SHELF LIFE

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The Independent Culture
2 Bold in her Breeches: Women Pirates Across the Ages ed Jo Stanley (Pandora £14.99). The historical evidence about women who sailed under the skull-and-crossbones is pretty scanty, to put it gen- erously, but Stanley gamely covers for this by stressing how sea-faring women (wives, sisters, prostitutes, cross-dressers - there were more than you'd think) are invisible to his-tory. There is hard evidence of a few re-doubtable females, though, and she gives it full rein: from Artemisia of Halicarnassus, who sailed nearly 2500 years ago, to Grace O'Malley, who offered chaps her services - with three galleys and 200 fighting men. Fascinating for its sheer oddness, and only a little spoilt by jargon.

2 Raging Heart: The Intimate Story of the Tragic Marriage of O J and Nicole Brown Simpson by Sheila Weller (Simon & Schuster £12.99). O J Simpson is being rammed into our lives, whether we like it or not, so if you decide you might as well find out what really happened this book - written in pure soap - will give you the grisly lead-up to the ghastly events. The early life of O J, the malnourished kid with rickets whose mother couldn't even afford proper leg-braces for his bowed limbs, is enough to make you forgive the fact that, once famous, he erected a life-size black bronze statue of himself, in full football gear, beside his own swimming pool. Well, almost. After he fell for the beautiful Nicole Brown, life seemed perfect - especially after she got proficient at make-up that covered the bruises. All very sad, very tacky, absolutely riveting.

2 Surfing the Internet (Abacus £9.99), sub-titled "A Net-Head's Adventures On-Line", is a strange text, simultaneously inviting and excluding the reader curious to find out more about argot and Netiquette. Author J C Hertz, goofing around on computer, accidentally discovers this hyperactive, garrulous and sleepless universe. Grazing on junk cereals and staying up all night, she "lurks", a silent voyeur on the Net, then leaps in. At once the most egalitarian and snobbish of creatures, Netties champion diversity but have quasi-racist worries of being "swamped" by new users, who may not understand the Net's "cultural traditions". Citizens of this strange new world are under no obligation to tell the truth, and consequently identity is fluid. "Murdering Thug" posts bulletins about computer crime, letter bombs and anarchy, but is rumoured to be a dowdy housewife on Long Island. And J C Hertz herself has the snappy, "shake 'n' bake self-serve identity" of the Nettie fantasist: gender-free, utterly impersonal. She's probably a middle-aged clerk in Ohio.

2 Joanna Trollope's teenagers don't surf the Internet. In The Best of Friends (Bloomsbury £15.99) two interwoven families (Laurence and Gina, married to Hilary and Fergus, are the best friends of the title) feel the strain when one of the marriages breaks up. Set in the typically Trollopean town of Whittingbourne, it's a tale of betrayals and shifting alignments among adults, while the teenagers look on in scorn. Trollope endows her narrow characters with real, throbbing emotions to great effect. There are a few attempts at a broader canvas - a working-class Gran who calls people "dear", and teens mumbling vaguely about raves - but this is the usual quietly perceptive tale of shredded gentility.

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