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S. Bailey "will work for books" (London)

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How to Buy, Sell, and Profit on eBay: Kick-Start Your Home-Based Business in Just Thirty Days
How to Buy, Sell, and Profit on eBay: Kick-Start Your Home-Based Business in Just Thirty Days
by Adam Ginsberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars For absolute beginners only, 25 Mar. 2007
The subtitle of Adam Ginsberg's book promises to tell you "how to kick start your home-based business in thirty days". I'd argue with this: a more accurate title might be "how to stop selling off your own old tat and actually start running a business on eBay some time in the next few months". If you've sold a few things of your own and are really looking to turn that into a business, this book might be useful for you, but if you're already running a business, online or otherwise, you probably know most of this very basic stuff without needing to read a book.

There's very little here that you couldn't figure out from the eBay help pages and your own common sense, but yet some of it manages to be downright dangerous. Mr Ginsberg's comments on international postage, that you might like to "choose" whether to send goods as gifts or not, fail to mention that declaring merchandise as a gift is, in fact, illegal. This is smuggling, not just a matter of personal choice!

If you want to read about trading on eBay, I'd suggest you choose Dan Wilson's books instead.

by Nicholson Baker
Edition: Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cute, 17 Mar. 2007
This review is from: Vox (Paperback)
A man and a woman meet on an adult chat-line. They discuss their sexual fantasies. They might speak again, there again, they might not.

This is kind of cute, kind of funny, kind of sexy but not very, certainly not pornographic. Read it once, on your own, just in case there are any bits that really do turn you on; then read it again on public transport, watch who's watching you: a fun game to play :-)

Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking: Be a Happy Non-smoker for the Rest of Your Life
Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking: Be a Happy Non-smoker for the Rest of Your Life
by Allen Carr
Edition: Paperback

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I can't believe how easy it is!, 17 Mar. 2007
I only read this to make a work colleague shut up. Like most people who smoke, I had a vague idea that I would give up one day... it just wasn't going to be today. I knew smoking was bad and gave you lung cancer and [fill in list of diseases here], and was a waste of money and made your teeth yellow. Hey, I *smoked*; I knew what a bad idea it was much better than the do-gooding non-smokers.

But I also knew what giving up was like: the irritability, the lack of concentration, the headaches, the bored, horrible, obsessive feeling with a little tube of dried plant that you could no longer put into your mouth and set fire to. And frankly, all the arguments in favour of giving up were as nothing to the sheer nightmare I knew it was going to be.

Then I read this book. Allen Carr also knows this stuff; he smoked 100 cigarettes a day for thirty years. Not only is this in itself a more impressive credential than being a pink-lunged doctor or psychologist, it means that he really does understand what it's like. From the point at the beginning where he says that on National No-Smoking Day, all smokers smoke twice as many, I knew this man was on to something. He knows that pictures of cancer-riddled lungs do not make smokers stop (just the opposite in fact, because the fear and stress make you reach for the packet again...)

The conventional language of 'giving up', i.e. making a sacrifice, shows the fear inherent in this process - a fear which the giving up industry does nothing to quash. Slogans like "Don't give up giving up" just left me wondering exactly how long I was supposed to go on suffering through lack of cigarettes. Patches and gum just replace the drug you normally take once an hour (or whatever) with a form where you take it constantly!!

Where Allen differs is that he deals with the psychological addiction first. To give up smoking, all you have to do is not smoke. But first you have to be convinced that you don't need to. And this is where this book is so good.

I'm not going to say much more about Carr's method, because you need to read the book. But - for me - the proof that this works is that I began it with absolutely no intention of stopping at all, and finished it knowing that I was never going to smoke again.

That was six years ago. I haven't had a cigarette since. I've wanted some, yes; the first day was awful, mainly I think just due to the shock to my system because I'd read the book very fast, and so had also come to my decision to stop very fast. I've had what I used to call cigarette cravings too (there's a Pavlov's dog somewhere in my head that still jumps for a ciggie as I get off an aeroplane); I've made the interesting discovery that these are mainly caused by a desire to get away from the situation I'm in - and it's very interesting to start dealing with stuff straight away, rather than hiding with my drug for ten minutes first.

Buy it. Buy it TODAY. As Carr himself says, the worst that can happen is you'll just carry on smoking.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 13, 2010 1:38 PM BST

Resume with Monsters
Resume with Monsters
by William Browning Spencer
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious horror, 17 Mar. 2007
This review is from: Resume with Monsters (Paperback)
If H P Lovecraft had ever taken to writing Dilbert, this would have been the result. And if you've ever secretly suspected that your boss is the Mouth of Sauron or keeps a copy of the Necronomicon in their desk drawer, you will love this book.

