Tag Archives: mary roach

More Telephony: No One Calls Anyone

In yesterday’s media, not only did we have a professor begging the university to cut landlines, but we had an alum lamenting the modern unreliability of telephones in general.  It seems like Wes is crazy about phones, in some way or another.  In a Cultural Studies article on the decline of the telephone call, author and past Daily Show guest Mary Roach ’81 has a few comments on the phenomenon:

Phone call appointments have become common in the workplace. Without them, there’s no guarantee your call will be returned. “Only people I’ve ruthlessly hounded call me back,” said Mary Roach, author of “Packing for Mars.” Writers and others who work alone can find the silence isolating. “But if I called my editor and agent every time I wanted to chat, I think they’d say, ‘Oh no, Mary Roach is calling again.’ So I’ve pulled back, just like everyone else.” […]

We may be returning to the phone’s original intentions — and impact. “I can tell you exactly the last time someone picked up the phone when I called,” Mary Roach said. “It was two months ago and I said: ‘Whoa! You answered your phone!’ It was a P.R. person. She said, ‘Yeah, I like to answer the phone.’ ” Both were startled to be voice-to-voice with another unknown, unseen human being.

Is anyone else so passionate about telephones? Share in the comments.


Alumni in the Real World: Mary Roach

The first in what may or may not become a sporadically updated series of posts about successful Wes grads important enough to merit substantial Wiki pages (a.k.a. evidence that there’s hope for more in life after graduation beyond living in a shitty Brooklyn apartment and reliving college during weekend brunches with fellow alumni):

Mary Roach ’81, a Psychology major during her days at Wesleyan, is a well-published journalist and science writer who fuses extensive research on obscure topics with an often morbid sense of humor in such books as Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (which was featured on an episode of Six Feet Under), and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, a study of the weird mysteries of sexual physiology which was published earlier this year and topped bestseller lists.

An excerpt from her website bio:

I grew up in a small house in Etna, New Hampshire. My dad was 65 when I was born. My neighbors taught me how to drive a Skidoo and shoot a rifle, though I never made much use of these skills. I graduated from Wesleyan in 1981, and drove out to San Francisco with some friends. I spent a few years working as a freelance copy editor before landing a half-time PR job at the SF Zoo. My office was in a trailer next to Gorilla World. On the days when I wasn’t taking calls about elephant wart removal surgery or denying rumors that the cheetahs had been sucked dry by fleas, I wrote freelance articles for the local newspaper’s Sunday magazine. Eventually, my editors there moved on to bigger things and took me along with them.

I mostly write books these days, but I still write the occasional magazine piece. These have run in Outside, National Geographic, New Scientist, Wired, and The New York Times Magazine, as well as many others too embarrassing to name. …I often write about science, though I don’t have a science degree and must fake my way through interviews with experts I can’t understand. I also review books for The New York Times.

My first book, Stiff, was an offshoot of a column I wrote for Salon.com. It was sort of a reported humor column, wherein I covered things like vaginal weight-lifting and amputee bowling leagues and the question of how much food it takes to burst a human stomach.

I have no hobbies. I mostly just work on my books and hang out with my family and friends. I enjoy bird-watching–though the hours don’t agree with me–backpacking, thrift stores, overseas supermarkets, Scrabble, mangoes, and that late-night “Animal Planet” show about horrific animals such as the parasitic worm that attaches itself to fishes’ eyeballs but makes up for it by leading the fish around.

In an interview with Salon.com, she describes the sometimes hilariously awkward sex research involved in the process of writing “Bonk”, which included studies of couples having sex in MRI machines, bonobos being shown gay porn, and getting it on with her husband while a doctor took notes.

Somebody get this woman on campus!


Awesome Lectures this Weekend

The War on Terrorism: Are We Winning?

Weseminar 8: In the summer of 2006, almost five years after the 9/11 attacks, 84 percent of the experts polled by the journal Foreign Policy said that the United States is not winning the war on terror. Does the U.S. have a grand strategy for defeating terrorism? How should we measure policy success? Are our goals too ambitious? Have we chosen the wrong methods? An informed and reasoned public debate on these questions is essential.

Presenter: Martha Crenshaw, professor of government and the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor of Global Issues and Democratic Thought, a 1995 recipient of the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching, and editor of the books Terrorism, Legitimacy, and Power and Terrorism in Context

? SAT., 9:30 A.M.

