Paperbacks:Among the Bohemians<br></br>Feast<br></br>Mick & Keith<br></br>The Future of the Past<br></br>How to Cure a Hangover<br></br>Dot in the Universe<br></br>My Fellow Skin

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The Independent Culture

Among the Bohemians by Virginia Nicholson (PENGUIN £8.99 (362pp))

At the start of this anecdote-packed panorama of prewar Bohemianism, Nicholson notes that social rebellion was a braver choice then than now because it often involved real poverty. The "borrowing" of cash from acquaintances was commonplace among artists, though few took it as far as Wyndham Lewis. "Where's the fucking stipend?" he reminded a benefactor. The advantages of Bohemianism included a new liberty over sex in word and deed. Lytton Strachey's famous query over a stain on Virginia Woolf's dress ("Semen?") is, despite recent Presidential associations, still beyond the bounds.

Nicholson's survey tackles topics ranging from education (the construction of fireworks and the distilling of cherry brandy were taught at the Rousseauesque school Beacon Hill) to travel. Life in a Mr Toad-style gypsy caravan was essayed by both Augustus John (his children caught whooping cough and his horses died) and, more briefly, Evelyn Waugh (he got drunk). We learn about the intermittent feasts and dances favoured by the Bohemians. One observer insisted: "Whoever has not seen Ezra Pound kicking up heels in a highly personal Charleston... has missed one of the spectacles that reconcile us to life." CH

Feast by Roy Strong (PIMLICO £9.99 (349pp))

Though its considerable learning is better digested in small portions than at one sitting, Sir Roy Strong's disquisition on dining is packed with interest. It is intriguing to learn that the absurd tradition of the ladies departing from the table after dinner dates from Greek times and that forks were popularised in post-Renaissance Italy, not for reasons of hygiene but as a mark of social distinction. The invention of the dinner party, claims Sir Roy, killed off the feast. "Everything since... is little more than a footnote." CH

Mick & Keith by Chris Salewicz (ORION £8.99 (406pp))

Arguably, the Stones are better to read about than to listen to. In Salewicz's enjoyable if fragmentary portrait, they emerge as exciting, dangerous and unconsciously risible. How delightful to learn that Keith Richards once attributed the endless series of blazes associated with him to "spontaneous combustion" (he was born under the fire sign of Sagittarius). Despite his ferocious attention to detail, Salewicz compresses the last 25 years into 50 pages. The impression, not entirely unjustified, is that the Stones haven't done much of note since 1977. CH

The Future of the Past by Alexander Stille (PICADOR £7.99 (340pp))

A collection of reports about the dangers inherent in archaeology and the inadequacy of preservation may not sound the most irresistible of volumes, but Stille has a great nose for a story. He suggests that we are more interested in New Age twaddle about Egyptian antiquities than preventing them crumbling. Water vapour from visitors is eating away the Great Pyramid. In China, ancient archaeological findings are being displayed in an underground Museum of the Tombs. "A disaster," says Stille. CH

How to Cure a Hangover by Salvatore Calabrese (LITTLE BOOKS £6.99 (160pp))

The presiding genius of the Lanesborough Hotel Bar attempts "to make amends for some of the excesses I feel responsible for". Before drinking, it is wise to eat something, though the suggestion of silicol gel implies a premeditation rare in the drinker. Afterwards, "two pints of water, if you can find the tap," wrote Jeff Bernard, who knew about such things. Calabrese's 60-odd revivers range from the alcohol-free Prairie Oyster to the Suffering Bastard, combining Angostura, gin, brandy, lime juice and ginger ale. It worked. CH

Dot in the Universe by Lucy Ellmann (BLOOMSBURY £6.99 (199pp))

"Love, like defecation, is never a settled matter" says Lucy Ellmann in her most eccentric and lovable novel so far. When her "lovely HUBby" shacks up with a porn star, Dot confronts the fact that she is, like all of us, but a dot in an indifferent universe. After committing suicide, she finds herself in an underworld full of bureacracy and body fluids. A delightful, touching and extremely funny glimpse into the void. CP

My Fellow Skin by Erwin Mortier trans Ina Rilke (HARVILL £9.99 (200pp))

The Flemish Erwin Mortier won golden opinions for Marcel, and his second novel again presents the misery and glory of youth with a sculptural polish and precision. Its narrator, Anton, finds an escape-route from his stifling home life in rapt devotion to a classmate, Willem. Yet loss will shadow love while a pitless God "held our souls up to the light as if they were holiday slides". Ina Rilke translates the pin-sharp prose with tact and taste. BT