Thursday, July 12, 2012

Spook - Mary Roach (Audio)

Almost since the first day I started blogging, I'd been hearing about the genius of Mary Roach.  She was the author who could dissect something misunderstood or science-y and make it accessible...and hilariously funny.  She has tackled subjects like sex, outer space, death, and here in this novel, the afterlife.


I basically foraged through every audio my library had of Roach's work and came up with both "Spook" and "Stiff".  I chose to listen to "Spook" first because you all know how much I like the ghosties.


Synopsis:  So have you ever wondered what happens when we die?  Is that it, or do we come back as a dung beetle, haunt those that wronged us while we walked the earth, hang out in heaven eating calorie-free Oreos, or participate in a little chit chat via a Ouija Board?  Mary Roach is on the case, and throws her weight into a little research to find out.


She travels to India to investigate reincarnation, she explores out-of-body after-death experiences with a cardiologist, she enrolls in a medium school in England, talks to philosophers about the physical existence (and proof?) of souls, and even unearthed a box of ectoplasm from the Cambridge University archive.  While she doggedly digs for answers with well-meaning and passionate scientists and scholars (she attempts an open mind), Mary can't resist giving us her two-cents worth of snarky commentary in footnotes scattered throughout.


A sample of such snark that erupts from Mary while attending her medium school:  


“I am very much out of my element here. There are moments, listening to the conversations going on around me, when I feel I am going to lose my mind. Earlier today, I heard someone say the words, "I felt at one with the divine source of creation." Mary Roach on a conducted tour of Hades. I had to fight the urge to push back my chair and start screaming: STAND BACK! ALL OF YOU! I'VE GOT AN ARTHUR FINDLAY BOX CUTTER! Instead, I quietly excused myself and went to the bar, to commune with spirits I know how to relate to.”


My thoughts:  I can see now why everyone loves a dose of Mary Roach now and again.  This book was filled with lots of facts and research, but she has sifted through it, finding all the curious (and wonky) elements for us.  I would loosely compare her to the beloved Ms. Sarah Vowell, who too loves her history, but has her own spin on things.


In fact, while it is obvious the woman is exceptionally smart, she is also "one of us", meaning like a girlfriend with whom I could have a good time sitting and watching, let's say, an A&E special on the Black Plague.  Lots of peanut gallery quips and mouthiness after a glass or two of wine.


It was when Mary interjected with her opinions that I liked most about this book.  I found the facts themselves to sometimes cause my mind to stray (not exactly the stuff I should be listening to perhaps while on the elliptical at the gym) but Mary's side comments made me laugh out loud.  More than once.  Because this was an audio, I am unable to find the quotes about one particular Victorian medium, a wife of a gynecologist, who produced large amounts of ectoplasm at seances, suspected to have been hidden in her lady parts.  But the ongoing dialogue on this one, the shock and HOW MUCH ectoplasm-ish stuff came from her "internal storage area", speculation on how she got it in and out of her in the middle of a seance...well, I nearly had to just sit down in the middle of a walk I was laughing so hard.


A few words about the audio production:  Based on some browsing online, it does not appear Ms. Roach is married to one particular narrator, as with some authors.  In "Spook", our narrator is Bernadette Quigley, a new voice for me.  I'm not entirely sure how I feel about her work here...at times she nailed the snarky essence of Mary Roach, and other times she did not.  The pacing felt off a bit, and sometimes seemed forced.  I'll be curious to listen to "Stiff" and see how that one holds up.


Listening length:  8 hours and 34 minutes (288 pages)


3.5 out of 5 stars    

  

21 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I love some good snark from time to time and need to try one of Roach's books.

Zibilee said...

This is the only one I haven't listened to yet, and your description of the ectoplasm scene is enough for me to get on the library hold list for this one. I can't wait until you read Stiff. It is amazing, and in my opinion, her best. Very fun review today. I love Roach's work oh so very much.

Ti said...

There was someone in my book club that sang the praises of Stiff but I never did get to it.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I've read most of her books, but this is one that I've missed. I must remedy that soon.

Julie P. said...

I've only read STIFF but this look kind of interesting!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds like a fun car book!

Alyce said...

I think I would love the snark more than anything else. Even nonfiction on spooky topics can freak me out. :)

Jenners said...

Oh I remember that ectoplasm part!! I didn't think this was her best book so you are in for a treat. And try to find Sandra Burr as a narrator for the Roach books -- she has THE perfect delivery for Roach's brand of wit and snark … she was perfect. She narrated Bonk and I think she did another one as well.

JoAnn said...

It does seem like she's having trouble settling on a narrator. I thought Stiff was a great book, but wasn't as enthusiastic about the reader. May give Spook a listen in the car. Sounds like a book my husband and I could enjoy on a long car ride.

softdrink said...

Spook and Bonk are the only two I have left to read (haven't listened to any of them, and I have those two on the shelf). I'm a little afraid of Bonk, since she did some of the sex research herself!

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Jackie Bailey said...

I read Bonk and loved it, but I haven't tried this one. I suspect that the subject matter isn't best suited to her style. I think you'll enjoy her other ones more and perhaps it is better in print too?

Trisha said...

I hope you read the rest of them. I think Stiff is my favorite.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

When I checked out the Audible.com reviews of Spook and Mary Roach's other audios, I decided to read Spook instead of listening to it. Stiff, though. Now THAT has excellent reviews out there because the audio narrator is fantastic! I think you'll really enjoy Stiff in audio with Shelly Frasier. I LOVED it, and the audio version is fantastic (it is killer, shall I say?), and the narrator is magnificent. Shelly Frasier probably could have delivered Spook much better, in my opinion, I think her voice and her execution of the work is *that* good.

Jenny said...

I read about half of the book, Bonk, and was finding it hilarious and super interesting, but then all of a sudden I never went back to it and felt like it was almost too much information. But I do want to try it again so I don't miss out on all these great books she's written!

Melissa said...

The subject of this one doesn't catch my attention as much as some of her others. I still want to read her, but will start with a different one.

Kathleen said...

The subject matter of this one has me VERY INTERESTED. This is topic like true crime for me. I can't resist it even though it will freak me out. It sounds like her snarky comments will outweigh any fear the subject matter gives me!