If you loved Sarah's post entitled, “Where is the Hymen?” you will love Bonk.
In Bonk (which for months I've been referring to accidentally as Boink, God knows what that says about me) Mary Roach takes on the subject of what scientists do and don't know about sex, and how they know it. I apologize for the over-abundance of long quotes here, but they are the best way to convey the flavor of the book. Also, I'm being self-indulgent. I read most of this book in a hospital cafeteria (Mom had a hip replacement – she's all better now). Anyway, there I was, cackling madly over the cafeteria food, with no one to say, “Hey, you gotta hear this!” to. I certainly wasn't going to read these passages to my mother (although given the pain medication she was getting at the time, I doubt she would have been offended). Here's an excerpt I'm fond of from the chapter, “The Prescription-Strength Vibrator: Masturbating For Health”:
“There are images that stay with you your whole life, whether you want them to or not. Here is one that I imagine will make the cut. A man in a blue smock and a hairnet walks across a factory floor with an armload of enormous chocolate-brown dildos. He is loaded down to the point of absurdity. He is Audrey Hepburn leaving Bergdorf's in some 1960's romantic comedy, her arms piled so high with packages that she can barely see over the top. I want to trip him, not out of meanness, but just to see the penises fly through the air and rain down around us”.
It's all like this, although there's more actual science than you might assume just from that quote. That particular section comes from a visit to a sex toy factory. The factory noise is deafening, so the manager has to yell things like “THESE ARE THE VAGINAS”. If you can think of a way that I can work yelling, “THESE ARE THE VAGINAS” into my daily life, let me know. By the way, when reading Bonk, don't skip the footnotes – they are the best part. Here's a footnote from the chapter “Monkey Do: The Secret Sway of Hormones” that might be useful to any men who are lacking in seductive techniques:
“Ladies, do not get involved with a chimp. Not only are they fast ejaculators, they want to perform this minor irritation constantly (highest copulatory frequency of all primates.) And here's how they let you know: “the male invitation posture”, in which the male sits on the ground, knees up and legs wide open to, quoting Reproductive Biology of the Great Apes, “reveal his erect penis.” As an alternate wooing strategy, the male chimpanzee will shake a branch at you.”
Be still, my heart.
This is my favorite style of science writing: it's accessible to the layperson (me), it focuses more on funny or interesting anecdotes than hard facts (I'm not proud, people, but that's the way I roll), and yet it manages to get a lot of hard facts across. It was hilarious. It was also informative – mostly about history, but about biology as well, and, for the more daring among our readers, I daresay it includes shopping tips. There's a fine line in science writing between being accessible and being patronizing, and this book definitely was accessible but also made me learn and think, sans patronization, and Lord knows, it was entertaining.
The only problem I have with Bonk is that reading it is rife with side effects. For example, the descriptions of penile implant operations are seared into my brain in the most unpleasant way. Even worse is the fact that I am no longer capable of saying or thinking anything that doesn't seem to me like a double entendre, a pun, or a highly suspect word. I am eager for this effect to wear off. Also, reading the book involves a lot of potential for public embarrassment, what with the blushing and the giggling and the uproarious laughter, not to mention having very nice strangers ask me what I'm reading. If those are side effects you can live with, read on!