Book Review: Spiders: Learning to love them by Lynne Kelly

I read an article on BBC about spiders and their intelligence, and I went into a frantic search to find a book about spiders. I needed to know how they behaved and why. I found this book (and one other,) and I immediately ordered it, not because of the learning to love them part nor to get over my fear of spiders. I got over my anxiety when I started taking macro photographs, and suddenly, no insect (except gadflies) held terror. (Okay, I have to admit, I still feared the giant spiders, the ones with bird and tarantula in their title. No more. The book cured me of that. Though next step would be to hold one.) Despite that, when reading the article, I found I knew nothing of spiders, hence acquiring this excellent book. I loved this one from cover to the appendix, with its learn to recognize spiders by their web design, not to mention the middle part with its spider sex positions guide. The latter part might sound odd, but it’s essential. It tells a lot about their behavior and how they interact and clarifies the myth about all female spiders eating their mate. (Also, I laughed aloud and a lot when I read about spider sex and how kinky they are if you anthropomorphize them.)

The book is written by a “commoner” who dived into the world of spiders to get rid of her fear of them. She interviewed scientists, did her own field studies (at her backyard and inside her house,) and ventured deep into the subject, even interviewing those who made the animation Charlotte’s Web and discussing what kind of impact it had on reducing the general fear of spiders. Another issue the book addresses. We seem to have this innate fear of spiders, and it’s no wonder. They are so alien compared to other animals and us, making it hard to appreciate them and what they do to our ecosystem. Then, of course, there’s the matter of being venomous, but again we come across somewhat overreaction. They are venomous, yes, but most spiders’ venom isn’t harmful, and those who are there are an antidote to them. Plus, they don’t so readily waste it. But there’s more about that subject in the book.

The subject which fascinated me the most was spider anatomy. They are weird little creatures, which perform wonders with their tiny neural network, blue blood, and hydraulic leg joints. They die pretty easily as their bodies don’t handle well things like falling, especially the big ones. What else I can say? The book goes over the classification of different species, their behavior and anatomy. One downside is that if you are looking for a purely scientific book without a personal touch, this might put you off. I personally loved reading about Lynne Kelly’s intimate relationship with the spiders inside and outside her house and how she interacted with them (spiders are kind of “shy.” They don’t care for us that much. Jumping spiders are curious and more interactive than many other subspecies.) I thought she balanced well the mix of scientific knowledge and personal wonderment towards the creatures. It feels more effective if you keep the book’s goal in mind: to inform about spiders and help people get rid of their fear of them. I don’t have enough knowledge to judge if the book was factual (no mistakes based on our current understanding.) I would say that she did an extensive and thorough study while writing the book. 

I loved this book. I was in constant awe of spiders. I read many parts of it aloud to my husband, to his annoyance. Now, I can’t wait until it’s spring, and I can take my camera out and find spiders. It’s freezing cold here. Though yesterday a tiny spider scurried across my kitchen floor, and I was so happy to see her. I had to rescue her into my flowerpot because my cats sometimes hunt them and kill them, and they were in the kitchen with me. I hope she finds a place to make her web and feast and multiply.

Thank you for reading, and wave to a spider when you see one. Maybe not. They can sense the ripples in the air with their hairs. So, if you do and don’t want them to hide from you, do it from far.

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