Thursday, February 24, 2011

John Himmelman's "Cricket Radio"

John Himmelman is author and illustrator of nearly seventy books, most recently Guide to Night-Singing Insects of the Northeast and Discovering Amphibians: Frogs and Salamanders of the Northeast.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Cricket Radio: Tuning in the Nightsinging Insects, and reported the following:
Here’s what I wish was on page 99 (for the sake of the “Page 99 Test”):
The frosts have come and gone several times, a grim reaper harvesting the last of the year's insects. The chorus has been silenced. And then, I hear a trill. It's a lone Carolina Ground Cricket (Eunemobius carolinus) calling, feebly, and stuttering, from beneath a leaf in the side yard. The song lacks the vitality of its summer brethren, but those worn wings still move a’blur. There are no females left to answer. It doesn't matter. It is trilling because it has to, and it is giving it everything it's got. It is the violinist playing as the Titanic is sinking. It's what they do.

How can that not stir a soul?
This excerpt is from pages 28 and 29. It is what I believe best defines the character and purpose of Cricket Radio: Tuning In the Nightsinging Insects. On warm summer evenings, the crickets and katydids bring forth a whirring, chirping soundscape—a calming aural tapestry celebrated by poets and naturalists for millennia. But “cricket radio” is not broadcast for the easy-listening pleasure of humans. The nocturnal songs of insects are lures and warnings, full of risks and rewards for these tiny competitive performers. Why they have taken this route, and how, is as compelling as the effect their song has on the human psyche.

In order to round out our understanding of these insects, I felt it would be helpful to write about how they go about making new ones. It is, after all, the inspiration for their song. This excerpt describing the act of mating between two ground crickets gives you the gist of page ninety-nine:
Once a female is drawn to the caller, she moves in a little closer. The male’s call changes, and he rocks back and forth on his feet, a further act of enticement. He then turns and backs into the female, who, if impressed by what she sees and hears, climbs onto the male’s back. He stops calling and lifts one of his hind legs. It is held in a position to keep the female on his back while he inseminates her from beneath. The female bites the tip off of the highest spur on his tibia. This releases a secretion, upon which she feeds… This secretion no doubt has some compelling qualities to keep her in place. In fact, other females will sometimes take a nip at that elixir-giving spur, even though they have no intention of mating with the male. The male, in this case, is not willing to allow her to partake. Yes, human analogies come to mind.
Ford Madox Ford could make the argument that without the act described on page ninety-nine there would be no “cricket radio”, therefore defining this page as “the quality of the whole”. I’ll give it to him.
Learn more about Cricket Radio at the Harvard University Press website.

Visit John Himmelman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue