Unit 10: GRUNT Reading Response

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The book’s considerations of just a few of the challenges facing military service people are developed in a language that is both scientifically explicit and conversationally engaging, with frequent present-tense narration accompanied by interjections of sardonic humor and occasional glimpses of somewhat deeper, emotionally resonant contemplations of what it means to be a soldier … or, in several cases, what it means to be someone who works to both keep soldiers alive, and honor their sacrifice when they are dead.

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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36 thoughts on “Unit 10: GRUNT Reading Response

  1. Seth Packer

    Humor keeps the reader interested, it may help the reader to relate to the subject and push through some sections that they may find boring or uncomfortable. If you told me before I read her that I would genuinely enjoy reading about penis reconstruction surgery for 15 pages I would’ve called you crazy. But Roach managed to do just that. However, telling stories through this humorous lens in not without it’s downsides. For one it sets a cap for how serious the author is allowed to get without having the tone of their narrative just utterly break. Sometimes, and this is subjective, the humor can come off as not fully appreciating or understanding the gravity of a situation. It can come off as insensitive or inappropriate, however I would say that Mary Roach rides this line very well. Though, I will admit that I have never seen the scrotum characterized as “like a little beanbag-chair” and I had to take a break for a bit after reading that.

    1. Jerry Carroll

      i do agree with your comment on the humorous lens, the humor may sometimes over shadow the important points that are being told.

    2. Jessica Hernandez

      I agree that humor can keep topics interesting when they seem extremely uncomfortable. Do you think it can be extremely insensitive when using humor in a sensitive subject or topic?

      1. Seth Packer

        Do I think it can? Yes, it absolutely can good humor has very specific comedic timing and if you make the wrong joke at the wrong time it can definitely come off as insensitive despite the author or jokester’s best intentions.

  2. Jerry Carroll

    In reading humor does definitely help keep the reader interested and entertained, even when the subject is dull. The benefits of the humor is that it helps keep people interested and learning about these boring subjects, although, the humor may get in the way of the important points.

    1. Olive Hager

      Right, if we read the military’s report of the same incidents she experienced, they would be hundreds of pages long and would lack the creativity.

    2. Jesse Coulman

      I agree, the humor can liven up a boring topic the might be drowned with statistics, but yeah like you said if there is to much humor it could over shadow the important facts in the writing and possibly cause confusion. I think if its done right it can be very beneficial to the writing but could also easily take away from it.

  3. Olive Hager

    If you want a reader like me to read your book, there has to be some kind of humor in it. I wouldn’t have an interest in reading about military testing if it were presented to me in a typical military reporting style. Caitlin Doughty’s From Here to Eternity is another book with similar style, but this one makes tasteful jokes regarding death rituals around the world. The key is to keep it tasteful, which can be a fine line. The only downside is that there will always be someone who takes it too seriously and will get offended.

    1. Christina Beaver

      I agree I rarely read a book that doesn’t have a little humor in it. I think another key thing you mentioned was how easily people get offended. You could find a great and hilarious book, but there will always be someone arguing against it based on what they believe.

  4. Christina Beaver

    Adding humor to a dry military report gives it a bit of life, without the humor where would our interest be? For an ordinary reader looking at this data and reports may find themselves having to reread stories over and over due to similarity and boredom. Humor eliminates that, it makes the story stand out vs. blending in and just being another statistic. At the same time though we have to know when to draw the line. We don’t want to cross the line and offend anyone or anything.

    1. Lindsey Paulsen

      I agree on drawing the line. If you read my post, you will see that I prefer science writing to be serious, which is interesting to me due to my difference in opinion to everyone else’s posts. Maybe I am a bore, but I do think if one must use humor in science writing, they should be careful with it when writing about serious or controversial topics.

  5. Lindsey Paulsen

    I am noticing I have a very different opinion on humorous reading than others. Reading about military science is already quite interesting to me, and by adding humor I find it hard to take seriously. When I go into reading scientific writing, small amounts of humor are okay, but if an author wants me to really consider the technology and its impact, humor is not the way to get my attention. Yet, if I am specifically looking for humor, I do appreciate it when it concerns less serious topics that I am not trying to learn about. This is almost anxiety provoking to write because of my difference in opinion, and I do not want to come off as boring or negative. But, when it comes to science writing, I prefer serious facts and statistics as well as analyses and conclusions.

