28 November 2012

Tales mostly lost on me

The world lost a number of wonderful people that I knew in the past year. In 2008, I shepherded one of them, at the age of 88, into the local Democratic caucus, and the excitement of a thousand or two people milling about the Northfield Middle School so she could cast her vote for Obama. Another, at age 90, asked a friend to take her to an exquisite dinner, and announced afterward that she was ready. A few days later she died. A third asked me, through her daughter, why I seemed to read nothing by mysteries. (I never got to answer the question.)

But the question stuck with me for months. It's true that all of the books I've read in the past couple years have been mysteries.

Now, in another part of my life, I read political science and scan the headlines of a dozen online news sources every morning looking for things that might help teachers of high school courses in comparative politics. I post the things to a blog that attracts a couple hundred people a day. (That's about 50 times as many people as look in at this blog.)

That's all to say that I read more than mysteries. But non-fiction books? Not so much.

In any case, I scanned the new non-fiction shelves at the library recently and picked up The Violinist's Thumb by Sam Kean. It's subtitled Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius as Written by our Genetic Code.

I feel particularly ignorant about our genetic code, so I thought this might be a good introduction.

Not so much.

Now, I've heard about this thing in Literature that's called "voice." I think Sam Kean could use some study about the voice in which he writes. I had to get to the second half of the book before I caught on to the fact that Kean was telling stories. I wasn't always sure there was a connection between the topic he started out with and the examples ("stories") that accompanied his explanations.
The structure of the DNA double helix. The atoms in the structure are colour coded by element and the detailed structure of two base pairs are shown in the bottom right. -From Wikipedia
Describe this in words. I dare you.
It seemed mostly like an inadequate textbook. I had to go online to make sense out of his description of chromosomes, genes, and all the other bits of DNA. Then, every once in awhile, Kean would throw in a sentence or two that sounded like a smart alec remark a high school student might make. Other times he'd try to describe an incredibly complex process like making DNA sculptures without a diagram.

There were some interesting stories and lots of facts about our genetic code. I've forgotten most of them.

I do think I'll go looking for another bit of non-fiction to read and hope it's more Literary.

Have you read Kean's The Violinist's Thumb? What did you think of it? Do you think non-fiction can be Literature?

Write and tell this little bit of the world what you think.

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