The Mag This Week — Page Three of Books

Screen Shot 2012-12-09 at 8.19.46 PMThe last page of books has a list of our favourite titles from 2012 (and two disappointments) but that’s a graphic, so for that you have to get hold of the paper. Other than that we have a review of In Haleema’s Words, written by Fatima Ahmed and reviewed by Karishma Attari.

And at the bottom of the page, we have two pieces side by side: my review of God’s Doodle: The Life And Times of The Penis and Apoorva Dutt’s review of Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography. I really did want them to be equal in size but God’s Doodle ended up to be, inevitably perhaps in this patriarchal age, longer.

Insert unsmiling, deeply-dignified expression here. Smother snicker.

So here’s my review of God’s Doodle. 

Drawing No Blanks

How can anyone avoid puns while writing about this book? Tom Hickman, a Sussex-based writer, has written a book about the penis. You can try to be as innocent and dry as is possible, but chances are that puns will pop up unintentionally. Hickman writes in God’s Doodle — The Life And Times Of The Penis, “What is phallic is sometimes only in the eye of the beholder.” However, given he’s devoted 200-odd pages to this organ, it clearly has quite a hold over the human imagination.

God’s Doodle is one of the funniest books you’ll read this year and it’s also one of the most informative. Hickman covers an impressive range of time periods and cultures in his study. From ancient Greeks to Bill Clinton, it’s all packed in God’s Doodle. Did you know that the word ‘testicle’ comes from testiculus, which in Latin means ‘witness’, because the ancient Romans thought testicles were “little witnesses of virility”? A Hindu Sanskrit treatise titled Brihat Samhita has a guide to prophesying a man’s future by analysing the anatomy of his precious organ. A bit of flesh believed to be the holy foreskin was displayed all the way till 1983 during the Feast of Circumcision in Rome (even though it was officially removed from the Catholic calendar in 1954). Annually, 200 Americans and 30 to 40 Britons break their erect penises, mostly during violent intercourse and occasionally, by falling out of bed. The term Viagra is the lovechild of “virility” and “Niagra”.

Hickman has written the book as though it’s a freewheeling chat, but each chapter is a precisely-structured argument. Possibly because Hickman is sensitive to what all male (and perhaps female) readers want to know, the book begins by confirming and debunking myths about size. Statistically speaking, not only do Indo-Asians not make headlines in the inches department, the average weight of adult Asian testicles is similar to that of a 12-year-old white or black boy.

The second part of the book considers the penis in a cultural context, looking at how its been presented in everything from clothing to literature. This reviewer is never going to listen to the guitar solo of any rock song without blushing noticeably. The organ’s vulnerability is the subject of the third section, in which Hickman outlines the history of its evolution and all that threatens it, ranging from barnacles, impotence to castration. The final section of God’s Doodle confirms what most women have known for a while: men have sex on the brain. Hickman calls it “parasympathetic wiring”, which translates to “sexual thoughts flicker in the background of a man’s visual cortex all day and almost all night.” This means anything and everything can, and often is, sexual stimuli. Women, Hickman informs us, do not behave this way.

God’s Doodle isn’t just a collection of interesting trivia. It’s a well-written book that presents an insightful look at male psychology and how different cultures have negotiated the trials and tribulations of the male libido. And here’s the best bit: it’s as fun a read for men as it is for women.

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