The Guest list: What to read - and what not to

To help you enjoy your time on the beach, our literary editor Katy Guest offers her alternative selection to the Man Booker longlist, which will be announced on Tuesday
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The Independent Culture

The Most Embarrassing book to be seen reading on the beach

In a bumper year for The Bookseller magazine's Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year, it turns out that Grow Your Own Drugs by James Wong is nowhere near the most embarrassing book to be seen with.

In fact, it contains nothing more sinister than "easy recipes for natural remedies and beauty treats". Which is more than can be said for Katie Price. Her latest novel, Sapphire, is already at No 5 on amazon's bestseller list based on pre-orders alone, but she recently admitted that she didn't have time to actually write it. Nor should anyone find time to read it.

The book with the biggest hype to have come completely out of nowhere

To the sound of snotty weeping from children everywhere, Harry Potter cast his last spell (on paper, at least) in 2007, but the publicity machine rolls on. The Harry Potter Adult Boxed Set (RRP £59.99) is Not For Grown-Ups – unless you want everyone to know that you have the same reading age as Wayne Rooney. But the madly-hyped Tomas, by James Palumbo, is. With celebrity endorsements from Stephen Fry and Noel Fielding, the gritty satire by the Ministry of Sound founder has had more advance publicity than almost any debut novel, ever. But is it any good? Niall Ferguson thinks so. "Rabelais meets Tom Wolfe," he calls it.

Best book by a stand-up comic

I would rather be stuck in a lift with Russell Brand than read a single word by Jonathan Ross or Frank Skinner, but if using vacuum cleaners as masturbation aids (Ross) appeals to you, or you find paedophile gags (Skinner) to be the cutting edge of wit, then by all means buy Why Do I Say These Things? and On The Road. For those with more sophisticated senses of humour, two books of short stories stand out. One, by stand-up-turned-author Rich Hall, is Dangerous Bastards. But it is the author-turned-stand-up AL Kennedy who really dazzles, yet again, in her exceptional new collection What Becomes, published on 6 August.

Best book about buses

Ever since Roger Deakin "wild swam" across the country in Waterlog in 1999, and Iain Sinclair's London Orbital achieved the apparently impossible feat of making the M25 glamorous in 2002, weird ways of travelling around Britain have proved inspiring to quirky authors with a nose for a tale and an elegant turn of phrase. Now Magnus Mills, who refused to give up his job as a bus driver even when his first book was shortlisted for the 1998 Booker Prize, has finally written a novel about plain old bus-driving. The odd and marvellous The Maintenance of Headway is published on 6 August. All aboard!

Best book by a dead man

Do we really need to tell you to ignore the rash of rushed-to-print Michael Jackson biographies that is currently disfiguring the publishing industry like a bad nose job on the face of a much-loved friend? No. Instead, prop up the estate of another American icon whose image may have suffered slightly towards the end but who remains the King of Popular Literary Fiction: John Updike. His last collection of short stories, My Father's Tears, has just been published, six months after his death in January. It uses, writes David Baddiel in our books section today, "the imminence of death to provoke the memory of life."

The book with the most authors

Proving that authors are generous types with tiny egos and plenty of time on their hands, Oxfam has persuaded some of Britain's finest literary talent to contribute stories to this wonderful collection. Divided into four little books, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, the Ox-Tales collection draws together stories from Sebastian Faulks, Lionel Shriver, Ian Rankin, Kate Atkinson, John Le Carré, Vikram Seth and many more. DBC Pierre's "Suddenly Dr Cox" begins with the "baroque"image of butterflies crushed on a road and, astoundingly, gets even better. Just reading the list of authors is almost too much excitement.

Best book about eggs

If you'd like to learn to cook from a woman who is arguably most famous for losing a lot of weight then by all means spend £18.99 on Miss Sophie Dahl's Voluptuous Delights and marvel in wonder as the literary supermodel "shares delicious secrets from her slinky kitchen, funny stories and favourite recipes ..." (or, in other words, teaches her granny to poach eggs). On the other hand, Sunnyside, by Glen David Gold, is not really about eggs, but this fictionalised life of Charlie Chaplin and chums was described by our reviewer as "a cane-twirling, bowler-doffing triumph" and is far more fun on the beach.

