Who ever knew that reading about your digestive tract could be so much fun? I’d read Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers years ago, and remember enjoying her unique sense of humor. She is very playful and really enjoys puns, which makes her nonfiction a pleasure to read. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal is no different. She delves into how intimately smell relates to taste, the weird history of “Fletcherizing” (extreme chewing,) and goes to a prison to interview people about smuggling contraband cell phones and tobacco in their rectums. (I learned there’s a word for that: Hooping. Who knew?)
Gulp is filled with many amusing asides and footnotes, including this gem in a chapter about whether or not someone could survive being swallowed by a whale, and what keeps the stomach from digesting itself while you’re alive.
While a seaman might survive the suction and swallow, his arrival in a sperm whale’s stomach would seem to present a new set of problems. *
*I challenge you to find a more innocuous sentence containing the words sperm, suction, swallow, and any homophone of seaman. And then call me up on the homophone and read it to me.
What’s great about Roach’s approach to subjects that are uncomfortable or possibly disgusting, aside from her humor, is her palpable sense of appreciation for the human body and all its intricate, bizarre, beautiful systems and abilities. Near the end of the book, reflecting on watching her own colonoscopy without sedation, she says,
Most of us pass our lives never once laying eyes on our organs, the most precious and amazing things we own. Until something goes wrong, we barely give them a thought. This seems strange to me. How is it that we find Christina Aguilera more interesting than the inside of our own bodies? It is, of course, possible that I seem strange. You may be thinking, Wow, that Mary Roach has her head up her own ass. To which I say: Only briefly, and with the utmost respect.
I freely admit that my sense of humor may be on the juvenile side, but I really enjoyed this book. Her free-wheeling curiosity is a gift to all of us who might want to learn more about the world and ourselves, but also have a great time doing so.