Showing posts with label mary roach. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mary roach. Show all posts

Monday, June 6, 2016

Nonfiction Mini-Reviews x3!

I didn't mean to do it, but my last 3 reads have all been nonfiction...and now that I've realized it, I'm pining for more!  Send me all your latest nonfiction recommendations, if you please.  In the meantime, here's some snapshots of what I've been reading lately:

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
W.W. Norton, 2016
received from the publisher for an honest review


If you didn't see my review of Mary Roach's Packing for Mars a few months back, let me tell you that she specializes in hilarious, science-based nonfiction.  She generally chooses unconventional topics (the particulars of space travel, the science of human cadavers, etc), researches the minutiae behind them, and peppers her findings with off-color humor.  Now that is MY brand of nonfiction.

In Roach's latest release, the topic is war, but not in the way it's covered via politics or military strategy.  Instead, she's delved into the oft-not-discussed ways that our military uses science to provide for our soldiers at home and overseas.  For example: what happens when a Navy SEAL really, really has to poop during a mission?  (I'm dead serious.  She actually ASKED A NAVY SEAL THAT.)  How are military hospitals providing for soldiers that lose not just limbs, but also their genitals, during combat?  How do submariners in the Navy prepare for undersea conditions?  (Nice shout outs to my hometown of Groton, CT (Submarine Capital of the World, say heyyy) in that section!)  These are the questions that you didn't even know you had, but now you want them answered.

Overall I enjoyed this one, because Roach's humor was on point (as expected), and the research was interesting.  However, as a whole the book did not click with me quite as well as Packing for Mars did.  I felt like the chapters were a bit disjointed from each other, which disrupted the flow between topics.  Plus, I found it harder to laugh at her humor on this particular subject.  Giggling over space toilets is one thing, but finding the humor in genital reconstruction for wounded soldiers was a bit tougher.  Perhaps my humor has it's limits?  I never thought I'd see the day...

Anyway, this is worth the read for followers of Mary Roach, and I think anyone connected to the military would find it intriguing.  It's not my favorite of hers, but I'm still interested in reading her other work.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Knopf, 2012
borrowed from the good ol' public library

The latest read for my MOMS Club Book Club!  This is Cheryl Strayed's memoir of when, after dealing with her mother's sudden death, her own divorce, as well as a descent into drug addiction, she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  The trail runs from Mexico to Canada via California, Oregon, and Washington.  Strayed tackled the trail with no previous backpacking experience, in the hopes that she would find something to allow her to get her life back on track.

There is a ton of hype about this book (especially since the release of the Reese Witherspoon movie), but I understand why.  This is a very moving memoir, and Strayed is startlingly honest about her childhood, her failed marriage, and her ups and downs on the trail.  I found many of her experiences to be inspiring, even in her weakest moments.  The interesting cast of characters that she encounters during her trek will (mostly) raise your faith in humanity.  Plus, it's excellent hiking inspiration for the outdoorsy readers--I already told my husband that we must put the PCT on our bucket list!

Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon by Ed Caesar
Simon & Schuster, 2015
borrowed from the good ol' public library

Love me a good running read these days!  In Two Hours, Ed Caesar discusses exactly what it would take for a professional marathoner to eventually break the coveted 2:00 mark.  The current world record is 2:02:57, and while 2 minutes and 57 seconds doesn't sound like a long time to most, to elite marathoners it is an enormous divide.  Caesar looks into the science behind it--there are researchers who have done a variety of tests in order to estimate what they believe to be the absolute limit for how quickly a human can run 26.2 miles.  But alongside that, he follows the marathon pursuits of Geoffrey Mutai, an elite Kenyan runner who has his sights set on both a world record and the 2:00 wall.  This combination of scientific and personal perspectives on the upper limits of marathoning made for a fascinating book.

