What kind of advice columnist advocates incest, cannibalism and polygamy? One whose clientele includes moths, slime molds and elephants, among other non-human correspondents. In Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation (Metropolitan, $24, 272 pages, ISBN 0805063315), biologist Olivia Judson introduces us to the fictional Dr. Tatiana, the only advice columnist to focus on romance in the animal kingdom. The reader might be startled by some of the questions ("I'm a queen bee . . . all my lovers leave their genitals inside me and then drop dead. Is this normal?") but the purpose of the parody soon becomes clear. What appears to be a collection of tongue-in-cheek advice columns quickly develops into a fascinating study of evolutionary biology.
Judson uses Dr. Tatiana as a vehicle for in-depth discussion of sexual practices that may seem brutal, immoral or even counterintuitive to the casual observer, but are, in fact, essential to species survival. Although she covers complex concepts, Judson keeps her explanations simple, creating a readable and entertaining guide that explains what those birds and bees are up to.
While the more bizarre mating rituals have a sort of morbid appeal, the most amusing letters are from animals who share human concerns: the self-conscious peacock with less than spectacular plumage who can't get a date might remind you of an insecure friend. And if the dating scene is getting you down, take heart in comparison with some species, humans have it made. If your blind date turns out to be a disaster, at least she won't try to bite your head off when the evening ends. Emily Morelli