It's probably fair to say that people, when afraid, turn to stories and to science for solace. The last year and a half has solidified that: the yarns spun range from conspiracy theories to escapist novels that transport the reader far, far away from bleaker realities (The Midnight Library phenomenon, anyone?), and evidence of newfound public interest in science manifests in signs like the spike in worldwide Google searches for "polymerase chain reaction" and August's announcement of the new collaboration between the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National Book Foundation to encourage engagement with science in literature.
On that note, I recently read Lulu Miller's Why Fish Don't Exist. It's an amalgam of a book that's part memoir, part biography, part philosophical musing, part bildungsroman, and part murder mystery, with tidbits of science all throughout. It's about the author's personal life, some marine biology, Darwinian theory, a look back at historical heretic scientists, and the story of David Starr Jordan, the very problematic ichthyologist who discovered nearly a fifth of the world's known fish species. Not to mention some cyanobacteria appreciation.
Weeks after reading it, I'm still thinking about it. Maybe it affected me so much because of the ongoing pandemic milieu. It's about being small but secure in the world (like microbes!). It's not about means to various ends – a welcome lull in all of the material and teleological narratives in modern life. It's thoughtful, it's sobering, it's rightfully messy, it's visceral, it's saddening and sometimes unfair, and it's also uplifting. Most of all, I read it as an ode to curiosity. Admittedly, I would have appreciated more of a discussion about race, considering that ichthyologist Jordan was an awful bigot and eugenics advocate, but I found it to be a compelling story that's one facet of finding personal meaning amid disorder.
Towards the end of the book, the author has a quote from W.B. Yeats: "There is another world, but it is in this one." I love this quote. I've written it down in three different places. It's something in line with my conviction that after biological research seeks out what makes life move, creative writing is what uncovers meaning from that for people and society. It's something emblematic of writing, stories, imagination, and science.
It says yes, there are endosymbioses to be found everywhere, and not just within cells.