THE DIFFICULTY IN REVIEWING these two books together is that one of them is a good book and one is not. As a woman writer, I want to point out -- lest I be accused of some primal sexist bias -- that this opinion does not reflect my feelings about the different aspects of male and female anatomy under discussion.
It's just that for me, The Durable Fig Leaf is pretentious polemic to the point of silliness. About halfway through this, indeed, historical, cultural, medical, social, literary and iconographic account of man and his penis, I decided I'd rather go to a Woody Allen movie.
From the enormous erection of a prehistoric man uncovered in the painted cave of Lascaux to Norman Mailer's Rojack making the Teufel happy with Fraulein Ruta in An American Dream, The Durable Fig Leaf has a dulling effect on the senses.
Although I am interested in books about sex, especially about the opposite sex, I felt like John Jacob Astor on the sinking Titanic who, legend has it, said: "I rang for more ice, but this is ridiculous."
To be sure, The Durable Fig Leaf makes a legitimate point: Since prehistoric times, man has been preoccupied with his penis. As the author puts it, "The constellation of his conflicting emotions regarding the organ of his malehood has profoundly affected the manner in which man has organized his civilization, ordered his institutions, treated women and his fellow men and even expressed the creation of his own imagination."
There's definitely a male slant to this account; but the penis is not an organ in isolation. The book inevitably gets down to the relationship between men and women, and focuses on the battle between the sexes as fuel for art, politics, love, law, literature and selling cars.
The Durable Fig Leaf brings together a lot of odd facts about penis power that make for interesting reading, but the author offers no new insights into sexual politics. What's more, the last decade has already seen a number of important books on this subject, many of them quoted here, so there's a lot of worn turf in this account.
Certainly this book shows that history provides many reasons for today's sex-rooted anxiety and just-plain-trouble in the pursuit of happiness. "Too much ejaculation dries out the body," wrote St. Thomas Aquinas. "This is why men is who copulate too much and too often do not live long." No wonder men are nervous. A 19th-century college text on physiology taught that for the "majority of women, sexual intercourse after the age of 23 was a mere nuisance." No wonder women are angry.
But are these anecdotes the expression of some universal sexist conspiracy throughout history, giving men a tool to subjugate women for the price of impotence, premature ejaculation, castration anxiety and painful circumcision rites? Or do they reflect the incompetence of a medical profession that also was pushing leeches in times gone by?
Yes, sex is a factor in every aspect of life, but it's not the whole story, and this book suffers from the fallacy of looking at the power of love and the love of power exclusively through the prism of genitalia.
Breasts: Women Speak About Their Breasts and Their lives is not the female counterpart to The Durable Fig Leaf. This earnest, unpretentious book of photographs and personal stories is sometimes very moving and even sad. It covers new ground and is an important contribution to the literature on sex in everyday life.
Breasts are the outward and visible sign of femaleness, more exposed to the world at large than a man's penis. Big breasts early in adolescence give women the lingering shoulder slump of breast angst. Little button breasts mark a woman as that skinny kid-tomboy with "no sex appeal." Men can hide their penises from the general public; women can only cover up according to the push-me-up or low-slung natural look of the times.
"I'm more self-conscious about my breasts than any other part of my body," says one woman. "My breasts have always been long and pendulous," says another. "Even at my age  I still have an inferiority complex about my breasts."
The message of this book is for women to make friends with their breasts, and to reassure women that there is no standard for the perfect breast. As the photographs demonstrate, breasts come in tremendous variety: floppy, spongy, stringy, hairy; with dark nipples, with white stretch marks. There are big breasts and little breasts. This book is about all women, from 11-year-old girls and century-old great grandmothers to pregnant women, breast-feeding women, women with mastectomies, women who have breast-reduction operations, cosmetic implants, married women, lesbian women, topless dancers, women alone.
My only criticism is that so few of the women interviewed seemed to have a sense of humor about their breasts. This is in contrast to men. Where would such comedians as Woody Allen and Mel Brooks be without penis-preoccupation humor? The use of humor defuses sexual anxiety; a lighter touch might help women feel better about their breasts -- and themselves.