How Do You Compare?

by Andrew N. Williams

Published by Perigee

276 pages, 2004

Are You Normal About Sex, Love, and Relationships?

by Bernice Kanner

Published by St. Martin's Griffin

198 pages, 2004


A Normal Comparison

Reviewed by Monica Stark


Are you normal? No: don't snipe an answer back. Think about it carefully. And, whether or not you think you are, how do you compare to your peers? And, really, isn't the second an extension of the first?

No matter what you say you believe, chances are you care quite a bit. (Surveys tell us this, if nothng else.) And if that's the case, chances are you'll care about at least one of two recently published volumes -- both quite slender -- Andrew N. Williams' How Do You Compare? and Bernice Kanner's Are You Normal About Sex, Love, and Relationships? If you care about such things, the two books go together like eggs and truffles: like they were meant for each other.

Andrew N. Williams is an experimental psychologist who, by his own account, has been responsible for arranging interviews for over half a million people.

... and when people discover what I do for a living, they always ask me to tell them something interesting about themselves. So, like a psychological palm reader, I always keep a few personality facts on hand to impress the inquisitive.

Williams is an experienced and respected professional with a biting wit and a good sense of fun. The combination proves winning in How Do You Compare? a book that delivers "12 simple tests to discover hidden truths about your personality -- and fascinating facts about everyone else."

The structure of each chapter is simple: Learn about an interesting part of your mind, take a quiz to immediately learn more about your personality, then compare yourself to thousands of others who have taken the same test.

Even if you don't love doing tests, How Do You Compare? has a lot to offer in the form of Williams' sharp, concise views on topics of huge interest to most people. How clever are you? How creative are you? How healthy is your relationship? Are you a good lover? ("Okay, how many of you skipped ahead to this chapter?") How happy are you? Are you lucky or hardworking? And, just in case these aren't enough, Williams lets us know that sequel-type books are in the works: How Does Your Baby Compare?; How Do You Compare at Work? and so on. With the right kind of push, it's easy to imagine How Do You Compare? spinning into one of those self-help franchises that go on endlessly.

* * *

Ever wondered if you're some kind of sexual deviant? If so, you're apparently not alone. In her introduction to Are You Normal: About Sex, Love, and Relationships? author Bernice Kanner writes:

People talk about sex a lot -- and worry about it even more. Perhaps finding that others share your insecurities or oddities ca make you feel more at home in this landscape. So pull up a chair and see how you compare...

There's that comparison thing again.

Here we meet Kanner in mid-franchise. The author of Are You Normal? and Are You Normal about Money? -- as well as some other books without the word "normal" in the title -- in her latest book Kanner examines human sexuality as reported by humans. Each chapter is broken into snippets on the topic at hand. Each snippet -- an average paragraph in length -- is filled with more statistics than snippets. Here's an example:


Most people believe they could use some help with their bedroom technique. Only 35 percent consider themselves skilled lovers with Italians least confident (only 23 percent regard themselves as masters in bed), followed by the English (28 percent). A third of both Americans and Mexicans (32 percent) see themselves as sexually adept, and despite the reputation Frenchmen have -- or perhaps because they're intimidated by living up to it -- just 34 percent of them deem themselves above average. On the other hand, 45 percent of Dutch, 46 percent of Chinese, and 49 percent of Spaniards consider themselves sexual pros.

While Kanner's book has engaging moments, there is necessarily more sizzle than steak here. One thing comes very clear: if you think you're not normal, look around: most other people don't think they're normal, either. In fact, it is perhaps more normal to think you're not normal than the reverse. Confused yet? We've only just begun. | March 2004


Monica Stark is a January Magazine contributing editor.