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by Isadora Alman
Conari Press, 2001
Review by Heather C. Liston on Dec 31st 2001

Doing It

A few months ago, a thirteen-year-old came to live with me. He saw all my books and told me reading was for nerds. I bought him a couple of volumes of Harry Potter. He ignored them. I moved my entire sports section (both books about basketball, that is) into his room. He quietly put them back into mine when I wasn’t looking. We went to a science fiction reading. No dice. Then one fateful day, he was looking around under my bed and what should turn up but . . . Isadora Alman’s Doing It. Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a reader.

Alman, a San Franciscan, writes an advice column for the Bay Guardian. She is also a marriage and family therapist and a “certified sexologist.” This book, published in 2001 and now available in a vivid pink paperback, consists of excerpts from her column and her web site; that is, of what other people write to her. Alman has collected and organized hundreds of comments, confessions, explanations, instructions, and boasts. She has also, obviously, edited them. While this undoubtedly helps to make the contributions clear and concise, it also eliminates some of the individuality. Everything is spelled right, which is good, but there is a sameness about the style of all the contributions that makes it impossible to get a feel for any of the writers. You cannot follow a voice through the book, for example, discovering what one person thinks of body hair and then later finding out what sort of sex toys said person likes. Often, you can’t even tell if a man or a woman is speaking, or a gay or a straight person.

Still, there is plenty here to interest most people, whether they are thirteen and encountering the ideas for the first time; a little more experienced and looking for pointers on technique; or already off and running but harboring concerns about whether their desires and practices are “normal.” The great thing about a book is, you don’t have to tell anybody what your reasons are for reading it. It’s your business whether you’re interested in the “how-to” entries: “To do this, you’ll need a sable artist’s brush, about as big around as your pinky finger, and some warm oil. Almond is especially nice . . .” or the more mundane views into how others think and feel: “I am turned off by women who don’t have a good sense of humor.” You can read the chapter on “Anal and Vaginal Fisting” and skip the one on “Menopause” or vice versa.

Not all of the book’s topics are racy. There is advice on how to handle bad breath, information on where others have gone to meet new people, and expressions of sadness or satisfaction about being single. Nearly all of the subjects, however, affect and concern real people, usually on a pretty regular basis.

A few years ago, when Spalding Gray was touring with his show called “Interviewing the Audience,” he explained (and then demonstrated, with great skill) that there is “nothing more interesting than ordinary people telling the truth.” Alman brings us more ordinary people, telling us the truth about an ordinary subject—one about which most of us never quite feel we’ve heard enough.

© 2001 Heather Liston. First Serial Rights.

Heather C. Liston studied Religion at Princeton University and earned a Masters degree from the NYU Graduate School of Business Administration. She is the Director of Development for The Santa Fe Children's Museum, and writes extensively on a variety of topics. Her book reviews and other work have appeared in Self, Women Outside, The Princeton Alumni Weekly, Appalachia, Your Health and elsewhere.