PARENTING MADE DIFFICULT. By Phil Hogan. Piccadilly pound;8.99.

Reading this collection of Phil Hogan's Observer columns from the front line of fatherhood, you suspect Hogan must be a closet teacher. Certainly, he's got the world-weariness down to a fine art and he seems to go on a lot of school outings.

It could be that over the five years of the column, his experiences of confronting children with nature, history or culture have regularly made good copy (there are also several agonising accounts of his visits to museums and outdoor learning experiences with his own four children) or that he is simply a parent who is sometimes free on schooldays and whose arm is easily twisted.

Much of what he says about family life - the chaos, the exhaustion, the rapidly disappearing money - could be said of teaching, but his anguished account of choosing a secondary school while football is on TV ("I'd settle for any temple of learning that combines non-brutal teaching methods with a commitment to providing first-class parking for visiting parents") is firmly in the voice of the parent.

His son plumps for the school with the "forward-looking ethos of mutual respect, sporting excellence and love of learning" that also permits hair gel.

Piccadilly Press, which commissioned Louise Rennison's Angus, Thongs series after spotting her in the Evening Standard magazine, has picked up another funny writer from the lifestyle sections. The snapshots of Hogan's heroes read well in sequence and have more immediacy and wit than much "new dad" fiction. It doesn't seem like five years.

OUT OF IT. By Stuart Walton. Penguin pound;6.99.

Where's the "community of ostracised smokers" in your school? Both of them, that is: teachers and pupils. They might enjoy lighting up over this controversial history of intoxicating substances and the moral, medical and social opposition to them.

The account is unashamedly biased (after all, Walton is a wine writer) and argues for the individual's right to choose abuse of tobacco, caffeine, solvents, chocolate and worse. It even seems that heroin addiction was not a complete disaster for Janis Joplin, although Walton does admit that when she died at 27, she looked more like 50.

This book is worth reading for its honest speculation on the appeal of intoxicants, and how and why people become addicted to them.


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