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Author wants to help educate young readers

March 18, 2002|BY RICHARD F. BELISLE

Human genome is a heady subject for middle school students, but that was the target audience for Kevin Boon when he wrote his latest book, "The Human Genome Project: What Does Decoding DNA Mean for Us."

The Penn State Mont Alto professor missed his target.

He said he tried but was unable to get his readership level below the 11th grade on such a technical and complicated subject.

The genome is the entire genetic record of a human being, he said. Scientists are just now beginning to unravel its mysteries. They say it holds promise for the treatment of serious illnesses.

Boon said he tried to couch his writing in the new book so young readers could understand it.

His wife, Leslie, a former middle school teacher, read it to see if 12-year-olds could understand it, he said.

"I had to rewrite a lot of it after she went over it," he said.

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Boon said his new book is a part of a series for young readers being published by Enslow Publishing Inc. of New Jersey. The books deal with such social issues as the civil rights movement, computer crime and the U.S. Constitution.

His book is coming out in April. As with his five previously published books, Boon, 45, doesn't hold out much hope his latest will turn into a best seller.

"I guess the market will be school libraries," he said.

"I'm not in this for the money," he said. "My books are written for scholars. Some don't make any money and some make a minuscule amount."

Boon said having a book published in his name stroked his ego at first, but even that perk diminished as more of his books were published.

"It was really nice the first time," he said.

He wants to write a book a year.

"Chaos Theory and Interpretation of Literary Technology: The Case of Kurt Vonnegut," "An Interpretative Reading of Virginia Woolf's 'The Waves'," and a novel called "Absolute Zero" were among his earlier titles.

Boon's full-time job is teaching writing, literature and film at Penn State Mont Alto. He came to the local campus two years ago from a State University of New York college in the Bronx. Before that he taught at the University of Alabama.

He grew up in Tampa, Fla., and earned his bachelor, masters and doctorate degrees at the University of Southern Florida. He and his wife live in Biglerville, Pa., with their three children.

He said much of his scholarship is based on the study of the link between culture and science. His focus has been on what American writers in the second half of the 20th century were writing following the two atomic bomb attacks on Japan that ended World War II.

"Science had started to rise above God in the late 19th century and even more so in the early 20th century," he said. "Before the bomb, science was going to save the world. You see that in the literature of writers like George Orwell and his '1984' and Aldous Huxley and his 'Brave New World.' "

People began to lose faith in science after Hiroshima, he said.

"They saw that science was amoral, that it was not going to provide a perfect world," he said.

The changes started to show up in writers whose books came out in the 1950s and 1960s, writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Allen Ginsburg and Rod Serling. Vonnegut was 23 when the atomic bombs were dropped, Ginsburg was 19 and Serling was 21.

"They had no careers at that point, but they were strongly influenced by the bomb," Boon said.

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