I love Mary Roach’s books. They’re funny and irreverent and very educational. Her use of ridiculous footnotes rivals that of Gaiman’s and Pratchett’s Good Omens. So I had really high hopes for Gulp when I first picked it up a few years ago.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal is about the human digestive tract, from the mouth all the way down to the exit. It discusses how smell affects taste, the roles of saliva, why poop smells and attempts to make it not smell, toxic megacolon, fecal transplants, and a variety of other topics best not addressed while eating. It’s not the sort of book most people are excited to read, but I gave it a try because Roach has a way of making things accessible and fascinating. She’s like the history teacher who tells you funny stories about rulers so you actually want to pay attention and learn.
This was my third attempt to read Gulp. The first time, I gave up a few pages in because I was grossed out. The second time, I made it about halfway through the second chapter. I’m not sure why I decided to try again or why I didn’t find it so appalling this time. In fact, this time I didn’t find anything distasteful in the first two chapters. Maybe I’m developing a stronger constitution.
I really enjoyed the chapter on the differences between human and pet taste receptors. The chapters on whether a whale could have actually swallowed Jonah and whether or not a mealworm could eat its way out of what ate it were amusing. But I could have lived without the chapters on farts and feeding the rectum. I really, really wish I hadn’t read the chapter on gastric juices and food digestion. Mental images of those experiments will haunt me. The rest of the chapters were interesting and ranged from completely unobjectionable to mildly objectionable.
Was Gulp gross? Yes. Should you read it? I don’t know. A lot of it was educational, some of it was fascinating, but I can’t say it’s one of her better books or that it enriched my life.