Book Review: Bonk

bonkBonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
by Mary Roach
Microhistory
319 pages
Published 2008

It’s not often a nonfiction book has me laughing out loud, but this one did it. This is the first of Roach’s books I’ve read, but her voice makes me want to read everything she’s ever written! Bonk is the story of sexual research – how scientists have made discoveries about a topic that is awkward at best, and taboo or even criminal at worst. Roach takes research seriously, volunteering as a research subject more than once (and convincing her husband to help, in at least one case!) Her wordplay is clever and her footnotes are HILARIOUS – this was a nonfiction book I kept having to pause and read to my husband between snickers.

Even her chapter titles are giggle-inducing – with titles like “The Princess and Her Pea – The Woman Who Moved Her Clitoris, and Other Ruminations on Intercourse Orgasms” and “Re-member Me – Transplants, Implants, and Other Penises Of Last Resort.”

Roach writes about some truly awkward sexual encounters in the name of science:

On the bed are a man and a woman. They are making the familiar movements made by millions of other couples on a bed that night, yet they look nothing like those couples. They have EKG wires leading from their thighs and arms, like a pair of lustful marionettes who managed to escape the puppet show and check into a cheap motel. Their mouths are covered by snorkel-type mouthpieces with valves. Trailing from each mouthpiece is a length of flexible tubing that runs through the wall to the room next door, where Bartlett is measuring their breathing rate. To ensure that they don’t breathe through their noses, the noses have been “lightly clamped.”

Another passage mentions two gymnasts who have sex in an MRI tube. (For science!) I’m impressed these people can perform under these conditions at all!

There’s only one passage that squicked me out a little bit – there’s a few paragraphs describing a urologist performing surgery on a penis and it’s…a little disturbing. That aside, though, this is a delightful book on an uncommon topic. It’s an easy read, which I don’t say about much nonfiction. It might be awkward to explain why you’re snickering over this book, though!

This is also my pick for the PopSugar prompt “Microhistory.”

From the cover of Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex:

The study of sexual physiology – what happens, and why, and how to make it happen better – has been a paying career or a diverting sideline for scientists as far-ranging as Leonardo da Vinci and James Watson. The research has taken place behind the closed doors of laboratories, brothels, MRI centers, pig farms, sex toy R&D labs, and Alfred Kinsey’s attic.

Mary Roach, “the funniest science writer in the country” (Burkhard Bilger of The New Yorker), devoted the past two years to stepping behind those doors. Can a person think herself to orgasm? Can a dead man get an erection? Is vaginal orgasm a myth? Why doesn’t Viagra help women – or, for that manner, pandas? In Bonk, Roach shows us how and why sexual arousal and orgasm – two of the most complex, delightful, and amazing scientific phenomena on earth – can be so hard to achieve and what science is doing to slowly make the bedroom a more satisfying place.

Sunday Miscellany

Oh man, it’s been a rough week. Monday was a very hot, very humid day working at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. I adore the friends I work with, but that heat and humidity just ruined me. I’ve spent most of the rest of this week in a bit of a daze, recovering. Couldn’t even stitch any codpieces. I got a little bit of reading done, but not much. And then Thursday night I couldn’t sleep worth a damn – I’d fall asleep for an hour or two and be woken up by a roommate getting home from work, or my husband’s alarm going off, or another roommate leaving for work – and each time, be up for at least an hour (sometimes three) before being able to sleep again.

20180908_2208356132623923712052450.jpg

The Culprit looking innocent

So Friday night rolled around and I was really, REALLY looking forward to getting some sleep. Fell asleep a little after midnight – and woke up at 2 am to the cat puking up a hairball. Or trying to. It takes her a few tries sometimes. And then she wants to chew on plastic after she’s puked. So I was up until around 6:30 dealing with the cat. Then I got four hours of sleep – which was the biggest chunk of sleep I’d had in two nights so YAY! Hopefully I’m still asleep while you’re reading these words, as I’m writing it Saturday night before bed. I’m about to collapse.

I’m pretty sure I had a couple links pulled up to post here but I can’t remember what the heck they were.

So I’m just going to leave you with the soundtrack of my insomnia.

Book Review: Period

period twelve voices tell the bloody truthPeriod: Twelve Voices Tell The Bloody Truth
Edited by Kate Farrell
Nonfiction
208 pages
Published May 2018

Period consists of twelve essays about periods. The authors are wonderfully diverse, covering intersex, disabled, POC, and trans individuals. There are stories about fibroids, about wishing to have periods, wishing not to have periods, pads vs tampons, having periods at work, dealing with a period while being homeless, running a marathon while menstruating – just an amazing variety of experiences with periods. Some of the essays talk about how menstruation is treated in pop culture, from the famous “blue liquid” of pad commercials to the sitcom trope of “angry woman is irrational because she’s on her period.”