    1. Amber Wofford

      I love anything I find funny but I find it hard to take it seriously as well if it’s too much.

  6. JESSE COULMAN

    Its not often seen but I think it can liven up a boring scientific essay. Reading in the sciences is often dry, your always presented with statistics and data and it can be mind-numbing. I think that with the right amount of humor placed in convenient places within the essay it would liven it up making it enjoyable and help to keep your interest especially if the subject if complex. A downfall that could come from humor is to much. If the writing has to much humor it will take away from the argument being made by the author and could bring about confusion to the conclusion of the essay. Its a fine line that would need to be tread carefully, to much humor or the wrong kind of humor could off put your readers or offend a potential reader.

  7. Lane Ito

    Before I read Grunt, my familiarities with army science came from the History Channel TV show Mail Call. However, I did not expect a series of reports about military subjects other than weapons and transportation. There were some interesting subjects like the testing of cloth for soldiers’ chaplains, and bomb safety, but what appealed to me the most was the army’s usage of earplugs.

    “The United States Marine Corps buys a lot of earplugs. You find them all around Camp Pendleton: under the bleachers at the firing range, in the bottoms of washing machines. They are effective, and cheap as bullets (which also turn up in the washing machines). For decades, earplugs and other passive hearing protection have been the main ammunition of military hearing conservation programs. There are those who would like this to change, who believe that the cost can be a great deal higher. That an earplug can be as lethal as a bullet (Chapter 3, pg. 57).”

    I personally had no idea the United States army buys so many earplugs every year, but I suppose the battlefield gets severely noisy with artillery gunfire. I always carry a pair of earplugs with me whenever I think they are needed, and I do sometimes lose earplugs time and again. The segment about earplugs being found in washing machines did not surprise me, because that has happened to me occasionally. Additionally, I was surprised to read that earplugs can be lethal to a unit, as any member could miss an order or fail to hear enemy fire due to having the wrong type of earplugs supplied.

    “An unprotected human ear can spend eight hours a day exposed to 85 decibels without incurring hearing loss. At 115 decibels, safe exposure time falls to half a minute. The 187-decibel boom of an AT4 anti-tank weapon lasts a second, but even that ultrabrief exposure would, to an unprotected ear, mean a permanent downtick in hearing (Chapter 3, pg. 58).”

    I have never worked with decibels in any of my past school courses, so this was a great opportunity to learn about decibels and loss of hearing. When I was younger, I had an operation done on my ears, and it has improved my hearing up to today. Aside from the operation, I always bring earplugs whenever my family goes out of town, or on boat trips to Lake Aleknagik, but this is just me.

    “The name for what we’ve got on is TCAPS, Tactical Communication and Protective System. Incoming noises are analyzed; the quiet ones are amplified and the loud ones reproduced more quietly. So far it’s mainly Special Operations forces who are using TCAPS. Why? Money, of course, but also the fact that it comes out of the radio budget, and the majority of foot soldiers don’t carry radios. Plus, some skepticism among leadership (Chapter 3, pg. 60-61).”

    I was also shocked when I read about the TCAPS system. To think a new hearing protection system was under development in order for soldiers to be able to hear commands to their units and hear less of the explosions and gunfire would be a real lifesaver when development is finished. However, the fact that it includes a radio budget, and how skepticism among leadership has emerged does make this a controversial project.

    The first four chapters of Grunt did not appeal to me as much as the articles in The Best American Science and Nature Writing, but my opinion might change after progressing through the book. I also hope there will be subjects which are not as extremely graphic as footage from war movies. Overall, I want this reading experience to be as enjoyable as possible.

  8. Rebekah Ulrich

    To some, Grunt might not be an interesting read but to others it can catch their attention right away. Mary Roach’s commentary throughout her writing does make it more enjoyable if you do not find Military Science at interesting as others. Humor can play a vital role in things that aren’t immediately funny, adding your own kind of mimic or thought that might be considered a “smart” remark can keep the reader interested. Benefits of humor like sarcasm help make a less interesting or intriguing topic more engaging. But downfalls are can be detrimental when someone needs or wants to be serious but there is added commentary throughout the reading. It can be frustrating if the writer may not be taking a touchy subject for the reader serious. Personally military science is quite fascinating to me and Mary Roach’s humor was an added bonus.

