272 pages / $19.99 / Grand Central Publishing
I have been kissing other people for literally years. I knew the basics behind the science; we have big sensitive lips that get engorged with blood when we’re aroused and it fun to press them on other people’s lips (and if that was more than you knew about the subject this book will be all the more enlightening!). I have been doing kissing longer than I’ve been doing science; but now, through a truly heinous turn of events, I spend all day doing science with very little time kissing! To fill this hole I life I read BONK, and it horrified me. Literally too much information. I wanted something with a little more romance and tenderness; and a little less anatomical detail and uncomfortable imagery. So with all due deference to Mrs. Roach from both myself and Mrs. Kirshenbaum, I began The Science of Kissing.
This book is written exactly the way I like to teach. Hence, it’s probably written in the way I prefer to learn. It begins with the history. Science is more than a collection of facts, it’s a continuum of human understand around the world and across the ages. And an activity as ubiquitous yet ambiguous as a kiss has as sordid and unsure a history as you can imagine, yet it is artfully articulated in the opening chapters of the book. You know you’re in for a treat when less than 20% of the way through a book you’re already rattling off statistics to your friends.
The history was the exhaustively researched without being exhaustive to read, followed by the section of what do we know now about the kiss. What happens in the body? Are men and women different? These questions are answered with smooth prose and thorough literature review. By this point I had significant emotional investment in the success of this book as a whole. When I read the results of a dubious study I felt the beginnings of dismay, but was then elated when the very next page addressed my skeptical criticisms with the same intellectual honesty I would expect from peer-reviewed literature. And this sequence happened more than once. Few writers can make the findings of a study a harrowing ride to see if the author will take the bait or allay your fears, and Kirshenbaum is in that club.
The final section concerned where the current research is pushing the boundaries of our kissing knowledge. This included a section where the author herself designs and carries out a pilot study on brain activity with a photographic osculatory stimulus. Part of her experimental design even included a crowd-sourced survey which I remember participating in all those years ago! How often do the results of a survey bear such sweet fruit? Like every study worth its salt, the final word is that “more research is needed.”
The book ends with something more science books should include: how can this book inform you and your life? Namely: how can I be a better kisser (scientifically speaking)? The advice is distinct for each sex without being demeaning or overly sensitive to either group; a fine line to walk when emotions are running as high as kissing can cause them to run.
I’ve already got a list of friends lined up to borrow this book based on my word of mouth while reading it. Fortunately, the flow of the pages and desire to learn what came next made this a fast book to get through. As a grad student, finding the time to read for pleasure is a challenge I don’t wish on anyone else, so having science in the title, and more importantly in the content, meant I could justify this most enjoyable tome as “work” and yet indulge myself in the joy of it all the same. For anyone interested in kissing, for science, for pleasure, or hopefully for both, this book should serve as an irreplaceable guide. Now here’s hoping the advice is worth a damn and the next girl I find myself kissing appreciates all I’ve learned! Thanks, Sheril!