Nonfiction

From the color of Your Eyes to Your Type of Earwax

If the last thing you learned about genes was Gregor Mendel’s pea pod experiments, you might want to try this easy to read science book to get up to speed about many fascinating changes in hereditary theory.

For instance, humans have only 20,000 to 25,000 genes, downgraded from a previous estimate of 100,000.  In comparison, a tiny water flea--barely visible to our naked eye--has about 31,000.

You’ve heard the word genome in the news and on PBS. Your genome is your full set of genes. Every cell in your body gets a copy of the full set although each cell cannot read all of them.  By the way, the word “cell” came from Robert Hooke, the first person who saw them in the 1600s. When he first discovered them under a microscope, they reminded him of monks’ cells.

Other interesting facts about your genome.  The chromosomes scientists have discovered have something to do with either inherited diseases or traits. For instance, chromosome 1 is associated with deafness, schizophrenia and maple syrup disease.  (You read that right!) If you have red hair, thank chromosome 2.  Blue or green eyes?  Chromosome 19 is for you.  And yes, previously scientists thought that there were only two possibilities for eye color: brown or blue.  Those green eyes, they just tagged as a variant of blue.

Touching Strangers

Anyone with the ability to get a stranger to pose for a camera while touching two or three other strangers in New York City must have both courage and amazing diplomatic skills. Enter photographer Richard Renaldi. Since 2007 Renaldi has been hauling his big, 8 by 10 inch view camera not just around New York, but around other cities and towns across America.  This cool involving book presents some of the amazing portraits he’s created.

The juxtapositions are captivating: ages, races, classes, sexes, outfits, jewelry, tattoos, and indoor and outdoor settings all present a panoply of portraits of 21st century Americans. In “Jesse and Michael,” a bearded middle-aged man in an orange sweatshirt and woolen cap clutches the hands of a very old woman wearing a wig, with her cane draped over her purse.  Atlantic Ocean waves break behind them.

“Pedro and Neal” touch in some kind of shop or factory.  Pedro sits, his body exuding confidence and authority, a radio attached to his shirt.  Neal in a blue cap has claimed a perch on Pedro’s desk and Neal places one hand on Pedro’s shoulder, another around his wrist.

“Michael and Sarah” look like they could be engaged. Sarah leans into Michael’s shoulder on the NYC subway during winter—both wear coats and hats; their opposite hands are clasped on Sarah’s left wrist.

Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization

This book is not about nature as I’d first thought, except for the fact that it recommends running in those glove-like shoes on outdoor trails. It is a book about health, however—how to keep it, how to get it back in a tense, stress-filled world.

What I like best about it is how the two authors, one a doctor, the other a science journalist cull recent research for results on diets and life-techniques that really work include cutting back on carbs, sleeping eight hours, spending time moving outdoors and meditation.

One study confirmed that Japanese businessmen had a 40% increase in their immune response after just one walk in the woods.  Even more surprising is that this lasted for more than a month. The results in improved health and awareness for those that meditate were particularly powerful.  Even novice meditators had an increased immune response to a flu virus than others."

New Life, No Instructions

Did you ever hobble around on crutches?  Discover that you most basic possession, your body, does not work as it once did? This excellent memoir about rehabilitation, friendship, loss, and the love of a great dog is a tearjerker at times, but always incredibly well-written. Wow, does Caldwell know how to spin a yarn.

Gail Caldwell suffered from polio as a small child. In this account she describes how her mother sprawled on the floor with her when she was young and did the tough leg exercises needed to strengthen Gail’s leg. 

All her life, Gail adapted to living with a bum leg. In her late fifties she decided to adopt a strong Samoyed pup. And as Tula grew, Gail soon found herself falling more and more often, and that she could no longer hike the three mile reservoir loop with her strong-willed pet.

Doctor after doctor told Gail that her limp, the weakness in her leg and her frequent falls were caused by her polio, but Gail finally sought another opinion. The new doctor asked to see her CT scans and X-rays but there were no recent ones. Upon doing them, he discovered that Gail’s hip was shattered with the ball absolutely flat.  She needed hip replacement immediately.

How Artists Work

Do you believe creative artists should be disciplined? Honor routines?  Sit (or stand) at their desks, go to their studio every day? Or do you think they should be free spirits? Explore the world? Pound the pavements; hike in the woods? Visit coffee shops and saloons and meet people? Write or paint or compose as the feeling strikes them? Perhaps after delving into this book of 161 summaries of artists’ routines, you will change your mind.

It’s surprising how many of these creative spirits rise at sunbreak and commence work quickly. This book gets into the nitty gritty. Did you know that Beethoven made his own coffee every day? He routinely counted out sixty coffee beans.  He also loved to bathe before a sink, splashing pitchers full of water over himself, but unfortunately, this water spilled on the floor and dribbled downstairs to his landlord’s place,  forcing the owner to put a concrete base under the great composer’s sink. The esteemed composer’s servants also had a laugh-fest each time he bathed because he did so while “bellowing up and down the scales.”

Earthquake Storms

This is the kind of interesting read that can make you dream of switching fields. Both the title and subtitle are misleading, it’s about much more than earthquake storms (a series of large quakes that strike the same fault close together in time), or even the San Andreas Fault, famous for being that volatile line that runs from the California redwoods to its southern deserts.

Although it does focus on ground shaking in California, it’s also a compendium of earthquake lore that describes quakes in Turkey, Italy, and other places. One intriguing section describes how recent research confirms that the famous Delphi of Greek mythology was a site of earthquakes. The priestesses there supposedly sat before a crack in the earth and made prophecies.  Scientists have found that the earth nearby released ethylene, a gas that is now known to cause trances.

The book begins with the narrative of a young San Franciscan mechanic who took a daily swim in the ocean. One morning he walked to the beach as always and after being whacked repeatedly by waves, then thrown upon the

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