This line, from author Lauren Slater, had me grinning from ear to ear. In the middle of a disturbing, albeit gripping, expose on a plastic surgeon, she managed to interject some intelligent humor. Slater’s ability to skillfully intertwine humor, human interest, and scientific fact really make her a superior writer in my eyes. I have a special reverence for people who are good at things that I find very difficult to do, whether it’s Roger Federer on the tennis court or Lauren Slater with science writing.
I discovered Slater’s writing in an article she wrote for Harper’s Magazine entitled “Dr. Daedalus” in the book The Best of the Best American Science Writing. I spent a lot of time reading science articles this summer in the hopes of finding a writer I did want to emulate. I knew Slater’s writing was it because I forgot that I was actually reading a substantive article, something that actually had an intelligent subject matter. My first read through, I was caught up in the story, pure and simple. I didn’t notice anything about syntax or structure. The second time, I made a point to note what specific writing strategies she was using that made me so enthralled with this article. First off, she had a very interesting subject matter from which to build her story. She was profiling a renowned plastic surgeon who was as famous for his skill as he was his… eclectic… ideas, to put it mildly. In short, the man is one of the world’s best plastic surgeons, but his legacy will be for his plans of putting wings on people made from their ribs and thigh fat; for putting SONAR devices in soldiers’ heads to help create the perfect soldier; for actually surgically grafting a face out of butt fat because a man’s face had been eaten away by cancer.
As sensational as those topics are alone, Slater’s witty commentary on meeting the doctor and his wife and her searing, raw look at trying to answer basic questions, like what it means to be human, make this article more than just a black and white report of the facts. I admire her ability to commit to the scientific aspect of the article, yet not get mired down in technical details. She also effortlessly addressed the profound questions brought up by this doctor’s radical ideas without getting too philosophical or lofty in her writing. I hope to be able to do that someday: combine the necessary human interest element with the facts to produce the caliber of writing I admire so much by Slater.