Mary Roach has written best-selling books about dead bodies, ghosts, and fucking. Her work is accessible and unflinching, presenting a variety of quirky or unsavory topics in a manner distinctive and engaging. Stiff, her quizzical exploration of what happens to our bodies when we die, and Spook, a tangible book about the intangible nature of the afterlife, were both highly lauded, winning everything from Elle Reader’s Prize to garnering the NPR’s “Science Fridays” annual best books list. Roach can write about the way a cadaver body is crushed in a way that is nearly romantic, and she relates investigating everything from reincarnation to harems with magnetic charm. Bonk, her most recent book which delves into the science and mystery of sex, hit #10 on the New York Times bestseller list, #1 on the San Francisco Chronicle book list, and was called “a lively, hilarious and informative look at science’s dirty secrets” by Kirkus Reviews. She kindly allowed The Rumpus to pick her brain, armed with a few tablets of Compazine. cure for herpes
The Rumpus: Which of your books was the most difficult to write?
Mary Roach: They are all buggers at one point or another, in some way or another, until I’m done with them. At which point a sort of soft-focus, amnesiac nostalgia kicks in, and I start to remember them fondly — at least in relation to the current bugger I’m working on, whichever current bugger it may be. Access is always difficult, it was for all three, for varying reasons. The writing is always the easy part, provided I can get the good material. It’s the getting of the good material that’s a challenge.
Rumpus: Did Bonk improve your sex life?
Roach: Sure, in that for two years it was a topic of dinnertime conversation…more so than normal, I mean. You start out talking about some researcher and his findings or experiments, and that leads to chatter relating to your own two selves, and that’s always good, I think. And of course I picked up illuminating tidbits here and there. But as sex books go, Bonk is not especially practical or self-helpy. For that you want that book Gay Men’s Guide to Straight People’s Sex, or whatever the title is.
Rumpus: When doing research for any of your books, have you ever vomited?
Roach: I love this question very much! I have not even come close. In my whole life, I’ve never vomited from seeing something disgusting. Does it really even happen, outside of movies and TV? I believe it may be a myth. Do you remember that scene in The Crying Game, where Stephen Rea runs to the bathroom and throws up after he sees that his girlfriend has a penis? I so do not buy his reaction. Surprise, okay. Confusion. But vomiting? People are vomiting unrealistically in movies, and something must be done about it.
Rumpus: Have you ever been put in a tense or compromising situation when doing research for any of your books?
Roach: The beheader comes to mind. This woman was a diener, the person who prepares cadavers for researchers or for surgical instruction seminars. In this case, cuts off the heads, (it was a plastic/reconstructive surgery seminar). No one had told her I was going to be there at the lab, and she wanted me gone. Just an unpleasant interpersonal confrontation in a roomful of severed heads. No biggie.
Rumpus: Can you divulge your next project?
Roach: The next book involves astronauts. People are vomiting in it. That’s all I can say.
Visit Mary Roach online to find out any upcoming readings or events.