Shelf Control #199: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!


Title: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
Author: Mary Roach
Published: 2013
Length: 348 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

“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.

How and when I got it:

Found it on the book swap shelf at work last year, so I grabbed it!

Why I want to read it:

Mary Roach is a truly funny science writer, and even though her books are way grosser than I can generally stand, I’m never not amused by her writing. I haven’t been drawn to Gulp because the subject matter sounded like it might be too icky for me, but hey, who can resist a free book? I did really enjoy two of her previous books, Stiff and Packing for Mars, so I know I like her writing style. Now it’s just a question of whether I can stomach (sorry… groan) this topic!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

The Monday agenda

Not a lofty, ambitious to-be-read list consisting of 100+ book titles. Just a simple plan for the upcoming week — what I’m reading now, what I plan to read next, and what I’m hoping to squeeze in among the nooks and crannies.

No work this Monday morning, but the start of a reading week nonetheless… Here’s the latest:

From last week:

Hmm, how’d I do?

A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard: Done. I couldn’t quite bring myself to write a review. Suffice it to say, this is a powerful, sad, painful book; one that’s important to read but hard to enjoy. I admire the author’s courage and strength very much, and give her a lot of credit for coming forward and sharing her story.

Stiff by Mary Roach: Finally! I’ve had this one on my to-read list for years, glad to have finally tackled it. Not for the faint of heart (or stomach), but truly fascinating and surprisingly funny. My review is here.

In graphic novels, I read Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol. Delightful. From my Goodreads review:

Fabulous graphic novel about a lonely teen-aged girl who makes a new best friend – who happens to be a ghost. When loner Anya — an outsider who has conquered her Russian accent but not her low self-esteem or poor body image — falls down an abandoned well, she meets the ghost of Emily, who just wants to help. Or does she? Emily’s “help” soon takes on a more sinister tone, until Anya is forced to make a decision about her own life and what she stands for.

Crisply told and nicely illustrated, with a keen eye toward teen emotions and struggles, Anya’s Ghost is charming and funny, and at the same time manages to be sensitive and perceptive. Definitely a winner.

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon (group re-read): Onward we go. We’re finally at what is probably the most critical set of chapters in the book, and the discussion is fascinating.

And this week’s new agenda:

My brain cells are practically screaming for fiction.

First up: I finally got my copy of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter from the library. Really looking forward to this one.

Next: Looks like I’ll get to another of my Wishlist Wednesday books without much of a wait. I plan to dig into The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan later this week.

And then: I’m feeling non-committal, but I’ll try to get to one of the pending titles on my Kindle, probably Jane by Robin Maxwell.

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon (group re-read): Chapters 48 and 49 on deck for this week. I think my favorite characters need some lessons in healthy communication skills.

And furthermore:

My new bookshelves are calling! Playing with books may take time away from the actual reading of books this week, but it’s just so much fun that I don’t mind at all. One side effect of my shelving project: Discovering all the books I bought last year and forgot about, as they sat hidden in bags and piles. Hello, old friends! What a happy reunion we’re all having!

So many book, so little time…

That’s my agenda. What’s yours? Add your comments to share your bookish agenda for the week.

Wishlist Wednesday

And now, for this week’s Wishlist Wednesday…

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Please consider adding the blog hop button to your blog somewhere, so others can find it easily and join in too! Help spread the word! The code will be at the bottom of the post under the linky.
  • Pick a book from your wishlist that you are dying to get to put on your shelves.
  • Do a post telling your readers about the book and why it’s on your wishlist.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to pen to paper ( somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My Wishlist Wednesday book is actually a two-fer:

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003)

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (2005)

by Mary Roach



From Amazon, about Stiff:

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. They’ve tested France’s first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet way.

In this fascinating, ennobling account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries—from the anatomy labs and human-sourced pharmacies of medieval and nineteenth-century Europe to a human decay research facility in Tennessee, to a plastic surgery practice lab, to a Scandinavian funeral directors’ conference on human composting. In her droll, inimitable voice, Roach tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

Also from Amazon, about Spook:

The best-selling author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers now trains her considerable wit and curiosity on the human soul. “What happens when we die? Does the light just go out and that’s that—the million-year nap? Or will some part of my personality, my me-ness persist? What will that feel like? What will I do all day? Is there a place to plug in my lap-top?” In an attempt to find out, Mary Roach brings her tireless curiosity to bear on an array of contemporary and historical soul-searchers: scientists, schemers, engineers, mediums, all trying to prove (or disprove) that life goes on after we die. She begins the journey in rural India with a reincarnation researcher and ends up in a University of Virginia operating room where cardiologists have installed equipment near the ceiling to study out-of-body near-death experiences. Along the way, she enrolls in an English medium school, gets electromagnetically haunted at a university in Ontario, and visits a Duke University professor with a plan to weigh the consciousness of a leech. Her historical wanderings unearth soul-seeking philosophers who rummaged through cadavers and calves’ heads, a North Carolina lawsuit that established legal precedence for ghosts, and the last surviving sample of “ectoplasm” in a Cambridge University archive.

Why do I want to read these two books?

Plain and simple, Mary Roach cracks me up. I have never laughed so hard over a science book as I did reading Roach’s Packing for Mars. (Come to think of it, I’m not sure that I’ve ever laughed while reading a science book, but my point remains.)

Mary Roach takes on a subject and then examines it from every possible angle, looking for all the scientific oddities that bring her subject to life. In Bonk, her subject was sex, and while some parts were particularly cringe-inducing (there are certain experiments that I just didn’t need to know about!), it was certainly never boring. Packing for Mars is a look at the science of human space travel, and it was hilarious. Plus, I learned a lot, such as the arduous process of inventing effective space toilets and what position to assume in order to increase the odds of surviving an elevator crash. (Answer: Lie flat on your back. There, maybe I’ve actually saved a life today!)

Stiff and Spook were Mary Roach’s first two books, and they’ve been on my shelf for years now. I don’t deviate from the fiction world very often, but I think these two books are a good reason to veer off a bit.

I leave you with a quote from Stiff: “Death. It doesn’t have to be boring.”