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review 2017-11-22 20:05
Stiff / Mary Roach
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers - Mary Roach

Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers—some willingly, some unwittingly—have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.


Mary Roach never disappoints me. She is interested in unusual subjects and she approaches them with a slightly off-kilter sense of humour. However she has finally found a subject that I can’t read about while eating--I had to save this book for after-supper reading.

We hate to be brought face-to-face with our mortality and that is exactly what human cadavers do. We have to consider who they were before death and that we will be like them some day. I think even Ms. Roach found herself testing her usual gung-ho boundaries during this research. She talks about the line that she had to ride, to be sufficiently respectful of the dead (who, after all, still have people in the world who care about them) and her usually irreverent self. She retains the humour by making fun of her own reactions.

As a society, we don’t like to think about death, yet we get all emotional about using human bodies (which were donated by those who used to inhabit them) in safety tests of various sorts. I guess it’s not as dignified as we expect the dead to be treated. It also seems to be extremely uncomfortable for those doing the testing.

Weird and wonderful, this is everything you wanted to know about being dead, but were afraid to ask. Mary is rarely afraid to ask. If you enjoy this book, I would recommend her logical following volume, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife.

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text 2017-11-17 17:50
It's the Weekend!
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers - Mary Roach
The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles) - Mary E. Pearson
The Mummy Case - Elizabeth Peters

Hopefully I'll have at least a little time to read this weekend.


I'd like to finish The Mummy Case, which I haven't had enough time to enjoy.


Next books due at the library:  Stiff and The Kiss of Deception.  Both have holds and can't be renewed, which makes them priority.  I always enjoy Mary Roach's writing, so I know Stiff will be fun, but I've forgotten all about The Kiss of Deception, so I'll go into it blind and see how things go.


In other news, I've got company coming for dinner on Saturday night, so I must do a mountain of laundry, clean the bathroom, and scrub or vacuum all the floors on Saturday morning.


Sunday will be a cooking and reading day, with any luck.


Enjoy your weekend, folks!

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review 2017-09-21 17:07
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal - Mary Roach

Several years ago, I listened to the audiobook version of Gulp.  My reaction at the time was “Fascinating, with just the right amount of yuck factor.” 


I re-read Gulp during the early part of September since it was picked as the first Flat Book Society read.  The chatty, anecdotal style that worked so well for the first listen, didn’t hold up as well to a (print) re-read.  The level of detail for many of the chapters seemed more appropriate for a podcast or a newspaper article than for a book, and perhaps would have been better if encountered in episodic form with a break between sections.


My least favorite parts were the early chapters discussing the history of Fletcherism (obsessive chewing) and the 19th century experiments on Alexis St. Martin (he of the fistulated stomach), both stories I’d previously encountered.  The book picked up a bit once Ms. Roach started talking about the Oral Processing Lab at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and other recent research into the digestive process.   I particularly liked the chapter debunking the story of Jonah and the "whale." While many find the closing chapter regarding stool transplants repugnant, as someone with a delicate digestion, I found the idea of recolonizing the digestive system fascinating.


If you can appreciate potty humor and are interested in a semi-random series of tidbits loosely connected to digestion, then you might want to pick up Gulp for your next audiobook or bathroom read.   

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review 2017-09-14 05:39
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal - Mary Roach

Where to start?  


This was the book chosen (by popular vote) as The Flat Book Society's first official read.  Opinions seem to be firmly split down the middle, and while possibly an inauspicious start to our fledgling club, it definitely generated a lot of discussion.  


My personal feelings about the book started off complicated:  this is not the book I signed up for.  I was hoping for an accessible but scientific look at the human digestive process from start to finish, looking at each step of the process in relative detail.  I think a lot of us thought that was the book we were getting.


Gulp is not that book.


At first this was disappointing - it still is in the sense of the curiosity unfulfilled - but as I continued reading, and adjusted my expectations once it became obvious I was not going to get the book I expected, I ended up enjoying it a lot.


Anyone who has ever read Judith Stone's columns in Discover magazine (a very long time ago) will know what to expect from Gulp (some of them were published in a book called Light Elements: Essays in Science from Gravity to Levity).  Mary Roach is Judith Stone's successor, writing about the science that either seems trivial to most people, or the science no one wants to talk about.  Obviously, Gulp is the latter.


This is an overview of digestion in general; not just human, although that is the primary focus.  Roach looks at it from both an anthropological view, discussing the effects our social views and taboos about digestion have on everything from the food we eat, to the medical care we receive, as well as the scientific as she interviews scientists, looks at case histories and discuses current research.  


Think of Gulp as an introduction; an audit (in the US English sense of the word), of the vast science of gastroenterology, written with a whole lot of humor. Roach never shies away from a joke, a double entendre, or a bit of lighthearted but vulgar fun.  She never stoops to locker room level humour and she never does it at the expense of accuracy, but you can tell she's had a good time writing this book.  She'd definitely be someone I'd enjoy meeting, although probably not at any social event including food.


If that's the kind of book that appeals to you, definitely check this out; it will be informative and entertaining.  If you're hoping for a more focused look at the intricacies of eating and digestion, pass this one on by; it will definitely disappoint.

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text 2017-09-12 07:52
Reading progress update: I've read 265 out of 348 pages.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal - Mary Roach

I've read through chapter 15 and I'm knee deep in the taboo stuff at this point and I have to say, as juvenile as it may sound, I've laughed out loud several times.  And I've learned a few things here and there.  Mostly it's just been interesting.


This might not be hard science, but she does a really good job at making an uncomfortable subject approachable.  

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