I really like non-fiction sometimes. Most of the pleasure reading I do is young adult fiction, which I love; however, every couple of months, I take a break and gorge my brain with the truth.
Maybe it’s just my odd little circle of friends, but it seems to me that most people have at least heard of Mary Roach. She’s a freelance journalist who writes pieces for National Geographic, Wired, New Scientist, and other magazines. She also writes for Salon.com, and one of her pieces became her first book.
Mary Roach’s writing is funny, informative, and personal. She doesn’t shy away from revealing her own biases and opinions regarding an issue, but then she makes every effort to research (and sometimes remedy) her misgivings. She uses words like “dude.” She’s my kind of lady.
Here’s an example of her style:
“I suppose that if you believe that hypnotic suggestion can expand a bosom, it’s not a big leap to suppose that a profound fright might affect the skin of a developing fetus.”
That’s from the book Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. In this book,
Roach discusses reincarnation, soul-weighing, ectoplasm, near-death experiences, and other ghostly pursuits. She’s a self-described skeptic with no belief in faith of any kind; her religion is science. Throughout the book, Roach explores faith in general, and her own beliefs. She really struggles in this book to understand why other people believe in something she thinks is bunk. This is serious stuff, and Roach does a fantastic job in respectfully disagreeing with some of these theories. She views beliefs like reincarnation as social constructs and not truths, but she acknowledges that these constructs serve an important purpose. Despite the heady material, Roach makes it sing. It’s a great book to speed through in a day or so, or you could just read one or two chapters to satiate your paranormal desires.
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex takes Roach’s commitment to her writing to another plane entirely. She and her husband decided to participate in a sex research study for the book, and every detail is in there. It’s revealing and brave. Bonk isn’t just about people having sex in labs; it’s about penis cameras, coital imaging, impotence, boners, hormones, and much, much more. You will blush, you will laugh, and you will think about your own intimate life in a new way.
But the best Mary Roach book, in my humble opinion, is her first. Stiff:
The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is a surprisingly touching look at the bodies donated to science every year. What happens to cadavers? Where do they go? Who needs cadavers, anyway? Roach takes a journey to the body farm, a place where there are cadavers in various states of decay in a gorgeous forested setting. She learns about crucifixion experiments, reanimation, cannibalism, and human crash test dummies. Roach keeps reminding the reader that these cadavers are people with families, and that most medical schools have a remembrance ceremony at the end of the year for the people who donated their bodies to the program.
Mary Roach has a wonderful way of making light of the things society takes seriously: sex, death, and the afterlife. She’s a funny writer, but when she needs to be serious, she can really pull on your heartstrings. If you want to read more of her stuff, head on over here.