Ever wonder why people get smelly feet? What's that gunk that collects
in your eyes while you sleep? What is vomit made of?
The answers to those questions and just about anything you probably think
is really disgusting can be found in a new children's book, appropriately
called ``Grossology'' (Addison-Wesley, $14.99).
Author Sylvia Branzei coined the title, which she describes as ``the science
of really gross things.'' Branzei, a science teacher in rural Mendocino
County, says the idea for the book came to her last year while she was
cutting her toenails.
``I said, `Ooh, what's this icky stuff under my toenails?' '' she says.
``When I thought about it, it hit me that there's a lot of gross things
about our body that we want to know about.''
``Grossology'' may be the grossest book ever written, even though its subjects
are familiar to anyone who sneezes, gets sick or sleeps, to name just a
few bodily functions covered.
Among the book's observations:
-- Smelly feet, Branzei points out, actually are created by wearing shoes
and socks. Sneakers are perfect hosts for bacteria and fungus, which thrives
in warm, moist places.
-- Eye gunk comes from tears that form while we sleep. The liquid evaporates
into crusty masses, which mix with sweat and oil from the caruncle, that
bump of flesh in the lower eyelid.
-- Vomit contains not only undigested food but also hydrochloric acid
diluted by mucus and food. The reason vomit is often green is because of
bile from the small intestine.
Some of the book's facts seem to go beyond gross. For example, ``In some
Eskimo tribes, it is customary for mothers to suck the snot from their
baby's noses and spit it upon the ground.''
Besides being an educational tool, Branzei says she hopes her book debunks
certain myths. For instance, an after-dinner burp in some Mideast countries
is considered appreciation for a good meal.
There's one section of the book that's clearly the most popular with readers.
``About 90 percent of the people who read it jump right to the farts,''
Branzei says. ``It's one of those things that everybody does but it's difficult
to find out about.''
The answers aren't pretty and neither is the book. On the lime green cover
is a cartoon of a baby throwing up; attached to the book is one of those
fake plastic vomits sold in gag shops.
The book also comes with a plastic magnifying glass so that children, following
directions in the book, can analyze their own bodily discharges.
The contents is a potpourri of topics most mothers tell their children
never to mention in public. Subjects are organized under three descriptive
headings: slimy, mushy, oozy gross things (diarrhea, for example), crusty,
scaly gross things (dandruff) and stinky, smelly gross things (burps and
It's a revolting idea for a book, but Branzei says that's the point. Perhaps
the best way to approach it is with an open mind and an empty stomach.
``Usually once you find out the answers, you're less grossed out,'' Branzei
says. ``Our regular bodily functions are considered disgusting but when
you find out about them, they're not as disgusting as you thought they
``Grossology'' has sold more than 4,000 copies since it was published last
month, and two major chains already have reordered thousands of copies.
Branzei has promoted her book throughout the country, has been interviewed
by National Public Radio and soon will appear on ``Good Morning, America.''
``I sit outside under the stars and I think, `I write a book about boogers
and farts and I'm sitting on a gold mine,' '' Branzei says. ``I thought
it might have a small cult following, but I never thought this was what