When my mother (hi, Mom) asked me if I’d read the latest Mary Roach, I got confused, thinking she meant one of the many mystery writers she and my father inexplicably read. (Mysteries in general are not my thing, I tend to not trust any character involved and assume they all did it.) But long story short, I was mixed up and no, I had not read the latest Mary Roach (Gulp, if you couldn’t figure it out from my post title), so I got right on that. I’ll put the usual spoiler cut, but it’s nonfiction about what we eat, how we eat, how we digest, and how we expel all of that from our bodies. It’s not as gross as it sounds.
Okay, it’s about as gross as it sounds. But the fascinating kind of gross.
It’s difficult to write about Mary Roach because it’s difficult to read Mary Roach. Well, no, that is not technically true. Mary Roach is immensely easy to read, in that she takes such vast subjects and narrows them to a series of palatable facts and anecdotes. It smacks slightly of attention deficit disorder, the way she jumps around, particularly when you encounter a series of footnotes that takes up more space on the page than the text itself. But trust me when I say you want to read every single one. Plainly put, it’s fun.
Roach is a writer of the common people and a researcher of the super-nerdy. When I say that, I mean that she gets fascinated with weird things, weird, specific things, and then goes completely in depth with her research so she can share the intimate details with the rest of us. But the things she loves are things like people in odd professions with hilarious names, or the kind of ridiculous specialty websites that exist. She is the kind of person that likes the fascinating kind of gross, so will unearth the facts behind it, and moreover, the stories behind it, then share that info with you, lucky person who likes to know gross things. (The things about space toilets I learned while reading Packing for Mars will stay with me forever.)
What’s more, the things that you read in a Mary Roach book you want to immediately share the weird factoids with everyone you know. That’s the essence of science and research and reporting: wanting to uncover a crazy thing and then tell everyone about the crazy thing. For instance, I’ve already imparted my ill-gained knowledge on friends this week about hooping (the prison term for smuggling goods in your butt) and that Elvis died of heart problems related to his constipation, because he had a megacolon.
For your perusal, some weird, weird things I learned in the course of this book:
– In 1984, people were paneled by scientists to unearth whatever chemical exists in goat’s milk to make it go all goat-y. They did not find out.
– Pet food comes in a variety of flavors because humans like a variety of flavors and assume that’s what cats want. Cats do not care. (Theoretically. There will always be finicky cats.) (Incidentally, cats are the only true omnivores, given that their natural diet contains no plants, although I happen to know a fat orange cat that gets unbelievably excited to hear the crisper drawer open, because he knows that means free spinach is afoot. I tried to tell him this piece of information, but he was disinterested.)
– Though we like to think that we as humans enjoy a variety of flavors, “the average person eats no more than about thirty foods on a regular basis.” Though the book didn’t go into this, I can only assume that those thirty foods will shift and rotate.
– Competitive eaters train themselves often by chugging water to expand their stomach and become accustomed to feeling full. Erik Denmark (look him up, I had to) can do two gallons of water in a sitting. Containing a gallon is the point where cadaver stomachs (being used to test stomach capacity) ruptured. It does not mention how often he needs to pee.
– There exists at least one woman in the world who takes the holy water from her church to make her coffee.
I mean, I could go on. I really could. There is so much information thrown at you and it’s all really quite fascinating. And bizarre. And often pretty disgusting. Admittedly, I’ve not read Stiff or Bonk (yet!), but I have read Packing for Mars and there is a large amount of bodily fluids in there. And that’s the one about space. Gulp is actually the one about bodily fluids. So, you know, proceed with caution. Or accept that the human body is just as intricate and interesting as the human brain. Because after all, the brain is the one that needs to dig deep in there and research it.