The Tulip by Anna Pavord | The Book of Numbers by William Hartston | Starck by Philippe Starck | The Year 1000 by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger | Making Love by Lucretia Stewart | By the Shore by Galaxy Craze
Saturday 08 April 2000
The Tulip by Anna Pavord (Bloomsbury, £8.99, 296pp) "I suppose there may be one or two people in the world who choose not to like tulips," declares Anna Pavord, gardening correspondent of this paper, "but such an aberration is scarcely credible." The same might be said of this botanical bestseller. In some respect, the incredible history of the tulip is more like that of gold than a plant. Originating in the wild in Asia, the tulip was first cultivated in Turkey. Its name seems to have arisen from a misunderstanding. "What's that?" a visitor asked about a flower worn in Turkish headwear, only to receive the answer "tulipam" meaning turban.
When the flower arrived in France in the early 17th century, Pavord notes that it prompted a more fervent form of tulipomania than that which later swept Holland and peaked between 1634-1636, when a bulb sold for the equivalent of an Amsterdam house.
What particularly excited tulip growers were "broken" flowers in which the petals bear elaborate flame patterns. Attempting to reproduce this effect, a British grower imported a shipload of Dutch soil in the 1750s. Only in the 1920s did it emerge that the aberration is caused by a virus which has the effect of suppressing the "laid-on" colour of the tulip, allowing the underlying white or yellow to show through. Sadly, modern commercial growers have curbed the tulip's propensity for variety. Pavord notes that half the cut flower market is dominated by just 10 cultivars, "a hideous reductio ad absurdum for a flower that nature equipped with more than a thousand tricks." CH
The Book of Numbers by William Hartston (Metro, £9.99, 312pp) Think of a number. How about 23? The number of camels an Arab offered for Diana Dors. 65? Hairs shed daily by an average person. 87? Hours of music composed by Verdi. Though Hartson is sometimes drawn to the wilfully obscure (there were 118 factories in Turkey in 1923), his haul of numerical associations is irresistible. Unfortunately, this obsessive fact-hunter makes a bloomer on page 1. Under *Zero*, Hartston ascribes the phrase *I got plenty of nuttin** to George Gershwin, but his brother Ira was the wordsmith.
Starck by Philippe Starck (Taschen, £19.99, 448pp) Though irritatingly self-indulgent in parts, this newly revised survey testifies to the awesome versatility of the design wunderkind. To snatch a handful of examples, Starck has applied his anthropomorphic genius to boots, fly-swats, motorcycles, toothpicks and a frightening surreal restaurant in Mexico City. Philippe reveals that his iconic, if impractical fruit juicer can also be worn as a form of headgear. In an opaque interview, le maitre pronounces: 'There is no longer any relation between the gesture and the object.' That's telling us.
The Year 1000 by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger (Abacus, £5.99, 230pp) Replete with detail, this slim work bring the early years of the last millennium startlingly to life. We learn that *the sign of the cross was the antiseptic of the year 1000* and July was the cruellest month because bread prices soared before the harvest. The population was as tall as today and their teeth were in better nick. Few human stools have survived from that era, suggesting *significantly looser motions*. From the function of the liver to the hierarchy of the bee hive, their knowledge was extensive. An impressive lot.
Making Love by Lucretia Stewart (Vintage, £6.99, 228pp) "Sex muddies the waters. It's not called 'making love' for nothing and I have yet to learn the difference between sexual pleasure and the pleasure of being made love to." Stewart's page-turning debut is full of such gnomic utterances on romance and sex as the book's posh narrator shares the fruits of her sentimental education, from teenage days when she was unable to say "no" to men - "pathetically grateful for their desire - into an older woman with much the same problem.
By the Shore by Galaxy Craze (Vintage, £6.99, 231pp) There's been a spate of coming-of-age novels about Seventies childhoods, but British-born, America-based author Craze, has written one of the more affecting. May, the 12-year-old narrator and her six-year-old brother Eden, live with their single mother in a guest house by the sea. Surrounded by her mum's Ab-Fabish girlfriends, May tries to match their grown-up chat about the world against her own, more limited reality. A novel that accurately recalls the quiet hurts of girlhood.
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