SHELF LIFE

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The Independent Culture
2 Sick of books about the Sixties? And/or the Beatles? A Day In The Life by Mark Herts-gaard (Macmillan pounds 16.99) has a claim to distinction, at least - its author has had access to the pot of gold at the end of any flower-child's rain-bow - the "unmarked, triple-locked, police-alarmed" archives of the Abbey Road studios, which hold the raw tapes of every Beatles recording session in their eight years together. Given that the Fab Four put out only ten and a half hours of recorded music in toto, and that the Abbey Road hoard contains about 400 hours' worth, there was quite a lot of what Hertsgaard (for once without hyperbole) calls "the most valuable artefacts of 20th-century music". He uses the knowledge gleaned from these tapes throughout his thorough and lively book - not only to add to his extensive comment on the music, but also to fuel theories about that eternal problem of Beatlography, Why They Split. From half- heard snippets of conversation and throwaway remarks revealed by the tapes Hertsgaard concludes that John and Paul weren't on such bad terms after all; Yoko interfered even more than anyone thought; Harrison, Starr and McCartney were capable of playing brilliantly when Lennon wasn't even there. Hertsgaard is good on the bad behaviour behind the moptop cheeky-chappy image (in those days, the press told no tales), interesting if occasionally sentimental about the maternal deprivation both in Lennon's background and (differently) in McCartney's, excellent on the emotional nexus that made the foursome so richly creative.

2 The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women, Viking pounds 17. Uh-oh, it's the F-word! Fortunately, editors A Susan Williams and Richard Glyn Jones avoid the unicorn 'n' troll syndrome. Successful women's fantasy is more about revenge or subtle wish-fulfilment, though so intrinsically playful a genre is not just a vehicle for self-expression but a creative joy in its own right. Thus Daphne du Maurier reworks Celtic myth in her tale of aged lovers, amazingly transfigured in the final lines; Janet Frame's "Two Sheep" is a enigmatic fable; Margaret Atwood's "When It Happens" is the gripping, paranoid fantasy of a middle-aged woman alone at her kitchen table. Of the unknowns, Kit Reed's witty "Cynosure" is a brilliant satire on the houseproud. Less assured are the tales which barely warrant liberation from the sci-fi mags in which they were first published. The best are, in fact, not fantasy at all, but ghost stories, like Joan Aiken's creepy "Marmalade Wine". The sublime Leonora Carrington supplies both the handsome cover painting and a baffling story, "My Flannel Knickers".

2 We Can't Even March Straight by Edmund Hall, Vintage pounds 7.99. Hall writes from the heart - he was dismissed from the Navy after admitting his homosexuality - about gays in the British armed forces. His case studies detail the shame and distress of gay recruits once the service police swoop. Humiliating questions, demands for other names, searches and segregation follow accusation; why does the British attitude to homosexuality in the forces remain so obdurate, when other countries have relented? As Hall points out, lying about your health and age in order to get into the army has always been seen as heroic; why is lying about your sexuality to do the job you love so heinous? And what about the teenage recruits who don't necessarily know they are gay when they join up? A passionate plea for change and understanding.

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