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Liam Brown
Liam Brown

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............Man's relation to the sea and its inhabitants has always been an ambivalent one. For many peoples, the sea was a terrifying expanse well beyond day-to-day contact, and this is reflected in their recorded lore. For example, the ancient Babylonians personified the salt waters of the Earth as the dragon Tiamat, a force of chaos that had to be slain before the livable globe could be created. For others, the ocean represented a vast storehouse of goods-fish for eating, salt for seasoning, dye for clothing, etc. Yet the element of danger was always present. Even the most skilled of seafaring cultures, such as the Vikings, recognized the produce and peril of their surroundings. At the same time the sea giant Aegir could warmly extend meals of smoked salmon and tankards of mead, his wife Ran netted drowning sailors, pulling them to a grim final resting place beneath the chill north seas. This dualistic view of the ocean has continued through later periods, infusing literature, poetry, and popular accounts of the deep. And few symbols of the waters have been so widely exploited as the fish. Their synonymy with water is not so much tied to their physiology as their ubiquity (after all, there are a great many gilled organisms who have never appeared beyond the zoological literature.) Fish are far and away the most common and diverse vertebrate on the planet, and can be found in just about any body of water, from the deepest ocean trench to the highest mountain stream.My own fascination with fish and fishy writings dates back as far as I can remember, as part of an overarching interest in natural history that led to many forced outings to rivers and museums (I like to think that my parents have finally recovered from two decades of being dragged from exhibit to exhibit by the cuff of their shirts, but the verdict is still out.) This interest has snowballed over time, and today I work at the Division of Fishes at the Field Museum of Natural History, devoting my time to the study of ichthyology. My book collections have mirrored this development, so one can find a tattered copy of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish giving way over the years to Fieldiana Zoology Series: A Revision of the Alepisauroid Family Scopelarchidae (Pisces: Myctophiformes). By necessity I maintain a sizable amount of the technical literature on fishes, and although these are engrossing in the utmost, increasingly I have found that the mind cannot dwell on fin counts and quantitative analyses of gill function alone. The human element of our understanding of fishes, as reviewed in the preceding paragraph, must be had. To this end, I have turned to reading and collecting books that deal with a non-technical approach to our finny friends and foes-fish lit, fish legend, and various personal accounts of encounters with marine life. This collection began at about the same time as my "research collection", although since this was back in elementary school, the lines between popular and scientific accounts were considerably more blurred. Indeed, several of the books I consider today to be "pop natural history accounts", such as Search for a Living Fossil, started life in the "research book" category. A number of my most treasured books date from this early period, and there was some sense of collecting already established, but only in the past few years have I developed a focused pursuit of man-fish books. The limits of this collection are constantly in a state of flux-as has already been mentioned the difference between a technical account and a popular account of technical matters is often a judgement call. Also somewhat variable is the amount of fishy content required to "make" the collection: thus I include the Bible for the story of Jonah, as though it is but a tiny fraction of the entire work, as the seminal encounter between man and the might of the marine world it really must be included. Also included are certain books on myth and fantastic creatures that deal predominately with sea monsters, but may contain a smattering of chapters on terrestrial beasties.Although fishy writings cannot properly be called a genre in and of themselves, within my collection there are definitely some discernable "subgenres." The first of these is admittedly underrepresented on my shelves at the present time, and consists of tales about mermaids and other human-fish hybrids. Perhaps the most intimate example of man-fish interaction, here again the dualistic nature of the sea is seen. On the one hand (or should that be fin?) mermaids can be beautiful gifts of the waters, a boon to the lonely sailor. All too often, however, they are portrayed as deadly seductresses dragging unwitting, entranced landfolk to a watery grave. (The siren probably exemplifies this class of predatory mermaid; although they were originally portrayed as bird-women in Greek myth, over time they have been completely fused with mermaids.) The second subgenre in my collection severely strains the zoological concept of "fish", but I feel it fits in perfectly with the larger theme of the ocean as a repository of unknown monsters waiting to menace mankind. The subject of this subgenre is the giant squid (Architeuthis dux), also known as the devilfish or kraken. A more apt symbol of chaos and the unknown can scarcely be imagined: to quote Melville, "a vast pulpy mass, furlongs in length and breadth", lined with suckers and a chimerical, snapping beak. The image of the giant squid has captivated the human mind like few other creatures, due in large part to its adamant refusal to be understood by modern science. To this day no one has seen it alive in its natural environment, and even the most basic elements of its biology are largely unknown. This elusive status has served as the springboard for many literary flights of fancy, almost invariably as an antagonist.Although the release of books on fish-human interactions is irregular at best, I imagine my collection expanding considerably in the years to come. As mentioned above, the intriguing merfolk subgenre, on which much has been written, is pitifully represented as of this writing. Also high on my want list are the great medieval and Renaissance accounts of sea life, from the classic bestiaries to the travelogues of the likes of Olaus Magnus and Bishop Erik Pontoppidan, the fathers of post-Viking Scandinavian sea monster sightings. Finally, I have noticed a rise of late in historical accounts on fish as goods and their role in influencing human culture. I'm saving up for a book by Inga Saffron (2002) entitled Caviar: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the World's Most Coveted Delicacy. I hope to make it the companion piece to my copy of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. With any luck, more such books will appear in the future, as the tides of my ichthyo-bibliophilia show no signs of receding.Mr. Kammerer won the 4th-year Honorable Mention in 2003for the collection described in the preceding essay.

Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1981 (original 1851).Condition: Fair, paperbackIn my opinion, the definitive book about man's interaction with the sea and its fauna. Yes, the title character is a mammal by our standards, but Melville argues at length for classifying it as "the great fishe." It covers all the bases of fish books: whaling as oceanic bounty, symbolist presentations of the might of the sea, fish as the ultimate power of the divine, and even a giant squid for good measure. Melville's sections on cetology are a marvel to behold, and are actually better than some contemporaneous "scientific" accounts on the subject. My copy of the novel is an unassuming paperback, with dog-eared edges, yellowed pages, and some creasing of the spine. Nevertheless it is one of the most prized elements of my collection, as it was one of the earlier items of the collection I acquired and really got me in to marine literature. Most of the novels in my collection are paperbacks that are prone to transport in book-unfriendly situations. I try to take the greatest care in preserving them, but the lure of bringing along The Compleat Angler on a fishing trip or Jaws on a day at the beach is too great, and some damage is inevitable. Moby-Dick accompanied me on my first major research trip last September, a month-long voyage studying hydrothermal vents 300 miles off the coast of Oregon. It returned with some abyssal tube worm smudges on the cover, but otherwise none the worse for wear. 041b061a72


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