Reviews: Don’t Swallow Your Gum!
I’ll keep working on how I handle reviews but I think I’ve got a plan for books for now. I’m going to talk in short about the book on the technical level then cover something I found interesting about it in some fashion. Personal or not I’m not sure but at least for a bit this should be easier. Anyone who doesn’t give two turds about the stories can just page down a couple times to see the review score.
Aaron Carroll and Rachel Vreeman (both fancy pants pediatricians) write some surprisingly enjoyable books. They’ve written three books now, each covering a variety of myths across all sorts of medical topics. They have one dedicated to sex myths (which I’ve also read and will be writing about soon) and the other two seem to cover dozens and dozens of health myths. Some I find amusingly stupid and others I actually thought might have had some truth to them.
In particular one myth from this book is that the average person eats 8 spiders per year. Presumably this average means that some people aren’t putting away very many spiders but others are just absolutely crushing it. I suppose you could imagine your mouth being open and the spider crawling in. Your natural reflex then hypothetically being to chew it I guess. As a kid I never put much stock into it and just accepted it. After all I had had flying bugs trying their damndest to get eaten by me. I had learned about tiny mites that live in my eyebrows and hair. That knowledge seemed to give a pass to any other creepy bug related story. I’m aware, btw, that spiders are arachnids but when folks think bugs I’m sure spiders generally make the list. A quick glance at the dictionary shows the two groups schmoozing together. Scandalous, I’m sure spiders and insects would both protest this collaborative titling.
Anyways, when I was a kid I liked spiders a lot. I still do, they are fascinating creatures that really do more for us than we ever give them credit for. There are many of them right now sneaking around my house consuming all sorts of pests that I most likely dislike. Spiders by and large are pretty cool dudes and dudettes. Some have neat dances, others have incredible hunting tactics, and others still launch hairs off their ass like some kind of x-men.
I used to hunt down insects (mostly flying ones like bees because I’m not a smart man). I’d take these bugs, generally stunned, and throw them into webs. I’d watch the spiders do their work and just marvel at the machinations of nature. Spiders were something of a kinsmen to me. I started collecting them into a jar. I doubt the spiders wanted to hang out with one another but again, not bright. I would get as many bugs as I could and keep them fed. I don’t remember very well what happened between the spiders in that mason jar. I do know that I kept at least a few of them alive for a long time.
I’d open the jar and look at them closely. Their 8 legs and seemingly endless rows of eyes. Mandibles that manipulated organic matter like something out of a horror or sci fi film. It was a pretty nice little arrangement. Until the night I forgot to close the jar all the way.
Spiders got everywhere. I woke up with them on my skin, in my hair. I know it wasn’t all that many and I’m sure they mostly were just trying to get away when I woke up. But they were there and in an instant my instincts shattered. I became mortified of spiders. Any chance I had to observe them from a very, very, far distance I would. But if one ended up close to me I panicked like they were a hungry bear. I feared a creature that I likely had 60K times greater mass than. It would be like a creature weighing 4,050 tons being a panicked mess about my arrival. That would be something roughly 23 times larger than a blue whale.
I’m pretty sure they’d not even register my presence.
The terror was there though and with it all reason went out the door. So when people told me that you ate some number of spiders every year I just kind of accepted it. I never thought about the minutia of it all and how ridiculous that reality would have to be. Much like my very poorly written rant about autism and vaccines yesterday, if we think about it it is patently moronic.
Firstly we are presuming that spiders have a desire to hide in mouths. There is no animal on this planet that doesn’t know what a mouth is. We all do. Every bird, fish, insect, mammal, and so on. All of them eat or get eaten and know that the mouth is a very dangerous place to be. Unless you are a parasite that replaces your targets tongue with your own body (and yes this is a thing) there is no reason to ever ever go into another mouth willingly.
Next we’d be presuming that people just start chewing and swallowing things while they are asleep. Even if you didn’t chew there is only one thing a person does when a solid object tries to go down their throat unplanned. They choke, and they’d choke hard. If a bug DID happen to go into your mouth you’d choke so hard that you’d immediately be awake. If there was 8 in your diet for the year that would be 8 times that you woke up choking on a spider and likely panicking.
I’m also not aware of any spiders that appreciate warm moist places. Unless you are laying eggs inside your prey (which is something done to spiders, not by spiders) there is just nothing fun about it. Spiders take up home in dry places that are less likely to digest them.
The book covers even more things that bring up just how dumb this all is. But I still found it interesting that it was a bit of knowledge sitting in my brain for no good reason. It had been stored away and never challenged. I’ve wondered just how many other things are up there doing that (and we’ll have one for the sex book soon). Completely preposterous things that slipped past my skepticism system.
It’s a very good book. Nothing that you can’t live your life without reading but it can only do good things for you. The writing is excellent and both authors are funny. They even cite every single study that they mention. That’s the kind of detail that deserves a pat on the back and perhaps a free drink the next time you (or I) see them. Seriously. Great job Dr. Carroll and Dr. Vreeman. I had a great time reading this book, your third book, and am currently enjoying the second (out of order…woops).
[I’ll be removing proofing from future reviews because I realize I should just dock points if things goof, rather than inflate reviews.]
A fun read with lots of interesting myths. Some you'll find completely moronic and they'll give you a hearty chuckle. Then you'll get to one you believe and think "Hey now..." Well cited and well written. I certainly recommend it to anyone with a working brain.