Why do men have nipples and other interesting questions?

Depressed with all the bad news coming out of New Orleans, gas price gouging by the big multinationals, you might want to try something lighter. How about a book called Why do Men Have Nipples? Apparently it's climbing the bestseller charts. I haven't read it yet but, after reading the following review, I think I'll give it a gander.

Summer's most unlikely bestseller

Larry Mcshane
Canadian Press

September 7, 2005

NEW YORK -- Imagine rolling into your doctor's office with three martinis under your belt, armed with questions that in more sober circumstances might never be posed.

Why are you hungry an hour after eating Chinese food? Why does sweat stink? What causes "shrinkage"? The typical doctor might be shaken, not stirred, by such queries.

Not, however, Billy Goldberg, M.D., a New York City emergency room physician. With the assistance of his friend, satirist Mark Leyner, the good doctor co-wrote the summer's most unlikely best seller, Why Do Men Have Nipples?

Their 217-page effort sailed up The New York Times list of best sellers, enjoying the heady company of The South Beach Diet. Its initial Aug. 2 printing of 15,000 copies sold out after the authors' appearance two days later on the Today show.

The Q&A compendium was also cited as one of People magazine's Buzz Books. Publishers Weekly deemed it "the only bona fide surprise hit of the summer." The authors are amused and excited by all the attention.

"This wasn't calculated," says Leyner, speaking by way of conference call with Goldberg. "We didn't sit down and think, 'In three weeks, we can sell 500,000 copies.' But Billy's original idea was a stroke of genius."

According to Goldberg, the idea coalesced over 10 years of fielding strange questions from assorted patients.

"The title actually captures the premise very well," Goldberg says. "It's titillating - oh, that sounds like a bad pun - but engaging. A little racy, but not over the top."

Leyner quickly agrees. "The title," he says, "is such an invitation to have a good time and learn about things. It's easily digestible."

More than 160 questions are posed and answered, ranging from the mundane to the insane. The answers, occasionally enhanced by anecdotes from the authors, are medically accurate.

So the reason Chinese food isn't filling? Blame it on the carbohydrate-laden rice and noodles, which cause the blood sugar level to rise and plummet, resulting in hunger. The smell of sweat? The result of perspiration mixing with naturally occurring bacteria on the skin surface.

And shrinkage? The work of cold air, cold water, fear, anger or anxiety can reduce the size of the male genitalia.

Steve Ross, senior vice-president and publisher of Three Rivers Press, was one of the project's early boosters. But even he acknowledges the huge success of the book was impossible to predict.

"I thought we had a potential pop culture classic," said Ross. "But I think it's fair to say none of us anticipated the level of sales we've seen. Clearly, people are responding to the concept."

Leyner is a humorist and author (Et Tu, Babe), and he's written for The New Yorker, Time magazine and GQ. In Goldberg, he found a kindred spirit with a medical degree - a match made in publishing heaven.

"I think it's important that there's actually a name for eye gunk - mucopolysaccharide," Leyner said. "Let's share that information. But without striking a tone of lordly authority."

© The Canadian Press 2005

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