Between the Covers 21/10/2012

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The Independent Culture

The award for the most eccentric and wonderful book launch party of the year so far goes to Carlton Books' The Cosmic Tourist: The 100 Most Awe-Inspiring Destinations in the Universe (£25) by Chris Lintott, Brian May and Sir Patrick Moore.

The launch was held on Wednesday at Sir Patrick's house in Selsey, Sussex, where guests were allowed to mill around excitedly, bashing into ceramic cats and an extensive collection of glassware, and playing with the home-made telescope and hand-cranked rotation mechanism in the observatory at the bottom of the garden.

The premise of the book is that the three astronomers travel at "the speed of thought" in a spaceship named Ptolemy (after Sir Patrick's beloved cat), visiting nearby planets and distant galaxies. Lintott, the astrophysicist Sky at Night co-presenter, was sanguine about what turns out to be the book's first new inaccuracy: the chapter about the nearest planet to our solar system was rendered out of date when, the day before publication, amateur scientists in his Planet Hunters group discovered a nearer planet, a mere 5,000 light years away from Earth, which they named PH1. If Sir Patrick had his way, Lintott reckons, all new planets would be named after his cats, but the rules say that they must have letters and numbers.

Guests included a brace of astro-photographers, the science writer Marcus Chown, and the impressionist Jon Culshaw, seen heading through the garden with the help of the torch app on his iPhone and a convincing Doctor Who voice commentary. When literature meets science: it's surreal.


The award for the most types of fungi in one dish, meanwhile, goes to the starter at Tuesday's Man Booker Prize dinner, which consisted of "porcini soufflé, warm salad of wild mushrooms, black truffle shavings and cep velouté". With a menu including "mulled berry sherbet" and "autumn textures and scents", and ice-sculpture table decorations reeking of symbolism (a metaphor for the publishing industry, guests agreed), someone in the Guildhall's kitchen must be angling for a book contract. It was lovely to see A S Byatt) cheering so loudly when Mantel won the prize – Byatt was the winner, with Possession, in 1990 when Mantel was a judge. If Mantel looked more shocked than expected, she later confided, it was because she was surprised by the brevity of the chairman's speech and was "lolling in my chair" when he announced her as the winner.


Between the Covers is filled with admiration for the BBC World Service's hard-working arts reporter Vincent Dowd, who reacted with equanimity when a fellow Man Booker guest sloshed red wine all over his white dress shirt, just minutes before he was due to interview Hilary Mantel – fortunately, only on the radio. The slosher was not, in fact, a million miles away from Between the Covers. Sorry, Vincent.


A friend who often buys books on the internet wonders "what I've been searching for that has prompted an online book supplier to recommend The Gruffalo and Grow your own Drugs in the same breath". Hmm ... smells of random marketing, unless it's felt you'll need the one to get through the other.