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Bookworm: ‘Virusphere’ a timely read

And a look at Bamforth’s ‘In Praise of Beer’

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

"Virusphere: From Common Colds to Ebola Epidemics: Why We Need the Viruses that Plague Us"

  • By Frank Ryan
  • c. 2020, Prometheus Books
  • $24, higher in Canada; 278 pages

Your hands are raw. But let's face it: you'll do anything to avoid getting sick or carrying the coronavirus home or to work. Nobody needs to be ailing when it's almost spring. From what you can see, nobody needs to be exposed to this virus at all but read "Virusphere" by Frank Ryan because the virus needs you.

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Imagine not having to get a flu shot ever again. Imagine a world without colds, sniffles, raw noses, coughs, it would be magnificent to the average person, but not to Frank Ryan. He says he knows "that a world without viruses would not be one in which I would care to live."

"Virusphere: From Common Colds to Ebola Epidemics: "Why We Need the Viruses that Plague Us" by Frank Ryan.

To understand what surely seems like an odd thing to say, we should understand a few things about a virus – but first, you're awesome: your body is made of "roughly 30 to 40 trillion cells," including microbes that are necessary for you to live and thrive. That might sound like virus heaven, but the truth is that viruses are picky about who they inhabit. The rhinovirus, for instance, thrives best in human nasal linings. The polio virus exists exclusively in humans. Bats are the natural hosts for rabies, on the other hand, and if a dog or skunk or human gets the rabies virus, then ... oops.

What we must remember, says Ryan, is that viruses don't target us out of a sense of anger or righteousness. They have no brains and they "are not evil … but they are not free to do as they please." Their only job, if you will, is to replicate inside their host to survive – which is scant comfort when you're flat on the sofa.

Maybe this helps: there's evidence that the presence of some viruses found in the human body helps boost the immune system. There's also reason to think that viruses altered the "genetic landscape ... from its very beginnings." And there's the keen "importance of the viral contribution to the deep levels of ecological balance ... "

Viruses can be good. We just need to remember to take precautions.

Your body aches, your head throbs, and this book isn't going to do a darn thing to fix any of that. "Virusphere" doesn't even have a list of tips for you to use. And yet, if you wonder how in the world this happened, it's a book you'll want.

In scientific terms, author Frank Ryan explains where viruses evolved, their contagiousness, and how they work. It's a complex subject that's broken into understandable parts, but this is still not a skimmable read that you'll finish in an evening. No, it demands that you to pay attention.

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No problem: Ryan imparts a certain excitement about those things that cause misery, which makes this book like a peek into a hospital laboratory, or a tour of a geneticist's workspace. Don't be surprised, therefore, if "Virusphere" gives you a teensy bit of respect for viruses, bacteria, and microbes. Don't hesitate to put this book in your hands.

Just be sure to wash them first.

"In Praise of Beer"

  • By Charles Bamforth
  • c. 2020, Oxford University Press
  • $24.95, $32.95 Canada; 165 pages

Here's mud in your eye. Salud! Bottoms up! Here's to the ones we've loved and lost. Cheers, and all those other things you say as you hoist a few with your pals in a pub. Drink up. To friendship. To love. To health. Here’s to you, then let's raise a glass to "In Praise of Beer" by Charles Bamforth.

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It may not be exactly summer yet. It might not be hot outside, or 5 o'clock somewhere, but imagine a glass in front of you, filled with something "cold, bright, and fizzy ... "

Thirsty yet? So, what do you order?

"In Praise of Beer" by Charles Bamforth.

Says Bamforth, who has worked with the brewing industry for over 40 years, the answer often "boils down to" a preference between craft beer and the big brands. What many beer drinkers don't understand is that, increasingly, the big brands own many of those so-called craft beers. Still, to be a true "craft" brewery, there are rules...

Another thing beer aficionados don't generally know is that making beer is much more complicated than making wine. A brewer must first decide on the grain he'll use ("the main location" for growing barley is Idaho) and how to process it into liquid (Bamforth says dairy cows love "spent grains"). The brewer must know about local water sources, hops and yeasts, the kind of packaging and caps he'll use (cans are best; brown bottles are a close second), and then he'll have to know how to put all this information together.

And that will determine the kind of beer you'll ultimately get in your frosty glass, whether it's a "top fermentation" or a "bottom fermentation" beer, or something else, like a shandy or dry beer. On that note, Bamforth is not a fan of odd ingredients in the making of his beer.

"In Praise of Beer" author Charles Bamforth.

Know that it's essential for you to "pour with vigor." Please don't stuff garbage into an empty bottle. Foam is important, so pay the right kind of attention to it. Keep in mind that beer can accompany fine dining. And remember: beer is good – and it's also "good for you."

Much like an icy-cold but thoroughly new-to-you brew on a blistering-hot day, "In Praise of Beer" is a truly refreshing surprise. Reading this book, in fact, is like sitting in an adult classroom, and the instructor's brought a six-pack to share.

Author Charles Bamforth teaches, but his experience also allows him to entertain with facts that only an insider would know; peeks at brews, breweries, and beer-drinking overseas; and sneaky humor of the LOL kind, but not so much that it makes you spit out your beer. This is all packaged in a skinny book that talks the talk plainly in a way that avoids high-brow nonsense by treating average beer drinkers like the connoisseurs they are.

"In Praise of Beer" isn't going to make you an expert on your favorite drink, but you'll learn enough to make you better appreciate what's in your mug. Get this book, pull up a seat, and take a sip.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.