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Andrew Donaldson: Karma, the Shape of Bad Coitus and an Ode to Books

by Andrew Donaldson for The Times

Short, sharp guidance and observations from a journalist with attitude.

IF YOU READ ONE BOOK THIS WEEK

Vulture Peak, by John Burdett (Corsair) R140

Burdett’S Bangkok detective, Sonchai Jitpleecheep, is one of crime fiction’s more intriguing and exotic protagonists. He’s a Buddhist who manages to keep his soul together despite crime and corruption – not to mention the bad karma that comes with the job.

In this case, it’s trafficking in human organs. Not for the squeamish, at times, but funny and entertaining.

THE ISSUE

The Literary Review‘s Bad Sex in Fiction award will be announced in London this evening. Its purpose is to draw attention to “crude, badly written, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it”.

But not everyone is a fan; novelist Rowan Somerville has argued the award is a reactionary display of “bullying, prudery and ignorance” that wants to shut down literature’s erotic side, and is just a gimmick to boost the magazine’s flagging circulation. Writing in the Independent, he suggested it was “a sort of moral outrage dressed up as a quest for high standards”.

Somerville won the award in 2010 for The Shape of Her. The judges were reportedly impressed by his “nature notes” – pubic hair was “like desert vegetation following an underground stream” – and the passage: “He unbuttoned the front of her shirt and pulled it to the side so that her breast was uncovered, her nipple poking out, upturned like the nose of [a] nocturnal animal, sniffing the night.”

CRASH COURSE

American humorist Joe Queenan has penned an idiosyncratic memoir of his passion for fiction, One for the Books (Viking). In it, he recounts a lifetime of reading the classics, the trashy and everything in between – and makes an impassioned case for the printed book’s superiority over its digital competitor.

As he told the New York Times: “Books, I think, are dead. You cannot fight the zeitgeist and corporations … E-readers are not superior to books.

“A society that replaces seven-tier wedding cakes with low-fat cupcakes is [one] that deserves to be put to the sword. I also believe that everything that happens as you grow older makes it easier to die, because the world you once lived in, and presumably loved, is gone. As I have said before, when Keith Richards goes, I’m going too. Same deal with books.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

“He was a near-perfect father as far as [the children] were concerned. He never scolded or spanked, seldom raised his voice, was patient and generous. His only [requirement was] that they be courteous.” – The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P Kennedy, by David Nasaw (Penguin Press)

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