Tuesday, 15 March 2016




BOOK 146: GULP: ADVENTURES ON THE ALIMENTARY CANAL: MARY ROACH

Mary Roach’s investigations into weird body science were inspired by a plastic torso with removable organs in her fifth-grade class, “the point at which curiosity began to push aside disgust or fear or whatever it is that so reliably deflects mind from body.” Since then, she’s investigated death (Stiff), sex (Bonk), life after death (Spooked), and life in zero-gravity (Packing for Mars). Now, she cruises down the alimentary canal with Gulp. As you’d expect with Roach, this isn’t a methodical top-to-bottom tour. It’s more delightful and memorable than that. She’s a gorgeous writer, a master of sly asides, puns, and the bizarre but ultimately relevant story, sounding at times like an absurdly well-informed comedian (her footnotes are must-reads). And her evocative portraits of experts obsessed with their piece of the digestive puzzle--the surprising properties of saliva, nuances of chewing and digesting, and, yes, the incredible control of the colon--coaxes her readers beyond the gag reflex, inspiring awe for the world inside ourselves. --Mari Malcolm --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

MY VERDICT: I’m a huge fan of Mary Roach, I don’t often read multiple books by the same author but I’ve read three of Roach’s forays into weird science and wonderful anecdotes. Stiff, the first and my favourite book by her, examines what happens to our bodies after we die. It’s as morbid and fascinating as it sounds and wonderfully written.

This book has the usual Roach charm.  She breezily makes even the most disgusting facts and stories palatable (her puns are much better than mine.) Her writing appears so effortlessly brilliant that even hard medical terms and concepts are simple to digest (oh god, these puns are catching!) A lot of the time some of these stories would be hard going but I sped through this book in wonder.

Her curiosity is contagious and you can’t help but be taken on a journey through laboratories, hospitals and cafeterias and meeting fascinating characters along the way. And the characters are wonderful, conducting studies where many a person would fear to tread, into the specialist medical fields of anything from spit to natural gases. You feel like a fly on the wall for many of these experiments. Things that you couldn’t imagine are being experimented on all over the world. (I’m just glad I wasn’t there in person as a lot of them seem quite smelly). And they ask and answer questions you never knew you wanted to ask (like why do rats eat their faeces and how big was Elvis’ colon?)

An entertaining read but also an interesting opportunity to look at your body and wonder at the awesome things it can do and how much you take its functions for granted when everything is going fine.





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