Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Behind the Book

I'm usually not a fan of author readings.  Really, I'm not a big fan of getting to know the people behind most works I enjoy--I don't want to know more about actors or directors or writers.  Statistically speaking, I'm going to dislike some of the people involved in my favorite books and movies.  Almost as bad, I'm going to be really fond of the author of something awful, and that will just be uncomfortable.  I'd much rather deal with the work than with the people behind it.

But I hereby make an exception for Mary Roach, who is welcome to be my new best friend or my honorary aunt or just to come to karaoke this weekend, because I really just want to hang out with her.

Roach is starting up a tour for her new book, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.  I've read a bunch of her previous books (Spook, Stiff, Bonk, Packing for Mars; here's my review of Spook, which I think is my favorite).  I love people who do in-depth research and then tell me about the fun bits; this is what I'm looking for in nonfiction, and Mary Roach is the Sarah Vowell of science (as Sarah Vowell is the Mary Roach of history).  Her books are fun and irreverent and interesting and thoughtful. 

And then I saw her speak, and she is ALL THOSE THINGS!  It was thrilling!  Interestingly, the format of the talk was a conversation between her and Christopher Kimball, founder and editor of Cooks Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen.  I have no particular position on Christopher Kimball, because I find CI and ATK to be way too involved and complicated, and I'm just not up for doing 75% more cooking for a 10% better product.  But my good friend Kris, who sat next to me during the talk, hates him with a passion, and by the end of the discussion I was right there with her.

Mary Roach would be funny, and Christopher Kimball would try to be funnier, but end up being not funny.  In asking her to tell an anecdote, he would basically tell the anecdote, leaving her to come up with something else to talk about.  He kept bringing up quotes from her previous books--this is not a rock show.  I already read that book. 

But Mary, she was delightful.  She was sly and clever and smart and interested.  There's so much to be said for a childlike sense of wonder, and that irreverent wink she seems to be giving you in her books shines through when she talks.  She really does find all this stuff absolutely fascinating, and she's really happy to share it with you.  I highly recommend going to see her, if you can.  And I'm going to buy a copy of Gulp, just as soon as I finish three of the eight books I'm reading right now. 

Or maybe two. I'm not made of stone.


Aarti said...

I've got Roach on my shelf but have never read her. She did a great interview with the New York Times Science podcast about this book - you might want to check it out :-)

Lianna Williamson said...

She's also got a great TED talk-- "!0 Things You Didn't Know About Orgasms". Search for Mary Roach on the TED site.