Sunday, 29 January 2006

Why do Men have Nipples? – Mark Leyner & Billy Goldberg ****

Mystifyingly, the publisher has classified what is actually a totally brilliant popular science book (with just one proviso) as humour. The premise is simple, and summed up by the subtitle: “hundreds of questions you’d only ask your doctor after your third martini.” Those questions that get pressed on medical people after a few drinks at a party, of which the book’s title is just one example. These questions and answers are superb, and we’ll see a little more about them in a moment. But first let’s get that proviso out of the way.
The one thing that really lets this book down, is why it doesn’t have 5 stars, and is why the humour classification is so mystifying, is the authors’ vain attempts to be funny in between the answers to the questions. These come in two forms. A fictional party scenario, at which the various types of question might arise, and a series of exchanges between the authors using instant messaging, which are just as inane and boring as anyone else’s ramblings on instant messaging. Funny they certainly are not. Pathetic and juvenile they sadly are. After a few attempts to read them I just skipped those bits.
Luckily, what comes in between is well worth skipping the interludes for. The Leyner/Goldberg duo explore all those questions (a few more examples: “can you lose a contact lens inside your head for ever?” “Why do some people have an ‘outie’ belly button, and some an ‘innie’?”) with honesty, warmth and a lot of uncovering wrongly held beliefs. This particularly happens in a section called Old Wives Tales, which looks at all those irritating little saying people have the habit of saying wisely like “wait half an hour after eating before swimming”, or “did you know, someone once died after eating pop rocks with Coke?” Other sections to delight cover food, body oddities, alcohol, the bathroom, the movies and more. Very entertaining, and informative as well.
One warning – some parts of the content are unsuitable for younger readers, particularly the instant messaging. Overall, then, a great idea, with enjoyable but informative answers to the questions, let down a little by the juvenile, self-indulgent rubbish in between – but you can miss that out, and it’s worth it for the rest.
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

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