The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Books I Love – Probably More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast

I think I’m going to, from time to time, write up a brief review of the books that I love that have aided me in my work or my research. And the first installment of this will be a book I well and truly love – and appropriately written by a biologist by the name of Dr. Milton Love (whose laboratory at UC Santa Barbara is named, of course, the Love Lab) – Probably More than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast.

The Basics: This book is an encyclopedic catalogue of the various fish to be found along the Pacific Coast of North America. It is well indexed, clearly written, and useful for anyone who is doing any work that involves Pacific Coast fish. Information includes habitats, fish foods and predators, ways in which contemporary fishermen catch the fish in question, and other information specific to each fish.

Why I love it: First off, it’s a damn funny book. I know that this sounds odd, being as how it’s the sort of book that ought to be dry and factual, not given to any humor. But, the book is hilarious. Consider:

- In the chapter on the Monkeyface Stickleback, Dr. Love insists that the fish looks nothing like a monkey, but does bear a resemblance to Joseph Stalin, and then recommends that the fish immediately be re-named the Stalinface Stickleback.

- In the chapter on fish parasites, he argues that the most important reason to know about fish parasites is so that you can gross out your family members. He then goes on to tell the story of a marine biologist who named all of the parasite that he discovered after his wife, and shortly thereafter died a rather horrible death.

- In a Q&A session at the beginning of the book, he discusses the potential for fish to do you emotional harm, and compares low-IQ chess-playing mice to fish in a discussion of the relative intelligence of different kinds of animals.

- In the about the author section, Dr. Love reveals the importance of purchasing Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills for use as a UFO landing strip.
Beyond that, the book is an excellent resource for information. The frequent silliness and oddball humor in no way detracts from the book’s value as a resource for people who need to know basic information about Pacific Coast fish.

How it helped me: As stated, the book is an excellent source of information. If I needed to know what sorts of tactics would need to be used to catch certain types of fish (and therefore what, if any, type of social organization would be necessary), this book provided the necessary information. If I needed to know whether or not the presence or absence of various fish indicated environmental shifts, the book provided the necessary information. If I needed to know whether or not a certain fish was so difficult or easy to catch that its presence suggested high or low status in the people eating it, the book provided that information.

But, just as importantly, the book perked me, and the folks I spent lab time with, up. Working in an archaeology lab can become mind-numbing and dreary at times. Hours spent bent over a tray looking at small pieces of stone, bone, shell, etc. can get to you. When the mood in the lab began to falter, someone would pick up the book and read one of the entries. Frequently, the information on the fish described would get us talking about the rather fascinating subject of marine life. Even more often, the book would get us laughing, and make it easier to finish our work.

So, check it out. It’s an interesting book, but also a fun book.


Steph said...

Dear Anthroslugh,

I worry about you sometimes.

Your favorite sister

Anthroslug said...

Steph - I already have your Christmas present picked out. You're about to learn all kinds of things about Harvey and Juanita.