Mid-month reading list – the Sex edition

Regular readers will remember that I spent most of last month engrossed, entertained and occasionally utterly grossed out by John Long’s Hung Like an Argentine Duck, which literally digs up some of the weirdest evidence and facts from the evolution of sexual reproduction, including necrophiliac snakes and the possible inventor of sex from our very own WA – the armoured shark-like Gogo fish. (Apparently 380 million years ago you didn’t need to flash a lot of flesh to be sexy.)

It was a fascinating read, and I’m blaming it for a month of non-stop reading about nookie and the many and myriad ways in which the drive to procreate affects the world we live in.

Sex, Bombs and Burgers by Peter Nowak

Nope, it’s not the latest Michael Bay movie (that would be Sex, Bombs and EXPLOSIONS EXPLOSIONS EXPLOSIONS). This is a far more thoughtful, but still fabulously entertaining, read in which Nowak argues that most of the major technological advances of the last sixty years have stemmed straight from the trio of billion-dollar industries that cater to our basest impulses. War. Fast Food. Pornography.

They get a deservedly bad rep but Novak argue that without the intellectual – and financial – investment that humanity is willing to spend on satisfying its rage, lust and greed, we’d all be living in cave.  From cars to aerosols, cameras to cold medicine, most of the technology that make life easy today can be traced back to either the porn, military or fast food industry. The investment in the military that gave us missile systems also gave us Silly Putty, developed as a war-time replacement for rubber. The food innovations that happened during the war paved the way for the rest of the 20th century and for the fast food industry to capitalise on our urge to sate our appetites. And when we’re not hungry for food anymore, well, that’s where the pornographic industry – with its innovative genius for using new technology to make a buck while more traditional media is still wondering if this internet thing will catch on – comes in.

Novak, who admits that he was inspired to research and write the book by the Paris Hilton sex-tape (specifically the fact that it was shot using the newly-developed night vision mode, meaning that military technology had gone, ahem, hardcore in quick time) is a writer with a knack for making the technical easy to understand and the quirky hilarious. A really excellent read, and certainly a better story than anything Michael Bay has stuck his name on recently.

The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

If Novak wants to blame war and fast food as well, Ridley is laying the blame purely at the feet of sex – or specifically, sexual reproduction and evolution. He argues that reproduction is the sole goal for which human beings are designed, with everything in our nature and physical form being carefully chosen to get us over the finish line of reproductive success. It uses the Red Queen from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – who has to run at full speed to stay where she is – as a metaphor for the evolution of a whole range of sexual behaviors. Using scientific studies it explores the whole gamut of sexual behaviour; from polygamy to attempted monogamy, from harems to homosexuality, to how individuals choose their mates and what traits they find attractive, and comes up with a fairly persuasive argument for sex being the motivating force behind, well, pretty much everything.

It’s not a new book – published in 1994 and shortlisted for Rhone Poulenc General Prize for Science Books that same year,  I really should have read this one already. For those of you who have, you might find his in more recent offering – Rational Optimist, how prosperity evolves – something to take your mind off sex, if only for a few moments.

90 Day Geisha by Chelsea Haywood

90 Day Geisha details 20-year-old Canadian model Chelsea’s 90 day crash course in art of “hostessing” in Japan. It’s not, as Chelsea quickly learns, about sexual favours; a hostess is someone to talk to, to provide small talks and drinks, to light cigarettes and flatter clients and occasionally accompany them on karaoke duets, and over-worked businessmen will pay very handsomely for the privilege of a hostesses’ attention for the evening.

Made infamous by the murder of Lucie Blackman in 2000, hostessing is little understood and Chelsea’s book is both an explanation of it and her exploration of it. It’s not a simple thing to understand or to do, as she soon discovers as her clients charm her with wit and personality, sweet words and lavish and expensive gifts. Even though sex is meant to be off the cards, in the hard-partying, no consequences, all-night culture of Tokyo’s Roppongi district, Chelsea finds that both her determination and her marriage will be tested under the late-night neon lights.


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Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.