book reviews

June 30, 2011 |
Courtesy of Beaverdale Books


Reviewed by Alice Meyer



By Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman

John Wiley & Sons, Inc.



244 pp


I once knew a woman who spent a day taking a licensing exam for her profession. When asked how the test was, she replied, "Annoying." I remember thinking it was an interesting choice of words, and she never did explain what she meant. Nor did I ask.

But help has arrived — "Annoying" (the book) explains to readers in science-can-be-fun terms why we find the little irritations we encounter on a daily basis to be so, well, annoying. The authors even begin by stating that "unlike simple topics such as string theory… the science of what's annoying is highly complex," because it draws on natural science, social science and humanities.

First up, of course, are cell phone conversations. Aside from the obvious, the authors take readers through the three ingredients that form the basis of their theory: 1) We can only hear half of the conversations and our brains become frustrated trying to fill in the blanks; 2) They're unpleasant; and 3) You don't know when they're going to end. Cell phone conversations meet all the criteria.

The authors guide readers through a complete sensory feast, taking on chili peppers, bugs, skunks, fingernails on chalkboards (do people really do that, or is it just the idea?) and more. There's a discussion on annoyance as an emotion, why pleasures can turn into pet peeves, and how one person's comfort is another's annoyance. We all have our lists.

" Annoying" fills three ingredients for a good book — fun, relatable and informative. CV