Mary Roach's 'Packing for Mars' selected for San Francisco's 'One City One Book'

Space may be the final frontier, but how do you go to the bathroom once you’re there?

That and a provocative array of other questions sparked bestselling Oakland author Mary Roach (“Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers”) to pen the compelling read, “Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.”

“I got this idea that you can go to space without leaving the Earth, which is probably the way I’ll ever get to do it,” Roach says of the book’s genesis.

“The idea came from a random phone call and I learned about this contraption to simulate Martian gravity with a harnesses and bungee cords, and in one afternoon, I realized there were three chapters right there. And then I thought, if there’s three, there’s got to be 15.”

Roach and her book play a significant part in the seventh annual “One City One Book: San Francisco Reads” endeavor, launched by the San Francisco Library and supported this year in part by the Bay Area Science Festival, a communitywide celebration of science slated for Oct. 29-Nov. 6.  

Roach makes an appearance at the library’s Marina branch for a festive Friday night gathering called IMBIBE, which is presented by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, a nonprofit that advocates and provides financial support for the library.

IMBIBE newbies take note: Think fun.

In addition to Roach’s presentation, there will be complimentary drinks and, as organizers rather humorously say, plenty of time to mix and mingle at “full volume and generally ignore library taboos — moonwalking is encouraged.”

Other party perks include a space-themed photo booth and giveaways of “Packing for Mars.” The San Francisco Amateur Astronomers will set up several telescopes for viewing.

These activities represent a small part of the slew of attention Roach has garnered for her book. She admits to being taken aback by how well it has been received.

“I was surprised [by the attention], because I really was, and still am, an outsider to the ‘space’ community,’” she says. “I don’t have a background in aerospace so [it was like] ‘Who am I to be writing a book?’ I was concerned that there would be a certain amount of dismissiveness.”

That was hardly the case. With her New York Times bestseller, Roach has attracted plenty of kudos. And her genuine interest in uncovering the curious backstories involved in something like space travel has lured people in, if not provided a stellar education.

“I like to put myself into worlds that are foreign, ” she says. “For me, writing is a wonderful excuse to drop in on another world that you would otherwise never have an opportunity to drop into.”



Mary Roach at IMBIBE

Presented by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library

When: 7 to 10 p.m. Friday

Where: Marina Branch Library, 1890 Chesnut St., San Francisco

Tickets: Free for Friends of the Library, $35 to join

Contact: (415) 626-7500,,

artsentertainmentMary RoachOther ArtsSan Francisco Public Library

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