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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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review 2017-09-13 23:11
Signal to Noise
Signal to Noise - Silvia Moreno-Garcia

This really felt like two separate books to me. In one timeline you have the story of Meche's youth. There are coming of age themes, growing pains, and puppy love, all mixed together with a plot that felt like that old movie The Craft - magic becomes a stand in for power and it turns ugly. It was decent story. Then in the other timeline you have Meche returning to her childhood home and dealing with her father's death. This was also a decent story. The problem comes in that these two very different stories are occupying the same book.


The biggest problem for me is that adult Meche doesn't feel any different from teenager Meche. Despite all the things that happen in her youth, the life she lives in between the two timelines, and then confronting her father's death, she doesn't seem to have changed or grown at all. If the two timelines were closer together I might buy this, but it's difficult to swallow that over 20 years have passed and this person hasn't grown up at all. And if I do manage to suspend my disbelief, and accept that Meche hasn't changed in all that time, then that makes me dislike her even more. Have I mentioned I didn't like the main character? That's another thing that made this book a miss for me - I never empathized with Meche.


So here's the thing: Moreno-Garcia is actually a great writer when it comes to putting down memorable and affecting sentences. It's the overall structure of the story that became a problem. The two different storylines felt too different in tone, and didn't compliment each other nearly as well as intended. And without character growth holding them together the structure collapses for me. While I didn't care for this book I would be completely game to try another novel from her. I know she can tell a good story, I just wish she had picked one for this book and stuck with it.

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review 2017-09-11 05:57
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal - Mary Roach

TITLE:  Gulp:  Adventures of the Alimentary Canal


AUTHOR:  Mary Roach


FORMAT:  e-book


ISBN-13:  978-0-393-24030-6




NOTE:  The Flat Book Society Book Club selected Gulp by Mary Roach as the book to read for September and October 2017.




When a book is titled “Gulp: Adventures of the Alimentary Canal” and marketed as popular science, the potential reader assumes they will be reading a book that discusses how the digestive system works and other interesting facts about the alimentary canal.  Well… that is NOT this book.  This book is something of an unfocused hodge-podge of breezy, superficial facts; throw-away statements (we want to know more!); and odd historical stories about the scientists and their less than savoury experiments on the digestive tract.


The book is divided into 17 chapters which loosely  follow the physiological structure of the alimentary canal, beginning with taste and smell, and covering such topics as organ meats, cultural food preferences, chewing, gastric acid, saliva, swallowing, being eaten alive, eating too much, intestinal gasses and flammability, extra-curricular storage functions, colonic direction, constipation, and gut-microflora transplants.  After a while I found that the chapters started to blur together due to the collection of random facts, pointless fillers, multiple side tangents, and not-so-witty footnotes. 


I’m not really sure what the aim of this book was supposed to be, but it is more entertaining (if you find potty humour and fashion commentary entertaining) than educational.  In any case, Roach seems to take delight in showcasing the more sensational trivia and taboos about the digestive system, while at the same time providing excessive fashion commentary of the people she interviews.  There is very little actual science in this book and a limited coverage of the functioning of the alimentary canal.  This book emphasized the strange and bizarre occurrences related to the digestive system, but never fully explained the system itself.   


I found the writing to be a little sloppy with odd sentence structures, interesting single sentence comments that went no-where and lack of clarity between fact and personal opinion.  In addition, the author has an irreverent, rambling style with excessive asides, puns, dodgy humour and innuendoes, and a preoccupation with toilet humour that might appeal more to a 12 year old boy trying to revolt his baby sister than someone actually looking for information about the topic.  The excessive, crude toilet humour also didn’t appeal to me.


The subject matter has the potential to be extremely interesting; however, this book is not.  One reviewer described this book as the “Trivial Pursuit version of the “adventures on the alimentary canal,” not the informative, organized tour designed to give insight in an entertaining way”.  I can’t really argue with that.


I would not recommend this book to anyone, except possibly the aforementioned 12 year old boy in the hopes of enticing him away from the computer/ TV for a while.  There is too much filler and pointless trivia; and very little actual science in this book.



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review 2017-09-10 03:38
The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel - Colson Whitehead

A woman attempts to escape slavery in this astounding adult historical. Let’s review!


An account of a young woman escaping enslavement using an underground railroad system sounds like dystopian fiction. Only it’s not dystopian. Mr. Whitehead writes a poignant yet brutal portrayal of American slavery. Cora’s journey is stunning; her perseverance and defiance of the status quo utterly breathtaking.


Certain liberties are taken in regards to the actual underground railroad system, but they do not detract from the historical setting. The point-of-view shifts from Cora to secondary characters throughout the novel. Chapters are not traditional in nature, tending to run very long due to their unique nature. The audio book narrator is absolutely phenomenal, hitting the right notes and tones along the way.


tl;dr A harrowing tale of American slavery told from multiple perspectives. You will not want to miss this one.

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review 2017-09-06 10:24
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal - Mary Roach

DNF @ 34%.


I looked at my current reads this morning and just cannot bear the thought of spending more time on a book I evidently don't enjoy when there are so many awesome reads to be gotten into.


Gulp was not the book I expected, even tho I had no idea what to expect. Maybe I had my hopes set on something that would be a bit more serious about the science of the alimentary canal than Roach evidently is prepared to offer up. 


Not that I needed a phd thesis or a text book, but I know that even a light(er)-hearted exploration of the topic can be done better. A LOT better.


I previously voiced my doubts about the lack of referencing, the book did not improve for me from that point. If anything, Roaches jumping from idea to idea without really exploring any of them in any depth just grated on me more, as did the - to me - irrelevant descriptions of choice of clothes of the people she interviewed.


I need more. Much more.

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