My family is genetically Jewish and exercise the occasional fancy that we are in some important way culturally Jewish as well. We like bagels and go to relatives' houses for Matzo Ball Soup on Passover. We didn't have bar and bat mitzvohs or learn any Hebrew, but we learned enough Yiddish to insult each other and had large 13th birthday parties. When my 13th birthday party was approaching, people started asking my parents what they should get me, and my parents started asking me. I already had most every material object I wanted, and so I told them I wanted books about animals. I had decided several years earlier that I was going to be a zoologist, and I thought it would be nice to have some grown-up books about zoology. Well little did I know that I was going to get books like this:
Invertebrates, but Brusca and Brusca. And not the Second Edition (2003) with the nice color photos. Oh no, this was line drawings and black and white plates of everything from ciliates and amoebae to sea-squirts and squid. This was lists of the sub-classes within the classes within the sub-phyla within each Phylum. This was extended discussion of the bauplan concept, and pre-molecular phylogenetics. This was 1990.
I was simultaneously thrilled and offended. Why would anyone give a book like this to a 13 year old? Ridiculous! How could tardigrades possibly survive exposure to raw vacuum? Ridiculous!
Someone (I'm sure it came with a card, but I have no memory of who gave it to me.) had spent a fair chunk of money to give me a book that is really intended as a reference for invertebrate zoologists.
Now, let's skip forward 22 years and a few weeks, and we find me at my desk reading the Brusca and Brusca chapter on Phylum Porifera (sponges) as I prepare to write the outlines of a research proposal focusing on this group that I have no knowledge of. Of course the taxonomy has been changed 22 times since then as more and more molecular data have become available, but mostly it has changed back and forth, so Brusca and Brusca are still pretty much right. Most of the rest of the detail they give is still approximately true, and despite being a formulaic listing of facts, the writing is not too painful. Really very useful.
So whoever gave me the book, you probably never got a thank you card, and you probably don't read my blog, but thank you. This is turning out to be one of the most useful presents I've ever gotten.