One of my favorite tidbits from this book is the discussion of how modern day road races do not provide favorable conditions for runners to get the fastest marathon time possible.  Many are hilly, provide very little shade, and don't allow the runners to employ pacers (non-racing runners who are hired to pace them at exactly what they need to hit a certain finish time--one racer will sometimes use a few different pacers throughout a race, if it is allowed).  Plus, they are weather dependent--you could be in the best shape of your life, but if you wake up and have to run your marathon on a sunny 80 degree day, the chances of a good time are nil.  This is just one of many fun discussions that got my brain turning in this book.  Two Hours is a quick read, and excellent brain food for anyone with running interests!

What are your current reads?  Any new nonfiction on the docket for you lately?  What's the best memoir you've read lately?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Nonfiction November: Fiction/Nonfiction Duos!

It's week 2 of Nonfiction November!

This week's host is Leslie over at Regular Rumination, so please stop by!  Here's the prompt for the week:

For the second week of Nonfiction November, we are discussing Book Pairings. The original intention of this week’s theme was put together a fiction book and a nonfiction book that go well together. If you decide to pair two nonfiction books together, that works too! It could be two (or more!) books you’ve read, one book you’ve read and one you have not, or two books that you’ve added to your TBR and want to read that you think will complement and inform each other.

What a fun topic!  I thought it would be hard to come up with many appropriate pairings, but instead I ended up with quite the list!:

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, and The Martian by Andy Weir

I read the Roach book after The Martian, and I found myself constantly thinking about the fiction novel while I was reading about how the real-life astronauts prepare for space.  They compliment each other perfectly!

The Residence by Kate Andersen Brower, and American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Real-life descriptions of life in the White House, vs. a fictional story about a modern day First Lady (though it is very obviously based upon Laura Bush).

Expecting Better by Emily Oster, and A Bump in the Road by Maureen Lipinski

A nonfiction book with a unique twist on pregnancy do's and don'ts, and a funny fiction novel about a woman's unexpected first pregnancy (and all the hazards that go along with it).  Pregnancy requires a sense of humor, that's for sure!

My Life by Bill Clinton, and Primary Colors by Anonymous/Joe Klein

I patted myself on the back for this one.  That's just funny, y'all.

Marley & Me by John Grogan, and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Both of these are stories about dogs that made me cry big baby tears.  One is true and one is not.  Both are amazing!

Night by Elie Wiesel, and The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Or, substitute the Picoult novel for any heart-wrenching fictional depiction of life in the concentration camps.  Some heavy reading material here.

What are some fiction and nonfiction marriages that you'd like to put together?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Hey, It's Nonfiction November!

Happy November, reader friends!  I hope you didn't forget that this month means NONFICTION NOVEMBER!  :)

Last year, I had a ton of fun participating in this event.  While I don't think I am going to get much nonfiction reading done this month (based on how my library hold list currently looks...my own fault!), I still want to jump in and post during NFN where I can, because it really reignited my love for nonfiction books when I took part last year.

This week's host is Kim over at Sophisticated Dorkiness, so please stop by!  Here's the prompt for the week:

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Let's start with my favorite nonfiction book of 2015 (so far).  That's a tough call!  I'd have to say it's a tie between Missoula by Jon Krakauer, and Dead Wake by Erik Larson.  Both are truly exceptional in their own way.

As for the nonfiction book I've recommended the most (at least from my 2015 reads), other than the 2 faves above, I think it's been Grain of Truth by Stephen Yafa.  I have several friends with gluten allergies and/or sensitivities, and that book was a very enlightening read for me on the subject.  I've recommended it to both gluten-free and non-gluten-free eaters, because I think it sheds a lot of light on a topic that is often regarded as "just a trend" by the non-GF eaters.

A nonfiction topic I haven't read enough of yet...hmmm.  I've covered a lot of nonfiction areas, but one that I have a lot of interest in (even though I've yet to read much of it) is medical nonfiction.  Examples would be the Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, Stiff by Mary Roach, or On Immunity by Eula Bass.  (All three have been on my TBR list for ages!)

