Thursday, August 23, 7:00pm
Magers And Quinn Booksellers (map)
Mara Altman presents Gross Anatomy: Dispatches from the Front (and Back), moderated by the Loft's Steph Opitz
For every woman who has ever heard the phrase, “That’s so gross!” aimed in the direction of her hairy legs or sweaty pit stains, Mara Altman gets it. As a newly pubescent eighth grader, those three words simultaneously indicted her bare, unshaven legs and sparked a lifelong obsession with the female body and its many (often-embarrassing) excretions.
Arranging the collection into two parts, Altman takes readers on a wild and relatable ride from head to toe. In Part One, “The Top Half,” she tackles topics such as body hair, lice, facial features, sex sounds, sweat glands, boobs, and belly buttons. In Part Two, she investigates “The Bottom Half”—why dogs sniff crotches, why butts are considered attractive, if anal sex worsens hemorrhoids, whether PMS is real, and much, much more. Why, for example, wasn’t evolution smart enough to build us with buttholes made of out something more durable, like lead piping?
Altman’s journey to answer this and other questions take her to an inventor’s workshop, a plastic surgeon’s exam table, a menstrual retreat, and nudist colony. She interviews doctors, scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, researchers, historians, and scholars. Along the way, Altman uses her personal experiences as springboards and her own body as guinea pig, laying bare her innermost anxieties and physical foibles. Altman unsparingly documents the weird, quixotic, and downright icky aspects of bodily functions in her quest to diminish the sting of shame and find space for self-love and acceptance—gross parts and all.
With the dark humor of a trusted friend (who enthusiastically shares her favorite pimple-popping YouTube videos), Altman holds a magnifying glass to commonly held beliefs, practices, biases, and the most grody body parts to show that even in grossness, there is greatness.
Mara Altman enjoys writing about issues that embarrass her (e.g. chin hair), because she has found that putting shame on the page diffuses the stigma, leaving her with a sense of empowerment and freedom. Her first book, Thanks for Coming, an investigation into love and orgasm, was translated into three languages. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon and New York Magazine among other publications. Before going freelance, She worked as a staff writer for the Village Voice and daily newspapers in India and Thailand. She is an alumna of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and lives in San Diego with quite a few other hairy beings.
Steph Opitz is the founding director of Wordplay at The Loft Literary Center. She serves on committees for the National Book Foundation, PEN America, Rain Taxi, among others. She has curated literary events and festivals around the country and was the books reviewer for Marie Claire magazine for six years. Her book reviews can also be found in Garden & Gun, Departures, Kirkus, and elsewhere.