The Heart of the Campus

WESeminar 10: In September 2007, Wesleyan will open the Suzanne Lemberg Usdan University Center and the beautifully renovated Fayerweather meeting and rehearsal spaces. Planning for these important buildings has spanned the past decade and has involved students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Join us for a preview of this state-of-the-art campus center, which will serve the community in many important ways; learn about the services and programs that will bring the Usdan Center to life and are certain to make it the heart of campus.

Presenters: Rick Culliton, dean of campus programs and university center director; Alan Rubacha, consultant, construction services

? SAT., 10 A.M.

Mary Roach: Queen of the Dead or Just a Curious Gal?

WESeminar 19: Join the author of The New York Times best-sellers Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, for an informal talk about her journey from ordinary journalist to America’s premier chronicler of the strange and disgusting.

Presenter: Mary Roach ’81 has been mixing science and humor for 15 years: in her Salon.com column and in her magazine pieces for Discover, Health, The New York Times, Outside, and Wired. She is the winner of the 2006 National Press Club humor writing award and her book Spook was a 2005 New York Times Notable Book.

? SAT., 3 P.M.

Disaster! One Year After: Global Storm Warning

WESeminar 21: In less than two years, we have witnessed at least three catastrophic events: the Asian tsunami, the earthquake in Pakistan, and Hurricane Katrina. Organized on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the exhibition Disaster! One Year After addresses weather-related natural disasters-their causes and their aftermath. Included in the exhibition is a broad range of contemporary works that include installations, sculpture, video, and documentary material that explore this phenomenon through conceptual, poetic, and interdisciplinary approaches. Artists include Donna Dennis, Doug Hall, Mary Lucier, Adam Cvijanovic, Jeremy Blake, and documentary photographers, filmmakers, and videographers. Join curator Nina Felshin, who conceived and organized Disaster! One Year After, and Professor Suzanne O’Connell who will briefly discuss the possible effect of human factors in extreme weather events; and Katie Halper ’03, who will present a short political satire about Hurricane Katrina.

Presenters: Nina Felshin, curator of exhibitions, Zilkha Gallery and adjunct lecturer in art history; Suzanne O’Connell, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences; Katherine Halper ’03, co-founder of Laughing Liberally

? SAT., 3 P.M.

Why Jews Laugh at Themselves: The Case of Larry David

WESeminar 25: In an era when Seinfeld has become one of the most popular shows on television, Jewish humor has seen a rebirth. Larry David (cocreator of Seinfeld), Jon Stewart, Adam Sandler, and Sarah Silverman are just four of the “new” Jewish comics who have taken Jewish humor into mainstream popular culture with a new spin. Of course, Jewish humor has been the backbone of American popular comedy for a long time-even on television. The Goldbergs show (with Gertrude Berg) in the early days of television with its roots deep in Yiddish theater, Joey Bishop, Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks-the list is a long one. This seminar will explore what is old and what is new about Jewish comedians and Jewish themes in mainstream popular culture today-through the lens of the HBO hit Curb Your Enthusiasm, starring (and written and produced by) Larry David.

Introduction: Jeremy Zwelling, associate professor of religion and director of the Jewish and Israel Studies Certificate Program
Presenter: Bernard Timberg P’08, media studies scholar and author of Television Talk: A History of the TV Talk Show (University of Texas Press, 2003), and winner of the American Library Association’s Choice Award in 2004

? SAT., 4 P.M.

Fitness for the Brain: Keeping a Healthier Mind Through Solving Crosswords

WESeminar 28: Much research has been done to show that solving puzzles keeps the mind healthy, adaptive, and alert. Segments on NBC’s Today and ABC’s 20/20 specifically advocated doing crossword puzzles. So, for those intent on solving the New York Times Sunday crossword, join us for a “chalk talk” on strategies and tips for solving Times puzzles. Then tackle a new Sunday Times puzzle edited by Will Shortz. This will be a challenging, clever, and healthy workout, sure to generate a high-five high!

Presenter: Ed Stein ’60 is a veteran puzzle solver and occasional crossword puzzle constructor for The New York Times, Newsday, et al. He has taught adult education courses in puzzle-solving in Westchester (N.Y.) and Fairfield (Conn.) Counties, classes at senior centers and nursing homes, and received his three seconds of “fame” in the movie documentary Wordplay.

? SUN., 10 A.M.