Dispatches from the Front (and Back)
Written by: Mara Altman
Read by: Mara Altman
9 Hours and 18 Minutes
PRHA | Penguin Audio
Genre: Humor – General Release
Date: August 21, 2018
I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
An honest, funny, neurotic, and totally gross love child of Mindy Kaling and Mary Roach.
Mara Altman’s volatile and apprehensive relationship with her body has led her to wonder about a lot of stuff over the years. Like, who decided that women shouldn’t have body hair? And how sweaty is too sweaty? Also, why is breast cleavage sexy but camel toe revolting? Isn’t it all just cleavage? These questions and others like them have led to the comforting and sometimes smelly revelations that constitute Gross Anatomy, an essay collection about what it’s like to operate the bags of meat we call our bodies.
Divided into two sections, “The Top Half” and “The Bottom Half,” with cartoons scattered throughout, Altman’s book takes the reader on a wild and relatable journey from head to toe–as she attempts to strike up a peace accord with our grody bits.
With a combination of personal anecdotes and fascinating research, Gross Anatomy holds up a magnifying glass to our beliefs, practices, biases, and body parts and shows us the naked truth: that there is greatness in our grossness.
This book is almost always funny, and often either disgustingly cringe-worthy or disturbing. Altman her self has a few physical issues — often stuff we all have but which she has to an often alarming degree. These are things people — especially women — are often ashamed of and which are considered taboo subjects. Until now.
Mara dives into a lot of places and subjects we have been taught you only discuss with your close female relatives or, maybe, your doctor. She asks, “Why does there have to be all this shame and angst over something that’s a natural part of being a woman.” (page 28) This includes sweat, head lice, periods, hemorrhoids, and even dreaded camel-toe.
The chapter on head lice is still giving me the heebie-jeebies. Others were not quite as disgusting, but she fully researches each and every issue to get to the TRUTH! One thing I was really sad to learn: sweat doesn’t pull toxins out of the body. That makes my steam shower good for my sinuses but not a hangover. Discussing these taboos makes them less shameful. I have had IBS most of my life and I have been been tired of the shame surrounding an illness because it involves poop. Talking about it, bringing it into the open, may relieve a little of the shame that often surrounds it.
Read by the author, whose voice is effervescent, lends that personal touch that these humorous but substantive essays. Her delivery is often seriously funny. It was a good choice for her to deliver the narration.
If you would like to hear someone discuss these things with a sense of humor, pulling them out of the dark cavities of our bodies and into the light, then this is a great choice for you. I certainly enjoyed it, I think it is one of the funniest book of the year and look forward to more from this author.