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Books: Leisure reading

'Five-Finger Discount'

By Helene Stapinski

Random House $23.95

Helene Stapinski's memoir begins on an August evening in Jersey City, N.J., when she was 5 years old. She and her cousin Geri were playing with Barbie dolls in her parents' kitchen when they heard sirens. Presently her Grandfather Beansie was arrested outside their front door with a gun in his hand. He had come to kill the family.

Stapinski wraps up the family biography a few decades later with a description of the arrest of her favorite cousin, Geri. Stapinski remembers being glad to be rid of her grandfather, but seeing her cousin arrested made her truly sad.

Jersey City was a tough place to grow up, and Stapinski's family was as tough as anybody's in town. The reader is blessed because Stapinski chose a career in journalism rather than crime — though the career has not been easy for her. Stapinski's relatives continue to present her with ethical dilemmas and gifts of stolen goods. — Susan Whitney


By John Banville

Knopf, $23

This novel is about Alexander Cleave, a famous actor who suffers the actor's traditional nightmare — he freezes onstage in mid-performance — "cold sweat, mute helpless fish-mouths, the works." Offstage, he discovers he no longer knows the lines of everyday life either. His self has gone away and been replaced by other selves who show up beside him or inside him.

Banville, the Irish author of 12 novels, is once again dealing with a favorite topic for him — the illusiveness of identity.

Cleave retreats to his childhood home, where there was no audience, in an effort to get in touch with himself. There he faces numerous apparitions and tries desperately to understand them. This book demonstrates the indisputable fact that Banville is a unique author. — Dennis Lythgoe

'William Henry Jackson'

By Elwood P. Bonney, edited by Lloyd W. Gundy

Colorado Historical Society, $12.95

This remarkable little volume, available both in hardcover ($24.95) and soft cover ($12.95), is actually Elwood P. Bonney's diary descriptions of the great pioneer artist and photographer, William Henry Jackson. The 90-year-old Jackson traded stories with old-timers who met at the Explorers Club and the adventurers' Club in New York City, where he met Elwood P. Bonney in 1932.

From then on, Bonney kept a journal of Jackson's recollections and accomplishments. Jackson was an especially interesting man whose life and work spanned the development and transformation of the West, from the 1860s to World War II. The book includes full-color images of Jackson's paintings and black-and-white illustrations of the distinguished photographer's last years. — Dennis Lythgoe