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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten

Tout à l'ego

Tout à l'ego - Tonino Benacquista There's this well-known fact that the recent past is the strangest period in history. I mean, not that long ago it was the present, and then what happened? So, earlier today, I was reading this rather mediocre Benacquista collection on the train and ran into the following story, published as recently as 1997. The hero is happily married, two young kids, lives in a little French village. The family's favourite toy is their VCR. (Remember VCRs?) There's always a friendly fight in the evening about what movie they're going to watch.

What the rest of the family doesn't know is that Dad has a secret porn habit. Late at night, when everyone else has turned in, he sneaks off and watches half an hour on the VCR. Then, when he's suitably aroused, he gets into bed with his wife and they do all the naughty things he's just been watching. He loves it, she loves it, and it's done wonders for their marriage.

But... one day, the tape refuses to emerge from the machine when he presses the eject button! He tries all the tricks he can think of, but Cum-Hungry Sluts #17, or whatever it is, is obstinately stuck. The next day, everyone discovers that the machine is out of action. They ask him to take it in to the video shop to get it fixed, but it's a little village, the guy who runs it doesn't like him, and he knows that his secret will be all over town inside two minutes.

So he keeps on making excuse after excuse, and everyone is madder and madder at him. In the end, he resolves on a desperate expedient. He fakes a burglary, making it look like someone has broken in and stolen the VCR. (He also takes the opportunity to steal the hideous vase which his wife loves, but which he can't stand). He dumps everything at the local tip. The VCR was insured, so they can get a new one. Problem solved.

And now the twist! A few weeks later, a stranger shows up at the front door. He was poking around at the tip, and found the VCR, still in good working order. There was a label on it, and he felt obliged to track down the owner. Of course, it still has the tape stuck inside. But, somehow, the stranger is able to unjam it, and then everyone is curious to see what it is. They put it on, and our hero is just about to be unmasked... when his nice wife says that this tape has caused so much trouble that she isn't watching another second. She takes it out and bins it. Phew!

Well, it's a terrible story, and I won't even start counting the logical holes. But the thing that struck me most was the way it highlighted how perceptions of porn have changed since it was written. I just can't imagine this happening today, but I don't think it was that implausible in the 90s. It is a little scary to see how quickly porn has gone mainstream.