Category Archives: Outstanding Books for the College Bound

Alimentary, my dear readers

This is not a poetry book, even though it’s still April. But I’ve been enjoying it so much, I just had to talk about it.

Mary Roach has written some fascinating books. Want to know about death? Try Stiff. Want to know about the afterlife? Spook. (Maybe some of you who were part of The Unexplained might want to read that one.)  Want to know about life in space? She has tips on Packing for Mars.

20160429_091849But today’s book is about what happens when you eat. It’s called Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. If you’ve even wondered about the process of eating, this is the book for you. Things I’ve learned so far:

  1. The average human produces 2-3 pints of saliva a day.
  2. There was a guy who, as a result of being accidentally shot, lived the rest of his life with part of his stomach exposed. The doctor who treated him used this strange feature to do all sorts of experiments about digestion and stomach acid.
  3. Mexican dogs prefer spicier kibble than American dogs.
  4. It takes about 30 hours for food to pass through our bodies…the same amount of time it takes to travel by Amtrak from Seattle to Los Angeles.
  5. April 27th was National Hairball Awareness Day…and I failed to do something special for Skitty, my cat.

I’m only at the beginning of Chapter 6.

One of the things I love about Roach’s books is that she totally enjoys the research and the things she’s writing about. That means that her books are really fun to read. She makes everything interesting. And she’s wickedly funny.

If you want to learn something odd and laugh a lot while learning, pick up one of her books. We have all of the books mentioned in this post. I promise you’ll enjoy them.


Poor Pluto

Spring break is creeping up on us, so I know many of you are working on putting your spring break reading lists together. Today I have two books about everyone’s favorite Disney dog and former planet. (Although, just to be clear, the planet is named for the Roman god of the Underworld and not the Disney dog.)

Anyway, when I was growing up we memorized the order of the planets with, “My very earnest  mother just sent us nine pickles.” As of 2005, the pickles were gone and mother sent nine…I don’t know what. Pluto was official demoted to “dwarf planet” and our solar system was reduced to just 8 planets. These two books tell the story of Pluto’s fall from the big leagues.


Some people credit (blame?) American Museum of Natural History astrophysicist and pop icon Neil DeGrasse Tyson for Pluto’s demise. In his book The Pluto Files (also available on mp3 disc) he talks about a decision they made at the museum to group the planets together by type, which led to Pluto’s isolation and to a remark from a little kid, overheard by a New York Times reporter that became a headline. The book explores why people, particularly Americans, were so upset with Pluto’s change in status. Bonus for the book…he includes pictures of the hate mail he got from 2nd graders.

In How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, astronomer Mike Brown recounts his discovery of a 10th planet, Eris, which was just a bit bigger than Pluto. However, his discovery started the scientific debate that led to Pluto’s reclassification and the category of “dwarf planet.” I haven’t had  a chance to read this one yet (and if no one checks it out, it may be on my spring break reading list), but the blurb on the back also promises hate mail from school children!

Brown’s book is also included on the 2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound list.

What’s Your Fortune?

Today’s book is an older title, but new to us. And it’s one of my favorites!


I first heard about this book when the author, Jennifer 8. Lee, was on The Colbert Report and I was fascinated. She started research after she heard about a Powerball drawing that set off alarms because so many people had won. There’s some higher math that says only x number of people should win on any given drawing. If more than that win, there’s probably some fraud. But the people who won lived all over the country and had no connection to one another. The only thing they had in common was that they had all played numbers from the back of their fortune from a fortune cookie.

Lee decided to research the history of the fortune cookie, which led to Chinese take-out, fast-food delivery, Jewish Christmas at Chinese restaurants, Chinatown buses, and an American colonel known for chicken, not war and a Chinese general known, in China, for war not chicken. If you like Chinese food, this book is a fantastic history of how it came to be a niche in America (and around the world).

Oh, and there’s a TED Talk!