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Author Mary Roach Is Fueled By Unending Curiosity

David Paul Morris
Author Mary Roach at home in Oakland, California

Science-reporter-turned-author Mary Roach has made a name for herself thanks to an endless curiosity about the world around her.

She’s written books about dead bodies, sex, our digestive systems and, most recently, military science.

Roach will be in Tacoma April 28 at to discuss her latest book “Grunt” as part of the Pierce County Reads series put on by the county’s library system.

88.5’s Ariel Van Cleave will be leading the discussion beginning at 7 p.m. at the McGavick Conference Center at Clover Park Technical College. She talked with Roach ahead of the event about the book and what topics tend to peak Roach’s interest.

Interview highlights

Moments of joy during discovery: "At a certain point someone told me 'Oh, well, there's this guy Mark Riddle, his whole career has been diarrhea.' That right there gets me very excited. Wow, a person who is really serious about something we all sort of giggle about. But what made it even better and sort of counter-intuitive is that the place that this is a problem is with special operations teams ... those people who go and take out Osama bin Laden, those kind of highly-classified, high-risk, high-drama missions, those guys are not hanging out on the base. They're out in small communities ... and they get food poisoning all the time. And you can imagine this could be a national security issue if you're going in to do a mission and you have really bad food poisoning."

Places to draw inspiration: "Sometimes I just stumble on to some single sentence somewhere. 'Bonk' came about because I read one sentence in an article about the colposcopic films of Masters and Johnson. This is a book about sexual physiology, like, bringing people into the lab and studying them sexually. So I found this sentences, and they made films, and I thought, 'Colposcopic, that sounds like cervical; like they actually filmed women from the inside while they were sexually responding?' And that was this moment when I went, "Alright, sex research, that's my next book.'"

Making science accessible: "I think anybody who's curious and usually has a lot of questions about the world around them, the answers are almost always science. Whether it's your body, or your phone, or the sky, or the trees around you or animals. If you are curious about why they are doing that, why these phenomena happen, the answer is science. So I'm not interested in science as an abstract. I'm just interested in everything around me. I want to know how things work."

Ariel first entered a public radio newsroom in 2004 while in school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It was love at first sight. After graduating from Bradley, she went on to earn a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Ariel has lived in Indiana, Ohio and Alaska reporting on everything from salmon spawning to policy issues concerning education. She's been a host, a manager and now rides shotgun with Kirsten Kendrick as the Morning Edition producer at KNKX.