‘Gulp’: the multiple wonders of the alimentary canal, all the way down
Mary Roach’s new book, “Gulp,” tells you everything you ever wanted to know (and some things you didn’t) about the beginning, middle and end of the alimentary canal. Roach discusses her book Monday at Town Hall Seattle.
Special to The Seattle Times
The author of “Gulp” will discuss her book at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Town Hall Seattle, 1119 Eighth Ave. Advance tickets are $5 at 888-377-4510 or townhallseattle.org, and at the door beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Mary Roach is the person I’d most like to stand next to at a cocktail party. Boy, would she be fun.
The Oakland writer is best known for books that explore the weird (stuff) found at the edges of science. “Bonk” looks at the scientific underpinnings of sex. “Stiff” does the same for cadavers. (Roach is fond of one-word titles, though “Packing for Mars,” about space travel, loses a little of that snap.)
The use of the euphemism “(stuff)” is particularly apt in the case of “Gulp” (Norton, 352 pp., $26.95). Just consider the book’s subtitle: “Adventures on the Alimentary Canal” (Norton, 348 pp., $26.95).
As this title suggests, “Gulp” focuses on what happens during food’s fantastic voyage through the body. Starting with the mouth and proceeding briskly downward, Roach takes us on a journey through the wonders of ingestion, digestion and excretion.
As the author ably demonstrates, this is an elegant, complex, astonishing and only sometimes icky set of events. In the hands of Roach, it’s also hilariously funny.
Roach is not satisfied merely to pore over research material like scholarly volumes on flatulence or periodicals with titles like Journal of Wound Ostomy and Continence Nursing. (In a footnote, Roach points out that anyone who reads this for professional reasons deserves a special award.)
No, the fearless Roach is also game for hands-on research, and she’s bold about offering herself as a test subject.
One of the milder examples of the latter involves a trip to the Netherlands to spit into little glass bottles, in the process learning the difference between stimulated and un-stimulated saliva. She also visits a prison to learn about the things that can be smuggled into jails via some genuinely alarming hiding places.
And Roach provides some wonderful digressive asides. Take the brief discussion of the Prunarians, a group of civic boosters in Vancouver, Wash. The Prunarians were organized in the 1920s to promote Clark County’s reputation as the Prune Capital of the World.
Who knew? You can look it up — there’s an extensive article on the HistoryLink.org website.
“Gulp” also takes a long look at Ene-man, the superhero mascot devised by the Fleet enema company (Motto: “Keep your Backcountry Clean”).
I swear, you can’t make this (stuff) up — it just writes itself. Don’t take my word for it — check it out, then go buy an Ene-man stuffed plush toy.
I’ve remarked before that one of my top criteria for pronouncing a book worthwhile is the number of times you snort helplessly with laughter and say, “Wow! Did you know that ... ” before your long-suffering spouse throws a book at you from across the room.
My personal spouse says that, in this department, “Gulp” takes the cake.
Adam Woog’s column on crime and mystery fiction appears on the second Sunday of month in The Seattle Times.