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By Anton Graham

I buy only paperback books. I see no point spending more money for the privilege of lugging more weight and bulk around for the same degree of enlightenment. And if, like me, you do a lot of your reading on subways and in taxis, the fact that you can’t thrust a hardback into your pocket clinches the matter.

The downside of paperbacks, though, is that hardbacks come out much faster, sometimes appearing several months before their slimmer, thriftier twins. I often find I have the hots for a book when it first appears, but by the time I spot it in paperback, I couldn’t care less. There are also those, needless to say, which are worth waiting for.

THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES by Tom Wolfe is definitely one, although at 700-plus pages, it only rates as a pocket book during winter (bigger coat pockets). If you want to know what it’s like to be rich and still reasonably young in New York City in the late 1980s. this is the book to read. Wolfe explains persuasively how it is ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE to survive on less than one million dollars a year, and to live in anything less than a 2.6 million dollar apartment on Park Avenue.

The best parts of the book are a series of word pictures, particularly about the life and thinking of ageing yuppies such as our hero Sherman McCoy, a “Master of the Universe” — that is, a bond dealer on Wall Street, whose career and world disintegrate when a traffic accident brings him into contact with the real world.

The book would have been twice as good if an editor had been allowed to chop 200 pages out of it. But of course, who dares fiddle with the immortal prose of Mr Wolfe? The storyline is about as gripping and complex as an episode of Miami Vice, and the ending is … inconclusive, shall we say. But it’s still a great read.

Those words don’t apply so readily to another book which has been jockeying for top position on the best-selling chart for most of the past year – Stephen Hawking’s A BRIEFING HISTORY OF TIME. The cover promises to reveal the answers to such questions as How Did The Universe Begin? and What Will Happen When It All Ends? Hawking, confined to a wheelchair and only able to talk through a computer, suggests that in fact the universe may be curved like the inside of a ball, with no beginning or end either in space or time, an idea which has interesting implications for those with a religious bent.

“If the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simpy be. What place, then, for a creator?” he asks.

Hawking is clearly one of the most brilliant human beings alive and he makes a valiant attempt to explain the secrets of the universe as they are currently understood to ordinary mortals. I got lost early on in the discussion of the Theory of Relativity, but as a science fiction fan from way back, I was at least pleased to find he believes there was a theoretical basis to the idea of time travel.

Who framed Roger Rabbit was a knock-out movie, yes? Well, it was based on a book called WHO CENSORED ROGER RABBIT? by one Gary Wolf, no E and no apparent relation to Tom either genetically or stylistically. It was recently re-issued to coincide with the released of the movie, and I can report that it is one of the cleverest and most amusing detective novels on recent years. The story is a little different from that of the movie, but the basic ideas — particularly the concept of cartoon characters leading their own existences alongside humans — come from this book. Check it out. One evening on the Marunouchi Line, I was reading Jackie Collins’ latest pot-boiler ROCK STAR when I looked up and saw a man next to me reading a lurid Japanese comic. It struck me that Jackie Collins is the english-language equivalent of Manga. The formula is simple – rich, successful people having it away with a succession of other rich, successful people. It’s so easy to read, the pages almost turn themselves, and the characters are as lifelike as those in Dynasty, home of Jackie’s sister, Joan. That’s not saying much, of course, but it’s diverting in small doses.

Spike Milligan, creator of the Goon Show radio comedy classics nearly 40 years ago, has produced his first novel in ages, called THE LOONEY. For anyone who loved the radio mayhem he produced, this is in effect the latest Goon Show script with a slightly different cast of characters. The silly voices still fit.

Milligan’s talent for brilliant, ridiculous puns has remained intact through the years, although there is a slightly hysterical tone to The Looney which wasn’t evident in the Goons – almost as if he has to keep cracking jokes to stave off insanity.

Among other things, he has his own answer to the questions posed by Professor Hawking: “In the beginning,” Milligan says, “God created heaven and earth with, it would appear, Irish labour.”

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