Reading honeymoon

Having recently reported that my second and new lablit novel, “Welcome Home, Sir” will be coming out in the near future, and now in the process of deciding between two disparate options for the plot and characters of novel #3, I find myself with–well–a bit of extra time in the late evenings. Something I am not really used to, although for a time it can be advantageous.

I’ve seen a few films on my laptop, done a little extra science reading, but mostly I’ve had a chance to increase my reading output. Or should that be input?

This past week was a rarity for me, having managed to 3 read outstanding books–but that’s not what was unusual. The rarity was that 2 of the books were non-fiction, which I generally shy away from. The first non-fiction book was called “Jacob’s Ladder,” written by one Henry Gee, a well known paleontologist and celebrity nutritionist with a wry sense of humor and a talent for putting things nicely into perspective. As a fellow scientist, I was not bored by already understanding most of the things written, and I believe that a layman with any curiosity would easily understand and enjoy the book. The book sells for a steal–hardcover for only $8 (don’t be tempted to buy a used one for 1 cent, it’s not fair to the author).

I will come to the other non-fiction book in a moment, but first I’ll mention the wonderful fiction that I read this week–a bona fide book from Jenny’s lablit list (and I initially thought I had discovered an “unknown” lablit book) called “Mendel’s Dwarf” by Simon Mawer. For those of you who enjoy science biographies as well as fiction, this one really has the best of both worlds, with a very illuminating (yet fictional) depiction of Mendel and his life, nicely interwoven with a modern day lablit story–all told from the (ground level) vantage point of an achondroplastic dwarf who is a genetic researcher. Ironic–yes. But also timely. After all, Nobel prize laureate Ralph Steinman worked against the clock to use cancer vaccines based on his own discoveries of dendritic cells as antigen presenting cells to try to stave off his own pancreatic cancer. Potentially with some success.

In any case, “Mendel’s Dwarf” is highly recommended by yours truly.

My second non-fiction title last week was another work by the inimitable Bill Bryson. I was already familiar with Bryson, having read, and then listened to an audiobook (with about 20 CDs) of his brilliant “A Short History of Nearly Everything“–so that my wife, who prefers books in her native tongue–could hear this masterpiece on a long car trip a few years back.

Bryson describes brilliantly and with great humor in “A Walk in the Woods” his attempt to walk large parts of the famous Appalachian Trail. In particular are hilarious bits about the quirky people he met along the trail and at resting spots along the way. I could definitely relate to Bryson’s comment about his feeling that the stupidest people seemed to be attracted to him. One especially irritating person was “Mary Ellen,” who attached herself to Bryson and his friend (and they were forced to ‘ditch her’–the option was either that or to kill her, as he noted). A voracious talker, and one who would stop only to clear her Eustachian tubes by plugging her nose and making obnoxious geese-like noises, nearly caused me to fall off my bed laughing.

Without giving too much away, there was one part where Bryson’s witty and cynical friend asked her if she wasn’t worried that her eyeballs might fall out when doing that, and then proceeded to tell her about a friend who used to do that until his eyeball fell out, rolled across the floor and the dog scooped it up and swallowed it before he could do anything. Poor Mary Ellen wanted to know what the man did–did he get a glass eye? No alas, they were a poor family, so they used a ping-pong ball with an eye drawn on it….

My own eyeballs nearly popped out from laughing so hard.

Seriously, though–for anyone who has spent time outdoors on a trail–eating cooked noodles night after night, finishing a trail and coming to a town bone-tired and half starved–showering and feeling the lack of excess flesh when soaping oneself–this book is for you.

Alas, my book honeymoon is soon over, as it’s time to return to writing. Back to the Appalachian Trail of writing fiction–as soon as I can make a decision on which novel comes first.

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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12 Responses to Reading honeymoon

  1. ricardipus says:

    Ha! I love Bryson’s work, although I haven’t actually read “A Walk In The Woods” (yet). “Lost Continent” had much the same effect on me, though – wonderful observations of small-town America, warts and all, with some real belly-laugh moments. His Shakespeare biography, although short, is also beautifully observed, and like “A Short History…” goes a long way toward debunking a lot of mythology.

    “Jacob’s Ladder” has been on my list for a while but I have yet to secure a copy.

    • Steve Caplan says:

      If you enjoy Bryson, “A Walk in the Woods” is definitely one of his funniest. He seems to be an absolute magnet for oddballs, and really knows how to take advantage of their company for entertaining his readers!

  2. cromercrox says:

    Thanks for the plug for Jacob’s Ladder, Steve, the $20 is in the mail. I have recently purchased and read your first novel Matter over Mind which I read on the kindle app on my iPad – a good read with a kicker of an ending.

    I’ve read A Walk In The Woods and it’s a scream – but my favourite Bryson by far is Notes from a Small Island, an outsider’s affectionate view of Britain. I first came across this when it was being read as a serial on the radio, and I was listening to it in the car. It made me laugh so much I had to pull over in case I had an accident.

    • Steve Caplan says:


      You drive a hard bargain–I thought we agreed on $40? Now I know where the famous “It has not escaped our notice” series is derived from!

      I didn’t read “Notes from a Small Island” yet, but funnier than “A walk in the Woods?” I’m going to have to jump it to the top of my list.

      • cromercrox says:

        Well, I thought it was funnier, but I’m a Brit and it was all about Britain and its foibles. Nothing as illuminating as looking at ourselves as other see us.

        • ricardipus says:

          I have to say I enjoyed Notes From a Small Island but didn’t find it quite as funny as The Lost Continent. Still good though.

          The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is good too, if you like the whole growing-up-in-middle-America genre.

          • Steve Caplan says:

            How about growing old in middle America? Does that work?

          • I love all his travel books, and also enjoyed Mother Tongue and Made in America (about the evolution of the English language). I have to say though that I didn’t think The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid was all that great – a lot of the anecdotes had already been covered in his other books. I haven’t read A Short History of Almost Everything yet, but it’s on my list!

            I should write my own book review post some time soon!

        • ricardipus says:

          P.S. Henry – what is the best method of purchasing Jacob’s Ladder (i.e. best for you, monetary-wise)?

          • cromercrox says:

            It’s only available in dead tree format at the moment, so your choice is paperback dead tree or hardback dead tree. My agent and I have been talking about kindling it but we haven’t got any further than talking.

        • Steve Caplan says:

          Speaking of funny, took the family to “Spamelot” this past weekend. The kids loved when King Arthur asked his faithful servant why he didn’t tell him he was Jewish: “It’s not the kind of thing you say to a heavily armed Christian…”

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