    1. Seth Packer

      Personally I also really enjoyed Mary Roaches commentary, but there certainly were times where I could’ve done without her remarks. Additionally at times it just felt unnecessary and like it detracted from the subject she was covering and I too am extremely interested in military science.

  9. Jessica Hernandez

    What role does humor play in writing about things that aren’t immediately humorous? What benefits do you see? What downfalls might result?

    When writing in an humorous way about a situation that is not necessarily funny makes it more comfortable for people to discuss it. When talking about situations like war and death it can be extremely uncomfortable for people to talk about so throwing in jokes can make it easier. The benefits of using humor can make a topic more comfortable and makes it easier to read through a reason. The downfall of using humor is it could seem extremely insensitive to someones feelings. Using humor could lessen the true feelings behind a military reading.

    1. Conall Birkholz

      I agree that adding in humor does make a topic that may be controversial, easier to talk about and discuss. Humor can act as a tension breaker for topics that normally would be uncomfortable for people to discuss or read about.

    2. Logan Borger

      I agree that humor makes things easier to talk about and overall easier to accept. It seems reasonable that some may find their feelings hurt to some extent, as the humor does make light of rather serious subjects.

  10. Conall Birkholz

    Humor in writing has its time and place. As far as humor in scientific writing, I think sometimes it is crucial to keep the reader entertained in the material. I personally can attest that times I am reading through scientific papers and the material only lists data, results, statistics, and conclusions, it can get pretty mind numbing after a while. This I think can be related to teachers or professors and how they run their lectures as well. Professors that have a sense of humor and can appear more human instead of just being monotone and lecturing about the material, their lectures are generally a better experience and more is learned as the students pay attention better. When humor is involved it feels more like a conversation as a reaction is expected from the audience if a joke is made, which is why I think it is much easier to pay attention if you feel involved in the experience.

    The problem that humor can have in scientific writing is that it may appear like the author is acting lighthearted about a topic that should have a serious tone. Mary Roach does a good job in her book of adding humor and jokes in the right places to make the material more interesting and lighthearted, while treating serious topics with respect and dignity. I find military science very interesting and this book has been an enjoyable read so far.

    1. Miranda Jackovich

      I thought you had a great perspective of how humor in scientific writing can make it more enjoyable for readers to stay engaged. Do you think that humor can open doors to conversation, or could be mistaken as sarcasm? Great thoughts

    2. Travis Winterton

      Learning when to do humor in a writing like this can be extreamly challenging and if done incorrectly or abused greatly can easily cause the reader to quickly lose interest in the reading. I am of the personal opinion that a person is allowed to joke about whatever they want, but it is understandable that not all people will take it the same way as the person delivering the joke. I guess you can say that there is a certain art to it.

  11. Miranda Jackovich

    Societies have been living in a cycle of bad news since social media has brought a huge spot light to hard discussions. It’s easier for people to shut down when a serious subject is brought up. Many people like Mary Roach use humor in order to make these hard topics easier to talk about. “I tell Mark I’m glad to see some cup holders were left in place. I recognize the brief, polite silence that follows. It’s Mark Roman rendered mute by the fullness of my ignorance. They’re rifle holders.” (Roach 43-44) Using comical relief can be beneficial and risky at the same time. For those who have emotional ties to curtain issues, using humor can be taken as disrespectful. On the other hand it can act as a breathe of fresh air when something is feeling heavy. Wording is a key factor trying to relay information to an audience and readers. When humor is spaced properly the message to the reader can have a bigger impact then without it.

      1. Briana Shaffer

        If Roach’s humor wasn’t tastefully placed I wouldn’t have taken her seriously. But it was much needed with some of the subjects. Especially the fourth chapter.

  12. Travis Winterton

    From my experience, adding humor in a writing or in this case a book Who’s main focus is about informing the reader about scientific advancements, it can either very effective or really annoying. Humor, for the most part can be very benifitial for a few key reasons.

    First, it acts as a way to help maintain reader attention, as for the most part writings about scientific readings or reports can often get extreamly mind numbing and boring (I’m sure im not the only one that feels this way). Adding humor can be a effective way to help keep the readers as it can be unexpected or helps rejuvrate the readers mind. Humor can also be used as a way to help explain certain or complex topics to the reader who may not be familiar to it already. Humor can also allow the author to express their personality into their writing, that allows the book to give it a more distinctive voice rather it coming off as sterilized. My favorite moments of these is when Roach was talking a tour of one of the Humvee engines “I tell Mark I’m glad to see some cup holders were left in place. I recognize the brief , polite silence that plows. It’s Mark Roman rendered mute by fulnes of my ignorance. They’re rifle holders.” (Pg 43-44), It the interactions and moments like this in the book help feel like we are in a simmilar situation like roaches as we feel somewhat ignorant about some of the things that are being talked and discussed about in the book.

