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Language Wars

Henry Hitchings (John Murray)

In this latest tome to dip a toe into the vexed question of language, Henry Hitchings proposes a truce in the ongoing war against the slapdash instigated by the likes of Lynn Truss and Simon Heffer. I'm all for correctness, me (or is it I?) but some of us might allow ourselves a wry smile at the suggestion that there is more to this than the correct use of the apostrophe.

Death and the Maidens

Janet Todd (Profile)

Now that our ritual swooning is out of the way for another year, Janet Todd's cold look at the shenanigans that accompanied the Shelley/Byron axis attempt at free love should act as a suitable emetic. It was the women who seemed to come out worst leaving a legacy of infant death, madness, and suicide: Shelley merely drowned.

Jamie's Monster

Bake Sale Jamie Oliver (Penguin)

Jamie's messianic leanings seem to know no bounds these days, now embracing the education system, but has he reached that point which is the equivalent of doing weird things with Yoko Ono and stopping being a Beatle? This little sideplate to his current bestseller is surely where we prefer him - and £2.50 of cost goes to comic relief.

The Grass Arena

John Healy (Penguin)

John Healy's extraordinary story of alcoholism and redemption through chess has been picked up by Penguin after Healy's very public falling out with another well-known publishing house. Graphic, but never less than honest, it's a street level account of an often murky world.


David Leigh/ Luke Harding (Guardian)

One has to watch one's Ps and Qs here, given Mr Assange's parlous legal state, and the Americans' tendency to lapse into extraordinary rendition mode over this subject, so suffice to say, here is the story of the year, told by the paper that broke it.

Queen Elizabeth: The Queen Mother

William Shawcross (Pan)

The current Mrs Tim Burton may have got the walk and the talk but surely cannot match the hauteur and the occasional right of bonkers political leanings, revealed by William Shawcross in this entertaining biography.

White Egrets

Derek Walcott

Like Heaney, Derek Walcott has reached a position of seniority in his art. Also like Heaney, his themes of nature, death and grief, plus his nation's colonial legacy, strike a chord here. Poets seem to gather stature with age and Walcott is a prime example of this, plus a worthy winner of the T S Eliot prize.

Michael Conaghan

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From Belfast Telegraph