Thursday, 8 September 2011
The Epigenetic Book List
Six months ago, when I was young and the weather was actually quite good, I asked Steve Yearley, who's the director of the Genomics Forum, for a steer towards stuff I should be reading. And he immediately named a book called "Genomes And What to Make of Them" by Barry Barnes and John Dupre.
On dipping into this immediately and obviously dense and elegant overview of my new subject matter from the University of Chicago Press, it was as immediately obvious to me that I wasn't ready for it yet. It does not assume prior knowledge, exactly...but takes no prisoners. It disallows dipping into chapters between TV shows or snacks...you have to sit down monastically and read it properly.
Most books don't ask you to do this anymore. Besides, I felt I had to read AROUND genomics first...orient myself. Take deep breaths. So I put it down for a while. Now I've started again. And it's great. I mean, not just good or informative...it takes you into its view of the world and shakes you till you accept it.
It is in danger of joining that personal shortlist of titles that I carry around in me like the remains of viruses...that have tranferred their genetic information after infection...so that I carry their information around with me now too, haunting anything I write myself. And everything else I read or come across.
Just for the record, this unnatural selection includes:
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner, One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges.
And in non fiction, The Rebel by Albert Camus, Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt...
There's a few more...Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, Crime and Punishment by you know who...
Oh and Antony and Cleopatra...
None of them very startling as choices, I know, as a list of great stuff...but they are all especially distinguished for me by the fact that I initially resisted them...I couldn't get through any of them the first time round. Then when I did get through them, I turned back to page one and read them again. Immediately.
That's almost a measure of "greatness" for me. Or "art". I was scared of being changed. Then I was changed.
Might be happening again. I'll let you know.
Peter Arnott is Resident Playwright at the ESRC Genomics Forum April 2011 - April 2012. Appointed in partnership with the Traverse Theatre Edinburgh, Peter will be hosting a number of public engagements as he explores ideas and seeks inspiration for a genomics related play.