    Of course like I said before, Humor can only be trulely effective as long as it doesn’t come off as annoying, a large part of thi comes to how often the author tires to implement humor. Typically if an author tries too hard or puts in to much humor or jokes, it can quickly become annoying causing the reader to lose interested and in some worst case scenarios can even detract or derail the current topic of the reading. There is also the factor of the quality of the joke itself and how people react to it. The types of things which people find funny and not funny can have some variations, so it can be very difficult to write an extreamly effective joke. Thats not even adding in the variable of how and when to tell a joke as people can easily construed or interpret a joke as disrespectful or inappropriate.

    To review, So far I think Roach does for the most part a good job at finding a delicate balance of when to tell a joke or quip, and to make sure when to let out or explain important infomation. Humor if done and implemented correctly can be an extreamly effictive tool in describing complex or hard to understand concepts or as a mean to retain reader attention, however if not done correctly or abusived greatly can ultimately be a net negative and can cause the reader to lose interest in the reading.

  13. Logan Borger

    The role of humor, when concerning such serious topics, is to “lighten the mood” and allow for a serious subject to be something that can be talked about more readily. It creates an environment where it is okay to joke about serious things and certainly okay to talk about them. This happens all the time in our society as a way of moving on. Although it is hardly sensitive, people joke about extreme events quite a lot. Roach definitely jokes about some serious subjects. The downfall of this writing style may be that the writing loses a smidge of its professional aura. Not that this makes it bad writing, but it does affect its credibility and those who would be likely to read this. Finding the perfect balance between professionalism and humor would be ideal. Additionally, people are highly sensitive and prone to not liking something. Tread lightly I suppose.

    1. Briana Shaffer

      I have to say from the perspective of a veteran, The humor was familiar. I mean that’s how we deal with stuff, dark humor. Reading the first four chapters took me a while because I kept loosing focus and remembering. I think the humor helps get me out of that place. It’s a very serious subject, and knowing that you have people who are like family to you going through similar stuff is disheartening. But the humor is a band aid. Not everyone gets it or appreciates it, but I don’t know if a lot of people would take the time to read this book outside of class if they didn’t have an interest or background in military.

  14. Briana Shaffer

    Thank goodness there was plays of humor in the text! It keeps the reading from becoming dry or too dark, especially in topics of amputations, trauma from IED blasts, or the realization that my hearing in my shooting ear is never going to be the same. I get the humor, especially the “toilet palsy” line, because now I know what it’s called. I can relate. I think the down fall with using humor in topics that can easily be scary, dark, and sad is sometimes people won’t get it and the misunderstanding turns into anger and disgust. Humor brings light in some topics that are dark and real.

    1. Victoria Murdock

      I totally agree when you said that some people may not understand the humor about the dark and scary times. I love how she lightens the mood of the text with humor, it makes it easier to read.

  15. Xiaofei Zhang

    Mary Roach, the author of Grunt, has created a new entertainment niche in her writing style as she comes out as a person with an open mind, a scientist with the gift of research and a good sense of humor. Grunt gives a humorous account of personal experiences that the soldiers go through. Unlike other writers, Roach does not focus on the killings, but the soldier’s urge to stay alive. Through the use of humor, Grunt describes how military scientists work to protect the riders in combat situations by focusing on the esoteric innovation that helps the soldiers during their training sessions.
    Humor plays a significant role in writing things that are not immediately humorous. Notably, authors with a sense of humor are better liked as people see them are creative, intelligent and considerate. Additionally, humor keeps the reader engaged as he can relate with the characters and pay close attention to the key issues.
    The befits of using humor is writing is that the author can address issues that are confrontational and uncomfortable. For instance, Roach gives a detailed experience of what the soldiers have to do for them to overcome their emotional and physical stress. Humor only way to address topics that are quite controversial as it helps to release the tension between the characters and the reader. When issues being discussed are overwhelming, humor helps to release the tension. Furthermore, humor helps to keep the reader engaged as it makes the situation seem quite vivid. It makes writing memorable as people can relate to their day to day lives.
    In as much as humor has numerous benefits in writing, authors should be wary of the downfalls that might result. Authors that use a lot of humor in their writing can make remarks that are only funny to a specific target audience and not the general public. This may end up offending people which will result in a backlash. Using humor in writing may offend someone with specific social quips. Additionally, using humor is writing might get addictive that the main point might not be relayed to the audience. Accordingly, making fun of serious issues does not make them go away. It might lighten up the tension but will not solve the situation.

