Sometimes Vindication Happens

I am thrilled to see Dr. Katalin Karikó and her research partner Dr. Drew Weissman win the Nobel Prize in medicine for their work on messenger RNA (mRNA).

It’s not just that their years of work provided the basis for the mRNA vaccines against Covid that have saved so many lives and protected even more people from serious illness. More important to me is that Dr. Karikó stuck to her research despite being shoved aside — she’s an adjunct professor — and never getting grants.

She believed in the potential for mRNA and she was right even though no one paid any attention to her except Dr. Weissman. “No one” includes prestigious journals like Nature and Science.

There are a lot of implications in all this.

First, I find Dr. Karikó an excellent role model for scientists, inventors, writers, artists, activists, and the many others who have a vision of something that can be done. Hang in there. You might succeed in what you’re doing and even might be recognized for it.

But let’s admit that being recognized is a long shot, especially in one’s lifetime. All too many of our great artists and even scientists died broke, with their work only being acknowledged much later.

I suspect it is even more common that people do good work that never gets noticed, maybe never even gets used. It’s not them, it’s the system, and we are all the poorer for those losses.

And of course, some people hang onto a vision that is, in fact, lunacy. In truth, though, I think far more people who have a vision worth pursuing give up because it’s too damn hard.

I tend to hope that everyone who sees something important, something vital, something perhaps only they see stays with it despite a lack of support. This is core to our humanity. Continue reading “Sometimes Vindication Happens”

Choices in Reading

I am not familiar with the work of  Annie Ernaux, the French author who just won the Nobel Prize for literature. It used to bother me when I hadn’t heard of a writer whose work was well-enough known to be considered for a prestigious award, especially if that writer was a woman.

But I no longer expect to have read everything of note that’s published in the world. It’s not just the obvious fact that writers who don’t work in English are not translated and published in the U.S. as often as they should be, especially since I have read some complex works in French and probably could do it again with the help of a good dictionary.

It’s mostly that there are just a lot of books out there, many of them by writers who should be better known than they are. I find it hard to keep up even with writers whose work I love.

And of course, there’s a great deal of nonfiction to read, not to mention the need to read “comfort” books, most of which will never be nominated for big awards even though they are often better than that label might imply.

It is clearly impossible to read everything and when you know that a great deal of excellent work isn’t even noticed by those who purport to define the literary canon, it’s obvious that one will miss a lot of very good books.

As the French say, “C’est la vie.” Continue reading “Choices in Reading”