Ann Fadiman. At Large and Small: Familiar Essays. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2007.
I freely admit to being an Anne Fadiman fan-girl. Ex Libris is easily one of my favorite books. The Spirit Catches You is an amazing book about culture, epilepsy, immigration, and they way we don’t communicate. So, I was pretty sure I would like this book.
When I got it, I discovered the end papers for the book are from a wonderful collection of vintage insect plates (ca. 1859), which you can now find on Google Books. OMG!
And the very first essay, “Collecting Nature,” is about the joys of collecting insects. Sigh.
We’ve discussed before here at the Bug Blog the issue of insect collections, and the decision to not collect. This is covered in detail in Fadiman’s essay:
“When we were very young, my brother and I could not yet divorce our ardor for butterflies from our desire to flatten them in Riker mounts and hang them on the wall. We threw away our killling jar not because we wished to stop causing pain–crushing an ant or a cockroach, which presumably had a nervous system similar to a tiger swallowtail, stirred few qualms–but because, unlike Alfred Russel Wallace, we grew uneasy with the pleasure it gave us.”
She does confess it was not an easy decision to make:
“I remember a period of painful overlap, when the light of decency was dawning but the lure of sin was still irresistible. Like alcohol, nicotine, or heroin, lepidoptery is hard to renounce.”
There are also two very nice essays on Ice Cream and Coffee, both of which reflect personal obsessions of mine.
“I recently calculated (assuming an average consumption of one pint of ice cream per week, at 1000 calories per pint, and the American Medical Association’s reckoning of 3500 calories per pound of stored body fat) that had I eaten no ice cream since the age of eighteen, I would currently weigh -416 pounds.”
The final essay in the book, “Under Water,” is a stunning essay about being a witness to a drowning at the age of 18, and being unable to help. Haunting.
Fadiman will teach you things you didn’t know, and entertain you while it happens. Forget my hurried review–go check the book out and see for yourself.