Thursday, October 23, 2008


I've been listening to Mary Roach's Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex for the past few days, and it's unlikely that I'll finish it.

The first thing that's irksome about it is the tone. In her introduction Roach talks about the pioneering work of sex researchers who had to endure titters, giggles, and charges of perversion in an effort to shed light on the physiological phenomenon of human sex. She also talks about how she was subject to awkward moments, armchair psychology, and a questioning of her motives in writing a book about the scientific study of sex.

And then she goes on to write the book in a flippant, pun-riddled tone that invites titters and giggles. What the hell? When talking about a photographer hired by Kinsey, she says that Kinsey paid the man to "photograph his staff," and then goes on to point out that this can be read in a number of different ways. Har har. I think we could get it without the footnotes.

Which brings me to my other main criticism: the book is riddled with footnotes. I'm of the growing opinion that footnotes are superfluous (except for use in citing references, or editor's footnotes). If you've got something to say that's important enough to put in the book, include it in the actual text. If it's not that important, don't put it in. Nobody is going to not read footnotes. All you're doing is distracting us from the flow of the text by making us read some crap that's printed in a microscopic font. So quit it already. In an audiobook, it's twice as annoying. They've made the choice to read aloud all the footnotes in the place where they occur. Lame.

There's some interesting stuff in the book, and it's a fascinating subject. I found the movie Kinsey very interesting as both an autobiographical study and as an exploration of the issue of subjectivity, morality, and science. But Roach's book has been a disappointment, the ratio of fluff and silliness to actual information is high, which sucks because the material is fascinating enough on its own without embellishment or jokiness.


Philip said...

I couldn't agree more on footnotes. Sam Harris is in love with them, and they bugged the crap out of me in End of Faith.

Emily said...

That sucks. I've got it sitting here, still waiting for me to read it.

Derek James said...

Well, maybe the things I mentioned won't bother you as much, and you'll like it. If so, let me know.