Packing for Mars is like Bonk, Stiff and Spook (her three previous books) but in space. Awesome! Everything is better in space. And hilariously entert...morePacking for Mars is like Bonk, Stiff and Spook (her three previous books) but in space. Awesome! Everything is better in space. And hilariously entertaining.
I have a huge author crush on Mary Roach. She isn't embarrassed by any subject. (I know this for a fact, I got to ask her at her book reading.) She won't pass up a Howdy Doody joke when discussing the difficulties in pooing in zero-G. She also scammed a free copy of zero-G porn movie series and watching it to 'research' zero-G sex. She asks all the probing, detail oriented questions that 99% of us would never even think of. And yet, once we know the questions, we are fascinated by the answers. She uncovers the slightly embarrassing marginalia of the space race.
Mary Roach does it so we don't have to!
Now for just a few interesting and funny bits I learned while reading Packing for Mars.
I had no clue that defecating in zero-G presents with a whole host of complications, many of which only become apparent while in space. NASA and other space agencies have spent a lot of time and money researching ways to not just make a space toilet comfortable and private, but just to merely work.
"A successful zero-gravity toilet is a subtle finessing of engineering, materials science, physiology, psychology, and etiquette. ...If just one element is missing, things don't come out right."
If I ever hear about the cost of developing a space toilet, I will not flinch an inch. This is important work.
Here's another fun random space-based factoid for you: "The contract for the Apollo lunar landing suits went to International Latex, which later became Playtex." As in bras. Roach mentions earlier that when NASA needed to develop a space suit, they had no experience in rubberized materials, so they went to a huge bra & underwear manufacturer who sold through the Sears catalogue.
This fact is a little more serious (by that I mean less squicky) than the poo/bra stuff above. Did you know that moon dust is incredibly abrasive? Since there's no wind, there's no erosion smoothing the rough corners. Moon dust quickly scratches lenses and helmet visors. To make matters worse, the dust is bombarded with cosmic particles which being impart a charge to the dust. Not only is it sharp, it also sticks to absolutely everything. Get this: there are companies that exist just to produce faux moon dust for NASA.
Finally, one last poo joke, because I can't resist. Did you know the opposite of ingest is egest? As in: to reduce the amount of egesta, you must ingest low-residue foods. Here's Roach's goofy footnote to this:
"Egesta is my new favorite euphemism for 'feces,' and an even better toilet brand name than Ejecto. Certainly better than Toto. Who names a toilet after a lapdog? Unless it's Shit-Tzu. I'd buy a Shit-Tsu toilet."
Me too, Mary. Perhaps a footnote generated after sharing too much vodka with the cosmonauts?
This book is extremely amusing and wicked entertaining. And I love Mary Roach. I hope she keeps digging up the marginalia of the world. ____________ PS: Make sure you watch the book trailer - I think it's linked at right on this page. Normally I hate those things, but this one is genuinely funny. PPS: Mary signed my book "Spacily yours, Mary Roach" *swoon*(less)
I freaked out last weekend when I found out that David Mitchell is doing a reading in town tonight for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Which is...moreI freaked out last weekend when I found out that David Mitchell is doing a reading in town tonight for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Which is kind of funny on paper, because Cloud Atlas was the single work of his I'd read, and only gave it 4-stars. I liked it, but didn't fall in love with it, so why all the David Mitchell fan-fare? Ah, you see I heard a most excellent interview & discussion with Mitchell on the BBC World Service when they picked Cloud Atlas for their Book of the Month Club. (Link is here, thanks to Ken-Ichi for pointing it out!) Holy Crud, I have an author crush. He was funny, insightful, self-deprecating and engaging.
It just didn't feel right to rush off to Hollywood for the reading with only one Mitchell book under my belt. So I started searching around for another title to read. He must really be popular here in Pasadena, because ALL of his books at every branch of the library are checked out, most with waiting lists. Luckily I have an 'in' at a university library, but this was the only non-Cloud Atlas title they carried.
