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Beloved Chicago Man: Letters to Nelson Algren 1947-64 by Simone de Beauvoir

Phoenix pounds 14.99

Simone de Beauvoir, the original feminist (in theory at least), met the hard man of social realism, Nelson Algren, while on a lecture tour of Chicago in 1947. He bravely took the exalted intellectual on an alternative tour of the city's slums, and his down- to-earth seduction clearly worked a treat, because for the next 20 years de Beauvoir was deluging him with billets doux that tracked the rugged course of their volatile love affair. The most interesting aspect of this one-sided correspondence is de Beauvoir's unguarded nastiness - her women friends are known as the Jew, the Cancerous Girl and the Ugly Woman - and the Ricard-infused vignettes of cafe society.

The Tribes of

Palos Verdes by Joy Nicholson

Penguin pounds 6.99

Medina Mason does not fit into the California scene. At 14, she is the outsider at school and on the beach where the boys pose with a spliff and a surfboard, and the cosmetically enhanced girls are known as "towels" because they sit on them, displaying their perfect, bikini- clad bodies. Medina's handsome brother, Jim, does fit in, so, since her parents are entrenched in marital warfare, Medina takes to the waves with him. First-time novelist Joy Nicholson deploys precocious psychological acuity in depicting the respective deterioration of her teenagers' states of mind, in beautifully deft, emotionally drained prose. Very much in the tradition of J D Salinger, this is a moving rites-of-passage story of a gifted teenager who takes solace from nature.

Phantoms in the Brain: Human Nature and the Architecture of the Mind by VS Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee

Fourth Estate pounds 8.99

Do not be put off by the alarmingly hagiographic foreword by Oliver Sacks; Ramachandran is a genuinely sincere popular scientist who looks to Galileo and Michael Faraday for literary inspiration. Which is to say that he writes with an idiomatic flair unusual in Professors of Cognition. The most entertaining section (notwithstanding the dreadful jokes) is an excursion into evolutionary psychologists' treatment of laughter, in which he treats the arbitrariness of certain theories to solid scientific scrutiny and ends up laughing at everyone's expense. But the fruit of his researches into anosognosia will have a wider philosophical bearing for readers who access the mysteries of life through poetry and religion.

Leave Before You Go by Emily Perkins

Picador pounds 6.99

Prize-winning short-story writer Emily Perkins received a lot of attention for her first novel. In it, she extrapolates on the theme that gives her stories such clout - the disaffection and rootlessness of urban yoof. The short-story format is ideally suited to the deadpan treatment Perkins delivers, which is why she has captured readers' and critics' imaginations; her dialogue sizzles and her characters' aimless lives are briefly rendered and to the point. But when translated into novel form, their capacity to drift into meaningless relationships leaves the reader feeling fatigued by the hopelessness of it all. So we meet Daniel in a London bedsit, and Kate in a New Zealand cinema; they meet, they get it on, and life happens all around them.

Miles Davis:

The Definitive Biography by Ian Carr

HarperCollins pounds 8.99

Distinguished jazz critic Ian Carr published this biography of the jazz legend in his own jam session in 1982. The subsequent publication of Davis's autobiography, written in his special brand of vernacular ("that black shit that black men talk"), and the great motherfucker's death in 1991, meant that an update was essential. In social terms, Davis was fiercely conscious of the black-white divide, and constantly trying to alienate his WASP fans who, ever resilient, went on to dig him deeper and deeper. Carr provides illuminating analytical insight into the music, and an authoritative overview of his career, but for insight into the man, no one tells it better than Davis.