Three books on the natural world - review by Helen Bynum

Helen Bynum

The Birds & the Wasps

Three books on the natural world


It takes sophisticated statistical analysis to unravel complex interactions in nature, but we can all experience them when we hear birds sing or feel a wasp sting. In nature’s diversity, writers have long found the means to explore who they are and what matters most to them. For a while what mattered to Sabrina Imbler was goldfish. Imbler, a writer and science journalist who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, begins My Life in Sea Creatures (Chatto & Windus 272pp £16.99) with a story about goldfish, long rehearsed as an icebreaker. Imbler, who is queer and biracial (and uses the pronouns they/them), tells of protesting about the plight of fish kept in small glass bowls at the local Petco store as a thirteen-year-old. Goldfish ‘unleash more ammonia than other aquarium fish’ and can easily ‘pee themselves to death in bowls’; they can also live for twenty years and grow much larger than assumed if allowed to escape a bowl’s miserable confines. Imbler’s Petco protest ended when an assistant asked them to leave and they had to call their mother to pick them up: ‘My first attempt to help something I cared about, and I’d failed.’

Unwanted goldfish dumped in wild rivers and lakes have become an ecological menace, the author tells us. But Imbler admits to an affection for feral goldfish: ‘I see something that no one expected to live not just alive but impossibly flourishing, and no longer alone.’

By way of an exploration of the diverse wonders of marine biology, Imbler reconstructs with raw openness the intensity of their experiences of being a teenager, of coming out, and of gender and racial prejudice. Imbler also matches their own history of college drinking, blackouts and non-consensual straight

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