A Week in Books: A new year, a new me

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The Independent Culture

Last week, like much of the British population, I bought a diet book. I glanced in the window of Oxfam and the lurid green cover of Gillian McKeith's You Are What You Eat leapt out at me. Well, that's OK. It is new year and we're all fretting about that festive flab. It was half price, too. Not a bad investment in new year, new me.

Last week, like much of the British population, I bought a diet book. I glanced in the window of Oxfam and the lurid green cover of Gillian McKeith's You Are What You Eat leapt out at me. Well, that's OK. It is new year and we're all fretting about that festive flab. It was half price, too. Not a bad investment in new year, new me.

Except that I'd already, in the past year, bought The South Beach Diet and The Easy GI Diet. And The Atkins Diet and The Blood Group Diet. Am I fat? No. Am I a nutter? Possibly. Like every other woman in the Western world, I would vaguely like to lose half a stone. In particular, the half stone I put on during a recent all-inclusive holiday which I spent not eating like a French woman (see below). But this isn't about losing weight. I read Atkins in a bar with a half bottle of Pinot Grigio and a bowl of Japanese rice crackers. I read You Are What You Eat in the foyer of a posh hotel with a cafetiere of coffee and a selection of fancy biscuits. No, it's not about losing weight. Or deprivation. It's about pleasure: the strange, soothing pleasure of the pseudo-science (glycaemic index, blood sugar, blah, blah, blah) and then, in cheery, sensible tones, the answer. It's always the same, of course. Sadly, eat less, exercise more, give up everything you love. It's that word "easy" that does it. Never fails.

It isn't just diet books, of course. If you're going for embarrassing confessions, you might as well go the whole hog. So, here goes. Books I filched from the books cupboard in the last year include Change Your Life in 7 Days (yes, really), The Many Faces of Men (silly, but rather good on narcissists and Peter Pans) and Leave the Office Earlier (which I didn't even open, suspecting that the answer would be Get A Different Job). A friend, knowing that I had to read 30 books in a five-week period, bought me The Speed Reading Book. Another directed me to an e-book: How To Sleep Less and Have More Energy. Did any of them work? What do you think? But then it might help not to skip all the practical exercises.

For most of us, books are a substitute for action. They're about entering an imaginary world, one which might feature Dorothea and Casaubon, or an epic struggle between good and evil - or a new you, radiantly fit and healthy, knocking off bestselling novels between work-outs at the gym. With that exquisite pleasure in mind, I was happy to curl up with the latest crop of life-changing offerings. After Atkins and Other Low-Carb Diets (Robinson, £9.99) draws on "the latest science of pharmaco-nutrition" to diss Atkins and suggest a disease-busting alternative. I enjoyed it, of course. French Women Don't Get Fat (Chatto, £12), on the other hand, was that rare thing: a diet book that got my goat. Written by the current CEO of Clicquot, it's a 300-odd page sneer at lumpen Anglo-Saxons with no self-control. French women, apparently, "would be bored to tears" reading about calories etc. Poor things. What's wrong with them?

Carole Caplin doesn't limit herself to food in her new lifestyle bible, Lifesmart (Weidenfeld, £16.99). She also gives handy hints on shamanism and brushing your teeth. Not as mad as you might think, actually, and she looks bloody good on it. Two other change-your-life manuals: The Life Audit (Hodder, £12.99), an alarmingly mathematical approach to time - and life - management and The Mind Gym (Time Warner, £12.99), a relentlessly wacky attempt to give your mind "a makeover". Both are fine - but personally, I'd classify them as fiction.

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