Only Mary Roach would start a book with a story about diarrhea.
I absolutely loved “Stiff,” so I had high expectations for “Gulp.” Also, I read “Stiff” over 6 six years ago, so her tone and style were a nice surprise all over again. I absolutely love the way she writes. It makes me laugh, makes me comfortable with uncomfortable, “taboo” subjects, and draws me in on the joke, making me a co-conspirator.
That said, “Gulp” is a slight misfire in kind of a fundamental way. Maybe I enjoyed “Stiff” as much as I did because cadavers and the idea of death are more of a foreign, far away concept to me. But I have a mostly-functional alimentary system, and I have a lot of questions about it. I’m sure Roach would encourage me to detail those questions here, and elaborate on which of my functions are less operative, and how, and that’s why I love her. But because I love you, and because polite embargo of such discussions is alive and well (which she addresses often, and delightfully), I’ll spare you the details. Point being: this is a book of anecdotes about the alimentary system, and it mostly assumes that you already understand how the body deals with food and transforms it into waste.
The stories are pretty amazing, and the book is organized well, starting at the top, and moving down, as expected. Her journalistic work is rigorous and her copious footnotes make me howl with laughter. And, as someone with mild hypochondria, let me add that reading her section on bowel movements while riding the subway almost caused an emergency scenario.