In screening for genetic mutations that can cause disease, the line between useful and damaging knowledge is hard to draw. We can in many instances find out who will fall victim to conditions for which no treatment exists. Huntington’s chorea is caused by a single mutation that can easily be identified. So is cystic fibrosis. Everyone who has the mutation will develop the disease unless he or she dies of something else first. No one who does not have the mutation will develop the disease. But though the etiology and development of both these afflictions are well understood, there is no way to prevent either of them. Hereditary prion diseases—genetic neural conditions caused by misfolded proteins—are rarer, but likewise play out with grim reliability. No treatment can slow the inexorable progress toward an agonizing death.
Bioethicists disagree on whether diagnoses of such diseases should be postponed until symptoms develop or should be made much earlier, even in infancy. More and more, clinicians argue that diagnosis before the onset of symptoms can benefit patients. It can circumvent an exhausting investigative odyssey; it can inform reproductive decisions; it can help a patient to plan; it can allow him or her to connect with others with the same condition, which is not only reassuring for the patient but also helpful to research scientists. But it can also cause despair. To what extent is information about an unpreventable genetic disease that has not yet caused any symptoms a gift and to what extent is it a burden?
All winter, you looked forward to summer. You anticipated the return of the sun with religious fervor, convinced that ecstasy and sunlight are the selfsame. But here you are, barefoot on a green lawn in June, realizing the difficult truth that happiness is not, in fact, photosynthetic.
My people, the Irish, have always been skeptical of happiness. Swift considered it a self-deception; Shaw doubted anyone could bear it for long (“A lifetime of happiness . . . would be hell on earth”); and Joyce, in over 2,000 pages, hardly mentioned it.
I’ve always gravitated towards older things. I didn’t want to wear anything brand new from The Gap or “No Fear” shirts like my classmates did, and I liked the idea of being surrounded by items people didn’t want anymore. I preferred the old VHS players that went out when DVD players came in. Cassette tapes, old copies of National Geographic and Esquire, along with other relics, served as an education of sorts. They were things I saw as a small child but hadn’t been allowed to touch or own. I’d look at old furniture and notice hand-carved signatures in the wood, a sign that somebody had made it — it wasn’t some mass-produced lump of particle board.
Then there were the books. High school had taught me about Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Baldwin. Thrift stores gave me my first tastes of Karl Marx, Saul Bellow, Albert Camus, Mary McCarthy, and Salman Rushdie. Both invaluable curriculums, but second-hand books allowed me an opportunity to design my own for about 25 cents a lesson, or five for a dollar. The covers made me feel like I was in a dusty little art gallery: The Modernist designs of Alvin Lustig for New Directions; the iconic, handsome, orange Penguin paperbacks; the seedy, sexy characters of 1950s pulp fiction.
Considering some of the personal and embarrassing revelations that follow, fear is understandable. Ms. Faris, who stars in the CBS sitcom “Mom” and has appeared in nearly 40 movies, covers an impressive range of taboo subjects: her plastic surgery, her “crazy masturbation phase,” the number — and names — of people she’s slept with, and her feelings of jealousy when her husband, the actor Chris Pratt, would appear onscreen with beautiful co-stars.
But when she sold her memoir to Dutton last year, Ms. Faris had no idea how awkward things would get. The book, which is out Tuesday, blends relationship advice with Ms. Faris’s reflections on her romantic follies — yet it comes just a couple of months after the announcement of her separation from Mr. Pratt, after eight years of marriage.
As his contributions to the New Yorker testify, Gopnik can write brilliantly about almost anything. His new book is nominally a memoir of his first years in Manhattan, where he arrived from Montreal early in the venal 1980s, but its reminiscences are the pretext for a series of dizzy riffs – on art and the artisanal, connecting conceptualism with microbrews; on art and commerce, treating Jeff Koons and his stainless steel bunny as products of “late commodity capitalism”; or on the need to combine elitism in art with egalitarianism in politics, a juggling act that Gopnik manages with deft aplomb.