Sunday, September 19, 2010

Book Review: Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void 

I have loved Mary Roach's work since I discovered that her book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is the funniest nonfiction book about death that I could possibly imagine existing. That one's still my favorite. Bonk was great, Spook was pretty darn good if a bit lacking. I requested Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void as soon as I realized it was coming out, and I finally finished it.

What I was looking for in this book was Roach's trademark humor and irreverence, and I found it overwhelmingly in the last third of the book. There are the discussions of sex in space, food in space, and eliminating in space. Hee hee, ho ho, I'm a ten-year-old boy, apparently. It's informative, it's fascinating, and it is hysterical. And make sure you read every single footnote too. It's been awhile since I laughed aloud while reading a book, but I did it several times while reading this one.

Some of the book was slow going for me. It's not Roach's fault - I have limited reading time and no attention span these days. You have to grab me or I drift away and start thinking about the buttons I'm going to make or the next time I'm going to drive somewhere. The first half of the book is kind of a blur for me; there were some interesting interviews, some great anecdotes and some setting-the-record-straight stories, but the discussions of the chimps, for example, just didn't grab me - surprisingly - the way I thought they would. (Although, POOR LAIKA! I knew, but I forgot, and and and *sniff*!!!!) And the vomiting stuff that you'd think I would love, well, I didn't, although I did find it fascinating. (Will you die if you throw up in your space helmet or won't you?)

The book also sent me to Wikipedia to relive the Challenger and the Columbia. I remember the Challenger day very vividly (I missed watching it live, got home and my mother told me what happened, was glued to the TV and watched the replay a million times [which I did again on September 11], and then went to Hebrew school where everyone but me was too cool to care, so I sat in the back and replayed it a million more times in my mind.) Columbia, though more recent, was a bit fuzzier in my mind. Go figure.

Bottom line? Yeah, you should read this. You should particularly read it if you like nonfiction, irreverence, bodily functions, angles you never thought you'd actually want to explore being explored, and Mary Roach's writing. But if you haven't read Stiff, read that first. Seriously. It's amazing.

1 comment:

  1. I listened to an interview with her on NPR this weekend. Saturday morning, I think? Weekend edition? I haven't read any of her books, but after listening to her I'll be keeping my eye out when I'm thrifting.