Book: Dr Tataina's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson

Book about reproductive strategies in nature made reasonably entertaining by a novel narrative device

Olivia Judson
Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation
Owl, 2002
ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-6332-5
ISBN-10: 0-8050-6332-3
234 pages (main text)

Life on earth is fascinating in all of its infinite complexity. Or at least it can be. I suspect that relatively few people read books of natural history for fun. And that is the reason for Olivia Judson's alter ego, Dr Tatiana. Dr Tatiana made her debut in an article in the December 18, 1997 issue of The Economist., one of that magazine's lighthearted Christmas double issues. In that article and in this book, Dr Tatiana writes a sex-advice column in which she replies to letters from anthropomorphized wildlife. The last chapter in the book is a narrative of an episode of a television talk-show that appears to be the column's successor.

That's a very clever device. It got me to read this (reasonably short) book and in reading it I learned more than I ever expected to about the astonishing, even bewildering variety of reproductive strategies in nature. Sexual reproduction has produced some remarkable examples of co-evolution.

Let me quote one of the more safe-for-work questions and the beginning of Dr Tatiana's answer:

        Dear Dr. Tatiana.

        There's been a frightful accident. I was happily sitting
        in my usual spot at the bottom of the sea when I felt
        and itch on my nose. Being a green spoon worm, I
        don't have arms and I couldn't scratch. So I sniffed.
        And I inhaled my husband. I've tried sneezing, but he
        hasn't reappeared. Is there anything I can do to get
        him back?

                                Too Much Heavy Breathing near Malta

    There, there, it's no use crying of snuffled husbands. He
    wanted to be snuffled, and he's not coming back. By now
    he'll have assumed his position in your androecium --
    literally, "small man room" -- a special chamber in your
    reproductive tract where he can sit and fertilize passing
    eggs. How doe he fit? The little chap is 200,000 times
    smaller than you: it's as if a human male were no bigger
    than the eraser on the end of a pencil. You could keep a
    score of husbands without trouble.
    (pp. 199-200)

As with most of the questions, Dr Tatiana goes on for several more pages comparing and contrasting that reproductive strategy with those of other sorts of life. The audience for an entertainingly-written book of natural history is surely larger than the audience for a dull one. You probably know if you're in it.

Posted: Sun - July 13, 2008 at 03:07 PM   Main   Category: