But no, they whipped back past your ears and away from whatever it was that made your eyes water, your nose wrinkle, and that just-sucked-a-lemon look come over your face. Now that look — it’s universal, says science writer Erika Engelhaupt, and in her new book, “Gory Details,” you’ll see why we gag at grossness and run from the repulsive.
So you had a magnificent recoil moment when you saw that disgusting, smelly, nasty thing, ugh. There’s no shame in it, says Engelhaupt; evolution has given humans a normal revulsion for any substance or creature we should handle cautiously or avoid. Curiosity about it, though … that’s perfectly normal, even psychologically sound.
Take, for instance, the facts surrounding what happens when you die. To let all thoughts rest in peace, Engelhaupt enrolled in a mini crime scene class for real-life detectives, attended an autopsy, looked into disarticulated feet, investigated unique things about DNA and human blood spatters, and she put a few myths six feet under. She also ate bugs, but drew the line at black fly larvae (though, she says, eating it “makes a lot of sense …”).
Maggots, she claims, become less icky the more you look at them.
So why look at them, then? Or smell putrid smells on purpose, or sneak peeks at things that make you wince? Psychologists call it “benign masochism,” Engelhaupt says, and we do so for the same reasons we watch horror movies or jump in roller coasters or eat super-hot foods: They are ” ‘safe’ threats.”
Even so, pay attention if someone says you smell different. Remember that your DNA can be left on every random thing you touch. Don’t agree to go on a “fatberg” expedition, don’t think that humans are the most murderous species alive, never leave a rat trap unattended, keep statistics in perspective, don’t swallow pool water, and don’t be so squeamish.
Learn about the world, says Engelhaupt, and “it’s almost always less intimidating.”
Whether we admit it or not, we all have our nose-wrinklers, those things that make you gag, rear back, hold your breath, and thank your strong stomach. You make that face just thinking of them, but don’t recoil yet. Remember this first: “Gory Details” matter.
Just by looking at its cover, you can pretty much determine that there’s some urpy-ness inside this book, but there’s much less of it than you think there’ll be. Nope, author Erika Engelhaupt doesn’t set out to make your stomach roil or your skin crawl; this book isn’t that. Instead, she deftly diverts you, separating the interesting from the ick factor, like letting you get accustomed to an empty vial before it’s filled with ooze. That gives readers the space they need to become infected by a contagious sense of amazed wonder long before the wincing commences.
Add in a deliciously dark sense of humor, respectful awe, and you’ve got a great science-based read for ages 16 to adult. If you enjoy the unique, look for “Gory Details,” and move on it fast.
“Gory Details: Adventures From the Dark Side of Science” by Erika Engelhaupt is available at Barnes & Noble at Apache Mall, the Rochester Public Library, and through online booksellers.
“The Bookworm” is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on the prairie in Wisconsin with one man, two dogs and 16,000 books. Look for her at bookwormsez.com or bookwormsez on Twitter.
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