Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cannonball Read #1: Bonk - Mary Roach

(A Quick Refresher for those not in the know: The Cannonball Read is essentially a year-long reading marathon in which contestants have to read 52 Books and review each one. If the contestant completes the challenge a charitable donation is made in their name. Thus concludes Cannonball Abridged)

About a year ago, I brought a copy of Mary Roach's seminal (har har) work, Bonk, along with me on a camping trip with my family. I ended up lending it to my mother to read for the trip, who after reading it cover to cover, concluded that while it was an intelligent book, she referred to it as "Softcore Porn". Considering my current career, I'm not sure whether this statement counts as irony, coincidence or foreshadowing.

This story isn't meant to cast my mother in a negative light (She usually has better taste than that, I swear), but to show exactly why we need Roach's Bonk to exist in the first place: Because no matter how much scientific research and effort is put into the study of sex, people are still going to view it as obscene. It's not their fault, it's just the way society functions. Fucked up, I know.

Bonk is one of those rare books in the science section that isn't merely an impenetrable wall of text, and you can thank Roach for that; Unlike some of the more humorless authors with whom she shares a section in the library, she's able to both respect the scientific importance of what she's studying while still being able to take the fucking piss out of it.

Roach's wit is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. The footnotes in Bonk are worth the price of admission alone, and her charming asides ensure that she remains close enough to the subject to admire it but not far enough to turn the book into a parody. The amount of work she put into the book is astounding (her bibliography stretches an impressive 12 pages of small-print) and will ultimately teach you more about human sexuality than any number of Rule 34-based sites.

Not that that Bonk is without it's flaws. Occasionally, Mary Roach tends to give just a little too much information, and...well, ever watch a horror movie where someone gets stabbed through the eye and you instinctively grab on to make sure everything is still intact? Well, there were moments where I literally grabbed my crotch out of fear, rather than for the usual reasons.

And while Roach puts up a valiant effort, you can't help but feel like she loses a bit of her momentum towards the end. It gets to the point where you feel like she might lose that certain something in the formality of it all. While she never drops the ball, you can see her knees shaking a bit under the context.

Ultimately, complaining about these minor imperfections is like being given a Porsche and then whining because...I don't know, it's not the exact colour you would have liked or something. It's still a goddamn Porsche, and it's still a thing of absolute beauty and if you're going to get hung-up on such a petty little grievance like that then maybe you don't deserve to drive it in the first place, now do you?


ScienceGeek said...

Great review of a great book.
That chapter on the surgeon working on erectile dysfunction made my eyes water. Other parts made me laugh out loud.

meaux said...

Love this book! I took it on a work trip to Labrador last year, and I swear, every time I put it down, one of the guys I was working with would pick it up and start reading.

There was much cringing from these guys. Honestly, I will never look at a glove the same way....