I think this is a book that every parent of a young daughter should read. I say that because it’s a little advanced, so perhaps not a book to hand to every pre-pubescent girl, but there’s a lot in it about what we teach our girls about their periods. Any person who has ever wondered if their period is normal should also read this book. There is SO. MUCH. VARIETY. when it comes to menstruation. But while there is plenty of variety that is normal, there is some that isn’t. The essay about the fibroids is an example of this. That level of bleeding is NOT normal, and it’s dangerous to tell people that it is. But because we don’t TALK about periods, people unfortunately assume things are normal that aren’t.

The book also makes me want to put together some hygiene kits for the homeless women I see in Baltimore. I’d never really thought about how difficult it is to deal with your period while homeless. Some pads/tampons, some hand sanitizer, and some cleaning wipes in a ziploc would go a long way towards making their lives a lot easier. The essay about having periods while homeless includes some ideas for kits to give out.

Overall, this is a very educating (and entertaining!) read. For those with periods AND those without. Menstruation should stop being a shameful topic. It’s a health issue.

From the cover of Period: Twelve Voices Tell The Bloody Truth:

Periods enter the spotlight, raising a diverse group of voices on a topic long shrouded in shame and secrecy.

In this collection, writers of various ages and across racial, cultural, and gender identities share stories about the period. Each of our twelve authors brings an individual perspective and sensibility. They write about homeless periods, nonexistent periods, male periods, political periods, and more. Told with warmth, humor, and purpose, these essays celebrate all kinds of period experiences. 

Periods are a fact of life. It’s time to talk about them. 

Book Review: Invisible

invisibleInvisible: How Young Women With Serious Health Issues Navigate Work, Relationships, and the Pressure to Seem Just Fine
by Michele Lent Hirsch
Nonfiction – Health
230 pages
Published February 2018

I’ve been reading a lot of fiction lately, so it’s about time to sprinkle in a nonfiction volume! As soon as I learned this book existed, I knew I needed to get my hands on it. I’ve been living with two autoimmune disease most of my adult life, and in the past three or four years their impact on my life has grown quite a lot. I struggle with fatigue, with my weight, with muscle pain, with migraines, with intestinal issues if I eat the wrong thing. Some days it’s just hard to function like a normal person when my brain is full of fog and every movement hurts. So this book? This is my life.

The author of this book did a LOT of research. She’s not only disabled herself, but she interviewed SO MANY PEOPLE, with all kinds of different disabilities, diseases, and experiences. Mostly patients, but she also interviewed a few doctors.

The book is divided into six chapters: “Could Someone Love This Body of Mine,” “The (Foggy) Glass Ceiling and the Wall,” “It’s Cool Guys I’m Totally Fine,” “Why Don’t They Believe Me? or the Case of the Lady Lab Rat,” “To Raise Small Humans – Or Not,” and “Sick Like Miss America.” I really enjoyed her divisions here. The first chapter is about romantic relationships, the second about work, the third about friendships. “Why Don’t They Believe Me” covers women’s relationships with their doctors, the next chapter is obviously about fertility and parenting, and the last chapter is about society’s expectations of beauty and how to be sick.

“Could Someone Love This Body of Mine” touched on some of my personal insecurities, as one of my autoimmune diseases leaves pretty ugly scar tissue on my skin. It talks about how men tend to leave women with disabilities or chronic illness, but women don’t. (The book has extensive footnotes detailing sources and studies to back up claims like this one.)

I think the only chapter in this book that I didn’t really directly relate to was about raising children. I was child-free before being diagnosed, and it hasn’t changed my mind. We don’t want kids.

If you or someone you know has a chronic illness, I’d recommend reading this book. There’s valuable information and insight here, even if all you get out of it is “I’m not alone in this!”

Now I’m off to take a nap.

From the cover of Invisible:

Though young women with serious illness tend to be seen as outliers, young female patients are in fact the primary demographic for many illnesses. They are also one of the most ignored groups in our medical system—a system where young women, especially women of color and trans women, are invisible.

Michele Lent Hirsch knew she couldn’t be the only woman who’s faced serious health issues at a young age, as well as the resulting effects on her career, her relationships, and her sense of self. What she found while researching Invisible was a surprisingly large and overlooked population with important stories to tell. Miriam’s doctor didn’t believe she had breast cancer; she did. Sophie navigates being the only black scientist in her lab while studying the very disease, HIV, that she hides from her coworkers. For Victoria, coming out as a transgender woman was less difficult than coming out as bipolar. 

And because of expectations about gender and age, young women with health issues must often deal with bias in their careers and personal lives. Not only do they feel pressured to seem perfect and youthful, they also find themselves amid labyrinthine obstacles in a culture that has one narrow idea of womanhood.

Lent Hirsch weaves her own harrowing experiences together with stories from other women, perspectives from sociologists on structural inequality, and insights from neuroscientists on misogyny in health research. She shows how health issues and disabilities amplify what women in general already confront: warped beauty standards, workplace sexism, worries about romantic partners, and mistrust of their own bodies. By shining a light on this hidden demographic, Lent Hirsch explores the challenges that all women face.

