Unit 11: Packing for Mars Reading Response

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Reviewers often comment about how funny Mary Roach is, and how this makes her scientific writing particularly effective.  What role does humor play in writing about things that aren't immediately humorous?  What benefits do you see?  What downfalls might result?

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30 thoughts on “Unit 11: Packing for Mars Reading Response

  1. Matthew Wetherington

    Well, like many, I do find miss Roach quite funny, and often find myself at least wearing sometimes. I think humor helps in two ways. First, it makes light a serious subject, making it easier to stomach for an audience; who is like me, not knowing much about things like space travel. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, it allows her writings to be more easily readable. I don’t feel like I have to push myself through her book, rather, I find myself turning pages naturally. This is critical to scientific reading in my opinion as it keeps hard topics entertaining, educating, and exciting. So adding humor definitely makes her books more effective in these ways; however, there is a down side to it. To the scientist who enjoys his long dry handbooks, or has little to no sense of humor, these humorous remarks will have a negative effect. Making Mary out to know little, or being uneducated in the field of science she has wrote the book on. These thoughts wouldn’t stay in the readers mind forever if they read on, but if they only caught a short excerpt or just picked up the book, the jokes and funniness make take away from the validity the writer is trying to hold on the subject in which they write about. So when choosing to be funny or serious, I think it goes back to the audience you wish to appeal towards. If you are going for people who have little to no background knowledge on space travel, humor is a good choice; if they have more knowledge, or work in that field you should reconsider.

    1. Janelle Pascoe

      I agree! I think humor in scientific writing is very important especially on a topic that is not well known or understood. I also found this book easy to read I don’t have to dread opening it up because I know that at some point it will make me smile or even laugh and I will learn something new. I really like that you pointed out for people who have little to know back ground on the material that it is critical to use humor. Otherwise the new readers will just put down the book and may not pick up another book by that author because they deemed it “boring”.

    2. Cassandra Lane

      I agree. he humor that Mary Roach so easily incorporates into her writing helps to make reading about space and understanding space travel much easier. A scientist who likes their dry handbooks and has no humor would likely find Mary Roach and her humorous approach a bit childish. This is definitely not the audience that she intending this writing to be for.

  2. Janelle Pascoe

    Mary Roach is very good at using humor throughout her writing. In Packing for Mars Roach delivers a painless, educational story to her audience. The humor that Roach incorporates throughout her reading is almost hidden, I find myself smirking as I read not noticing that I am cruising through the pages faster than I would a more serious read. She uses metaphors and sometimes makes fun of certain characteristics or trends of astronauts and the way they live, not just to be funny but to teach an audience that has no clue on the subject. Humor is a great thing to incorporate into writing, it helps readers make connections in different ways to understand the subject better. Another plus about humor in writing is it helps readers stay engaged so that they can absorb the material a little better. A down side to humor in writing is that you want to make sure you aren’t using anything that could be offensive to anyone. In scientific writing especially some things are not meant to be funny and are just supposed to be factual or straight to the point. For example, you might not want to use humor in a lab report because your professor may think you aren’t taking the material seriously. For the most part I think humor is very beneficial to scientific writing although it may be a difficult thing to incorporate into a scientific story.

  3. Emily J. Nerbonne

    These last six chapters flew by before I even realized it. I can say that I now know that Mary Roach will be one of the authors I buy books from. These last few chapters have been packed with so much information regarding space travel, experiments, and astronaut experiences, but in reality, it doesn’t feel like you are taking on a ton of factual information. To me, I just feel like I’m reading a book that weaves humor, facts, and stories in the most amazing way. You don’t notice how much you take in from a chapter until you finish and think on all that you read. You realize all the information that you had just shoveled into your brain.

    While I read this book, there were moments when I came across a sentence or idea of Mary’s that made me stop and think. I would bring up these new enlightenments with my family and friends, and we would start discussing the topics. I love it when I am able to converse with my family all that I have been recently reading. I’ll also read out Mary’s funny quips to them, resulting in us all laugh hard.

    I can say though, the last chapter grossed me out a little bit too much. Being stuck in a space capsule for two weeks without moving made me want to get up and stretch from sitting in a seat for only an hour. The chapter kind of reminded me about going hunting for a week without showers. I would regularly have “wipe showers” up in the mountains. I can only handle that for a week, definitely not two. The very thought of being stuck with your own grime on you, waiting to be done, gave me the shudders. Then, you realize the Russian experiment was by volunteer. Like, who would volunteer to participate in such a filthy work. It really brings into perspective what some people went though to bring the advances we now have in the scientific world. Without those being who went through so many ordeals, the space program would not be where it is now. There is only so much that scientists and analysts can do with chips and cadavers. You need an actual live human being to perform your experiments on. Everything that goes into getting ready and prepared for these space flights is astronomical. That also brings you to chapter nine where it talks about the simulated moon expedition. There was so much planning and effort that went into that little excursion, yet it is only a simulated one. The real one has yet to happen. So many details have to go into trying to make everything perfect for the astronauts. NASA doesn’t want anything to go wrong, and they have every right to make sure everything works perfectly. A whole lot of work goes into these experiments, and a whole lot of benefit comes out of it.

  4. Tarean Allen

    This reading was very entertaining. I really like Mary Roach’s approach to writing. Not only does it shed light on topics that some may find disgusting, but she does so in such a way that don’t think able how shocking it would be in your normal life. For example an average person may shun the idea of not showering for weeks and be horrified at the prospect of forgoing that task. She is also detailed in her descriptions so a laymen would understand what she is talking about. She is able to make the reading entertaining and informative. I can see some critics stating that humor down plays the seriousness of the experiments and research, but it helps average people relate to the writing and information.

    1. Angelina Lund

      I agree with your points. I think Mary Roach’s approach made this book easier for me to follow and actually want to follow. I honestly don’t see a downside to using humor in scientific writing. You want to appeal to all audiences so as long as the facts are there and accurate, adding a bit of humor doesn’t cause any harm as far as I can see.

  5. Cassandra Lane

    I, too, am one that thinks that Mary Roaches writing is particularly funny. I think that this makes her scientific writing particularly effective because it breaks up the boring facts. She uses humor to make scientific writing interesting to not just people in these kinds of fields, but to everyone. Creating a humorous situation out of something that is not immediately humorous downplays the situation and makes one think that the situation isn’t or wasn’t as serious as it is or was in reality. The benefits are making the reader see the positive in a bad situation, but the downfalls are that the reader may think that the situation is or was not as serious as it actually was. I like that she adds humor into this book because I would have otherwise thought that all of this is kind of boring. Thinking of space travel is interesting but it is hard to write it in a way that will interest a large amount of people. Reading through this book reminds me of another book that I read a couple years ago, called the Martian by Andy Weir and has since been made into a movie. I really enjoyed the humor in the book despite the dire straits that he was in and that he really could die. The downfall is that it really kind of did try to downplay the severity of such a situation.

    1. Angelica Kougl

      I agree that scientific writing about space travel and the preparations behind the scenes would be hard to deliver in a way that interests a large amount of people. I do think Roach does a good job of making her findings easier to understand for those who are not so knowledgable in the field of science or space travel.

  6. Angelica Kougl

    I think Mary Roach uses humor very effectively in her writing. Mixing humor with scientific writing makes things less intimidating (at least for me). Before diving into this book, I expected my reading experience to be a long, slow process. I expected to be bored and overwhelmed by information. Reading a book about space travel and the details about what it entails can make for a dry reading experience, but Roach makes this potentially boring experience a pleasant one with her humor. It makes things a little less serious and a lot more enjoyable to read, yet still gets the point across and delivers her message. In fact, I would say that using humor more effectively delivers her message than not using humor. Without it, she will likely have less engaged, less attentive, and less interested readers. However, I could also see some potential downfalls to using humor in her writing, as well. For one, more serious, “science-jock” readers may think she is a less credible source due to her use of humor. They may be looking for a book consisting of just facts and observations. Instead, Roach offers facts, observations, opinions, and a side of humor. Also, some factual information may be lost in translation. Since her form of delivery is less professional and more casual, it is likely that not every little detail is being presented in her writing. However, I personally think the good outweigh the bad in Roach’s case. I think getting people to be attentive and interested while reading your content is more effect and more important than making sure to include every detail and presenting it as straight-forward and factual as possible. If readers are not enjoying reading your work, they probably won’t retain much of it or talk about it with their peers. Roach finds a good balance between delivering her message and keeping her readers engaged in this writing.

  7. Angelina Lund

    I would have to agree that Mary Roach is Funny. Scientific reading for the most part does not spark interest for me so finding humor in the subject makes it a lot easier for me to read. I personally don’t see any downsides to using humor in scientific writing. You want to appeal to as much of a diverse audience as you can and I think that is a very effective way of doing that. As we talked about at the beginning of class, scientific writers have a challenge keeping all of the readers interested and I feel that Mary Roach has accomplished that with her writing. With scientific writing I feel it can be easy to get lost and not understand a lot of things but adding humor gives another point of view and for a lot of people, an easier way to understand what they are reading. When I saw the cover to this book, I thought I would have a hard time following because I honestly have to be interested in the subject to completely understand what I am reading and not have to go back and read it a couple times. I only see benefits in using humor. I enjoyed this book.

    1. Roger Vang

      This book would have also been difficult for me to read without Mary’s humor. Usually, a book about space travel would only attract people who are curious about space. I felt as if this book’s primary purpose is not about space travel, but it was a story for us to form a connection with the people who are involved in space travel. I really liked this book. I was able to connect with her writing a lot more than I initially assumed.

    2. Jessica Mathews

      Awesome response, I agree with you! her humor has helped me to get through the book, I have really enjoyed the book so far and can’t wait to read the following chapters! Keep up the good work!

  8. Roger Vang

    The humor Mary Roach uses in Packing for Mars is subtle, but enjoyable. Most scientific articles are usually very straightforward and bland. Mary, on the other hand, delivers the same rigid educational material in a light-hearted manner. She makes the reading easy by allowing us to form a personal connection with her writing and the people she interviewed. Many of the situations astronauts go through are hard for people to grasp completely. But with Mary’s use of metaphors and humor, we are able to understand the reality of an astronaut’s life better. Nevertheless, the issue with humor is that it may be seen as offensive. Scientific articles explain information in a direct style to avoid any arguments or offense. Personally, I feel that Mary was not offensive in her writing style and I really enjoyed her method of portraying the life of an astronaut. She was considerate towards the astronaut, and it was evident that she wanted the reader to appreciate just how difficult an astronaut’s life can be.

    1. Kristopher Dunkle

      Being inconsiderate or offensive hadn’t occurred to me, but those are great points. Even with the best intentions, it’s all too easy for humor to backfire, especially since there’s an incentive to not “over-think” it in the interest of sounding natural. I agree though that she shows great care in her humor, and her writing in general.

  9. Hunter Young

    This last section flew by really fast and I’m glad it did. Not that I was in a hurry to get the story over, I just didn’t want the pace of the first half of the book to slow down. All in all, I have to give Roach mad props for her writing style. She’s funny, personable, and very interested and passionate about this topic which carried over very well into making this not boring. I think there was a large opportunity for this story to fall into something not enjoyable because of the vast amount of information being thrown out in every chapter. I’ve seen people mentioning the humor as something that was either hit or miss in this book. I think it hit in just the right way. It was almost necessary for Roach’s personality to shine through this scientific writing because all I could think about was how she found a way to make this information relatable, which seems almost impossible for the fact that most people reading this are not astronauts. I think I learned a lot of information from this book, some of it seemed to burn out of my head quickly, but there were parts that really stuck with me. For instance, the fact that the astronauts sit in the little body pods for two days straight freaks me out a lot …

    1. Thomas Vorderbruggen

      I know what you mean by the last section flying by! I dont know if the chapters got shorter or what but the second half was definitely a faster read.

  10. Thomas Vorderbruggen

    When it comes to adding humor to a non-humorous information, things can turn out for better or for worse. All in all I believe Mary Roach did an excellent job of inserting humor into her scientific writing. Although there were a few hiccups here and there, I set down the book satisfied and fully informed of NASA space travel. One of the things Roach does excellently is that the information never feels dismissed by the humor. When Roach describes the numbers and statistics and figures that goes into her research, she doesn’t smother it with the humorous aspect. The two sit side by side, like cousins sitting together at a family reunion who have never met but are willing to get along for the sake of family. Some parts i found a little bothersome, like the three chapters in a row that seemed to hold nothing but dick jokes. But at the end of the day, Mary Roach knows what how she wants to write and does a very good job of doing just that.

  11. Kristopher Dunkle

    This week’s response prompt seems like a more specific version of our very first prompt, which asked us to consider the role of ALL the elements of science writing, including humor, that “bring it to life” and how scientists should connect with different audiences. Ten weeks later, I’m still partial to the way Mary Roach herself put it, in the quote from that first prompt, specifically: “These are the sugar, to be all cliche about it, that make the medicine go down.” I just love the sugar metaphor; adding humor is one way of making science writing more palatable to a lay audience. Too much of it, though, not only spoils the effect but undermines the writing’s ‘nutritional value’, so to speak.

  12. Jessica Mathews

    I personally really enjoy Mary Roach’s writing so easy to read and follow as well as hold my focus! I too would agree that her humor helps with the reading as well. when humor is involved in scientific writing it helps ease a situation and make you enjoy something that may actually be something gross, or hard to read. For example when she was talking about the astronauts suits and how if they throw up in them what they have to deal with! it eases you into something rather than “hey, here it is let’s get to the point type of deal. I do see it to be a benefit generally but of course not always, you can not make every situation a humorous one, if you do then people will tend to not take you seriously after so long. If you think about a person you know who is a jokster, can you believe everything thing they say or do you often find yourself wondering “is what so and so saying true or is that far-fetched like most things he/ she says.” I look forward to the following chapters to come, and see what more Mary has to offer to us, and the humor in which is held!

    1. Erin Dodds

      I agree that her humor is the sugar that makes the medicine go down! Roach is quite entertaining even if some of her subject matter is not the most desirable. And she does do it in such a way that leaves us without questioning her credibility. I think mostly because she is throwing so much research details, that only someone with hands on experience would have knowledge of, at us.

  13. Sara Church

    For me the way that Mary Roach adds humor to the subject that she is writing keeps me interested. These subjects that she is hitting on can be the most boring areas or the some of the most disgusting. In one chapter she explains how motion sickness can derail a whole space launch. Just reading about people throwing up makes me a little queasy but the bits of humor she threw in helped alleviate the queasiness in my stomach. But there does come a time when to much humor can ruin the writing. Add in too much humor and you can lose track of the science. Finding that middle point requires time and practice but when you find it many people from all walks of life can learn something new.

    1. Amanda Carr

      Sarah. I don’t really know what else to write except that I agree with what you have written here. Mary does a great job at making what could be painfully boring… interesting.

    2. Emily Nerbonne

      After reading all of the comments written, everybody seems to agree that the humor that Mary brings to her book makes the read worth while. The humor brings the book together and make people want to keep reading it. Also, you know that without the humor, many people wouldn’t want to read this book. They wouldn’t be able to chug through it without the humor. When I read your comment about putting too much humor in the book and finding a balance. I completely agree. You can’t mask the real reason of your book with other elements. This is a science book, so you need that to be the focal point of your book. If you mask it with humor and such, you are cutting out the main part of your book and defeating the purpose of your writing. A good balance is needed to keep the book alive and in focus.

  14. Amanda Carr

    If Mary Roach’s writing was not funny, having to read “Packing For Mars” would feel like a chore or even worse, it could feel like a… homework assignment. Instead of dreading reading this book I have enjoyed it. I look forward to doing my homework because it gives me an excuse to get away and my husband has to watch the kids.
    If this book was not funny or didn’t have great stories or metaphors to help one relate to the astronauts, it would be an extremely dry read for most of the human population. Fortunately for us all Mary makes it funny and tries to help the commoner understand the world of astronauts, NASA and outer space. When books, stories, essays, etc. are written funny or awkward for some reason they have more “stick” power and help me remember what I read.
    The only down fall’s that I can see to writing about things that are not humorous but trying to make them funny is, if important details are lost in translation. When there is an important topic that needs to be addressed and if the writer is too worried about it being funny, the topic may be overlooked, missed, or disrespected. Some things are just not meant to be funny. If people give their lives for something they believe in, it is moving or sad not funny. There is a fine line that is walked in this line of work and Marry Roach is a great tight ropewalker.

    1. Emily Nerbonne

      I agree with you whole heartedly that if this book wasn’t written by Mary Roach, with her writing technique, I wouldn’t be able to get through it. This book is the most enjoyable read that I have ever seen. As a science book, it is completely opposite of your typical science book. If is was a typical science book, I know I would be dragging through it, struggling to read each page. I love to read, but there has to be interest in the book that really grips me to get me to love to read it. If there isn’t an interest, I can’t do it.

  15. Erin Dodds

    I love that we get an insider’s perspective with Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars. I never would have guessed that inside of Building 993, they would have so many precautions! It is almost like treating people like toddlers, being careful not to hurt them and their soft heads.
    I find it a bit unfair that our professor has made us read this book, because after reading chapter 5, and hearing the sensation of floating in the air with no gravity, I just feel like I am being teased. I would like to try that but I know that I never will get the chance in my lifetime. I am kind of bitter about it now and do not really have motivation to read the rest of the book but I’ll chug through it, most likely not enjoying it as much as I have been.
    The best part of chapter 6 was when Roach describes the dog experiment with motion sickness. And how guinea pigs and bunnies are thought to be immune! This is slightly off setting the other horrific animal experiments that Roach has described so far.

    1. Michael Williams

      My lack of space travel will also forever haunt my dreams. Though I am quite glad to have the opportunity to at least read about it so I can imagine what it would be like! That being said, really bummed I will never get to own a small smuggling space ship and rampage around the galaxy.

  16. Michael Williams

    I am a firm believer in the power of humor. Humor, when used right can diffuse tense situations, make light of a stressful event, and even help explain some really difficult concepts such as Roach does in “Packing for Mars”. The thing about humor is that it can build an emotional connection with a reader or strangers in very short order. When you make someone laugh, you have in a way given them a sort of “gift” in that you made them happy for a moment. That moment of laughter makes people see you as someone who makes them happy which builds trust. This is one of many reasons why must people find humor to be one of the most important qualities in a relationship. The only time I would see humor as misplaced in a story like “packing for Mars” is if it begins to take away from the gravity of the story itself by being flippant about the whole journey. I don’t believe Roach has done any such thing so far. Anyhow, those are my thoughts.

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