Thursday, February 25, 2010

Year of 25 Books: #2 - Bonk

I picked up Mary Roach's Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science & Sex from the library with a little bit of trepidation. I absolutely loved her first book - Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. I still remember being on a plane (probably to a Madonna show) and reading the chapter about how they determined the cause of a plane crash based on the bodies that were pulled from the wreckage. I contemplated stopping and resuming once I was safely on the ground, but then decided I wouldn't stop reading a chapter about auto accidents while riding in a car. So when Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife came out a few years later, I couldn't wait to read it. Sadly, it left me a little bit cold, paling in comparison to Stiff. Was it possible that Roach was a one-book wonder?

I'm happy to report that Roach is back on her game. Since sex is the topic of the book, it's kind of a can't-lose proposition for her. I mean, who ISN'T going to enjoy reading about this? Bonk does follow the pattern of her first two books, combining an unconventional topic for a science book with Roach's hilarious voice. Roach is a seriously funny writer, making what could otherwise be a dry, boring book about sex and sex research into an engaging read. Her dry observations about the topic had me frequently laughing out loud (which almost always led Anna to ask "Dad, what's so funny?" Me: "Oh, nothing honey, just something I read.") But as funny as the main portion of the book is, her footnotes are quite possibly even funnier - although their footnoted nature distracts from the reading of the text. I think Roach should have found a way to blend them in - she could probably do so seamlessly.

While certainly not comprehensive in scope, Roach does her best to explore a variety of topics. Erectile dysfunction, female sexual arousal disorder (and the attempts to treat it), penile implants (that chapter had me squirming in my seat), orgasm without arousal, the effects of hormones on sexual response, vibrators - you name it, she probably investigated it. Roach's exquisite and meticulous research on each topic shows and when you add in her hilarious take on all this, it makes for a compelling (and very easy) read.

If I could level any criticism at the book, it would be that it probably carried on for 50 pages too long. As funny as Roach's writing is, she reaches a point of diminishing returns, almost as if you can see the wheels turning in her head saying "what funny thing can I end this paragraph with?" What seems effortless at first becomes kind of distracting after nearly 300 pages.

Still, it's highly recommended. Science reading for non-science people is a tough nut to crack and Roach does it with remarkable ease. Better than Spook but not as good as Stiff, it's worth a read.


mary35 said...

I love Roach's books too. I'm wondering what her next topic will be.

Dan said...

Apparently, it's space travel and weightlessness.