NABOKV-L post 0018497, Fri, 7 Aug 2009 19:44:30 -0700

Subject: [SoWestLep] Book Review: An Obsession with Butterflies

I recently finished reading a most remarkable book, An Obsession with Butterflies, by Sharman Apt Russell, subtitled "our long love affair with a singular insect." I heartily recommend this slim volume to all who are fascinated by and care about butterflies and the science and art of lepidopterology. The author, who teaches creative writing, melds art and science in an engaging manner, sure to please a wide audience of all ages. A few quotes will acquaint you with the tone and subject matter of the book.

"Butterflies became present in my life one summer afternoon by a river in New Mexico. A Western Tiger Swallowtail dipped by my face. About three inches across, it seemed much larger. Its lemon yellow wings were striped improbably and fluted in black. They filliped into a long forked tail with spots of red and blue. Smelling nothing of interest, the butterfly floated away, leaving me pleased and agitated, as though I had been handed a gift I didn't deserve....

"The Western Tiger Swallowtail was patrolling for a mate, avoiding birds, and on the lookout for nectar and carrion juices. Like most butterflies, it tasted with its feet and smelled with its antennae. Its genitalia had eyes, simple light-sensitive cells. It had been alive for a day. It might live another month."

From a chapter entitled Butterfly Matisse, we read, "More than anything else, butterflies look like they were designed in art school."

A chapter, In the Land of Butterflies, recounts the Brasillian adventures and discoveries of Henry Walter Bates (for whom Batesian mimicry is named).

Other chapters deal with the life cycle of butterflies, butterfly intelligence, and the work of several notable students of butterflies, including Lady Glanville, James Petiver, Vladimir Nabokov, and Miriam Rothschild. Several members of this leps list are featured in the book.

You may read small portions of the book online. It may be obtained from your favorite purveyor of books for about $14. I believe it would make a great gift for all but the most jaded of personalities.

John Saba

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