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The Good Book A C Grayling (Bloomsbury)

The idea of a secular Bible might be offensive to some but to philosopher A C Grayling the idea of gathering the best ideas from the best sources has been a long-term project. All holy books are marred by lapses into irrational prejudices or atavistic practices such as, say, stoning adulterers. For Grayling, as it perhaps should be for the rest of us, sweet reason is all.

Family Values Wendy Cope (faber)

With Wendy Cope you can bet that any family values described will be of the dysfunctional variety and in her latest collection the shibboleths of the traditional family, such as Christmas, receive a hammering, like the toys in Christmas Ornaments which are obliterated by mice. It's also a revealing collection, wryly confessional."Some older girls decided that I used too many long words,'' she recalls of the bullying seniors in Boarders.

Untold Story Monica Ali (Doubleday)

Weddings, like funerals, hold an irresistible attraction for unwelcome sprites. One can imagine a sighing wraith among the celebrants at the forthcoming nuptials of Wills and Kate. Monica Ali posits a 'what if' that imagines a Diana still among us, though reinvented, Reggie Perrin-like, with a fake identity, after an abortive drowning attempt.

Letters of Rosa Luxemburg Rosa Luxemburg( Verso)

Capitalism is perhaps fortunate that Germany never had the socialist revolution that Marx, for instance, had predicted for it. Instead, it fell to backward Russia with its almost feudal structure to destroy the notion of Communism as an option. Had she succeeded, would Rosa Luxemburg have been an avatar of a new world or just another Stalin? Fate decreed that she failed and died young, remaining the Left's Joan of Arc.

Nocturne James Attlee (Penguin)

In the style of Sarah Maitland's recent tome on silence comes an equally meditative piece, inspired by a walk in Cornwall which revealed to the author the beauty of a harvest moon. From that evening he begins a journey, both physical and spiritual, into the lunar experience.

Life and Laughing Michael McIntyre (Penguin)

We are so used to the notion of the neurotic figure behind the clown that it comes as something of a disappointment to come across somebody as reasonably well-adjusted as Michael McIntyre. It helps that he hails from a showbiz background of course - his mother was a dancer, and his father used to write for Kenny Everett. His main challenge seems to be remaining likeable in the face of huge success.

The Popes John Julius Norwich (Chatto)

Not a book about the band that Shane MacGowan briefly formed after stumbling out of The Pogues but rather a potted history of the Papacy from Peter to Benedict XVI. A pretty rum lot some of them have been including, allegedly, one woman, though Norwich disappointingly concludes that there never was a 'Pope Joan'.

Michael Conaghan


From Belfast Telegraph