6th June 1997 at 01:00
Occasionally, even reviewers must apologise. Last November, I lauded the appearance of Everyman's Poetry (Dent), a series of slim but handsome Pounds 1 selections. On the same page, I noted that Wordsworth editions of similar poets were good value at Pounds 2. The second tranche of the Everyman Poetry Library has just appeared at, yes, Pounds 2 a volume.

So: sorry if the price hike was in any way my fault. But they're still worth the money in that they offer concise introductions and succinct notes as well as balanced samplers of the various poets. Of particular interest in this batch are new (and quite racy) translations by T J Reed and David Cram of Heinrich Heine's ironic verse plus a selection from Alexander Pushkin. There are also handy collections of Four Metaphysical Poets (Donne, Herbert, Vaughan and Marvell - the latter also getting a volume to himself) and The Bront s (including Branwell). Other volumes are devoted to Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen, Lord Byron, John Clare and Henry VIII's tutor, John Skelton.

Another noteworthy feature of the paperback scene has been the recent crop of theatrical biographies. Pre-eminent among them is Anthony Cronin's comprehensive (600-page) Samuel Beckett: the Last Modernist (Flamingo Pounds 8.99). Given Beckett's passion for secrecy, Cronin has produced a remarkably detailed and entertainingly anecdotal story.

It is not too surprising to find his life was peppered with drinking bouts and brothel visits, nor even to hear he claimed to have pre-natal memories. What really startle are descriptions of him driving through the Paris rush hour without his glasses, cracking jokes (well, one joke) while watching cricket at Lords and his lifelong fixation on buttocks.

This is supremely a biography, not literary criticism. That said, no student of the texts will be able to ignore it, while (for its part) it makes you want to re-read the plays and other prose works.

Exactly the same judgment could be made of Michael Coveney's The World According to Mike Leigh (HarperCollins Pounds 6.99). But Coveney eschews Cronin's objective style. This is very much a celebration - not that there is anything wrong with that. The creator of such seminal works as Abigail's Party, Nuts in May and Secrets and Lies deserves a celebration. But I'd like to have heard far more details of his creativity rather than debates about whether the dreadful Beverley (in Abigail's Party) would buy her frocks at CA, Richard Shops or Miss Selfridge.

Equally excellent theatrical craftsmen, Coward and Rattigan (the latter once tagged "the new Coward") do not excite the academic respect Leigh is granted. Hard to imagine their Shaftesbury Avenue fare being revered in the lecture hall - yet they were both master practitioners. Philip Hoare's Noel Coward: a Biography (Mandarin Pounds 7.99) is comprehensive and impartial; Geoffrey Wansell's Terence Rattigan: a Biography (Fourth Estate Pounds 8.99) is stylish and absorbing. Lovely stories link the two men. When a press photographer snapped Coward kissing Rattigan, the latter was alarmed people would think they were having an affair. "Why not?" said Coward. "It's perfectly legal, very suitable and considering our combined ages, extremely unlikely."

Just too utterly different is Cyberpunk by St Jude, R U Sirius, and Bart Nagel (Arrow Pounds 6.99). Ideal for those who can't tell technopagans from neohippies (and want to), it is a faker's guide to cyberspace, terminally hip widgets and netiquette. "Don't be afraid of asking stupid questions. It's what the Internet is for." It will also be useful for parents who find that all they know about their daughter's boyfriend is that his address is slimeskull@blacknet. com.

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