Saturday, February 09, 2008

Working Stiff by Grant Stoddard

This memoir is subtitled "The Misadventures of an Accidental Sexpert." I had never heard of the author nor his sex column, "I Did It for Science." But when Borders offers those "buy 2, get 3rd free" deals or similar, I tend to take a few risks -- especially when I can indulge my pervy side with a book like this.

After a titillating prologue, Working Stiff nearly grinds to a halt. The author takes us back to his boring, virgin university days in London, and then he describes how he met an American girl and eventually moved to New York City. I suppose this is intended to show how dramatically his life changed after he started writing his column, but I would rather memoirists stick to the interesting parts of their lives and leave out the filler.

The book finally gathers momentum when Stoddard wins a contest to score with a sex columnist. She helps him get a job at Nerve.com, and eventually he is tapped to write an experiential column about unusual sexual activities. This is clearly the meat of the book; anyone who picks up Working Stiff wants to read some kinky stories. And some of his encounters are pretty wild, the kind of stuff I've never even thought of fantasizing about. Unfortunately, the author wastes many pages on other aspects of living in New York City -- this book is as much a love letter to the city as it is the tale of an "accidental sexpert" -- and the book suffers for it. Although some of the stories about crappy apartments in dicey neighborhoods are amusing, they are not nearly as interesting as his occupational experiences.

A sample of Stoddard's column is included in the "P.S." section (bonus material included in the paperback edition). The "lab report" format of "I Did It for Science" is fitting but hokey; I prefer the author's narrative (though he doesn't describe this particular encounter in the book). The other "P.S." material is banal or redundant.

Sometimes Working Stiff is spot-on and hilarious, but it lags a bit too much. To enjoy this book, skip pages 6-56, and be prepared to skim whenever it gets boring. Some books leave you begging for more, but Working Stiff would have been better with 80-100 fewer pages.

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