Philip is writing a novel, a huge, uncontrollable saga that expresses the truth that only he will recognise: that the corporate America is run by dread Cthulu and his terrible race. Unfortunately, he has to take a succession of not-very-satisfying jobs to make ends meet while he does so. He also has to cope with a girlfriend who believes that Philip's nightmares and visions of tentacles from the black beyond are caused by his unhealthy obsession with his novel.

As Philip refuses to recognise that his novel is only fiction, Amelia leaves him for a promising career in MicroMeg, and he discovers to his horror that this is the portal into the nightmare world he has written about for so long. Philip's own colleagues too have lost their individual quirks, instead working placidly long into the night; and they seem to have strange symbols stamped on their wrists...

Philip sets out to rescue Amelia from the Pit, aided by the unorthodox therapist Lily Metcalf, who appears to believe his theories. Browning's sleight of hand here is masterful; we're never quite sure if the monsters are all in Philip's head, or whether they're alive and well and about to consume his girlfriend. Immensely enjoyable.

A Song Of Stone
A Song Of Stone
by Iain Banks
Edition: Paperback

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dull and boring, 16 Mar. 2007
This review is from: A Song Of Stone (Paperback)
If you don't like Iain Banks, don't bother with this book. If you do like Iain Banks, still don't bother with this book. It is the worst thing I have read for years, and the only reason I got through to the end was that I could not believe it wasn't going to get better. Believe me, it didn't.

All the familiar Banks themes are here: violence, sex, incest, castles and a vague Kafkaesque feeling that you might at some point find out what's happening. I was expecting a second Walking on Glass from the blurb. What I actually got was a pointless, plotless, formulaic collection of words that had nothing to say.

The story is set mid-war (what war? why war? no clues here), with the male narrator and his wife/sister (I think) having their castle taken over by a female lieutenant and her bunch of nasty yet characterless soldiers. I don't object to violence, I don't necessarily object to gratuitous violence, but I do very definitely object to dull violence like this book. What are you trying to do, Iain, prove that your readership are such a lot of sickos we'll keep reading even when there's no plot/characterisation/point to your books?

The sense of boredom with his own work that was starting to show in Complicity is alive and well here. Don't bother.

The Floating Brothel: The extraordinary true story of an 18th-century ship and its cargo of female convicts
The Floating Brothel: The extraordinary true story of an 18th-century ship and its cargo of female convicts
by Sian Rees
Edition: Paperback

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, moving, compelling story, 15 Mar. 2007
Sian Ree's first book is an incredible tale, fortuitously discovered, meticulously researched and delightfully written. Rarely is history quite so unputdownable as this.

In 1789, a ship carrying 240 female convicts set sail for the British colony in Sydney Cove, Australia, its dual purpose to help relieve the chronic overcrowding in English gaols, and to provide sex and a next generation for the largely male colony. The journey, which should have taken around five or six months, took a year.

During their time at sea, alliances formed amongst those on board: friendships and quasi-familial relationships between the women, and love affairs between the convicts and the crew. By the time the 'Lady Julian' reached Rio, a number of the women were due to give birth. Despite the titillating title, there's actually remarkably little sex in the book, with Rees preferring to concentrate upon daily life aboard ship, with all its deprivations and difficulties. And though an eighteenth century ship was probably never a pleasant place to be, we see how good sense and humanitarianism amongst its officers can make all the difference.

Rees' work is largely based on the memoir of John Nicol, the ship's steward and lover of the 'disorderly girl', Sarah Whitelam, supplemented with much contemporary documentation, as well as her own fertile imagination. Though I am not normally much of a fan of the 'it must have been...' school of history, it does work here, partly because Rees is so overt about what she's doing, and partly because her writing is so vivid.

No spoilers about the ending, but I think this is the first time a work of history has broken my heart. Recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 25, 2015 11:54 AM BST

The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World
The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World
by Roy MacLeod
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book lover's book, 15 Mar. 2007
The 'vanished' Library of Alexandria was one of the greatest cultural achievements of the ancient world. Comprising many thousands of scrolls of Egyptian, Greek, Hebrew and Mesopotamian learning, it drew the greatest scholars of its time, and its loss has been lamented ever since. The nine essays in this book examine various aspects of the founding and functioning of the Library, and are fascinating for the general reader as much as for the scholar.

