Mary Roach recently released a book that has received rave reviews, has been called both hilarious and informative, and has even earned her a guest spot on The Daily Show.
Mary Roach also has a new book called My Planet, which is a collection of columns she wrote for Reader’s Digest. Despite the promise on the flap copy that Roach will bring to these “essays” the same, “uncanny wit and amazingly analytical eye,” that makes her other books so popular, My Planet, falls far short of being informative, or funny, or even interesting.
Roach’s other books—her well received and well read books—are in-depth and thoroughly researched. Roach’s writing is accessible and witty. Roach’s curiosity is a catalyst for those books, and her subjects are worth being curious about.
Unfortunately the subject of the essays in My Planet is Roach herself. And not a Mary Roach who is curious about space, or sex, or the digestive system, but a Mary Roach who doesn’t like going to the dentist, and who is married to a man who washes his hands too much, and who would prefer not to use chemical pesticides to rid her house of ants. The biggest problem with this book is that its subject matter is simply trivial and boring.
Don’t get me wrong, a column about a trivial life in the hands of a talented writer can be a highly entertaining read (Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed comes to mind even though Strayed’s book is a collection of advice columns, which are slightly different). Perhaps that is why I am so disappointed by My Planet, Mary Roach is a very talented, funny, relatable writer, and as such, I want this collection to be so much better than it is.
But perhaps everything in my review to this point is not entirely fair. Two or three of the columns in this collection are excellent. They are tightly constructed, and concise. They seem to be about something small and inconsequential, and then at the end, open themselves up and offer the reader a wider understanding of our odd, quirky world. Unfortunately those excellent essays are few and far between, and as a result, the columns in this collection that fall flat are the ones that stand out.
If you’re a big fan of everything Mary Roach has written, this might be worth adding to your collection. But if you like Mary Roach because she is a curious and funny woman who writes extremely well about interesting subjects, give My Planet a pass.
Similar reads:Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Maybe something by Calvin Trillin or Dave Berry.
[A review was requested, and review copy provided]