Dive Into Reading: Spineless

Susan MiddletonThis is one of those beautiful books that begs to be picked up – I mean, just look at that cover! – and absorbed in wonder.  While it’s most certainly not the type of book you might want carrying around in your bag while you’re out and about (although that’s totally personal preference, and I will concede there might exist someone who likes to lug around tomes in their bags while out running errands or just going around town), the size of the book was definitely a good choice; although there are also a few essays throughout the book, I believe the photographs are what the readers are here for, and the size of the book itself make it so that every beautiful colours jump out at you and every detail – every tentacle, arm, eye, and other appendages – is presented with incredible clarity.

The second installment of the Dive Into Reading series is, as you might have by now surmised, Spineless, by Susan Middleton.

The photographs are absolutely stunning! You won’t want to put this book down as you discover the colourful spectrum of sea slugs and all the other beautifully patterned – or not – animals! Interspersed throughout are also essays that inform you about the animal kingdom and what part marine life plays in the grand scheme of things, including what they do for people (hardworking and ever humble, they have as yet sought no reward for keeping us alive) and what their extinction would mean for humanity as a whole (nothing good, I assure you). Beyond its exhortation to you to reduce your footprint in the oceans, you will also learn the humbling fact that, though vertebrates might be the most prominently featured animals in our day-to-day lives, they make up but a tiny fraction (one chordata phylum) of the phylogenetic tree (the animalia kingdom being made up of at least 30 phyla). I appreciated these essays quite a bit, as they helped ground the invertebrates pictured and give them some more context, in contrast to some art books I have perused that offer all the information at the beginning before throwing all of the plates at you in one go.

Even if you have zero interest in what might sound like sermonizing,  Spineless is still a breathtaking collection of photographs featuring a variety of invertebrates, some of which have never been recorded before! Middleton places all the creatures against either a bright, sterile white backdrop or a pitch, velvety black, alternating as it suits the animal pictured. It’s evident just by looking how much time Middleton must have spent with these creatures as you flip through the book, as each of them are portrayed with character. And if when you fall in love with one (or many) of these critters, there’s a nice surprise waiting for you at the very back: Middleton has included descriptions of each of the animals pictured in Spineless, with varying description lengths for each. For myself personally, it might have been a bit too much work to do subsequent research on each of the animals I was interested in, so I found the addition at the back to be a very nice touch.

So if you’d like to see a sampling of the creatures that reside in the seas as they’ve probably never been seen before (nor, perhaps, were meant to be seen), Spineless is the book for you! (My favourite might just be one of the tritonia sea slugs – adorable! Nothing like their land counterparts!)

And if you missed the first part of the series, here’s a list of posts past & forthcoming:

  1. Dive Into Reading: General Reading
  2. Spineless
  3. Cetaceans
  4. Mollusca
  5. General Ocean Reading