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.


Beer Me Up – drinking my way on your bookshelf

When I was a young girl I wanted to be a writer and write books about ponies.

Well, I wanted to be my version of a writer. Which involved penning best-selling books for an hour or two a day before wandering off to enjoy my house located on a horse stud and puppy rescue centre. My house was also somehow no more than 10 mins from both a beach and the middle of some major international city – I think I had vague plans that I would be able to fly my own helicopter from my patio to the city centre when I needed to get milk. Flying ponies may also have been involved. They usually were with my fantasies.

When I was in college I wanted to be a writer and drink beer.

This version of writing  involved working on the next great American novel in my garret by day, and drinking beer with lots of artistic friends by night. Ponies were still involved – after all, I had to leave the garret and the pub to get some fresh air occasionally. I think I planned to use horses as my major form of transport all the time until someone revealed that you could, in fact, get demerits on your license for horse-riding while drunk. (He had actually managed it. The police apparently didn’t accept his defense that the horse knew exactly where it was going.)

Now I am (technically) an adult I still want to be a writer. I’ve accepted that it involves a lot less money and a lot more work than I had originally presumed, and the odds on it ever paying for a helicopter is pretty slim, but it will occasionally shout me a round in the pub. I might not be a novelist with titles on the New York Times bestseller list but I get paid to write features and articles. I have seen my work  published under my name in magazines, national newspapers and online.

But – while I know now that features suit me better and novel-writing is not my forté – I have always wanted to see my name on a book. So I’m delighted to announce that my writing has finally made it on to the bookshelves, if only as a chapter of a travel guide. If you flick to page 42 of the Ultimate Beer Guide, you’ll find my name there at the top of my guide to Sydney’s beer, breweries and best days out. It took two months and far too many hangovers to research and write and I am looking forward to seeing if the ATO will accept receipts from pubs as tax-deductible.

The Guide aims to offer beer-loving visitors the low-down wherever they find themselves, covering 33 destinations in Australia and listing 1200 beers and ciders across Australia and New Zealand.  If you’re at a loss for what to get your Dad for Father’s Day and he likes his craft beer, this might be just what you were looking for. Anyone who is as passionate about beer will find plenty of inspiration for new things to try in it, even if that just means discovering a few new breweries close to home. (When I was writing this piece, I found 5 craft breweries I never knew about within 30 minutes of my house. Sydney really has a lot of beer.)

I had a lot of fun writing this piece and I particularly enjoy  the way it combines my dreams; my childhood dreams of seeing my name on a book, and my college dreams of drinking lots of beer.

Well, some of those dreams at least. The flying ponies are pending.

Going Postal Giveaway

In January 2009, Englishman Nathan Millward found himself in Sydney and in an unenviable situation; a great girlfriend in Australia and no Australian visa.

I have no small amount of sympathy for him, having faced almost exactly the same thing myself a few years ago. With a promising relationship starting, and my visa ending, it seemed like the worst luck in the world to have met a wonderful Australian bloke at exactly the same time as Immigration were counting down the days to my departure. Luckily I found a way to swing a reprieve and stay working in Sydney to give the relationship a fighting chance.

Nathan Millward and his girlfriend Mandy had no such luck, and he decided to make the best of a bad lot and take the road less travelled. Literally. Instead of hopping on the plane he elected to try to ride home, from Sydney to London, overland. On a motorbike –  a decommissioned Australia Post bike called Dot, to be precise. With just two days to prepare in Sydney, he set out to drive his little red bike from Sydney to Darwin, with the aim of continuing on through Indonesia, Thailand and then through to Pakistan and the Middle East into Europe.

Two days preparation. That meant he had to apply for visas and the dreaded carnet internacional (a passport for his bike, effectively) while on the road. If it all went belly up, or if his bike went belly down and took him along, Nathan couldn’t claim it back on his insurance as insurance companies wouldn’t cover him in several of the areas he was travelling to. With a milk crate stuck on the front containing his worldly goods, far less vaccinations than recommended and a helmet signed by Kevin Rudd, he was off to travel the world at sixty-five kilometres an hour. Oh, on a bike that he didn’t have time to get looked over by a mechanic.

I can assure you, finding a job to take a punt on you is a much easier option and I’m happy that I managed to avoid Nathan’s round the world trip. The Australian and I currently doing the prep on our Irish-Australian wedding, so I personally think that extra visa was the best move I ever made. But I have to admit, riding a motorbike around the world – or at least around Australia – has a certain ring to it. Wonder if I can get my Australian on the back?

Want to read Going Postal? Boomerang is giving it away (thanks to HarperCollins) as part of a non-fiction pack prize also Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv and Inside Story by Peter Lloyd (thanks to Allen and Unwin).  Entries close tomorrow – Wednesday 9 February at 5pm Australian Eastern Time – so get your name by clicking through here to the competition and do it fast!

(Please note that you must be either a Boomerang Books Member or a fan of the Boomerang Books Facebook Page to be eligible to win. Both of which are things easier to achieve than getting an Australian visa or riding across the world on a bike.)