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Gulp by Mary Roach

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Mary Roach has taught me a lot about cadavers, sex, and the afterlife, and returns with Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. So now I can learn everything I ever wanted to know (and some things I'd rather not know) about the human digestive tract.

Even if you're not really a science person, she explains things with such wit that you don't realize she's craftily jamming facts into your head. This journey starts with the mouth, winds through the stomach, intestines, colon and so on. And it's gross. But you'll like it, because it's also interesting.

She talks about Elvis Presley's colon (death caused not by drugs, but by constipation?), stomach acid (acid reflux; a stomach can digest itself?) and taste. Ever wondered why it's so difficult to describe a smell? Roach explains how we learn to talk by naming what we see and having that name reinforced by adults. When we smell something, however, there is nothing to see and therefore no reinforcement. Taste, however, is a different story. Anyone who has ever been to a wine tasting will appreciate Roach's dismay as she fails to detect the subtleties of almond, artichoke or Band-Aid at a tryout for an olive oil tasting panel. The tongue can be trained and taste preferences begin even before birth. Roach even explains why dunking one's doughnuts is a physiologically sound practice.

And on the facts go, making clear, how resilient the human digestive tract is. When asked if she found writing this book to be more or less challenging than her other work, she answered, "The challenge for me, with this book was not in the writing. It's this: I don't want people to think it's a book about digestive health or some such drear. That's not me! It's a very unusual take on the subject, and, as with all my books, a little hard to sum up."

Jacki @ Central

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