This said, the essays will be of varying interest to any reader. I am not especially bothered about the methods of transmission of Aristotle's scientific works, or whether medical doctors held especial prestige within the Library. I am, on the other hand, very interested in the Mesopotamian antecedents of the Alexandrian library, and in a sort of travellers' guide to Ancient Alexandria, as well as in the legacy left by the institution, and all of these are more than amply covered here. And who can resist the charms of the final piece in the book, where John O. Ward considers the legacy left by Alexandria to the greatest medieval library that never existed, the one in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, which manages to be equally enlightening for both the fictional and the historical foundations.

The Man In The Ice
The Man In The Ice
by Konrad Spindler
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight into Stone Age culture and archaeological method, 15 Mar. 2007
This review is from: The Man In The Ice (Paperback)
In 1991, a body was discovered partially hidden in meltwater from an Austrian glacier. Initially thought to be a recent murder or accident victim, Konrad Spindler had the entirely enviable task of explaining to waiting journalists that this was in fact the remains of a 5000 year old man. It's his tendency to entirely justifiable theatrics that make his archaeology such fun to read.

Almost as interesting as the archaeology is the preliminary tale of the politics of possession. For those of us who've made our escape from academe and might regret it, it's always instructive to be reminded that scholars get so little cash or kudos that when an opportunity like this one comes along, it's not to be missed. Hence the ongoing battle for Ötzi the ice man between the Austrians and the Italians on the other side of the valley.

The middle third of the book provides an exhaustive catalogue and commentary on the items found in the vicinity of the body. Many of these are the sole relics of their type ever found; certainly as a group they are totally unique. The clothing in particular is fascinating; personally I think if I were wearing straw-stuffed boots and a grass cloak, up a mountain would not be my first choice of place to be.

So often we think of the Stone Age in such dead terms: cave pictures, a few crude tools, the remains of a rubbish dump. This is a chance (perhaps the only chance) to see these people in terms of humanity, in a living, breathing, functioning scenario. The final section of the book attempts to place the entire find into context, of what is known already of the Iceman's society, and of the more general conclusions which might be drawn from his evidence. Spindler is quick to point out that much of this is speculative, and subject to change: this is fortunate as subsequent reseach has shown that a piece of evidence for the cause of death from the body itself was overlooked for ten years.

This is a fascinating book, as much for its insights into archaeological methodology as Stone Age culture itself. Recommended.

Macbeth: Man and Myth
Macbeth: Man and Myth
by N.B. Aitchison
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Macbeth is a lot more interesting than this book, 15 Mar. 2007
This review is from: Macbeth: Man and Myth (Paperback)
Thanks to Shakespeare's Scottish Play, Macbeth is probably the most famous king in Scotland's history, yet little is known of him beyond the play itself. Aitchison sets out to recify that, examining historical and archaeological sources for the man and the context of his kingship, as well as the route by which an early mediaeval king came to personify evil itself.

The book can be divided into three sections, of which the first and largest is an analysis of the historical sources for Macbeth's life and what they tell us about his reign. The problem with this is aptly summed up by Aitchison, talking of "The Prophecy of Berchán":

...the Prophecy is fundamentally flawed as a historical source, [but] an alternative interpretation underlines its importance for the study of Macbeth... [p. 102]

This problem is the same across the entire skinny corpus of historical evidence. Eulogies from the king's own lifetime, chronicles written by his enemies years after his death, and foreign writings are about all we have, and it takes a skilled historian to build an accurate picture from them. Aitchison does a decent enough job of exploring the context of Macbeth's rise to the throne. In particular he manages to make sense of the relations between the descendents of Kenneth mac Alpin, and the system of tanistry whereby collateral branches of the family tree succeeded each other, bringing much needed explanation to Shakespeare's play, and emphasising in particular that Macbeth was not a usurper.

At times, however, Aitchison's sources threaten to get the better of him, and never is this more apparent than when he is discussing Orkneyinga Saga. While he notes the Saga's "distorted ordering of events [which] casts doubt on its historical reliability" (p. 5), he later relies on a close reading of some of the text for the sole support for his argument (pp. 56-7 and 70). Moreover, relying on a translation of Skaldic verse as evidence for anything historical (p. 58) is dangerous, and it is painfully obvious and all too frequently demonstrated that Aitchison has not (presumably cannot) read this major source in the original. Elsewhere his Latin is entirely taken from other people's translations(pp. 115, 116, 118-9) and he refers to a Middle English poem as being in the "Scots language" (p. 108). It's a shame to see things like this, because the main part of his argument is perfectly innocuous.

