What Bugs Her?



Sometimes, you just have to lean back and revel in how certain writers can so dexterously put words together. I find that the awe their powers elicit is even more astonishing when they approach subjects that don't innately interest me.

I've long been a fan of Natalie Angier, who writes on science for The New York Times.I think she's hands-down one of the supreme prose stylists now working in journalism in the United States, and could even give many of our most highly touted fiction writers a run for their money.

Her mastery was on full display last week in the Jan. 8 "Science Times" section, in an article titled "Tiny Specks of Misery, Both Vile and Useful."

I also like to think of Angier as a master of the journalistic lead. She's penned astonishing single-sentence starts, great first paragraphs and riffs that she's been able to string out for paragraphs on end.

There are times, though, that she begins more slowly, without much evident flair, but rather lets the power build until she reaches her core image, usually something beautifully constructed, and then begins whipping out sentences marked by such creativity that they can take your breath away. (She's managed to do this as well in several wonderful books that are worth tracking down.)

Her recent article was of the slow trajectory type, and she managed, as always, to reach some wonderful linguistic heights. All the grateful acolyte can do in such situations is sit back and enjoy the ride.

"I spent New Year's Eve with friends and family. A couple of days later, my pathologically healthy mother called to say she'd gotten very sick after the party, like nothing she'd experienced before. She thought it had been a stomach bug. Hey, it's just like in 'The Devil Wears Prada,' I said lightly, the perfect way to jump-start your new diet!

"Hardy har. By that afternoon, my husband and I had been drafted into the same violent weight-loss program, and for the next 18 hours would treat the mucosal lining of our stomachs like so much pulp in a pumpkin, while our poor daughter ran around scrubbing her hands and every surface in sight as she sought to stay healthy. I am relieved to report that she succeeded, and that her parents lost 10 pounds between them.

"The agent of our misery was a virus, very likely a type of norovirus. Named for Norwalk, Ohio, the site of a severe outbreak of vomiting, nausea and diarrhea among schoolchildren in the late 1960s, the norovirus is a small, spherical, highly contagious virus that targets the digestive system. Its sour suite of symptoms is often referred to as 'stomach flu,' but norovirus infection is distinct from the flu, which is caused by the influenza virus and targets not the gut but the lungs."

If science texts had been in any way this entertaining when I was in school, I might have gone into medicine. Or at least into science writing.



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