Library Loot Wednesday!

invisibleThe book I’m most excited about getting this week is Invisible: How Young Women with Serious Health Issues Navigate Work, Relationships, and the Pressure to Seem Just Fine, by Michele Lent Hirsch. I have two autoimmune diseases (plus migraines) myself, so this book seems to be written FOR ME. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis in my late twenties, and this books speaks straight to my experiences.

love hate and other filtersI also picked up Love, Hate, and other Filters, which made a big splash a while back but I just haven’t gotten to until now. Figured since it’s Ramadan, I should fit in a Muslim-centered book along with all my Pride reading. The review will be up later today, since I’ve read it already!

persepolis 1On the topic of Muslim-centered books, I checked out the first volume of Persepolis, a graphic novel about a girl growing up in Iran. The second volume is requested but hasn’t come in yet.

Dread Nation finally made its way to me, there was a long wait list. I was really excited about this book before it came out, but the author is apparently a little ignorant of Native American issues, calling the schools where they indoctrinated Native children “well meaning” instead of racist. A Twitter thread about Dread Nation. So I’m a little wary of it now.

The last library book I got this week is Well, That Escalated Quickly – Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist, by Franchesca Ramsey. Ramsey is a Youtuber who apparently went unexpectedly viral and decided to use her platform for activism. It looks funny.

In related news, BOOK MAIL! 

I got my Book of the Month package early last week, which contained The Book of Essie (excellent and already reviewed), When Katie Met Cassidy (excellent, review coming next week), and The Kiss Quotient. (Haven’t read yet.) I also received some Goodreads Giveaways – Prisoner 155 – Simon Radowitzky, an unexpectedly large graphic novel, and How I Resist: Activism and Hope for the Next Generation. That last one I won all the way back in March, and was really excited to get the ARC, but they had some printing problem with the ARCs, and then it was backordered from so many pre-orders, so I actually didn’t get it until the second printing, AFTER it released! A little disappointing, but I’m glad to finally have it.

Book Review: The Journal of Best Practices

journalThe Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband
by David Finch
Memoir
222 pages
Published 2012

Well. I’m still not 100% back to health, but I’m well enough to get absorbed in a book again! This book was especially interesting to me because we are pretty sure that my husband is on the autism spectrum. What would have been called Asperger’s a few years ago, before they wrapped that back into autism, because it’s all the same syndrome – it just differs in how it impacts people. (The book was obviously written before that happened, though Asperger’s still seems to be shorthand for autistic people that don’t fit what most people think of as autistic – what some people would call high-functioning, I suppose, though that’s also not as cut and dried as it seems. Rebecca Burgess described it well in her comic on Tumblr.)

I read portions of this book aloud to my husband, because they described him to a T. The very first page mentions how Finch recalls his niece’s birthday, not because he’s a good uncle, but because it’s 3/14 – Pi. My husband remembers my birthday because it’s half a stick of RAM (well it used to be, anyway!) – 5/12. Now he remembers it as 2^9. The first chapter then goes on to describe how Finch’s wife sat him down with a self-diagnostic questionnaire (he received an official diagnosis later) and he was surprised at how many questions described him. While they didn’t list all 200 or so questions in the book, the ones that were mentioned I asked my husband. He was a Yes to all but one, and looked at me afterwards with a laugh and a joking “I’m feeling a little attacked right now!” That included questions like “Do you sometimes have an urge to jump over things?” (Yes) and “Have you been fascinated by making traps?” Husband told me about a book on survival he’d been given when he was 14 or so – he doesn’t remember much of it, but he can recall almost verbatim the chapter on traps and snares.

The book was a fascinating look into the mind of an adult with autism trying (and succeeding!) to navigate a relationship. It gave us a lot to talk about, and a few new strategies to try. If you know or love anyone on the autism spectrum, I highly recommend this book. It might help you understand how they see things.

I have another book on autism to read soon – Been There, Done That, Try This! – about coping strategies for autistic adults. I’m eager to see how much of that we can use in our daily lives.

From the cover of The Journal of Best Practices:

At some point in nearly every marriage, a wife finds herself asking, What the @#!% is wrong with my husband?! In David Finch’s case, this turns out to be an apt question. Five years after he married Kristen, the love of his life, they learn that he has Asperger syndrome. The diagnosis explains David’s ever-growing list of quirks and compulsions, his lifelong propensity to quack and otherwise melt down in social exchanges, and his clinical-strength inflexibility. But it doesn’t make him any easier to live with.

Determined to change, David sets out to understand Asperger syndrome and learn to be a better husband – no easy task for a guy whose inability to express himself rivals his two-year-old daughter’s, who thinks his responsibility for laundry extends no further than throwing things in (or at) the hamper, and whose autism-spectrum condition makes seeing his wife’s point of view a near impossibility.

Nevertheless, David devotes himself to improving his marriage with an endearing yet hilarious zeal that involves excessive note-taking, performance reviews, and most of all, the Journal of Best Practices: a collection of hundreds of maxims and hard-won epiphanies that result from self-reflection both comic and painful. They include “Don’t change the radio station when she’s singing along,” “Apologies do not count when you shout them,” and “Be her friend, first and always.” Guided by the Journal of Best Practices, David transforms himself over the course of two years from the world’s most trying husband to the husband who tries the hardest, the husband he’d always meant to be.