Why "Asshole" Is High Praise and Other Anatomy Lessons With Mary Roach

Mother Jones

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Let Mary Roach be your guide through all things digestive. The author of winsome expositions on astronauts (Packing for Mars), cadavers (Stiff), and sex (Bonk) takes on the alimentary canal in her new book (out yesterday). Whether Roach is drooling into a pipette or has her head up her own ass (literally, watching her own colonoscopy), her enthusiasm is downright infectious. Naturally, I asked her to talk about Gulp while forming some grilled-cheese boluses—bolus being the technical term for a chewed up ball of food just before it’s swallowed.

In an otherwise lovely Oakland bar, we discussed rectal smuggling, the ins and outs of making fake poop, and why calling someone an “asshole” is such a great compliment.

Mother Jones: What made you decide to write a book about the digestive system?

Mary Roach: I was talking to a physician reader, and he got to telling me about the anus, which is this amazing thing that nobody appreciates. Here’s this ring of muscle with nerves that has to discriminate between solid, liquid, and gas, and let it out accordingly. He’s like, “No engineer could design something as multifunctional and fine-tuned as an anus. To call someone an asshole is really bragging him up.” That was the moment I thought, “Oh yeah, this could be an interesting book.”

MJ: In the book, you go to prisons and talk about prisoners smuggling things in their rectums—up to three smartphones at a time! How did you find a guy willing to talk so openly about his rectum?

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Why "Asshole" Is High Praise and Other Anatomy Lessons With Mary Roach

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