The Book of Me

Richard Powers wrote a lengthy non-fiction piece for GQ* late last year that I’ve only just stumbled across.

If you’ve read The Gold Bug Variations this might not surprise you, but the column is about his decision to let the magazine fund the sequencing of his genome — with all the potential bad news that might bring. It’s a tale of wonder and high anxiety.

As I disembark and stroll down the mobbed concourse at O’Hare with my genome in my flight bag, I get a flash of how genes in endless combination, shaped by nothing but natural selection, have propelled life from bacterial automata to big brains, from flint shards and pointed sticks to genomics. The novelty gene, the curiosity gene, the dissatisfaction gene, the problem-solving gene, the constantly recombining genes for restless leg, restless stomach, and restless mind have pushed right to the verge of recasting themselves. For a very long time, we have been moving from scripted characters to the co-authors of our own lives. The personal genome is one more tentative step from fate to agency, from fatalism to risk management. We are determined not to be determined. The code is loose and always has been. For good or ill, there’s never been a bottle that can hold this genie.

Read: The Book of Me

Update: Of course I say non-fiction but I have been burned by Powers before on that. Sometimes he just defies belief. Which is why he is my favorite author, bar none.

* GQ, wow, what an amazing understanding you have of your audience. Splitting the article into 21 separate screens! It’s like you don’t want your readers to get to the end, much less click on your damn ads. Well done. Enjoy 2003.