Quickies: 10% HumanWit

Book cover: 10% Human by Alanna Collen10% Human: How Your Body’s Microbes Hold the Key to Health and Happiness by Alanna Collen

Publisher/Year: Harper, 2015
Format: ARC
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher

What it is: Microbes make up 90% of our bodies and help keep us healthy. However, with the twentieth century diet, we’ve also seen a rise in twentieth century diseases. Collen, a biologist, conveys some of the latest research charting the roles microbes may play in common modern health issues.

Why I read it: I was interested in learning more about microbiomes.

What I thought: Collen does an excellent job of conveying a lot of information in an accessible and engaging way. The book is fascinating and kind of scary; the chapters that center around autism and childbirth are particularly alarming. That said, she also takes a common sense approach in the advice she gives should you decide to try to mend your own microbiome. And the coolest project I heard about? You can DNA sequence your poop to get a picture of what your gut bacteria looks like. Is it TMI to say I’m all about that idea?

Book cover: Wit by Margaret EdsonWit by Margaret Edson

Publisher/Year: Faber & Faber, 1999
Format: Paperback
Pages: 85
Source: Library

What it is: A Pulitzer Prize-winning play about an esteemed poetry professor, Dr. Vivian Bearing, who is dying of ovarian cancer. Feared and revered by her students, she’s known for coldly holding everyone to the highest standards. She agrees to brutal experimental treatments to fight her Stage IV cancer, and as she becomes the subject at the teaching hospital, she’s left to reflect on her own past interactions with people.

Why I read it: I saw the HBO adaptation several years ago and have always wanted to read the original play.

What I thought: Even though I already knew what would happen, this was still an emotionally brutal book for me. I think it hit me even more since I was also listening to Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air at the time; the two books have closely related subject matter. Vivian’s reflections and regrets in the way she related to people are poignant; there are parallels in the way she treated her students and the way her doctors are now treating her. As her end draws near, she has to confront many of her values and ideas about the purpose of her life. It’s devastating.

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