Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

gulpGulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
By Mary Roach
Read by Emily Woo Zeller

This was excellent, but…

That’s pretty much my review of this book. It was excellent—funny and informative—and yet, there are so many warnings necessary before I could possibly recommend this to anyone else.

I read Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers some years back and enjoyed it a lot. It was funny and educational and oddball and also kind of gross but mostly that just made me get all picky about what I want to have done with my body after I die. I had not expected adventures in the alimentary canal to be significantly grosser than a recounting of the things that can and do happen to bodies after death. Oh, how wrong I was! Gulp got incredibly gross, and I am now hyper conscious of my bowels. I can only hope that awareness disperses after I move on to another book.

Second: I have to warn about animal harm. So. Much. Animal. Harm! You know how people have learned about the digestive track over the centuries? Largely by doing really unpleasant things to animals. Do you know what vivisection is? If you don’t, then count your blessings and don’t ask.* If you do, well, if you read this book, you’ll know a lot more about it. The people at the dog food factory loved their dog taste-testers and treated them extremely well. I cling to the fact that there are people here who love their animals. Because all the other animals mentioned in this book came to gruesome ends.

Moving on, I was surprised about how Roach didn’t spend much time on the intestines. She started at scent and taste and swallowing, moved on to the stomach, and then dealt with digestive juices, but then moved on to the colon (and stayed there for a really long time) but I didn’t really think the small and large intestines got their fair share of time. On the other hand, this isn’t exactly intended as a textbook. Maybe she just couldn’t find the same number of stories—horrifying and hilarious—for that particular section of anatomy as she could for the rest.

Finally, while I listened to this in audiobook format, I think it probably works better read in a traditional book format. There were a fair number of footnotes that discussed tangential issues and it was occasionally difficult to track the divergence and subsequent return to the regular text.

So, if my various warnings haven’t put you off too much, then I do recommend this book. It is hilarious and I have learned things that I never would have expected.

* I first learned of vivisection from a book in which the bad guys did it and the good guy was Jack the Ripper. Let that give you some perspective.

4 comments on “Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

  1. Anna says:

    Well, I’m afraid you did indeed turn me off of it, because animal harm is my Achilles’ heel; I just can’t abide it. I should really check out Stiff, though.

    Besides the animal harm, I’m not sure I want to be “hyper conscious of my bowels,” though it made me laugh that you now are!

    Finally, A Night In The Lonesome October is great, and all vivisectionists should have to meet Jack the Ripper.

    • Rebecca says:

      Luckily (in this case, at least), I rarely maintain any sort of hyper consciousness in anything ever, and am back to happily taking my bowels for granted without any conscious thought at all.

      And, yup, I do love A Night in Lonesome October! But you should check out Stiff, it’s somewhat gruesome without being gross and, for the most part, all the main subjects are already dead.

  2. Kinsey says:

    I really liked her other books, but I’d been wavering on this one and I think you just helped me decide–animal harm and general grossness are my two weak points.

    • Rebecca says:

      I feel bad for warning people away, because it really is a good book and I learned a lot from it. But… it did get a bit too much at times.

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