Modern medical science left me blissfully ignorant about what transpired during my recent colonoscopy but didn’t diminish my interest in reading “Could Boosting the Gut Microbiome Be the Secret to Healthier Older Age?” on ScienceDaily.com.
The article notes that “the gut is one of the organs that is most severely affected by aging,” and older guts have been “linked to increased frailty, inflammation and increased susceptibility to intestinal disorders.” Merriam-Webster states our microbiome is “a community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi and viruses) that inhabit a particular environment, and especially the collection of microorganisms living in or on the human body,” adding that “your body is home to about 100 trillion bacteria and other microbes, collectively known as your microbiome.”
However, the condition is reversible! Researchers introduced the microbiomes of young mice into elderly mice and “boosted the gut immune system in the aged mice. Looking at the numbers of immune cells involved,” the lead researcher wrote, “the aged mice possessed gut immune responses that were almost indistinguishable from those of the younger mice.” The bad news is how they did it; suffice to say mice like to sample each other’s droppings.
More than elderly guts are bouncing back, according to “The Comeback of the Century: Why the Book Endures,” a NYTimes.com article by Timothy Egan. He observed “nearly three times as many Americans read a book of history in 2017 as watched the first episode of ‘Game of Thrones.’” Moreover, the president’s tweets regularly drew 100,000 “likes” that year while 28 million Americans read a poetry book, the most in 15 years, because Egan wrote, “when the dominant culture goes low, the saviors of our senses go high.”
Today hardly anyone’s read “Tristam Shandy,” Laurence Sterne’s best-selling 18th century novel, but it’s also reviving. The Dictionary of Literary Biography states, “It is Sterne more than any other author of the century, whose work has seemed, time and again, of especial interest to modern fiction writers, as they experiment with realism, psychology and ‘metacommentary’ as organizing principles of narrative.” The British National Library’s John Mullan wrote in “The ‘Stuff’ of ‘Tristam Shandy’” that, “the readers of the first two volumes of ‘Tristam Shandy’ knew they were reading a novel like no other. Its originality was not just a matter of how it told its story; it was also a matter of how it looked,” adding that Sterne “made sure that the narrative’s pleasures and puzzles were for the eye as well as for the mind.”
Those pleasures included dashes (“these vary considerably in length, but are almost always much longer than dashes in other printed texts of this (or any other) period”), two entirely black pages that follow a picture of a tombstone (“the novel has gone into mourning it would seem”), straight and wiggling lines (“anything-but-straight lines that might represent the progress of his narrative — often backwards or sideways or roundabout — in the previous five volumes”), and an entire chapter the narrator confessed to tearing out because it was so much better than the rest of the book.
Sterne, a well-connected curate, wasn’t your typical best-selling author. Before “Tristam Shandy” he’d only written sermons and a satire about local Church of England politics. He began his novel in his late 40s, scaling back his preaching following his novel’s wild success, and branching out romantically. He’d married at age 27 to Elizabeth Lumley, whose cousin described as “a Woman of great integrity and has many virtues, but they stand like quills upon the fretful porcupine.” The couple “would not have a happy life together,” Sterne’s principal biographer, Arthur Cash, observed.
Then Eliza Draper entered Sterne’s life. “Best known as Laurence Sterne’s Eliza,” according to Wikipedia, she’d been raised — “unconventionally” — in India, had married unhappily at age 14, and was 23 and visiting London when she met Sterne, age 52. When Eliza lingered after her husband had to return to India, “Sterne was quickly captivated by Eliza’s charm, vivacity, and intelligence … her self-esteem was flattered, and she did little to discourage the attentions of such a celebrated man.” Sparks flew, miniature portraits were exchanged, etc., but she had to leave three months later and Sterne died the following year. Then Sterne’s corpse was stolen by anatomists from Cambridge University, providing another reason to appreciate modern medicine.
Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.