Alums' new book demystifies defecation

By Catherine Straut

Bowel movements, generally considered taboo in conversation, are now up for discussion, thanks to two Brown grads who recently published a book that hopes to satisfy the curiosity of everyone who wonders but is too afraid to ask.

Published in May 2007, "What's Your Poo Telling You?" by Josh Richman '97 and Anish Sheth '98 MD '01 has been a surprising success, having sold over 200,000 copies and currently ranking as the top selling physiology book on According to Richman, the book gives readers a unique mix of bathroom humor and legitimate medical facts about digestive workings and bowel movements.

"The idea was not to just write another book about potty humor," Richman said. Rather, the authors' vision involves "walking the fine line of highbrow humor about a very lowbrow subject, coupled with details and serious medical information," he said.

With chapter titles ranging from "Poo-phoria" to "Rambo Poo," the book definitely captures people who enjoy the more humorous aspects of defecation, Sheth said. "Coming up with the nicknames ... was entertaining," Richman added.

"The whole premise of the book is that I think everyone realizes that the subject matter is inherently funny and a little bit awkward," Sheth said. "What a lot of people don't know is that you can learn a lot about your health by looking at what's in your toilet bowl."

Richman and Sheth met as undergraduates at Brown, and though they never discussed their opinions on the book's topic in detail, they both shared an appreciation for bathroom humor, Sheth said.

"Independently, we each had this weird fascination with the subject matter," Sheth said.

After graduating, Richman and Sheth lost touch, but were reunited by Richman's brother-in-law, who was a friend of Sheth's in medical school. Now a gastroenterologist at Yale Medical School, Sheth said upon reconnecting, the two realized the potential of their shared interest.

Richman, who works at a clean energy technology company in California, said the inspiration for the book came from general curiosity about bowel movements and years of unanswered questions.

"I never seriously planned to write a book about it," Richman said. "It was curiosity that led to the idea for the book. It was a way to get some of these questions answered."

The book came together almost exclusively by e-mail over the course of a year, Sheth said, as the two were finishing graduate school on different coasts. Sheth said the project began with writing entries and sending them to one another. "It was initially just an idea that we had fun with," he said.

Richman added that the entries were a project they worked on in their spare time because both he and Sheth have full-time jobs. "It was a lot of fun to write," Richman said. "Sometimes I'd be writing and I'd just start laughing. It's something that you write when you're inspired."

As the project became more legitimate, the two said they received input from a slew of friends and colleagues. Richman said he often found the ideas behind many of the entries in brainstorming sessions with his fellow students at business school.

They essentially completed the book in about a year, and soon after began shopping their work to various publishers. Richman said the book proposal process helped them refine what they wanted to write.

"Humor books are all about execution," Richman said. "We had to really prove that we could write a book like this that could be successful."

Both Richman and Sheth said they intended to market the book towards 18- to 35-year-old males in stores like Urban Outfitters and Spencer's Gifts. But the authors said the book has had surprising success in mainstream bookstores such as Barnes and Noble, and has found popularity with a much larger audience than expected.

"The target audience has really run the entire gamut," Richman said.

The authors said the price of the book, at $9.95, has been integral for its success. "It was important for us to have it priced as an impulse buy," Richman said, adding that the book was a popular stocking stuffer and was displayed at large bookstores on Father's Day and around Christmas.

"This book is definitely not for everybody," Sheth said. "(But) everyone knows somebody that the book is perfect for."

Despite their success, neither Sheth nor Richman had plans to become writers during their time at Brown.

"It was a personal curiosity that turned into a project that took on a life of its own," Richman said. "I think that Brown fosters this type of creativity and unorthodoxy," he added.

Richman said he feels that the success of the book is due to its ability to be "liberating, entertaining and comical" as well as informative.

"I've had people come up to me who you could never imagine being the type of people that would feel comfortable talking about bowel movements saying, 'I thought that was just me!' " Richman said. "Suddenly they feel liberated that they're not abnormal at all."

Sheth and Richman held a book signing at the Brown bookstore at their 10-year college reunion last May, and the book quickly sold out of copies. Since then, the two have been working on a second book, which Richman said is intended to be similar to "What's Your Poo Telling You?" but will incorporate other bodily functions.

"It's been a very exciting ride and very fulfilling," Richman said.

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