Published in 2004. Translated from Swedish in 2014 by Thomas Teal. Paperback by Vintage Books, 2014. 278 pages.
This cheerful book delves into two of my amateur interests, entomology (the biology of insects) and art history (with emphasis on art theft and forgery). I hang out with entomologists, and visit art museums casually.
The Fly Trap is both memoir and biography. As Sjoberg’s personal memoir, it is the first volume of a trilogy. The next two books are The Art of Flight (2016) and The Raisin King. One reviewer suggests that these three books might also be categorized as travel, natural history, popular science or even poetry.
The “fly trap” of the title is a collecting device used by entomologists and called the Malaise trap. It is named after it’s inventor, Rene Malaise (1892 – 1978). According to Wikipedia, Malaise was an eccentric Renaissance man, and little was written about him before Sjoberg produced somewhat biographical this book.
Sjoberg is described (by Wikipedia) as
- literary and cultural critic
- translator (If you are Swedish, do you have any choice?)
- explorer (Siberia)
- art collector
- geologist (one time defender of the Lost Continent of Atlantis)
With a mix like this, the book was bound to be interesting. It is enhanced by Sjoberg’s whimsical, non linear style. While studying Malaise, Sjoberg “caught” the art collecting passion, described in the book’s final chapter.
I pay attention to authors mentioning other authors. In one chapter (entitled “Slowness”), Sjoberg mentions (at least) three authors:
- Lars Noren – Czech born French writer, still living
- Milan Kundera – Swedish playwright, still living, best known for The Unbearable Lightness of Being
- D H Lawrence – English, 1885-1930, best known for Lady Chatterly’s Lover
I recommend this book if you like the out of doors, natural history and/or bugs. Also books, art and travel.
“Naturalists in Paradise”
This highly enjoyable book was reviewed by another blogger (see link above), so I will limit my comments to the last chapter, where Hemming discusses the lives of the three explorers after their Amazon travels. In particular, he describes their books and other publications, some of which would be worth tracking down. The three scientists made amazing contributions to the advance of science. They also erred. “The greatest error made by…these observers…was to equate luxuriant tropical vegetation with rich soil.” Interesting! Many decades passed before the flaws in this logic were understood.
Hemming summarizes some of the work that the three explorers did outside the field of natural history. Most important were the observations they made pertaining to indigenous and isolated groups of people.
The three explorers knew and corresponded with most of the other great scientists of their time, including Charles Darwin.
Hemming, by the way, adds a few observations from his own contemporary travels in the countries visited. I appreciated this, though it would have interfered if he hadn’t been so restrained. I’m sure he has tales to tell!
This quotation from Richard Spruce clarifies the motivation of these scientists and expresses their passionate relationship to the natural world.
I look on plants as sentient beings, which live and enjoy their lives – which beautify the earth during life and after death may adorn my herbarium…(Even if they have no medicinal or commercial value to man) they are infinitely useful where God has placed them… They are at the least useful to and beautiful in themselves – surely the primary motive for every individual existence.
Emphasis added. Scientists are sometimes accused of cold detachment. This makes is clear that they may, in fact, pursue their work out of love.
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977. 176 pages, plus species lists.
This book is a gem! It is a full color facsimile reproduction, notable for both artistry and scientific accuracy. Edith Holden was known in her lifetime as an illustrator of children’s books. Decades after she died in 1920, a relative showed her “diary” for the year 1906 (which was intended as a teaching tool) to a publisher, who released it in 1977. The book is a combination of field observations (she walked many miles!), the author’s favorite poems and sayings, and beautiful, detailed paintings of insects, birds and flowers.
A second book of Holden’s field notes (The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady) was published in 1984.
I took a careful look at Holden’s entries for the month of May. The month begins with a detailed painting of a chaffinch’s nest with eggs, surrounded by hawthorn blossoms and wild hyacinths.
One of the mottoes listed is “Change not a clout till May be out”. I think this means “keep your winter cloak handy”. Good advice! On May 16, Holden reports cold north wind, thunder and HAIL. She went out none-the-less, and found a thrush’s egg that had been blown to the ground.
Holden includes poems by Wordsworth, Spenser, ap Gwillym and Ingelow among her May entries. There are numerous paintings.
This lovely book would make a fine gift for any nature lover, or a treat for when you want to savor poetry and art at the same time.