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Worth reading: Bananas, dwarves, salt and love

A banana on the salt lake plain at Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, hints at themes of genetics, food and human journeys in three books recommended by fly scientist Thomas Merritt. Shutterstock

Worth reading: Bananas, dwarves, salt and love

Editor’s note: The Conversation Canada asked our academic authors to share some recommended reading. In this instalment, Thomas Merritt, a fly scientist who wrote about male bias in science laboratories (and how to kill fruit flies) highlights three books on his list of top reads.

Banana by Dan Koeppel. Handout

Banana

By Dan Koeppel (Non-fiction. Paperback, 2008. Plume.)

Bananas have shaped the modern world but may no longer exist — at least in their current form — in our not-so-distant future. As a kid raised on bananas, I can appreciate the first idea, and find the second hard to believe. But it’s true.

Koeppel tells both of these stories well, tying each together, and leading the reader through the nefarious past and questionable future of a fruit that many of us grew up on and most of us take for granted. The book ties social history, political science, economics, genetics and disease biology together to tell an engaging, and sobering, story of the global history of one of agriculture’s — and breakfast’s — most important players.

 

Mendel’s Dwarf by Simon Mawer. Handout

Mendel’s Dwarf

By Simon Mawer (Fiction. Paperback, 1999. Penguin.)

This is the story of a geneticist, Dr. Benedict Lambert, struggling with himself, his science and his heart. Lambert is a genetic anomaly. In fact, we all are genetically unique but in Lambert’s case, his unique genetics are immediately apparent to all: He has achondroplasia — dwarfism.

He is also a man in love. Unrequited love. Mawer weaves a wonderful tale connecting Lambert, Gregor Mendel (often called the father of modern genetics), human genetics and love. The story and the writing are wonderful, smart and engaging. The science is very well done and woven into the story without overwhelming it. This is the kind of novel that I love to read and wish I could write.

 

The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson. Handout

The Salt Roads

By Nalo Hopkinson (Fiction. Hardcover, 2008. Warner.)

Jamaican-Canadian speculative fiction author Nalo Hopkinson weaves together a haunting, intricate and absorbing series of stories across centuries and continents, joined by a spiritual entity inhabiting a series of women. The work branches from mythology, to witchcraft, to historical fiction to tell the tales of three women united by beauty, sorrow and hardship.

Hopkinson’s work is fantastic, twisted, turning, challenging and engaging. Her work defies easy description but combines fantasy, science fiction and erotic macabre — think Jeanette Winterson or Angela Carter. This novel isn’t an easy read, but it’s infectious and rewarding in its twists, turns and beauty.

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