Moving on to more recent times, Aitchison then provides a comprehensive tally of Macbeth's literary appearances from the earliest extant chronicles, through Holinshead and Shakespeare, down to the twentieth century and various film versions of his life. The message here seems to be that toadying to the Stewart dynasty by vilifying the one interruption to their reign over Scotland was responsible for the beginning of the Macbeth myth, and that the versatility of that myth - presumably because the historical facts were so easily lost - ensured its survival. Shame to have no comparison with Richard III then.

The final section, on the archaeology of sites connected with Macbeth is excellent; it's a shame, then, that the considerations have to be so sketchy, as the continuity of habitation of most sites ensures that little if anything is left of the eleventh century structures.

I feel very strongly that I ought to have liked this book more than I did. I wanted very much to read it, and am perennially interested in this kind of subject matter. I'm used to ifs and maybes in history; inconclusive evidence is a delight to me. And there were parts of this that were incredibly interesting; the first chapter promises much, but then just never quite delivers. I think that the problem is that so often, Aitchison is dispassionate to the point of torpor; I never quite felt that he really cared about his subject matter. Nevertheless, for those who can stay awake, this - for the extensive bibliography alone - is probably an excellent introduction to a subject much more interesting than it seems to be here.

The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe
The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe
by Charles Nicholl
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incredible research but leaves too much unanswered, 15 Mar. 2007
In 1593, the brilliant playwright Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death in a tavern brawl in Deptford, London. The official record stated that this row was over the bill, or "recknynge". The truth, believes Nicholl, is much darker: a murder, by the shadowy agents of the Elizabethan secret service.

Nicholl's investigation rarely concerns itself with the playwright or his texts, instead beginning with the three men present at Marlowe's death. Ingram Frizer was a swindler and a loan-shark, who admitted the stabbing but claimed self-defense, and was acquitted with unusual, probably suspicious, speed just weeks later. Nicholas Skeeres was a government intelligence agent, probably paid by the Earl of Essex or his faction. And Robert Poley seems to have been the very epitome of a contemporary spy, double-dealing, double-crossing, trusted by nobody, listened to by all. Nicholl takes these three men, questioning why Marlowe should have been dining with them, and builds an incredibly detailed picture of the lower eschelons of society, those circles seldom seen beneath the glamour of the Court.

Following the meagre clues left in government, judicial and prison records, and Cambridge kitchen bills, Nicholl painstakingly builds up a picture of what life was like for these men, collecting information for their superiors for which they might be thanked or might be imprisoned, creating treasonous plots to see who joined up, passing on scandalous libel. Though records relating to Marlowe himself are frustratingly infrequent, he plausibly supplements them with evidence about the other young and talented writers also taken into government service.

The resulting picture, of a police state where everyone watched their back and their mouth, will be a shock to those brought up on the idea of an Elizabethan golden age. What Nicholl does demonstrate very well is that the pro-Catholic, anti-Elizabeth plots we know so well were just the tip of the iceberg, and were promulgated, if not instigated, by government agents just like Poley.

Though Nicholl never promised a biography, I would have liked more about Marlowe himself. One thing I did think I knew about Marlowe before I began this, was that he was gay. Nicholl dismisses this as another meaningless slur on Marlowe's character by the informer Baines: "We do not quite know what it meant to be gay in Elizabethan England" [p. 432]. Well, no, we probably don't, but passing up the chance to try to find out isn't going to change that. Considering the quantity of dead trees expended on Shakespeare's lovely boy, I think there is at least a question to be asked about Marlowe's "Come live with me and be my love", and (the much older) Sir Walter Raleigh's response, "If all the world and love were young". As Nicholl ultimately attributes Marlowe's death to those aiming to discredit Raleigh, the relationship between the two men needs proper consideration.

Similarly, as so many of his contemporaries met their end in prison and torture, I would like to have known, or at least speculated, just what it was about Marlowe that, after eight hours' discussion, necessitated his murder. There was enough evidence on file, be it fabricated or not, to have arrested him ten times over: so why the knife? Nicholl has done an incredible job of research here, uncovering the details and the personae of the shady world in which Marlowe moved; yet central to the mystery must be the man himself, and he seems to remain in shadow. I cannot help thinking that the central question has not yet quite been answered.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 21, 2009 2:00 AM GMT

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