One of my commenters mentioned a book about insects that I have loved for as long as I’ve been seriously interested in insects, The Practical Entomologist by Rick Imes. It came out about a year before I decided I wanted to be an entomologist and I was thrilled to find it at my favorite used bookstore in Colorado Springs, CO. The bookstore has changed ownership and names several times and is a pale shadow of what it used to be, but I still have, and love, the book. In fact, I just yesterday unpacked it and lovingly placed it on my bookcase in my home office after flipping through it for the thousandth time. It took a place of honor among the several hundred insect books that fill up the entire bookcase and it is one I am sure I will always enjoy.
Thinking about that book again and seeing my well-loved copy of it made me think of how I got it. My dad discovered the bookstore where I bought it. He went nearly every weekend, looking for books about the Western US and geology and the bookstore was big enough and eclectic enough to have a lot of books that he wanted, unusual things you couldn’t find anywhere else. I can’t even remember when I started going with him to the bookstore, but it was unusual for me to go a month without visiting it with my dad. At first I was into buying collections of comics, The Far Side mostly. But, as I started liking insects and then decided I wanted to become an entomologist, I gradually made my way over to the animal section of the store and found their phenomenal insect book collection.
Some of my all-time favorite insect books came from that shop. The Practical Entomologist was an important book for my development as an entomologist because it told me, for the first time, how to make a proper insect collection and how to do things like photograph insects or create little habitats for them. I absolutely loved that book when I got it. I bought my first old entomology textbook there too, Entomology for Beginners: For the Use of Young Folks, Fruit-Growers, Farmers, and Gardeners by A. S. Packard. I credit this book for inspiring my love of both printmaking and old science books. That book set me back a measly $2.75 and I still consider it one of my best insect book finds ever. It costs a lot more than that anywhere else now, which is part of why I loved that bookstore so much.
I bought my first field guides at that shop too. My favorite at the time was a book called American Nature Guides: Insects by George C. McGavin. This is far from my favorite field guide now, but the illustrations are marvelous and I found it incredibly helpful as I first learned my insect families. I bought a lot of general insect books too, like the Time Life insect book and one about insect flight. I had that butterfly alphabet poster that features photos by Kjell Sandved on my bedroom wall (and then my dorm wall and my first apartment’s wall) and was thrilled to find an entire book of his butterfly photography in the insect section at the bookshop. Getting to see butterfly scales that close was a magical thing to me at the time. That bookshop was marvelous, absolutely marvelous, and had a spectacular insect book collection. No other bookstore has ever come close to matching that shop in my eyes.
I got $10 a week in allowance as a teenager and that had to pay for everything – movies with friends, meals out with friends, and everything other than clothes that I wanted to buy. Choosing which books to buy each week was an agonizing decision and I would frequently ask my dad for an advance of 2-3 weeks on my allowance so I could buy every title I wanted. Every now and again my dad would “forget” that I owed him a week’s worth of allowance and would give it to me anyway. Honestly, I think he enjoyed that fact that I shared his passion for eclectic books and was willing to forgo the normal teenager stuff to spend all my money on bug books.
And I still spend a good part of my spending money on insect books! The books I buy now tend to be new rather than used and I usually buy them online, but my insect book collection keeps growing. It currently takes up nearly an entire bookcase, and not a small bookcase either. No, this bookcase is a foot taller I am and 5 feet across, a big, heavy oak bookcase that can stand up to the incredibly heavy science books I am most likely to buy these days. I’ve got two whole shelves of nothing but dragonfly books, but I still have a dozen more on my wishlist too. I love insect books, and I don’t think that is ever going to change. I can think of much worse things to spend my money on.
Looking at my books brings back so many good memories – good times spent with my dad, fun classes that I enjoyed, places I’ve gone, and people I’ve met. They’re a visual representation of my passion for entomology, of a life lived doing something I truly love. Those books make me happy and remind me that I’m still on the right path. I love my insect books. Oh, that reminds me! I still wanted that book on… :)