Synopsis: (non-fiction) Mary Roach takes a tour along the alimentary canal, from mouth to rectum, making stopoffs along the way to discuss pet food, drug smuggling and fecal transplants. An informative and disgusting look at our digestive system.
full review under the cut:
If you have a weak stomach, this is not the book for you. I did attempt to read it on my lunch break, but it was just too off-putting. Still, most of the time I was more interest than grossed out, and I have developed an appreciation for my own digestive tract.
Roach writes in a very readable way, I never felt confused, overwhelmed or bored by the science. She also comes across as personable, the book is about her own discoveries and enthusiasm for the subject, she takes a journalist approach, which is not surprising as that's her background. There is also plenty of humour in the book, I did find myself sniggering on the train (the train ride was a lot more appropriate place to read this than the dinner table). Roach's frankness and willingness to try anything is admirable, from tasting the cat food to participating in the preparation of fecal transplant 'donations'.
Fecal transplants sound revolting, but they are actually life-saving. They introduce healthy gut flora into patients suffering debilitating diarrhoea, and cure them completely of a multitude of problems. A 'donation' (a poo) from a healthy donor is liquidised then given to the patient in a sort of reverse enema.
Roach also impress the importance of open discussion about digestion, something that is still a taboo, and leads to the death from bowel and rectum cancer, as people are simply to embarrassed to discuss their symptoms with doctors. She makes a good point that the ribbon for bowel cancer is blue, as brown was deemed to be unsuitable, even people campaigning for funding and awareness for the disease can be squeamish.
My favourite part of the book was about 'hooping' smuggling contraband into prison (drug mules swallow, inmates hide things in their rectums). Here's a quote to illustrate:
'a block captain wanted to tell me about an inmate who was caught with two boxes of staples, a pencil sharpener, sharpener blades, and three jumbo bulldog clips in his rectum. He became known as 'OD', for Office Deport. They never found out what he intended to do with the stuff.'
It is not my usual reading material, but I feel like I've learnt something, and I would recommended it the science-minded or simply curious.