Tag Archives: mary roach

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach (unabridged audiobook read by Sandra Burr; 10.5 hrs on 9 discs): I have never wanted to be an astronaut. The notion of having nothing between you and the vacuum of space but a thin wall is absolutely terrifying. I don’t want to worry about using the toilet while weightless or eat food from a tube or go weeks without bathing. I am also prone to motion sickness. That said, it’s still interesting to read about the challenges involved in propelling man out past the atmosphere. I liked a lot of the history, but unfortunately the majority of the facets of space life covered here have to do with vomit and feces. I understand how important those two things are in these sorts of conditions, but it got really old. Not something I’d recommend to the casual reader, but if you’re hoping to become an astronaut, it could serve as a much-needed warning for what you’re getting yourself into.

A note on the audio: I dislike Burr’s fiction narration intensely, but she reads nonfiction like this very well.

Gulp by Mary Roach

Gulp by Mary Roach (unabridged audiobook read by Emily Woo Zeller; 8.5 hrs on 7 discs): This is a tour of the entire digestive system, end to end, from cat food tasters to fecal transplants. It’s told mostly with a sense of wonder, with the occasional bit of juvenile humor (because come on, really). The breadth of information is vast and most of the anecdotes are fascinating, but all in all I just could not get over the Ick Factor. As interesting or funny as the text was, I found I could not eat during any portion of this book. The mere mention of gastric juices was enough to put me off my breakfast. Still, it remains – as with all of Roach’s books – an unexpectedly enthralling survey of a subject you likely never gave much though to before. I just didn’t come away with the same desire to read more about any of the case studies presented because, you know, ick.

A note on the audio: Zeller’s decision to do character voices for the real people in the book was a little strange, but it didn’t detract from the narration. I just wonder what the actual people thought of her “impressions”.

Spook by Mary Roach

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach (unabridged audiobook read by Bernadette Quigley; 8 hours on 7 CDs): After tackling what happens to the body after death in Stiff, Roach turns to what happens to the personality. Does some aspect of what makes us who we are continue living after we stop? Though a skeptic at heart, she enthusiastically pursues all manner of “life after death” theories, from 19th century mediums to modern reincarnation investigators to the scientific search for the soul. She pokes fun where appropriate (especially at herself), but generally presents the evidence without bias or comment. This book probably won’t change any minds; this is an issue where most people believe what they believe no matter what evidence is presented. Still, it is a fascinating survey of the subject. I was particularly enthralled by the ethically questionable methods to weigh the soul. If your interest in ghosts and the like is more academic than spiritual, this is the book for you. Just don’t read it while eating. Some of the descriptions are pretty graphic.

Note: I did not include this in my 2011 audiobook reading challenges because I started it in 2010.

Stiff by Mary Roach

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach: My mother and grandmother, who enjoy reading violent thrillers, were both completely disgusted by the mere title of this book. That amused me.

And while I admit that the chapter on decay turned me into a vegetarian for a day, by and large the descriptions of the various fates that befall our bodies after death were occasionally disturbing, often hilarious, and yet never irreverent. I’d never given much thought to the process of embalming or cremation, much less the history of the funerary business in general. This book certainly was an educational experience in terms of cadaver research as well. I admit that before this book I’d never considered donating my body to science, but it sounds like an interesting idea. However, I agree with the author: ultimately, the fate of my body rests with the loved ones who survive me. If it bothers them to know I’m going to end up in some anatomy class, they’re the ones who will have to live with it, not me. Ending up as part of live-saving research or garden compost hold their appeal, but giving closure to my friends and family is far more important. After all, I won’t know the difference.

In short, I give this book a thumbs up for giving me all kinds of new things to think about. Definitely recommended.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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