What do I hope to get out of Nonfiction November this year?  Well, as I mentioned above, I probably won't be able to read a lot of ACTUAL nonfiction this month (and I'm quite sad about it!).  However, when I participated last year, just talking about nonfiction with other NF lovers made me so very excited to dive into some new titles, and my nonfiction TBR list went through the roof as I read through the other blogs that were involved.  So I suppose I hope to spread the nonfiction love, and get plenty of new nonfiction inspiration for myself.  :)

What's your favorite nonfiction read of 2015 been thus far?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Astronaut vomit at zero G! Packing for Mars by Mary Roach


Title: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Author: Mary Roach
Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company
Publication Date: August 2, 2010
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can’t walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour? 

To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations. As Mary Roach discovers, it’s possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth. From the space shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA’s new space capsule (cadaver filling in for astronaut), Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.


My Review:

After so enjoying Nonfiction November last year, I've been looking for any excuse to delve into excellent nonfiction in 2015.  One of my fave bloggers (Katie @ Doing Dewey) organized a Nonfiction Book Club for August, and the chosen read was Packing for Mars by Mary Roach.  I ran on over to the library and joined in ASAP.  I've been meaning to read a Roach book for ages now, and this was the perfect opportunity to read AND discuss!  I had loads of fun bantering about the book with other bloggers (Katie set up a Google doc for us to share our thoughts, which was an excellent format choice), and it helps that this book is pretty fascinating.  All the hype I heard about Mary Roach is legit.

If (like me, before reading this book) you've never read anything by Mary Roach, she is a lighthearted gift to the nonfiction genre.  She tends to choose odd or taboo subjects (two of her other books include Bonk, about the science behind sex, and Stiff, about what happens to human bodies postmortem), and approaches them with a combination of serious investigative research and humor.  Lots and lots of humor.  Her books are worth reading for the footnotes alone--SO funny.

Before reading Packing for Mars, my knowledge of space travel was basic at best, based primarily upon Apollo 13 as portrayed by Tom Hanks & co. and grainy footage of the 1969 moon landing.  Neither of these things stimulated much extra thought on my part about the finer details of space travel.  Thankfully, this book stepped in and got my wheels turning.  How did the astronauts (and all of their equipment, for that matter) get ready for zero gravity while still on Earth?  Other than making them float, what does zero G do to an astronaut's body--physically and psychologically?  And where the heck did they go to the bathroom, because the moon obviously does not have Porta-Potties.  (That may sound like a weird question, but get ready, because Mary Roach answers it in WAY MORE DETAIL than you are prepared for.)

However, some of the most interesting things about this book are the conjectures Roach makes about future manned missions to Mars (a long-term NASA goal), based on the facts she collects from previous space missions.  For example, the toll on the human body: floating in zero G makes bone density deteriorate significantly over time, because you never put weight on your bones/joints.  Basically, astronauts will become osteoporotic without counteractive forces on their bones, which NASA has yet to develop.  How in the world will they combat that issue in a years-long Mars mission?  Food for thought.

I exited this book with so many fun factoids about space travel, I thought my husband's ears would fall off from having to listen to me talk about them.  While Roach does have a tendency to go off on tangents (rather long ones...), it's hard not to embrace her humorous writing style, especially in a subject so filled with hilarious anecdotes.  A few other bloggers in the readalong discussion mentioned points in the book that they felt Roach had worded rather offensively--I didn't feel that way, but could certainly see how her style gets a bit crass at times.  If you have zero filter on your sense of humor (as I do, which is not a compliment to myself), it will likely not bother you, but you've been warned!

Packing for Mars is the quickest and most entertaining nonfiction I've read in the last several years.  I am definitely on the hunt for more of Mary Roach's books!  And check out Katie's blog if you want to join in September's Nonfiction Book Club readalong of The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.

Have you read any of Mary Roach's books?  What's the most entertaining nonfiction you've read lately?  And, most importantly, if you had the opportunity to volunteer for the first manned mission to Mars, would you take it--even if you might not make it back to Earth??

