Friday, December 06, 2013

Reading: Mary Roach and "Bonk"

Have you ever read anything by Mary Roach?

Yeah, neither had I, until the past few days. Based on the book I read, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (2008, W. W. Norton & Company; 319 pages), I would suggest you run, not walk, to the nearest library or book store and find one of her books and read it. Don't worry; if reading about sex is not your cuppa, she's also written about cadavers (dead bodies), in Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003, W. W. Norton & Company); what happens to your body after you're dead, in Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (2005, W. W. Norton & Company); spaceflight and what will be necessary to keep humans alive and happy on the way to Mars and back, in Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (2010, W. W Norton & Company); and the human gastrointestinal tract, in Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal(2013, W. W. Norton & Company).

Really. Don't be put off by her subject matter. Roach will make it fun, educational, and worth your while to read her books. She has been called "the funniest science writer in the country" (in The New Yorker), and after reading Bonk, I'm more than willing to believe that. She has a wonderful, if sometimes slightly twisted, sense of humor. The also is a great writer and, from the evidence of this book, knows her way around a research library. In other words, she is funny, but she is also accurate and writes in a way that keeps you interested in her subject even when her subject is something you might not necessarily be completely comfortable with.

In Bonk, Roach looks at the things that scientists have discovered about sex and some of the lengths that scientists have gone to, to find out what they know. And, she doesn't just write about humans, although we're in there, too. But, because sex is such a sensitive subject, and because there are experiments you just can't do on human subjects (although, you'd be surprised at some of the experiments researchers have done with the cooperation of humans), there's also rabbit sex, pig sex, and monkey sex in the quest to discover why animals and people do what they do in regard to sex. It really is fascinating stuff.

I didn't necessarily go out looking for Roach's "sex book". Honest, I didn't. But I've been wanting to read something she had written ever since I saw an extended interview with her on Book TV a few months ago. Unlike some writers, who can be boring interviews (I can say that, since I am a writer), Roach is engaging, as funny speaking as she is writing, and seems dedicated to write good science for the layperson - and you wouldn't believe how difficult it is to find writers like that. Anyway, I would have picked up any of her books; it just happens that the one I found on the shelf at my local library was "the sex book", and so that was the one I read first. Reading Bonk has made me even more determined to get my hands on her other books.

Although, I'm not really sure about the one about the digestive system. Some people are squeamish about reading about sex; I find myself a little less than enthusiastic to read about stomachs and digestion and all that the topic implies. Still, I'll probably read it, too. And you should, too...or at least you should introduce yourself to Mary Roach's writing through one of her books.


And, on a related note, I'm just one book away from meeting my reading goal for the year, which I've written about before around here. It is a modest goal: 40 books in the year. Bonk was my 39th. I'm not quite sure what my 40th will be yet. I'm actually reading a couple of books at the moment, and it will just be a matter of which one I finish first.

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