Between The Covers: 06/11/2011

Your weekly guide to what's really going on inside the world of books
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*You can judge a book by its cover, if the cover is designed well.

So we are particularly impressed by the thought that has clearly gone into Penelope Lively's new novel, How It All Began, published by the Penguin imprint Fig Tree. In the novel, a retired schoolteacher who has recently been mugged is helped to recover by teaching a central European man to read English. The cover shows a scene of pure, indulgent, reading pleasure: a blue-striped armchair against a sage green wall, a vase of tulips, a Roberts radio, and a pot of Earl Grey next to a half-eaten chocolate brownie. Around the scene are three dozen books, including some that the characters in the novel are reading, and several of Lively's own. Generously, not all are Penguin titles. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is easy to make out, as is Lively's City of the Mind, EB White's Charlotte's Web, and, open on the chair, Henry James's What Maisie Knew. The first IoS reader to identify three or more of the other titles, and email their findings to sundayletters@independent.co.uk, will win their very own copy of Lively's marvellous new novel.

*We were pleased to hear that, last weekend, a group of the UK's most successful ghost writers got together to celebrate Halloween.

*They have odd ideas over on The Times business section, where last week's glowing profile of Nick Buckles revealed that the G4S CEO, who was "educated at a secondary modern", has "an unpretentious style: he told an interviewer in 2009 that he didn't have a favourite book because he had never read one." Dears, it is not pretentious to have read a book, even if one is from a secondary modern, and especially if one wants to learn about concepts such as hubris, empathy, strategy, and avoiding catastrophic £5.2bn deals.

*Richard Bradford's new biography of Martin Amis describes Amis as "the most important writer" of his generation, claiming that modern authors such as Matt Thorne, Toby Litt and David Mitchell owe him a huge debt. No, says Thorne. "I am curious about why on earth this author has maligned me in this way," he says. "It wouldn't be possible to find an author I have less in common with. If you made a list of all of the things that define Amis's writing – the silly character names; the deliberate use of stereotypes; the lack of interest in character and plot; the focus on sentence-by-sentence style instead of a workable narrative structure; the studied detachment from and deliberate dismissal of popular culture – you'd have everything I try to avoid. The only thing I possibly have in common with Amis is that I possess a penis and write with a pen (though maybe he uses a computer now)." Ouch!

*The only travel guide that sells most in the country it is about, Scotland the Best, is reissued on 8 December and would make a good Christmas present for anyone who hasn't yet explained to you, or needs reminding, that their country is the finest in the world. Peter Irvine's "personal and opinionated guide" made more than 66 per cent of its Amazon sales in Scotland, and is consistently in the top three of Waterstone's Scottish bestsellers. It was recently described as "revolutionary" by none other than John Lennon – who is a professor at Glasgow Caledonian University and a policy advisor to Visit Scotland. See, even professors have better names north of the border.

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