Hoo boy, am I glad this is the book that landed in my lap! Black Swan Green is funny, touching, sad, and just plain entertaining. Yes, yes, it's a coming-of-age story of a 13 year old boy living in a Worcestershire village in Thatcherite Britain. But it's also a series of short-stories, each a vignette of an important event happening in what's the most important, pivotal year in the life of young, stammering Jason Taylor.
What's also fun for the reader is the shout-outs Mitchell gives to his previous books & characters. He mentions the song, "#9 Dream" by John Lennon, also the title of his second novel. What's funnier is that an elderly Eva van Crommelynck (last seen in Cloud Atlas as a young woman) makes a significant appearance, as well as Robert Frobisher's Cloud Atlas composition. In the BBC interview, Mitchell explains that he likes to do cross-over characters partly to show readers that the character lives on.
I'll say up-front that I'm quite biased. Not to mention my newly budding Mitchell fandom, many of the stories in the book parallel my husband's life.
At any rate, I'll leave you with a few quotes:
"She'd probably love to have my stammer if she could have her leg back, and I wondered if being happy's about other people's misery."
"Eavesdropping's sort of thrilling 'cause you learn what people really think, but eavesdropping makes you miserable for exactly the same reason."
"Gravestones mostly flake away after a couple of centuries. Even death sort of dies. The saddest sentence I ever found was in a graveyard on Bredon Hill. 'Her abundant virtues would have adorned a longer life.'"(less)
Went to Shteyngart's reading/signing and it was hilarious! He's a bit like a stand-up comic looking for an audience, so he trolls bookstores. I'm goin...moreWent to Shteyngart's reading/signing and it was hilarious! He's a bit like a stand-up comic looking for an audience, so he trolls bookstores. I'm going to read this on vacation next week. ______________
I'm baaack. I'm also terrified of giving this book 3-stars. After reading the scathing reviews here on Goodreads, it appears all the cool kids hate this book. Fine. I've only ever been the opposite of cool. And that's hot.
Here's the thing: I don't think Shteyngart's witty, super fast, referential humor comes across in written form very well. Like I said above, the book reading had the whole audience in stitches. Not just the banter introduction, or even his self-deprecating way he'd answer all the lame questions he must get at every reading ("What's your typical work day like?"). The reading itself - you know, the actual words in the printed book - was really, really funny. He did voices, he had comedic timing, it all made sense. So I was reading Lenny Abramov's diaries in Steyngart's voice, and it was pretty funny. In parts.
It just wasn't anywhere near as funny as when he read the book out loud.
Also, I got the strong impression that as a minimum, the target audience for this book should be well acquainted with New York City. More appropriately, the designated reader should belong to one of the immigrant classes described in the book. I don't think I was part of the target audience, and just like when I watch Seinfeld, I miss a huge part of the joke. Not unlike this philosophy class I took in college where the prof would make a Yiddish joke every 15 minutes, and a huge question mark would appear above my blonde shiksa head.
Nonetheless, I thought the characters were interesting and fleshed-out. They certainly weren't like characters I've encountered before, so that was new. The future Shteyngart paints is impressionistic and not particularly believable, which is a shame. The story was silly, but it kept me entertained. I don't know about it being Super or True, but I'll grant that it's a Sad Love Story. And... that's why I gave it 3 stars.
I'll never get into the cool kid clique now, will I?(less)
If you've ever been to a school Nativity pageant, you know the kids can be right unpredictable, often with hilarious consequences. Gervase Phinn was t...moreIf you've ever been to a school Nativity pageant, you know the kids can be right unpredictable, often with hilarious consequences. Gervase Phinn was the Inspector of English in the Yorkshire Dales, and saw more than his share of Nativity pageants. This little book is the retelling of the best and funniest of those moments.
This was a gift from my English mother-in-law a few years back, and it makes me chuckle even on re-reads. He frequently captures the Yorkshire dialect, such as one of the shepherds saying upon seeing Jesus in the manger, "By the heck, 'e's an 'andsome little feller!"
And how about the little girl who hearing that there was no room for Joseph and Mary at the Inn rightfully pointed out "Well, they should 'ave booked in advance. It allus gets busy at Christmas."(less)