Paperbacks

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Jazz by Toni Morrison, Picador pounds 5.99. Set in Harlem in the Twenties, the time when the powerful mythology of black urban life began, this is a seething love-story and death-story. Morrison's prose is as sinuous and energetic as ever, but carefully channelled (more so than in Beloved) into the interplay of past and present on which the book depends.

Peter Pears: A Biography by Christopher Headington, Faber pounds 9.99. Not just the individual biography of an unusual tenor, but a detailed picture of the intricate (some say incestuous) British music scene of the post-war years. Pears's claim to fame rests not only in his own performances but in his role as inspiration to Benjamin Britten, his long-time companion; this book does justice to both facets of his life.

Dunedin by Shena Mackay, Penguin pounds 5.99. A novel which opens in New Zealand and promises to be a family saga, but is chiefly the story of a brother and sister living in present-day London. Comedy, drama, acerbic observation, and a hint of madness - but the most engaging thing is the treatment of the city itself.

Gertrude and Alice by Diana Souhami, Pandora pounds 9.99. Portrait of a remarkable marriage. Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas were inseparable for almost 40 years, and their salons at the rue de Fleurus were a pivot for the bohemian and artistic life of Paris. Man Ray and Cecil Beaton photographed them; Hemingway and Paul Bowles were among the writers who described them. An ebullient and unusual biography.

Ulverton by Adam Thorpe, Minerva pounds 5.99. A downland village in Berkshire is the setting for this novel's linked narratives - a shepherd in 1650, a woman writing letters in 1742, a squire in 1914, a television film in 1988 - evoking lives in an English landscape. Some found it turgid, others a tragi-comic masterpiece.

Race by Studs Terkel, Minerva pounds 6.99. Josephine, a middle-class black: 'Everybody has to put somebody down. It's a human failing.' CP, ex-Klan member: 'When the news came over the radio that Martin Luther King was assassinated . . . we had a real party, really rejoicin' 'cause that sonafobitch was dead.' Mamie, whose son was murdered by whites: 'Strange thing to say, but I haven't spent one night hating those people.' A hubbub of voices reflecting on racism in the US, brought forth by an artful, impassioned interviewer, who at 80 is just warming to his task.

Danger Is My Business by Lee Server, Chronicle Books pounds 10.99. An illustrated history of the 'pulps': cheap and garish periodicals (above) that swept America in the first 50 years of this century. Their lurid graphics paraded across sci-fi, romance, detective fiction, Wild West, adventure and horror, and proved a cradle for writers and characters who stood the test of time: Tarzan, Sam Spade, Conan the Barbarian; Dashiell Hammett, Edgar Rice Borroughs, Ray Bradbury. A compulsive pop-cultural study.

The Absolution Game by Paul Sayers, Sceptre pounds 5.99. 'Let me first say that I did not embark on this life with the intention of killing anyone,' reads the opening sentence of this study of a social worker's slow decline and crack-up. Psychologically convincing portrait not just of do-gooding Bob going wrong but of other 'weak and mixed-up' lives at the edge.

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