Thursday, April 11, 2013

Gulp! Am I a Scientist in Denial?!

I've never been terribly gifted at science. I passed my Introductory Biology class last spring with an A, and I'm currently earning an A in my Introductory Chemistry class as I type this. However, notice that both of those are introductory-level classes. I don't think I'd fare so well in higher-level classes, especially if they feature my arch-nemesis, math, more prominently (which I'm sure they would.) And in high school, I passed biology with a B and barely passed with a low C in chemistry; I'm not sure why I'm suddenly better at these classes in college, which, in theory, are supposed to be more difficult than high school classes, but I digress.

By this point, you're probably wondering, "Um, how does this relate to American literature?" Well, I am currently reading the latest book by one of my favorite American writers, Mary Roach. She's a science (nonfiction) writer, and I have all of her books on my Kindle. The book I'm reading now is called Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. I'll let Amazon handle the description of this book, as I fear I cannot do it justice:

"“America’s funniest science writer” (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions explored in Gulp are as taboo, in their way, as the cadavers in Stiff and every bit as surreal as the universe of zero gravity explored in Packing for Mars. Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why is it so hard to find words for flavors and smells? Why doesn’t the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis? In Gulp we meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks of—or has the courage to ask. We go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a fecal transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal. With Roach at our side, we travel the world, meeting murderers and mad scientists, Eskimos and exorcists (who have occasionally administered holy water rectally), rabbis and terrorists—who, it turns out, for practical reasons do not conceal bombs in their digestive tracts. Like all of Roach’s books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies."

So far, I'm really enjoying it. Then again, I've yet to be disappointed by her, so it stands to reason I'd like this book, too. The first book I read of hers was actually her third book, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, which is as HILARIOUS as it is informative. I love her writing style, as well as the interesting situations she finds herself in and the intriguing people she comes across. For instance, in Bonk, she flies to Egypt to interview an OB-GYN who self-funds some pretty wacky experiments. The best one, in my opinion, was the study he conducted to see if wearing polyester pants has an effect on libido. In order to test this, he put polyester pants...on rats. The mental image of rats wearing little polyester pants--in my mind, they look like something Greg Brady would have worn!--had me howling with laughter! As a control, he also put pants of other fibers on rats (can you imagine seeing rats wearing jeans?!) The thought is making me laugh even as I type this! (Verdict: wearing polyester pants does have a slightly negative effect on libido.)

In addition to Bonk and Gulp, she has also written Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (which, while very interesting, I do NOT recommend as bedtime reading material; trust me, I learned this the hard way), Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. I've learned a lot about these topics, thanks to her.

As I was thinking about the fact that I have all of Roach's books, I began to realize something: I read a lot of science nonfiction books. (Science fiction books aren't really my thing, however.) I really enjoy learning about topics that I might otherwise never read about, considering I'm not going into those fields at all. I enjoy learning new things in general, and I fully embrace my nerdiness in that regard. Like a good book should, what I've read has opened me to new worlds, and it's gotten me excited about what else is out there for me to learn. Who knows, maybe what I read will somehow relate to my future career as a linguist after all. At any rate, I will leave you with a quote from Mary Roach herself on science writing, which I think explains why I enjoy her work, and the work of the other science writers I enjoy, as much as I do:

"Make no mistake, good science writing is medicine. It is a cure for ignorance and fallacy. Good science writing peels away the blindness, generates wonder, and brings the open palm to the forehead: 'Oh! Now I get it!"

1 comment:

  1. Hilarious--I was laughing just reading your post! Add this title to my list!