Life in the ‘Anthill’

Cover ImageI tried to hold on to that laid-back happy buzz that comes with vacation. However, as spring break screeched to a halt I immediately shifted into overdrive ticking off all things necessary for survival upon my return. Without a thought, I made my way through the grocery store, the laundry piles, and marched off to work among the masses first thing Monday morning.

As I pondered the mystery behind my inability to remain in that relaxed state of the previous week it called to mind biological theorist E.O. Wilson’s latest book  Anthill. Though I haven’t read the 81 year-old scientist’s work of fiction yet, I’ve read enough reviews to get the gist, and apparently, I’m not all that different from an ant.

In Sunday’s NYT Book Review novelist/biologist Barbara Kingsolver (The Lacuna) eloquently examines ‘Anthill’ in her piece ‘Ear to the Ground’. Professionally, Kingsolver and Wilson are kindred spirits, and while she acknowledges that scientists “hardly ever write novels” she claims that those who dare “…may use their worldliness to good advantage, smuggling gems of empirical knowledge across the literary border to create fiction with unusually rewarding heft.”

Apparently, this is the case in Wilson’s ‘Anthill’ as he draws the parallel between the ways of man and the ways of ants. Bizarre? Perhaps, but Kingsolver asserts that “The twinkle in this tale lies in its irony, as the reader absorbs the premise that we are the equal of ants.” Whether we are workers, protectors, soldiers, or nurturers, humans colonize and function at a dizzying and often dangerous rate. Blind taskmasters, we work, feed, grow, and expand at the risk of tipping the scales of our own habitat.

While I’m not sure ‘Anthill’ will make it’s way onto my reading list, Kingsolver’s closing echoes as I fall back into step with the march of my routine: “It’s hard to resist the notion that as we bustle around with our heads bent to the day’s next task, we are like nothing so much as a bunch of ants.”

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

New Yorker fiction feature ‘Trailhead’ by E.O. Wilson

Anthill excerpt from The New York Times

Books of the Times’ piece ‘Life Lessons, Taught by Insects’

‘The Iliad’ – With Ants? in The Wall Street Journal

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