Monday, November 1, 2010

Misha Angrist

Misha Angrist is Assistant Professor of the Practice at the Duke University Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy and a Visiting Lecturer at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy inside Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy. He holds a PhD degree in Genetics from Case Western Reserve University and was formerly a board-eligible genetic counselor. Angrist received his MFA in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars. He is a past winner of the Brenda L. Smart Fiction Prize and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. In April 2007 he became the fourth subject in Harvard geneticist George Church's Personal Genome Project. In 2009 he was among the first few identifiable persons to have his entire genome sequenced.

Angrist's new book is Here is a Human Being: At the Dawn of Personal Genomics.

Last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Lately I find myself reading multiple books at once, which I didn't used to do but now I find it suits my ADHD tendencies, my time constraints and my moods. I just re-read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot because I assign it for my class on DNA and Property Rights. But also because it is just an amazing book: the story, the prose, the structure, the reportage, the memorable characters. What else can I say? I laughed, I cried--really!

I bought Keith Richards' book the day it came out and am greedily digging into it. I am a musician and a huge sucker for rock memoirs and this one looks to be one of the great ones. I read Ronnie Wood's book not that long ago and was disappointed: you could see he was bullshitting both the reader and himself. But so far Keith is honest, reflective and unflinching. This one has moved to the top of the pile.

I am in the middle of The Dead Republic, the third installment in Roddy Doyle's Henry Smart trilogy. I am enjoying it for the most part. The hard-boiled Irish lilt jumps off the page. Doyle's dialogue is spot on--he's like a Gaelic Elmore Leonard. That said, compared to the first book, A Star Called Henry, much of which takes place during the Easter Rising of 1916, this one--set mainly in 1940s and 50s Hollywood--has been slow to get going. I need more action, and less John Ford being a Machiavellian, drunken ass.

Jonathan Weiner's book, Long for this World: The Strange Science of Immortality, is awe-inspiring. It is an utterly compelling, beautifully rendered inquiry into transhumanism and the science behind aging and mortality. This is one of those books, like Skloot's, that if you are trying to write narrative nonfiction, as you read you are alternately taking copious notes, getting lost in the storytelling, and thinking seriously about finding a new line of work because you'll never write this well.

Finally, I am slowly making my way through Blake Bailey's biography of John Cheever. Bailey is a wonderful writer and I am a big-time Cheever fan (at least of his short stories), but I find his life to be almost unbearably sad and I wonder and worry about whether all of this angst was necessary in order for him to make his art at such a consistently high level. I'm afraid I know the answer and I don't like it.
Learn more about Here is a Human Being and Misha Angrist.

--Marshal Zeringue