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under the covers

What's Bugging Amy Stewart?

The author delivers the goods on nature's baddies

By Wayne Alan Brenner, 11:25AM, Mon. May. 16, 2011

Design by Alvaro Villanueva
Design by Alvaro Villanueva

Amy Stewart is the author of “five books of the perils and pleasures of the modern world,” says the press release from Algonquin Books that accompanies the author’s latest release.

This latest, Wicked Bugs, is a follow-up to her bestselling previous book – Wicked Plants – and it’s a fine package of information about many of the dangerous and destructive creatures that crawl, squirm, and fly within the biosphere of this planet.

Look at that immediate parallel for a moment: The world’s system of evolution has created a plethora of bugs, the most threatening of which are brought to our attention by various descriptions in a book from an author; the author’s created work, one among a worldwide multitude of worthwhile books, is brought to our attention by various descriptions in a press release from its publisher.

Note that the press release functions as a press release should, pimping Stewart’s book with a heightened sense of excitement that stops just short of breathlessness. Note, more importantly, that Stewart’s book functions as a book should when it wants to distinguish itself from such things as gung-ho press releases.

Stewart writes engagingly about “bugs” – the insects, the arachnids, the bacteria, the worms, and more – that are justifiably described as “wicked,” her authorial voice unstained by either insider obfuscation or pop-journo sensationalism. It’s a treat, if you’re interested in this subject at all, to find a volume that strolls a delightful middle ground between dauntingly scientific, Latin-heavy pedagogy and gooberish Fox Newslike pandering and, instead, conversationally and accurately introduces readers to such unnerving creatures as the Assassin Bug, the Chigoe Flea, the Brazilian Wandering Spider, the Scabies Mite, the Filth Fly, and so on. You’ll learn much from this book – about the immediate physical pain and suffering some of these creatures can cause, about the global devastation others wreak on critical food crops, even about the eerie insect-on-insect crime of zombification.

That the book’s cover is so well designed by Alvaro Villanueva and forms a perfect visual complement to its Wicked Plants companion volume, well, that’s a bonus for collectors. But what’s more than just a bonus is that the illustrator and printmaker Briony Morrow-Cribbs has created all the drawings and copper-plate etchings to accompany Stewart’s buggy texts in this new book ~ and they’re delicate, precise illustrations in black-and-white lines and stippling.

[Speaking of companion volumes, we can’t recommend this book – oh, and we do, definitely, recommend this book – without also mentioning another: Hugh Raffles’ magnificent intersection of entomology and anthropology, Insectopedia, reviewed in these pages about a year ago.]

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