Guest Post: Gulp by Mary Roach


Guest blogger Carolyn is currently toiling away in the dusty halls of academic librarianship, but when she does emerge, blinking, into the daylight, she enjoys time spent with her very patient husband and her not as patient daughter. She also mightily enjoys Sherlock, Parks and Rec, movies where there is good kissing, and every YA novel she can get her hands on.

I’m just going to say this about me: I like the weird stuff.

Not necessarily gross.

But if it’s weird, I’ll probably like it, or at least want to know more.

I also like to laugh. A lot.

Lastly, I like to read aloud. To my husband. When he’s trying to work. He’s a patient guy.

It stands to reason, then, that I would adore Mary Roach. She isn’t afraid of the wGulp-cover-350eird, she makes me laugh, and so many of her passages just beg to be read aloud to partners who are in the middle of writing a proposal and yes, would love to stop and listen to this hilarious sentence.

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of Mary Roach’s latest, Gulp, and to say I devoured it whole would be to really strain the whole eating metaphor so I will only say that it was not disappointing.

Roach has previously explored death and the body in Stiff, followed up on the dead bodies’ spirits in Spook, and returned to the living and their basic needs in Bonk. In Gulp, she goes ever inward, examining the way both humans and animals taste, digest, and eliminate their food.

A quick glance at Gulp’s table of contents gives an overview of not only the topic but Roach’s sense of humor; chapter titles include “Up Theirs: The alimentary canal as criminal accomplice” and “I’m All Stopped Up: Elvis Presley’s megacolon, and other ruminations on death by constipation.” Never one to back away from a pun, Roach’s writing ensures near constant giggling interspersed with actual guffaws.

Not content to rest on humor alone, Roach also backs up her writing with science, searching out foremost experts in her field and observing experiments, investigating results, and continuing conversations and cross-checking facts long into the (metaphorical) night. That’s why I love her books so much. Not only do I get an excellent ab workout from laughing so much, but at the end of the (metaphorical) day, I’ve learned something.

Roach really shines in her footnotes, which often take up more than half a page. They made up the majority of the segments I read out loud. Like this little gem about President Garfield’s doctor:

The D stood for “Doctor.” Garfield’s doctor was Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss. For reasons lost to time, Bliss’s parents named their boy after a New England physician, Dr. Samuel Willard. It would seem they mistook the doctor’s title for his first time, for rather than naming their son Samuel Willard Bliss, as custom would dictate, they christened him Doctor Willard Bliss. Perhaps to simplify his life, the boy went into medicine – despite a seeming shortage of aptitude and professional ethics…. Conveniently, no matter what happened, even were he stripped of his medical license, he would always be Doctor Bliss.

Gulp is out now, so I recommend you grab a copy and accost your favorite busy person immediately. They’re going to want to hear all about it.

Do you have a favorite Mary Roach book? If not, have you read any books with factoids you are compelled to share with friends, family and complete strangers?

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Interested in reading Gulp? Add it to your Goodreads, find it at your local library or one of the retailers below.

In print: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powell’s

E-book: Kindle | Nook

13 Responses

  1. I’m not sure if it’s factoid related, but I greatly enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace partly due to each chapter began with a “fact” from the case or a newspaper clipping related to what was happening in the story. The author did a great job of making the whole world feel more real with these little additions.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion! It is great when little details add to the whole experience! BTW, the last book that make me share weird facts with friends was Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. Great and funny!

  2. I recommend Mary Roach’s STIFF all the time! I love it for all the reasons listed here. Who knew a book about cadavers could be so enjoyable? 🙂 I’ll have to give GULP a read. Thanks for the review!

    1. Erin: I have to admit that I couldn’t get all the way through STIFF the first time around. I was doing fine until the chapter on airplane crashes. *shudder* When I found the courage to pick it up again, I just skipped right over that part. 😀

  3. My favorite Mary Roach book was “Bonk” with the photo of the ladybugs doing it ‘doggy style’ on the cover. I can’t wait until it’s in my budget to acquire “Gulp”!!

    And I second the comparison to Sarah Vowell’s hilarious and weird “Assassination Vacation.” Both authors have made me literally laugh out loud, as well as dramatically read aloud the best parts to my family, friends, and anyone nearby who would listen.

    Question: Where are those .GIFs in your review from originally? I don’t want to miss out on anything awesome.

    1. Mollie: DM me your addy and my ARC of Gulp is yours!

      the GIFs are from massive Tumblr searches. The JT one was really hard to find and I think I ended up on Buzzfeed. I’ll poke around later today and send Ryann the originating links so she can update the post.

      1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! What a generous thing to do!

        Thanks again for poking me on Twitter. I swear, I clicked on the button to sign up to be e-mail notified of follow up comments on this post plus new posts but maybe Gmail ate it. Hmm.

      1. I’ve read all of Sarah Vowell’s books except her latest, “Unfamiliar Fishes.” Her work requires a ton of concentration because of the level of detail. I’m disabled and I take painkillers that zap my short-term memory, so if I don’t finish a book in 3 days I generally forget what was happening and have to start from the beginning. So I’m saving that one for one of my weeks post-pain treatments when I feel extra good and thus require less medication.

        “The Partly-Cloudy Patriot” was good, I think it was her second-best after “Assassination Vacation.” It’s short stories connected by the thread of her life and with a heavy dose of American history, like a less thematically linked “Assassination Vacation.”

        I didn’t enjoy “Radio On: A Listener’s Diary” because I hadn’t listened to the same programs of that year, so it was hard to follow.

        “The Wordy Shipmates” was solid, but it felt lighter somehow than “Assassination Vacation.” I thought it benefitted from being a single thematically linked book, but that it probably could have been stronger had it been shorter and part of a linked set like “AV.” As a Christmas gift, my Mom got me tickets to a reading Sarah Vowell did of this in Northampton, MA, and it was sublime. She was super-patient signing all of my books, plus copies for my sister.

        She’s wonderfully funny. Definitely get the audiobooks! In “AV,” a highlight is how she narrates while Jon Stewart from “The Daily Show” voices assassinated President James Garfield. She also voiced teenage super hero Violet Parr in the Disney-Pixar movie “The Incredibles,” in case you were unaware. Really cute, funny family film! Definitely worth checking out if you haven’t seen it yet.

        So I’m a huge Sarah Vowell Fangirl.

  4. Just read part of a book REVIEW aloud to my husband!

    Thanks for the great suggestion – and the ab workout – Carolyn.

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