Paperbacks: Who the Hell's in It?<br/>A Chance Meeting<br/>Gold Warriors<br/>Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader<br/>Mary Magdalen<br/>Selected Poems<br/>The Blind Rider

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The Independent Culture

Who the Hell's in It? By Peter Bogdanovich (FABER £9.99 (528pp))

Though he occasionally tends towards the hagiographic ("Audrey Hepburn was an inspiration to artistry"), Bogdanovich's portraits of 25 movie greats are revealing and perceptive. Blessed with a keen ear, this Hollywood insider brings the stars vividly to life. Here's James Stewart on the early days of the Oscars: "It was just alawta friends gettin' together. I mean it was swell if ya won but it didn't mean this big deal at the bawx office." And Cary Grant's advice about how to behave on a platform: "Never eat... because they take photographs of you all the time, and they'll get one of you with your mouth open, full of food, and that's the one they'll use." The profile of Bogart is a valuable corrective to the recent cult. "As many people hated him as loved him," the director Nunnally Johnson recalls. Though an "arrogant bastard", Bogie emerges as funny and brave in his final illness. We learn that John Wayne was fond of cussing ("Jeez, isn't it too bad you can't talk like this in pictures?") and that Marlene Dietrich would be a good recruit for the pro-smoking lobby: "I stopped 10 years ago and I've been miserable ever since." Reading this book is the next best thing to seeing these giants on screen. "Yeah," mused Cary Grant. "You could park a car in my nostril." CH

A Chance Meeting, by Rachel Cohen (VINTAGE £8.99 (363pp))

This lively, clever book is sui generis: 36 chapters, each dealing with a single relationship, form a chain of connections running through American culture from Henry James to Norman Mailer. Here is William Dean Howells writing to Mark Twain: "The smoke and the Scotch and the late hours nearly kill us... but what a glorious time." And Gertrude Stein inspired by the poet and dandy Carl Van Vechten: "A touching white inlined ruddy hurry". Cohen is an adroit, engagingly acerbic guide to the couplings, bust-ups and knifings (see Mailer) of American literature. CH

Gold Warriors, by Sterling & Peggy Seagrave (VERSO £8.99 (365pp))

The authors begin their fact-packed chunk of a book with a chill warning: "If we are murdered, readers will have no difficulty figuring out who 'they' are." Deep waters. Their yarn concerns a vast hoard of Japanese gold hidden in the Philippines during the war, which was allegedly used by America to fund bribery and insurgency. The narrative includes entombment of slave workers, a psychic, CIA spooks and a one-ton gold Buddha. Fanciful stuff, perhaps, especially when the authors cite "compliant UK journalists" and the "incestuous relationship" between the US and the UK. That can't be true, can it? CH

Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader Ed. Benjamin Hedin (NORTON £9.99 (336pp))

This eclectic compendium ranges from Dylanesque rhymes by Ginsberg to 18 pages on "Self Portrait" by Greil Marcus (terse for him). Though Dylan declares "Songwriting, any idiot could do it", the book is freighted with much litcrit, including an uncharacteristically turgid critique by Clive James. Christopher Ricks's specious analysis of "All I Really Want To Do" (" 'Finalize' gets its pouncing power not just from being a word that was American before English") is hilarious in its utter wrong-headedness. CH

Mary Magdalen, by Susan Haskins (PIMLICO £8.99 (518pp))

Though the few, brief references to Mary Magdalen in the New Testament "yield an inconsistent, even contradictory vision", she has become an iconic and ubiquitous figure. Haskins explores how female sexuality, as represented by Mary Magdalen, has been characterised and manipulated by the Church from its earliest days. Pursuing her subject through theology and art over the millennia, from the Gnostic association of women with sexuality and evil to the sexually-charged images of Eric Gill, Haskins concludes that the "true Mary Magdalen" remains a "figure of independence, courage, action, faith and love." CH

Selected Poems, by Sharon Olds (CAPE £12 (148pp))

If Robert Lowell was the king of confessional poetry, Sharon Olds is surely its queen. For more than 25 years she has been writing poetry of startling, visceral intensity about love, sex, death and the pains and animal pleasures of family life. Here are poems of breathtaking candour, redeemed by a tender vulnerability that feels like truth. Fiery, moving, passionate and highly controlled, this is poetry to savour. CP

The Blind Rider, by Juan Goytisolo (SERPENT'S TAIL £8.99 (112pp))

Spain's boldest novelist has lived for years in Marrakech, a city glimpsed throughout this eerie novella-cum-elegy. The ageing narrator, who recalls his revolt against Franco's tyranny and the loss of the one woman he loved, shares the author's career. Yet this haunting meditation on love, time and mortality (in Peter Bush's translation) moves beyond memoir. A dream-like last trip to the Atlas mountains blurs the edges of life and death. BT