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When I was still quite naive

Carly Simon’s memoir reveals her literary skills and her showdown with the mistress.

Carly Simon: turning out prose with grace and awareness. Photo/Getty Images
Carly Simon: turning out prose with grace and awareness. Photo/Getty Images

Rock star and songwriter (“You’re So Vain”) Carly Simon proves in BOYS IN THE TREES: A MEMOIR (Constable, $36.99) that she can turn out prose with as much grace and awareness as she writes lyrics – no surprise, perhaps, as she grew up in a literary household; her father a founder of publishers Simon & Schuster. This considered account covers only the first 30 years of her life: her musical career, her showbiz lovers and her turbulent marriage to fellow singer James Taylor. Simon’s description of an emotional showdown with her husband’s mocking mistress is especially memorable.

Baffled by China? So is Xu Zhiyuan, author of PAPER TIGER: INSIDE THE REAL CHINA (Head of Zeus, $34.99) – and he’s a Beijing native and a professional China watcher. In 80 short journalistic pieces, translated from Mandarin, he sketches a many-faceted, nuanced, surprising, occasionally frightening picture of a complex developing society and some of the forceful personalities in its ­driving seat. Most of the pieces originally appeared in Chinese publications outside mainland China; his ambivalence about his country’s ability to rein in its totalitarian regime explains why.

Architectural historian and tele­vision presenter Dan Cruickshank searches from Beijing to Berlin and from Sydney to Syria looking for buildings that illustrate the way humans tell their stories through what they build. A HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURE IN 100 BUILDINGS (Collins, $59.99) shows builders playing with numbers and proportions, experimenting with how to express their cultural viewpoint most succinctly. The bizarre Rushton Triangular Lodge in Northamptonshire (circa 1593), for example, appears to address Elizabethan fascination with occult lore and the power of the number three, while the Whangara wharenui (New Zealand’s sole featured example) tells not only its builders’ tribal history but also of the tribe’s relationship with the British royal family.

In her 100th year, Diana Athill is once again looking back on her life and pondering the realities of very old age in ALIVE, ALIVE OH! (Granta, $29.99). Sharp as a tack, she lulls readers along through marvellously described childhood memories, before sandbagging us with a chilling account of losing a mid-life pregnancy. Athill is never less than elegant and insightful; and whether she’s writing of love or sorrow, fashion or travel, Byron or Boswell, her unconventional wisdom is refreshing. Eschew romanticism and ­possessiveness, she advises, and your ­troubles will halve.

Concerned about the spread of varroa mite and worldwide colony collapse, filmmaker Markus Imhoof and nature writer Claus-Peter Lieckfeld join forces in MORE THAN HONEY: THE SURVIVAL OF BEES AND THE FUTURE OF OUR WORLD (Greystone Books/David Suzuki Institute, $29.99) to show us how human behaviour is affecting bee survival. Interviewing some of the people drawn to beekeeping and bee research (including in Australia), this also offers a snapshot glimpse of the US world of big bee business and its impact on hive health, along with a look at China’s hand-pollinating fruit growers. Can humanity survive without our pollinating friends? Some scientists believe we may be about to find out the hard way.NonFictionFollow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.