Here is a free book, lying on the table of free books at work.
The table of free books is also home to free DVDs and free CDs, and there is one in every magazine office. Unloved and unreviewed, each item was once optimistically sent in by a PR, hoping for an ounce of exposure. When they arrive, these items are torn from their jiffy bags (which, brace yourselves when I tell you, are rarely recycled) and only a precious few are spared the fate of a careless toss onto the free table for passing employees to pick up and take home.
I haunt the free table like a ghost looking for treasure. The ghost of a magpie, I suppose. A magpie with superior wing/beak strength that enables it to carry items as heavy as a book. Also, a magpie that prefers reading to glittery things.
I have lost count of the number of free books that I have dragged home, thinking they look interesting or improving, blindly ignoring the likelihood that they will fall into the 98.7% I never get round to reading. Sometimes I take them along to the book auction we have at our book group, where their quality is routinely derided – I am always slightly stung by this.
I have now decided to use them as building blocks in the construction of a paper-based kingdom in my local park, which features only replicas of famous landmarks, Vegas-style. The Taj Mahal next to the Eiffel Tower, next to the Pyramids and the Chrysler building. I will call it Worldworld.
Obviously if someone comes at it with a naked flame, it'll be Pudding Lane all over again.
The book above caught my eye for two reasons. Firstly, the quotation from 'Romantic Times'. How did I not know that such an organisation existed? This is terrific news. Their quote on the cover promises the book will make 'our hearts melt'. This must be the very definition of an occupational hazard if you work at Romantic Times. (I like to imagine the Romantic Times started when a small group of people who worked at Radio Times finally had enough of the television output not being totally romantic all the time – the final straw came when broadcasters refused to introduce an erotic narrative to the weather forecast – and formed a breakaway group who were set on rectifying this unhappy state of affairs.) Other occupational hazards include starry eyes, weak knees, habitual nausea ('lovesickness') and frequent swooning. Employees have notched up a precocious early retirement rate.
The other distracting thing about this book was its confident boast that it is 'a Huxtable family novel'. Blame the era I grew up in, but when I think of a Huxtable family novel, I imagine the tales of an incorrigible GP in multi-coloured knitwear living in New York in the 80s with his lovably chaotic family. I'm surprised the publishers would be happy for this confusion to go unchecked. The cover has a period feel, which makes one wonder if this is Victorian Cosby Show, a similar conceit to the wartime episodes of EastEnders or The First Of The Summer Wine. In these books, Theo Huxtable has an industrial accident in the mill but he's not seriously hurt and he meets some really inspiring kids while he's recuperating in hospital. Vanessa Huxtable is furious that she can't have a new bonnet for the dance, but Doctor Cliff (or 'Papa' as he's known here) reminds her that if anyone is judging her for her bonnet, they're not worth knowing in the first place and she should refuse to dance with them. Also, judging from the cover, if this is a spin-off from The Cosby Show, the retouching staff of Indian Elle might have got their hands on the artwork.
There are many items that appear on the free tables in the various places I work that I consider writing about. You won't be surprised to hear that I rarely get round to it. Just one example is this:
It's Maths Doesn't Suck by Danica McKellar, aka Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years, aka Will Bailey's stepsister on The West Wing.
Just to recap, Danica McKellar is a) Winnie Cooper, b) has a maths degree and c) has been on The West Wing. This makes her ridiculously cool.
This is the British edition as the title has been translated from the original US version, Math Doesn't Suck. It is like an edition of Jackie magazine, but it helps you learn mathematics. How Much Do You And Your Best Friend Have In Common? Who's The Cute New Foreign Exchange Student? Are You Drinking Enough Water? All these questions and more can be answered with maths. Or even math. I think it's OK to use either.
Also, there are maths horoscopes. Mine, Capricorn, includes the line 'You don't need a study group for motivation - you're one of the few signs that does very well for itself.' Mmm. Maybe stick to the maths, Winnie. Leave the astrology alone.
Anyway, my point is that I have this copy of Maths Doesn't Suck in my house. It needs a new home before it becomes the key stone of the faux KL Tower I am readying to build. Would you like it? If you would, send me an email with your address and you may get a lovely surprise* **.
*Surprise comprises 1 copy of Maths Doesn't Suck by Winnie from The Wonder Years sent to you second class in a recycled jiffy bag.
**You may not.
38. QUEEN ELIZABETH OLYMPIC PARK, LONDON
5 weeks ago