Science Essays: A Time and a Place

Tasmanian Devil at the Tasmanian Devil Conserv...

Tasmanian Devil via Wikipedia

Like many, I look forward every year to the publication of the Best American volumes; my favorite is the short fiction one, but over the years, I’ve picked up volumes in each category and always found something worthwhile, something beautifully written. So when I saw The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009 on sale for $5 at my grocery store, I snapped it up and brought it home, intending to read it over a leisurely lunch.

I flipped first to “The Itch,” an essay by renowned doctor and writer Atul Gawande, and was engrossed almost immediately. However, by the end, I was second-guessing my decision to read it over lunch. I think a turning point must have been the description of the woman who itched through her scalp into her skull until brain fluid was leaking out. Ahem.

Next, I tried “Contagious Cancer,” a piece by David Quammen about Tasmanian devils and what scientists have learned about cancer by observing them. At least, I think that’s what it’s about; I haven’t yet made it past the page where a scientist mentioned tumors on a Tasmanian devil’s face that were “crumbly, like feta cheese” when excised. Did I mention I was eating pizza at the time?

So in the future, while I look forward to finishing the other essays, I won’t be doing it while eating. Or looking at food, or being anywhere near it.

Shudder.

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4 Comments

Filed under Pensees on Reading

4 responses to “Science Essays: A Time and a Place

  1. Marnie Colton

    In some sort of weird twist of fate, I, too, recently read “The Itch,” although it was on the New Yorker website and I forget how I even found it. Fascinating and well-written, but truly disturbing. I could see that woman’s experience being adapted into a David Cronenberg film, since body horror is one of his main themes. And if you like David Quammen’s writing style, I would highly recommend Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind.

  2. I had a similar experience reading Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, about the 1854 cholera epidemic in London. Really interesting book, but I found it impossible to read about cholera while eating! And this meant it took me much longer to get through the book; I’d never realized before how much I associate meals with reading during them, especially in the summer, when that’s my lunchtime routine.

    • Yes–my mother used to hound me (rightfully) about not reading at the table during dinner, and I always swore that when I was an adult, I would eat and read whenever I wanted. I try not to do it during dinner, but all other meals are fair game.

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