Best book with no lesbians in it

Sarah Waters is almost single-handedly responsible for transforming the image of lesbians in fiction from a dangerous and murky niche market, considered only by the women's publisher Virago, to a blockbusting BBC drama staple, ripe for adaptation. So imagine Andrew Davies's disappointment when he discovered that her new book, The Little Stranger, contains not a single velvet-tipping scene. The novel is nonetheless a masterpiece of quiet drama, described by our reviewer as "a classic thriller", but if your holiday is nothing without some fictional gays then try Jake Arnott's The Devil's Paintbrush or Paul Burston's The Gay Divorcee instead.

Tourist information award for worst publicity for a place

With the Year in Provence school of travel writing officially as tired and clichéd as a Frenchman's onions, fiction seems determined to discourage long-haul travel. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and Harare North by Brian Chikwava both sound better to read than to visit. Jeff in Venice by Geoff Dyer is slightly more encouraging. But MJ Hyland's fantastically creepy This is How, set in a fictional English seaside resort, may put off bookish foreign tourists for a while. Meanwhile The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society wins a dual award for best title and best PR for the British seaside.

The best celebrity memoir that was actually written by the celebrity

Not meaning to shatter any illusions, but most celebrities have about as much input into the stories of their lives as Michael Jackson had into this month's crop of Jacko biographies. Just before last Christmas, however, several books (what is the collective term for celebrity autobiographies? A gloat? A shimmer?) were published that defied the flimsy genre. Just Me, by Sheila Hancock, Dear Fatty by Dawn French and At My Mother's Knee ... And Other Low Joints by Paul O'Grady are well-judged and witty. But Me Cheeta, by Tarzan's co-star redefines a genre in dire need of redefining. Rumours that it was ghost-written by James Lever have been laughed off as jealousy by the great pioneer of "simian thespianism".

The book to read if you find yourself even momentarily tempted by blatant rip-offs of 'The Da Vinci Code'

So you've read The Da Vinci Code. You've risen above the clunky prose and found yourself helplessly addicted to historical mysteries, with all the unpleasant side- effects that that entails (talking in medieval Latin; fear of popes ...). But Brown's next book, The Lost Symbol, is not published until September. What do you do? Firstly, step away from the disgusting litter of take-offs that has hit the market, with names created by a Dan Brown generator: The Mona Lisa Cipher; The Notre Dame Cryptogram .... Then, walk calmly into a bookshop and buy everything by Kate Mosse. The Cave is her latest Brown-with-brains, perfect for holidays in south-west France.

The book that Gordon Brown should really read on holiday

Dreams From My Father, by Barack Obama? No, it's a little late for Gordon to be transformed into an electrifying orator and most popular man in the world. Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell? That would probably only depress him, since it outlines the theory that successful people are born (or not), rather than made. In a recent piece for Booktrust, the Prime Minister revealed that he was an early fan of Thomas the Tank Engine (the plucky little engine who always succeeds in the end). Enough of all the bookish metaphors – he should buy the 40th anniversary edition of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle, and take his mind off the whole thing.

The getting-your-retaliation-in-first sports autobiography

A little bored with Lance Armstrong survival-against-the-odds classic, It's Not About the Bike? Thankfully, the past year has thrown up some more stirring role models in figure-hugging Lycra, and home-grown ones, too. Bradley Wiggins, a hero of this year's Tour de France, wrote well about his post-2004 Olympics blues in In Pursuit of Glory. But for a real bitchfest, stick Mark Cavendish's Boy Racer in your spokes. The brash Manxman ( the other Brit hero of this year's Tour) has a go at anyone in range: Wiggins for screwing up his chances of Beijing gold; the 2004 Olympics cycling coach; his British Cycling Academy peers for lack of hunger ....

From MPs to Puffins...Summer in numbers

82 Days taken by MPs for their summer holiday this year.

5m Rise in number of Britons holidaying at UK beaches and beauty spots, due to the recession, says VisitBritain.

227 Millimetres of rainfall recorded in the United Kingdom from June to August this year.

£465 Is the average cost of a holiday in Spain this summer.

20 The percentage of British holidaymakers who went abroad in 2008 but are opting for “staycations” this year.

14.4C Is the mean summer temperature for the UK, as predicted by the Met Office.

- 35% The fall in puffin numbers on the Farne Islands according to a National Trust audit which blamed successive cold summers in recent years.

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