Friday, February 16, 2007

Why does asparagus make my urine smell funny?

Who's asking: Jennifer Lechner, Freeport, ME

Oh, you knew I'd get around to this question eventually. People have been wondering about it since at least Roman times, when they'd take cartloads of asparagus up to the Alps to freeze, just so the aristocracy could eat it at mid-winter festivals.

The distinctive odor created by asparagus comes from the interaction of digestive acids with a sulfur-sugar compound in the asparagus plant. The chemical reaction produces thioesters, and the one thing I remember from high school chemistry is that esters are strong scent producers.

According to some scientists, not everyone suffers the asparagus-urine smell -- but I read one article that suggests the chemical reaction is the same for everyone, but not everyone can smell it.

I am deep in the February doldrums, with little time for pleasure reading... I've read four manuscripts this week, but don't want to talk about any of them (although at least two already have publishing contracts), because of the likelihood that the final books will look different from the versions I read. Here's a short installment of

What I Read This Week

Robert Crais, The Watchman. Elvis Cole's mostly silent partner Joe Pike must pay off a favor by serving as bodyguard to an heiress who saw the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time. To say much more about the plot would make it sound cliched and maybe even corny, and that's exactly what this book is not. It's a masterful balance of plot and character, both entertaining and compassionate, and Crais' best work since L.A. Requiem.

T. Jefferson Parker, The Fallen. Parker creates a terrific protagonist -- Robbie Brownlaw, a San Diego cop who develops a peculiar form of synesthesia after surviving a fall from a hotel window -- but the plot, a city ethics investigator's murder, never takes full advantage of the character. It seemed almost as if Parker had written two different books, and combined them. The seams show. I hope we see more of Brownlaw, though.


steve said...

Fact that asparagus makes my pee smell (and it is almost immediate) is the whole reason I like to eat asparagus!!

Linda Brown said...

I agree with you about Jeff's THE FALLEN. But when I asked him last year if we'd see that character again, Jeff said no. He seemed to dislike the question, even... He told me he was glad I liked the character, but stated very firmly that he hoped I would like the next one, too.

Very interesting man, that T. Jefferson Parker. Comes off as all easy-going and laid back, quiet, kind -- and then suddenly there is this decided steel to his voice. Not unkind by any means, but definitely not to be pushed. Hmmm....


AnswerGirl said...

Yes -- pleasant, always, but intense. A few years back, The Mystery Bookstore had an excellent event that paired Jeff Parker in conversation with John Connolly -- they got along well, but at times seemed to be speaking different languages, for reasons that had nothing to do with their accents.