Love, Nina; Stuff Matters; How to be a Victorian; Topics About Which I know Nothing and The Sea of Innocence: Paperback reviews

 

Love, Nina, By Nina Stibbe (Penguin £8.99)

Sometimes you want a book which is friendly, undemanding, enjoyable and slips down easily – the literary equivalent of comfort food. Love, Nina is just that sort of book. It’s a collection of the letters that Nina Stibbe sent home to her sister in Leicester when she was a nanny to the family of the journalist and editor Mary-Kay Wilmers, in the early 1980s. Claire Tomalin lived opposite, Alan Bennett was a close friend and popped in for supper most nights (not that Nina Stibbes knew who he was at first – she thought he was an actor in Coronation Street), and Jonathan Miller lived just up the road (Nina borrows a saw from him, which M-K forgets to return). She records AB’s verdict on her Florida coleslaw (“perhaps not the tinned oranges”), her own views on Chaucer (“grim and annoying”), and a constant stream of funny, inconsequential family conversations: “Will: Look at that cloud in the shape of the World Cup./ Sam: You’re always showing off, Will./ Me: He’s just looking at the sky. / Sam: Anyone can do that. / All the way home, Sam looked for a better cloud than Will’s. When we got home, he’d trodden in dogshit.” Or: “Sam: Once I left some raisins in my pocket./ Will: Did you find a tiny grape-vine? / Sam: I did actually. / Will: Liar!” Or: “Will: I hate February. / Sam: Oi! I was born in February. / MK: February was very nice in 1972. / Will: Well, for one day. / Sam: The 2nd (his birthday)? / Will: No, the 1st.” Then there’s AB’s theory that everyone is either a “mouth-looker or an eye-looker” (but MK says she’s a shoe-looker).

I defy anyone to read a single page and then stop. It’s not a book that makes you burst out laughing – but after reading it for a few minutes, you’ll notice that your face is aching slightly, because you’ve been smiling the whole time.

Stuff Matters, by Mark Miodownik (Penguin £9.99)

Mark Miodownik is a materials scientist, and this book explores the chemistry and cultural significance of 10 key types of stuff. Based on a photo of him sitting at a table on the roof of his apartment, each of the 10 chapters is a learned, elegant discourse on one of the materials to be seen there: steel, paper, glass, concrete, etc. Miodownik notes that, although the Chinese knew the secret of glass-making, they never pursued it seriously; the Europeans did, from which flowed European architectural achievements, the inventions of the microscope and telescope, and wine-making and brewing as arts. The chapter on chocolate is so good it will make you want to run out and buy a bar. The chapter on plastic is written as a film script, telling the story of the invention of plastic billiard balls. And in the chapter on foam you can discover aerogel, the lightest solid in the world, which, despite being 99.8 per cent air, is heat-resistant, and looks and feels like holding a piece of the sky in your hand. A hugely enjoyable marriage of science and art.

How to be a Victorian, by Ruth Goodman (Viking £9.99)

Ruth Goodman spent a year living in the past for the BBC series Victorian Farm, so she knows whereof she speaks. This fascinating insight into 19th-century life tells us what Victorians had for breakfast (bread and beer for the poor; caviar, rib of beef, and pigeon pie in a stately country house), what their clothes were like (far stiffer and thicker than today), and how they managed when menstruating (in a time before close-fitting knickers, not easily). The chapter on Victorian sexuality contains some surprises – such as the story of the gay couple who openly cross-dressed, wore scent, and flirted with men in public, but who, when tried for indecent behaviour, were acquitted by a sympathetic judge.

Topics About Which I know Nothing, by Patrick Ness (Fourth Estate £8.99)

Patrick Ness is best-known as a children’s and YA novelist; this collection of quirky, surreal stories is for adults, but would certainly appeal to teenagers too. The first story, “Implies Violence” is a dark tale about a telesales company and is reminiscent of the sinister stories of Magnus Mills. “Jesus’s Elbows and Other Christian Urban Myths” is a wonderful collection of crazy conspiracy theories. “Now That You’ve Died” is a dramatic monologue about the afterlife. Probably the best story here is “Sydney is a City of Jaywalkers”, which begins when a young American traveller sees his brother, who died five years earlier, drinking tea and reading the paper in a café in Sydney. A collection of tales that speaks to the sixth-former in all of us.

The Sea of Innocence, by Kishwar Desai (Simon and Schuster £7.99)

Private investigator Simran Singh is on holiday in Goa when she receives a video on her phone of a teenage girl being molested by a gang of boys. The girl has disappeared, and it’s up to Simran to find her, in a case involving the beach-folk of Goa, gangsters, ageing hippies, an astrologer, a floating casino and a government minister. The story contrasts the paradise of Goa seen by tourists with the murky world underlying it, a world of violence, toxic misogyny and political corruption. It’s a detective story with a message, about the brutal way women are treated in India. To be honest, the quality of the prose never rises above efficient: but the importance of the theme, and indeed the suspense of the story, make up for that.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links