Between The Covers: New Year detox, The maths of The Simpsons, and the year ahead

Your weekly guide to what's really going on in the world of books

Sunday 08 January 2012 01:00 GMT

*If you're struggling already with the New Year detox, don't worry, you're in good literary company, says the new book Calories and Corsets: A History of Dieting over 2,000 Years, by Louise Foxcroft (Profile, £14.99).

According to Foxcroft's research, some of history's most brilliant authors were slaves to their diets. Franz Kafka and Henry James were followers of a certain Horace Fletcher, who advocated chewing food for minutes before swallowing. James called him "the divine Fletcher", but after five years developed a "sickish loathing" of food. John Dryden opined that "the first physicians by debauch were made, excess began, and sloths sustained the trade", whereas John Milton wisely advised the rule of "not too much". Samuel Taylor Coleridge suffered terribly from bloating and constipation (which may have been more to do with his opium consumption than a lack of prunes), and Dorothy Wordsworth's journals referred to him as "bad bowels". And Lord Byron had "a morbid propensity to fatten". At Cambridge, he wore layers of clothes to induce sweating and ate biscuits and soda water, or potatoes flattened and drenched in vinegar, while in Italy he stuck mainly to a diet of claret and soda water. William Cobbett noted the huge portions in America as early as the 18th century. The modern malady was summed up, however, by a difference of opinion between Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. The pragmatic Johnson believed that "whatever be the quantity that a man eats, it is plain that if he is too fat, he has eaten more than he should have done". He did try to diet, recording in September 1780 that he had been "attentive to my diet and have diminished the bulk of my body". Boswell, however, wrote as The London Magazine's resident "Hypochondriack", and better appraised the dieter's paradox: "You will see one man fat who eats moderately, and another lean who eats a great deal." Januaries can't have been much fun in the Bo/Jo household.

*Waking up after a pre-Christmas performance of Uncaged Monkeys: Night of 200 Billion Stars at the Hammersmith Apollo, with a woolly recollection of bumping into the brilliant Simon Singh and talking to him about hidden mathematics in The Simpsons, we were worried that we had spent too much time, here between the covers, snuggling up with a sloe gin and a copy of Wonders of the Universe. Fortunately, it turns out to be true: the Fermat's Last Theorem and Big Bang author tells us that the five creators of The Simpsons were mathematicians by training, and conceal a lot of maths jokes in the show. He's using those as a starting point for a book for Bloomsbury which is apparently still some way off. We'll be watching The Simpsons religiously, trying to spot the maths jokes, until publication.

*2012 looks likely to be a good year for literature, with works on the blocks by William Boyd, Nadine Gordimer, John Lanchester, DJ Taylor, Peter Carey, Philip Hensher, Kate Summerscale, Attica Locke, Marina Lewycka, Gaynor Arnold and Dan Rhodes. But will it be better than 1912? That year saw the publication of "Tarzan of the Apes" (in All-Story Magazine), by Edgar Rice Burroughs; The Problems of Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell; The Unbearable Bassington, by Saki; "The Prince and Betty" (in Ainslee's Magazine and later in book form by Mills & Boon) by P G Wodehouse; Pygmalion, the play by George Bernard Shaw; and Magick: Book 4 by Aleister Crowley. The year 1912 also saw the births of Lawrence Durrell and John Cheever and the death of Bram Stoker. This year has a lot to live up to.

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