Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Book 37 of 52: How Sex Works

A book about sex should be interesting. The topic of How Sex Works: Why We Look, Smell, Taste, Feel, and Act the Way We Doby Dr. Sharon Maolem was enough for my editor to assign me a review, and for me to accept said assignment. Getting paid to read a doctor-written book about sex and the hows and whys behind why we act in the mating race? Sign me up.

How Sex Works, though, is a disappointment, a jumbled mess that makes sex boring. With scant organization, poor writing and even worse editing, it's a waste of time and money for any reader who wants to learn something about what the book promises to be about.

Harsh? Maybe, but I struggled reading through this one. It's also an example of how book publishing isn't so high and mighty that it produces only fantastic books, and of the marketing trappings that can shroud a book to make it more interesting if you see it in a bookstore.

Let's tackle these two separately.

1. Poorly written and edited.
Reach back into your memory to what you learned about adverb and adverb phrases. While both can add description to what you're writing, they drag down writing when overused, which Moalem does -- in excess. If I read one more "actually" (or "generally speaking, "of course," "in other words," "more precisely," or "essentially), I was going to throw the book across the room. Don't believe me that the abuse of such words makes for weak writing? Re-read the first two paragraphs of this review. If written in Moalem style, they'd have appeared as:

**

For sure, a book about sex should be interesting. The topic of How Sex Works: Why We Look, Smell, Taste, Feel, and Act the Way We Doby Dr. Sharon Maolem was pretty much enough for my editor to assign me a review, and for me to accept said assignment. Actually getting paid to read a doctor-written book pretty much about sex and the hows and whys behind why we act in the mating race? Of course, sign me up.

How Sex Works, though, is a disappointment, a jumbled mess that actually makes sex boring. More precisely, with scant organization, pretty poor writing and even worse editing, of course it's a waste of time and money for any reader who wants to learn something about what the book promises to be about.

**

Notice the difference? Imagine a book -- a poorly organized book -- like that. Editing should have taken that out if the writer's not strong enough to recognize it himself.

2. Marketing trappings
What would you think about a book written by a previous New York Time bestselling author? One whose back cover is covered in "advance praise" and whose author bio lists appearances by said author on CNN, The Daily Show and Today? Should be good, right? Wrong -- that's the case with this book. Notice that the praise is "advance" -- they're not reviews but quotes from other authors. Appearances on TV don't always make for a good book. An interesting enough topic can be enough to get you on TV. My book was given the thumbs up by AARP magazine. It'd be like relying on that appearance in the magazine to prove I'm a good writer, then listing the review (it could have been panned by AARP, and I could still claim that they mentioned the book).

I'm annoyed by this book. It's a bad one wrapped in a pretty bow and will, despite my poor review, sell. But you don't need to fall prey. If you're looking for a good book about sex, pick up The Guide to Getting It On Edition. I read the book in college, and I have the sixth edition on my desk. I hoped to review it for this series, but it's too long, and I don't have enough time right now. I've read bits and pieces, though, and it's still the same book that fascinated me as a teenager. It's well written, funny, and has drawings, which How Sex Works does not (how can you write about the our sexual parts without a diagram? The Guide to Getting It On Edition has diagrams all right -- plus a "match the picture of the flaccid penis with the picture of its erect counterpart" game).

So skip the book with all the marketing dollars behind it and go for the interesting and funny guide to sex instead. Actually. Of course.

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1 comment:

Paul said...

Jen,

Thanks for your kind comments about the Guide To Getting It On.

Moalem's book is sitting on my desk, but I'll not comment on it except to say that there has been a pretty serious divide between scientists who call themselves 'evolutionary biologists' and those who call themselves 'evolutionary psychologists.' Moalem seems to weigh in on the evo-psych side of the divide.

The evo-psych people tend to take animal or insect findings and use them to explain human sexual and relationship behavior. The biologists do not agree. As one biologist put it, they consider the evo-psychologists to be a pox on the house of evolution. Or as Tim Birkhead, the renowned behavioral ecologist at the University of Sheffield has warned, to overgeneralize outside of a particular species is intellectually dangerous and scientifically irresponsible.

I am not a fan of evo-psych, but if you are interested in reading something by one of the much younger and I think actually interesting evo-psych people, I'd take a look at this by Scott Barry Kaufman:

http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/200904/susan-boyle-not-hot

Paul, author of "Guide To Getting It On"