The Faith of Christopher Hitchens by Larry Alex Taunton Brilliance Audio (audiobook) 1/5 stars Through his directorship of an evangelical non-profit organisation, Christian apologist Larry Alex Taunton became unlikely friends with polemicist and cultural commentator Christopher Hitchens. Rigorous intellectual that he was, Hitchens, author of God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything – an excoriation of our man-made, prejudicial systems of belief – was able to recognise the merits of numerous conflicting philosophies concurrently … a talent seized on here in an effort to suggest that, as cancer came to claim him, Hitchens began to cave in and accept Christianity. Some friend Taunton has turned out to be, particularly with Hitchens no longer here to defend himself from such calumnious co-opting. (Shortly before his death in 2011, Hitchens warned that any such manoeuvres should be repulsed.) Based loosely on Taunton’s road-trip debates on religion with Hitchens, and other recollections, this audiobook, intoned by Maurice England, should come attached to a sanity warning. Its subtitle is The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist – “notorious” telling you all you need to know about the author’s convictions. One can’t help thinking the king of critical analysis would be horrified by this ploy to lure him into some credulous flock. Sex with Shakespeare by Jillian Keenan William Morrow (e-book) 3/5 stars Must we know the ins and outs of everyone’s peccadillos these days? Does advertising them in all their discomfiting detail help others with the same wayward tendencies? Or is it simply screaming for attention? If it’s the former, Jillian Keenan’s memoir – not novel – about coming to terms with her spanking fetish might put some poetry into the lives of the similarly afflicted. Keenan was “taught to question conventional values” in an often unhappy childhood with a temperamental mother; seeing her first Shakespeare play, The Tempest , in the US state of Utah at 15 gave her a frame of reference for understanding her disconcerting desires. Cue her recollections here, with each life juncture, at college, in relationships, while travelling, dissected through a different Shakespearean dramatic work. She has, she claims, an entire conference of characters (yes, including Bottom) in her head, to whom she speaks, and who answer. The Bard might not have expected to be celebrated in such a way at the 400th anniversary of his death, but minor sexual deviance and he are not such bizarre bedfellows. As Keenan writes, “sex uncensored, joyful and diverse” is all over his canon, sexual freedom, exploration and consent everywhere from Hamlet to Othello. My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth by Wendy E. Simmons Rosetta Books (e-book) 2/5 stars As basket-case countries go, North Korea is right up there in the top one: porcine dictators indulging every whim while others eat grass to survive. And now the drawbridge has been lowered just enough to let a few lucky tourists through the crack, it’s unavoidable that any of them writing about NoKo – as Wendy E. Simmons irritatingly calls it – will find something predictably amusing to relate. Anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves frozen in the 1950s, in a paranoid nation fuelled by fear of the outside world – and especially the United States – will of course wear drab clothes and have a personality to match. Literally colourless countries are traditionally short on joy. This we know, so what does Simmons add to our understanding of “the barren retail wasteland that is North Korea”? She calls her perma-escorted 10-day trip her “journey into madness” and in showing the extent to which Kim-tastic propaganda is on eternal loop, reinforces the impression that Nineteen Eighty-Four has come true. Realise this and funny becomes terrifying. Simmons’ efforts are largely frivolous; but with “disrespectful” news reporters being ejected from North Korea, perhaps that’s exactly what Pyongyang deserves.