Monday, August 3, 2015

It's Monday, What Are YOU Reading?


Happy August, reader friends!  Part of me is sad that it's August, because it means summer is going to be over in a few short weeks.  And the other part of me is not sad at all, because this has been an AWESOME-SAUCE SUMMER.  We have had maximum fun since the weather warmed up, and I'm not sad at all for the coming autumn, because I know we have taken advantage of every minute.  Our boys are at such fun ages, and able to do so much more than last year.  When I think of last summer, it is a psychotic blur of trying to chase a 3-year-old while bottle feeding/diapering/lugging a 7-month-old baby that hated touching grass (seriously?).  This summer, much improved.

For example: this past weekend, we did our first family hiking day at Letchworth State Park in Castile, NY ("The Grand Canyon of the East"!  As all my west-coast friends roll their eyes.)  It was gorgeous, and the boys had a fantastic time.  My husband and I were big hikers before Small Fry was born, but we eased it back once babies arrived, as small infant + mountain climbing did not sound like fun.  However, we are now SUPER excited to share our love of the outdoors with the kiddos as they get older.


Anyway, I hope you are all enjoying these last weeks of summer as much as we are!  Let's talk books!  I'm reading:

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I grabbed this one at random.  It's been on my TBR for ages, and landed on my 30 before 35 list as well.  I'm about 60% finished.  At first, I was intrigued, couldn't put it down...then I started to feel weirded out by the entire thing...and now I'm hitting a little bit of a bored lull.  It's quite a ride.  My review should be interesting!

Upcoming reads:

I've got my first book tour in quite a long time coming up, The Invisibles by Cecelia Galante.  Looking forward to this one!  Afterwards, I'm hoping to jump into Katie's Nonfiction Book Club with Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, and Other-But-Equally-Awesome Katie's Fellowship of the Worms readalong of A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

How has your summer been so far?  What are you reading this week?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Nonfiction TBR Time! #NonFicNov

Ah yes, here we are in the final week of Nonfiction November.  I must say, I have very much enjoyed this event!  It has rekindled my interest in nonfiction, and reminded me of the many, many nonfiction titles that are awaiting me on my shelves.  Definitely looking forward to participating again next year.

Current nonfiction reading status: I finished Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed last week (review coming soon!), and am currently reading The Race Underground by Doug Most.  I likely won't finish it before the end of the month, because it's quite long, but that will be my first nonfic post for December.

Anyway, let's talk about this week's topic!:
New to My TBR: It’s been a week full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

Well, I didn't look at this week's topic until...right now, so I didn't keep very careful track of where I saw all these awesome nonfiction titles this month!  But I will do my best to give credit where credit is due.  Honestly, I don't have a ton of time to peruse other blogs these days anyway, so I will just highlight for you some of top nonfiction titles that are currently on my TBR list:

1. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
I first remember this book being mentioned long ago by Jennifer at The Relentless Reader.  Her review piqued my interest, and I've had this one on my radar ever since.  Tells the story of 5 days in a New Orleans hospital after Katrina.

2. Stiff by Mary Roach
This has been on my TBR almost as long as I've had a Goodreads account (a very long time).  The curious lives of human cadavers, eh?  Color me curious!

3. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This book has been recommended about a billion times by...everyone, but after getting to know Strayed a bit in Tiny Beautiful Things, I really want to pick this one up soon and hear more of her story.

4. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
This one was recommended to me via Twitter by @MsRedPen (of Ms Red Pen's blog).  Goodreads says it "reads like a literary thriller with cancer as the protagonist."  Hmmmm.

5. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Another one that's been on my TBR since time immemorial.  I really enjoyed Larson's In The Garden of Beasts, so I am eager to check this one out as well.

I could sit here and write this list forever, so I'll just leave you with the first five that came to mind.

What's on your nonfiction TBRs these days?
 
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