Until I realized today that I don't get Columbus Day off. I don't know why I thought we did, and I don't know why it never occurred to me that there were no e-mails about holiday coverage on Columbus Day or anything. You guys, I seriously would have just accidentally skipped work and missed a training I'm supposed to do. This on the same day I found out I overdrafted my bank account by over $700 because I stopped obsessively checking my credit card statement and account balance to make sure that wouldn't happen a long time ago. I'm falling apart.
But because Mary Roach is speaking at the AMWA conference, I finally checked out some of her books!
As someone who is interested in science, writing, and science writing, I always meant to check out Mary Roach, uberpopular science writer. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex is Roach's look into the curious world of sex. Sex!
Roach takes us through the enlightening and often amusing (but rarely titillating) landscape of sex research. From penis cameras to the mystery of the clitoris, she asks the tough questions like "Does orgasm increase the chances of conception?" and "Is penile thrusting enough to produce a female orgasm?" (obviously it is more than enough to produce a male orgasm). She touches on the history of sex research in general, but the most engaging segments, of course, are her firsthand observations and interviews with those at the forefront. At one point, she and her husband actually become experimental participants themselves!
Mary Roach is known for her humorous approach, and her topic gives her much opportunity to raise her eyebrows and make dirty jokes. While I rarely found her laugh-out-loud hilarious, she was generally amusing throughout, but at times I was a bit puzzled by her jokes, which made me question her veracity and accuracy. I raised my eyebrows myself every time she actually cited Wikipedia as a source. Unironically, as far as I could tell. There were other times where I felt she was making fun of her subjects for no good reason but to increase the entertainment value. The style was just a bit too cute overall. Although I appreciated the light tone, it wasn't completely successful for me.
Sandra Burr embraces the light tone with her wry narration; I think she really captured Roach's voice well. I have never heard the words "penis," "vagina," and "clitoris" so many times in my car, but she managed to get through the book without tittering every time. I also appreciated the small changes throughout the book for the audiobook (changing "readers" to "listeners" and "read" to "heard" and such).
Overall, Bonk is an informative and entertaining read, as expected. You'll learn a lot about orgasms, coitus, secretions, hormones, erection, arousal, ejaculation, and all sorts of sexy stuff!
In the wake of the Curiosity landing and Neil Armstrong's death, I was very interested in Mary Roach's take on space travel in Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, and what I discovered was this:
Space travel suuuuuuuuuucks.
Man was not meant to go to space, you guys. Roach covers the many, many ways our bodies are simply not equipped to deal with zero-gravity, not to mention long-term space travel, and the many, many ways NASA has found to get around those limitations. She talks to astronauts and NASA scientists directly, and she also does plenty of research, quoting memoirs and research papers, to put together a picture of the rigorous requirements to become an astronaut, the training program, the rules and regulations, and what it's like to be in space. And, mostly, it suuuuuuuucks. Except for the part where seeing Earth from space is fucking amazing and gives you space euphoria.
A lot of Roach's popular appeal stems from her sense of humor, which is amply present in her writing and footnotes (and Sandra Burr is a natural fit for her voice). But it reaches into her research as well: Roach asks the questions everyone wants to know the answers to but is afraid to ask. Oh, you'll hear about a masturbating chimp, masturbating astronauts, space vomit, space poop, space copulation, and all sorts of other things you won't find on the NASA website. She's the ask-that girl: it's really amusing when she catches people off-guard. Other times, her subjects are more than happy to be completely frank about pooping in space.
One reason this book is better than Bonk is that Roach clearly respects her subjects, as well as her subject. Because space travel is inherently a more serious topic than sex research, there is less sense that Roach isn't taking things very seriously. I felt that she was genuinely interested in her topic and she was truly in awe of what science had been able to do.
Overall, I found Packing for Mars to be an incredibly fascinating look at space travel and zero-gravity, full of humorous asides and amusing mission transcripts. I highly recommend it for anyone who plans to take a trip to the moon.