Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal – Another Treasure From Mary Roach

Photo: W.W. Norton & Company
Photo: W.W. Norton & Company

I cannot express to you how excited I was to find out there was a new Mary Roach book on the bookstore shelves. I devoured her other books and couldn’t wait to dive into this one. Or maybe I should say I couldn’t wait to bite into this one. This entertaining science writer’s newest work is called Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. Yes, it’s just what it sounds like, in 327 pages or less Ms. Roach walks us through the process that begins when we put food in our mouths and ends when it…umm…comes out the other end.

But don’t for a second think this is a medical text book. If you’ve ever read any of Mary Roach’s other books you’ll know that she can take the most delicate subjects and make them entertaining, interesting, and even fascinating. In Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, she dared to answer the question we’d all been wondering – can a dead man get an erection?

In one of my personal favorites, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, she shares fascinating stories of what happens after you’ve exhaled your last breath. And surprisingly it’s interesting, not scary or nightmare inducing. After finishing this book you’ll come to realize, “Life contains these things: leakage and wickage and discharge, puss and snot and slime and gleet. We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget.” A quote by the amazing Mary Roach herself.

Photo: David Paul Morris
Photo: David Paul Morris

If you want to walk around quoting intriguing facts about the space program to friends and co-workers, immediately dive into Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.

And if the idea of ghosts fascinates or confuses you, it’s time you crack open Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Disclaimer: I cannot guarantee this book won’t give you nightmares. But it will make you re-think that bump you keep hearing in the night (although if it’s a repetitive bump, on the other side of your apartment bedroom wall, you might go back and re-read “Bonk”…).

But back to Gulp. Like Mary Roach’s other books, don’t think you’ll be able to just read snippets of this book. Be ready to dive in. Take it on a long flight. Tuck it in your beach bag. Dig it out after the kids have finally fallen asleep (instead of turning on the boob tube) and get tucked into your favorite reading chair. I read my copy almost straight through, as we travelled the long highway through Kansas on spring break, using a bookmark only a few times when gas station stops were necessary. Stops that I understood so much better after reading the parts about the bottom end of the digestive process.

Mary Roach loves to explain to us how the world around us (and the biology inside of us) works. I dare you to not pay attention to the way you chew your food after learning what a complex process it takes to get food from your tongue to your stomach, just a dozen inches away. And here’s the secret spoiler: this book gives a pretty solid theory on the real reason Elvis Presley died. That’s all I’m going to tell you for now. Go get a copy and dive in.

Not only is Mary Roach a talented writer, she’s a fun person to interview. Read this post, from 2 years ago, when I asked Ms. Roach a few questions and was delighted with her replies. Don’t miss the part where she gives us a veiled teaser for Gulp, a book she was researching at the time.

Then watch this clip of an interview she did with Jon Stewart, just a few weeks ago. As always, she come across engaging, light hearted, and full of fun (gross) facts about our bodies and the world around us.

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