The Curious Mind of Mary Roach

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Thank goodness for the curious mind of Mary Roach. Without it we would never have found out the hilarious peculiarities of applying the scientific method. I know the terms ‘hilarious’ and ‘scientific method’ are rarely used in the same sentence, but read one of Roach’s wonderful books and you will understand that in her world they actually fit quite well together. Also things can get a bit, well, gross and embarrassing. Throwing caution to the wind, she isn’t afraid to find out exactly what happens when you blend science and odd topics such as death, the afterlife, sex, space exploration and the digestive tract.

In preparation for her visit to the Everett Performing Arts Center on Saturday April 9th, which is part of the library’s 2016 Ways to Read series of programs, here is a brief rundown of her major works to date. For your convenience, I’ve listed them in the highly subjective order of least embarrassing/disturbing to most.
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Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
Many leave the idea of the possibility of life after death to religion, philosophy or psychics. Our author doggedly, and sincerely, interviews those who look for a measurable way of answering this age-old question. As you might guess, the results are a bit odd but never boring. Attempts to weigh the soul, analyze ectoplasm and record the sounds of ghosts are but a few of the activities examined. A particular favorite is the ‘Asking Questions Study’ at the University of Arizona where mediums were told to ask practical questions of the departed such as “How is the Weather?” and “Do you engage in sexual behavior?”

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Ah space. To boldly go where no one has gone before. But when nature calls, where, and more importantly how, do you actually ‘go’ in zero gravity? Forgoing the grand mission statements of NASA, Roach explores the very real problems of isolation and confinement for long periods of time, space hygiene, the perils of space sickness and how not to throw up in your helmet, and, of course, the difficulties of sex in zero gravity. The final frontier has never seemed less heroic, or more hilarious.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
Once you realize the alimentary canal is just a fancy way of saying digestive tract, it might dawn on you that this book could get a tad gross. And while it does require a strong stomach (har, har) this work is well worth any unpleasantness that might arise. From the mouth to the, ahem, other end, our intrepid author doesn’t flinch from exploring the humor and surreal nature of scientific endeavors to find out just what happens when you eat a sandwich. Favorite chapter title: I’m all stopped up: Elvis Presley’s megacolon, and other ruminations on death by constipation.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
Brace yourself for penis cameras, coital imaging, prescription strength vibrators, mental orgasms, impotent pandas and orgasmic pigs when you crack the covers of this great book. You actually start to feel sorry for the scientists who study in the field, since the work they do is important but hard not to giggle at. Roach, and especially her husband, are really troopers in this one: volunteering to perform their conjugal duties at the Diagnostic Testing Unit of London’s Heart Hospital in the name of science. Talk about grace under pressure.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
The gruesome, but impossible to look away from, topic for this book is what happens to our bodies after death. Surprisingly a lot it turns out. If you are just trying to dispose of a body, you will learn about a number of ways to do so with sky burial being a personal favorite. This book also introduces you to many of the ‘jobs’ cadavers have: subjects for instructional surgery, realistic crash test dummies, ballistic trauma recipients, and simply rotting in a field to measure states of decay for forensic scientists. The classic macabre Roach humor is on display here, making this one of her most hilarious and memorable works.

Richard Russo in Everett

Exciting news for literature lovers and those who appreciate a good story:

Official%20Russo%20Image%20-¬%20Elena%20SeibertRichard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls, will be making an appearance for a free lecture and book signing this Friday, February 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Everett Performing Arts Center. A book signing follows the main event and copies of Empire Falls will be available for purchase.

Russo is a Pulitzer Prize-winner for Empire Falls and author of Elsewhere, Nobody’s Fool, Straight Man and more. He is a master of rich characters and pitch-perfect descriptions of small-town America. His humorous lectures cover his approach to shaping narratives and how “home” has defined his work.

But wait, there is more. You have a chance to buy a ticket to an exclusive reception with the author at 6 p.m. on Friday before the free lecture. In addition to a close audience with Russo, the reception will also feature heavy appetizers and a no-host bar. Tickets for the author reception are available through Brown Paper Tickets ($10 for Friends of the Library and $25 for non-members).

So what are you waiting for? See you on Friday!

Children’s fiction author puts down roots in Everett

Enjoy a post written by Emily Dagg, EPL’s head of Youth Services, about this weekend’s Ways to Read author event on Saturday February 6th where Carole Etsby Dagg will be talking about her latest book: Sweet Home Alaska.

Cowgirl CaroleLocal author Carole Estby Dagg is inspired to write about pioneers on the move. Perhaps it’s because she moved a lot as a child. Her father was a civil engineer, so her family moved wherever the next bridge or tunnel building project took them. In 12 years, Carole attended 11 different public schools.

Every time they moved, she and her two younger sisters were only allowed to bring two boxes of toys each. Luckily, there was no limit on the number of books. Carole’s most loyal friends followed her everywhere, including Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. And the first thing her family did after each move was to register for a library card.

A voracious reader and learner, she raced ahead in school, finishing high school at age 16. She then attended the University of Washington where she changed her major multiple times before deciding to study law. She was admitted to Law School at the age of 19; however, a summer job with the Seattle Public Library changed her plans. It only took her one year to complete the two-year library degree program at the University of British Columbia.

Instead of becoming a lawyer she married a lawyer and started a family in Seattle where she worked as a children’s librarian. In the recession of the early 1970’s, Carole’s young family was caught up in the wave of young professionals leaving Seattle in droves. She, her husband, and two young children moved several times: to Anacortes, then Anchorage, then Seattle again, then Edmonds, before settling down in Everett in 1977.

Carole - leaning smile-124Everett had almost everything on their wish list: good career prospects, big old houses, lovely views, great schools, beautiful parks, family-friendly neighborhoods, and a wonderful public library. Both children were tired of moving at that point and wanted Everett to become their official childhood home. They got their wish, and remained in the same house until college.

Meanwhile, public libraries were engaged in layoffs. So, Carole went back to college to become a Certified Public Accountant. Why? Because in the help wanted ads there were more listings for accountants that anything else. In the accounting field she continued blazing trails. After a few years of experience, she became the Snohomish County head of Financial Analysis and Reporting.

Always on a quest for knowledge, Carole continued taking college courses on diverse subjects. In 1979, Carole enrolled in a computer programming class with the goal of streamlining payroll for the County. At the kitchen table on evenings and weekends, she wrote code and successfully created a simple COBOL program. Her children were curious, so she explained the patterns of zeros and ones, and demonstrated how punch cards worked. An early adopter of telecommuting, she connected to work using a rotary-dial phone and a modem with a handset cradle.

When a children’s librarian position opened up at the Everett Public Library, she gladly traded in her punch cards for puppets and returned to her favorite career. However, she only lasted a few months in that position before she was promoted to be the library’s new assistant director. After she retired from librarianship, Carole began pursuing her third career: children’s author.

SweetHome_FINALHer first book, The Year We Were Famous (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) is an award-winning historical fiction novel based on Carole’s own pioneer ancestors. That book took 15 years to become published; the second book was “only” a five-year process. Sweet Home Alaska (Penguin Group USA, Feb. 2, 2016) is also inspired by a real-life event; her son’s move to Palmer, Alaska.

That’s all I’m going to disclose about my mother’s new book. I’ll let her tell the rest of the story this Saturday February 6th at 2pm in the Main Library Auditorium. She plans to talk more in-depth about her inspiration and describe how she researches specific time periods. Her talks include many visuals and photographs, gathered during the research phase.

There will also be cake and sparkling cider, plus Sweet Home Alaska souvenirs, to celebrate this very sweet book launch.