Authors I Love: Mary Roach


I’ve mentioned before that my husband is not a reader. We’re 11 years in on our marriage and I’ve had minimal success convincing him that reading is amazing. That hasn’t stopped him from supporting my book habit. He’s been known to bring home books he thinks I’ll like, help me debate the various merits of a book club pick, or take the kids for a walk while I spend way too long browsing at the bookstore. A few years ago, he came home from school to tell me about an author he thought I’d like. Mary Roach had come to his university and spoke to the biology graduate students before spending a day in the lab with Josh’s advisor observing experiments and conducting research for a new book. I read my first Mary Roach book that week and have loved her work ever since.

About the Author
Mary Roach started her career as a journalist, without any specific background in science. She stumbled upon a passion for science writing while working part-time at the San Francisco zoo writing press releases about the elephant’s wart removal surgery. When Josh spent the day with her, he described her as funny, intelligent, and capable. When she describes herself, she claims to have no hobbies. “I mostly just work on my books and hang out with my family and friends. I enjoy bird-watching–though the hours don’t agree with me–backpacking, thrift stores, overseas supermarkets, Scrabble, mangoes, and that late-night “Animal Planet” show about horrific animals such as the parasitic worm that attaches itself to fishes’ eyeballs but makes up for it by leading the fish around.” She sounds like my kind of woman.

About the Books
She has written seven non-fiction examinations of curious science to date: books about the curious science of cadavers, the afterlife, sex research, the space program, the alimentary canal, and war. She describes serious science accurately, although she does it as an outsider. She doesn’t avoid poking fun at things that seem ridiculous to people outside the field (like the NASA department tasked with the approval or rejection of acronyms). She uses copious footnotes to include information that is interesting, but not vital to the current subject. The books are all serious and humorous at once, but the footnotes often make me laugh out loud in quiet places.

My Favorites
I’ve already written about Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, which was the first Mary Roach book I read. I also regularly recommend her collection of short stories, My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places, to anyone wanting a sampling of her style without committing 400 pages to any one topic. She’s written a number of articles for Salon that have the same irreverent feel as her books, but without so much science. I still find her shorter pieces funny, but they lack the same appeal for me without the in-depth science. I like her books because I’m laughing and learning about something I would never investigate otherwise.

Josh wasn’t quoted in Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canalalthough she did write down a few things he said while they all ate lunch after dissecting a snake. That she laughed at Josh’s joke and the fact that she outlined my plan for retirement (Scrabble, bird watching, and grocery shopping abroad) in her list of favorite activities makes me think we’d be good friends. You can find more about Mary Roach on her website.


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