Swabbing the Decks…



Life has been a bit busy, and so, in an effort to get up to date, I’ve put together a few mini-reviews of what I’ve been reading – all good titles, but for one reason or another (usually time-related), I haven’t put together a long in-depth post for each of them.

book338Packing for Mars – Mary Roach (2010)

A fun reread piggybacked on to my read of Chris Hadfield’s astronaut guide (and in fact, Roach referred to Hadfield every now and then which I thought was interesting.) Roach’s was a good read as she delves into such random details about the space program and which NASA probably doesn’t want to address in any formal way.

Mars is 400M miles away so it takes years of packing and planning and training for any successful trip, and Roach dives down the different rabbit holes that come up during the course of that preparation. From what to eat in space to how your body changes in long-term assignments at the International Space Station, it’s all here. What do you do when you are in such close quarters with your other team members and there is no getting away when they’re bugging you to an extreme? How do you go to the bathroom when you’re up there? What is it like to be back on Earth and facing gravity after six months of floating around without? All each disparate topic seems to flow naturally from one to the next due to Roach’s careful structural writing.

Worf from Star Trek - an homage?

Worf from Star Trek – an homage?

One random note that I made concerned Star Trek and Worf (played by Michael Dorn), one of the Romulan characters on that show. Roach mentions that there really was a space food scientist called D. L. Worf. Nice guy if a bit nutty (he suggested that astronauts could eat specially treated paper for nutrition.) Additionally, he suggested using edible materials to make parts of the space shuttle (e.g. using sugar for the windows) and then astronauts would not have to worry about taking food to space with them, but could merely snap off a bit of the space shuttle for a nibble every now and then. (Worf was more about the nutritional content than the taste and texture, methinks.)

And I think that the Star Trek writers were doing a quick homage to earlier space researchers when they used the name Worf for this character. Hmm. Makes you wonder what else you’re missing in the series, doesn’t it?

Roach is insatiably curious and as tenacious as a bulldog in following a topic through to its resolution. And yet she seems so charming and I would love to know her in real life. (We saw her give a talk on campus one year – she was fascinating and very approachable.) So – basically, I am one of Mary Roach’s biggest fans and thoroughly enjoyed this read.

book337The Victorian Hospital – Lavinia Mitton (2002)

This was bought when we visited London’s Hunterian Museum (a medical museum linked with the Royal College of Surgeons), except this slim volume focused on various aspects of hospital and medical history during the Victorian era. I found it very interesting and took loads of notes, but reading over them now, I think they are fascinating only to a very small audience so I won’t force you to read them. Suffice to say that hospitals have come a long way since they were called “Gateways to Death.”


The Mezzanine – Nicholson Baker (1986) book331

This was more of an experimental novel (more a novella) which describes in excruciating (but strangely fascinating) detail what the protagonist is thinking about as he returns from his lunch break and rides the escalator back to his office. The entire book occurs between him entering the office building after lunch and getting on the bottom of the moving staircase, and ends when he reaches his office desk on the second floor. Loaded with footnotes that get lengthier as the book proceeds, this is not a book for the faint-hearted (experimental-wise). However, I enjoyed it. I looked into Baker’s backlist, but it seems that he veered into the XXX-rated side of stories after this one. Maybe I’ll just stay with this title. 🙂

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