  16. dallred3

    The humor that Mary Roach uses in the book “Grunt” does a fantastic job of making the information fun and engaging. She is constantly walking a tightrope between dry and boring information and being to fun to be taken seriously. There are both benefits and downfalls that can result from her writing.
    She effectively combines both humor and academic information in the first chapter. In “Second Skin: What to Wear to War” Roach explores the science involved in understanding the various fabric qualities, treatments, needs of for the uniform. Eventually, she brings the reader to a humorous, but accurate, comparison of bridal dresses and military uniforms. Saying, “a wedding gown entails multi-layering of expensive specialty fabrics for an outfit whose useful lifespan may come and go in a single afternoon. Much like a bomb suit.” (33)
    The benefit of using humor in writing like this is the Roach makes the information more accessible and engaging to the reader. She is able to say what needs to be said and includes the necessary information behind the science without leaving the reader bored or lost.
    While the humor makes “Grunt” a far more entertaining read that I had anticipated; it has the potential to take away from the seriousness of the topics. She covers ways that the scientific community has benefitted the health and well-being of military personnel. If the humor was misunderstood the reader might find that she is making light of the heroic and self-sacrificing actions of our military.
    In the end, I find Mary Roach’s book “Grunt” to be a very informative and engaging read leading me to always want more. She weaves together scientific and military science with a subtle sense of humor that makes the information easier to relate to. She wields her pen like a “sword of truth” but with a jester in the background so it never feels too serious.

  17. Daniel Allred

    The humor that Mary Roach uses in the book “Grunt” does a fantastic job of making the information fun and engaging. She is constantly walking a tightrope between dry and boring information and being to fun to be taken seriously. There are both benefits and downfalls that can result from her writing.
    She effectively combines both humor and academic information in the first chapter. In “Second Skin: What to Wear to War” Roach explores the science involved in understanding the various fabric qualities, treatments, needs of for the uniform. Eventually, she brings the reader to a humorous, but accurate, comparison of bridal dresses and military uniforms. Saying, “a wedding gown entails multi-layering of expensive specialty fabrics for an outfit whose useful lifespan may come and go in a single afternoon. Much like a bomb suit.” (33)
    The benefit of using humor in writing like this is the Roach makes the information more accessible and engaging to the reader. She is able to say what needs to be said and includes the necessary information behind the science without leaving the reader bored or lost.
    While the humor makes “Grunt” a far more entertaining read that I had anticipated; it has the potential to take away from the seriousness of the topics. She covers ways that the scientific community has benefitted the health and well-being of military personnel. If the humor was misunderstood the reader might find that she is making light of the heroic and self-sacrificing actions of our military.
    In the end, I find Mary Roach’s book “Grunt” to be a very informative and engaging read leading me to always want more. She weaves together scientific and military science with a subtle sense of humor that makes the information easier to relate to. She wields her pen like a “sword of truth” but with a jester in the background so it never feels too serious.

  18. Victoria Murdock

    I believe that some humor and some literature do not mix. Sometimes certain things aren’t meant to be made a mockery of, but Mary Roach is great at keeping humor to a limit, and that is tough for some authors to do. I’ve read a lot of things where the author could not control themselves at all while writing. Humor to some people is not taken as humor, it can and maybe portrayed as offense.

  19. Amber Wofford

    I love all movies and books that have humor, I fell in love with my fiance because I find him hilarious and that’s very important to me. I enjoyed reading these first few chapters and it makes me want to read more when I find out there is a funny spin on what is otherwise something I would never read for fun. For many people I think being funny will keep them reading and more interested in what’s to come, and the more people read then you have more time to enlighten them on a more serious subject. With that I think the humor may take away from the point that is trying to be made and the reader may not take away what was intended.

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