Forty years ago, four Japanese writers and photographers came to town and invented Los Angeles. Or rather, they invented an image of Los Angeles they could distill, package, and sell — first to Japan, then to the rest of the world — with the debut issue of Popeye, published July 1976. Described in its own subtitle as the “Magazine for City Boys,”Popeye would go on to stake out and ultimately dominate its territory in the world of Japanese men’s style print media, one of the most internationally visible branches of that country’s still shockingly robust print media ecosystem.
Humans turn out to have fewer genes than a roundworm. Or a banana. Or a grain of rice. Yet scientists had no inkling our complement of genes was so meagre. As Rutherford notes: “The greatest achievement of the Human Genome Project was working out exactly how little we knew.”
It is a neat phrase and typical of this elegant, informed account of the lessons we are still learning from the project. This is no bombastic view of a world transformed by modern genetics or a health service revolutionised by gene-based therapies. More than anything, this is a book that highlights the limits of what genes can tell about us or do for us.
In the creative nonfiction course I teach every spring, I talk about a memoirist’s ability to both convey personal experience and also make connections with an audience. This interplay between the individual and the universal is what can make reading a memoir a powerful experience.
Marianne Jantzi’s Simple Pleasures: My Life as an Amish Mother reminded me of this principle, if only because little in Jantzi’s life is familiar to me, though I am also a mother: not her exuberant crafting with her young children; not the cooking she does with a wood stove; not the complexities she faces when riding with her family in a buggy; not any number of daily activities she completes without the assistance of modern technologies.
Howard Johnson’s may not be a staple of the American roadside anymore, but the visually similar franchises it helped popularize go on as far as the eye can see.
Looking out the window at the box-shaped apartments in colorful rows of sky blue, white, caramel, marmalade, and you are there with verse-spiraling ribbon, with ink-well and tools, with sunsets to lay over them. It’s a seasonless evening, all clouds, no sunset, extremely humid, a slight chill everywhere. Not seasonless, but every season, and you, you are there.