, as he shuttles between the literary and movie worlds, are forensically scrutinised. Sean Connery exhibits a "shifty modesty... a weary slyness". Peter Bogdanovich refers to himself "in a tone of well-deserved awe: a name- dropper who drops his own name." The critic JW Lambert wears "his handsomeness like a suit that needed pressing: lustreless and baggy". Raphael views fellow scribes with the traditional generosity of the writing trade. DH Lawrence "wrote loud copy for a philosophy which had no roots". Laurence Durrell "mints fine phrases, but what use is the currency?" Spiky, acute and immodest, Raphael's notebooks offer stimulating entertainment. For an insight into the writer's mind, you'll find nothing better. CH

Spike Milligan: the biography by Humphrey Carpenter (CORONET £7.99 (435pp))

Milligan "wouldn't have liked this book", admits Carpenter. That's because the comedian hated the attention paid to The Goons, whereas Carpenter reckons that The Goons were "his life's work". Another reason that Milligan wouldn't have liked his biography is that he emerges as an anti-social depressive. Rude, callous and egocentric, he threatened to kill two of his closest colleagues. The cliché "comic genius" was hung round his neck like an albatross, but Milligan said he would "have willingly forgone my fame and achievements" to be rid of depression. CH

Where You're at by Patrick Neate (BLOOMSBURY £7.99 (212pp))

A missionary zeal underlies this Cook's tour of hip hop. In New York, Neate is "disquieted" by the view of DJ Bobbito Garcia: "Hip hop is just about good music." For Neate, winner of the Whitbread Best Novel Award, hip hop is about revolution and social justice. "Where once you might be able to dismiss this as polemic, it now smells like prophecy." Dismayed by its appropriation by Sprite and MTV in the US, Neate pursues rap through Tokyo, Johannesburg and Rio. Articulate, intelligent and passionate, Neate writes brilliantly about the power and ubiquity of this street poetry, but in suggesting hip-hop may effect social change, his heart rules his head. CH

The Future of Freedom by Fareed Zakaria (NORTON £9.99 (295pp))

In this important, highly readable analysis, Zakaria argues that the shibboleth of democracy often has "a dark side". In Russia, the liberal autocrat Putin has produced an illiberal democracy by stifling opposition - but what happens when he goes? In India, massive corruption has undermined democracy. Zakaria notes that autocratic Arab rulers are "more liberal, tolerant and pluralistic than what would likely replace them." Zakaria quotes Paddy Ashdown on Bosnia: "In retrospect, we should have put the establishment of the rule of law first." CH

The Taxi Driver's Daughter by Julia Darling (PENGUIN £7.99 (264pp))

Darling's award-winning second novel tells the tale of a taxi driver who's bored and frustrated by a life that was only ever meant to be provisional. After his wife is sent to prison for stealing a shoe, he finds himself in (baffled) sole charge of his teenage daughters. As he watches his life, and family, unravel, he wishes he could send Caris, the younger one, to one of those "places in America for troublesome teenagers". Part comedy of (working-class) manners and part urban fairy tale, it's a funny and touching glimpse into the world of an ordinary man who's both inarticulate and emotionally inept. A delightfully fresh and quirky read. CP

The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa (VINTAGE £6.99 (280pp))

Deftly shaped, subtly written, this novel by a young Paris-based Chinese emigrée who writes in French (and has a first-rate translator, Adriana Hunter) carves grace and beauty out of a time of terror. In occupied 1930s Manchuria, a free-thinking Chinese girl and a Japanese officer spar and feint over long games of go. The novel resembles the game's "labyrinths", as rivals turn lovers in a secretive dance of desire and deception. That rarity: stylised fiction that's never cold or abstract. BT

My Sister's a Barista by John Simmons (CYAN £7.99 (188pp))

This blithe tale of "how they made Starbucks a home from home" gives the view from inside a smiley, happy corporate bubble. Not a book for Klein or Monbiot fans, but Simmons still tells an eye-opening story of how a simple café brand found a warm place in the hearts of the yuppie masses. He shows how the coffee chain cleverly exploited a thirst for belonging in the lonely Friends generation. The result is, inevitably, a bland, feelgood brew, high on froth and free of bitterness. BT