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Book Review: Ewwww: A Field Guide To Household Bugs

The world, as we know, is full of unpleasantness, from the bozo on the freeway tailgating so close you’d swear his car was attempting to mate with yours, to the evil swine at the credit card company that insists you’ve not paid your bill, even though you hold the cancelled check in your hand. But somehow, most of us manage to make it through, largely by filtering out life’s many hidden vicissitudes, the inconvenient truths, so to speak, that lurk, according to the authors of A Field Guide To Household Bugs (The Guide), oh, pretty much EVERYWHERE.

Santa Monicans Joshua Abarbanel and Jeff Swimmer have apparently decided that not one among us will ever have a good night’s sleep again. By the end of their informative treatise on the many varieties of household pests that we share the planet, our homes, toilets, beds, and skin with, most readers will itch uncontrollably and call the Orkin Man to fumigate the house, the kids, the dogs, even the fish, all of whom are now known carriers of filth, disease, pestilence, and the end of the world as we know it.

The Guide is a small paperback, the kind of jokey book you find on the checkout line at Barnes & Noble, an “impulse buy,” in the jargon of the book trade. If you can get past the heebie-jeebies, you’ll find that the book is cleverly written, well researched, and clearly organized. In the words of Abarbanel, “You don’t have to look very far to find the fantastic and exotic…it’s literally right under your nose.” And he’s absolutely right.

The Guide’s chapter headings include: bedbugs, lice, vermin, eyelash mites and scabies, and everyone’s favorite, cockroaches. The beasties brought into sharp relief by computer-microscopic images are scarier than anything out of a Godzilla movie, and although many of the species are marvels of adaptation and evolution, I was struck by my own atavistic desire to put on my motorcycle boots and stomp the little creatures into oblivion. Clearly, any and all Buddhist beliefs about the sanctity of life great and small are severely challenged in the face of creepy-crawlies that make the monster from the Alien films look like a Smurf.

Forgive the anthropomorphizing, but the eerie similarities many bugs share with humans is downright uncanny. Witness the bedbug, a bloodsucking parasite with a skin-piercing schnozz 1/100th the width of a hypodermic needle. Consider the many attributes the bedbug shares, in this reviewer’s opinion, with The Single Guy: they both like to eat big meals, and their weight can balloon up quickly. They both prefer to sleep late and prowl around at night. The bedbug has a pouch that produces a very stinky pheromone scent; the single guy usually wears too much cologne. Scientists have found that, when revved up, the male bedbug will even mate with a piece of cork shaped like a girl bug; single guys, as we know, will mate with anything. Scientists also claim that female bedbugs have no genital opening, which accounts for the male’s clumsy, violent approach to lovemaking – of course female bedbugs, much like their human counterparts, claim that the guys just couldn’t find said opening, either because they were too drunk or they just didn’t care about their partner’s needs. So, Mr. Barfly (human variety), the next time you start getting cocky, thinking you’re so much better, so much more evolved than a common micro-parasite, think again, bub.

The Guide also gives copious advice on ameliorating each variety of household pest, but be willing to live with a microcosm of the food chain in your domicile. For instance, to get rid of cockroaches, The Guide recommends buying a gecko. Sounds good. Imagine coming home from a long day’s work, cracking open a nice bottle of Petite Sirah, and relaxing as your pet lizard devours a pile of freshly killed roaches. Makes a house feel like a home, you know?

Bugs can, variously, carry 10 times their weight, out-jump Kobe Bryant, and, as Stan Lee proved, if you zap them with radiation, they make a fine superhero. The Guide is a fun and useful read for your average 7 to 12-year-old boy, the insect aficionado, and/or neat freak in your life. The many buggy facts and figures the authors have compiled certainly give the little guys their due, but “Ewwww” still best describes most readers’ initial response.

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