Icky, yucky, fascinating Wicked Bugs

Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart

BOTTOM LINE: A good book but not a well-executed audiobook.

Genre: Nonfiction
Publication Date: 23 May 2011
Source: Mine. All mine.

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“In this darkly comical look at the sinister side of our relationship with the natural world, Amy Stewart has tracked down over one hundred of our worst entomological foes—creatures that infest, infect, and generally wreak havoc on human affairs. From the world’s most painful hornet, to the flies that transmit deadly diseases, to millipedes that stop traffic, to the Japanese beetles munching on your roses, Wicked Bugs delves into the extraordinary powers of many-legged creatures.

With wit, style, and exacting research, Stewart has uncovered the most terrifying and titillating stories of bugs gone wild. It’s an A to Z of insect enemies, interspersed with sections that explore bugs with kinky sex lives, creatures lurking in the cupboard, militant ants, and phobias that feed our (sometimes) irrational responses to bugs.

Wicked Bugs is a fascinating mixture of history, science, murder, and intrigue that begins—but doesn’t end—in your own backyard.”

My Thoughts: I have arachnophobia. I once refused to sleep in my room after I saw a spider crawling on my dust ruffle; my dog usually ate spiders for me, but I had no idea whether she found it or not so I slept on the couch and then washed all of my bedding in ultra hot water the next day (my parents love this story). I seriously believe every spider in my house is out to get me. Hey, it’s not labeled an irrational fear for nothing.

So what would possess me to read a book about all sorts of bugs, including several chapters on arachnids? I will site insanity or at least perverse curiosity. After all, if I am going to beat my enemy, I need to learn as much about him or her as possible. (Seriously, why are spiders always considered female? Is it the whole black widow thing? Because I’m thinking it is more than a little sexist.)

While I will never espouse to Ms. Stewart’s level of enthusiasm towards bugs, I will say she does a great job of making them interesting. Ms. Stewart presents a lot of information about her bugs of choice and does so methodically, showcasing her careful research and incorporating anecdotes to drive home her messaging. Each bug receives its own chapter, and she typically ends each chapter by identifying those bugs which are in the same family as the spotlighted one. In that way, she connects the insects so that you can see how they all fit into the planet’s ecology.

While I actually found myself enjoying Wicked Bugs, I did not enjoy the audio production. Ms. Marlo is a perfectly adequate narrator, and she does a great job injecting the right amount of enthusiasm and disgust into the words. My problem stems with the fact that there are no breaks. When looking at the print version, there are chapter numbers and titles. In the audio version, there are no chapter numbers. Ms. Marlo literally goes from one sentence right into the title and opening section of the next chapter without pause and without identifying it in some way as a natural break. For the first hour or so, I was thoroughly confused whether a new bug was a continuation of the “Meet the Relatives” section or a new chapter entirely. Once I understood how they structured the audio, I found I was able to enjoy it better, but the lack of pauses and natural breaks in the narration bothered me until the very end.

There are some weird-ass bugs out there, and most of them I have no desire to meet. I consider myself better informed about bugs in general and proud that there were only a few chapters that turned my stomach. In spite of the fact that Ms. Stewart did confirm my reasons for never wanting to garden or go to a rain forest or African jungle and in spite of the poor audio production, I am surprisingly glad I read Wicked Bugs. After all, forewarned is forearmed. I got you now, spiders!

3 Responses to Icky, yucky, fascinating Wicked Bugs
  1. Debi
    September 9, 2017 | 7:14 PM

    You’re right–they don’t call them irrational fears for nothing. While spiders don’t bother me in the slightest (good thing, as our tarantula once gave birth to a hundred or so babies, and that was quite a sight!)…but bridges scare me witless. My sweet little old lady grandma once called me a pantywaist because I had to get down on the floor of the car on the viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway so I didn’t have to see out the car windows. Knowing how bad those kinds of fears can be leaves me being extremely impressed that you read this book! And I love that you enjoyed it!!! But yeah, I know that no breaks in the narration thing would have bugged (ha!) the hell out of me too.

    • Michelle
      September 11, 2017 | 10:56 AM

      Okay. Having 100 baby tarantulas in the house would make me want to burn it down. I would be petrified that they escape.

      I’m not good on bridges either. I am okay if I breathe deeply and don’t look out the side windows. If I am driving, I am on the inside land if possible. What really gets me though is sheer drops and switchbacks. Seriously. Guardrails are amazing inventions. Use them. I don’t want to be able to see down the mountainside as a passenger.

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